Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: time

Time shall be no more

Can you imagine an existence without time? I have tried, but I can’t. Does it mean that everything happens all at once, a state of super excitation with no ability to separate one event from another? Or does it mean a state of suspended animation where nothing happens at all? Neither of those states sounds appealing, so the Bible must mean something else when it speaks of eternity where there shall be no more time. Something that is beyond the scope of our present capacity to understand.

Our earthly existence is measured by the rhythms of the sun, moon and stars, the changing seasons, and by remarkable events. The prophet Amos was given a vision of the spiritual condition of Israel “two years before the earthquake.” The ancient Greeks believed that the position of the stars at our birth birth determined our character and the course of our life. Many people still set great store by such notions. In the Old Testament, the passage of time was marked by the weekly Sabbaths, the blowing of trumpets at the new moon and the seasonal holy days. I grew up with the ecclesiastical calendar of the Anglican Church in which every Sunday, and many other days, were given names to denote their significance. Thus we had days like Quinquagesima Sunday and Maundy Thursday. I understand there is an ongoing controversy among those who really care about such things concerning the origin and meaning of the word “maundy.”

The New Testament teaches that these markers of time should no longer govern our lives. The apostle Paul warned: “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:9-11). “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The sun still rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes, the changing seasons are accompanied by movements of the stars, but these are not to be the markers of our spiritual lives. When a person repents and is born again, that person enters into a continual spiritual Sabbath of rest from any labours to establish his or her own righteousness.

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:1,  3, 10).

It is still right and good to gather for worship on Sunday, to feed our spiritual hunger, to be refreshed in the company of the saints. But this is not the Sabbath, and being a Christian on Sunday only means that one is not a Christian at all. To this extent the times and seasons are no longer markers of our spiritual life, we have entered into a foretaste of eternity. Beyond that, we cannot tell just what eternity will be like.

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FAME, part 2

Oh think not genius, with its hallowed light,
Can break the gloom of the eternal night;
For splendid talents often lead astray
The unguarded heart, and hide the narrow way,
While the unlearned and those of low estate,
With faith’s clear eyes behold the living gate,
Whose portals open on the shoreless sea
Where time’s strong ocean meets eternity.
Across the gulf that stretches far beneath
Lies the dark valley of the shade of death –
A land of deep forgetfulness, – a shore
Which all must traverse, but return no more
To this sad earth to dissipate our dread,
And tell the mighty secrets of the dead.
Enough for us that these drear realms were trod
By heavenly footsteps, that the Son of God
Passed the dark bourne and vanquished Death, to save
The weary wanderers of life’s stormy wave.

Why then should man thus cleave to things of earth?
Daily experience proves their little worth –
Or waste those noble qualities of mind,
For wise and better purposes designed,
In pursuit of trifles, which confer
No solid pleasure on their worshipper;
Or in the search of causes that are known
And guided by Omnipotence alone?
A height his finite reason cannot reach,
And all his boasted learning fails to teach?
While the bewildering thought overwhelms his brain,
Death comes to prove his speculations vain!

Is he deserving of a better doom
Who will not raise a hope beyond the tomb?
Who, quite enamoured with his fallen state,
Clings to the world and leaves the rest to fate;
Prefers corruption to his Maker’s smile,
“And shuns the light because his deeds are vile?”
The man who feels the value of his soul,
Presses unwearied towards a higher goal;
Leaving this earth, he seeks a brighter prize,
And claims a crown immortal in the skies.
The child of pleasure may despise his aim,
And heap reproach upon the Christian’s name,
May laugh his faith, as foolishness, to scorn: –
These by the man of God are meekly borne.
His glorious hope no infidel can shake;
Her suffers calmly for his Saviour’s sake.–

The world’s poor votary seeks in vain for peace:
He cannot bid the voice of conscience cease
Its dire upbraidings; in his heartless course
He meets at every turn the fiend Remorse,
Who glares upon him with his tearless eye,
That sears his heart – but mocks its agony.
He hears that voice, amid the festive throng,
Speak in the dance and murmur in the song,
A death-bell, pealing in the midnight chime,
Whose awful tones proclaim the lapse of time,
And e’er the winged moments as they fly
Seem to proclaim – “Rash mortal, thou must die!
Soon must thou tread the path thy fathers trod,
And stand before the judgment-seat of God!”–
He hears – but seeks in pleasure’s cup to drown
The dread that weighs his ardent spirit down;
Derides the warning voice in mercy sent;
Rejects the thought of after-punishment;
In folly’s vortex wastes the spring of youth,
Nor, till death summons, owns the awful truth;
Feels it too late to calm the agonies
Remorse has kindled – and despairing, dies!

But in the breast where true religion reigns
There is a balm for all these mental pains;
A sweet contentment, felt, but undefined,
A full and free surrender of the mind
To its divine original; a trust
Which lifts to heaven the dweller of the dust.
The pilgrim, glowing with a hope divine,
Counts not the distance to the heavenly shrine;
He meets with guardian spirits on the road,
Who cheer his steps and ease his heavy load.
Serenely journeying to a better clime
He does not shudder at the lapse of time;
But calmly drinks the cup of mortal woe,
And finds that peace the world cannot bestow;
That promised joy which brightens all beneath,
And smooths his pillow on the bed of death;
That perfect love which casteth out all fear;
And wafts his spirit to a happier sphere! –

Fame is a dream – the praise of man as brief
As morning dew upon the folded leaf;
The summer sun exhales the pearly tear,
And leaves no trace of his existence there.
Seek not for immortality below,
But fix your hopes beyond this vale of woe,
That when oblivion gathers round thy sod,
A lasting record may be found with God!

[This lengthy poem comes from a book by Susanna Moodie, Enthusiasm and Other Poems,  published in 1831, the year before she and her husband came to Canada.]

FAME

[This is the first half of a poem written by Susanna Moodie]

Oh ye! who all life’s energies combine
The fadeless laurel round your brows to twine,
Pause but one moment in your brief career,
Nor seek for glory in a mortal sphere.
Can figures traced upon the shifting sand
Washed by the mighty tide, its force withstand?
Time’s stern resistless torrent onward flows,
The restless waves above your labours close,
And He who bids the bounding billows roll
Sweeps out the feeble record from the soul.

The glorious hues that flush the evening sky
Melt into night, and on her bosom die;
Through the wide fields of heaven’s immensity
The gold-tipped billows of the crimson sea
Flash on the awe-struck gazer’s dazzled sight,
The rich out-gushings from the fount of light;
Yet oft, concealed beneath that splendid form,
We find the herald of the coming storm;
The fiery spirit over half a globe
Spreads the bright tissue of his beamy robe,
And, ere the day-king veils his glowing crest,
Shrouds the dark tempest in his burning vest;
O’er earth and heaven his gorgeous banner flings,
And gilds with borrowed light his sable wings –
And those who view with rapture-lifted eyes
The short-lived pageant of the summer skies,
Behold it vanish like a fearful dream,
And death and desolation mar its beam,
So when we seek above life’s sea of tears
To raise a monument for future years.
If built on earth the fabric will decay,
Oblivion’s hand will sweep the pile away;
The proudest trophies of the mightiest mind
Fade in her grasp, nor leave a wreck behind;
She o’er earth’s ruins spreads her misty pall,
And time’s unsparing ocean swallows all;
Hope for a moment gilds the spoiler’s shroud,
As parting sunbeams tinge the lucid cloud;
The transient glory cheats the gazer’s sight;
The storm rolls on – ’tis universal night

Say did not man inherit, at his birth,
A higher promise than the things of earth;
Views more exalted than this earth can give,
And hopes that, deathless as the soul, outlive
The wreck of nature, and the common doom
That hourly sweeps her myriads to the tomb?
His mental powers, unfettered by the clod,
Soar o’er time’s gulf, and reach the throne of God.
Oh what a privilege it is to know
That death claims not the immortal soul below!
Through the dark portals of the grave upborne,
Leaving the care-worn sons of earth to mourn,
On wings of light the newborn spirit flies
To seek a home and kindred in the skies.

Oh what are earthly crowns and earthly bliss,
And pride’s delusive dreams, compared with this?
Ambition’s laurel, purchased with a flood
Of human tears and stained with kindred blood.
Once gained, converted to a crown of thorns.
Pierces the aching temples it adorns –
Not Sappho’s lyre nor Raphael’s deathless art
Can twine the olive round the bleeding heart;
In heaven alone the promised blessing lies,
And those who seek – must seek it in the skies!
Seek it through Him who, humbling human pride,
Wept o’er man’s fall, and for his ransom died;
Poured out his blood on the accursed tree,
To break the chain and set the captive free.
Heaven bowed its glory on the cross to teach
That greatness man’s lost nature could not reach.
The true humility, which stoops to rise,
And, leaving earth, claims kindred with the skies.

How many pages have been blotted o’er
With heartfelt tears, that now are read no more;
And, like the eyes that long have ceased to weep,
In dust and darkness quite forgotten sleep!
Dead to the world as if they ne’er had been
The favoured actors in one little scene.
The scene is changed – and, like their fleeting-fame,
The fickle world adores another name.
They knew the price at which its fame was bought;
The glittering bauble was not worth a thought,
Yet, Esau-like, a better birthright sold,
And for base counterfeit exchanged the gold!

Ere man presumptuously his genius boasts,
Let him reflect upon the countless hosts,
The untold myriads, of each age and clime,
That sleep forgotten in the grave of time.
What were their names? Go ask the silent sod
Their deeds – their record lives but with their God!
At every step we tread on kindred earth,
Nor know the spot that gave our fathers birth.
Oh! could we call before our wondering eyes
All that have lived – and bid the dead arise,
From the first moment the Creator spoke
The word of power, and light through darkness broke,
And see earth covered with the mighty tide
Of all who on her bosom lived and died,
What a stupendous thought would fill the soul
Could we behold life’s breathing ocean roll
Its human billows onward – and this mass
The grave has swallowed, down from Adam, pass
In one unbroken stream – the brain would reel –
Lost in immensity, would cease to feel!
Whilst living, ah, how few were known to fame!
One in a million has not left a name, –
A single token, on life’s shifting scene,
To tell to other years that such has been.
Yet man, unaided by a hope sublime,
Thinks that his puny arm can cope with time;
That his vast genius can reverse the doom,
And shed a deathless light upon his tomb;
That distant ages shall his worth admire,
And young hearts kindle at the sacred fire
Of him whose fame no envious clouds o’ercast,
Yet died forgotten and unknown at last.

Time is NOT on my side

Minister Isaac Akinyombo of Nigeria, while preaching in a Canadian congregation, told the story of a lady in his country that got converted and wanted to be part of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  There was a little problem, however: she intended to dance at her mother’s funeral and she was told that the church in Nigeria considered that to be a sin.

Her mother wasn’t dead yet, mind you, or anywhere near to being dead.  But in their culture it is terribly important to follow all the right procedures at a funeral so that the spirit of the departed one can find rest and not return to trouble the living.  It is not just dancing, but that is a major part and it involves serious non-Christian beliefs about death and the life hereafter.

This young lady could not face opting out of the tradition which her family would expect of her.  So she said, “OK, I will wait until my mother dies and I will dance at her funeral, then I will come to the church.”  Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?  There would be lots of time, she was young, her mother was old.

Brother Isaac paused momentarily, then sadly added, “The poor lady died before her mother did.”   Time was not on her side after all.

I attended a small town school here in Saskatchewan, about an hour and a half from where I now live.   I graduated from high school at the age of 17.  Four of my fellow students died over the next four years.

One was driving way too fast in a snow storm and rear ended a semi.  He had been drinking, but even when we are sober it’s easy to make foolish choice in the reduced visibility of a snow storm.  I recall a time when I had been visiting my future wife and was making the return journey to the town where I worked.  The semi in front of me was driving way to slow and I pulled out to pass.  I got about halfway past when I saw headlights coming toward me through the swirling snow.  I hit the brakes, hard, and got back into my lane just in time to let the oncoming semi go by.  From there on I contentedly followed the semi  in front of me.

Another young man was helping his father dig trenches for water and sewer lines to their house.  They were digging deep trenches, entirely by hand,  a wall collapsed on him and his life was over.

Another boy wanted to escape the flat Canadian prairies and see the world, so he enlisted in the US Navy.  He went through training and specialized in radio communications.  The day finally came when he boarded an aircraft carrier and departed on his dream of seeing the world.  A day out from land an electrical problem caused a fire in the communications cabin and he died.

Then there was a young lady, only 9 or 10 days younger than me.    She was a slim, active, clean-living young lady, a preacher’s daughter.  There was no advance warning that anything was wrong, yet she suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 21.

Nevertheless, we still tend to think that we have all the time in the world to consider God’s call and decide what to do about it.  Of course there are cases of people getting converted late in life.  One of those, a lady who was born again at the age of 90, was asked what was the greatest sin she ever committed.  Without hesitation she responded, “Refusing the call of God when I was 17.”

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

Should Christians tithe?

Some Christians firmly believe that the Old Testament 10% rule is still in force for Christians today.  They tell inspirational tales of someone who was struggling financially and could hardly find any spare change for the collection plate.  Then they began to give 10% off the top of their income and, as if by magic, all their financial needs were supplied.

There are quite convincing arguments against the 10% requirement for Christians in the new dispensation.  First, there is no command to tithe to be found anywhere in the New Testament.  Second, it is argued, the tribe of Levi was given no inheritance in the promised land, thus the tithe was a tax to support the Levitical priesthood and is not needed in the present dispensation.

I believe these are entirely valid arguments.  Does that leave Christians with no direction or guidelines on how much to give?  If we are looking for a hard and fast rule, I don’t believe we are going to find it.  What I read in the New Testament leads me to the gut-wrenching conclusion that God wants everything I have and everything I am.

The rich young ruler could not handle Jesus’ command to sell everything.  Most of the rest of us would like to squirm out of it, too.  We may blithely say, “Everything I have belongs to Jesus.”  Would an impartial bystander be likely to believe that from the way we use our time and the material things that come into our hands?

“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”  (1 Corinthians 4:7).  If everything that we have comes from God and is only a loan to us, can we then give 10% back to God, use the other 90% selfishly, and consider ourselves free?

Here is how it looks to me — the most important thing is that God wants us to trust Him completely, not only for our eternal destiny, but for all aspects of our earthly life.  He wants us to trust Him for our material needs, to trust Him to care for our family, our health, and to lead us in a way that will bring true happiness.  “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

When faced with decisions regarding any aspect of our life, our prayer should be, “Lord, what couldst thou have me to do?”  Asking that question, and waiting for the answer, will save us many heartaches.

I hope this doesn’t sound hopelessly idealistic.  I believe it is eminently practical, but we make lots of mistakes in living it.  I like the British expression of “muddling through.”  I’m afraid that’s all that I am capable of, yet I believe that with God’s help I will be able to muddle through somehow.  “ For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).

Back to the question in the title, I don’t believe that the New Testament Christian is obliged to give 10% of his income.  Many find it a useful guideline.  Some give much less, according to their circumstances and stage of life.  I know many who give several times 10%.  Is it OK to give 20% of our income and 0% of our time?  Perhaps the point is to never feel like we are doing God a favour by our giving.  It didn’t really belong to us in the first place.

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