Purgatory, Cults, and Works Religions
The following is from a book I thoroughly enjoyed, The Preacher and His Preaching by Alfred P. Gibb. It appears on Page 35 as
an excerpt from an unnamed magazine and is entitled “A Worker’s Dream”:
“I sat down in an arm chair, wearied with my work. My toil had been severe and protracted. Many were seeking Christ, and many were finding Him. As for myself, I was joyous in my work. My brethren were united. My sermons and exhortations were evidently telling on my hearers. My church was crowded.
Tired with my work, I soon lost myself in a sort of half-forgetful state.
Suddenly a stranger entered the room, without any preliminary ‘tap’ or “Come in.” He carried about his person measures, chemical agents and implements, which gave him a very strange appearance.
The stranger came toward me and, extending his hand said: “How is your zeal?” I supposed that the query was to be for my health, but was pleased to hear his final words; for I was quite pleased with my zeal, and doubted not the stranger would smile when he should know its proportions.
Instantly I conceived of it as a physical quantity and putting my hand into my bosom, brought it forth and presented it to him for inspection.
He took it and, placing it in his scale, weighed it carefully. I heard him say, “One hundred pounds!” I could scarcely suppress an audible note of satisfaction; but I caught his earnest look as he noted down the weight, and I saw at once that he had drawn no final conclusion, but was intent on pushing his investigation. He broke the mass to atoms, put it into his crucible, and put the crucible into the fire. When the mass was fused he took it out, and set it to cool. It congealed in cooling, and when turned out on the hearth exhibited a series of layers or strata, which all, at the touch of the hammer, fell apart, and were severally tested and weighed, the stranger making minute notes as the process went on.
When he had finished, he presented the notes to me, and gave me a look of mingled sorrow and compassion, as without a word, except: “May God save you!” he left the room.
The “notes” read as follows:
The analysis of the Zeal of Junias, a Candidate for a Crown of Glory
Weight in mass…….. 100 lbs.
On this analysis, there proves to be -
Bigotry 10 parts
Personal ambition 23 "
Love of praise 19 "
Pride of denomination 15 "
Pride of talent 14 "
Love of authority 12 " .
“Wood, Hay and Stubble” 93 parts total
Love to God 4 parts
Love to man 3 " .
Pure Zeal 7 parts total
100 parts total
I had become troubled at the peculiar manner of the stranger, and especially at his parting look and words; but when I looked at
the figures, my heart sank as lead within me.
I made a mental effort to dispute the correctness of the record. But I was startled into a more honest mood by an audible sigh from the stranger, who had paused in the hall. I cried out, “Lord save me!” and knelt down at my chair, with the paper in my hand and my eyes fixed on it. At once it became a mirror, and I saw my heart reflected in it. The record was true!... I saw it, I felt it, I confessed it, I deplored it, and I besought God to save me from myself with many tears. Then, with a loud cry of anguish I awoke.”
I originally read this story about 20 years ago and I always return to it whenever I pause to reflect on the multitude of mixed motives we all possess, indeed we all are. We all are (me included) a laundry bag full of nobleness and self interest and sin. Simplicity of motive is indeed elusive. Purity of life requires constant effort. Some may aspire to it, maybe a monk or nun or two might even achieve it, but the fact that temptation remains and the fact that daily confession is part and parcel of any such holy existence betrays the reality of our fallen condition.
So why am I going on about this if I am entitling this paper Purgatory, Cults, and Works Religions? Because I am constantly struck by how the religions of whole world are soooo attracted to the idea of gaining admission into God’s eternity by our feeble free will and pitiful good works. Do you know what God really thinks of our good works? “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6 Modesty forbids me to translate the literal Hebrew meaning of the word “filthy” used here but it conveys the idea of being especially defiled.
If the above story illustrates anything, it illustrates that God is spectacularly unimpressed with our attempts to please Him out of our own resources. We have too much going on inside us to lay claim to anything like a pure deed or completely altruistic motive, still less a life that would merit Heaven or Nirvana or whatever. We need a Savior. We need a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
But yet, despite the efficacy of Christ’s finished work (cp. Heb 10:12 “but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;”), the doctrine of Purgatory says that this is insufficient to obtain complete forgiveness for our sins and absolutely not enough to take us to Heaven. Instead we need to be purged from our remaining stains of sin by, ugh, doing or enduring more ‘things’ out of our pitiful arsenal of will and reason. One assumes that our sin nature has been subdued or cast out by this time, for if not, we can’t improve on our condition in Purgatory, for unless we have been materially changed in our souls, Purgatory with a sin nature is not much different than this life vexed with its endless parade of disparate motives. Which then begs the question: If we no longer have a sin nature to vex us and all our sins have been wonderfully atoned for, why go to Purgatory at all?
Somehow the ‘works religions’ folks, and this includes a lot of Evangelicals, can’t wrap their minds around complete forgiveness accomplished by a perfect sacrifice. We somehow feel it is too good to be true. We feel too guilty to believe everything can be wiped away. Yet God says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps 103:12 Yet still the creature in us somehow feels we need to do something more; to give an alm or add a good work or live a life of voluntary poverty or something to please God to help make up for our sins or insure our rewards.
Insert: If we aren’t really saved, then this ‘feeling’ of needing to ‘do’ is natural and appropriate for an unregenerate person. This is the difference between living under the Law versus living under Grace. The Law brings bondage. Grace bestows liberty and freedom of heart. Which, BTW, God expects more from us under Grace than he does under the Law. Note the “Thou shalt not’s…” of the 10 Commandments. It is easier to not to disobey a commandment than it is to sacrifice, love, and live the spiritual implications of those same commandments. ‘Doing’ always requires more than ‘not doing’ and both require divine help if we would aspire to please God. See 2 Cor 12:9.
But I digress…
The place and value of ‘good works’ has ever been a stumbling block for religion. So first let’s put “merit” to death once and for all. Merit, for the uninitiated, means good works for which it is unjust to deny a reward. So, what good work can we as a Christians do that has not been first inspired by the Holy Spirit to recognize, been given hands, the wit, and the health, and the opportunity by God to do, and resulted in blessing which others having done the same thing failed to accomplish? Like our story above, when analyzed in detail, our good works can barely be called meritorious muchless capable of conferring rich reward. Interestingly, faithfulness and diligence are more likely to procure great reward than sacrifice and tireless effort. See the Parable of the Talents for more details about this. See the Fruits of the Spirit to be reminded it is God who inspires our faithfulness and diligence and increases it.
But there is an even more insidious use of good works that most religions have adopted, namely, good works that can be done to off set our bad ones (or to mitigate purgatory for others by an implicit satisfactory nature of merit). This is the underlying principle behind the “scales model” of determining eternal destiny. So, how many good works will someone need to do to offset raping your daughter? One presumes they will need to do extra ones if they kill her as well. What a vile proposition! Only death could begin to atone for such a crime. And even then, what of the psychological harm done to the others who knew her? Or the potential of her life, now cut short? What subsequent life of sacrifice and service could anyone ever offer to atone for such a crime? Yet Hindu, Muslim, and Jew use the scales model for weighing our eternal destiny. This is also usually the motivation found for the exertions put upon the faithful in the Cult religions as well. They must work hard to get into Heaven.
I don’t know how we ever came up with the ‘scales model’ of moral justice but it is fundamentally defective in that it fails to redress the crime itself, but instead seeks to attach unrelated good deeds as being capable of offsetting our bad ones. This is not justice. Justice seeks true reparation to the victim and clarity as to what laws have been violated so that the punishment may be appropriate. To be fair, it tries to identify and weigh, much like the story above, all the contributing motives and circumstances that permeate our every act. And it must not only determine the extent of the immediate damages, but must also include the delayed and collateral damages.
And this too, the ‘scales model’ seems to forget the divine blessing of the possibility of extending mercy and forgiveness (which are the prerogative of the offended one alone and no one else). Like ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’, the ‘scales model’ can have a place in a moral system for establishing a basis for reparation, but as a definitive model for moral justice, let alone as a basis for admittance to heaven, it needs more… much more.
Rom 5:8 But God commends his own love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We are full of desires competing with desires and fears piled upon fears. Indeed, one of the roles of psychology is to
identify these desires and fears, clarify them, and remediate the ones put there by trauma or deficit or guilt or shame (or sin, if we are Christian psychologists). By the way, another role of
psychology is establishing a true self image composed both of good and bad and strengths and weaknesses. Truly, we are not just victims, but both culprits and victims
in the same stroke.
To be sure, each person shall have their works judged* and the one without Christ shall have the ‘scales model’ used to evaluate his or her life just as they believed it would be, just as their religion told them it would be*. And then, much to their horror, their thoughts and intentions shall be factored in to further (and fairly) evaluate these same deeds, and they shall be found wanting, that is to say, they won’t weigh heavy enough when self interest, pride, and fear are stripped away.
*I Cor 3:13; Matt 7:2
A man died and went to Heaven. It happened that he died about the same time as Christ’s return and the end of the world, so he went straight to the last judgment to appear before God to receive his eternal reward. Just like in the book of Revelation, 2 books were opened. One was the Book of Life; the other was the record of his life on earth. Because he had believed in Jesus and had been born again, his name was found written in the Book of Life, so his entry into Heaven was assured. But when they began to read from the book of his life from which his rewards would be determined, the man became confused. “Why does the story of my life sound so odd?” he asked. “There are so many omissions, and some of the good things I did are hardly mentioned, while some of the little things I did are read with great emphasis. I don’t understand.” An angel was beckoned to explain.
“The omissions are the sinful things you did, said, and thought. These have found forgiveness through your Savior’s sacrifice, and not only these, but everything from now on thru eternity since His Love is that great and His sacrifice is that effectual. The good things you did that are given little emphasis are those things that have been greatly admixed with self, sin, and worry. They have only a small contribution to determining what rewards you shall receive. The little things you did, said, and thought are those which were done in simplicity and in response to the Holy Spirit’s leading. These are highly regarded in Heaven as are submission, sacrifice, and purity. That you thought they were little things was because you didn’t dwell on them nor felt they were important because they were done with such little forethought. Simplicity is like that.”
The man felt sad. Yes, he was happy to be in Heaven. Very happy. But he was sad when he thought on his wasted life that could have been so much more productive. He loved his Savior. The thought that he could have lived a more holy life for Him made him sad. Oddly, this sorrow wasn’t from the thought of lost rewards but was far more because he felt like such a disappointment to his Lord.
“Don’t be so downcast.” said the angel. “Your Savior loves you and is glad to have you dwell with Him here in Heaven from now on. You will still have many chances to please Him and show your love. Many chances. An eternity of opportunities. But the tragedy of the earth is that humans don’t care that what they do ‘in the body’ has such profound consequences, both for rewards for the Redeemed and punishments for the lost. Eventho God has put a sense of eternity in their hearts, people are so easily distracted by daily living that they forget to daily dedicate themselves to living for Him.”
Note: When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven, is also a reasonable interpretation for this ‘daily bread’.
Heavenly Father, thank you for considering the helpless condition of we who are so often defiled and dirty, despicable and indifferent. Thank you for ANY good thing you would allow us to do on your behalf and for your kingdom and for your dear, dear Son; giving us the wit to do it, inspiring us to persevere, and granting success when others have done the very same thing only to see failure. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.