Thomas Aquinas considered "prudence" as the cause, measure and form of all virtues (Catholic Encyclopedia). Sometimes it is represented as such in the Latin, "auriga virtutum" the charioteer (though being a sailor, I prefer helmsman) of virtue. "It seems clear that virtues are, in some general way, beneficial. Human beings do not get on well with out them" (Philippi Foot, Prof. Emeritus, UCLA, Virtue and Vices). If we were to frame this contemporaneously, "I am positive that personal finance is 80 percent behavior and only 20 percent head knowledge" (Dave Ramsey, The Total Money Makeover). It is the absence of prudence and its demonstration in behavior that has lead America to the precipice and its counterfeit may well lead us over the edge. If virtue in general and prudence in particular is "the practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion" (Noah Webster) then the absence of shame in our day has made virtue extinct! It must then be a undisputed fact that morality cannot be legislated because there is no regard for reputation that would compel moral duties. Certainly we wish this were not the case because "virtues have moral implications beyond the individual" and "corruption in organizational leaders impacts stakeholders within and beyond the boundaries of the organization" and thus create an "impact of organizational corruption on economic systems" (Justin A. Irving, M.Div.,Ph.D., Bethel University, Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in a Proposed Virtues Framework, 2007).
However, the partakers of the Divine and Glorious Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ have the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit invigorating virtue as an integral part of the newness of life. Therefore, in this instance virtue becomes "the practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws" (Noah Webster). So in the tradition of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, we are what we worship. If we say to the Lord of Hosts, Thy will be done, then we are blessed. If the Lord of Hosts says to us, thy will be done, then we are accursed — having been abandoned to a reprobate mind while the wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness and all ungodliness! And the oracle said to the Dow, "How low can you go?"
Virtue — Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue, as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws, is virtue and religion. In this sense it is true, that virtue only makes our bliss below. Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth. (Noah Webster)
The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called "a gentleman" you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not "a gentlemen" you were not insulting him , but giving information….A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentlemen is now a useless word." C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Today we could have the same discussion over the word Christian. Over the past 2,000 years the meaning of this word has been so changed and distorted to the point that its definition would depend upon whom you ask. There are those whose lives exemplify the word Christian. Names that come to mind are Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea (Bev who just celebrated his 100th birthday). Then there are others who would exemplify what it is like to be deceived and fall into the fire stoked by one's own sin. Virtue, though, is something that appears to transcend religion because there are such things discussed as "Cardinal Virtues" (prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude). The cardinal virtues are recognized by all of civilization. They are recognized by their appearance within the inhabitance of the culture. The same would be true of the Christian. We are recognized by the doing! If that doing includes act of virtue, then Christians may be considered virtuous. But if these acts emanate from duty then they be but empty. If they emanate from a heart sung full of the love of Christ, then they may be works of bliss. Duty or blessing, the heart must decide.
There is good reason for the Lord Himself to have warned us about the eyes being the lamp that lights our body and that we ought to make sure the light we see isn't really darkness. Isaiah told us of a highway called holiness upon which the redeemed would trod. Jeremiah told us of the ancient way and warned us not to get lost on the byways of life. Jesus said that He was the Way. Roy Hession, in Calvary Road, reminded us that there is no way to "The Way" because Jesus Himself is "The Way." So the road which we walk upon and follow is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If we loose sight of this "Way" we will begin to drift of the true course illuminated by the true light. This is an impossible task considering our fallen nature. But with God, all things are possible. Our Faith must be fed! So be careful what you eat!
It would be hard to see the origin of bliss as the begrudging act of moral duty or the abstaining from vice out of compulsion. Is that not the daily burden of those in the public arena of today? A place where reputation may be besmirched by one offhanded comment caught on camera.
If we, as believers, are conforming our lives to a cultural standard of morals, as opposed to being conformed to the image of the Son, then we could be considered greased rather than anointed! We attempt to relieve the friction between our true selves and the persona we desire for public view by a self-imposed restraint upon the gorgon. This is not heaven but hell!
The virtues that flow from the Holy One of Israel have no friction but rather emanate from the threshold of the temple and course passed the right-hand of the altar and then out the eastern gate until, out of the fullness of the Creator's love, a mighty river of blessing flows through the desert of life healing everything it touches. The heavenly virtues then are by nature experiential! You have the experience of this river or you don't. No amount of hoping will move you from parched sand to abundant buoyancy. Only Him who owns the river may give leave for its travel. Only Him who died and rose again for the redemption of the world can give life to a valley of dry bones. This "highest degree of happiness," or virtue, has a name, Messiah, Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Jesus (I AM your salvation). From where does this "sincere love to God" come? Not from self, but from the river! Is felicity in your life in enough grand abundance to float your boat?
Why is it that we let our culture redefine these terms? Because we wish to neutralize them so we can show the world around us that we are not so bad! We can compare ourselves to others and say I'm better than that!
However, we can puree the words until they resemble Gerber baby food and not erase the human conditions they describe. We are thus left without a means to describe powerful and genuine estates of good and evil.
“Saved from the pleasure and love of sin. What multitudes of people would strongly resent being told that they delighted in evil! They would indignantly ask if we supposed them to be moral perverts. No indeed: a person may be thoroughly chaste and yet delight in evil. It may be that some of our own readers repudiate the charge that they have ever taken pleasure in sin, and would claim, on the contrary, that from earliest recollection they have detested wickedness in all its forms. Nor would we dare to call into question their sincerity; instead we point out that it only affords another exemplification of the solemn fact that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9).” Arthur W. Pink, A Fourfold Salvation
Virtue from the secular standpoint would be defined in actions. However, for the believer, the very center of our thoughts must be examined. If we think that we are virtuous and yet still enjoy or delight in sin, we fool ourselves and (according to the Apostle John) “the truth is not in us.” Thus the title of the aforementioned book, The Fourfold Salvation. Salvation includes deliverance from the penalty, power, presence, and pleasure of Sin. The blessing of this salvation appear in "Kairos" time and not "chronos" time. We have been delivered from the penalty of sin but that will not be fully realized or recognized until the day of judgment. We have been delivered from sins power but our vessel is flawed so we continue to sin because of our unbelief and/or disobedience.
“To love sin is far worse than to commit it, for a man may be suddenly tripped up or commit it through frailty.” Arthur W. Pink, A Fourfold Salvation
"O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah." (Psalms 4:2 NASB)
"The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates." (Psalms 11:5 NASB)
"You love evil more than good, Falsehood more than speaking what is right. Selah." (Psalms 52:3 NASB)
"'How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing And fools hate knowledge?'" (Proverbs 1:22 NASB)
"'But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog's neck; He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine's blood; He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations,'" (Isaiah 66:3 NASB)
"I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season. But they came to Baal-peor and devoted themselves to shame, And they became as detestable as that which they loved." (Hosea 9:10 NASB)
"'You who hate good and love evil, Who tear off their skin from them And their flesh from their bones,'" (Micah 3:2 NASB)
"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15 NASB)
“The contemporary church has the idea that salvation is only the granting of eternal life, not necessarily the liberation of a sinner from the bondage of his iniquity.” John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus
It is easy to become entangled with the things of everyday life. Much energy is devoted to working to earn a living and raising a family. But life is all about the journey. How did we walk the path? Did we live life only for ourselves? For the believer it becomes a question of whether we were surrendered to the will of Him Who died for us. For when we are surrounded by the will of God, we are also surrounded by His goodness, peace and joy. It is no wonder the world is in such a state of decay. For we have not been abandoned to the Captain. We major on the minors until the whole body is separated and dysfunctional. We think is such small terms and cannot seem to avail ourselves of Him who sees from eternity to eternity. All the while the Holy Spirit in whom we are sealed weeps over our sin. Life is lived moment by moment, day by day, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. A life of absolute surrender where goodness, peace, and joy are abundant.
Sometimes we can find encouragement in odd places. Such was this morning while reading through Matthew's Gospel. We can look around us and see all the things that are sick and ailing but do we really grasp who is in control? We have been forewarned of the things we see and even told that they would get worse not better. So we ought not be surprised by the chaos that ensues around us. Instead we ought take earnest heed of the things that we have heard so that we will not drift away (Hebrews 2:1 paraphrase mine). The word used here in Hebrew for "listen carefully," "pay closer attention," or "give earnest heed" is prosecho which in a nautical sense means to set your course and follow it. Why? Because those who endure to the end will be saved! The course we set then ought to be that of the Gospel praying that the Lord would be full in our hearts so that we may see the many eternal appointments He brings our way. I am always awestruck that the Lord of Glory would give such an eternally important responsibility to such flawed and frail being such as me. But then I am reminded that in my weakness He is strong and His Glory much revealed. His Grace is truly sufficient for my every need. We oftentimes look at others and see God's faithfulness even in the midst of great suffering. We say to ourselves, "I could never endure such trials!" Yet God is faithful! We have the Grace required for our day and the precious promised Sabbath Rest revealed. That is why it is so important to follow the course He has set! He is the Way so we ought not to get caught up on the by-ways (Jeremiah) of this life but cling to the Ancient Way!
For the presence of the Lord with us has indeed opened us to the way of true life. There is no other truth for He Himself is truth and life. He is our compass and guide so that we may not wander to and fro but instead steer a straight course He has designed whose final destination is assured. Thus we may look forward to the day when our eyes will be no longer veiled and we will for the first time see His face. Oh what joy shall fill my heart.
This is a verse that will never make sense until you are standing neck-deep in yogurt while sensing that there may not be fruit at the bottom of the cup! His Grace comes according to our need. When the wind blows hard His love says within our heart, "peace be still." Our eyes see only the way ahead but His eyes see all eternity. How then can my trust in His plans be held in contempt. Have I suffered like unto Job? Was it not in the midst of terrible suffering that he did say, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." Job 13:15 NASB95
I have often pondered the words from the lips of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10:
How could one wish for an experiential knowledge of such suffering? What would be the motivation that would cause one to think this thought? Perhaps the clue is illuminated in one of the preceding verses:
Paul had already suffered the loss of all things and had been blessed with the abundance of Christ's Grace. He knew from experience that the intimacy of this relationship was far more wonderful than any temporal joy or pleasure. Therefore, let us be patient to experience the journey day by day hoping that we will be able to relish each moment and drink in each drop. Let us be prepared for the eternal appointments and ready to confess our frailty and failures (for they will be many). But where our sin abounds, His Grace super abounds.