The Glory Has Departed
Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence
Bethany Lutheran Worship on
Monday, December 12, 2016
Conversion by the Word - Not by Seeker Services and Bar Ministries.
The Wife of the Founder of Fuller Seminary.
Church Mouse has an interesting post, in honor of Augustine of Hippo, where he described the conversion of Augustine as "entering through the back door."
From Thy Strong Word:
People think of St. Augustine as a religious leader of the distant past, but he was once a famous, hedonistic pagan. His mother Monica gave him Christian instruction as a child and prayed for his conversion to the faith. Augustine’s unique intellectual gifts made him a powerful intellectual leader, the finest orator at a time when great speeches were the pathway to fame. He was so brilliant that the Scriptures seemed beneath him. In addition, Christianity was one of many religions of his day, like ours, and not very successful in the marketplace of ideas. Monica never ceased her prayers. Another burden in her life was an unbelieving husband. One day, as Augustine felt the weight of his sins, he was overwhelmed with a sense of contrition. Weeping under a fig tree, he heard a child’s voice sing out a Latin song, “Tolle, lege. Take and read.” The song had no religious content, but Augustine felt compelled to pick up the Scriptures where he read the damning words of the Law and the comfort of the Gospel:
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. 14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Romans 13:13
Augustine wrote: “I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.” Augustine then went to tell his mother Monica, who “leaped for joy triumphant, and she blessed Thee, Who art ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.’” (Ephesians 3:20)
Monica prayed to have a believing son, but God gave her one of the greatest of all teachers of Christianity. Augustine became a bishop and served the African church, writing such classics of the faith as his Confessions and The City of God. It is impossible to study Christian thought apart from Augustine or find a topic he did not write about, using the gifts abundantly given him by God. At the last bookstore I visited, not long ago, I saw the famous biography of Augustine in paperback, a testimony not to Monica, but to the kind and loving Father Who blessed Monica far beyond her ability to think or ask. That power gave her, like many heart-broken mothers afterwards, the faith to pray, the hope to find comfort in waiting, and the patience to wait for the effectual working of the Triune God, who can use a child and a secular song to fashion a bishop and theologian.
"In like manner, St. Paul says that God's ability is thus proved, in that He does exceeding abundantly above and better than we ask or think. Ephesians 3:20. Therefore, we should know we are too finite to be able to name, picture or designate the time, place, way, measure and other circumstances for that which we ask of God. Let us leave that entirely to Him, and immovably and steadfastly believe that He will hear us."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p.179f.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who hath blessed us
with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Ephesians 1:3)
Augustine is one of the best examples of being converted by the Word of God. Therefore, he entered the Christian Church through the front door, the only door.
Another is Grace Fuller, the wife of the founder of Fuller Seminary:
According to Kittel, the Greek word “energeia , energia” is derived from “to be at work.” The words are found in the pre-Socratic period in the sense of activity or energy. Although we cannot make automatic conclusions from the previous use of the word, as shown in the English word “gay,” it is worth noting that Moulton and Milligan list a few examples of the word-group before New Testament times. More importantly, as the list above shows, the word group is used exclusively for divine and demonic activity. Therefore, Paul distinguishes between the word of man and the Word of Proclamation (akoe). The miraculous creation of the Thessalonian mission itself is proof of the divine power of the Word. They received the Word and the Word converted them to faith in Christ, making them thankful and Paul ceaselessly grateful. Nothing in the Scriptures suggests that people make a decision for Christ after weighing a carefully crafted and skillfully executed presentation.
"This Word works in the Thessalonians what Paul states in 1:3; it came to them with the power of the Holy Spirit and much assurance (1:5); it turned them from the idols to the living God, to Him who raised up Jesus from the dead, the Savior from the wrath to come (1: 9, 10). This effect, wrought by the Word, convinces all believers, all who experience this blessed effect, that this is, indeed, God's Word."
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Thessalonians, Columbus: The Wartburg Press,1937, p. 261.
The conversion of Grace Fuller, wife of the founder of Fuller Seminary, is told with great force and conviction, illustrating the very point made by Paul in this passage.
"Mrs. Barnhill looked at me and said, with such a loving look in her gray eyes, 'Oh, Grace, Christ said, 'No man cometh unto the Father but by Me,' and, my dear, you have no way of approach to a holy God unless you come through Christ, His Son, as your Saviour.' "The Scripture which she quoted," Mrs. Fuller continues, "was the Sword of the Spirit, and at that moment Unitarianism was killed forever in my heart. I saw the light like a flash and believed at that moment, though I said nothing. She had quoted God's Word, the Spirit had used it, and, believing, I instantly became a new creation in Christ Jesus. She might have talked and even argued with me about it, but instead she just used the Word."
J. Elwin Wright, The Old Fashioned Revival Hour and the Broadcasters, Boston: The Fellowship Press, 1940, p. 54.
As Grace Fuller realized, the proclaimed Word has the power to slay the elegant doubts of Unitarianism and to energize faith in the Gospel in an instant. Therefore, believers have an abundant witness in the Scriptures about the power, clarity, and effectiveness of the Word, but they also have the added benefit of experiencing the energy of the Law and Gospel, which kills the dead old skeptical sinner and creates a new man who loves God and wants to serve Him.
Unbelievers can never understand that Christians subordinate their intellectual powers, their human reason, to the faith divinely created by God. Nor can unbelievers perceive that faith does not oppose reason, nor does it become irrational. Instead, reason serves faith. Many of those who are quoted in this volume are the leading intellectuals of all time, as shown in their vast learning, their demonstrated ability in many languages, and their timeless writings. One nun asked, “How can Martin Luther, who lived 500 years ago, write things which touch me so deeply today?” The answer is – He lived in the Word, more than any other religious leader of any era, so all his utterances have the divine power of the Word today. Under the Law, he experienced all the terrors of Hell as he dwelt upon the wrath of God. When the Holy Spirit finally penetrated the Medieval legalism and philosophy which the Reformer knew so well, the comfort of the Gospel burst upon him, giving him comfort, peace, joy, and a genuine love of God.
"It is the assurance of the writers (1:1) that this is truly 'God's Word,' but the relative clause: 'which is also effective in you, the believers,' adds the evidence in support of the fact that this is truly God's Word, namely its divine effectiveness in the Thessalonians believers."
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Thessalonians, Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1937, p. 261.
"To me He spake: Hold fast to Me, I am thy Rock and Castle;
Thy Ransom I Myself will be, For thee I strive and wrestle;
For I am with thee, I am thine,
And evermore thou shalt be Mine:
The Foe shall not divide us.
The Foe shall shed My precious blood, Me of My life bereaving.
All this I suffer for thy good; Be steadfast and believing.
Life shall from death the victory win, My innocence shall bear thy sin;
So art thou blest forever.”
Martin Luther, “Dear Christians One, and All, Rejoice,” The Lutheran Hymnal, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941, Hymn #387, verses 7-8.