Bags of Bran


Things Unchanged
April 27, 2017, 10:17 am
Filed under: Biography, Pastor Stuff

As I’ve been working through The Benedict Option in fits and starts, I have started to pay more attention to the background and life settings in which saints of other times lived. Recently someone made a remark to the effect that so-and-so was tap-dancing blindfolded in a yard full of rakes. That paints a mental picture, does it not?

rake

As I savored the mental picture, the word “rakes” evoked a memory from the dusty cellars of my college education.* It’s a quote from an Anglican preacher named John Berridge, who lived from 1716-1793, and was one of the preachers involved in the Evangelical Revival in England. Note this well: I am most certainly not advocating everything that came out of the Evangelical Revival, nor am I advocating everything that came out of John Berridge; but he is precisely right on this matter.

The context was this: England was a Christian country, but of the superstitious sort that placed a premium on human works for salvation. In fact, for much of his life, Berridge preached a message of works-righteousness. But he later became convinced that true righteousness before God was a matter of faith, and therefore good works were only good as they were expressions of love and gratitude for God’s grace.

But what kind of person could receive God’s grace? Only one who was aware of his own sinfulness: one could not simply look to his good standing in a Christian community; that was not the standard of comparison. Berridge writes:

And if this was the case in the purest age what else can be expected in succeeding ages? But you say we sojourn in a baptized country. True, the country swarmeth with baptized rakes, baptized worldlings, and baptized infidels. A watery profession without the Spirit’s baptism will never wash the heart from pride and subdue it to the gospel doctrines, and legal righteousness will set the heart still more against them. No one can truly bear the doctrines till he cannot bear himself. Jesus Christ inviteth them that are weary [of] themselves and laden with their guilt and sinful nature. Only such received him in Judea and only such receive him in Great Britain. These are prepared for his gospel [who] know what poverty of spirit means and feel that brokenness of heart which God delighteth in and where he only dwells.

America is only a “Christian” nation in the sense that Berridge’s England was a “baptized” country. We may be crawling with evangelicals, but their profession is wearing thinner and thinner in every generation as “more and more people are won to less and less Christianity.”

One of the things that Dreher gets right in The Benedict Option is that much that is called Christianity is utterly devoid of sacrifice. Ours is a country that “swarmeth with baptized rakes, baptized worldlings, and baptized infidels” too. Let the swarms swarm; let us make our institutional commitments with people who share our values and goals.

*If I could only bring people’s names to recall with such alacrity, I’d be set.

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