Thursday, April 18, 2013


Last October, the Rev. Dr. Calvin Samuel delivered the 2012 Chamberlain Holiness Lectures at Wesley Biblical Seminary. Dr. Samuel is the Director of the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, UK, and New Testament Lecturer at Cramner Hall.

Lecture 1.- Be Holy,as I am Holy: Why Holiness is Important, How Holiness is Obtained, and What does holiness look like? Why is holiness important? Dr Samuel's answer: because holiness is the essence of who God is. God's holiness is what distinguishes Him from all other gods. When we seek to be holy, we aren't simply seeking more integrity or to act more justly; we are seeking nothing less than to be like God. It is who we are as God's people. Holiness in us is obtained only through the grace of God. What does holiness in us look like? Lev. 19:2 through the rest of that chapter gives us a good picture. Time- 35:34.

Lecture 2.- Models of Holiness in the Old Testament: Exploring Priestly, Prophetic, and Wisdom Traditions.
Priestly Tradition: Dr. Samuel explores various themes concerning holiness, such as holiness as separation (from sin, towards God), holiness as power or destructive energy, holiness as completely other, etc. Leviticus obviously dwells on this theme. Dr. Samuel asks whether we can fully understand Jesus without understanding Leviticus.
Prophetic Tradition: The prophets were not proclaiming a new message, they were calling Israel back to the Torah, so Israel would again be a holy nation in which a holy God lives. Their messages stressed social justice (I prefer Wesley's term social holiness) which Dr. Samuel defines as standing on the side of the powerless against the powerful. The book of Isaiah stands out in its repeated usage of the language of holiness.
Wisdom Tradition: Surprisingly, Dr. Samuel cites Job as the most important book in the wisdom tradition concerning holiness. Before Job is afflicted, he is described as blameless, upright, shuns evil, and one who fears God. Dr. Samuel points out that scripture does not link Job's possessions to his holiness. It is Satan who insists on this linkage when he asks God, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Job did not live in the Holy Land and he was not a member of God's covenant people. He was afflicted with a skin disease that the Israelites would have recognized as leprosy. Readers in ancient Israel would have picked up on these points. Those who were truly discerning would recognize that one could be holy outside the covenant and outside the land of Israel. This insight would be very important to the Jews when they were in exile. In Job, holiness is not defined strictly by moral behavior, but in terms of personal integrity and fear of the Lord. Perfection is not to be defined as not needing improvement, but being in the state of being that God wants us to be. Wesley would define perfection in this way. Why did God want Israel to be a holy nation? So Israel could be a prototype for a new humanity. Time- 75minutes with 25 minutes for questions.

Lecture 3.- Holiness in the Pauline Tradition: From Thessolinica to Rome. 1Thess. is Paul's first epistle, Romans is one of his last. Both concern holiness. In 1Thess., holiness is tied to the hope connected with the 2nd coming. Paul urges his audience to be holy, to be prepared for Jesus' return. Holiness is seen primarily in terms of relationship, how we are related to God. Sin is not defined in terms of an ethical system, but in terms of who God is and what he wants from us. Holiness is not about us thinking about ourselves; thinking about ourselves puts holiness beyond our reach. Holiness is the child of love; the practice of love leads to the unselfishness that is the essence of holiness. Personal sinlessness is not to overshadow love for all. Paul keeps the two in balance. He is speaking to a community suffering persecution. They were tempted to retaliate, but Paul declared that love cannot be turned inward. Paul taught that holiness is rooted in normal life. This stems from his background as a Pharisee. The Pharisees expected purity for all. In Romans, Paul teaches us that death to sin is part of the reality of our salvation. In Rom.6, Paul did not say that sin had died, but that believers have died to sin. Sin is a power that seeks to enslave. Christians are surrounded by sin, but not enthralled by it. The end which we await for has broken into the present; the Kingdom of God in which we are heading is now near, in Christ. This makes sanctification possible. Sanctification is an intermediate condition between what was true of us at our conversion and what will be true of us in the life to come. The Holy Spirit makes us more truly what we shall be. It is the Spirit that imparts holiness; holiness is a work of grace. Sanctification is an ongoing work of grace rather than a 2nd work of grace. Time- 79 minutes, 31 for questions.

Lecture 4.- Holiness in the Gospel Tradition: The Words, Acts, and Mission of Jesus. The Gospels emphasize the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Yet in the Gospels, the Pharisees fade from view in the accounts of Jesus' final hours before his arrest, trial, and execution. It was the Chief Priests, the Elders, and the Scribes which actually brought about Jesus' death on the Cross. So why do the Gospel writers emphasize Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees? Because the writers wanted to highlight the contrasting views concerning holiness held by the Pharisees and Jesus. Both believed that holiness was to be practiced within society, as opposed to groups such as the Essenes, who withdrew from society. But the Pharisees believed that holiness was fragile; they believed holiness was an absence of purity which threatened holiness. Jesus viewed holiness as a dynamic force which always overpowered impurity. Holiness always transforms impurity. When Jesus touched the unclean, he was never defiled. The unclean were made clean; their situations were transformed. As holiness is dynamic, it is missional. Jesus reached out, the Pharisees drew back among themselves. Jesus lived out a model of holiness which is always on the offense. It is demonstrated through acts of love.The Pharisees' model was purely defensive. Dr. Samuel rightly claims that the model of holiness practiced by the modern day holiness movement is more in line with the Pharisees than Jesus.  Time- 84 minutes, 45 minutes for questions.

Matt O' Reilly sums up all four lectures here at his blog Incarnatio.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The year was 388 A.D. A young man and his mother were on a journey. They stopped at an acquaintance's house to rest. The young man had lived a sinful life, but had recently been converted through the prayers of his mother. His father had already died; he came to salvation soon before his own death. In the house, mother and son stood at an open window overlooking a garden. The were discussing spiritual matters. This is how the son remembered the conversation:

"We were conversing alone very pleasantly and 'forgetting those things which are past, and reaching forward toward those things which are the future.' We were in the present and in the presence of truth...discussing together what is the nature of eternal life of the saints: which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man. We opened wide the mouth of our heart, thirsting for those supernal streams...'the fountain of life'...that we may be sprinkled with its waters according to our capacity and might in some measure weigh the truth of so profound a mystery.

"And when our conversation had brought us to the point where the very highest of physical sense and the most intense illumination of physical light seemed, in comparison with the sweetness of the life to come, not worthy of comparison, nor even of mention, we lifted ourselves with more ardent love toward the Selfsame, and we gradually passed through all the levels of bodily objects, and even through the heaven itself, where the sun and moon and stars shine on the earth. Indeed, we soared higher yet by an inner musing, speaking and marveling at [God's] works...And while we were thus speaking and straining after her (wisdom), we just barely touched her with the whole efforts of our hearts. Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue, where the spoken word had both beginning and end."

After undergoing this deeply spiritual experience, mother and son continued their conversation. The mother finally said this to her son:

"Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here."*

Five days later, the mother had caught a fever, died, and went to join her husband in the presence of the God. The mother's name was Monica. The son, Augustine. He would become a bishop and one of the Church's most important theologians.

Take note of the two results this conversation between mother and son produced:

First, both experienced a foretaste of heaven. Augustine employs rapturous language in trying to convey what he and his mother experienced. Yet the experience was so personal, so profound, that he can only describe it in general terms. This reminds us of Paul's vision of paradise: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man--whether in the body or ought of the body I do not know, God knows--how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2Cor. 12: 2-4)  What Paul experienced, he could not convey in words. What he saw and heard was too holy to reveal. Perhaps Augustine, as Paul, believed that the details of what he and his mother experienced was not meant to be revealed.

Second, this vision of heaven produced in Monica a desire to be done with earthly life. She had a foretaste of heavenly life which brought her to the point of no longer desiring what life on earth had to offer. Having a glimpse of her life to come, and being assured that Augustine would too experience eternal life in God's presence, she was content with leaving this life behind.

Some of Christ's disciples experience such visions. But many don't, especially western Christians. But meditation upon spiritual things, including what heaven is like for the saints who are already there, produces the desire for God and heaven which eventually extinguishes our desire to remain here on earth. As the ties that bind our affections for this earthly life are broken, we become desirous of being in the presence of God. We become content with our own mortality and grow impatient to be done with this world. Having assurance of our life to come, the trials of life, though vexing, no longer cause us to despair. This is the outworking of Christian meditation in the practical side of life.

Meditation upon heaven was not a one time thing for Monica and Augustine. Not even a vision as they experienced could produce the desire to leave this earthly life. Only much time meditating upon the things of God could have brought them to that point of spiritual maturity. They obeyed Paul's admonition to the Church at Philippi: "...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you." (Phil. 4: 8-9)

According to Strong's Concordance, one Hebrew word for meditate is hagah, which means to murmer (in pleasure or anger), by implication, to ponder. Hagah can mean imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter, or roar. In an idiom particular to Hebrew, the word can mean speak, study, talk, or utter. Hagah appears in Joshua 1:8, Ps. 63:6 and Ps. 77:12. Most famously, it appears in Ps. 1:2. Describing the man who is blessed, the psalmist states that for the blessed man, "...his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night." Day and night. This denotes constant application. Disciplined meditation upon the things of God, followed by disciplined application, leads to the state described by the psalmist: "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not whither; and whatever he does shall prosper." (Ps. 1:3)

Another Old Testament word for meditate is siyach. Its primary root means to ponder, to converse with one's self and hence, out loud. Siyach can also mean to commune, complain, declare, meditate, muse, pray, speak, or talk (with). Siyach appears in Ps. 119: 15, 23, 48, 78, 148.

A New Testament word for meditate is meletao, to revolve in the mind, which is found in 1Tim. 4:15. Paul writes to Timothy: "Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all." Here, Paul states that meditation leads to right action, right conduct. Ultimately, it leads to a transformation that is noted by those closest to us. Meditation leads to every day blessings, such as Monica's affections being redirected away from earth. These everyday blessings are available to all believers. And for some, meditation will bring visions of the life to come.

All scripture quotations from the NKJV.  


Thursday, April 11, 2013


It would be useless to praise Margaret Thatcher's achievements as the U.K.'s Prime Minister as the internet is flooded with tributes. I seek to avoid needless repetition. So I'll bring to your attention one tribute which highlights an aspect of her life which is little known. The one thing which Margaret Thatcher did that made her most proud was saving a young Jewish girl from Hitler's Nazis. You can read about this here. HT: Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

For Margaret Thatcher's Methodist roots, see here, from the Institute on Religion and Democracy blog.