Thus far, in our journeys for 2010, the Classic Christian small group has sought out God in the story of Martin Luther in film; we have seen His revelation to us in the Bible with John Cassian as guide; we have seen God’s particular revelation to St. Paul and been exhorted to read and apply the Scriptures by John Chrysostom; we have encountered God in the liturgy of Sarum, the incense, the music, the Eucharist; and we have seen that the fullness of His revelation to humanity has come in these last days in the Person of His Incarnate Son, Jesus, fully God and fully Man, as explained by Pope St. Leo the Great.
Standing with this knowledge of the living God whom we have encountered, the small group stepped forth into Lent this past Tuesday. And stepped forth into our considerations of the disciplined life, for our Lord Jesus Christ tells us to take up our cross daily, then come and follow him, and to deny ourselves. He says that if we love him, we shall obey his commands.
St. James says that faith without works is dead, that we are saved by faith and works, that the true religion God accepts is looking after widows and orphans. Thus, while we have already in this group affirmed the teaching of Martin Luther that we are justified by faith alone, still we cannot avoid the call to live a disciplined life.
Bonhoeffer assures the readers of The Cost of Discipleship that to exhort people to live the disciplined, obedient life will not be to lay a still heavier burden on people, for “Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it.” Here he echoes John Wesley’s sermon “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.”
And thus William Law (1686-1761) stands up and makes his Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, the first chapter of which we read on Tuesday. Law was a high church Anglican clergyman who spent most of his career tutoring Edward Gibbon, Sr,* and living in a semi-monastic community giving help to the poor, educating women, and building housing for destitute widows. A trained philosopher and theologian, he engaged frequently in the intellectual debates of his day, defending traditional views of Scripture and God as well as calling people to live holy lives.
And what a call it is! Behold paragraph 2 of chapter 1:
He, therefore, is the devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.
William Law leaves no room for waffling, no room for compromise with the world. He proclaims that the majority of seemingly pious people, although devoted to attendance at public prayer, have the same cares, concerns, loves, fears, hatreds, friendships, pastimes, ways of spending money, ways of wasting time, as the general heathen public of England.
He protests this, saying,
It is as great an absurdity to suppose holy prayers and Divine petitions, without a holiness of life suitable to them, as to suppose a holy and Divine life without prayers.
Indeed, he argues, “If we are to follow Christ, it must be in our common way of spending every day.” My comment on this last night? BAM! William Law pulls no punches. How unpopular this would be for a society that wanted its religion and its frivolity too! How harsh this would sound to the ears of the aristocrat who was at Church every feast day yet still paraded around town in the finest beaver-felt top hat and shining brass buttons, puffed up with pride for all to see, giving money only occasionally and only to the Worthy Poor?
Yet is not the call of Christ something this radical? I have been reading not only Law but also Bonhoeffer of late, let alone all the monks in my past. The call of Christ is this radical. He strikes at the root of our loves, fears, lives. Everything about our lives is to be subordinated to his easy yoke and light burden — from our rising in the morning to our resting at night, from our spending money to our spending time, from how we read to what we read to when we read.
Jesus calls us to follow him. Are you truly able to drop your nets, leave your plough in your field, walk away from the tax collecting booth, sell all your possessions and follow? Count the cost. It is high, yet the rewards are higher.
*Father of Jr, the historian.