The man who steps out of the darkness and turns to the light is not yet thoroughly righteous, but is growing in righteousness. He needs creative God, and time for will and effort. Born into the world without righteousness, it would be the deepest injustice to demand of him, with a penalty, at any given moment, more than he knows how to yield; but it is the highest love constantly to demand of him perfect righteousness as what he must attain to. He must keep turning to righteousness and abjuring iniquity, ever aiming at the perfection of God. Such an obedient faith is most justly and fairly, being all that God himself can require of the man, called by God righteousness in the man. It would not be enough for the righteousness of God, or Jesus, or any perfected saint; but it is enough at a given moment for the disciple of the Perfect. The righteousness of Abraham was not to compare with that of Paul; he did not fight with himself for righteousness, as did Paul—not because he was better than Paul and did not need to fight, but because his idea of what was required of him was not within sight of that of Paul. Yet was he righteous in the same way as Paul; he had begun to be righteous. His faith was an act recognizing God as his law, and that is an all-embracing and all-determining action. They were righteous because they gave themselves up to God to make them righteous; and not to call such men righteous, not to impute their faith to them for righteousness, would be unjust. But God is utterly just, and nowise resembles a legal-minded Roman emperor, or bad pope formulating the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice.
The Law of Spiritual Growth
by Stephen Carney
“The man who steps out of the darkness and turns to the light is not yet thoroughly righteous, but is growing in righteousness…it would be the deepest injustice to demand of him, with a penalty, at any given moment, more than he knows how to yield; but it is the highest love constantly to demand of him perfect righteousness as what he must attain to.” Here, in this portion of MacDonald’s sermon, we find what lies at the heart of most of MacDonald’s novels and fantasy works. I call it the law of spiritual growth.
MacDonald was ever seeing deep into the hearts and lives of the people around him, and this can especially be seen in his extraordinary fantasy work, Lilith. He seems to see people as fluid creatures ever moving along a continuum of growth, moving ever closer home to their Father’s heart. He might have quoted an old Irish proverb that goes, “Man is born broken, life is the mending, and God’s grace is the glue." MacDonald sees deep into human nature, and deep into the love and grace of God. Take the scene from Sir Gibbie where Gibbie’s father is dying in an alcoholic stupor, and yet, in the midst of it, we find him calling upon God to forgive his inability to conquer the bottle. We see instantly that he had been trying all these years to do this by himself and now, when all hope is lost, he comes home to the Father and calls upon his help. Like the man Jesus told about, who went to the temple to pray, and could not even lift his eyes up to God, but prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Or take the description of Shargar in Robert Falconer, “Had he been a dog, he would never have thought of doing anything for his own protection beyond turning up his four legs in silent appeal to the mercy of the heavens. He was an absolute sepulcher in the swallowing of oppression and ill-usage. There was no echo of complaint, no murmur of resentment from the hollows of that soul. The blows that fell upon him resounded not, and no one but God remembered them.” Shargar’s mother had been a prostitute, and had abandoned him to the streets while seeking better prospects for herself. MacDonald shows in these words his understanding of why people are the way they are, and how God himself understands what makes us into the beings we are, and that without the Master’s help we can be nothing better. But God knows the “blows” that fall upon us, and he remembers and takes note, leading us gently by the hand to a better place. For the law of spiritual growth begins with the knowledge that we must grow from the starting point of where we truly are, and not from where we wish we were. MacDonald always emphasizes the importance of truthfulness in regards to our spiritual condition. I think he said once, “God can handle any honest doubter, but a charlatan he will not tolerate.”
MacDonald also believed that the very first step in the right direction begins the process of spiritual growth. The notion that, if we become faithful in that which is least, God will make us ruler over much, is a theme in his writings. Movement is key in his writings, as the characters in his stories are always moving and growing in their spiritual journey. It’s what makes MacDonald’s novels exciting for some and boring for others. The action is always on a spiritual plane, even if it involves physical events in the story. The highest point in all of his stories is when someone comes to doing the right thing; this MacDonald sees as the real drama of life. These were the stories worth his time to write.
This kind of writing reaches, for me at least, a zenith in Lilith. Lillith is the most unredeemable creature in the annals of literature. According to Jewish traditions, she was created as.a creature without a soul to lead Adam away from Eve. She uses sex to gain control over men, and is the epitome of selfish ambition. Mr. Vane, on the other hand, though he has his own struggles with vanity, battles himself coming to redemption and dies to himself in the house of Adam. But the hopefulness of MacDonald for someone as un-redemptive as Lilith is spine-chilling. The little step she must take for redemption is a giant leap for her soul. She returns to the house of Adam in order to lay down and die to herself, but finds it to be much harder than she knows. Her selfishness is too strong for her, she needs someone beyond herself to help her. She, like those in the twelve-step programs of today, must admit she is powerless over the effects of her addiction to control and selfishness, and must call on a Power greater than herself to free her. She holds in her right hand something she must let go of, but her hands have grown around it. Try as she might, her strength has been overtaken by her selfishness. Eventually, she begs for Adam to bring the sword and cut off her right hand and thus fulfill the words of our Lord, that it is better to lose our right hand and enter into life maimed than having two hands and being cast in to the fire. Lilith gives one moan and falls fast asleep into that eternal rest.
This is the righteousness that MacDonald speaks of, and it is the law of growth within us.