A Testament of Devotion: Holy Obedience, Part II

Gateways into Holy Obedience

Kelly writes of two gateways into the wholly (and holy) obedient life.  Some come into such obedience through mystical experience.

It is an overwhelming experience to fall into the hands of the living God, to be invaded to the depths of one’s being by his presence, to be, without warning, wholly uprooted from all earthborn securities and assurances, and to be blown by a tempest of unbelievable power which leaves one’s old proud self utterly, utterly defenseless, until one cries, “All Thy waves and thy billows are gone over me” (Ps. 42:7).  Then is the soul swept into a loving Center of ineffable sweetness, where calm and unspeakable peace and ravishing joy steal over one….There stand the saints of the ages, their hearts open to view, and lo, their hearts are our heart and their hearts are the heart of the Eternal One.  In awful solemnity the Holy One is over all and in all, exquisitely loving, infinitely patient, tenderly smiling.  Marks of glory are upon all things, and the marks are cruciform and blood-stained.  And one sighs, like the convinced Thomas of old, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Dare one lift one’s eyes and look?  Nay, whither can one look and not see Him? [p. 30]

Something tells me that this isn’t going to be my gateway into obedience.  An experience of God half that intense would be twice as gripping as anything I’ve ever known.  But Kelly doesn’t expect this kind of ecstatic experience to endure, or to happen for many people.

Do not mistake me.  Our interest just now is in the life of complete obedience to God, not in some amazing revelations of His glory graciously granted only to some.  Yet the amazing experiences of the mystics leave a permanent residue, a God-subdued, God-possessed will. [p. 32]

It seems like all the genuine mystics understand that (1) very few people are going to have visions of this magnitude, (2) the people who do recieve them have them as an act of grace, not a reward for personal merit, (3) such visions are temporary and rare–perhaps happening briefly once, and never again, (4) they are an aid to Christian holiness, but not essential.  Devoted Christian living can happen without such moments.

I appreciate this characteristic humility from the great mystics, and more than that, appreciate their sense of priority.  It’s encouraging to a complete non-mystic like me that Kelly thinks I can also have a life of holy obedience, even without the celestial visions.  But that means traveling through a different gateway.

…most people must follow…the active way, wherein we must struggle and, like Jacob of old, wrestle with the angel until morning dawns, the active way wherein the will must be subjected bit by bit, piecemeal and progressively, to the divine Will. [p. 32]

The first step is to is to cultivate a

flaming vision of the wonder of such a life, a vision which comes occasionally to us all, through biographies of the saints…through a life lived before our eyes, through a haunting verses of the Psalms…through meditation upon the amazing life and death of Jesus….[p. 32]

This is precisely why I’ve begun to develop an interest in the lives of the saints, and why I think most of the Protestant world made a mistake in rejecting the notion of identifying those among us who have lived exemplary lives worth of study and emulation.  Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, Augustine, Patrick, Clare, Aidan–my spiritual life would be significantly impoverished without their examples.  I could also make a long list of the lives “lived before my eyes” who have made a difference.  As Paul wrote, we should “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Philippians 3:17)

Once you have a vision of what the wholly obedient life looks like, the second step is to start living in a way that is congruent with your vision–even if you are starting in very small ways.

Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like the grain of a mustard seed. [p.33]

Step three:

If you slip and stumble and forget God for an hour, and assert your old proud self, and rely on your clever wisdom, don’t spend too much time in anguished regrets or self-accusations, but begin again, just where you are. [p. 34]

Again I shout Amen!  We all slip and fall.  No one’s path is perfect, and “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

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