Monday, May 27, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Treasures of the Heart

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"But he who carries his riches in his soul, and instead of God’s Spirit bears in his heart gold or land, and is always acquiring possessions without end, and is perpetually on the outlook for more, bending downwards and fettered in the toils of the world, being earth and destined to depart to earth,—whence can he be able to desire and to mind the kingdom of heaven,—a man who carries not a heart, but land or metal, who must perforce be found in the midst of the objects he has chosen? For where the mind of man is, there is also his treasure." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich, Chapter 17)
Our problem is not with that which we possess but rather with that which we treasure. Clement reminds us that where a man's mind is there his treasure will be; making no distinction between heart and mind as both represent the inward person of the soul. A man may be rich yet still treasure the Lord, or a man may be poor and yet treasure riches. Either way, it is not the possessions that matter, but rather what each person desires; what they treasure; be it the Lord and His Kingdom or be it things of this world, those things that are passing away.

Clement also reminds us of the words of our Lord, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart." (Luke 6:45) Treasures are found in our heart and it is out of them that our lives either produce good or evil. We decide what kinds treasures we pursue and fill our hearts with; one kind of treasures leading to destruction, the other leading to life.
"As then treasure is not one with Him, as also it is with us, that which gives the unexpected great gain in the finding, but also a second, which is profitless and undesirable, an evil acquisition, hurtful; so also there is a richness in good things, and a richness in bad things, since we know that riches and treasure are not by nature separated from each other. And the one sort of riches is to be possessed and acquired, and the other not to be possessed, but to be cast away." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 17)
One kind of treasure we are to pursue with all our heart, and the other we are to rid ourselves of that we might find life. If we are treasuring the things of this world, then we are already dead even as we live. If we are treasuring the things of the Kingdom of God, then we already possess eternal life. Our goal in this life should be to learn how to be poor in spirit and rich in God. Poor in the passions that wage war against the soul but rich in the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
"In the same way spiritual poverty is blessed. Wherefore also Matthew added, 'Blessed are the poor.' How? 'in spirit.' And again, 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God.' Wherefore wretched are the contrary kind of poor, who have no part in God, and still less in human property, and have not tasted of the righteousness of God." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 17)
What are the things that you treasure? Are they the things of this world or the things of God's Kingdom? One will make you a rich young ruler, the other will give you life, be you poor or rich.

David Robison

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Get rid of your passions

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"I would then say this. Since some things are within and some without the soul, and if the soul make a good use of them, they also are reputed good, but if a bad, bad;—whether does He who commands us to alienate our possessions repudiate those things, after the removal of which the passions still remain, or those rather, on the removal of which wealth even becomes beneficial?" (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
To properly understand the words of Jesus to this rich young ruler, we must be able to separate those things that are without from those things that are within. Those things that are without, such as money, riches, and wealth, are amoral, they are neither good nor evil, they just are. However, those things that are within, our passions in one case and our reverence and obedience in another, are moral, they can be either good or evil. As Jesus said, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23) Our possessions do not defile us, but rather what's inside; those things that lead us to use our possessions for either good or evil. Moreover, if we merely divest ourselves of our worldly possessions without addressing the need to also cleanse our soul, then our final state may actually be worse then our former.
"If therefore he who casts away worldly wealth can still be rich in the passions, even though the material [for their gratification] is absent,—for the disposition produces its own effects, and strangles the reason, and presses it down and inflames it with its inbred lusts,—it is then of no advantage to him to be poor in purse while he is rich in passions." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
We must, of necessity, if we are to follow Jesus, rid ourselves of all passions of the soul! Today, we often think of passion in terms of love; being passionate for the love of someone else. However, our word for passion comes from the Latin word that means to suffer. Passion is the suffering our soul feels when it desires something that it cannot obtain, such as riches, love, or even another drink. Passion also refers to the disturbances and perturbations of our soul from forces without. Someone gets angry at us and, in return, our soul gets angry. Our souls suffers from what it cannot have and the harm others do to it and its response is from its own nature and not from God. This is what is referred to as the passions of the soul. These are the things we must eradicate from our soul, not the possessions from our hand.
"We must therefore renounce those possessions that are injurious, not those that are capable of being serviceable, if one knows the right use of them. And what is managed with wisdom, and sobriety, and piety, is profitable; and what is hurtful must be cast away. But things external hurt not. So then the Lord introduces the use of external things, bidding us put away not the means of subsistence, but what uses them badly. And these are the infirmities and passions of the soul." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
The rich young ruler understood this. He understood that Jesus was aiming at his heart more than at his wealth. I believe that what made this rich young man leave sorrowful was not the command to give away all his possessions but rather the command to come and follow Jesus.
"The presence of wealth in these is deadly to all, the loss of it salutary. Of which, making the soul pure,—that is, poor and bare,—we must hear the Saviour speaking thus, 'Come, follow Me.' For to the pure in heart He now becomes the way. But into the impure soul the grace of God finds no entrance. And that (soul) is unclean which is rich in lusts, and is in the throes of many worldly affections." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 15)
I have known men who made a fortune and lost it all, only to make it all back again. This rich young man knew how to create wealth. He could have easily given away all he had and, in short order, found a way to earn it all back again. This was not his problem. However, Jesus was asking him to, not only give away his possessions, but to also make a change in the direction of his life. This young man loved riches, he enjoyed pursuing them, acquiring them, and planning on how to acquire even more of them. However, Jesus was asking him to give up the pursuit of money for the pursuit of God; "come follow me." This is what made him sorrowful and to leave without obtaining that which he inquired of, namely eternal life. He was not ready to give up his life, a life centered around wealth and riches, for a life centered around Jesus. He could give up all he possessed, but he was not willing to follow Jesus. He loved his life and even the promise of future eternal life was not enough to make him want to change his manor of living.

What are you pursuing in your life? Is it a relationship, money, or even some addiction? Are you willing to give up those pursuit to pursue Jesus? If not, then you too are a rich young ruler in this life. How hard is it for such rich young people to enter the kingdom of God!

David Robison

Friday, May 24, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Money is neither good or evil

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"Riches, then, which benefit also our neighbours, are not to be thrown away. For they are possessions, inasmuch as they are possessed, and goods, inasmuch as they are useful and provided by God for the use of men; and they lie to our hand, and are put under our power, as material and instruments which are for good use to those who know the instrument." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 14)
Money and riches, or the lack there of, are not our real problem. They neither commend or condemn us before God. Money does not make us righteous as much as poverty makes us evil. The Apostle Paul did not say that money was the root of all evil but rather, "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." (1 Timothy 6:10) Money is neither good or evil, it just is.
"If you use it skilfully, it is skilful; if you are deficient in skill, it is affected by your want of skill, being itself destitute of blame. Such an instrument is wealth. Are you able to make a right use of it? It is subservient to righteousness. Does one make a wrong use of it? It is, on the other hand, a minister of wrong. For its nature is to be subservient, not to rule. That then which of itself has neither good nor evil, being blameless, ought not to be blamed; but that which has the power of using it well and ill, by reason of its possessing voluntary choice." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 14)
What makes money appear to be good or evil is the manner in which it is used, and the difference between the good and evil use of money is determined by the one who uses it. If one uses it for righteous purposes, then money appears to be good, but if one uses it for evil purposes, then it appears to be evil. However, in both cases, money itself is indifferent and innocent, it is the user that must bear the judgement not money. We chose how we use our money and therefor it is us who should receive the blame or praise for its use, not the money itself.

Money is neither good or evil, so we must not interpret Jesus' words to the rich young ruler as commanding all of us to divest ourselves of all our wealth and worldly possessions.
"So let no man destroy wealth, rather than the passions of the soul, which are incompatible with the better use of wealth. So that, becoming virtuous and good, he may be able to make a good use of these riches. The renunciation, then, and selling of all possessions, is to be understood as spoken of the passions of the soul." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 14)
It's not our wealth that we must get rid of but rather the passions of the soul that wages war against the spirit. For some, like the rich young ruler, ridding themselves of the passions of their soul may first require them to remove some of the "stuff" that those passions feed upon. Our lust for wealth can feed off our many riches and we may have to become poor before we are able to finally deal with the lust in our hearts. However, either way, the root cause of our troubles is not our riches but our heart. Here is where the real trouble lies.

David Robison

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Keep my possessions?

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"And how much more beneficial the opposite case, for a man, through possessing a competency, both not himself to be in straits about money, and also to give assistance to those to whom it is requisite so to do! For if no one had anything, what room would be left among men for giving?" (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 13)
So selling all we have is not the answer, in fact, Clement notes many benefits to being rich. Wealth to those who are rich can bring many blessings and benefits to them and to others in need. Without the wealthy there would be no one to give to the poor. In fact, if we all divested ourselves of all our worldly possession then how could we be obedient to the commands of the Lord to give? Voluntary poverty could lead us to deny the God's word.
"And how can this dogma fail to be found plainly opposed to and conflicting with many other excellent teachings of the Lord? ... How could one give food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and shelter the houseless, for not doing which He threatens with fire and the outer darkness, if each man first divested himself of all these things?" (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 13)
God does not hate riches nor does he condemn the rich. Both the rich and the poor are created by Him and he loves them both. God "gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV) and He is not against us finding blessing and benefit in it. Clement continues,
"He so praises the use of property as to enjoin, along with this addition, the giving a share of it, to give drink to the thirsty, bread to the hungry, to take the houseless in, and clothe the naked. But if it is not possible to supply those needs without substance, and He bids people abandon their substance, what else would the Lord be doing than exhorting to give and not to give the same things, to feed and not to feed, to take in and to shut out, to share and not to share? which were the most irrational of all things." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 13)
Neither giving away everything or keeping everything is the answer because the issue is not in our riches but in our heart; it is our attitude towards riches, our love for riches, our preoccupation with acquiring more riches, and our hording of the riches given to us by God. If we are to understand what Jesus was saying to the rich young ruler then we need to change how we think of money, wealth, and riches. More on this later...

David Robison

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Sell my possessions?

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"What then was it which persuaded him to flight, and made him depart from the Master, from the entreaty, the hope, the life, previously pursued with ardour?—'Sell thy possessions.' And what is this?" (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 11)
In the story of the rich young ruler, the answer to this question directly concerns us. We know what Jesus said and we know that the young man was very rich, but why did the command of Jesus so grieve him and cause him to retreat from the offer of life? If we can understand this then hopefully we can understand ourselves as well. Clement goes on to contend that the young man's issue was not just the giving away all his worldly possessions, there was something deeper at work in his heart.
"He does not, as some conceive off-hand, bid him throw away the substance he possessed, and abandon his property; but bids him banish from his soul his notions about wealth, his excitement and morbid feeling about it, the anxieties, which are the thorns of existence, which choke the seed of life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 11)
The issue for this young man was not the riches that he possessed but rather the riches that possessed him. It was his relationship to his riches that were a snare to his heart and his relationship with God. His riches consumed his heart and his affections leaving little room for anything else including, and especially, God.

Jesus, in his counsel and command to this young man, was aiming at something beyond the physical; it went beyond just riches and money; and it involved more than just getting rid of all his wealth.
"For it is no great thing or desirable to be destitute of wealth, if without a special object,—not except on account of life. For thus those who have nothing at all, but are destitute, and beggars for their daily bread, the poor dispersed on the streets, who know not God and God’s righteousness, simply on account of their extreme want and destitution of subsistence, and lack even of the smallest things, were most blessed and most dear to God, and sole possessors of everlasting life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 11)
Being poor does not bring us any closer to God than being rich, otherwise, those all over the world who are truly destitute of any wealth, even if they do no know and love God, would be those closest to God. God indeed loves the poor, but just giving away our worldly riches does not guarantee that we will end up any closer to God.
"Nor was the renunciation of wealth and the bestowment of it on the poor or needy a new thing; for many did so before the Saviour’s advent,—some because of the leisure (thereby obtained) for learning, and on account of a dead wisdom; and others for empty fame and vainglory, as the Anaxagorases, the Democriti, and the Crateses." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich, Chapter 11)
Also, giving our wealth to the poor does not necessarily gain us position and standing with God. Many have done this in the past, even those who were enemies with God, and yet were not brought any closer to God. In the past many have tried both voluntary poverty and the giving of their wealth to the poor without obtaining their desired hope of life and life eternal. So what was different about Jesus' command?
"Why then command as new, as divine, as alone life-giving, what did not save those of former days? And what peculiar thing is it that the new creature the Son of God intimates and teaches? It is not the outward act which others have done, but something else indicated by it, greater, more godlike, more perfect, the stripping off of the passions from the soul itself and from the disposition, and the cutting up by the roots and casting out of what is alien to the mind. For this is the lesson peculiar to the believer, and the instruction worthy of the Saviour." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich, Chapter 12)
The command of Jesus for this young ruler went deeper than his money, it extended down even to his heart; it dealt with his emotions and affections that attached him to his wealth and his wealth to him. This command was something he could not do himself, something that would require the agency and support of the Holy Spirit.

Poverty its self is not the answer. Others have tried the path of poverty and yet have not found life. In fact, some seeking life through poverty have actually found their inner turmoil and pain to increase. Instead of finding life they found pride, vainglory, covetousness, envy, and other passions of the heart.
"For those who formerly despised external things relinquished and squandered their property, but the passions of the soul, I believe, they intensified. For they indulged in arrogance, pretension, and vainglory, and in contempt of the rest of mankind, as if they had done something superhuman. How then would the Saviour have enjoined on those destined to live for ever what was injurious and hurtful with reference to the life whichHe promised? ... For it is impossible and inconceivable that those in want of the necessaries of life should not be harassed in mind, and hindered from better things in the endeavour to provide them somehow, and from some source." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich, Chapter 12)
So becoming poor is not the answer, but what is?

David Robison

Monday, May 20, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - The choice is yours

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
" 'If thou wilt be perfect.' Consequently he was not yet perfect. For nothing is more perfect than what is perfect. And divinely the expression 'if thou wilt' showed the self-determination of the soul holding converse with Him. For choice depended on the man as being free; but the gift on God as the Lord. And He gives to those who are willing and are exceedingly earnest, and ask, that so their salvation may become their own. For God compels not (for compulsion is repugnant to God), but supplies to those who seek, and bestows on those who ask, and opens to those who knock." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 10)
Jesus confirms to the young man that he yet lacks one thing to become perfect and that, if he truly desires what he says he desires, he would be able to obtain it from Him. However, it is clear that the choice is his. Many would debate today the role of free will in possessing the Kingdom of God, yet in the early centuries of the church there was no debate. I know of no Christian author in the first several centuries that wrote in opposition, or even in doubt, of free will. Without dissension, they believed that God had granted all mankind free will to chose of reject Him as they see fit. Their choice for the Kingdom was their choice, it was not God who compelled or some irresistible grace that constrained. Perfection was available to this young man but it was up to him to chose; a chose that required not only wanting but also performing that which was necessary to posses what he desired.
"One thing is lacking thee,—the one thing which abides, the good, that which is now above the law, which the law gives not, which the law contains not, which is the prerogative of those who live. He forsooth [truly] who had fulfilled all the demands of the law from his youth, and had gloried in what was magnificent, was not able to complete the whole with this one thing which was specially required by the Saviour, so as to receive the eternal life which he desired." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 10)
What the young ruler lacked, the law was unable to give. He had gloried in the law and sought perfection in it but it left him empty. Now, to obtain what he wished, he had to venture outside of the law to find the "good" that had eluded him in the law. That one thing that he lacked was not one more thing that he could simply add to the list of things he was already doing, it was the one thing that actually required him to change what he was doing; it required a radical change in his lifestyle; a departure from law and an adherence to grace. However, this was not a change the rich young ruler was ready or willing to make.
"But he departed displeased, vexed at the commandment of the life, on account of which he supplicated. For he did not truly wish life, as he averred, but aimed at the mere reputation of the good choice. And he was capable of busying himself about many things; but the one thing, the work of life, he was powerless, and disinclined, and unable to accomplish." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 10)
For as much as this young man desired life, greater still was his desire for his reputation, to be seen as one who has a reputation of good choices. However, good choices belong to the law, where we chose between good and evil as our mind guides us, yet obedience belongs to grace where we choose right as He determines right and wrong and are empowered in our choices by His grace and favor towards us. Clement likens this man's response to that of Martha who busied herself with much serving while her sister sat listening at the feet of Jesus. For Martha, the desire for the reputation of doing the right things kept her from enjoying the truly good things. It was right to serve your guest, it was right to sacrifice your own pleasure for the sake of others, yet such "good" deeds kept her from the "best" deeds. Her desire for her reputation exceed her desire for what was of true value. The "good" works of the law kept her from the better "works" of life.

In both these cases, Jesus bid them to leave behind their former life and to cleave to Him in a new life founded on grace and not on law.
"So also He bade him leave his busy life, and cleave to One and adhere to the grace of Him who offered everlasting life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 10)
Today Jesus is making the same offer to us. Will we choose it or, like the rich young ruler, turn away and return to our old life? The choice is ours.

David Robison

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the RIch - The fount of grace

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"He then who would live the true life is enjoined first to know Him 'whom no one knows, except the Son reveal (Him).' Next is to be learned the greatness of the Saviour after Him, and the newness of grace; for, according to the apostle, 'the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ;' and the gifts granted through a faithful servant are not equal to those bestowed by the true Son" (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 8)
After obtaining a desire to know God, we next need to come to know His Son through whom the Father has chosen to reveal Himself. Jesus said of Himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) Without coming to know Jesus we can never come to know the Father. However, it is not enough just to come to know Him but we must also recognize how and why He is different from all those who came before. While the reasons and differences are many, when compared to Moses, we realize that, while Moses came to give us the Law, Jesus came to dispense to us His grace.
"If then the law of Moses had been sufficient to confer eternal life, it were to no purpose for the Saviour Himself to come and suffer for us, accomplishing the course of human life from His birth to His cross; and to no purpose for him who had done all the commandments of the law from his youth to fall on his knees and beg from another immortality." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 8)
The rich young ruler had come to know Moses, he had readily heard and obeyed his command even from a youth. Clement even comments that this young ruler was "a champion admirable and distinguished, and hoary pre-eminently in mind." in as much as his obedience to Moses was not from a more mature part of his life but even from his youth. He had heard Moses, he had obtained righteousness through the law, but he was still destitute of life.
"But, nevertheless, this man being such, is perfectly persuaded that nothing is wanting to him as far as respects righteousness, but that he is entirely destitute of life. Wherefore he asks it from Him who alone is able to give it. And with reference to the law, he carries confidence; but the Son of God he addresses in supplication. He is transferred from faith to faith. As perilously tossing and occupying a dangerous anchorage in the law, he makes for the Saviour to find a haven." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Right Man, Chapter 8)
In hearing this young man, Jesus loved him and welcomed him.
"Jesus, accordingly, does not charge him with not having fulfilled all things out of the law, but loves him, and fondly welcomes his obedience in what he had learned; but says that he is not perfect as respects eternal life, inasmuch as he had not fulfilled what is perfect, and that he is a doer indeed of the law, but idle at the true life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 9)
Jesus recognized that this young man gave his life in the pursuit of righteousness and honored him for his devotion. Many people have given their lives in the pursuit of being "good." Some out of the knowledge of the Law, some out of their own internal sense of what is good and evil. Regardless, all who come to Jesus are loved by Him and He is ever ready to come to their aid and to show them the way to life. Desire and devotion to righteousness is good, but it leads us only to the starting point of our journey to life.
"Those things, indeed, are good. Who denies it? For 'the commandment is holy,' as far as a sort of training with fear and preparatory discipline goes, leading as it did to the culmination of legislation and to grace. But Christ is the fulfilment 'of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth;' and not as a slave making slaves, but sons, and brethren, and fellow-heirs, who perform the Father’s will." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 9)
It was time for this young ruler to move from Law to Grace, from works to faith, from seeking to fulfill the law to finding the one who had already fulfilled it, from being a salve of righteousness to being a son of righteousness. This young man was now facing the time of his salvation, how would he respond?

David Robison

Friday, May 17, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - You came to the right place

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"For our Lord and Saviour was asked pleasantly a question most appropriate for Him,—the Life respecting life, the Saviour respecting salvation, the Teacher respecting the chief doctrines taught, the Truth respecting the true immortality, the Word respecting the word of the Father, the Perfect respecting the perfect rest, the Immortal respecting the sure immortality. He was asked respecting those things on account of which He descended, which He inculcates, which He teaches, which He offers, in order to show the essence of the Gospel, that it is the gift of eternal life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 6)
This rich young ruler had come to the right place to get his questions answered. If you want to know about the law, go to a lawyer. If you want to know about computers, go to a geek. If you want to know about healthy eating, go to a nutritionist. But if you want to know about life, especially eternal life, you need to go to Jesus because Jesus is life and he came to announce to us eternal life through His gospel. There are many people who want life and want it abundantly, but they are looking in all the wrong places; money, power, relationships, addictions. True life is found in none of those things but only in God.

When people come to us looking for life, it is important that we point them in the right direction, not towards us but towards God.
"And having been called 'good,' and taking the starting note from this first expression, He commences His teaching with this, turning the pupil to God, the good, and first and only dispenser of eternal life, which the Son, who received it of Him, gives to us." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 6)
We may understand the way and even be able to teach others the way, but the way is of no use until the seeker learns first to seek God.

There is nothing more important for us, and for our search for true life, than a desire to know God.
"Wherefore the greatest and chiefest point of the instructions which relate to life must be implanted in the soul from the beginning,—to know the eternal God, the giver of what is eternal, and by knowledge and comprehension to possess God, who is first, and highest, and one, and good. For this is the immutable and immoveable source and support of life, the knowledge of God, who really is, and who bestows the things which really are, that is, those which are eternal, from whom both being and the continuance of it are derived to other beings. For ignorance of Him is death; but the knowledge and appropriation of Him, and love and likeness to Him, are the only life." (Clement of Alesandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 7)
Inside of each of us there is the desire to know God. This desire has been implanted in us by God that we might seek after Him and, in seeking, that we might find him. Paul said of God, "He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things... that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:25-27) We each have the desire to know God, but far too often we allow the world to distract our desire with other satisfactions; we become satisfied with other pleasures and become deaf to our desire to know God and the pleasure to be found in relationship with Him. Sometimes we must separate ourselves from the worldly "chatter" long enough to hear that desire that lies deeper within our hearts; that desire to know God.

David Robison

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - The Oriental Mind

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"These things are written in the Gospel according to Mark; and in all the rest correspondingly; although perchance the expressions vary slightly in each, yet all show identical agreement in meaning." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 5)
Clement wrote this book before there was any kind of agreement on an official version of the "New Testament" scriptures. When we read the early Christian writers speak of the New Testament writings they did so without referring to them as "Scripture." To them, the "Scriptures", were the Old Testament writings, and even here there was no universal agreement as to which writing in particular were to be included. We may need to rethink our doctrines of the inerrancy of scriptures, especially the New Testament scriptures. This is not to say that I do not believe them to be accurate, authentic, and authoritative for I do. However, if we approach them as the writings of the apostles who were tasked by Jesus to teach and pass on His message, rather than as mystical writings penned directly from God's mouth, then I think we will save ourselves a lot of trouble in our view and defense of them. Here, Clement acknowledges that in the different accounts of the historical story of Jesus there may be some difference of expression, perception, and remembrance but in all of them there is a consistency of meaning and message. He was not worried about reconciling every word between the several accounts but rather in understanding the common message and meaning delivered through the various accounts.
"But well knowing that the Saviour teaches nothing in a merely human way, but teaches all things to His own with divine and mystic wisdom, we must not listen to His utterances carnally; but with due investigation and intelligence must search out and learn the  meaning hidden in them." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 5)
This is in essence the understanding and belief of the oriental mind. They did not just look at the words that were written but, based upon the depth of wisdom of the original author of those words (that being God), they sought to find the wisdom behind those words; to find the hidden wisdom contained and reflected by those words. It was not enough to simply read and understand the words as they were written, but it was necessary to understand why those words were written. This search for the hidden meaning was at at the heart of the oriental mindset and was what separated them from the mindset of those in the west; this was Alexandria compared to Antioch.

Clement goes on to explain that, even simple scriptures deserve such an in-depth study.
"For even those things which seem to have been simplified to the disciples by the Lord Himself are found to require not less, even more, attention than what is expressed enigmatically, from the surpassing superabundance of wisdom in them. And whereas the things which are thought to have been explained by Him to those within—those called by Him the children of the kingdom—require still more consideration than the things which seemed to have been expressed simply, and respecting which therefore no questions were asked by those who heard them, but which, pertaining to the entire design of salvation, and to be contemplated with admirable and supercelestial depth of mind, we must not receive superficially with our ears, but with application of the mind to the very spirit of the Saviour, and the unuttered meaning of the declaration." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 5)
Again, what Clement was trying to understand was not just what the words conveyed superficially, but what was the reason and purpose of the Savior in speaking those words and what was the unuttered meaning behind those words. In thine, such an approach would be taken by others to new extremes, even into heresy, but, as we will see, as we read through his book, such an approach can yield great insight that is not obtained by merely reading the words on a page.

David Robison

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Let's listen to it again

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
May the Saviour then grant to us that, having begun the subject from this point, we may contribute to the brethren what is true, and suitable, and saving, first touching the hope itself, and, second, touching the access to the hope. (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 4)
Clement establishes the goal of his little book, that it would be true, suitable, and saving; not saving in the sense of leading people to become born again but saving in the broader sense, to be made secure, complete, perfect, whole, and well. Clement's goal was not to simply express his own thought or opinions, nor to contend for his "side" in some theological and moral debate, but his goal was to teach that which would help others and equip them to enter in and fully obtain the Kingdom of God. In this world there is a lot of "noise." Are we speaking and communicating is a way that only contributes to the "noise" or in a way that is actually benefiting others? Are we speaking and communicating in a way to serve our own self interest by making our own thoughts and ideas known or are we speaking and communicating in a way that shows we are interested in the needs and cares of others; in a way that benefits others and not ourselves?
"He indeed grants to those who beg, and teaches those who ask, and dissipates ignorance and dispels despair, by introducing again the same words about the rich, which become their own interpreters and infallible expounders. For there is nothing like listening again to the very same statements, which till now in the Gospels were distressing you, hearing them as you did without examination, and erroneously through puerility." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 4)
Clement had a confidence that those who truly want to know the truth and are willing to pursue the truth will find the truth. God gives to those who ask, and for those who seek, He lets them find. Clement challenges us to once again look at the words Jesus spoke, but to look at them with fresh examination, letting His words be their own interrupter, and to discard all puerility in our search for the truth. Puerility refers to that period of childhood between being being a toddler and adolescence  To understand the truth of God's word we need to grow up spiritually and set aside childish things, to use effort and study consistent with young men and women of God that we may gain insight, knowledge, and understanding.

Here are the words of Jesus as quoted by Clement.
"And going forth into the way, one approached and kneeled, saying, Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit everlasting life? And Jesus saith, Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments. Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he answering saith to Him, All these have I observed. And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him, and said, One thing thou lackest. If thou wouldest be perfect, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he was rich, having great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith to His disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! More easily shall a camel enter through the eye of a needle than a rich man into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, and said, Who then can be saved? And He, looking upon them, said, What is impossible with men is possible with God. For with God all things are possible. Peter began to say to Him, Lo, we have left all and followed Thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall leave what is his own, parents, and brethren, and possessions, for My sake and the Gospel’s, shall receive an hundred-fold now in this world, lands, and possessions, and house, and brethren, with persecutions; and in the world to come is life everlasting. But many that are first shall be last, and the last first." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 4)
These words will be the basis of his discussion over the next several chapters.

David Robison

Monday, May 13, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Competing for the prize

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"Those then who are actuated by a love of the truth and love of their brethren, and neither are rudely insolent towards such rich as are called, nor, on the other hand, cringe to them for their own avaricious ends, must first by the word relieve them of their groundless despair, and show with the requisite explanation of the oracles of the Lord that the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven is not quite cut off from them if they obey the commandments; then admonish them that they entertain a causeless fear, and that the Lord gladly receives them, provided they are willing; and then, in addition, exhibit and teach how and by what deeds and dispositions they shall win the objects of hope, inasmuch as it is neither out of their reach, nor, on the other hand, attained without effort; but, as is the case with athletes—to compare things small and perishing with things great and immortal—let the man who is endowed with worldly wealth reckon that this depends on himself." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 3)
It is interesting that, in a book directed at the salvation of the rich, Clement would first deem it necessary to address believers rather than the rich. This book is not simply an exhortation to the rich but also a challenge to believers in how they choose to relate to and interact with the rich. Clement outlines three possible responses to the rich, two which bring death and only one that brings life. Clement cautions us not to despise the rich for being rich nor to "cringe" (or fawn) over them with hypocrisy for our own ends. When we respond to the rich in these ways we are showing a greater love for ourselves than for others.

The correct response to the rich should be to love them as fellow children of God and to instruct them and encourage them in the right way. Specifically, Clement says that we should first relieve them of any fear that they are want for the Kingdom of God. We should do this by first exhorting and encouraging them that their fears are groundless, secondly by taking them to the scriptures to see that the promises and inheritances of the kingdom are theirs too, and thirdly by admonishing them that their fears are groundless against God's word and that all who are willing, God will receive.

However, exhortation, teaching, and admonishment are not enough. It is not enough just to teach and encourage the rich, we must also demonstrate to them the kind of lifestyle God desires for His children. While God's promises and inheritances are never our of our reach, they are often not gained without effort. Not everything in the Kingdom of God is just given to us; some things require effort, deeds, and dispositions requisite to their attaining. The Kingdom of God is not a welfare state but often requires us to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you." (Philippians 2:12-13) Consider what the writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." (Hebrews 12:12-13) Notice that sometimes even our healing require us first to make "straight paths for our feet;" to first begin walling in the ways, deeds, and disciplines of God. How often do we wait on God for the things we ask while He is waiting on us for the things He has asked?

Returning to the analogy of the race, Clement continues,
"For among those, one man, because he despaired of being able to conquer and gain crowns, did not give in his name for the contest; while another, whose mind was inspired with this hope, and yet did not submit to the appropriate labours, and diet, and exercises, remained uncrowned, and was balked in his expectations. So also let not the man that has been invested with worldly wealth proclaim himself excluded at the outset from the Saviour’s lists, provided he is a believer and one who contemplates the greatness of God’s philanthropy; nor let him, on the other hand, expect to grasp the crowns of immortality without struggle and effort, continuing untrained, and without contest." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 3)
Rich or poor, we should all realize that God loves us and is generous to us. None of us should despair of the Kingdom for, as Jesus said, "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32 NKJV) We each have the right and hope to enter into the contest of life, yet we should not presume to enter the race without putting forth the requisite struggle and effort necessary to win the race. We should not presume to enter the Kingdom of Heaven "without contest." Our life with Christ will often take "contest;" contest against the world, contest against sin, and even contest against our flesh, but it is a contest we can win, if we engage the contest with courage, faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us not shrink back but rather take up the contest of compete for the glory and honor of God.

David Robison

Friday, May 10, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Why is it so hard?

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.

In describing the reasons for the difficulty in rich men and women being saved, it is important to understand that Clement is not talking about the initial "salvation" of the rich or of the rich being "born again." Rather he is talking about the continued salvation of the rich, about them fully obtaining the Kingdom of God. In reference to the two main causes (which we shall see in a moment), Clement remarks,
"And I affirm both of these things of the rich who have learned both the Saviour’s power and His glorious salvation. With those who are ignorant of the truth I have little concern." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich, Chapter 2)
It is not that Clement does not care for the unbelieving rich, rather he is simply stating that his purpose for this book is to aid those rich who have come to Christ and who desire "to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:24) Clement understood these words of Jesus to be in reference to a person's daily walk with God and not their initially being "born again." For those who have been born again and desire to enter the Kingdom of God, Clement has some guidance  For those who have yet to become believers in Jesus, Clement's words will have to wait until they first come to know Jesus as both Lord and Savior.

As for why it is so hard, Clement identifies two main reasons.
"Perhaps the reason of salvation appearing more difficult to the rich than to poor men, is not single but manifold. For some, merely hearing, and that in an off-hand way, the utterance of the Saviour, 'that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,' despair of themselves as not destined to live, surrender all to the world, cling to the present life as if it alone was left to them, and so diverge more from the way to the life to come, no longer inquiring either whom the Lord and Master calls rich, or how that which is impossible to man becomes possible to God. But others rightly and adequately comprehend this, but attaching slight importance to the works which tend to salvation, do not make the requisite preparation for attaining to the objects of their hope." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 2)
The first reason it is so hard for the rich to be saved is their despair of ever obtaining the Kingdom of God. Even the disciples were astonished at Jesus' remark as to how hard it was for the rich to be saved. They even asked Him, "Then who can be saved?" (Mark 10:26) While it is true that the salvation of the rich will be difficult, it is not impossible, as Jesus answered His disciples, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27) Sometimes, rich or not, we perceive the Kingdom as being too difficult to pursue; it seems to lie always just beyond our reach. Such a believe is not founded on truth but usually on hearing and learning the Kingdom in an "off-hand way." We hear what others say and we believe what the world intimates regarding our faith and we believe it, never actually returning to the written word to verify if such things are in fact true. Even in the church, we often convey a sense that, unless your are like us then you can never be saved. Unless you have our experiences, express our degree of emotions, or follow all our laws then your not really spiritual and your walk with God is lacking. Some hearing this, and convinced that they will never be like you, will simply despair of the Kingdom and turn to pursue what comes natural to them, leading them further and further form the life God intended for them.

The second reason is that, while we may desire to enter the Kingdom of God, we underestimate the effort and preparation necessarily to obtain our desires. It is like the seed that landed in rocky soil. "In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away." (Mark 4:16-18) We may have received the word with joy, but when difficult times come that require discipline, effort, and perseverance, we fall away either because we were not willing to pay the price or we failed to prepare ourselves for the work that was necessary in order to endure to the end. Sometimes the church can be complicit is the falling away of those among the rocks when we preach a gospel that tells people to come to Jesus and all will be well. We conveniently omit any mention of discipline, mortifying the flesh, and suffering. Hoping to "save them," we omit part of the truth, hoping they will not reject the whole truth once they are saved. However, many fall away when they learn, "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:21) The Gospel is the Gospel, we cannot sugar coat it, and when we come to the Lord we must accept it, all of it.

David Robison

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Praising the Rich

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book on the Salvation of the Rich Man. If you are unfamiliar with Clement or his book, you may want to start with the introduction to this series.
"Those who bestow laudatory addresses on the rich appear to me to be rightly judged not only flatterers and base, in vehemently pretending that things which are disagreeable give them pleasure, but also godless and treacherous; godless, because neglecting to praise and glorify God ... they invest with divine honours men wallowing in an execrable and abominable life; ... and treacherous, because, although wealth is of itselfsufficient to puff up and corrupt the souls of its possessors ... they stupefy them still more, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises, and by making them utterly despise all things except wealth, on account of which they are admired..." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 1)
I often find it interesting that, those who already abound in wealth, are the same that people strive to be around that they may heap upon them even greater riches, either in the form of gifts or praise. We have all heard of those lavish Hollywood events and awards shows where all the rich and notables of Hollywood are in attendance and where they receive their gift baskets worth thousands of dollars, each gift representing the wish of someone to gain favor from the rich by their offering. The rich receiving riches for no other reason then they are rich. However, such fawning over the rich is not limited by those of the world, but even believers, at times, can be carried away by the desire to be noticed, benefited, or approved of by those who are rich. James asks,
"For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?" (James 2:2-7)
Not only are we personalty oppressed by the rich, but even our faith is blasphemed by those who are rich and live lavishly in this life. For sure, James is not speaking of all those who are rich, but is it not even true today that it is the rich that oppress the poor that they might gain more wealth, and is it not those who live lavishly that despise and ridicule our faith with its call to modesty, moderation, and humility? Yet these are the very people that we often look up to and "worship" with our gifts and praise.

Clement indites all such behavior as flattering, godless, and treacherous. Flattering because our praise is founded in hypocrisy. We praise them for their wealth, dress, food, homes, and even their private jets as if we found pleasure in them possessing such things when in actuality our hearts are disgusted by them or else entirely consumed with covetousness for them. Our praise is godless in that we praise man instead of God who alone is good, and in our praise we praise them for the wrong things, for example, for their life of luxury rather than their discipline of modesty and temperance. Finally, our praise is treacherous because it encourages and provokes the rich in a lifestyle that is devoid of God.
"bringing, as the saying is, fire to fire, pouring pride on pride, and adding conceit to wealth, a heavier burden to that which by nature is a weight, from which somewhat ought rather to be removed and taken away as being a dangerous and deadly disease." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 1)
Far better than praising the rich is to seek to disciple them in the things of God that they may find and acquire for themselves those things that are of true and everlasting value.
"For it appears to me to be far kinder, than basely to flatter the rich and praise them for what is bad, to aid them in working out their salvation in every possible way; asking this of God, who surely and sweetly bestows such things on His own children; and thus by the grace of the Saviour healing their souls, enlightening them and leading them to the attainment of the truth; and whosoever obtains this and distinguishes himself in good works shall gain the prize of everlasting life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 1)
We will see this become one of the main themes of Clement's book. This book is not only about the rich man but also about the believer's response and duty to them.

David Robison

Monday, May 06, 2013

Clement of Alexandria - Who is the rich man that shall be saved?

Clement of Alexandria lived and wrote near the close of the second century. He was educated in Apollos' native city of Alexandria and learned the apostolic traditions and teachings from those who knew and remembered the apostles. He is often counted among those early writers who became the founders of Christian thought, and this in a time when the scriptures as we have come to know them had not yet been gathered and assembled together as a single work.

He is most remembered for his three books, "The Exhortation to the Heathen", "The Instructor", and "The Miscellanies". However, over the next several weeks we will be looking at another of his works called, "Who is the rich man that shall be saved?" This little book is both instructional and important. In it Clement challenges those who believed that God intended us to denounce all worldly possessions and  believed that poverty was a path to holiness. Clement discusses at length Christ's encounter with the rich young ruler and His exportation to him,
"If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21)
In discussing this Clement questions whether it is really God's will that we should give away all our worldly wealth and live poor as Christians in this world. He also deals directly with Christ's warnings regarding worldly wealth when He said,
"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)
Clement understood that Jesus was not saying that the rich cannot be saved, but that it would be hard and would require the agency of God on their behalf.

This book is important to us for two reasons, First is because many of us are rich. We may not count ourselves among the top richest people of the world but, in comparison to our neighbors and the poor in our communities, we are wealthy. Also, in many of our countries, even our poor are rich in comparison to those who are truly desolate in other countries. We must understand that, while material riches can be a blessing from God, it can also come with its own dangers. We need to understand God's perspective on wealth and our need of Him to aid us in our salvation.

Secondly, this book is important because it introduces us to the oriental mindset and their way of thinking. At the close of the second century there were two schools of Christian thought developing; one in Alexandria and one in Antioch. The school in Alexandra was know for its allegorical understanding of the scripture while the school in Antioch held to a more literal and historical interpretation of the scripture. Much of our modern thought was developed and honed in these two varied schools.  In referencing these two schools, Philip Schaff , the translator and editor of the version of this book I am working from, wrote, "Alexandria becomes the brain of Christendom: its heart was yet beating at Antioch, but the West was still receptive only, its hands and arms stretched forth towards the sunrise for further enlightenment." Over time, the allegorical method of Alexandria would even find its influences into Antioch.

The use of an allegorical understanding of the scriptures has always been around. In fact a famous example of it is used by the Apostle Paul. In speaking of Abraham's two sons, Paul write,
"This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother." (Galatians 4:24-26)
In this book we will see how Clement applies this allegorical thinking to the topic at hand. I hope you enjoy this series and that it is Transformative in your life as you consider how a rich man should live in his walk with God.

David Robison