Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Clement, Salvation of the Rich - Why the fear

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.
"The wealthy and legally correct man, not understanding these things figuratively, nor how the same man can be both poor and rich, and have wealth and not have it, and use he world and not use it, went away sad and downcast, leaving the state of life, which he was able merely to desire but not to attain, making for himself the difficult impossible. For it was difficult for the soul not to be seduced and ruined by the luxuries and flowery enchantments that beset remarkable wealth; but it was not impossible..." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 20)
The rich young ruler, not understanding Jesus' words fully and, not wanting to understand Jesus' words fully, leaves sad and surrenders his opportunity to acquire what he sought; eternal life. He failed to understand what it means to be truly rich, even when poor, and what it means to be truly poor, yet possession all things "pertaining to life and godliness." (2 Peter 1:3) He did not understand how becoming rich had made him poor and how choosing to become poor again could make him rich. In all this he chose, instead, to continue in the allurements, seductions, and entrapments of worldly riches. The poor man might desire riches, but the rich man has already tasted of their fineness and luxury. This makes it doubly hard for the rich to leave them behind and break all attachments with them that he might pursue God.

Seeing the rich young man leave, and hearing Jesus' words, the disciples were astonished and asked, "Then who can be saved?" (Mark 10:26) Their response shows not only their concern for the rich but also themselves. They had already left all they had to follow Jesus, yet Jesus' words still rattled their soul. They understood that Jesus' words were directed towards all people, all who were rich in the evil passions of the soul, not just those rich in the worlds possessions.
"But when they became conscious of not having yet wholly renounced the passions (for they were neophytes and recently selected by the Saviour), they were excessively astonished, and despaired of themselves no less than that rich man who clung so terribly to the wealth which he preferred to eternal life. It was therefore a fit subject for all fear on the disciples’ part; if both he that possesses wealth and he that is teeming with passions were the rich, and these alike shall be expelled from the heavens. For salvation is the privilege of pure and passionless souls." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 20)
But Jesus allays their fears reminding them that, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27) We cannot make this journey to eternal life on our own or by our own will or effort. We need the help and agency of the Lord to achieve success in our journey. None of us are fit for eternal life, but none of us are beyond help from the Lord.
"For a man by himself working and toiling at freedom from passion achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself very desirous and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. For God conspires with willing souls. But if they abandon their eagerness, the spirit which is bestowed by God is also restrained. For to save the unwilling is the part of one exercising compulsion; but to save the willing, that of one showing grace." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 21)
Upon hearing all this, Peter responds, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." (Mark 10:28) Yet it was more than just their worldly possession that they had left, meager as they were, but they had also left behind the world system with its lusts and enticements to follow Jesus. For these are the things that truly hinder us from eternal life.
"But if, casting away what we were now speaking of, the old mental possessions and soul diseases, they follow in the Master’s footsteps, this now joins them to those who are to be enrolled in the heavens. For it is thus that one truly follows the Saviour, by aiming at sinlessness and at His perfection, and adorning and composing the soul before it as a mirror, and arranging everything in all respects similarly." (Clement of Alexandria, Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 21)
David Robison

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