Thursday, December 27, 2007

Trophies of the Cross

"I could not endure existence, if the world were to go on trivializing Jesus. It would be hell to me, if the blasphemies obscuring the display of his glory were to succeed in my generation."
Henry Martyn, cited by Ray Ortlund

Which I suppose is what was going through Paul's mind as he walked around Athens (Acts 17:16-17), observing people religiously bowing down to anything and everything except Jesus. His heart provoked, disturbed, distressed such that he was moved into action to go and reason and dialogue in the streets and synagogues about Jesus. As has been lyricised: worship is the fuel for missions flame. Since, mission exists because worship doesn't.

The plain truth of the matter is that I don't believe this most of the time. But I want to. More often I'm like Jonah and I'd rather die than have people come to know the grace of God. Let me not cling to idols and so forfeit grace but rather see grace, savour it, enjoy it, believe it. This bountiful feast, as John Owen puts it, those spiritual fat things of the gospel (p142, Communion with the triune God, Kapic/Taylor/Owen). Owen asks:
Has Christ his due place in your hearts? Is he your all? Does he dwell in your thoughts? Do you know him in his excellency and disirableness? Do you indeed account all things 'loss and dung' for his exceeding excellency? Or rather, do you prefer almost any thing in the world before it? (p151)
I will satisfy myself in something. His repute or some other less worthy cause.
"The souls of men do naturally seek something to rest and repose themselves upon - something to satiate and delight themselves with, with which they may hold communion; and there are two ways whereby men proceed in the pursuit of what they so aim at. Some set before them some certain end - perhaps pleasure, profit, or, in religion itself, acceptance with God; others seek after some end, but without any certainty, pleasing themselves now iwth one path, now with another, with various thoughts and ways...whatsoever condition you may be (either in greediness pursuing some certain end, be it secular or religious; or wandering away in your own imaginations, wearing yourselves in the largeness of your ways), compare a little what you aim at, or what you do, with what you have already heard of Jesus Christ: if anything you design tbe like to him, if anything you desire be equal to him, let him be rejected as one that has neither form nor comeliness in him; but if, indeed, all your ways be but vanity and vexation of spirit, in comparison of him, why do you spend your 'money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfied not?'" (p150).
I ask myself these questions. Henry Martyn (1781-1812) of Truro put this into action, under the preaching of Charles Simeon and inspired by the story of William Carey (see Andrew Fuller) and the diary of David Brainerd, taking the gospel to the nations before his early death.
Here Martyn lies. In Manhood's early bloom
The Christian Hero finds a Pagan tomb.
Religion, sorrowing o'er her favourite son,
Points to the glorious trophies that he won.
Eternal trophies! not with carnage red,
Not stained with tears by hapless captives shed,
But trophies of the Cross! for that dear name,
Through every form of danger, death, and shame,
Onward he journeyed to a happier shore,
Where danger, death, and shame assault no more.
Poem, by Thomas Macauley
The where isn't the issue. All people groups need to hear of Jesus. It's the what I'll do with the where I am. Would it be hell to me that the display of the glory of Jesus is obscurred in the Universities and Colleges of the South West of England.


  1. I like the idea of speculating on what Paul was thinking when he was cruisin' around the temple. He was moved, provoked, by what he saw.

    I would also like to throw in compassion as a motivation for mission. I think it could be incorporated into 'worship is the fuel for missions flame'. I would incorporate it into the 'worship' part of the saying.

    This way, the motivation is my concern for you - the other, who is in danger of being lost. You are valuable in yourself, before God, and in a more genuine way. If we leave the definition of motivation as merely worship, unexpanded without compassion, then heaven becomes a depersonalised, monism that fails to communicate the passionate concern of God for the individual.

    Happy new year!

  2. And happy new year to you too.

    I wouldn't say it was speculation about his motivation - we're told. He was distressed at idolatry so he reasons.

    That doesn't have to rule out love because it's certainly not opposed to it. Concern for the glory of the God who is Father, Son & Spirit loving one another is never going to be 'depersonalised monism' - the one whose reputation we're concerned for is the one whose love overflowed to create and to save.

  3. Aren't there different ways to be motivated, after and during distress? Aren't there different ways to be distressed? Aren't there different ways to be distressed about idolatory then? So, speculation, my friend it is, to a point.

    Follow the lead in the Trinity, the motive is love in the being of God, for the different persons to proclaim each others glory. Motivation for glory without love is a contra grace motive. Motivation for glory with love becomes a celebration of grace. I'd go further to say that it seems to me, that there is no split in God's motive. I have heart it said that he has wrath on one side of his heart and love on the other. I disagree. The love of God is even the grounding for the wrath of the Trinity, for it is since the different members love each other so deeply that they are moved to wrath, to cherish each others honour.

    So, you see, compassionate love is the most probable motive, if we are given to understand that Paul understood something of the Trinity.

  4. I agree that compassionate love for God and for the people of Athens would have been the motive (and that from the what the text gives us).

    Even if we say it's only clear that it was idolatry (i.e. God not being worshipped) then we have love in the equation. No such thing as cold depersonalised concern for the glory of God that lacks concern for the salvation of people.

    And one could argue that a cold concern for God's name to be upheld could be achieved Jonah-style by just shouting judgement at the Athenians, but instead he reasons and persuades and calls for them to respond.

    At the high point of Paul's own revelling in the glory of God's love to us in Christ he's broken hearted at the way many of his own people don't have salvation, and so writes the tender tear-stained Romans 9 which contains some of the most amazing stuff about God's concern for his own glory, but that's never opposed to his love but rather altogether driven by it.

    I think we're singing in harmony here.