1/31/2000 and some editing per 10/13/2016
Note: Here I have used invented terms to represent both male and female, e.g., heshe for he and she and manwo for man and woman, and such.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. . .
Without question the greatest contribution to world religions made by Jesus has been two-fold: the establishment of the Golden Rule (to be understood also by the Law of Love) as the solitary moral underpinnings of religion and thus the central component of any valid religious experience, and the corollary requirement that the scope of applicability of this rule be universal, i.e., that it encompass all persons whosoever. Some discussion of this thesis is called for.
It is a fact, long and well established by Immanuel Kant, that the validity of the moral law of idealized reciprocity (doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you as opposed to how you might actually expect them to do unto you) is acknowledged by all adults in a natural way, although it is applied naturally only to those persons for whom there is otherwise some emotional connection, e.g., among friends or family. The acceptance or recognition of this law does not mean that the law is complied with, but only that there is an urgency to do so when a moral decision is considered thoughtfully, and that if that urgency is ignored, then an internal rationalization is called for in order to avoid a guilty conscience. That is essentially the meaning of "the moral law within us." And, as Kant also noted, it is, along with the heavenly vista above us, one of the two most marvelous (and even curious) components of our very existence as humans.
This universal recognition of the moral law, i.e., of a compulsion (albeit not irresistible) to the notion of respectful consideration of others, is explained admirably and perhaps uniquely by the Jewish scriptures, according to which humans obtain this information from their elders in some societal context and who, for their part, ultimately received it from the fruit of a tree which contained this knowledge and by means of which mans became like God, at least with regard to moral understanding, i.e., "knowing good and evil."
Therefore what Jesus has not done has been to establish the validity of the moral law or of the Golden Rule (the most simple, human expression of this law, i.e., when applied to humans), for this law and its validity extends past and precedes any religion and holds of all humans universally (as long they are in society in some way). Rather he has swept away all other considerations as profoundly inane and dysfunctional in order to focus on the implementation of that single, universally acknowledged, though rarely implemented, law of love. There is nothing which is good or righteous or loving or holy or morally clean which is not derived from this Golden Rule and, therefore, there is nothing besides the implementation of this rule which could please God. And so therefore, for any person to enter into a communion with God himself, heshe must accept the sincere implementation of the Golden Rule.
Having said that we must turn immediately to the one of the most important contributions of Jesus to moral thinking in general, and one which is both subtle and then, when grasped, extremely powerful, namely the concept of righteousness. To do a good act, e.g., to do something which reflects the Golden Rule, does not make a person a good person, for an evil person might perform such an act accidentally or incidentally and that would not make him good. Indeed even to do a good act for the very fact that it is good, i.e., because (= for the very reason that) it reflect the Golden Rule, also does not make anyone a good person, for an evil person will always do good if it were only not inconvenient, e.g., telling a stranger the time of day. Rather it is solely the commitment to good that can make a person a good person, i.e., the determination in advance of all actions to always direct one's actions according to the Golden Rule; thus it is, as it were, the state of the heart that determines whether one is good or not. The importance of this understanding cannot be overestimated and it occupied much of the thinking of Saint Paul in the first half of his Epistle to the Romans.
According to Paul, the commitment to good was called: the mind being set upon or directed toward the things of the spirit; while the natural manwo (the natural and selfish commitment) was: the mind being set upon the things of the flesh. Now independently of these two states of mind, there is the action of the flesh or what might also be called the inertia of sin, namely that sin, once set loose, tends to continue its course unless stopped by some force even as a planetary body, when in motion, tends to continue in that motion and will do so unless hindered in some way. Thus, for example, an individual life characterized by anger will continue to exhibit anger even when the commitment has been made to eschew such anger in favor of a Christ-like behavior. But then, given the commitment to righteousness, once the anger has arisen and has had a chance to run its course, the commitment obtains the upper hand again and there is a sought-for reconciliation afterwards and, in any case, an effort and intention to function independently of anger and its aftermath in the future. The anger is considered by the committed Christian to be entirely inappropriate and unacceptable; and it is for this very reason, namely that it is unacceptable, that it, paradoxically, becomes acceptable, for as long as it is truly unacceptable, it is acceptable.* And this is not just some koan to tease the brain and make us doubt the capacity of rationality, it is practical, from a Christian perspective, for the rejection of the anger in the mind, the sincere and utter rejection of the anger, will ultimately be followed by the elimination of this anger entirely, although the pace may be slow and the progress imperceptible.
* This paradox exemplifies the so-called synthetic logic identified by Stephen Palmquist.
Paul treated this subject marvelously well in the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans. Christians are not under the law of any kind. Christians are not obligated to do this or that, to avoid anger, for example.* If the Christian were to set out to avoid anger as an original impetus, then the fact of anger would be a failure which would mean that the persons only thought heshe were a Christian and actually that heshe were not. A failure to comply with the law would be a matter of guilt and we would be forced to go to God in some way and to seek forgiveness in one way or another, or otherwise, barring a means for propitiation, like some of the crimes of the Old Testament, we would simply be cut off from the people (communion with the saints) without any hope of reconciliation. But if there is no law against anger, then we cannot be in violation of any law and therefore are not guilty of anything and, therefore, are not cut off from the people. And so there cannot be a law against anger.
* I am using anger merely as representative of some passion which is considered by a given individual as to be anathema to his concept of the life of Christ. Perhaps resentment would be a more apt example, or sexual passion, or a desire for power over others, as in the children's game of "king of the mountain".
The only law that the Christian has is the law of love, i.e., the only way that a person can become a Christian is to acknowledge the law of love as the ultimate rule for any enduring community of adults, and to accept that law as the final arbiter for all moral decisions of his life. When that is done, and since there is no law otherwise, i.e., no way that a person could do something which could separate him from God, there is the complete (intellectually valid) assurance* that that person and Christ are one and the same with regard to the heart and that Jesus merely happens to have been in that state (of commitment to the Golden Rule) first and therefore in this sense is the elder brother.**
* I say "intellectual" for there may not yet be the felt assurance which represents a touch of God. Cf. Wesley's experience at Aldersgate.
** See Romans 8:29
Does this mean that a person may act in anger? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it is not a violation of the law of God to do so and, therefore, it will not occasion any separation from God (which only sin can do); and no in the sense that it is a violation of the law of love, which is a matter of personal commitment, and so no in the sense that the individual has already by virtue of the commitment rejected anger (and is in a state of continued rejection of anger also by the very fact of the commitment itself and on its own), for anger is seen to be in opposition to this law, and the Christian does all that heshe can to avoid it occurring in the future. It is without doubt the most marvelous conception of good and evil which mortal and moral man has ever conceived, and it comes courtesy of Jesus of Nazareth and also, through his influence on, his disciple Paul of Tarsus.
To make the matter as simple as possible: when I act in anger, then I am ashamed in my own eyes for my violation of my commitment, but I have no reason to go to God in search of forgiveness, for it is my commitment, and not my actions, which make me one with Jesus and through him one with God. Now I may very well have a need to go to the person involved in the anger, but I don't even do this in an effort to obtain forgiveness from God, but I do this in the general Wesleyan sense of doing all the good that I can and merely then seeing that I can do some good now by approaching so-and-so (the person at whom my anger was directed) and apologizing for my actions, but only in the same way and sense that I might go to another person and seek to comfort or assuage ruffled feathers where I was not a fault at all. In other words, I act at any given moment from the Wesleyan concept of utter good and whether I am the culprit or not makes no difference, for my apology will follow my awakening (my return from the "far country" of anger and passion, i.e., my realization of the situation and circumstances) even as the night the day.
To belabor a point perhaps already well established here: at any given moment and in compliance with the dictates of my conscience with regard to my commitment to Christ (to the good, to universal love) I look about and search for ways that I can spread the love of God in the world. I spy a person who is distraught or who has been injured in some way, and where I can offer some help. Therefore, consistent with my commitment, I act to do just that. Now the fact that the cause of this person's malady was an action of my own has no real bearing or meaning, for that was past and I am now. My commitment to the Golden Rule connects me with Christ and not my actions with regard to this fellow of affected mind, but it is this very commitment to the Golden Rule which makes me undertake whatever I can to mitigate his malady without any regard for the cause of that. In brief: according to my commitment, i.e., my continuing predisposition for good, I do all the good I can to all the people I can in all the times that I can in all the ways that I can, and I do not calculate the cost.*
* In order that we not fly to an over hasty pessimism that this commitment will tax our strength beyond endurance, we need to keep in mind that the proper understanding is to do all the good to all the persons and that we ourselves are one of those persons. Thus Wesley's formulation is enlightening as it enables us to realize that we too are one of those persons to whom good is to be done. The rule does not call upon us to love others more than we love ourselves, but rather as much as we love ourselves, thus, in a word: we are to love all persons without limit, thus also ourselves. On a personal note, I find that I must pace myself in my effort to accomplish this Rule, for if I go beyond my strength, I become discouraged and fall by the wayside for a time. This calls for intelligence, judgment and experience, and each person must make this determination for himherself. Thank God that we are no longer under the law and having to do this or that, but are under grace such that we are one with God in our commitment and must answer only to our own conscience for our conduct in that state.
In sum I can conclude with Paul that there is nothing which can separate me from the love of God in Christ.* Now we shall seek a systematic summary of the essential aspects of Wesleyan theology.
* As long as I don't want it to, a (perhaps overly eager) Wesleyan might add; for I am ever conscious of my capacity to renounce my commitment and to return to a life of my own apart from the law of love. While this does not mean that God would love me any less, it does mean that I effectively distance myself from his redeeming grace and from any communion with him. But this is such an obvious consideration, to the point of being trite, that it is no wonder that the Apostle did not mention it at the end of Romans 8; much as though after telling an avid skier that all arrangements had been made for a skiing vacation at a famous slope with ideal skiing conditions, and specifically that "nothing can stop you now!" that I then should add "unless you change your mind!" a comment which, under the circumstances, would either be a private joke, or else simply ludicrous.**
** This point is made to counter the assertions of the Calvinists that the latter part of Romans 8 need suggest some insistance on the part of God which would overide the wishes of a Christian for disassociation.
The Logic of Salvation
We see here a progression which leads to the recognition of salvation as a fact in this present life.
Compulsion of Faith
The Law (or the bad news!)
since a. communion in general is a reciprocal relationship between two or more persons (definition),
and so b. communion calls for mutual agreement (deduction),
since c. any communion between God and myself (also called salvation and eternal life) calls for God's acquiescence (as well as my own, of course),
since d. God requires that I love others as a condition for communion with him and indeed in the same way that I love myself (Matt 7:12, Romans 13:8-13),
since e. this means that I must love all persons whomsoever in this way (Luke 10:25-37);
since f. such universality is impossible for me (per my own experience for the application includes not only strangers but even enemies and also per the experience of Paul Romans 7:18);
that g. I cannot expect communion with God, i.e., salvation and eternal life,
that h. it is vain and inane for me even to seek such.
The Gospel (or the good news!)
2. But now on the other hand,
since a. humans are the (spiritual) image of God (Genesis 1:27),
since b. universal love is God's requirement for humans (1.d & e above),
since c. an image cannot be greater than the object that is imaged (axiom of reason),
that d. God's love is universal (see also Matt. 5:44-48),
and so e. God loves me (for I am part of that universal);
since f. God wishes communion with me (a deduction from the concept of love, namely love denotes a desire for communion),
since g. God is sovereign, i.e., can accomplish all that God wishes (by definition),
since h. salvation (communion with God) is predicated upon my ability to love all persons as I love myself (1.d & e above)
that i. God will enable me to love all others as I love myself
if j. I ask it of him (1.c above and per implication of Luke 11:5-13 and James 4:2&3)
and so therefore it follows
that k. I have a basis for faith in Christ and indeed one sufficient for me to call out to ask God for salvation, i.e., a practical basis, i.e., every reason to expect an adequate response to such a call on the part of God (See also Romans 10:13).
Experience of Love (upon the sincere and informed petition to God for salvation, and given merely time and opportunity for expression).
As a matter of experienced fact, I find the promised transformation, namely that I am developing and exhibiting the capacity to love as Christ did, i.e., universally and without calculation.*
* Or in the words of Wesley: "what the gospel promises has been accomplished in my soul." We are speaking here not merely of the determination of the will with regard to a maxim of universal love (although that is the formal means of "stepping into eternal life" now), but rather of an actual change in the flesh (the ego and the body) such that it is becoming easier and more desirable to treat others as you would want to be treated by them, i.e., that I am finding more joy in compliance with the Golden Rule.
Realization of Hope (based on the experience of love).
Through this experience of love and inward transformation I have a validation of the logic of faith and thereby every reason to expect a continuation of my relationship with Christ out beyond the confines of this life and even the bounds of time.* Thus I exult with Charles Wesley "and cry with joy unspeakable,
'Thou art my Lord, my God!' "**
* The experience of love and the recognition of hope are elements of the Zacchaeus model and not that of the thief on the cross for whom, given the limitations of his opportunities, obtained merely salvation and not the joyous memories of co-working` with Christ. There is no difference in the intention of the heart between the thief and Zacchaeus and thus no shame on the part of the former, but merely a difference in glory, the one of faith alone, the other of faith and love.
** This is also called the internal witness of the Spirit.