“Before you speak, learn; and before you fall ill, take care of your health. Before judgment comes, examine yourself; and at the time of scrutiny you will find forgiveness. Before falling ill, humble yourself; and when you have sinned, repent. Let nothing hinder you from paying a vow promptly, and do not wait until death to be released from it. Before making a vow, prepare yourself; do not be like one who puts the Lord to the test.” (Reference: Sirach 18:19-23)
I have been wrestling in the past day or two as to whether I am presenting the historic Anabaptists in a correct and accurate way. But I realized history does not change, and I am pretty certain that I have the history correct. But the way we understand history and use it our lives does.
Let my expand on that statement. We look back at history and analysis it, trying to discern how the people at the time felt about the events they were living through. (The historic Anabaptists wrote a great many letters, tracts, articles and books about their faith, and the stories from those times have been collected together and published, so there is a rich wealth of information to draw from.) And then with this discernment and understanding, we use this in our own lives in whatever ways and to whatever extent we deem appropriate.
I mean by “we” not only the general population, but contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites. We, contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites tend to orient ourselves to our faith by looking at the past and then planning for the future. It is the present we sometimes have problems with – more precisely, living in the present as we feel God is calling us to do.
And there is a wide spectrum of opinion as to how we should live out our faith, sometimes dependent on how much we are using the past and how much we are trying to accommodate the present and the future. This one of the reasons I came with great enthusiasm for commenting on the scriptures in Reading the Anabaptist Bible. To stretch into the past and see what the historic Anabaptists felt was important and to read what they left behind in commentary on it.
In the midst of this wrestling, it is in great relief that I read this excerpt from Sirach chapter 18, because I tell you beloved it describes accurately the general mindset of the historic Anabaptists, as well as (I hope) illuminating the reason for my scrutiny of what I have been writing. I want to take care that I as accurately as possible give you a picture of both the historic Anabaptists and this contemporary Anabaptist. I am not, beloved, a typical example of a modern Anabaptist.
The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible wrote following commentary for this excerpt from Sirach, and included comments from Balthasar Hubmaier that he wrote, three months after his baptism in 1525, in his “Summa of the Entire Christian Life”. As a preface to the excerpt of Hubmaier the editors said, “The first step in the Christian life, he wrote, is a clear-eyed recognition of who and what we are. An honest self-examination leads to “despair of oneself” and sincere repentance.”
Hubmaier wrote “When Christ teaches the Christian life, he says, “Repent or change your lives, and believe the gospel” [Mark 1:15]. Now, it belongs to a change of life that we look into our hearts, and that we remember our deeds and our omissions. Thus, we find that we do that which God has forbidden us and we leave undone what he has commanded us to do. Yes, there is no health in us but rather poison, wounds, and all impurity, which cling to us from the beginning because we are conceived and born in sin. Thus did Job, David, Jeremiah, John, and other God-fearing people lament. Furthermore, a person finds in himself neither help, comfort, nor medicine with which he could help himself. Therefore he must despair of himself and lose heart like the man who had fallen among the killers. Such a miserable little thing is the person who ponders and recognizes himself.”
It is, sadly, a trait of some of the historic Anabaptist strains to think severely and harshly of humanity (including one’s self), and to see little redeeming in self and humanity except through the bestowing of grace and redemption from God. I, myself, am hard on my self and as stated above bring to bear great scrutiny to make sure I am accurate in what I say, and state it clearly so it can be understood by everyone. Being “glib” is not a common trait of either historic or contemporary Anabaptists.
Read again the excerpt from Sirach, and you will better understand the toil that Anabaptists, historic and contemporary place themselves under. We cling to and hope for God’s grace and mercy because we know on our own . . . we’re pretty much schmucked.
May you beloved look at yourself to see where sin lies, were repentance is needed, and then gratefully accept the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that our Lord offers. Selah!