Sunday, November 17, 2013

The goodness of God - 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.
"If, then, we have shown that the plan of dealing stringently with humanity is good and salutary, and necessarily adopted by the Word, and conducive to repentance and the prevention of sins; we shall have now to look in order at the mildness of the Word. For He has been demonstrated to be just. He sets before us His own inclinations which invite to salvation; by which, in accordance with the Father’s will, He wishes to make known to us the good and the useful. Consider these. The good belongs to the panegyrical form of speech, the useful to the persuasive. For the hortatory and the dehortatory are a form of the persuasive, and the laudatory and inculpatory of the panegyrical." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 10)
Paul writes of the "goodness and severity of God." (Romans 11:22 NKJV) Having written in great lengths to show that God can be both good and stern, Clement now directs his discourse to reminding us that God, in His goodness, can also be mild. God's choice of instruction in our life, whether kind or severe, is determined by our own behavior and choices. Based on that, God chooses the best course of action for our correction and restoration to the right way. God often lays out His goodly counsel and hopes that we will follow it. However, if we ignore his counsel, God has other resources at His disposal to gain our attention and divert us from harm. Someone once told me they "had to figure it out for themselves." However, this is what King Solomon refers to as the Discipline of Fools. "Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, but the discipline of fools is folly." (Proverbs 16:22) We can either choose God's mild discipline or proceed on to learn His severe rebuke.

However, having dealt with the severe, Clement now returns to the mild.
"For the persuasive style of sentence in one form becomes hortatory, and in another dehortatory. So also the panegyrical in one form becomes inculpatory, and in another laudatory. And in these exercises the Instructor, the Just One, who has proposed our advantage as His aim, is chiefly occupied. But the inculpatory and dehortatory forms of speech have been already shown us; and we must now handle the persuasive and the laudatory, and, as on a beam, balance the equal scales of justice." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 10)
In discussing milder forms of Instruction, Clement begins to enumerate some of the ways God instructs us.
"The exhortation to what is useful, the Instructor employs by Solomon 'I exhort you, O men; and I utter my voice to the sons of men. Hear me; for I will speak of excellent things;' and so on. And He counsels what is salutary: for counsel has for its end, choosing or refusing a certain course... And there are three departments of counsel: That which takes examples from past times; as what the Hebrews suffered when they worshipped the golden calf, and what they suffered when they committed fornication, and the like. The second, whose meaning is understood from the present times, as being apprehended by perception... And the third department of counsel consists of what is future, by which we are bidden... So that from these things it is clear that the Lord, going the round of all the methods of curative treatment, calls humanity to salvation." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 10
Exhortation is an attempt to persuade us to choose a better path; to strive for a higher calling; to attain to the Way of Holiness. Counsel is primarily directed to us when we must choose between two diverging paths or two conflicting options of a decision. God's counsel sheds light on the end of our choices and our paths to help us to make the right decision and to continue down the right path. In His counsel He often shows us our past, present, and future as they pertain to our choices and decisions that we might know the right decisions and best choices to make.
"By encouragement He assuages sins, reducing lust, and at the same time inspiring hope for salvation... By Jeremiah, too, He sets forth prudence, when he says, 'Blessed are we, Israel; for what is pleasing to God is known by us.' And still another form of instruction is benediction. 'And blessed is he,' He saith by David, 'who has not sinned; and he shall be as the tree planted near the channels of the waters, which will yield its fruit in its season, and his leaf shall not wither'... Such He wishes us to be, that we may be blessed." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 10
By encouragement, God shows us the benefit and utility of salvation; both in attempting to persuade us to choose for ourselves the pathway of salvation and to encourage us to continue along the way. It is easy, at times, to loose heart and to grow weary, but that is when the encouragement of God comes to aid and strengthen us in our continued journey.

Finally, for me, "benediction" was always what the preacher said at the end of the service, but "benediction" simply means a "good word" or a "spoken blessing." Solomon said, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad. " (Proverbs 12:25) How often we need that Good Word from God to encourage us, warm hour hearts, and lift our load. It is like the couple that Jesus meat on the Emmaus Road who spoke of their time with Jesus, saying, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road." (Luke 24:32) Sometimes I need the severity of God to wake me up and to restore me to the right way, but I am also thankful for the encouraging and good word that He brings to encourage me along the way when my load gets heavy. He is sever when I need it and gentle with I need it, each in its own time. For both of these I am grateful.

David Robison

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