One reason I was interested to read of Samuel Alexander’s distinction between Enjoyment and Contemplation (as employed by C.S. Lewis) was that it has a useful contribution to make to the discussion in previous posts on the respective roles of law and gospel in the Christian life, and in particular the issue of how we are to understand and apply the “third use” of the law.
I suspect that many of the difficulties we can have on these issues arise from an attempt to Contemplate the distinction between law and gospel rather than Enjoying it. That is, we seek an “abstract, eternal, impersonal” knowledge of law and gospel (Contemplation), rather than “participant, inhabited, personal, committed” knowledge (Enjoyment). Or in Lewis’ terms, we try to look at the relationship between law and gospel, rather than looking along it.
When we Contemplate the relationship between law and gospel, we tie ourselves up in all sorts of knots. How do we establish a properly rigorous and objective differentiation between the law in its “second use” (revealing our sin) and the law in its “third use” (guiding us in the redeemed life), avoiding legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other? It’s far from easy, and most of us have a tendency to err to one side or the other.
The problem is that the attempt to Contemplate law and gospel is really an attempt to Contemplate the nature of the Christian life and of the work of the Holy Spirit. And, as Michael Ward points out, this is an impossible task.
Ward writes that Lewis was “extremely wary of anyone who claimed to be able to make the Holy Spirit an object of conscious Contemplation”, and quotes Lewis as follows:
[S]ave by God’s direct miracle, spiritual experience can never abide introspection. If even our emotions will not do so … much less will the operations of the Holy Ghost. The attempt to discover by introspective analysis our own spiritual condition is to me a horrible thing which reveals, at best, not the secrets of God’s spirit and ours, but their transpositions in intellect, emotion and imagination, and which at worst may be the quickest road to presumption or despair.
That final reference to “presumption or despair” is revealing, because those are the outcomes to which we tend to be driven whenever we get the relationship between law and gospel wrong.
As Ward continues:
The impossibility of inspecting one’s spiritual life […] arises from the simple fact that one cannot step outside it. […] There is an inescapable participatory element to the Christian’s relationship with God, and “looking along the beam” of that participation means inevitably that the beam is invisible.
Hence the relationship between law and gospel is something that can never be satisfactorily Contemplated. It can only be Enjoyed. This is why it is so important to see the Small Catechism (and indeed the Large Catechism) as not only setting out doctrinal teachings, but presenting us with a framework for the Christian life: the life that is shaped by obedience to the Commandments (imperfect, but still attempted) and by faith in the gospel (as summarised in the Creed), and expressed in prayer (especially the Lord’s Prayer); that begins in baptism, is renewed daily by the repentance and absolution by which we return to that baptism, and is sustained by the Lord’s body and blood in the Supper.
It is as we live that life that we experience, as a matter of Enjoyment, the proper distinction of law and gospel, and a right relationship between the law in its second use and the law in its third use – the law from whose claims and condemnation we have been freed, but to whose revelation of God’s will for our lives we return in that freedom.
As long as we look along this life, things remain clear. We only get confused once we try to look at it.