The Practical Wisdom of Self-Denial

From Anthony of the Desert

‘Wherefore, children, let us not faint nor deem that the time is long, or that we are doing something great, “for the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.” Nor let us think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with all the heaven. Wherefore if it even chanced that we were lords of all the earth and gave it all up, it would be nought worthy of comparison with the kingdom of heaven. For as if a man should despise a copper drachma to gain a hundred drachmas of gold; so if a man were lord of all the earth and were to renounce it, that which he gives up is little, and he receives a hundredfold. But if not even the whole earth is equal in value to the heavens, then he who has given up a few acres leaves as it were nothing; and even if he have given up a house or much gold he ought not to boast nor be low-spirited. Further, we should consider that even if we do not relinquish them for virtue’s sake, still afterwards when we die we shall leave them behind—very often, as the Preacher saith, to those to whom we do not wish. Why then should we not give them up for virtue’s sake, that we may inherit even a kingdom? Therefore let the desire of possession take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us—to wit, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from wrath, hospitality? If we possess these, we shall find them of themselves preparing for us a welcome there in the land of the meek-hearted.”

From Athanasius’ “Life of Anthony” in NPNF 2/4: Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, p. 200-201.

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From the Depths

With the Psalmist in Psalm 130, we have been smashed into the dust by our sin, and our only hope is that somehow our cries will reach heaven anyway. If access to God depends on being good enough, then our situation is hopeless, but between heaven and hell stands the fearful reality of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is more powerful than our failings, and so even our sin cannot prevent Him from hearing us. So as we come to worship, we eagerly wait for Lord along with the Psalmist, reassuring our hearts of God’s steadfast love, and looking hopefully toward the plentiful redemption that He offers in Jesus Christ.

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Exalted Above All

In Psalm 138, David bows himself down with thanks, and lifts up the name and the word of God. God’s name represents all that He has done, particularly His blessings towards David: strengthening, hearing, preserving, and defending him. God’s word refers to the laws and commands He issues as the Lord above all earthly kings. When kings hear God’s glorious word, they rejoice and sing, like David does. In light of God’s name and word, David expresses his trust in the Lord, and renews his appeal for God not to forsake him. As you come to worship today, meditate on God’s reputation and His word, and add your voice to David’s praise.

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The Earth’s Joyous Song

When God brings salvation, the whole earth is called on to praise the King. The sea and sea-creatures, the land and land-dwellers, rivers, hills, are all exhorted to glorify the Lord for the justice of His judgments. Even the wood, string, and metal taken from the earth should make a joyful noise, being fashioned into lyres and trumpets. God reveals His righteousness in front of the nations, and since all the ends of the earth see this salvation, all the ends of the earth should worship. Because of the love and faithfulness of God, His judgment brings joy to the earth.

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Purity at the Movies

This account of the early Christian monk Pambos’ reaction to an actress is instructive to all of us who struggle to interact with our entertainment culture in a holy way:

This same Pambos, at the desire of Athanasius the bishop, came out of the desert to Alexandria and on beholding an actress there, he wept. When those present asked him why he wept, he replied, ‘Two causes have affected me: one is the destruction of this woman; the other is that I exert myself less to please my God than she does to please obscene characters.’

Socrates Scholasticus, “Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, Chapter 23”, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Volume 2 (pg. 107).

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Those Fissiparous Protoprotestants

Socrates Scholasticus concludes his lengthy description of the divisions that abounded in the early church, from the 22nd chapter of his Ecclesiastical History (NPNF II.2):

Let us now return to the subject we were previously treating of, the fact that the Church once divided did not stay with that division, but that those separated were again divided among themselves, taking occasion from the most trivial grounds.

Socrates Scholasticus, “Ecclesiastical History,Book V, Chapter 23”, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 2 (pgs. 131-134).

The many fractures and splits he details in the paragraphs before this summation were clearly caused by Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which is why all good Christians should submit to the Pope. How Luther pulled this off so many years before his birth we must credit to the wiles of Satan.

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In the Company of the Upright

Psalm 111 makes the case that the best way to praise God is to give thanks wholeheartedly surrounded by a congregation of worshipers, because praise grows when it is shared. God is rightly praised for His works of providing food, remembering His covenant, and delivering trustworthy precepts. In addition, God is praised for the way He works: His works are great, full of splendor and majesty, enduring, gracious and merciful, faithful and just, and trustworthy. Everyone who joins together in awe of such a holy and wonderful God shows a good understanding of the fear of Lord, so come to worship today prepared to make His praise endure forever in the company of the upright.

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