Tag Archives: money

Some Standard Wisdom on Asceticism

We pick back up our quotes series from the 1880 Christian Standard with some thoughts on asceticism, which appeared to have the same negative connotation in nineteenth century American Protestantism that it has today.

Too much is said in these days against “asceticism,” but the danger of the Church does not lie in that direction. […] in cloaks are more in vogue than “hair shirts.” Daily food is a lawful indulgence. But fasting is sometimes profitable to both body and soul. Many luxuries of domestic life are lawful in themselves; to give them up in order to have more money for benevolent uses, or in order to discourage social extravagances, is a dictate of pure Christianity. John Wesley had a right to own silver plate, yet he nobly refused to possess more than two or three silver spoons “while so many poor people were lacking bread.” An excellent man in my congregation sold his carriage just as soon as he found that his horses were eating up his charity fund too fast. My friend is no ascetic. He is a very sensible and sun-shiny Christian. If the same spirit which actuated him were more common in the church, there would be fewer luxurious equipages, fewer wine bottles, fewer card tables, fewer sumptuous evening parties; but there would be more missionaries in the West, and more Bibles in China and Japan. Self-denial soars above them.

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In Other News

Continuing to bring you the latest from the Orthodox world, this offer from the Orthodox Church of Cyprus is rightfully making waves:

The head of Cyprus’ influential Orthodox church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, says he will put the church’s assets at the country’s disposal to help pull it out of a financial crisis, after lawmakers rejected a plan to seize up to 10 percent of people’s bank deposits to secure an international bailout.

Speaking after meeting President Nicos Anastasiades Wednesday, Chrysostomos said the church was willing to mortgage its assets to invest in government bonds.

The church has considerable wealth, including property, stakes in a bank and a brewery. Tuesday’s rejection of the deposit tax has left the future of the country’s international bailout in question.

Whether or not anything will come of the offer–and whether or not the church’s assets are enough to make a substantial difference in Cyprus’s financial crisis–it strikes me as precisely the right move for the church, which has been roundly and rightly criticized from all corners and in most developed countries for being inexcusably wealthy. I wonder what kind of dent the US churches could have made in 2008 if they had made a similar offer. Of course, they didn’t, and they lack the institutional unity to make such a gesture even if they had wanted to. No longer living in an age when the apostolic heirs can honestly say “Silver and gold I have not,” the Cypriot church has made a gesture that powerfully displays the way sacrifice on a church-wide scale can influence society.

Even so, there are many who would argue that the world is becoming an increasingly churchless place no matter what denominational bodies do. This “none” movement is constituted in part by those postmodern Christians enamored of the idea that Jesus never went to church, so why should they? Launching off of a quote from Toby Mac (“Jesus didn’t hang out in the church”) that appeared on the Huffington Post, Revelation rock star Rick Oster has thoroughly debunked the notion of a church-free Jesus:

Since everyone knows there was no Christian church in existence in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, this statement is designed for its rhetorical impact, rather than its historical accuracy. Sometimes, though, rhetorical statements have a life of their own, and hearers forget the limitations of rhetoric. More probably the rhetoric of this statement was meant to emphasize the viewpoint that Jesus did not spend time associating with religious/Jewish organizations or hanging out in Jewish meeting places or chillaxing with the officialdom of Jewish religion. A fact-check of this viewpoint led me to conclude that it did not represent the whole story of Jesus.

This anti-institutional view of Jesus has a long history, but it stands in stark contrast to the picture of Jesus given us by the major writer of the New Testament, Luke, and also by John the prophet.

…To be sure, the validity of Christian ministry is determined by the authenticity of its message and accompanying lifestyle and not by its location. Bars and brothels are certainly within the purview of modern Christian ministry, but we need to be clear that this was not the fundamental approach used by Jesus. Most of Jesus’ time was spent in synagogues, in travel through the Jewish countryside, and in Jewish homes. It does not seem to have been an erratic choice when Jesus decided to give his inaugural teachings in synagogues (Lk. 4:14-15).

…We contemporary believers just might need to reconsider whether we want to recapture apostolic belief by acknowledging and confessing “that Jesus is not a parachurch Messiah” ([Oster’s commentary on Revelation] p. 89), but a churchy Jesus, notwithstanding all the abuses and heresies propagated by his ostensible followers, both past and present.

Meanwhile, will Pope Francis go to Moscow? It’s hard to care when you consider the momentous event that just occurred in Melfort, Saskatchewan:

Wally and Kerry LaClare raise cows on their farm near Melfort, and have seen hundreds of calves born. But last week when one of their cows gave birth, they witnessed something they’ve never seen before.

“Kerry came into the barn, and noticed the cow was straining a bit,” said Wally LaClare. “I checked the cow and there was another calf, so we delivered it. We figured that was it, you never imagine triplets. When I came back in an hour later she was delivering her third,” he said.

The chances of a cow giving birth to triplets are so rare, about once in every 105,000 births, that a person has a better chance of hitting a hole in one.

I wonder how the chances of Orthodox-Catholic reunion stack up to that.

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Christos Anesti!

With all the eggs found, all the chocolate bunnies devoured, and all the peeps microwaved, most of us have allowed the resurrection of Christ to pass from our minds (if it was ever there at all). It would benefit Western Christians, however, to remember that there are still hundreds of millions of Christians around the world who are celebrating the central moment in the Christian narrative today. Let me offer, for your consideration, a selection from the paschal encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarch:

If Christ’s Resurrection referred to Himself, then its significance for us would be negligible. The Church proclaims, however, that, the Lord did not arise alone. Together with Himself, He also resurrected all people. This is how our predecessor, St. John Chrysostom, proclaims this great truth in thunderous language: “Christ is risen, and none are left dead in the grave; for in being raised from the dead, he became the first-fruits of all who were asleep.” This means that Christ became the first-fruits of the resurrection of all who have fallen asleep and who will fall asleep in the future, as well as of their transition from death to life. The message is a joyful one for us all because, with His Resurrection Christ abolished the power of death. Those who believe in Him await the resurrection of the dead and are accordingly baptized in His death, rise with Him and live on in life eternal.

The world that is alienated from Christ endeavors to amass material goods because it bases its hopes for survival on them. It unwisely imagines that it will escape death through wealth. Deceived in this way to amass wealth, supposedly to extend their present life, human beings disperse death among others, too. They deny others the financial possibility of survival, often even violently depriving others of life, in the hope of preserving their own life.

How tragic! What a huge deception. For life is only acquired through faith in Christ and incorporation in His body…This means that it is no longer necessary to search for the “fountain of immortality.” Immortality exists in Christ and is offered by Him to all.

There is no need for some nations to be destroyed in order for other nations to survive. Nor is there any need to destroy defenseless human lives so that other human beings may live in greater comfort. Christ offers life to all people, on earth as in heaven. He is risen, and all those who so desire life may follow Him on the way of Resurrection. By contrast, all those who bring about death, whether indirectly or directly, believing that in this way they are prolonging or enhancing their own life, condemn themselves to eternal death.

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J. W. McGarvey: On Money

The following is part of an ongoing commentary on J. W. McGarvey’s Sermons Delivered in Louisville Kentucky. For an introduction to and table of contents for the series, see Happy Birthday, J. W.

Admittedly, I find matters of church finance to be a great deal less inspiring than questions of providence or even baptism. Yet, McGarvey rightly notes that it is the “experience of all religious bodies” to struggle with money, so much so that “the very first sin and scandal within the Church in Jerusalem was connected with its financial matters–the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.” It is appropriate, therefore, that McGarvey should take time in his sweeping homiletical programme to say a few words about money. Thankfully his sermon does not take the form—as so many modern ones do—of a thinly veiled appeal to boost donations.

McGarvey’s first point is to define the biblical principles which ought to guide regular contribution for church maintenance. The first is stewardship, which is more often than not a euphemistic way of attributing theoretical ownership to God while claiming all practical rights for humanity (e.g. the stewardship of natural resources). In McGarvey’s estimation, however, a proper understanding that humanity truly owns nothing in the world and that everything is owned by God would radically redefine the way Christians deal with their money. “Don’t you suppose there would be reproduced in that congregation [that understood stewardship] the liberality of the first Church?” The absence of that liberality with God’s goods by Christians is perilous for Christians; just consider the parable of the unjust steward.

The second principle is proportionality, tied closely to the third principle of equality. First, God has commanded that all give proportional to the degree they are blessed or burdened. There is no fixed fee for membership in the church, and God has made allowance for times of fiscal hardship just as He has proportional expectations for times of great blessing. “If I am to give to the Lord of that which he has entrusted to my hands for the time being, it follows, as a necessary conclusion, that the amount I am to give is proportioned to the amount which He gives me.” Yet, proportionality is not intended to shift the burden onto the blessed. Even as there is a quantitative disparity between the duties of the rich and the poor, everyone shares equally the command to give. This is not the US tax code; there is no line beneath which you are no longer expected to contribute. Even the widow offered her mite.

After listing the principles which ought to govern church contributions, McGarvey takes a moment to remind his audience that the Christian’s fiscal responsibility to the church does not nullify the Christian’s fiscal responsibility to the world. To be in Christ is to be committed not only to the body of Christ but to the world which Christ came to save:

With these principles to govern us, I do not think it will be very difficult for us to decide what is the best way to secure from the members of a congregation that portion of their funds which is necessary to carry on the work of the Church. I am guarded in saying that portion of what they have, because I do not think it can ever occur in this country (it certainly can very seldom occur) that all the giving to be done by the members of a congregation is that which is necessary for its own regular and current expenses. Of course, that must be met. But what man is there that is willing to be contented with that? What man who loves the Lord, and desires to do some good in the world, is willing, while giving what he ought for his own congregation, to never give a cent for the broad, outlying world that is perishing in sin for the want of aid from those who have the knowledge of the truth? The home demand can not bound the liberality and the benevolence of any man or woman who has a heart to feel for the suffering and dying nations of the world. A man can not be contented to give to the treasury of his own congregation what is necessary to keep it up, and refuse to give to the suffering poor in the city. Our benevolence must reach out beyond the narrow circle of our own congregation’s wants.

It is here that McGarvey makes a contentious suggestion, controversial in his own day and exponentially more so in our own: “Just here let me remark, that I find men all over the country in the churches, who think that they are not responsible to anybody except God, as to their giving;–Nobody’s business but mine and my God’s. I wonder if those men could give a reason why a man should be held accountable by the authorities of the Church for all the other sins he is guilty of, or maybe guilty of, and not be held accountable for this particular sin…The Church has greatly sinned in not dealing with them as it ought. The time is coming when we shall deal with them more faithfully.” In our own time, there is a prevailing sentiment that every sin is “nobody’s business but mine and my God’s.” McGarvey was lucky enough to live in a time with the more biblically defensible worldview that sin was a community matter among the members of Christ’s body. If we believe that—or, in the case of the modern church, if we can reclaim that belief—it is difficult to circumvent McGarvey’s suggestion that what we do with our money ought to be just as much a matter for concern among the brethren as the much more popular topic of what we do with our genitals.

Finally, McGarvey turns his barbs to his own ilk, preachers. Insofar as he hoped from the beginning that this sermon series would be a homiletical aid for young minister for generations to come, this exhortation rings especially true:

I am afraid that we preachers are not as faithful as we ought to be in dealing with this subject in the pulpit. I have myself tried to be, and consequently I have never yet lived and labored regularly for a congregation that was not a liberal one. I remember an incident told me by an aged brother when I was a young preacher, which often comes to me in this connection. There was a man about to die, the richest man in the congregation. He sent for his preacher. When he came, he said, “I want you to read and pray with me; I think I am going to die.” The preacher sat down, and not recalling at once any particular passage to read, opened the book at random. His eye fell on this–“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust do corrupt, and where thieves breakthrough and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.” He said to himself, I will not read that to the dying man; he will think I am hitting at his great failing. So he gave the leaves a flirt at random to another place, and the first passage his eye fell on, was the story of the man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, but who, when he died and was in hades, lifted up his eyes in torment. He would not read that. Then he flirted the leaves towards the back of the book, and the first passage was this: “But they that desire to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition.” The preacher’s conscience began to hurt him now. He felt as if the Lord was dealing with him. He said to himself, maybe it is the intention of the Lord that I should read these very passages. So he read this last passage; he turned back to the story of the rich man and read that; he turned back to the passage in the sermon on the Mount and read that; and when he got through, the dying man looked up at him and said; “Why haven’t you called my attention in your sermons to these passages? You know, and I know, that they strike the very sin of my life, and you have been unfaithful to me.”

What is there to unite these seemingly disparate threads? McGarvey offers very little in the way of an explicit overarching theme. He concludes with an uncharacteristically short invitation with an all-too-familiar tie-in to the trustworthiness of God, but for the most part his musings on church finances show no signs of coherence. In truth, however, there is an obvious principle which undergirds all of them: the Christian use of money is essentially a matter of ethics. That is not all that revolutionary a suggestion, at least in its formulation, and yet McGarvey applies it with remarkable consistency to push the bounds of Christian thought on money. If improper use of money really is a sin, why do we marginalize it in our ethical discourse? Why do we care more about a man’s divorce records than his tax records? Why are we not afraid to condemn homosexuality but terrified to preach that it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle? That last one is easy: American Christians are more likely to be affluent than sexually aberrant. Undoubtedly that is the motive behind all marginalization of monetary ethics. In an American society that worships the unbridled power of wealth, our pulpits are conspiring to teach the church how to serve two masters. Unfortunately, we’ve been told that doesn’t work. It was perhaps a little easier for McGarvey, who was born into a Southern society that, at least in his youth, still had a built-in cultural critique of Yankee capitalism and “mammonism.” How much harder is it today to hear the truth of his message?

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Complementarianism: Olson’s Gordian Knot

The following is part of an ongoing response to Roger E. Olson’s critique of extreme complementarianism. For the ori06gin and nature of these posts, see Complementarianism: A Defense from a Nobody.

Let us shift now from complementarianism in theory and Olson’s critique of it to a subsequent post where Olson attempts to upend complementarianism. He proposes to offer “a true conundrum that exposes the impossibility of consistent complementarianism” and solicits in response possible solutions from “leading evangelical complementarian theorists.” Unfortunately, I am not a leading theorist in any respect, and thus my opinion has only marginal weight for Olson–as I am forced to conclude does the opinions of the millions of regular complementarians who go around every day not treating their wives like children or living in abject, debilitating subjugation to their husbands. Nevertheless, I will present Olson’s Gordian Knot and, with my meager skills, attempt to untie it from the complementarian position I have outlined previously.

Suppose a married couple comes to you (the complementarian pastor or counselor or whatever) for advice. They are both committed evangelical Christians who sincerely want to “do the right thing.” They are trying to live according to the guidelines of evangelical complementarianism. However, a problem has arisen in their marriage. The wife acquired sound knowledge and understanding of finances including investments before the couple became Christians. The husband is a car mechanic who knows little to nothing about finances or investments. A good, trusted friend has come to the husband and offered him an opportunity to make a lot of money by investing the couple’s savings (money for their childrens’ college educations and for retirement) in a capital venture. The husband wants to do it. The wife, whose knowledge of finances and investments is well known and acknowledged by everyone, is adamantly opposed to it and says she knows, without doubt, that the money will be lost in that particular investment. She sees something in it the husband doesn’t see and she can’t convince him that it is a bad investment. The husband wants to take all their savings and put it into this investment, but he can’t do it without his wife’s signature. The wife won’t sign. However, after long debate, the couple has agreed to leave the matter in your hands. The husband insists this is a test of the wife’s God-ordained subordination to him. The wife insists this is an exception to their otherwise complementarian marriage. You, the complementarian adviser of the couple, realize the wife is right about the investment. The money will be lost if the investment is made. You try to talk the husband out of it but he won’t listen. All he’s there for is to have you decide biblically and theologically what she, the wife, should do. What do you advise?

The scenario Olson describes is difficult, admittedly, but perhaps not in the way he thinks. It isn’t difficult to resolve logically; its difficulty lies in the existential turmoil it evokes. The force of his argument rests primarily in its appeal to the universal human inclination to be covetous of what we own. Anyone who has been married for any period of time has weathered some kind of financial difficulty and, in all likelihood, has butted heads with his or her spouse over the proper course to take. When you pair that shared experience with the ubiquitous presence in sinful humanity of a desire to possess and preserve “treasures on earth,” it is understandable why Olson’s straw complementarians have shied away from answering.

The resolution, such as it is, comes first through reorienting the ethical priorities. For Olson, the clear focus is on the ethics of financial stewardship (to use a gross euphemism). When presented with the potential objection that the limit of submission is sin, he counters that “[the complementarian] has to define “sin” in such a way as to exclude from it the wife’s knowing participation in financial ruin for their whole family.” What looms large in the ethical picture then is the suggestion that the possibility of financial ruin is more critical than the possibility that some tertiary Christian principle (something totally incidental like submission) might be violated.

Instead of focusing on the dire prospect that “money for their childrens’ college educations and for retirement” might not be there–concerns which smack of an affluent Christianity foreign to the apostolic age, or to most Christian ages for that matter–the primary ethical question ought to be whether or not the foundational Christian principle of self-sacrificial love is at play. With this being the new focus, there are a number of actions which would be morally virtuous regardless of the consequences (and thus undermining Olson’s utilitarian vision of ethics). For example, it would be morally virtuous for the wife to opt to submit to the husband and allow the money to be invested. If the money should be lost, credit God with using the wife’s sacrifice as a tool for teaching the husband humility. If the investment should prove profitable, credit God with using the husband’s prudence as a tool for teaching the wife humility. In either case, whatever happens to the money is incidental. The wife’s choice to submit is morally virtuous.

Before any objections to this are raised, let me continue by adding that it would also be morally virtuous if the husband opted to forgo the investment out of sacrificial love for his wife. It is a fool (or a polemicist) who believes that true leadership consists of always getting your way. Plato understood leadership to be whatever actions best ensured that all those led were maximizing their potential. Paul had a less calculating but nonetheless compatible vision when he told husbands that they should give themselves up for their wives as Christ gave himself up for the church. If the investment turns out to have been unsound for others, credit God with using the wife’s prudence as a tool for teaching the husband humility. If the investment turns out to have been sound for others, credit God with using the husband’s sacrifice as a tool for teaching the wife humility. In either case, the husband can only ever act virtuous when he sacrifices his will out of love for his wife.

The ultimate issue at stake here is not how to make sound investments but how to have a sound marriage before God. The key to this does not lie in equal rights or even in a calculated, non-traditional division of labor. It lies in the willingness of the spouses to emulate Jesus Christ, who submits himself eternally to God the Father and who gave himself up ultimately for his bride the church. As the hypothetical couples counselor, I don’t care at all what happens to their money. I’m not their stockbroker. My concern is helping them to grow into conformity with the image of Christ, for which submission is essential. Olson frames the question as a conflict between doing what is good and doing what is legal, but in reality it is a clash between doing what is right and doing what is desirable. The focus on the money betrays who our true master is. If it is God rather than Mammon, then the issue comes into sharper focus.

Not, I imagine, for Olson, mind you. It is clear from his proposed dilemma that he sees unsound investment as a sin (a damning judgment on so many in America and the world right now). There is a more unsettling undercurrent to Olson’s argument, however, a response to which may sum up my point here. In his opening salvo, Olson poses this question with apparent indignation: “What is permanent, docile, subordination and submission if not a curse?” I would suggest that it is the appropriate human disposition before God. If submission is a curse, than the Son is accursed of the Father. If submission is a curse, then Adam and all of creation were cursed before Even ever arrived on the scene. If submission is a curse, then Paul enjoins all Christians to be cursed by one another and by God. In fact, the permanent, docile, and voluntary (an adjective that Olson always seems to omit) submission before God is the wonderful disposition in which God exalts and beatifies all creation. That wives may be asked to practice this before their husbands (“as to the Lord”), Christians before one another, congregants before elders, children before parents, slaves before masters, and on and on is not the shame of anyone but to their glorious and eternal benefit.

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Blame to Go Around

A recent USA Today poll shows that more Americans blame the federal government than “Wall Street” for their financial plight, if only marginally more. In fact, while 78% seem willing to ascribe a great deal of the blame to Wall Street, only slightly more, at 87%, believe the government also shoulders much of the blame. While the article focuses on the fact that more than twice as many Americans answered that they blame the federal government more for the bad economy, the more important feature of the polls seems to be that the overwhelming majority of Americans seem to have the good sense to blame both. After all, if there is anything that can match the federal government avarice and malicious self-interest, it is Wall Street. The two are locked in an eternal cosmic game of one-upmanship when it comes to playing free and loose with other people’s money.

What the article seems to be missing, however, is a statistic for the number of people who think that they themselves are to blame for the financial crisis. In fairness, neither the government nor Wall Street are actually sentient, independent entities. They are both collectives of people who do what their constituencies want, be that the voting public or consumers and shareholders. More importantly still, people seem to be ignoring the fact that the American government and American financial institutions learned fiscal responsibility at the feet of the masters, the American public. We’re all quick to point out how unconscionable it is for the government to borrow forty cents of every dollar it spends, but we don’t seem at all concerned with the countless millions of dollars which the American public has amassed in credit card debt, car loans, mortgages, and students loans. The whole twenty-first century financial paradigm is structured around the maxim that you can get it today and pay for it later. I recently read an article in a waiting room magazine about how revolutionary the introduction of GMAC was because it freed people of the burden of saving up to buy cars and allowed them to purchase on credit. The idea was distasteful to Ford and his antiquated fiscal sensibilities. Now, it is the idea of paying for a car, or much of anything, upfront which is anomalous.

It is perhaps time for Americans to realize that there is plenty of blame to go around, to accept the brazen hypocrisy of those of us with student loans or credit cards or mortgages attempting to lecture the government or Wall Street about the reckless abandon with which they spend other people’s money. It is especially time for Americans to stop wondering about whether or not the financial system is “personally fair to them” and begin to ask whether or not they, the public, are not equally to blame for a government, a financial sector, an entire culture that thrives on fiscal irresponsibility

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David Lipscomb on Zeal and Giving

Here is a thought from David Lipscomb’s 1886 article “Equality in Giving (2 Cor. 8:13)” which ought to have significance both for miserly congregants and preachers who dedicate yearly, monthly, or even weekly lessons to the subject of giving.

God intends his church to prosper only as it is pure, ad all efforts to force a prosperity without corresponding consecration of hearts, lives and means to the service of God, is contrary to the will and provisions of God. Hence the effort to raise means and force a prosperity and increase that does not grow out of an earnest, self-sacrificing devotion on the part of its members, corrupts the church yet more and more and is a curse and not a blessing to the world. To spread a lukewarm, selfish, unconsecrated church is a curse rather than a blessing to the world, and is a dishonor and not an honor to God.

A pure consecrated church will spread by the force of the zeal and devotion of its own members. Only a cold, lukewarm, selfish, unconsecrated church needs other devices to spread it…When the church has not zeal, devotion, self-consecration to cheerfully and gladly do the will of God, it should be taught its duty. If it refuses to do it, it would be a blessing to the world and an honor to God for it to die.

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In Other News

Recently, Congressman Ron Paul has made the audacious suggestion that people ought to be able to pay for things with precious metal coins, which have intrinsic worth, instead of the US dollar, which is fundamentally worthless. Congress will likely ignore such ludicrous suggestions as they have in the past.

In other quarters, a twelve-year-old in New York City is being charged with a hate crime and faces serious jail time for flirting with one of his classmates. The sixth grader, himself a Muslim, is being accused of taunting and roughing up a Muslim girl in a fit of anti-Muslim fervor. The prosecuting attorney has been quoted as saying, “We want to make it clear: the District Attorney’s office is tough on schoolyard antics.”

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A Prayer for Loyalty to God

A prayer from James A. Harding, quoted in Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding:

O my father, deliver me from the domination of money. My heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, only though canst know the depth of it. Without realizing that it was so, I was on my way to become a professional. And now, Father, forgive thy penitent servant, and guide his wayward feet unto thy paths. Make me wholly free from the fear of men. May I by thy grace love thee, even thee alone and supremely, and because I love thee may I love thy truth, and the souls of men. Enable me to lay all my burdens and concerns as to this world’s affairs upon the God who will in no wise fail nor in any wise forsake them that rest their trust on him; and then go forth to do all thy will, even thine, unto the end.

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The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers

The first quote is St. Ephraem’s prayer at the end of his Life of Saint Mary the Harlot. The rest are from the Apophthegmata Patrum:

Have mercy upon me, Thou that alone are without sin, and save me, who alone art pitiful and kind: for beside Thee, the Father most blessed, and Thine only begotten Son who was made flesh for us, and the Holy Ghost who giveth life to all things, I know no other, and believe in no other. And now be mindful of me, Lover of men, and lead me out of the prison-house of my sins, for both are in They hand, O Lord, the time that Thou shalt bid me go out from it elsewhere. Remember me that am without defence, and save me a sinner: and may Thy grace, that was in this world my aid, my refuge, and my glory, gather me under its wings in that great and terrible day. For Though knowest, Thou who dost try the hearts and reigns, that I did shun much of evil and the byways of shame, the vanity of the impertinent and the defence of heresy. And this not of myself, but of Thy grace wherewith my mind was lit. Wherefore, holy Lord, I beseech Thee, bring me into Thy kingdom, and deign to bless me with all that have found grace before Thee, for with Thee is magnificence, adoration, and honour, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

A certain brother while he was in the community was restless and frequently moved to wrath. And he said within himself, “I shall go and live in some place in solitude; and when I have no one to speak to or to hear, I shall be at peace and this passion of anger will be stilled.” So he went forth for himself with water and set it on the ground, but it happened that it suddenly overturned. He filled it a second time, and again it overturned; and he filled it a third time and set it down, and it overturned again. And in a rage he caught up the jug and broke it. Then when he had come to himself, he thought how he had been tricked by the spirit of anger and said, “Behold, here I am alone, and nevertheless he has conquered me. I shall return to the community, for in all places there is need for struggle and for patience and above all for the help of God.” And he arose and returned to his place.

A brother asked a certain old man, saying, “Would you have me keep two gold pieces for myself against some infirmity of the body?” The old man, seeing his thought, that he was wishful to keep them, said, “Even so.” And the brother going into his cell was torn by his thoughts, saying, “Do you think the old man told me the truth or not?” And rising up he came again to the old man, in penitence, and asked him, “For God’s sake tell me the truth, for I am tormented thinking on these two gold pieces.” The old man said to him, “I saw that you were set on keeping them. So I told you to keep them; but indeed it is not good to keep more than the body’s need. If you had kept the two gold pieces, in them would have been your hope. And if it should happened that they were lost, how should God have any thought for us? Let us cast our thoughts upon God; since it is for him to care for us.”

A certain old man dwelt in the desert, and his cell was far from water, about seven miles; and once when he was going to draw water, he flagged and said to himself, “What need is there for me to endure this toil? I shall come and live near the water.” And saying this, he turned about and saw one following him and counting his footprints; and he questioned him, saying, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am the angel of the Lord, and I am sent to count your footprints and give you your reward.” And when he heard him, the old man’s heart was stout, and himself more ready, and he set his cell still farther from that water.

The abbot Cyrus of Alexandria, questioned as to the imagination of lust, made answer: “If you have not these imaginings, you are without hope. For if you do not have imagination thereof, you have the deed itself. For he who fights not in his own mind against sin, nor gainsays it, sins in the flesh. And he who sins in the flesh, has no trouble from the imagination thereof.”

An old man saw one laughing, and said to him, “In the presence of Heaven and earth we are to give account of our whole life to God; and you laugh?”

Athanasius of holy memory sought the abbot Pambo to come down from the desert to Alexandria; and when he had come down, he saw there a woman that was an actress, and he wept. And when those who stood by asked him why he had wept, he spoke. “Two things,” said he, “moved me. One, her perdition; the other, that I have not so much concern to please God as she has to please vile men.”

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