"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Brother Lawrence's Second Letter

      Brother Lawrence was aware of his unique, spiritual experience. In his second letter, he compared his method of approaching God to that of "a devout person" with whom he had exchanged experiences.
      The unnamed person said the life of spiritual grace begins with servile fear. Sounds pious, but is it scriptural? Between the Hebrew and the Greek words for fear, there are many possible interpretations for the phrase, "servile fear." And that's if the unnamed person used the phrase in the scriptural sense. Perhaps the most obvious meaning is the fear, awe, or reverence a master can instill in his slave. Do God's faithful servants fear their Master's reprisal? Not if they first trust His love(1 John 4:18).
      This self-proclaimed teacher said that servile fear is increased by hope of eternal life, but that doesn't make sense either. That kind of fear comes from dread of consequences, and hope of eternal life is anything but a fearful consequence.
      Finally this advisor says the spiritual life is, after all that fear and dread, consummated by pure love. But according to the Bible, 1 John 4:18, God's love casts out fear. Through these distinct steps, the advisor said one at last arrives at that "blessed consummation" of eternal life. Again, these steps to eternal life aren't the ones Jesus and His apostles gave us.
      No wonder Brother Lawrence felt these steps would discourage him. Instead, he gave himself up to God on first entering the religious life, as the best satisfaction he could make for his sins, "for the love of Him, to renounce all besides." Instead of coming last, Brother Lawrence placed love first, as does God's word, in 1 John 4:19.
      Brother Lawrence graduated from years of occupying his devotional time with thoughts of death, judgment, hell, heaven and his sins, to concentrating on God's presence, whom he considered was always with him not only during his devotional time, but also while he worked. From this he derived such joy and consolation that faith alone was enough to assure him of salvation. Again, he reached the Biblical conclusion, this time in agreement with Ephesians 2:8-9.
      Even then he experienced doubts about how God could so easily forgive such a sinner. He was tormented by thoughts of his past sins and feared that either he had imagined all the moments of victorious faith, or he had willfully deluded himself. He wrote, "It seemed to me that all creatures, reason, and God Himself were against me and faith alone for me." Like many in the positive confession movement, he passed through a phase where he placed his faith in faith, rather than in God. Curiously, through all those doubts and misplaced faith, his faith increased until, seemingly all at once, he found himself changed with such an inner peace that he felt his soul had found its home, its place of rest.
      He wrote, "Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility, and with love." He avoided as much as possible any ungodly thoughts, but even with his remaining imperfections, his greatest hope was for God to do with him what He pleased, so deeply did he trust Him.
      As to the state he called "an actual presence of God," he described it partially as his desire to have no will but that of God. He write, "Or, to put it another way, it is an habitual, silent, and private conversation of the soul with God."
      At great length Brother Lawrence tried to relate his simple delight at God's presence. He marveled at God's grace toward such a wretched, wicked person as himself, grace to the degree that God seemed to prefer him as His favorite son, preferred above all others. He compared his attachment to God to an infant at its mother's breast, a state he called, "the bosom of God."
      Brother Lawrence thought of himself as a stone, resting before the Sculptor, waiting to be carved into His image. When he applied himself to prayer, he felt his spirit lifted above any care or effort, suspended, yet firmly fixed in God as its center of rest. Some accused him of deluding himself with inactivity while so elevated in meditation on God. But centered on God as he was, he denied all his former needs because he was completely content in God. "If this is delusion, then only God can remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me. I desire only Him and to be wholly devoted to Him."

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