Category Archives: excerpt

Machen on the Paradox of Efficiency

“[I]t is the paradox of efficiency that it can be attained only by those who do not make it the express object of their desires.”

-J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith? (Banner of Truth, 1996), 209.

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W.G.T. Shedd on Work

There is discipline in labor. The scrupulous performance of work of any kind improves both the mind and the heart. A thorough and punctual mechanic is a man of character. He possesses a mental solidity and strength that render him a noticeable man and a reliable man in his sphere. The habit of doing work uniformly well, and uniformly in time, is one of the best kinds of discipline. He who has no profession or occupation must be, and as a matter of fact is, an undisciplined man. And in case one has an occupation or profession, the excellence of his discipline is proportioned to the fidelity with which he follows it. If he half does his work, his moral character suffers. If he does his work thoroughly, when he does it at all, but does not perform it with punctuality and uniformity (a thing which is, however, not likely to happen), it is in expense of his moral power.

(p 296 of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology)

William Greenough Thayer Shedd

William Greenough Thayer Shedd

Shedd is author of Calvinism: Pure and Mixed and  Dogmatic Theology, which is the book he is best known for.

Christian Social Theory: The Trinity as a Model for Human Social Life

Nancy Pearcey‘s Total Truth is to today as Francis Schaeffer’s books were to 20 years ago. Green-coloring is the blogger’s. Italics are the author’s.

Total Truth book cover

The Rosetta Stone of Christian social thought is the Trinity. The human race was created in the image of God, who is three Persons so intimately related as to constitute one Godhead in the classic theological formulations, one in being and three in person. God is not “really” one deity, who only appears in three modes: nor is God “really” three deities, which would be polytheism. Instead, both oneness and threeness are equally real, equally ultimate, equally basic and integral to God’s nature.

The balance of unity and diversity in the Trinity gives a model for human social life, because it implies that both individuality and relationship exist within the Godhead itself. God is being-in-communion. Humans are made in the image of God who is a tri-unity—whose very nature consists in reciprocal love and communication among the Persons of the Trinity. This model provides a solution to the age-old opposition between collectivism and individualism. Over against collectivism, the Trinity implies the dignity and uniqueness of individual persons. Over against radical individualism, the Trinity implies that relationships are not created by sheer choice but are built into the very essence of human nature. We are not atomistic individuals but are created for relationships.

As a result, there is harmony between being and individual and participating in the social relationships that God intended for our lives together. This may sound abstract, but think of it this way: Every married couple knows that a marriage is more than the sum of its parts—that the relationship itself is a reality that goes beyond the two individuals involved. The social institution of marriage is a moral entity in itself, with its own normative definition. This was traditionally spoken about in terms of the common good: There was a “good” for each of the individuals in the relationship (God’s moral purpose for each person), and then there was a “common good” for their lives together (God’s moral purpose for the marriage itself).

In a perfect marriage unaffected by sin, there would be no conflict between these two purposes: The common good would express and fulfill the individual natures of both wife and husband. In fact, certain virtues necessary for spiritual maturity—such as faithfulness and self-sacrificing love—can be practiced only within relationships. That means individuals cannot fully develop their true nature unless they participate in social relationships, such as marriage, family, and the church. *

The doctrine of the Trinity has repercussions not only for our concept of the family but also for virtually every other discipline. In philosophy, the triune nature of God provides a solution to the question of the One and the Many (sometimes called the problem of unity and diversity): Ever since the ancient Greeks, philosophers have asked, Does ultimate reality consist of a single being or substance (as in pantheism) or of disconnected particulars (as in atomism)? In politics, the opposing poles play out in the two extremes of totalitarianism versus anarchy. In economics, the extremes are socialism or communism versus laissez-faire individualism.

In practice, of course, most societies shuffle toward some middle ground between the two opposing poles—like America’s “mixed economy today. Yet merely hovering between tow extremes is not a theoretically coherent position. A consistent worldview must offer a way to reconcile them within a consistent system. By offering the Trinity as the foundation of human sociality, Christianity gives the only coherent basis for social theory.

Nor is the answer merely theoretical. In Redemption, believers are called to form an actual society—the church—that demonstrates to the world a balanced interplay of the One and the Many, of unity and individuality. In John 17:11 Jesus prays for the disciples He is about to leave behind, asking the Father “that they may be one, even as we are one.” Jesus is saying that the communion of Persons within the Trinity is the model for the communion of believers within the church. It teaches us how to foster richly diverse individuality within ontologically real relationships “The Church as a whole is an icon of God the Trinity, reproducing on earth the mystery of unity in diversity,” writes Orthodox bishop Timothy Ware. “Human beings are called to reproduce on earth the mystery of mutual love that the Trinity lives in heaven.” And as we learn to practice unity-in-diversity within the church, we can bring that same balance to all our social relationships—our families, schools, workshops, and neighborhoods.

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*People who are not married can and should participate in other forms of relationship, preeminently in the church, in order to experience the spiritually maturing effects of being morally committed to others.

From Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, copyright ©2005, pages 132-134. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.

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Maurice Roberts on Christian Friendship

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Brief Biography:

Rev. Maurice Roberts was born at Chester, England in 1938. He was educated at Durham University. After teaching Latin and Greek in secondary schools in Scotland, he studied theology at the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh. He was the minister of Ayr Free Church of Scotland from 1974 to 1994, and since then has been the minister of Greyfriars Congregation, Inverness, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). He was editor of the Banner of Truth magazine from 1988 to 2003, and is the author of The Thought of God, The Christian’s High Calling, Great God of Wonders, and Can We Know God? He is married, and has one daughter and two grandchildren.

Christian Friendships

by Maurice Roberts

The Christian discovers that, while he has fellowship with all his brothers and sisters in Christ, he has special friendships with only some of them. It is not always easy to say why such friendships between some Christians develop or why potential friendships with others come to nothing. But it is a fact of observation and experience which must ultimately have its explanation in the mystery of God’s providence. Fellowship in a general sense exists among all who are born of God. But that special delight which friends find in each other’s company is something which goes beyond this. Fellowship is there because of the grace which is enjoyed in common. But friendships occur almost mysteriously and yet not without explanation, as we shall see. No doubt in heaven, when grace becomes glory, this imperfect state of our relationships will improve so that all will be equally the friend of each. But it is not so now and no act of will can now make it so, it would seem.

The best of God’s servants have had special friends and their names are wreathed together and intertwined in the pages of Scripture. Moses and Joshua, David and Jonathan, Daniel and his friends, Peter and John, Paul and Timothy — they belonged together on earth and their names come easily to our memory in pairs or groups. Even the Lord Jesus Christ had his special relationships with his own disciples. Out of the twelve, three were specially intimate: Peter, James and John. Out of these three, one was unique. Only John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, in the relationship of a friend par excellence. It appears clear therefore that we ought not, as Christians, to be surprised to find that we have closer relations with some of God’s people than with others. This must not lead us to be dismissive of brothers who are not in our intimate circle of friends. But it reassures us that there is no sin in the Christian’s having closer ties with some rather than with other believers.

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