Thursday, September 27, 2007

Holiness is Wholeness: According to Joseph Le Conte, Once Highly Respected Scientist

I am willing to bet that Joseph Le Conte is a not a household name in Christian circles. Yet I discovered him through a rather household name in Baptist circles, Charles H. Spurgeon. I want to quote Le Conte more extensively than Spurgeon did, partly because his material is so little known, but more importantly because he has a great way of saying things. He has this to say about holiness:

MY CHRISTIAN FRIENDS: I approach, not only with reluctance, but even with fear, the subject of my evening's lecture, the Divine Holiness. There is no attribute of the Divine nature which should so affect us with deep humility - none before which our pride and self-sufficiency should so fall prostate with face in the dust - none with which seems to show between Him and us so impassable a gulf, as this of holiness. These is none, therefore, which seems to us so awful, but which is at the same time so glorious as this. There is none which is so frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, and in such sublime and glowing language, and which is so closely connected there with the Divine glory. In the grand language of Moses: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord? glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders." Isaiah, in still more sublime and glowing language, represents the seraphim in his presence as covering their faces and crying one to another: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."

Shall I call this an attribute, then? Is it not rather the glorious combination of all his attributes into one perfect whole? As all his attributes proceed form the absolute, so all again converge and meet in holiness. As from the insufferable white light of the Absolute they all seem to diverge and separate into prismatic hues, so they all seem again to coverge and meet and combine into the dazzling white radiance of his holiness. This, therefore, is rather the intense whiteness, purity, clearness, the infinite lustre and splendor of his perfect nature - like a gem without flaw, without stain, and without color. All of his attributes are glorious, but in this we have a combination of all into a still more glorious whole. It is for this reason that it is so frequently in Scripture associated with the Divine beauty. The poetic nature of the Psalmist is exalted to estasy in contemplation of the "beauty of holiness," the "beauty of the Lord." Beauty is a combination of the elements according to the laws of harmony; the more beautiful the parts or elements, and the more perfect the harmonious combination, the higher the beauty. How high and glorious, therefore, must be the beauty of his attribute which is the perfect combination of all his infinite perfections!

You see, then, why this attribute is so awful to us. In the ideal man all the faculties and powers, mental, moral, and bodily, work together in perfect harmony, making sweet music - the image of God is clear and pure in the human heart. But alas! how far are we from this ideal! In the actual man the purity is stained, the beauty is defaced, the harmony is changed into jarring discord, "like sweet bells jangled out of tune." How it came so, we are not now inquiring. We all feel that it is so. Therefore is this attribute awful to us. It is the awfulness of absolute purity in the presence of impurity; it is the awfulness of perfect beauty in the presence of deformity; it is the awfulness of honor in the presence of dishonor and shame; in one word, it is the awfulness of holiness in the presence of sinfulness. How, then, shall we approach Him before whom angels bow and archangels veil their faces - Him in whose sight the white radiance of heaven itself is stained with impurity?

Is this glorious attribute also revealed in the physical, material nature? Yes, even this is revealed there; but only as such an attribute can be revealed there - viz., by physical symbols. There is a deep correspondence between things spiritual and things physical, a correspondence necessarily flowing from the fact that the physical prceeds from, and there must be a revelation of, the Divine spiritual. Now, we have already seen that holiness is the harmonious combination of all the Divine attributes into one perfect, beautiful whole. Evidently, therefore, the symbol, or correspondence, or revelation, of this must be found in the beauty and harmony of the physical universe, a beauty and a harmony determined by perfect law.

Still later Le Conte says this:

Holiness is like a forgotten strain of music, still lurking unknown and unrecognized in the memory: strike one chord, and the whole may be dimly brought back to the mind. This chord is struck by the Scriptures. The true nature of holiness, once understood by the intellect, and what a glory and a lustre it sheds upon the whole moral and physical world! what a glory is there then in the nature of Deity! what a nobleness and dignity in the true nature of man! What a splendor even in the physical universe, a the symbol and revelation of Deity! Holiness once appropriated and possessed as an attribute of our nature, and what words can adquately express the glory of the change? It is a new heart, a new life, a new spirit, a new birth.

If, then holiness is the beauty of and perfection of the Divine nature, surely it is also the beauty and perfection of the human nature. Now, we have seen that the whole work of man on this earth is to restore or perfect the Divine image in the nature of man, in the reason of man as truth, in the heart of man as love. Now, it is the harmonious combination of all these divine features that constitutes the beauty of the Divine image or holiness in man. Holiness, therefore, is the true end of human life and every other is false.

My friends, I have tried to show you the exceeding beauty of holiness. Shall I now turn [to] the other side of the picture? Shall I show you in contrast the exceeding ugliness of its opposite, sinfulness? If holiness is perfect law and order, then is sinfulness lawlessness and anarchy; if holiness is perfect harmony, then sinfulness is perfect discord; if holiness is spiritual beauty, the sinfulness is spiritual deformity; if the one is purity, and lustre and life, and health, then is the other foulness, and blackness, and spiritual death, and corruption.

Joseph Le Conte, Religion and Science (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1877), p. 158-160, 164-165.

Let me add some straightforward biography as to who this man was for those interested in understanding things more deeply. From Wikipedia, I believe, we read:

Joseph Le Conte (February 26, 1823 - July 6, 1901) was an American geologist.
Of Huguenot descent, he was born in Liberty County, Georgia to Louis Le Conte, patriarch of the noted Le Conte family. He was educated at Franklin College in Athens, Georgia (now the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia), where he graduated in 1841; he afterwards studied medicine and received his degree at the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1845. After practising for three or four years at Macon, Georgia, he entered Harvard University, and studied natural history under Louis Agassiz.

An excursion made with Professors J. Hall and Agassiz to the Helderberg mountains of New York developed a keen interest in geology. After graduating at Harvard, Le Conte in 1851 accompanied Agassiz on an expedition to study the Florida reefs. On his return he became professor of natural science in Oglethorpe University which was located in Midway, Georgia at the time; and from December of 1852 until 1856 professor of natural history and geology at Franklin College. From 1857 to 1869 he was a professor of chemistry and geology at South Carolina College, which is now the University of South Carolina.

On January 14, 1846, he married Caroline Nisbet, a niece of Eugenius A. Nisbet. The LeContes had four children grow to adulthood: Emma Florence Le Conte, Sarah Elizabeth Le Conte, Caroline Eaton Le Conte, and Joseph Nisbet Le Conte.

During the Civil War Le Conte continued to teach in South Carolina. He also produced medicine and supervised the niter works (to manufacture explosives) for the Confederacy. However, after the war he continued to teach, but he claimed to find Reconstruction politics intolerable, with moves of the Reconstruction-era Legislature to deeply cut funding to South Carolina College.

In 1869, he moved to Berkeley, California to help organize the University of California, along with his brother John Le Conte. He was appointed the first professor of geology and natural history at the University, a post which he held until his death.

He published a series of papers on monocular and binocular vision, and also on psychology. His chief contributions, however, related to geology. He described the fissure-eruptions in western America, discoursed on earth-crust movements and their causes and on the great features of the earths surface. As separate works he published Elements of Geology (1878, 5th ed. 1889); Religion and Science (1874); and Evolution: its History, its Evidences, and its Relation to Religious Thought (1888). In 1874, he was nominated to the National Academy of Sciences. He was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1892, and of the Geological Society of America in 1896.

Le Conte is also noted for his exploration and preservation of the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. He first visited Yosemite Valley in 1870, where he became friends with John Muir and started exploring the Sierra. He became concerned that resource exploitation (such as sheepherding) would ruin the Sierra, so co-founded the Sierra Club with Muir and others in 1892. He was a director of the Sierra Club from 1892 through 1898. His son, Joseph N. Le Conte, was also a noted professor and Sierra Club member.

He died of a heart attack in the Yosemite Valley, California, on the July 6, 1901, right before the Sierra Club's first High Trip. The Sierra Club built the LeConte Memorial Lodge in his honor in 1904. The Le Conte Canyon, Le Conte Divide, Le Conte Falls and Mount Le Conte were named after him. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

Obviously from this short biography, he was a man of some renown in his own day. We may disagree today with some of his views on science and nature. Yet I have a rich science and nature background and love his connections to the field of science and nature. What is so valuable in what he has to say is his connection of holiness to things natural in the way he expresses himself. He has a profound ability to use natural analogies as he speaks, which adds clarity to his thought for those aquainted with nature. I can relate in many ways to what he has to say about holiness. May you also be richly blessed by his writing.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon
Holiness is Wholeness: According to the Scriptures (1Thessalonians 5:23)

This is THE verse for the idea of entire sanctification. It is also THE verse around which is much confusion in the use of words to clearly communicate. Around this verse swarms a large number of words including holy, full, perfect, complete and entire. They are all used loosely to mean largely the same thing. Because God promised that His word would not return to Him void, we must look at this verse and clearly communicate what he meant to communicate.

In this context, John Wesley, the foremost Methodist in all of history, formulated his famous combination of "entire sancification." He also added to this what he thought was a near synonym, the words, "perfect love." The core of Wesley's message is grasped in these words with a heavy emphasis on the word love.

I think it is important to clarify the use of some central words in biblical translation. I think that rather than think of holy, full, perfect, complete and entire as synonyms, we need to grasp their differences when used consistently in translation. Only then can I describe how I think we should grasp the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

Think of holy in whole, full in amount, perfect in relationship, complete in action, entire in thing. Or think of a holy whole, a full amount, a perfect relationsship, a complete action or an entire thing. Contrast this to a profane (or partial) whole, an empty amount, an imperfect relationship, an incomplete action, or the portion of a thing.

My help comes from the Lord says David. And I agree. And where I see God has helped his people is through Charles H. Spurgeon in understanding holiness as wholeness. I see the same through Luther in understanding fullness to be an amount. I see the same through Hooker in understanding perfect as a relationship. I see it again in the book of James, as a book of wisdom, in understanding complete to refer to action. And finally, I see it through Wesley who correctly recognized entire to be the best translation alongside of holiness or sanctification.

But Wesley's lack of clarity was to use perfect as nearly synonymous, when biblically it is a word about relationships and not about things like entire. These words are not synonymous because their primary meanings place the first in the context of relationships and the second in the context of things. These are separate categories.

I agree with Paul that people do not respond unless the message or sound is clear or distinct. I think the confusing of so many words in theology that are not confused in the bible has caused us to lack a clear call to transformation or change in our entire lives. We must be moved to complete action and reach to that perfect (not necessarily ultimate) goal of clarity in communication. May God bless the clarity of His word and remove our theological confusion.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Holiness is Wholeness: According to Thomas Carlyle

There is a wonderful quote from Thomas Carlyle on the meaning of holy. If you do not know who he is, I will give you a short description following the quote. He once said:

It is a curious thing, which I remarked long ago, and have often turned in my head, that the old word for `holy` in the Teutonic languages, heilig, also means `healthy.` Thus Heilbronn means indifferently `holy-well` or `health-well.` We have in the Scotch, too, `hale,` and its derivatives; and, I suppose, our English word `whole` (with a `w`), all of one piece, without any hole in it, is the same word. I find that you could not get any better definition of what `holy` really is than `healthy.` Completely healthy; mens sana in corpore sano [Applause]. A man all lucid, and in equilibrium. His intellect a clear mirror geometrically plane, brilliantly sensitive to all objects and impressions made on it, and imagining all things in their correct proportions; not twisted up into convex or concave, and distorting everything, so that he cannot see the truth of the matter without endless groping and manipulation: healthy, clear and free, and discerning truly all round him. We never can attain that at all. In fact, the operations we have got into are destructive of it. You cannot, if you are going to do any decisive intellectual operation that will last a long while; if, for instance, you are going to write a book, - you cannot manage it (at least, I never could) without getting decidedly made ill by it: and really one nevertheless must; if it is your business, you are obliged to follow out what you are at, and to do it, if even at the expense of health. Only remember, at all times, to get back as fast as possible out of it into health; and regard that as the real equilibrium and centre of things. You should always look at the heilig, which means `holy` as well as `healthy.`

Thomas Carlyle, Inaugural Address Edinburgh University

Here's a concise history of who Carlyle was:

Thomas Carlyle (Born Dec. 4, 1795, Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, Scot. — died Feb. 5, 1881, London, Eng.) Scottish historian and essayist. The son of a mason, Carlyle was reared in a strict Calvinist household and educated at the University of Edinburgh. He moved to London in 1834. An energetic, irritable, fiercely independent idealist, he became a leading moral force in Victorian literature. His humorous essay "Sartor Resartus" (1836) is a fantastic hodgepodge of autobiography and German philosophy. The French Revolution, 3 vol. (1837), perhaps his greatest achievement, contains outstanding set pieces and character studies. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841) showed his reverence for strength, particularly when combined with the conviction of a God-given mission. He later published a study of Oliver Cromwell (1845) and a huge biography of Frederick the Great, 6 vol. (1858 – 65). Britannica Concise Encyclopedia.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Holiness is Wholeness: According to Humility and Against Pride or Despair

So how does a diminishing in the effectiveness of winning souls become acceptable? I believe it is because past failure breeds two kinds of sinners. Those who accept failure and those who deny failure. Historically among Christians, the first group today are called liberals. The second group today would be called fundamentalists. I speak here only of each group. I am not speaking about any one individual that would call themselves by either name. There have been individuals that have been exceptional. But the church is declining rapidly in its impact on its world and that began, not in the 1960s's, but in the late 1800's. Success in winning souls though breeds a different kind from these two types of sinners.

Out of the late 1800's came a great struggle over the heritage of the previous generation. The previous generation was best represented by Charles H. Spurgeon in England and by Dwight L. Moody in the United States. Neither of them, though, was deceived about the decline in winning the souls around them near the end of their ministries. Neither claimed to know the answer to the new problems they were facing, but each was waiting on the Lord for a fresh renewal. As they waited and stood firm, they avoided calling their inheritance a failure or denying that their inheritance had any failures within its walls. They were humble in both their place and in their time. They both called for people to turn to the Scriptures and wait on God.

We need that same humility today. Unfortunately, despair is often humility's counterfeit substitute. This is where people are hypercritical and this is accepted. This is surrendering to liberalism and its overly strong sense that our forefathers failed us. On the flip side is the danger of pride once despair is rejected. This is where people are not willing to be critical of their forefathers when criticism is due. This is surrendering to fundamentalism and its overly strong sense that our forefathers were very near infallible. That is why Martin Luther once said, "Pride and despair are close cousins." It is human nature, not the divine Spirit, who causes us to go to extremes and miss humility.

Holiness is wholeness is an example of humility. It avoids the despair of saying our forefathers knew nothing and that only contemporary scholarship can point the way to the meaning of holiness. Contemporary scholarship and liberalism often hit on the idea of holiness meaning "set apart" as derived from the Arabic language. On the flip side it avoids the fundamentalist pride of saying our forefathers were infallible and ignoring that there was more than one opinion or definition for holiness in the past. Fundamentalism often falls back on the meaning of "separate" as derived from the Roman Catholic and Latin concept of sanctification and struggles with admitting any other opinion existed. Humility recognizes that not all members of our Protestant inheritance saw holiness as meaning the exact same thing. Its meaning was somewhat unclear, yet not entirely unclear, if we are honest. Usually our forefathers joined together both the meaning of wholeness and the meaning of separate. I believe we must take this one more step and add the clarity of it meaning only wholeness at its core. That improvement requires humility.

So back to why a diminished return on winning souls is now acceptable. It is because losing a battle over time becomes chronic. One generation sins by losing humility and falling into pride or despair, because it can see winning people to Christ slipping away. Sin must blame someone and it must justify its sinning. The next generation does the same and the next after it. It takes a mighty God to stem this tide and change it after three to four generations of failure (see Exodus 34).

Holiness is wholeness is the answer to Spurgeon's and Moody's waiting. Spurgeon even defined holiness as wholeness. But it was not yet clear to him what this all meant in terms of both reading the Scripture and its implications for our lives and for theology. This is why he was still waiting.

I believe that God truthfully and graciously wanted to humble the following generation with this correction and renewal of the mind, but the mighty majority refused (see Romans 12:1-2). The problem is that like in the days of Moses, ten to two came back with a bad report on winning souls. That would mean five proud and five despairing to every 2 humble. Holiness is wholeness would breed new success in winning souls. Its implications are enormous for this age. Look at the need for wholeness in our world and the broader recognition of this need.

It seems too good to either side that has either accepted failure like today's liberals or denied failure like today's fundamentalists. We now have a third alternative. The only question is when the majority will pursue humility again rather than either despair or pride. Will there be renewal of our minds now like at the time of Luther? Or like at the time of Calvin? Or like at the time of Hooker? Or like at the time of Wesley? Or like at the time of Spurgeon? I guess I too must wait on the Lord who will renew my strength. I am waiting for the day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Holiness is Wholeness: According to Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards once said in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Part III, Section III: "So divines make a distinction between the natural and moral perfections of God: by the moral perfections of God, they mean those attributes which God exercises as a moral agent, or whereby the heart and will of God, are good, right, infinitely becoming, and lovely; such as his righteousness, truth, faithfulness, and goodness; or, in one word, his holiness."

Notice Edwards' last word on all these things is to say all of them in "one word." All these parts can be summarized in one whole, "holiness." This would then be the whole. Also notice his four major parts that make up God's holiness. They are righteousness which has to do with amounts, truth which has to do with relationships, faithfulness which has to do with actions and goodness which has to do with things. He has also touched on the major parts in Scripture as well as the major whole in Scripture from the moral standpoint of what is our obligation to one another. The only change I would make to his list of moral things is to put love ahead of faithfulness or faith as found in 1 Corinthians 13. Otherwise, I agree with him fully in his fundamentals.

This moral standpoint is fundamental to Edwards. He places the moral ahead of the natural in his heading for this section which reads: "Those affections which are truly holy, are primarily founded on the moral excellency of divine things. Or, a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the spring of all holy affections." This is something to meditate upon as I would have been encouraged to do by my professors in college and in 2 seminaries.

I thank God richly for having introduced Edwards to me in my college years through my professor, Dr. John Piper and through another professor, Tom Stellar. They know him much better than I, as did one of my professors in seminary, Dr. Daniel Fuller, and I know from them that Edwards' writing on religious affections is supposedly his best. May God richly bless you from it.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon
Holiness is Wholeness: According to Rev. John Howe

Rev. John Howe gives a good summary phrase for holiness. He calls it the "attribute of attributes." A quick translation of his understanding of holiness is that it includes all the other attributes. In other words, holiness expresses wholeness. Attributes like truth and love would be parts of holiness for Howe. May God richly bless your life through His wholeness.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Friday, September 07, 2007

Holiness is Wholeness: According to the Scriptures (Psalms 145:8-9)

In the case of this Psalm, I will argue for wholeness not so much from holiness as from an example where wholeness is inherent in a passage, showing its significance in the Bible in general. So again, I want to be clear, this will not be a clear exposition of holiness so much as an example of wholeness as a principle within Scripture.

In Psalm 145:8-9, in the NKJV, we read:

"The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works."

I see here first a set of four elements or parts together in verse 8: gracious or grace, compassion, slow to anger or longsuffering and mercy. These are all in verse 8, but in verse 9, I think we see a summary of all of them as described in the words: "are over all His works." The word that summaries these four parts is translated "tender mercies," but also could be translated as tenderness or even softness. The word "mercies" is actually misleading since it has no direct connection with "mercy" in verse 8. If there is any possible connection it is more likely with compassion, though I do not regard them as necessarily connected, as some do.

So to summarize, I see four parts in: grace, compassion, longsuffering and mercy. And these all fit under what summarized as all His works in this context: tenderness. I am convinced it must be specific to this context since righteousness and truth are His works too and would not necessarily be tender in all cases like mercy, etc. clearly are when they are applied. So I do see this context as an example of a parts and whole relationships being significant in Scripture. This is an example of how important wholeness can be in principle.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon
Holiness is Wholeness: According to John Albert Bengel (Sometimes Johann A. Bengel)

In Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament, there is now included a section titled "Life and Writings of J.A. Bengel" apparently written by Charlton T. Lewis. There we read:

"From 1711 to 1713 he (J.A. Bengel) served a curacy at Stuttgart. It was about this period he composed a Latin treatise, On the Holiness of God, in which he shows, by parallel passages of Scripture, that all the attributes of God are implied in the Hebrew qodesh holy: in fact, that the divine holiness comprehends all his supreme excellence."

There is more than this to this story, however. It has also come to my knowledge that Bengel would introduce this teaching on the character of God before he would take his students through the process of studying the Scripture itself. I have even written to the scholarly source of this information and hope to learn more later. Bengel clearly understood character's importance and priority.

What is incredible to me is that there seems to be no way to acquire this treatise in either Latin or English to examine his proof from "parallel passages in Scripture." It would be a great find to see this proof!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon
Holiness is Wholeness: According to Thomas Boston

Thomas Boston has this to say about holiness (in Gathered Gold by John Blanchard):

"Holiness is a constellation of graces." So he too recognized the summary idea or the wholeness idea of holiness.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon