Monday, June 03, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Salvation from within

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.
"So that (the expression) rich men that shall with difficulty enter into the kingdom, is to be apprehended in a scholarly way, not awkwardly, or rustically, or carnally. For if the expression is used thus, salvation does not depend on external things, whether they be many or few, small or great, or illustrious or obscure, or esteemed or disesteemed; but on the virtue of the soul, on faith, and hope, and love, and brotherliness, and knowledge, and meekness, and humility, and truth, the reward of which is salvation." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 18)
Clement summarizes what he has been saying up until this point, mainly that, we must not understand Jesus' words simplistically or carnally, as if Jesus wants us all to be poor and to give away all of our wealth, for salvation does not come from without, through the agency of external things, but from within, by the effects of the Spirit and Word upon our souls. Redemption begins inside and, like yeast, will permeate every aspect of our lives; from the inside outward. However, when we try to effect salvation through external means, our efforts will never penetrate deep into our hearts to cleanse us and make us pure before God. Outward efforts can never achieve inward salvation. If we want to be saved and to obtain eternal life, then we must first look to our soul.
"If then it is the soul which, first and especially, is that which is to live, and if virtue springing up around it saves, and vice kills; then it is clearly manifest that by being poor in those things, by riches of which one destroys it, it is saved, and by being rich in those things, riches of which ruin it, it is killed. And let us no longer seek the cause of the issue elsewhere than in the state and disposition of the soul in respect of obedience to God and purity, and in respect of transgression of the commandments and accumulation of wickedness." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 18)
This being true, then he who is truly rich is rich in God and he who is truly poor is poor in spirit, and to each there is a counterfeit; he who is rich only in worldly possessions and he who is materially poor yet still rich in passions that lead to death.
"He then is truly and rightly rich who is rich in virtue, and is capable of making a holy and faithful use of any fortune; while he is spuriously rich who is rich, according to the flesh, and turns life into outward possession, which is transitory and perishing, and now belongs to one, now to another, and in the end to nobody at all. Again, in the same way there is a genuine poor man, and another counterfeit and falsely so called. He that is poor in spirit, and that is the right thing, and he that is poor in a worldly sense, which is a different thing. To him who is poor in worldly goods, but rich in vices, who is not poor in spirit and rich toward God, it is said, Abandon the alien possessions that are in thy soul, that, becoming pure in heart, thou mayest see God; which is another way of saying, Enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 19)
It is only when we properly understand what it means to be genuinely rich and genuinely poor that we can continue on to understand Jesus' words to the rich young ruler. So which are you? Are you one who is truly rich and truly poor or one who leads a life that seeks to counterfeit the ways of the Kingdom? Are you rich in worldly things yet poor in virtue? Or are you poor in worldly wealth yet rich in evil passions? Either way, Jesus has the cure for you.

David Robison

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