When William Cowper was born in 1731, Francols Fenelon had been dead for 16 years. Fenelon had been the Archbishop of Cambray in France. He was a loved pastor and mystic.
William Cowper was the poet laureate of the Evangelical Revival in England. He was almost overcome by despairing thoughts all through his life. But God used him in his poetry. He wrote “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” and “Come My Soul Thy Suit Prepare” and the famous lines, “Satan trembles when he sees / The weakest saint upon his knees.”
I only mention the men together because recently both have made me think on the same issue, namely, the apparently intractable imperfections of personality that we must live with in ourselves and others. Here is the way they put it.
Did you ever in your life know a man who was guided in the general course of his actions by anything but his natural temper? And yet we blame each other’s conduct as freely as if that temper was the most tractable beast in the world.
Fenelon put it like this:
It should be remembered that even the best of people leave much to be desired, and we must not expect too much . . . Do not allow yourself to turn away from people because of their imperfections . . . I have found that God leaves, even in the most spiritual people, certain weaknesses which seem entirely out of place.
One of the greatest challenges of the ministry for me (I would like to meet the person who finds the solution) is to come to terms with this wisdom and still be true to the Scriptures. Resisting imperfections seems hopelessly destructive in relationships. Yet how do we not resist imperfections when the Bible says, “Let us lay aside every weight and sin” (Hebrews 12:1); and, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1); and, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)?
I suppose part of the answer is that we learn to be more zealous against our own imperfections than those of others. Remember the beam and the mote. Another part of the answer is that we not treat all imperfections with equal seriousness. Nail biting is not on a par with pedophilia. A third part of the answer is that we not destroy relationships in the quest for people’s improvement. That may feel like compromise with badness, but God knows our hearts, and we may leave with him our vindication (If there be one!).
But that is not the whole answer. The rest is miracle! And I pray for it.