Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” “Love your enemies, and ye shall be the children of the highest.” It is the divine glory to forgive. Yet will a time come when the Unchangeable will cease to forgive; when it will not more belong to his perfection to love his enemies; when he will look calmly, and his children look calmly too, upon the everlasting torments of our brothers and sisters?
O brother, believe it not, lest it quench forgiveness in thee, and thou be not forgiven, but go down with those thy brothers to the torment; whence, if God were not better than that phantom some callest God, thou shouldst never come out; but whence assuredly thou shalt come out when thou hast paid the uttermost farthing; when thou hast learned of God in hell what thou didst refuse to learn of him upon the gentle-toned earth: the story of him who was mighty to save, because he was perfect in love.
O Father, thou art All-in-all, perfect beyond the longing of thy children, and we are all and altogether thine. Thou wilt make us pure and loving and free. We shall stand fearless in thy presence, infinite in the love of each other, because perfect in thy love. Lord Jesus, let the heart of a child be given to us, that so we may arise from the grave of our dead selves and die no more, but see face to face the God of the Living.
But I Say Unto You...
by Dave Roney
“You have heard it said...” begins Christ; it is the sixth time in rapid succession He has shocked His audience by this same introductory challenge, in each instance the “You have heard” being followed by His disjunctive proclamation “But;”— “But I say...” The entire Sermon is the outline and lays the foundation for the Kingdom gospel Jesus had come preaching; it epitomizes how it is on earth as it is in heaven; it speaks of how the King reigns, how His subjects shall think and do; it is an entirely radical and revolutionary departure from any and every thing that had gone before in the history of the world. With the phrase “But I say” He speaks with utter authority, authorization given Him by His Father; it is the same to say “My Father says...”
From whom had the people been for centuries hearing and learning? From their scribes, those interpreters of Scripture, highly educated men, experts, authorities in the Jewish Law; men whose pronouncements were widely regarded as the final word, the truth from God, therefore inculpable and unquestionable. If we think them evil men, we err; they were, in the main, good men seeking to lead their people rightly. When they, along with the priests, instigated the murder of Christ, when their hearts were filled with unmixed malice toward Him, even then they thought themselves to be serving God. They were those who, in spiritual blindness, rejected His “But I say unto you” and clung steadfastly to their “You have heard it said.” St. Paul gives analysis of them in 1st Cor. 2:8, saying “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
I will not enter into discussion of God's accommodation of man and what that entails, or of discernment of what is and is not to be understood literally, neither of potential errancy in the inspired Writ, nor the propensity of the ancients to write history from their perspectives; those are important topics, and key to understanding certain passages from the Old Testament, such as God's supposed declaration through Moses (Ex. 23:22) “...I will be an enemy to your enemies.” There is much we may not know, but of one thing we may be certain; God is Immutably without change and, therefore, if we read in any place God described as an Enemy, and in another Christ saying to love our enemies, the contradiction (and it is a real, not a seeming, contradiction) is resolved in but a single way; if it does not sound, look, feel like Christ Jesus as He is depicted in the four Gospel accounts then there is error afoot, either in the Text or in our understanding of it, or perhaps both.
Today we sometimes hear Christians refer to themselves as “people of the Book;” this is the same mistake as that of the scribes, priests, and Pharisees of Christ's day: We are not people of the Book but “people of the Man.” And when we, as did the Jews, follow without question the modern day scribes, with their doctrines and interpretations, and understand God through those instead of knowing them to be true or false through Christ, then we have missed the mark. God as Father and Christ Jesus as Son are so identical that when One speaks it is what the other speaks, so also in every pronouncement, in every action, in every situation and circumstance; what the Father wills the Son does; what the Father thinks, so also the Son. Therefore, when our Lord declares
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (5:44-45)
He speaks not of His own but every word which proceeds from the mouth of the Father; even as He said this to Satan in the wilderness, so also He publishes it in every place. Neither the Father nor the Son are changelings, vacillating between Love and Hate, hating in the Old Testament but loving in the New. Though men be His enemy He is none to them but is instead their great Friend, their Atonement, their Lover in worlds without end. If Christ commands us to love our enemies it is because He loves His enemies, and if He loves His enemies so also does His Father and ours.
His Love is eternal, as is His forgiveness; these are without beginning or ending. You have heard it said by your theologians that the sinner has hope in this life only; you have heard it said that Hell is eternal and from its pit there can come no redemption; you have heard it said by those who've built up a massive edifice of doctrines and scriptural “proofs” which govern your understanding, which you dare not question for long lest you be considered an apostate, or a heretic, or perhaps even be excommunicated. It is what the religious leaders did to the people in their day, rejecting “But I say unto you” coming from the lips of Christ; it is what some if not many, or even most, of the theologians in our day also do.
Yet God is like Christ, and even as He hung suspended between heaven and earth did He pray to His like-minded Father, “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” And though it is not written, and I doubt that in the moment of such suffering Christ could hear the reply of His Father, nonetheless I suppose that the weeping Voice was saying from heaven's portals “I have forgiven them, My Son, My only Son—and by that which You are now doing I shall gather all people everywhere and for all of time to myself as my dear children.” In our passage under consideration He teaches the people “But I say unto you... forgive your enemies;” and from the cross He validates His words with His very life. Shall God cease to love? Shall He forget His children, abandon them to the gloom, learn to hate those for whom His Son has died? God forbid the thought!
“It is the Divine glory to forgive. Yet, will a time come when the Unchangeable will cease to forgive; when it will not more belong to His perfection to love His enemies; when He will look calmly, and His children look calmly, too, upon the everlasting torments of our brothers and sisters?
O brother, believe it not, lest it quench forgiveness in thee, and thou be not forgiven, but go down with those thy brothers to the torment; whence, if God were not better than that phantom some callest God, thou shouldst never come out; but whence assuredly thou shalt come out when thou hast paid the uttermost farthing; when thou hast learned of God in Hell what thou didst refuse to learn of Him upon the gentle-toned earth: The story of Him who was mighty to save, because He was perfect in love.”
In the 16th of St. Matthew's gospel Christ declares in metaphor “I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” By “prevail” I do not understand the word to mean “overcome” but, rather, to “withstand.” The gates, whatever the meaning might be, are a barrier preventing entry; those gates shall not withstand Christ, and we who follow Him; they shall not be beaten down by force but shall dissolve in the blinding heat of the Consuming Fire which is God, and that Fire is Love, for God is Love. Christ has afore broken those gates, entering in, setting the captives free; He, and we, shall enter it again. I think the saints before us have been doing it since the Resurrection. Saints, going to lost brothers and sisters, asking forgiveness, loving them, encouraging them, taking them by the hand, so to speak, declaring Christ and saying to them “Come, I want you to meet your Father Who loves you!” Doing in the hereafter, that is, what we are even now doing, being the agents of God as He through us reconciles the world to Himself.
Admittedly this is speculation on my part; but can you think, or even imagine, a better God than the One Who loves utterly and indefatigably, endlessly? The God Who forgives eternally, Who through His Son reconciles His children, Whose victory is comprehensive, reaching to every corner of the cosmos and saving, redeeming, reconciling to the uttermost everything which His hands have made? Indeed, I speculate, and know I am wrong in it; for I have neither mind nor imagination sufficient to know how truly good our God actually is. My error is not of type or class but of quantity and quality; I fall miserably short of knowing or speaking truly of the beauties of our God. And for such error God, I am sure, holds me to no account but is pleased at the awkward effort.
It is the Divine Glory to Forgive
by Dave Roney
Man is a triune being composed of a physical self, an intellectual self, and a spiritual self, and these three go together to produce the soul, which is the person in entirety; in all creation man is unique in this tri-fold composition. The soul, or man in his totality, very much speaks to us of the Trinity, which is the sum of the interrelated Persons of God forming the One God, the I AM. This composition of man is, then, neither accidental nor incidental because man is created in the image of triune God.
When we speak of the “Glory” of God, what thought occurs to us? And how do we define this Glory? Do we think of His gleaming and blinding physical appearance? Or do we think of this Glory as of Holiness, which is not a physical thing to be seen? Or do we think of it as the great Mind, which only thinks righteous thoughts and does Just things? The Glory of God is not found in any outward appearances, to be sure, these are Effects; nor is the Glory of God due to His great character or power; these are, as relates to Glory, all Effects which rise up from a Cause, and the Cause of the Glory of God, in any of its varied forms, is located within the very Heart of God.
This Glory of God reveals itself in various forms of manifestation, from the glory which wells up inside His children and causes them unspeakable and unutterable delight, to a Moses who can only look at the Glory from the back as it passes away from him, to the Glory of the Transfiguration, to the Glory which shone round about shepherds tending their flocks (though the Source of the glory, apparently carried in the bosom of angels, remained unseen), to the glory which shows in creatures such as the angel before whom John fell down as one dead: These are all different aspects of the Glory, showing different features and characteristics of it, but never showing the Glory in its exhaustive fullness. You might say that the absolute and pure Glory of God is revealed in Christ Jesus, but even that would be to gloss over what the Glory of God is, except we think of the Why in Christ, of what it is in Him which justifies such a claim. For, the Glory of God revealed in Jesus is Glory only for cause, and we must think concerning this: For what cause does the Glory of God find its perfect and therefore highest resolution in Christ Jesus?
Here, for the restrictions of space, I must abbreviate and condense my comments, explaining them in overview form. No Old Testament saint had known God fully, had thus only seen occasional flashes of what that Glory was; no man had ever seen Him, had not even been able to imagine what God is truly like; the Only Begotten Son revealed God so effulgently as to be able to declare that if men saw Him they also saw the Father, declared He and the Father were “one;” expressed what is in the Bosom from which He came truly by His every word and deed, showed men by life, ministry, and death exactly Who and What the Father IS. We are now approaching very near to what the Glory of God is in its fullness, but we are not yet there; more must be understood. Thus far, if we accept these things about Christ, we are only showing how Christ is identical to God His Father. But this does not explain to us what is the essential, fullest, deepest, Glory of the Father.
I will tell you a terrible thing. The Glory of God is not first and foremost to be seen or understood in the trappings of His glory, whatever form that Glory may take; such displays are but the outer garments of Glory. The Glory of God is fully revealed only in the unplumbed depths of deepest humility, in indescribable horror and suffering, in the writhing form of the cruciform Son of God and Son of Man pinioned to a cross, naked, hated, abused, tortured, spat upon, mocked and ridiculed, friendless, helpless, innocent, dying willingly as the greatest Friend to those who were enemies to Him. The Glory issues through the parched lips “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”
Would you hear the words describing God's ultimate Glory? Then listen to the Apostle: “Father, the hour has come; Glorify your Son that the Son may Glorify you (John 17:1), and the agony of the undiminished Glory continues; “And now, Father, Glorify me in Your Own presence with the Glory that I had with You before the world existed” (verse 5). How is God and Christ glorified? By Atonement, by Christ crucified. Before the world existed? It is that same Glory of “the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.” And yet, even this does not fully say to us what is the Glory of God; we must go further.
The “why” question must now be addressed: Why did the sufferings of Christ perfectly show the Glory of God, more so than any other thing which He said or did, and why could no other means or method do this? It is because of what lies at the heart of and is core to God's Glory: It is Love, pure and unmixed, rising above the cesspit of creaturely condition, and is the outward display, or effect, of an inner cause; the molten radiance and blinding light emitting from the great furnace of the Heart which is the Consuming Fire, the Fire being the Divine Love of God. The full manifestation of the Glory of God is discovered only in His great Love; for God, you see, IS Love. The greatest Glory of God is when His children look full into His Face and say “I love You even as You love me!” His greatest Glory is when His children become the true image of His Son.
His greatest Glory is not some selfish and self-centered attribute which would stun and overwhelm men! Nor is the glory of God that of some Divine peacock, with dazzling show, striking fearful awe in men, proudly shooting forth blinding glitz, as though of some ostentatious bird preening, impressing, demonstrating an inarguable principle of superiority, causing men to fall back from Him, fall on their faces, feel inferior to Him, but is the eternally selfless and self-forgetting nature of His Love, manifested to us in its highest and most glorious form; that discovered in His atoning Son Jesus. “It is the Divine Glory to forgive,” says MacDonald, and Divine forgiving is itself an Effect which depends on a Cause; it is the product and result of the Divine Love. The first act of Love is the giving of attention; the Love-child of this attention is desire for the best of another person, and we cannot extend such a desire except we first forgive, even as we have been eternally forgiven.
In 2 Peter 1:4 we read (and I abbreviate) “And because of His GLORY...[we] share His Divine nature...” There are portions of Himself that He cannot share, His Incommunicable Attributes (such as Eternality, Omniscience, and Immutability); yet He freely shares with us His Communicable Attributes (Love, Patience, Goodness and Humility, for instance). What is the chief thing within His Divine nature which He shares? It is His Glory. And what is the very heart of this Glory? It is to love and forgive. And whom does He first love, His friends or His enemies? It is His enemies; for every man who sins is first at enmity with Him, and remains so until He, by His great Love and Forgiveness, reconciles such ones to Himself. This is the burden of God and the example to men, for no man is utterly without friend in the world, and not every man is turned against any particular man; but God must, from the first sin in the world, set about His business of reconciliation. He first loves and forgives those who are His enemies and makes them His friends.
Imagine the Glory of God did He not first love and forgive; He would be a dreadful god, and the glory of such a god would, indeed, be that of the preening peacock. We must love and forgive our neighbors even as does our God. Our “neighbor” is every person with whom we have contact, and extends even to the entire world including those with whom we have no contact. This is God's glory; it is also ours. And even as He was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, which is His greatest Glory, so also we must be in our world doing the works of our Father and His Son. And our greatest test will not be found in love for friend, but foe. It is the love of the crucified One, and the Father Who sent Him into the world. The haunting words of the Master return; “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And by this we share in the Divine Nature and highest Glory of our Father.