24 April 2016

Weekend Reading: Pride, Rationalization, and 'Cheap Grace'

"Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession....

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Yet such in one shape or other is the way with the multitude of men everywhere and at all times; they do not see the image of Almighty God before them, and ask themselves what He wishes: if once they did this they would begin to see how much He requires, and they would earnestly come to Him, both to be pardoned for what they do wrong, and for the power to do better.

And, for the same reason that they do not please Him, they succeed in pleasing themselves. For that contracted, defective range of duties, which falls so short of God’s law, is just what they can fulfill; or rather they choose it, and keep to it, because they can fulfill it.

Hence, they become both self-satisfied and self-sufficient; – they think they know just what they ought to do, and that they do it all; and in consequence they are very well content with themselves, and rate their merit very high, and have no fear at all of any future scrutiny into their conduct, which may befall them...

And such, I say, is the religion of the natural man in every age and place; – often very beautiful on the surface, but worthless in God’s sight; good, as far as it goes, but worthless and hopeless, because it does not go further, because it is based on self-sufficiency, and results in self-satisfaction.

I grant, it may be beautiful to look at, as in the instance of the young ruler whom our Lord looked at and loved, yet sent away sad; it may have all the delicacy, the amiableness, the tenderness, the religious sentiment, the kindness, which is actually seen in many a father of a family, many a mother, many a daughter, in the length and breadth of these kingdoms, in a refined and polished age like this; but still it is rejected by the heart-searching God, because all such persons walk by their own light, not by he True Light of men, because self is their supreme teacher, and because they pace round and round in the small circle of their own thoughts and of their own judgments, careless to know what God says to them, and fearless of being condemned by Him, if only they stand approved in their own sight...

Yes, it is the ignorance of our understanding, it is our spiritual blindness, it is our banishment from the presence of Him, who is the source and the standard of all Truth, which is the cause of this meagre, heartless religion of which men are commonly so proud..."

John Henry Newman

The prayers of children, both in age and in the spirit, are full of needs, and sometimes ostentatious thanks and requests aloud to impress others. As we grow older, our needs are supplemented by requests for strength, and for the knowledge of God's portion for us, His will.

If we wish to grow, we pray that God will show us our shortcomings, the ways in which we have neglected to do His will, in bending our understanding of His commands to please ourselves instead. The times and places in which we turned aside from His call, not because we were defiant, but because we were blinded with distractions, and negligent in our own self-satisfaction and illusions of self-sufficiency.

If done well, we can find this examination to be an experience in growth, bearing in mind that growth is almost always a long process that is, at times, uncomfortable, and rarely cheap. But to take up that burden with His support is the path to life.