Sunday, November 03, 2013

Threatening and punishment are good - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Further, the Lord shows very clearly of Himself, when, describing figuratively His manifold and in many ways serviceable culture,—He says, 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.' Then He adds, 'Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit He pruneth, that it may bring forth more fruit.' For the vine that is not pruned grows to wood. So also man. The Word—the knife—clears away the wanton shoots; compelling the impulses of the soul to fructify, not to indulge in lust. Now, reproof addressed to sinners has their salvation for its aim, the word being harmoniously adjusted to each one’s conduct; now with tightened, now with relaxed cords." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
When we come to Christ, we come as wild, uncultivated, branches and we are grafted into the vine that is Christ. While accepting us "just as we are," Jesus also embarks on a process of cultivating us that we might receive the full benefits of our association with the true vine that is Himself. Without this cultivation we would become wood and the blood of the vine would cease to flow in our lives. This cultivation requires the excising of the sinful and lustful areas of our lives that the righteous and rational parts may remain and grow strong. This surgery, at the hand of our pruner, requires the knife of the Word to cut away the dead works of our lives. Such is the reproof of Christ; rebuking us strongly for the greater sins in our lives and mildly for our lesser sins, yet reproving us still the same. Such reproof is good and beneficial for us.
"Accordingly it was very plainly said by Moses, 'Be of good courage: God has drawn near to try you, that His fear may be among you, that ye sin not.' And Plato, who had learned from this source, says beautifully: 'For all who suffer punishment are in reality treated well, for they are benefited; since the spirit of those who are justly punished is improved.' And if those who are corrected receive good at the hands of justice, and, according to Plato, what is just is acknowledged to be good, fear itself does good, and has been found to be for men’s good. 'For the soul that feareth the Lord shall live, for their hope is in Him who saveth them.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Clement appeals to two interesting sources here, one is Plato who was greatly influenced by the writings of Moses and who asserted that there was one great god who was god over all other gods. The second is the Book of Sirach which was part of the version of the Old Testament scriptures which he used to and read from. Moses, Plato, and Sirach all agree that fear, punishment, and correction are all good and beneficial to mankind. All these extend from the hand of justice and serve to save a man as they seek to turn him from sin to righteousness. None of these are to be rejected or to be construed as negating the goodness of a just and loving God.
"And this same Word who inflicts punishment is judge; regarding whom Esaias also says, 'The Lord has assigned Him to our sins,' plainly as a corrector and reformer of sins. Wherefore He alone is able to forgive our iniquities, who has been appointed by the Father, Instructor of us all; He alone it is who is able to distinguish between disobedience and obedience. And while He threatens, He manifestly is unwilling to inflict evil to execute His threatenings; but by inspiring men with fear, He cuts off the approach to sin, and shows His love to man, still delaying, and declaring what they shall suffer if they continue sinners, and is not as a serpent, which the moment it fastens on its prey devours it." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Esaias is how Isaiah was translated in Clement's day and language. There are many who would desire to judge us and, often, we tend to judge others by our own standard. However, the true standard and true judge is the very Word of God that has come to us to show us the true way. He alone is rightfully our judge and corrector, not man. Those who spew judgment and judge others by themselves are impostors and not the true Word who alone has been appointed our instructor, judge, and corrector. Jesus judges our sins that He might correct us and reform us from our sinful ways and might bring us into conformance with Himself and His way which is truth. His threatenings and correction are a result of His goodness and love for us; wishing us the best and a life that is in abundance. However, some may view the threatenings of God as an affront to His goodness because they fail to understand how God can threaten any differently than how they threaten, with evil intent. Yet there is no evil intent in God's threatening, only a pure desire for our greatest good. Someday God may have to execute His final judgement on us, but until then He uses His threatening to warn us of our future fate and to persuade us to choose a path that leads to life rather than our current path that is leading to death. His threatening is our security from destruction.

David Robison

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