Monday, June 10, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Riches with Persecution

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 to this effect similarly is what follows. 'Now at this present time not to have lands, and money, and houses, and brethren, with persecutions.' For it is neither penniless, nor homeless, nor brotherless people that the Lord calls to life, since He has also called rich people; but, as we have said above, also brothers, as Peter with Andrew, and James with John the sons of Zebedee, but of one mind with each other and Christ." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 25)
In response to Peter's confession that he and his fellow disciples had left all to follow Jesus, Jesus acknowledges their sacrifices and declares that all who sacrifice in this life to follow Him will receive recompense in this life and in the life to come. "He will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:30) However, the conjoining of persecution with recompense in this present life has always seemed a bit odd to me; it seemed to be out of place with what Jesus was saying, yet Clement finds it quite appropriate in its context.
"And the expression 'with persecutions' rejects the possessing of each of those things. There is a persecution which arises from without, from men assailing the faithful, either out of hatred, or envy, or avarice, or through diabolic agency. But the most painful is internal persecution, which proceeds from each man’s own soul being vexed by impious lusts, and diverse pleasures, and base hopes, and destructive dreams; when, always grasping at more, and maddened by brutish loves, and inflamed by the passions which beset it like goads and stings, it is covered with blood, (to drive it on) to insane pursuits, and to despair of life, and to contempt of God." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 25)
While for many in the first centuries of the church, martyrdom was the customary end of a believer's life, few of us today in the western world have experienced true persecution from without. For sure, there are places around the world where believers are persecuted and continue to be martyred for their faith in Christ, but here in the United States, and in most western cultures, such persecution is mild at best and martyrdom is something we only read about in history books. However, while we may be free from external persecution, we are never free from the struggle within, the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit, the struggle between loving God and loving things. Often times, external persecution is easier to resist and to stand up under while  the persecution from within often occurs where no one can see it and few know the true depths of its turmoil and pain.
"More grievous and painful is this persecution, which arises from within, which is ever with a man, and which the persecuted cannot escape; for he carries the enemy about everywhere in himself. Thus also burning which attacks from without works trial, but that from within produces death. War also made on one is easily put an end to, but that which is in the soul continues till death." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 25)
To quell the persecutions from within, we must rid ourselves of the object of their attack; we must cut the cords of love for our things and replace them with love for their maker. For some, this may require them to actually "sell all they possess" to be free from their entanglements, much like cutting off the hand that offends. However, for all, it requires a change in loves, a change in pursuits, and a change in masters.
"With such persecution, if you have worldly wealth, if you have brothers allied by blood and other pledges, abandon the whole wealth of these which leads to evil; procure peace for yourself, free yourself from protracted persecutions; turn from them to the Gospel; choose before all the Saviour and Advocate and Paraclete of your soul, the Prince of life. 'For the things which are seen are temporary; but the things which are not seen are eternal.' And in the present time are things evanescent and insecure, but in that to come is eternal life." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 25)
We must all look into our souls to search for the cause of our internal persecution; to find those attachments that bind us to our persecution and keep us distant from God. We must at all cost rid ourselves of these attachments. We must learn to become poor in spirit that we might become rich in God. We must find our wealth not in worldly possessions or relationships but in our relationship with God. Only them will we bring to silence the persecution of our soul.

David Robison

No comments:

Post a Comment