The Law of Liberty (19)
Readers will gain a better perspective on the main teaching of this series by reading The Ground for Christian Ethics, by T. M.
When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. Psalm 119.57, 58
Celtic Christians worked hard at building communities dedicated to the pursuit of holiness. Not just monks and other clergy, but lay men and women from all walks of life joined in the effort to grow out of all sinful practices into the liberty and love of God’s Law. Whenever a practice “contrary” to God’s Law was discovered, and the one guilty was found to be struggling to overcome it, he and a friend would come to the pastor for help. The pastor would listen with a loving ear, then prescribe a raft of exercises “contrary” to the “contrary” behavior, in order to get the offending party back on the right track with the Lord.
This is the process of “penance,” which, for Celtic Christians, was a spiritual discipline designed to retrain errant practices so as to help a guilty person put aside the old man and be renewed in Jesus Christ. To be sure, some of this went to what we would consider extremes. But, for the most part, the idea was that one had to embrace the practices of the Lord in order to overcome those practices that were harmful to vital spiritual life.
No one was likely to present himself for penance who did not realize, first, that the thing he was doing was beyond his power to repair. Nor would he come for help until, in his mind, heart, and conscience he had become convinced he was in the wrong. Thus, by learning the Law of God – and by singing Psalm 119 as frequently as they did – Celtic Christians were acutely sensitive to when sinful practices might be appearing among them. And they loved one another enough to confront where necessary and help where they were able.
“Contraries are by contraries cured.” That’s the way the old Celtic penitential manuals used to summarize the work of penance. That’s pretty much what we see reflected in our verse for the day – reflecting on our daily practices in the light of God’s Law, we work continuously to keep our feet in the path of righteousness, following where Jesus walked, that we might be seen to be His disciples, indeed (1 Jn. 2.1-6).
Daily meditation in the Law of God helps us along the path of holiness, righteousness, and goodness (Rom. 7.12). Order your copy of The Law of God, a compilation of the Mosaic Law for contemporary believers.