John Wesley’s Summary Of the Aims of Pastoral Ministry

In his “Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” Wesley recounts this exchange:

But I hear,” added he, “you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for?” I replied, “I do preach to as many as desire to hear, every night and morning. You ask, what I would do with them: I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven; to God the Judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: To make them like God; lovers of all; contented in their lives; and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, ‘O grave, where is thy victory! Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.’ ”

John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition., vol. 8 (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872), 8.

Wesley seems to have a solid grasp of what the New Testament authors saw as the good life and be appears to have seen it to be his job as a pastor/preacher to help others to attain to such a life. Would that pastors with similar aspirations increase.

Note: One might object, “But Paul preached Christ crucified,” shouldn’t a pastor focus only on that and justification by faith? My response would be to note that Paul also describes his mission and that of all of the apostles in Romans 1:5 as “bring[ing] about the obedience of faith among the nations.” I suspect that “Christ and him crucified” is a summary of the whole gospel focusing upon the cross to remind the Corinthian church of the importance of humility.

SciLab and Engineering

Recently I’ve made a major change in my life direction.

I’ve mentioned it before. I am pursuing an engineering degree. One of my favorite things in the whole world is open source software. Not just because its free. But ever since I was in high school, the notional of editable software has really intrigued me. I’ve never done much with it other than use it. But, there is a mathematical programming suite called Scilab that functions similarly to a very useful, but very expensive program called Matlab.

As a student I’ve already become very acquainted with Matlab, but Scilab has intrigued me greatly. The big critique of it that I’ve heard from several people is “it doesn’t have the horsepower necessary to do serious projects.” Nevertheless, I’ve used it to teach basic programming skills to the computer club at the high school where I work. But then, last week I heard about this:

Scilab Enterprises is proud to announce that Scilab, open source software for numerical computation, has been used during Philae’s comet landing mission.

Anyway, this forced me to redouble my efforts to master this platform. In the meantime, I’m still learning C++, Fortran, and Matlab. But, don’t let anybody tell you that open-source software cannot be used in a serious fashion. Heck, I wrote all of my papers my first time through college in open-office. Anyhow, don’t fear open source soft-ware.

John Wesley on the Christian Life

Toward the beginning of John Wesley’s journal, he goes through a series of questions that he asks people who are critical of what he and the early Methodists are doing. They are pretty intense, but most Christians, even now, would approve of them. I wonder why we don’t do this kind of thing.

  1.  Whether it does not concern all men of all conditions to imitate Him, as much as they can, ‘who went about doing good’?

    Whether all Christians are not concerned in that command, ‘While we have time, let us do good to all men’?

    Whether we shall not be more happy hereafter, the more good we do now?

    Whether we can be happy at all hereafter, unless we have, according to our power, ‘fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those that are sick, and in prison’; and made all these actions subservient to a higher purpose, even the saving of souls from death?

    Whether it be not our bounden duty always to remember that He did more for us than we can do for Him, who assures us, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me’?

  2. Whether, upon these considerations, we may not try to do good to our acquaintance? Particularly, whether we may not try to convince them of the necessity of being Christians?

    Whether of the consequent necessity of being scholars?

    Whether of the necessity of method and industry, in order to either learning or virtue?

    Whether we may not try to persuade them to confirm and increase their industry, by communicating as often as they can?

    Whether we may not mention to them the authors whom we conceive to have wrote the best on those subjects?

    Whether we may not assist them, as we are able, from time to time, to form resolutions upon what they read in those authors, and to execute them with steadiness and perseverance?

  3. Whether, upon the considerations above-mentioned, we may not try to do good to those that are hungry, naked, or sick? In particular, whether, if we know any necessitous family, we may not give them a little food, clothes, or physic, as they want?
    Whether we may not give them, if they can read, a Bible, Common-Prayer Book, or Whole Duty of Man?

    Whether we may not, now and then, inquire how they have used them; explain what they do not understand, and enforce what they do?

    Whether we may not enforce upon them, more especially, the necessity of private prayer, and of frequenting the church and Sacrament?

    Whether we may not contribute what little we are able toward having their children clothed and taught to read?

    Whether we may not take care that they be taught their catechism andshort prayers for morning and evening?

  4. Lastly: Whether, upon the considerations above-mentioned, we may not try to do good to those that are in prison? In particular, Whether we may not release such well-disposed persons as remain in prison for small sums?

    Whether we may not lend smaller sums to those that are of any trade, that they may procure themselves tools and materials to work with?

    Whether we may not give to them who appear to want it most a little money, or clothes, or physic?

    Whether we may not supply as many as are serious enough to read, with a Bible and Whole Duty of Man?

    Whether we may not, as we have opportunity, explain and enforce these upon them, especially with respect to public and private prayer and the blessed Sacrament?

It would appear that Wesley’s understanding of Christianity is both active and contemplative. Note what is bold above. Wesley made an effort to convince people to be Christians, to become scholarly persons as a Christian duty, and to work to increase both industry and virtue. I would suspect that though deep down, most Christians would say, “studying the Bible is good,” very few would say that being as scholarly as ones vocation and constitution allows is a consequent duty of being a Christian. I might say the same with Wesley’s attempt to persuade people to be industrious and virtuous. The New Testament is filled, obviously with commands and encouragements to virtue. But it also contains commands to be industrious and productive:

” ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω, μᾶλλον δὲ κοπιάτω ἐργαζόμενος ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν τὸ ἀγαθόν, ἵνα ἔχῃ μεταδιδόναι τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι. Ephesians 4:27″

Let those who steal no longer steal, but all the more let them labor well with their own hands so that they might have with which to give to those who have need. Ephesians 4:27

The efforts Wesley made to help people, as their Christian duty, care for their families, do good work in their trades, know their Bibles, and be busy about the commands of Jesus are certainly worthy of emulation today.

Two ways to store grain

Luk 12:16-21 ESV  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, (17)  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ (18)  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19)  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ (20)  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (21)  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Pro 11:25 A generous person will prosper, and anyone who gives water will receive a flood in return.

Pro 11:26  People will curse whoever withholds grain, but blessing will come to whoever is selling.

Pro 19:17  Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to the LORD—the benefit of his gift will return to him in abundance.

Jesus, in Luke 12, tells the above parable about selfishly storing grain. There is clearly a point about the Pharisees vision of Israel in there, but the main point concerns how one manages the wealth of his household. But it can be very easy to mistake what Jesus says here for something else. Is Jesus saying that it is wrong to save or to store up grain? Or is he saying that it is wrong to store up grain without being rich toward God?

The reason I do not think that Jesus is opposing saving money is because the man is clearly portrayed storing up treasures without generosity. Elsewhere in Luke’s gospel and its sequel, fairly rich patrons and matrons are praised for their generosity or for their literal selling of everything. So it isn’t the wealth or poverty per se that Luke or even Jesus sees as virtuous or vicious. It seems to be ones use of wealth. To illustrate this I’ve quoted three Proverbs. This might provide some helpful context for Jesus remarks about the man who stores up wealth. He never lends to God by caring for the poor (being rich toward God). He builds wealth without being generous as he builds larger storehouses for himself. And, he seems to be a loner, he talks to himself about the issue, not to his family or his servants. In this respect, the conclusion of Jesus’ parable of the clever manager comes to mind: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)” Thus the man seems to not be particularly revered for his generosity amongst his countrymen.

Not coincidentally, the Old Testament has very clear laws for ancient Israelites concerning what they do with their grain:

Lev 19:9-10  “When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to completely finish harvesting the corners of the field, that is, you are not to pick what remains after you have reaped your harvest.  (10)  You are not to gather your vineyard or pick up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. Leave something for the poor and the resident alien who lives among you. I am the LORD your God.”

So the Old Testament background here indicates is that this rich man is not being properly rich. He is not generous, he stores up so much grain that there is nothing left over, and it will go to nobody when he dies alone, cursed by the people, and without friends.

Jesus also seems to have another famous Israelite in mind when he tells this story. Joseph, during his stay in Egypt, stored up enough grain to feed the Israelites, Egyptians, and several other people groups during a brutal famine:

Gen 41:47-57  During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly,  (48)  and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it.  (49)  And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.  (50)  Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him.  (51)  Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.”  (52)  The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  (53)  The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end,  (54)  and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.  (55)  When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”  (56)  So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt.  (57)  Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

Conclusion:

There is a right and wrong way to save up your resources. If you save up during times of plenty like the fable of the ant, then you will be able to live without anxiety and with generosity during times of famine. But the trick is to save up without being miserly. One must develop the habit of generosity even during times of plenty if one wishes to have unself-ish habits during times of want. At least, that’s my take on Jesus’ parable here.

Origen and the Historical Jesus

I was reading the ACCS commentary on Joshua when I came across this gem from Origen.

In this manner, therefore, Jesus [Joshua] with his chiefs and princes comes to those who are attacked for his name by opposing powers, and not only does he furnish assistance in war, but also he extends the length of the day and, prolonging the extent of light, dispels the approaching night.
Therefore, if we are able, we want to disclose how our Lord Jesus prolonged the light and made a longer day, both for the salvation of humans and for the destruction of opposing powers.
Immediately after the Savior appeared, it was already the end of the world. Even he himself said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” But he restrained and checked the day of consummation and forbade it to come. For God the Father, seeing that the salvation of the nations can be established only through him, says to him, “Ask from me, and I shall give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession.”11
Therefore, until the promise of the Father is fulfilled and the churches spring forth in the various nations and “the whole fullness of the nations” enter so that then “all Israel may be saved,” the day is lengthened and the setting is deferred and the sun never sinks down but always rises as long as “the sun of righteousness”13 pours the light of truth into the hearts of believers. But when the measure of believers is complete and the already weaker and depraved age of the final generation arrives, when “the love of many persons will grow cold by increasing iniquity” and very few persons remain in whom faith is found, then “the days will be shortened.”15
In the same way, therefore, the Lord knows to extend the day when it is time for salvation and to shorten the day when it is time for tribulation and destruction. We, however, while we have the day and the extent of light is lengthened for us, “let us walk becomingly as in the day” and let us perform the works of light. HOMILIES ON JOSHUA 11.2–3. John R. Franke, ed., Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 59.

Origen does not so much as concern himself with the meaning of Joshua 10:12. He instead springboards off of the longer day of Joshua into the extended day of salvation in the New Testament. But he notices something about Jesus in the gospels that has confused many scholars. He notices that Jesus was a prophet of a near judgment. But Origen also notices that Jesus, in his claim to be uniquely related to God, is also the very reason for God’s delay of his final act of judgment. I know that Jim West isn’t a big fan of Origen, nor is he too keen on historical Jesus studies, but I think Origen might be on to something.

Dates and Biblical Studies: When were the New Testament books written?

Pro 18:17  The first to put forth his case seems right, until someone else steps forward and cross-examines him.

Attempting to discern the dates of the literature in New Testament is in many ways a fools errand.

It has some value, but not a great deal. For instance, if James Crossley or David Alan Black are right about how early the earliest gospel is (they disagree about which it is), then many of the arguments against the reliability of the general outline of Jesus’ life in the gospels are pretty much false. At least if they are of this form, “The gospels are late, therefore the gospels are fictional.”

Dating the texts can help to understand some of them slightly more accurately. For instance, the order of the Thessalonian letters might help us see if and in which direction Paul’s thought changed over time.

Over all, the evidence available is the same for everybody and the syllogisms and arrangements of that evidence as well as comparisons with all of the important historical analogs seems to have been accomplished. I’m not saying there isn’t a truth about these topics out there. I’m saying that one or several scholars may have discovered it, but since the evidence is incomplete, the arguments are not compelling. Thus, as the Proverb reads, “The first to put forth his case seems right, until someone else steps forward and cross-examines him.”

This does not mean people should give up. Seriously, I have my own, perhaps unpopular view of the dating of the New Testament. I just mean that until new evidence presents itself or a truly creative argument arranges the evidence in a probative way, we’re basically stuck with enough certainties to make a broad outline that has tremendous plasticity within its borders.