Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Saint wades further into Christ

The Antinomian Controversy centres on a disparity between two competing versions of God's promise, one in which much is required of us, the other in which it is not. Behind the debate, two different visions of God himself. Janice Knight's exploration of this in her Orthodoxies in Massachussets studies the literature of the players in the Controversy, and those who influenced them. Study of history isn't because we aspire to the past, but to let the breeze of the centuries blow through, to lift our own cultural blinders and to humbly learn from those who knew Christ before us. The key parties in Massachussets stood on the shoulders of their teachers, Sibbes and Ames.
"Ames admits that "since our love is a desire of union with God it come sin part from what is called concupiscence or appetite. We desire God for ourselves, because we hope for benefits and eternal blessedness from him" Ames's disciples rhapsodize over the beauty of the beloved, but they also appealed to more self-interested and material desires... considering the bounty of his gifts not just the beauty of Christ. The dowry characterises their presentation of spiritual marriage as often as does the ecstatic enjoyment of the bridegroom. The Amesians often convert the affective union of Canticles (The Song of Songs) into the contractual marriage bond of Protestant practice, a contract stipulating duties and rewards.... " (p104-5, Knight)
The difference isn't just linguistic, but reveals difference in convictions, and expectations.
"Unlike (Amesian) Hooker's sinner, the Sibbesian saint is taught not to look for spiritual harvest; his heart is set up on Christ, more than upon the pardon of sin, or salvation...he has Christ in his eye and heart above all blessings."
All that I have I share with you isn't about the spouses stuff but about the spouse.
Sibbesian "Cotton likens spiritual baptism to a wading in grace
"First a Christian wades in the rivers of God his grace up to the ankles, with some good frame of spirit." Still afflicted with the dryness of his soul and overpowering thirst and desire, the saint wades further - to the knees, the loins, and further still till all is drenched. As Cotton joyously predicts: "they you shall swim as fish in the water with all readiness and dexterity... such a Christian does not creep or walk, but he runs,... every way drenched in grace... he is never drawn dry."
While there is progressive baptism in grace.. rather than in measured units there is a fluid motion, which culminates in the sudden change... this is an experimental (experiential) faith known only to initiates; this is a draught of holy water recall only by those who have been so drenched."
Knight notes that Amesians do have some talk of this intimacy, but frequently emphasise other matters. Where Sibbesians save their best imagery and language and hours to speak of Christ, the Amesians best metaphors are used to speak of sin. For the Sibbesians the saint has a changed taste, a new relish, a sweetness. As he is inhabited by Christ, the saint becomes sweet: "his heart is as fine silver, everything is sweet that comes from him... grace in a Christian makes us sweet, sweeteness our person and our actions.. sweetens our persons to God.... it makes us delectable for Christ and his Holy Spirit to lodge in our souls as in a garden of spices." (p118)

What have I learned from reading Janice Knight's Orthodoxies in Massachussets?
I find these Spiritual Brothers to be good friends to urge me on, they show me a deeply rooted experiential Christianity, focussed upon Christ, with a growing taste for him. I have some questions about them but much encouragement from them.
As someone who first tasted real Christianity in a strongly charismatic context as a student, the Sibbesians sounds like forefathers who knew the intimacy we enjoy.
As a Newfrontiers guy today, it's all right up my street... solidly set on Christ, full of the Spirit and warmly relational (without claiming that Sibbes or his sphere of influence would have much appreciated belief in continuation of spiritual gifts).
As a UCCF evangelical 'things of first importance' man it's so beautifully Christocentric and attractive that it can't help but unite Christian brothers and sisters from across the church for mission, and in the same breath it frames our message in mission: Christ.

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