Sunday, November 10, 2013

Anglican Homily on How Dangerous a Thing It Is to Fall from God - Part I

Another of our modern-language versions of the Anglican Homilies, this is the first part of the homily on turning away from God.

The Wise Man says that pride was the beginning of our forsaking God; by it man’s heart was turned from God his Maker, for pride is the fountain of all sin: he who has it shall be full of cursings, and at the end it shall overthrow him [Ecclesiasticus 10:12-13]. And, as through pride and sin we go from God, so shall God, and all goodness with Him, go from us. The Prophet Hosea plainly affirms that those who depart from God by vicious living yet try to pacify and distract Him by sacrifice are laboring in vain. Despite all their sacrifice, He still departs from them. Forasmuch, says the Prophet, as they do not apply their minds to return to God, although they go about with whole flocks and herds to seek the Lord, yet they shall not find Him; for He is gone away from them [Hosea 5:4, 6].
We can turn from God in various ways. Sometimes it is done directly by idolatry, as Israel and Judah did [Hosea 4:12; 5:5]. Sometimes men turn from God by lack of faith and mistrusting of God, as Isaiah says:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
And rely on horses,
Who trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
Nor seek the Lord [Isaiah 31:1]
But what follows?
When the Lord stretches out His hand,
Both he who helps will fall,
And he who is helped will fall down;
They all will perish together. [Isaiah 31:3]
Sometimes men go from God by neglecting his commandments concerning their neighbor, which require them to express hearty love towards every man: as Zachariah said unto the people on God’s behalf,
‘Execute true justice,
Show mercy and compassion
Everyone to his brother.
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless,
The alien or the poor.
Let none of you plan evil in his heart
Against his brother.’

“But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts. “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land became desolate after them, so that no one passed through or returned; for they made the pleasant land desolate.” [Zechariah 7:9-14]

And, in sum, all those who, following the persuasions and stubbornness of their own hearts and going backward and not forward, [Jeremiah 7:24], do not abide the Word of God and instead turn away from God. Insomuch that Origen says, “He that with mind, with study, with deeds, with thought and care, applies and gives himself to God’s Word, and thinks upon his laws day and night, gives himself wholly to God, and in his precepts and commandments is exercised, this is he that is turned to God.” And on the other hand he says, “Whosoever is occupied with fables and tales when the Word of God is rehearsed is turned from God. Whosoever in time of reading God’s Word is diverted in thought to worldly business, money, or profit is turned from God. Whosoever is entangled with the cares of possessions, filled with covetousness of riches, whosoever studies for the glory and honor of this world, he is turned from God.” So that anyone who does not have his mind set on all that is commanded or taught of God; he who does not listen unto it, embrace, and print it in his heart, to the intent that he may duly fashion his life after it; he has plainly turned from God, even though he may continue to do other things that he considers better and more to God’s honor.
The truth of this point is seen in holy Scripture by the example of King Saul [I Samuel 15:1-24], who being commanded of God by Samuel to kill all the Amalekites and destroy them clearly with their goods and livestock, yet he, being moved partly with pity and partly (as he thought) with devotion to God, saved Agag their king, and all the best of their cattle, to sacrifice to God. With this disobedience God was highly displeased and said to the Prophet Samuel, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” [I Samuel 15:11].

And, when Samuel asked why he had saved the cattle, contrary to God’s command, he excused the matter partly by fear, saying he dared do none other because the people wanted it; partly because he thought God would be content, seeing that this deed was done with a good intent and devotion to honor God with the sacrifice of such excellent animals. But Samuel, reproving all such intents and devotions because no matter how much they seem to honor God, they contradict His Word (and obedience to His Word is the only way we may be assured of his pleasure) said:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”

By all these examples of Holy Scripture we may know that as we forsake God, so shall He forsake us. And what miserable state consequently and necessarily follows thereupon, a man may easily consider by the terrible judgment of God. And even though he may be unable to fathom the depth of such misery, which is so great that it passes any man’s capacity in this life sufficiently to understand, he shall soon perceive enough that, unless he has a heart of stone, he shall fear, tremble, and quake.
First, the displeasure of God toward us is commonly expressed in the Scripture by two things: by showing His fearful countenance upon us, and by turning His face or hiding it from us. His great wrath is signified by showing His dreadful countenance; but it is signified many times more by His turning or hiding His face, for it means that He clearly forsakes us and gives us over. The same is true with the behavior of mankind. For men commonly bear a good, cheerful, and loving countenance towards those whom they favor, so that by the face or countenance of a man it is apparent what will or mind he bears towards another. So, when God shows His dreadful countenance towards us, that is to say, when He sends dreadful plagues of sword, famine, or pestilence upon us, it appears that He is greatly angry with us. But, when He withdraws from us His Word, the right doctrine of Christ, His gracious assistance and aid, which is inherently connected to His Word, and leaves us to our own wit, to our own will and strength, He declares then that He has begun to forsake us. For, while God has shown to all those who truly believe His Gospel His face of mercy in Jesus Christ, which so enlightens their hearts that if they behold it as they ought to do, they are transformed into His image, are made partakers of the heavenly light and of His Holy Spirit, and are fashioned to Him in all goodness requisite to the children of God; so if they afterward neglect the same, if they are unthankful unto Him, if they do not order their lives according to His example and doctrine and to the setting forth of His glory, He will take away from them His kingdom, His holy Word, by which He should reign in them, because they do not bring forth the fruit thereof that He looks for.

Nevertheless, God is so merciful and longsuffering that He does not visit us suddenly with great wrath. But when we begin to shrink from His Word, not believing it, or not expressing it in our lives, He first sends His messengers, the true preachers of His Word, to admonish us and warn us of our duty; that as He, for His great love for us, delivered His own Son to suffer death so that we by His death might be delivered from death and be restored to life everlasting, to dwell with Him forever and to be partakers and inheritors with Him of His everlasting glory and kingdom of heaven, so again that we should walk in a godly life, as is right for His children to do. And if we still remain disobedient to His Word and will, not knowing Him, not loving Him, not fearing Him, not putting our whole trust and confidence in Him; and, on the other side, to our neighbors behaving ourselves uncharitably by disdain, envy, malice, or by committing murder, robbery, adultery, gluttony, deceit, lying, swearing, or any similar detestable works and ungodly behavior; then He threatens us by terrible warnings, swearing in great anger that "whosoever does these works shall never enter into His rest [Hebrews 4:1-3], which is the kingdom of heaven.

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