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I found this old publication in a used book shop in Lewisville, Pennsylvania, on a return trip to visit relatives in northern Pennsylvania for the 2003 Christmas season.
This was a short but pithy theological and scriptural reflection on the principle of personal assurance of "salvation," one's relationship of faith with God. It was insightful to read a book written over a century ago. The English was interesting, the thoughts expressed somewhat differently than we might today.
Slightly Foreign English
Also some uncommon words were used, that have now dropped out of English usage. Or more commonly recognizable words were used in different ways. It gave a different flavour to the comments he was making. Slightly foreign, but recognizable -- just enough different to make you think about what he was saying. And isn't that the purpose of such a book?
This writer was skilled in the language, and his writing style was inviting. The rhetorical patterns were somewhat tricky however; our language has changed so much since 1880. Once in a while you find a collector's item like this, that can still speak to the modern spirit. This writer was a Methodist pastor. I was interested to see on what level he dealt with the concept of Christian Assurance.
The Common Approach
I wondered if I would see the common popular reductionisms we still hear in what passes sometimes for theological discussion. I was pleased to see he had risen far above the well-known pedantic platitudes of reduction. During my lifetime I have commonly heard theological arguments (you couldn't call them discussions or even debates) pose two simplistic poles, "Security of the Believer" and "Falling from Grace."
These two popular terms provide a simple, satisfying answer for each side of a complex discussion. This offers an easy either-or choice. But this approach reduces into a manageable phrase and a satisfying rational view numerous volumes of background thoughts, research, suggestions, theories and humble admission of uncertainty in regard to these deep mysteries.
Popular preachers and dogmatists, however, feel no such uncertainty, but plunge right on touting their simplified frontier slogans of certainty. A true scholar is not able to do this. The answer must be at least as complex as the answer. We too often sell ourselves -- and the ancient holy writings -- short.
A Cut Above
Pastor Elijah Miller rises above the unproductive common sloganeering to thoughtfully review scriptural references and various theological reflections on the aspects of personal faith in relationship to the Divine. He does not focus on rational metaphysics, but deals with practical relational questions that face a believer in maintaining progress in faith and spiritual growth.
He wrote as a pastor, though with scholarly reflection and skill, focusing on how to know you have believed, the personal indications of faith in a committed relationship to God, the signs in practical life that one has believed and other sings of personal self-evaluation, not abstract metaphysical theory.
He lets that scriptural passages speak to us out of their own context, which took seriously covenant concepts in relationships between the members of a society and between the individual or the society and God.
Wesleyan High Quality
This was truly the tone of the high traditional Wesleyan teaching. It was good to see an actual example of such thoughtful practical spirituality in print, though over 125 years old!
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Faith or Fate
Practicing the Presence of God
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Written 30 December 2006
Posted on thoughts and Resources 2 January 2007
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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