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

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