’This hunk is defective’, the minister said, gesturing to one of the elders. Not wanting to agree too readily, I pretended not to have heard, and mumbled, ‘pardon?’ He sighed deeply, and repeated, ‘In hunc effectum – the meeting is in hunc effectum’. Really none the wiser, I nodded my acquiescence, but I’m sure he wasn’t fooled. After all, how would a daft wee airhead like myself be as versed in Latin as those fellows who presumably use nothing else at their Session meetings? The point is, I am a mere woman and impossibilium nulla obligatio est.
We use language – jargon, even – according to the situation we are in at the time. My Stornoway Trust life involves talk of wayleaves and resumption, of decrofting and apportionment. And we never, ever approve anything; we just homologate.
I don’t mind admitting I had no idea what on Earth that meant the first time I saw it written.
In my job as a lecturer, I occupy a world of blended learning, of internal and external verification, of validation, of curriculum offer.
There was a day, I suppose, when I didn’t know what any of that was about either. I had come to it fresh and green from a world of grant monitoring reports, of capacity building, and of exit strategies.
Yet, none of this rich and varied vocabulary made much practical sense until I started to use it for myself.
Which brings me back to Wednesday night and the single-item meeting. Or, really, just before it.
Prior to convening our church communication committee, that ‘defective hunk’ of an elder had been part of my Bible study group. We were looking at the wisdom of James (the Biblical one, that is). And we were using a whole lot of words that I feel I’ve always been hearing: salvation, works, faith, justification. When Wee Frees like me were wee, we learned our Catechism, which was brim-full of vocabulary we didn’t understand.
Rote-learning filled our heads with words that were longer than ourselves. And, somewhere along the way I learned the TULIP acronym for five-point Calvinism. Oh, the hours of torture my wee brain has suffered over the years in trying to grasp unconditional election, and averting my eyes from my total depravity.
And then, when I grew older, I thought I could book-learn my way around these words. The Bible is God’s instruction manual for us, I reasoned, so I’d better try to figure out what He’s saying. I thought I could do it with a concordance and a few text books. When that didn’t work, I tried a course of study, hoping to unlock the mystery in the code wrapped around salvation. Surely a course accredited by no less an institution than the Free Church College would set me straight.
But no. All I was amassing for myself was so much head knowledge. I could read every single book ever written on salvation, and every treatise on grace, and never really understand their meaning. Oh, yes, I could have written you an essay. In fact, I recall one such, on the emotional life of Jesus. The brief was to demonstrate that He was indeed a human being with the full range of feelings that implies.
The fact that I wrote enough to pass actually shames me now. How could I calmly write of His joy and His pain, of the depths of His anguish on my behalf – and not be broken-hearted?
Simply, because I had not really learned these two words: atonement and salvation. I knew what they meant, yes; but not yet what they meant to me. And I thank the Lord every day that He, and only He, opened my eyes.
Powerfully, though, as we read what James has to say, I thought of those who have not yet accepted His definition of salvation. The letter runs:
’Even the demons believe – and shudder’.
I know what it is to have a cerebral knowledge of God, to be acquainted with His vocabulary, but not to have Him. Satan knows more of the divine attributes than many who profess to love God. He could, I’m sure, deliver a powerful lecture on justification, and not mean a word of it.
In the lexicon of faith, there is only one word that Christ Himself would place before us,exactly as He did to Jairus: ‘believe’.
He came into the world, taking our humanity – out emotional range – to Himself, in order that He might suffer in our place, wholly and substitutionally.
But we don’t have to define substitution; we merely have to accept it. And the reason for that?
It’s because Christ’s appointment at Calvary was most assuredly in hunc effectum.