Thursday, October 29, 2009

Link: Civatate Dei: The Social Gospel of Mars Hill --yes, Dan, they have one. :-)

Dan over at Civatatedei wrote a tongue-in-cheek observation about the social gospel of Mars Hill. Having had a connection to Mars Hill that has lasted about a decade I would say that, yes, Dan is totally right. The Mars Hill vision Driscoll has repeatedly articulated that "young men would love Jesus, get jobs, take wives, and make babies" is totally a Social Gospel idea, a vision that through the preaching of the Gospel society will be transformed by Jesus into a better society. The fact that this is not a LEFT-leaning social gospel does not make it any less a social gospel.

When the vision is to see the city transformed by Jesus what do you envision in that changed city? THAT, my friends, is still Social Gospel even if it is not the old-school "liberal" Social Gospel movement. The moment you expect proclaiming the message of Christ to transform people and society in a way that will make society better in your assessment is the moment you're talking about a Social Gospel. There are a lot of Christians out there who are sure they are not advocates of a Social Gospel because they aren't "liberal" but who are still using the Gospel as a method to engineer and advocate for the kind of society they want based on what they believe the Bible teaches. The temptation for Christians left and right is to use Jesus as a means toward a social or political end rather than recognize Him as king.

Having said that, I don't think it is fair or historically accurate to say that only bad came from the Social Gospel movement. Organizations like the Union Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, Vision Nationals are not necessarily evil organizations because they want the Gospel to have some positive influence on the society at large. As I blogged earlier, there is a balance in a mission that needs to be maintained. I wrote there of the necessity of balancing the promotion of the mission and the mission without sacrificing the mission itself (and one must not be so busy only doing the mission that no one knows you exist, there is some need to plan for a future). My observation is that the healthiest Christian organizations maintain a balance between the outreach to bless the community and the desire to share the good news of Christ.

The other balancing act is to be in the world and not of the world. This balance is difficult. Some people say they are not called to wait on tables but to preach the good news. Yet what did those apostles do? They appointed deacons to wait on the tables and deal with the pressing social issues within the local church of that time. A church that proclaims "we are not here to help the poor or the widow or the orphan or to pursue `social justice' issues" is missing the point of the Gospel just as much as a group that promotes civic action without grasping how the sacrificial love of Christ is the fire that guides such action. If we love him because he first loved us that is what enables us to love each other.

So, yes, I believe that Mars Hill and Driscoll particularly promote a Social Gospel. As I said earlier, when you look at how you want a society transformed by Jesus you are describing what KIND of Social Gospel you are pursuing by proclaiming the news of Christ the king, not declaring whether or not you even HAVE a Social Gospel.

For people who never attended Mars Hill, never participated on the discussion forums hosted by the church from 1999-2001 (public)or internal (2002-2007) you're not in a position to observe how Mars Hill has had at its heart (or one of the ventricles thereof) a kind of Social Gospel. I could agree with parts of it but ultimately not enough of it to keep a formal connection there. More and more I began to feel that it was a good news for young men, married men, and parents, than a good news for all. I still have very close friends and family there that I love. In fact one of my best friends is a pastor there and I love him and his wife a great deal. I believe Mars Hill will accomplish good for people ... I just also realized I don't have to be formally connected to it to see that happen. I had let family loyalty, inertia, and the desire to stay close to friends keep me somewhere just long enough to realize that it was time to be somewhere else.

Having said all that, I think that a lot of theologically and politically conservative churches have been pursuing a Social Gospel to compensate for the old liberal kind for decades. Frank Schaeffer's earlier works fit the bill. The more you deny that conservatives have a Social Gospel element to them the more you probably need to repent and realize that conservatives can use Jesus as a means to an end, too, rather than considering Him Lord. When He returns He will reveal the judgment that is coming to the whole cosmos, not just the parts you specifically want Him to judge.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Naked Pastor: Send and Resend [thoughts on how Christian organizations ask so they may keep on asking]

This cartoon at is funny because we have seen organizations, Christian organizations, who seem to be caught up in the process of asking us to send them money just so they can turn around and ask us to give, and give more "sacrificially" to the cause. We may not run into many of them but it isn't long for anyone in America, at least, to get the sense that some Christian organizations are more about promoting the mission than doing the mission, whatever the mission may be.

What I will say is that there can come a point in a Christian organization where the mission slips inexorably and imperceptibly away from doing the mission to promoting the mission. This is a dangerous transformation because it comes slowly and with ample signs of running off the rails but not with any one symptom large enough to signal the derailing of the train. The individual wheels on the tracks are shaky but there is no sign that the train is going to spin off into one of Calvin's better build ups (sorry, Bill Watterson fan, had to throw that in there).

I don't really want to give examples but I can speak in generalities. A warning sign tha tthere is a fundamental problem with mission is if after years of stating that the mission of the Christian organization (or ANY organization) is X then if all the evidence points that X as conceived is just not happening then you need to reassess the entire point of X as the goal of the organization. One of two or three possibilities arise at this point. The first is that X is simply an untenable, impossible goal. The second is that X is a tenable goal but that the organization lacks the competence to attain the goal.

There is, however, a third possibility, that X may be an untenable goal in itself but that it may provide a new possibility for a drastic reconception of the actual mission of the organization. A new organization has the flexibility of completely changing its vision to adapt to what is actually good at. An institution is, if you will, an organization that discovered its vision and mission early and figured out it had the competence and vision to sustain that goal and the goal, since we're looking at it, happens to have been a goal that is both attainable and renewable.

That the goal of an organization should be both attainable and renewable is vital and something a lot of would-be businesses in the so-called "dot com bubble" utterly failed to grasp. There were some organizations that had goals that were unattainable. There were others who had goals that were eminently attainable but not sufficiently renewable enough to make for a viable long-term business. I should know because I worked for a business that had an attainable but not, ultimately, a sustainable business goal. I then ended up working for a hugely well-known non-profit that has a legendarily attainable yet renewable goal informed by a statement by Jesus which goes like this, "The poor you will always have with you". Ergo, there is always an opportunity for a Christian organization to help the poor.

But when an organization's mission becomes more about promoting the mission than accomplishing the mission the organization is in peril.

Thoughts on iMonk's "When Bad People Need a Crutch"

Taking the Lord's name is appropriating the name of the Lord to justify wickedness. That's how a commenter on Internet Monk put it. I halfway agree and only agree halfway because I believe wickedness with respect to our character in contrast to Yahweh involves two different kinds of contrasts.

What is wickedness? It can be using the name of God to approve of things which God does not condone. Using the name of God to justify evil. There are those who call evil good and good evil and the scriptures speak against those people firmly. Calling that which is wrong morally praiseworthy is terrible. Yet Jesus was maligned for being a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. The man or woman who invokes God's love and forgiveness and his or her own falling out of love with a spouse does not justify divorce or adultery or predatory behavior.

As an aside, people who invoke the Lord's name for some crazy venture like "God said I'm supposed to marry you" will GENERALLY be recognized as insane, unless they keep this news to themselves or, as in the case of Mark Driscoll, he apparently was told by God to marry Grace and plant a church. We Christians can want it both ways. We want to believe God can tell US crazy things that aren't crazy if we're being told them while also believing that if OTHER people are told crazy things they don't apply or that was bad pizza from the night before and not the Lord. God telling Mark he was supposed to marry his girlfriend and plant a church doesn't mean he should have done it how he did it, which has been dawning on him in the last three years after a few sacrifices were made at the altar of his ministry in the form of other people. I hope he gets better about that but I'm not holding my breath.

Yet as Christians the more pernicious invocation of God's name in vain is to invoke His name to justify that which God does not require. This is one of the great dangers of the teaching of the Pharisees, why Jesus said that they sit in Moses' seat and you should do all that they tell you to do but that you SHOULD NOT FOLLOW THEIR EXAMPLE.

This second type of taking the Lord's name in vain is the most dangerous because it is the kind most popular with Christians. I submit that courtship teaching falls perfectly within the teachings of the Pharisees, just as most contemporary examples of arguments for complementarianism can pitch that direction. The problem, however, is not with the idea of complementarianism (since Catholics and Orthodox simply don't ordain women) but how men use the teaching. Consider Jesus' rebuke that men plead "corban" as a way to avoid honoring father and mother. What was permitted and sanctioned by the Mosaic law was transformed by the traditions of men into a way to defraud one's own parents. The Pharisees tithed mint and cumin and neglected the weightier matters of the law. Courtship freaks exemplify this problem for me at so many levels I clearly won't run out of ways to say it.

But the essential problem goes beyond this or that, it gets to our constant temptation to make our own sacrifices the measure of the sacrifices that make for being truly human. A man like Driscoll isn't the only person who may be tempted to think that the sacrifices he thinks he's making for his wife or kids are the measure of true sacrifice and loving devotion. I've seen others fall sway to this temptation. I have seen still others look down on the sacrifices of parenthood or marriage and consider the pursuit of one's own happiness as the highest goal, which simply uses theology as a way to rationalize wanton self-interest as though it were a lofty goal. Toddlers can have a singular interest in their own happiness and getting things their way but many of them grow out of it, and many toddlers have more capacity for empathy than some adults I've met.

The problem is that bad people who use doctrines as crutches to justify their own controlling or abusive behavior don't see that what they do is emotionally manipulative or abusive. They believe they are defending their legitimate rights, little realizing that the defense of one's legitimate rights in the Christian faith is the honor and opportunity to serve others. In fact Christians who employ doctrines or teachings to abuse others will often feel they are the victims. A dad who is a control freak and wants to retroactively put the kibosh on a daughter's dating relationship feels like the victim because things aren't in his control when he's actually the one who may be sinning against his child.

Now I admit that I'm not chomping at the bit to serve others in a lot of ways in my life, I also don't want to say that there is somehow a spiritual advantage to this admission. I hesitate to say God tells me I should do this or that beyond what I can work out from the scriptures, such as I can do. It is also not really my business to tell other people what God has ordained me to do or have, whatever authority is somehow magically invested in me because I am me and God, in His providence, made me super-duper cool.

What people don't realize in many cases about abusers is that they are not strictly black figures, they often have amazing, endearing qualities that make them easy to love, especially early on. What is often not discussed is how the abused can become abusers and how people can embrace the abuser so long as they are not the recipient of the abuse. In sociological studies this is what you would call the "halo effect". Such and such a person is so kind and charming and funny and spot on about so many things it just can't be possible that he or she is an insecure abuser who invokes the name of God or some doctrine that is ostensibly "biblical" to abuse people or cow people. The person who is on our good side can do no wrong while the person on our bad side can do no right. The beauty of James' metaphor about how the fresh water spring cannot give forth salt water is that he goes on to reveal that the human tongue is precisely such a spring, a spring of water that can bless God and curse men. The person who abuses others is defended because, as I have said elsewhere, the neighborhood dog isn't biting its defenders at the moment so they say the dog just needs to be understood. The dog's instincts in biting are fundamentally correct because, well, he's not biting ME and whatever the dog is going after is defensible because "it's biblical".

I have known people who defended this kind of thing just for as long as they felt connected to the good old boy network and didn't bitch about the good old boy network until they were on the outside of it. And then the righteous indignation flowed down like a flood, while I have not seen a lot of acknowledgment that the person was a happy part of the abusive pattern he or she objects to now. In this case it is not enough for us to say that abuse happened but to own our part of that abuse. When we invoke the Lord's name to condemn those who we do not believe measure up to what we think true humanity is, even if we happen to be right, we are not in the right for making that judgment since we are as culpable for falling short of the glory of God ourselves.

But there are others I know who HAVE looked back and realized, with a good deal of dismay, that they were cheering on then what they now consider an abusive leadership style. THIS, my friends, is the kind of repentence that brings joy to the Lord. God does not want me to not be angry about the abuse of spiritual leadership or about emotional manipulation, but I believe He is filled with joy when I can observe in myself a propensity toward spiritual abuse or condoning the spiritual abuse of others by simply being quiet than if I abruptly decide I have to speak out against injustice only because I, finally, feel I have been the subject of it. Self love is a deadly form of love. There is a form of "being passionate about justice" that in the end is merely being passionate about having your own way and I have seen A LOT of that kind of passion for "justice" that is ultimately not really seeking the things of God as much as the things of self. But I also admit that I am not sure what the balance is between seeking justice and being willing to be wronged.

Compartmentalization can make this task more difficult. The pastor who is abusive to his wife and children may see himself as not an abuser because he doesn't harm his parishoners. Conversely, a pastor who is patently abusive to his parishoners or staff or deacons may believe he is not abusive at all simply because he never raises his voice to his wife or children. A husband may be beligerent and even paranoid about "outsiders" who threaten his family without realizing that he is, despite his vigilence, perpetuating an abusive cycle. We can persuade ourselves that we are not who we truly are by dividing ourselves up.

I can persuade myself that I love the Lord far more than I really do if I fixate on theological reading or biblical literature and don't consider how I treat people or how I worship the Lord through the use of my time. I am as susceptible to using theological shortcuts to justify who I am now as anyone, perhaps more so because, at the risk of making an unmerited statement, I'm a relatively smart fellow and that relative smartness is dangerous because the smarter you are the more brilliantly you can delude yourself. I am convinced that you have to be able to lie to yourself before you can lie to others. The father of lies had to believe a lie himself before he became the father of lies, as best I understand things.

We need to see, in many ways, that abuse is evil because it is the perversion of a good. Defending ourselves by avoiding connection or trying to control the kinds of connections we have does not mean we secure ourselves against abuse. Our own desires can be as broken as the conduct of those who we have seen abuse. This does not excuse them but it does mean that we must recognize how we enable abuse, justify abuse, or do not recognize abuse.

Monday, October 26, 2009

a little bit of progress here and there

For several months (really only about three) I didn't really compose anything. It was just three months but those months felt like forever. I wasn't composing anything and I wasn't really playing anything much, either. I burned the candle at both ends working on a sonata for viola and guitar for a duo back east. I finally finished the third and final movement of the sonata, a six minute fugue.

I was not actually a music major in college, I studied journalism This did not mean I didn't study music a lot. In fact my music minor was just eight credits away from being a general music major when I graduated, leading some of my closer friends to tell me I should finish a double major. Problem with that was I had limited funds and completing my self-designed major was challenging enough as it was. I could not afford that double major though, in hindsight, I wish I could have finished it. But in the end I don't regret having possibly the largest music minor in the recent history of the institution. All of this is to say that I learned counterpoint by studying on my own, using books suggested by teachers.

So when I say that I finished a six-minute fugue in three voices for viola and guitar I trust you, dear reader, can appreciate that the process of composing such a work constitutes its own compositional juggernaut! I can hardly begin to describe how brutal the challenge was of establishing the subject, getting the first countersubject to work (I went through two or three drafts of just countersubject 1), getting the second countersubject to work (that took years before I found something I liked that followed traditional part-writing rules, presented itself as invertible, AND also could actually be played either by the guitar with another voice or the viola), and then beyond all that working out a suitable set of stretti. I'm going to risk going out on a limb and speaking well of my own work but I have attained competence in the art of writing fugues. I would not say I am a master by any means, that is for Bach and Hindemith and others. I have, however, gotten to a point where I can compose a large fugue for two rather unforgiving instruments.

But this makes me nothing more than a learner, not a master. I am still struggling every step of the way to compose and completing the sonata for viola and guitar doesn't mean I have mastered anything, and it certainly does not mean that the piece will necessarily get performed. What I have attempted to describe here is how I got to a point of exhaustion where I gave up music composing for a few months.

Prior to the sonata for viola and guitar being brought to completion I had worked very hard to finish a sonata for cello and guitar and I finished that in April. That project was not nearly as exhausting but it was still a huge challenge. I have a particular approach to compositions that makes things both easier and more difficult. It makes the work of composing more difficult because I have a steep gradient on what I consider material decent enough to even bother working with, it makes things difficult because there are certain things I look for within and across movements in cyclical works that have to be a certain way before I really latch on to the project.

Yet it makes the work easier in crucial respects. If I still find an idea interesting enough to keep developing it months after I have come up with it and then set it aside to see if I still care about it after leaving it alone months later then I have found material for which I have the emotional committment to keep up the work for as long as it takes. "As long as it takes" can range up to nine years or ten and in the case of some string quartet even longer.

Well, this last weekend I finished composing a prelude in B flat minor for solo guitar to go with my fugue in B flat minor for solo guitar. This means my set of preludes and fugues has come up to seven out of a projected twenty-four. God willing and with a great deal of steady work and determination I plan to complete a set of preludes and fugues for solo guitar. That's all I feel like writing about in this entry for now. It feels good to get back to composing music after a few months of fallow times.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On reading the sermons of John Donne and D Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I have been reading through sermons by these two very different sorts of preachers in the last few months and I have to say that I appreciate the insights both men had into the human condition and into the teachings of the Lord and of the scriptures. My thoughts are as yet scattered but several things spring to mind.

The first is that we can't help but benefit from reading old sermons if we have chosen our pastors with care. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Donne strike me as being among two of the best in the English language from almost any age and it is fascinating how greatly they contrast in style and method and form. Yet any Christian may benefit from studying their works and learn not only about the Lord but also about how to responsibly interpret the scriptures.

What strikes me about their sermons is what is missing that I often hear in contemporary preaching. Neither man seemed to have much use for personal anecdotes as application of a biblical text. I notice that in our time a pastor may cast about for a vignette from his or her own life to demonstrate a way in which a biblical text is somehow exemplified by them at some level. Donne and Martyn Lloyd-Jones never seem to do this. They bring their personalities into their sermons, of course, and yet their personalities are subordinate to the consideration of the message itself.

Reading Donne, particularly, helps me to observe that the fad for expository preaching among Reformed evangelicals is what it is, a fad. There is no certainty that a pastor will stick to the text simply on the basis that the biblical text is read and he is allegedly going to explain what the text means. I have heard a lot of so-called expository preaching that is really anything but that since the text becomes a springboard for the pastor's existing social, political, moral, philosophical, or theological agendas.

Donne does us the favor of explaining his method, a common one since ancient times, in which he will expound upon the literal or historical meaning of the text, discuss its pertinence to the human condition you and I are in, and then discuss how it connects to Christ. It may be described, as some have put it so well as the literal, moral and spiritual consideration of biblical texts.

I should confess I was fond of Donne's poetry before I realized he was also a pastor, I can chalk that up to having learned about him through the works of T. S. Eliot, much the same way I discovered Robert John and others through listening to Bob Dylan and then, as he once advised via interviews, to explore what he explored. His advice was to not consider him the one to copy but to go back into history and copy the people he copied and find your own stuff to copy. Well, that I did. I kept going further and further back in Western music and stopped my journey around William Byrd, Palestrina, and Mauchaut. With T. S. Eliot the path was simply jumping back a few generations to Donne.

What sticks with me about reading Donne and Martyn Lloyd-Jones is how prominent their personalities are displayed in their work but, paradoxically, without drawing attention to themselves. The more modern preacher alludes here and there to things he saw and people he know but there is, in the sermons on the Sermon on the Mount I've been reading, a surprisingly low amount of personal anecdotes in application. Here I observe not merely that this differs from the Mark Driscoll show version of preaching but from a lot of contemporary preaching generally. Donne seems positively unconcerned that anyone learn anything about his life within his preaching which is, frankly, a relief in comparison to hearing other pastors!

Martyn Lloyd-Jones discusses things rather generally about people he knew who seemed to think Christianity was essentially best used as an anti-communist ideology or a tool for political or cultural renewal but he largely withholds the sort of anecdotes I hear in preaching now through which the pastor talks about taking his kids to an athletic event or about how he went on a date with his wife and something happened. Now it is not that there is no place at all for such anecdotes and they can, certainly, aid in establishing a rapport between the pastor and the congregation but Donne and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were, rather obviously, vastly beyond the ken of their flock. Yet this, we see, did not really matter much or keep these pastors from keeping a steady focus on the message of the biblical text.

Now there are pastors I have heard, and could easily name but don't need to, who may spend a quarter to a third of their time having an application of a biblical text that essentially amounts to some version of "This is what I was doing this week" or "This is what is going on in the church right now. The application becomes nothing more than a sales pitch for whatever is already happening or, perhaps in better circumstances, an opportunity for a pastor to confess something. For all the talk some of my friends have made about expository preaching some of the pastors who are most ostensibly known for expository preaching really aren't. As I wrote earlier, it is a vital question to ask what expository preaching really exposes. Does it expose us to the truth of the biblical text or to the opinions of the speaker.

I could go on at some length, really, and that is not my intent. I'm intending to simply plug for the works of two pastors who have passed on whose work I have come to admire, if you happen to be interested and don't already know their work. I have felt it has been necessary for me to read Donne's sermons because it is useful for a man like me to see that immense learning and cultivation of great skill in literary art does not preclude a solid handling of a biblical text and, more importantly, an appreciation of the intensity of the emotions of the Psalms. I am not a man given to thinking highly of mere feelings or considering them reliable engines for the accomplishing of anything good in life. So, at the risk of sticking my neck out here, I need to read Donne because Donne demonstrated through his life and art that my way of going through life on that subject is profoundly mistaken but he does so in a way that invites the consideration of another path. Donne can distill things into a few phrases, such as when he writes in one of his prayers that he asks that God would pardon his sins despite his using that pardon as occasion for more sin so that through him others may see how much sin God can pardon. Donne's genius embraces the fullness of the mind without neglecting the heart, the latter of these two things I have been terrible at. I have not managed to hold on to one without letting go of the other and for this reason Donne's work is becoming a God-send to me.

As for Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I find it helpful to revisit the Sermon on the Mount and the sermons reflecting upon the significance of the sermon of the Lord have been helpful to me. I was for some time at a church that sold itself as being "all about Jesus" but was ultimately in danger of remaining all about Paul and whatever the lead pastor saw fit to read into Old Testament passages. People may yet benefit and dobenefit greatly from that sort of thing but it is helpful for me to study the work of a pastor who did a lengthy set of sermons on the Lord's most famous sermon. That is, for me, a way to make it more solidly "all about Jesus" than was possible in the other setting.

some reflections after reading a sermon by John Donne

preached in Whitehall on the first Sunday in Lent:

Every man is but a sponge, and but a sponge filled with tears; and whether you lay your right hand or your left upon a full sponge, it will weep. Whether God lay his left hand, temporal calamities, or his right hand, temporal prosperity; even that temporal prosperity comes always accompanied with so much anxiety in our selves, so much uncertainty in itself, and so much envy in others as that man who abounds most, that sponge shall weep.


If we will not come near the miseries of our brethren, if we will not see them, we will never weep over them, never be affected towards them.


I am far from concluding all to be impenitent, that do not acually weep and shed tears; I know there are constitutions, complexions, that do not afford them. And yet the worst epithet, which the best Poet could fix upon Pluto himself, was to call him Illachrymabilis, a person that could not weep. But to weep for other things, and not weep for sin, or if not to tears, yet not to come to that tenderness, to that melting, to that thawing, that resolving of the bowels which good souls feel; this is a sponge (I said before, every man is a sponge) this is a sponge dried up into a pumice stone; the lightness, the hollowness of a sponge is there still, but (as the pumice is) dried in the Aetnaes of lust, of ambition, of other flames in this world.

This is quite a bit of exerpted material from one of John Donne's sermons and I share it because these passages, beyond the general impression the sermon made on me, jumped out at me. As I have come into my middle thirties I have begun to do what I never dreamed of doing in my twenties or teens, I am marking up the books I own and am highlighting passages that stick with me.

A word of clarification about the final excerpt, Donne, as was his wont and the wont of everyone back then, used unusual spellings compared to our time. I have taken the liberty to use modern spelling in most cases but dug up the reference to Aetnaes and have left that spelling as is. Mt. Etna is the largest volcano in Europe and unless one knows one's way around distaff spellings from four centuries ago one would be hard-pressed to simply know what Donne's reference indicates beyond it being something bad that leeches moisture from a sponge. Yet, being the genius poet that he was Donne tips us off with reference to pumice and playing off sponge and pumice.

Donne vividly outlines that an incapacity to weep may not always mean this but that it can reveal that one is a sponge dried up into a pumice stone. We lose our capacity to weep at the expense of becoming inhuman. As Donne so brilliantly articulated in another sermon the best of all men was called a man of sorrows by the prophet for good cause. To be unable to weep was the epithet given to Pluto, god of the underworld. Donne here strategically evokes the inability to weep in connection to the pagan deity of the realm of the dead. Pluto had dominion over the dead, the dying, and those who fall in combat. To keep playing with cross-language associations, the ruler of Hades was said to not weep. Typologically it may not have been Donne's intent to note that Satan is beyond weeping but the implication in his intersecting literary and biblical allusions and observation about the human condition suggests that to lose the ability to weep is to lose one's humanity. To withhold one's capacity for weeping is to withhold one's capacity of empathy and humanity.

To love ourselves, to be satisfied in our selves, to find an omni-sufficiency in our selves is an intrustion, a usurpation upon God; and even God himself who had that omni-sufficiency in himself, conceived a conveniency for his glory, to draw a circumference about that center, creatures about himself, and to shed forth lines of love upon all them and not to love himself alone. Self love in man sinks deep; but yet you see the Apostle in his order casts the other sin lower, that is, unto a worse place, to be without natural affection.

As Donne puts it, the Apostle describes that in the later days difficult times will come, when people will be lovers of self and, as Donne claims, further down from the likeness of God than even that is the simple incapacity to love. To be unloving is worse than to be a lover of self. The person who loves himself has become like God but in a dangerous way, a way that imperils himself and people around him. God, having the very self-sufficiency we aspire to have, did not consider that self-sufficiency an end unto itself and created the cosmos to receive His love. Here I mention in passing that David Martyn Lloyd Jones made the salient observation that it was in Paradise itself that Adam turned from God, a sober reminder that even in the best of external circumstances our hearts can be tempted to disobey God.

Earlier in his sermon Donne poses a fascinating question regarding those who do not weep. It is so fascinating I feel it is vital to share it. By way of preparation in Rev 3:17 says that the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of living water (Ps 23 anyone?) and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.:

And when God shall come to that last Act in the glorifying of Man, when he promises, to wipe all tears from his eyes, what shall God have to do with that eye that never wept?

If you cannot find it in your heart to weep for anything then what tears are there for Christ to wipe from your eyes when He returns? While there is such a thing as ungodly sorrow and plenty of it in this life our capacity to weep means that we are not, despite all our sins, demons. Even Esau wept bitter tears of worldly sorrow but he was able to weep over his mistake, while Satan when presented with the proof of his failure before God in the book of Job simply retorts that God has not yet been proven wrong, which would happen eventually.

In case I didn't mention the preaching text Donne used for the sermon, "Jesus wept". I have more to say about reading Donne's sermons but that I am saving for another entry.