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THE THUMB-NAIL SKETCH
The number may oppress some. However it is only about my thumb-nail. No it is not an ego trip, an indulgence of fantasy or a flimsy substitute for substance. It is about power, precision and perfection. It is about the after-glow of creation. It concerns artistry of a high order, in a mundane matter: mundane, that is, except for the fact, when you come to think of it, that thumbs are an amazing invention in themselves, for they ally themselves vastly with amazing inventions poured out from the created creativity of that succinct creation known as mankind. On that, how one could wish that it was man kind, but kindness seems to be departing the earth in droves, like left-over lemmings wanting to join the crowd. Patriotism tinged with pity, compassion, love and service is all but despised, since it does not participate in the international disunity, more often called for some reason or other, community, which has at least as much obvious compassion as a lemming driven by whatever forces to whatever doom.
However, it is about my thumb, and its source and resource, and hence its Creator that I speak.
When a small quantity of some powerful chemical, some medical concoction, was applied to my thumb, some of it came to the quick of the nail, which seemingly decided that enough was enough, and began to reject life, allowing a small cavity to be burnt into it - very small, and not so very deep. From that followed an entire chapter. A new being began. It arose gently, graciously, gradually, and most of all, systematically, methodically, forging its being and forming its architecture with the utmost precision. Its own little moon began to develop, its newness forming up on one side of the thumb-nail. Fascinated, I watched it, from time to time, over months.
It thickened slowly, maintaining a flexibility appropriate to something being formed, and having to fit with other things, such as the other half of the thumb-nail, sitting happily beside it, seemingly oblivious of the awful fact that it would have to go. Not at all phased, the old half continued resolutely, like soldier ants (or more strictly white ants, or more strictly again, termites) which, on leave of absence from the ant-nest/ant-hill, to fight would-be invaders, are separated from the body of their comrades, by the tunnels being quickly closed to stop invaders.
Left outside these termite soldiers die in their task: old-fashioned chivalry is not in vogue at present, but more the use of guns on children by other children in schools, as at Colorado, and already at more schools in Canada and America. They are taught to survive, to suffer no nonsense against their glorious selves, and to evolve happily away, although nothing ever did or has done so, or will do so, but merely responds to its inner core of what it is, all nicely positioned and allowed whatever is the appropriate variability within type. But we must not speak of observation in all reaches and at all times, or of logic, for neither is fashionable, as the world with excellent logic on false premises continues to seal itself out, like so many termite soldier ants, from the life God has made for it.
The thumb-nail, it is true is our topic. We were talking of its regeneration! It formed with slowly increasing thickness, and the two moon-pieces, white at the bottom of the nail, each with its own curve, to my almost utter amazement, attended to their geometry, and became ONE CURVE, beautifully apt, growing across the base of the nail.
Now at this you may think, WHAT NAIL! Didn't he have this double thing? Yes, he did. It was clear that one half was sloughing off, yet not entirely so. It grew less lively, a little coarser perhaps in composition, and was obviously 'asking' to be cut down a little, so that it did not tower over the developing other half. Now I do not believe in synergism, that is in imagining that you and God co-operate in your regeneration. That is a little rich: babes don't, and when your being is being replaced, you are hardly in a position to be directing the operation: and so we have Ephesians 2:8, which advises that the WHOLE ACTION PIECE, CYCLE of being saved by grace through faith, IS NOT OF YOURSELVES. Old-fashioned again, I like to take words to mean what they say. That after all is their purpose. I take "NOT" to mean a negative, to institute a negation and to do so with respect to the topic in view. In that the Greek has a neuter for "THAT", and not a feminine gender as would be required if it meant "faith", then it is clear that the WHOLE cycle is involved. YOU are out of it! That, as we saw, is also what you expect in view of the terminology chosen, the new birth.
You may by now, almost sadly remind me that the topic
is thumb-nails, but then, thumbs can grasp so much. Let us however return.
As I cut down the old part of the nail, a little (one day it tore off,
mercifully just nicely, its weakness being about the right place for the
accidental incision), and the other part gradually grew new, and rose up
the side of the thumb in the usual way, the older piece began to rejuvenate,
to become less unlike the new part, and both began to assume a more normal
aspect - AS ONE! Of course, I 'fed' it with vitamin A-D in the form of
a fish-based ointment, assuming that I was given intelligence in order
to use it. That by the way is the physical parallel to sanctification.
You DO NOT co-operate in your regeneration but you do MOST ASSUREDLY co-operate
in your sanctification, as it is written,
Note that ever there, it is GOD who is doing the working in you*1, and I think that the thumb-nail gives a beautifully simple expression of that at the physical level, which in the spiritual, though most different in its personal proportions and depth, exhibits something of the kind of co-operation of intelligence and inbuilt action, or at the spiritual level, wisdom and wit, which is desired.
- "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure!" (Philippians 2:13-14).
It is a beautifully evocative rendering in Proverbs 8, the use by the divine mind of "witty inventions", capable creativity which deals aptly with situations. We must use our wits NOT to survive but to build in entire sincerity and in the goodness of God and His good-will, the constructions of peace, as far as in us lies (Romans 12:18), and godliness, virtue and goodness (cf. II Peter 1). From God comes the vision and the vigour, and we in love to Him need to learn more and more to accomplish by His mercy, what in HIS goodness is the objective through us. Not for nothing is the body of Christ, the Church, given this name - His body (Romans 12, Ephesians 4, I Corinthians 12). It must be loved and its good sought, but not in co-operation with vice of any kind! We do not deal out sin as some governments may seek to deal out heroin and co., in the deluded imagination that this is being advanced, sophisticated and sound in the end, making the best of a bad job. Sin is not dealt with by extending it. As some one has pointed out, cigarette toxins are not reduced by being readily available at your corner store.
The outward signs (forgive me for returning to my topic) which we have discussed re the thumb-nail, in this thumb-nail sketch of elements of grace, are merely superficial. Underneath, millions of cells are involved, coming and going, and masses of intricate architectural activity proceeds at the microscopic and sub-microscopic level, as all are formed like those athletes and their helpers at the Olympic Games, who in masses with appropriate flags or colours, swarm about, always by plan, to present suddenly here and there, a word from a hundred flags, while another company presents another word, and so on, till a sentence is spelt out! The organisation is colossal - but it is nothing compared with the constant progressive, incisive development over months, by the millions of geometrically conditioned particles which make up the road to my new - yes, I have come back to it, thumb-nail.
Utterly useless in any of the myriad stages, should these
be considered as odd throw-ins over time, being prepared in some millions
of years scenario, wholly valuable only when it works in the end,
this short-story in a thumb-nail illustrates not only grace and sanctification,
but the necessary suddenness of creation, a fact some are beginning to
see, and in increasing numbers:
Yes, it took up to 150 years to 'realise' that this dead end to creation could not work, and now they scramble belatedly to the sudden approach, as if the protoplasmic 'needle-work' should crop up from time to time; and perhaps they would like another 150 years for this, to awake to the fact that such
inventions as this calls for are the signature, definitionally, of intelligence;
the laws involved the expression of mind, and
the necessities impelling these circuitries of magnificence with which we are so abundantly supplied, are those of will. I fear that they will not get them. Years are coming to be, in this setting, in rather short supply. (See The Shadow of a Mighty Rock, Ch.8, for reasons.)
The idea that a principle of some kind - a verbal expression of what happens - is able to create is like asking your hair to develop your brain. It sits on top. It is an expression. What is needed is the power, the procedure, the application of the power to a point, the architectural, mathematical, long-term schematic scheduling, the generative dynamism and the executive co-operation that does this sort of thing. In a minimal expression, man has precisely that. There is however no limit to the maximum, the works of which man in his own construction, inherits.
Indeed if there were limit, it could not be God who has it, as we have often shown; for then there would need to be God to set that limit! But there is a precise limit to the minimum experitise required for the formulations and forms which we inherit, and then use, in many cases for all the world like some spoilt brat of a son who, having a rich father, uses his Jaguar to collide with lamp-posts, as if born for it. Equipped with the powers to perform, the correlating capacities to execute, the imaginative enterprise to formulate, the conceptual facility to organise relevant principles for operational implantations in the DNA and so on, the invisible maker of that orderly exhibit of programing skill called matter, performs His magnificent works. He even provides a thumb-nail sketch.
You want more ? You want also to consider mind and spirit
? See The Shadow of a Mighty Rock,
Chs. 1-3, including pp. 251ff.,
and Glossary 332E-H, A
Spiritual Potpourri Chs. 1-9 and That
Magnificent Rock, Ch.1. It will set it all out for your formally.
This, as you will be now be aware, is simply a thumb-nail sketch.
The Greek word refers to working out, the prefix kata often indicating descent, composition or completeness; and it is this which commences the term used by Paul, rendered 'work out'. You get on with what is already in view. As C.S. Lewis sagely observed, to work out implies a previous working in, so that whatever is there to be worked out, may be so fulfilled!
There are in this donation of salvation many things to be worked out, and as Psalm 2:11 so delightfully intimates, the WAY to forge the metal of salvation, instilled into one at the first in one's redemption, is with to 'rejoice with trembling'. It is not a question of brash self-assurance because salvation is so sure, once it is given (Romans 5:1-11), and it is as sure as God's justice (Romans 3:25ff.) and His power (John 10:27ff.). Nor is a question of self-doubting fidgets, for after all, while the action after salvation requires that one EXIST and so LIVE as a child of God, one does not make oneself a child in any family by action; one merely shows the nature of that child. As to that nature, it is already imparted as regeneration (I John 3:9), and it is well to observe that I John 3:9 does NOT talk of 'not sinning' when one is regenerated, not not DOING or PRACTISING sin: that is the actual Greek. The present tends to suggest continuity, and this construction emphasises this. The practice is not sovereign, for in Christ is no sin and abiding in Him, is abiding in one like that. On the other hand, one is merely deluded if one imagines one can walk in the presence of so great a Lord, and reach the immeasurable magnificences of His holiness as on earth. One falls short - so I John 1:8. That sort of thought is like having an orchestra that is all brass, and the effect can be rather raucous. Ruled out as delusion, this waywardness is as much a false conception for the Christian walk as is a spuriously imagined perfection!
So salvation is first worked in, and then it is worked out.
I did not make my new thumb-nail, but I am responsible for its reasonable care.
In the New Testament, there are some fine expressions of various aspects of this gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). In Ephesians 2:8, one learns, literally, that YOU ARE IN A HAVING BEEN SAVED CONDITION BY FAITH. The Greek is impressive, rather different. You have a simple "you are" followed by a participial construction, "having been saved". Nor is that all. The tense is 'perfect', which in Greek signifies completeness in a special way. It is not just that the thing HAS happened, is a past event. It is far more than that.
The CONDITION resulting from the event, continues as a state, a reality. In this case, the condition is that of SALVATION. Your new STATE is a having been saved one! Your new genes which give you this state, are those which "remain in you", I John 3:9, "incorruptible" - rather like the ones in your physical body, which you would try in vain to replace, if you are Smith, with those of Jones or Brown! Of course, Browns or Jones children may require discipline (Hebrews 12:1-15), but the genetic contribution - to use the imagery - in the case of regeneration, is 'incorruptible' (I Peter 1:22ff.).
Thus, John is emphatic to remind people whose Lord and Saviour is indeed Jesus Christ, of the facts of the matter, so that they should KNOW that they have eternal life, the sort which is such that they "shall not perish" (John 3:15ff., 10:27ff., Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 1:11), nor so treated that any may "snatch them" from His hand, who is the shephered (John 10;27ff.). Against that God has an explicit embargo, veto. Theirs is eternal life, the sort which has been predestinated from the first (Ephesians 1:4), inserted in the midst (Romans 8:28ff.) and which ends in glory (cf. Romans 8:17 with 8:30, and 8:35ff.). It is part of that glory train which moves from being foreknown, to called, to justified, to glorified. It is that which is to be raised up at the last day (John 6:51-54), so that such a one "lives for ever".
Similarly we read elsewhere of this already furnished character of salvation. One example is found in Titus 3:5, where we see that it was "according to His mercy" that "He saved us", so that "having been justified by faith" (3:7, cf. Romans 5;1)), we should "be made heirs". The justification is ACCOMPLISHED, and "whom He justified, those He glorified" as Paul parallels it, in Romans 8. Once the first is yours, the second is guaranteed. IF on the other hand, you are not justified, then you are not on the glory train, the circuit is not the one you are on!
So too is the salvation a thing granted by imperial decree from heaven. It is worked in and now it is to be worked out. How ? With fear and trembling, for in His children, God does not suffer the insufferable, but changes it, it being He who "works in us, both to will and to do", so that the surface is inclined, the movement is graciously forwarded where it ought to be. It is not mechanical, but it is surer than that, though in the training and perfecting of the gift, there be that glorious liberty and reality which admits of children BEING children, not programs.
in II Timothy 1:9 - this, if I recall the favourite verse of the great
theologian, John Murray -
we read this: Speaking of God, Paul says - "who has saved us and called us with a holy calling". Again the salvation is a thing already wrought, donated, worked in. The calling accordingly, is "not according to works". These are irrelevant. To be counting or consulting or to be submitting oneself to having these accounted by "fruit inspectors" who watch and assess you to tell you whether or not you have faith - a vigorous distortion which may be met in some Calvinists for example - is to forget the eternal donation elements of the gospel, and that the reception committee is FAITH, one's own, also part of the donation, and assuredly NOT someone else's.
Why, if THAT were done,
and people evaluated each other to confirm whether or not the person being
investigated had faith or not, then strictly, the subject COULD not KNOW
whether he/she had faith until told. THAT however would mean that there
was no conviction, and that would exclude faith, which in turn would preclude
fruit, for salvation is received -
how ? BY FAITH (Romans 5:1). REJECTION from church membership for chronic failure to meet the commands, and failure to repent is something different: for this is to apply an objective test. It may be misapplied, and should never be less than 100% objective, involving the commandments and the conduct. THAT is discipline at the extraordinary last resort when the life is divorced in word and deed. It is the casae of the seed on the poor soil which in the testing merely shows there is no root of THE WORD OF GOD to be found (Matthew 13:21), that the stony ground underneath has never been broken up in repentance. NO ONE ELSE however can act as the conscience - I Peter 3:21, which is personal. It is God who will judge the hypocrite (Matthew 7:21-22). It is well not to be previous about this, or to confuse the two parties in operation, the church on earth and God in heaven! Thus in the very chapter where we are told of false prophets, that the fruit is the test, and see the principle of fruit brought forward, we are at the outset told JUDGE NOT! Discipline on murder and theft is one thing; speaking in the place of God is quite another !
Thus just as one is working out a thing already assured, when it is received by faith; so in parallel, not to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" is to forget the responsibilities of being children, while to forget that in all this it is after all "God who works in you, both to will and to do" is to imagine that God has been dethroned and allows you a specious sovereignty - you, who if a Christian, are subject to His Fatherhood! As to that "calling" in I Timothy, that "holy calling", it is one which is "according to His own purpose and grace"; and as to that, it was all intact and known, "before the world began".
God, is, after all,