Sunday, May 17, 2009

What I believe

This morning I idly picked up a book I haven't read for several years now but remember enjoying a lot at the time. As I read the introduction, I knew I needed to mention it here and to quote a little for you. The book is simply called "What I Believe" and this is the introduction to it:

I am five-and-fifty years old, and, with the exception of the fourteen or fifteen years of my childhood, I have been until recently a 'nihilist' in the proper signification of that term. I have not been a socialist or a revolutionist, but a nihilist in the sense of being completely without faith.

Five years ago I began to believe in the doctrine of Christ, and in consequence a great change has been wrought in me. I now no longer care for the things which I had prized, and I have begun to desire things concerning which I had formerly been indifferent. Like a man who, going out on business, on his way suddenly becomes convinced of the futility of that business, and turns back; and all that stood to the right now stands to the left, and all that was to the left is now to the right; his wish to be as far from home as possible, is changed to the desire of being as near home as possible—so, I may say, the whole aim and purpose of my life has been changed; my desires are no more what they have been: for me, good and evil have changed places. This experience came through my apprehending the doctrine of Christ in an altogether different way, and seeing it in a quite new light.

It is not my intention to interpret the doctrine of Christ, but simply to relate how I came to understand the simplest, clearest, and most intelligible point in that doctrine; and how, when once I had clearly grasped His meaning, it gave a new direction to all my thoughts.

I have no wish to interpret the doctrine of Christ, but I should like to prevent others from interpreting it wrongly. Christian churches generally acknowledge that all men, however they may differ from each other in knowledge or mental capacity, are equal before God; and that the truth revealed to man is accessible to all. Christ Himself has told us that the Father has hid some things 'from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes.'

All men cannot be initiated into the mysteries of dogmatic, homiletic, patristic theologies, and so on; but all can understand what Christ taught and still teaches to simple and ignorant men. The teachings of Christ were incomprehensible to me until recently, but I undertand them now, and what I have found I desire to explain to others.

The thief on the cross believed in Christ and was saved. Would it have harmed anybody if the thief had not died on the cross, but had come down to tell us how he believed in Christ?

Like the thief on the cross, I, too, believed in the doctrine of Christ, and found my salvation in it. This is not a far-fetched comparison; it worthily describes the condition of anguish and despair I was once in at the thought of life and of death, and it also indicates the peace and happiness which now fill my soul.

Like the thief, I knew that my life was full of wickedness; I saw that the greater part of those around me were morally no better than I was. Like the thief, too, I knew that I was unhappy, and that I suffered; and that all around me were unhappy and suffering likewise, and I saw no way out of this state of misery but through death.

Like the thief, I was nailed, as it were by some invisible power, to this life of suffering and evil; and the same dreadful darkness of death which awaited the thief, after his useless suffering and enduring of the evils of life, awaited me.

In all this I was like the thief; but there was this difference between us—he was dying, and I still lived. The thief could believe that his salvation would be realized beyond the grave, but I could not; because, putting aside the life beyond the grave, I had yet to live on earth. I did not, however, understand life. It seemed awful to me until I heard the words of Christ and understood them; and then life and death no longer seemed to be evils; instead of despair I felt the joy of possessing a life which death has no power to destroy.

Can it harm anyone if I relate how it was that this change was effected in me?
You've surely recognized the style by now but if not, it was written in 1885 by Leo Tolstoy in Russian. We have Constantine Popoff to thank for this ancient translation into English.

If you've never read this book I strongly urge you to do so: it ranks high on my list of favorites for it's simplicity and clarity and zeal. Join me in reading (or re-reading) this book as I plan to do over the next few weeks. We'll have much to share. God bless us all with the light of his word.



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