A Great Sermon Illustration (and a Question)
In 1689 the city of Windsor, England was in an uproar. The city fathers had commissioned famed architect Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, to design a new town hall. The building was complete as desired with one exception.
The city fathers wanted their meeting rooms above a “corn market”—an open space for farmers and others to display and sell their products. But when they inspected the new building they were dismayed. Wren had used a new technique for supporting the floor/ceiling below the meeting space and above the corn market that required no pillars (except, of course, at the edges). To the city fathers and others, it seemed obvious that the ceiling of the corn market would soon fall under their weight as they met above it.
The city fathers insisted that Wren add four pillars in the middle of the corn market to support the floor of their meeting room above. Wren refused; the added pillars would destroy the beauty of the building. He adamantly insisted that his design would work; the ceiling of the corn market was in no danger of collapsing. The city fathers were more adamant; the pillars must be added. Wren reluctantly agreed and everyone watched over the next few months as his workmen created the required four pillars. (You can see the town hall, also known as the Guild Hall, at google images. Some pictures focus on the added pillars as they have become a tourist attraction over the years.)
Some years after the building’s celebrated dedication the corn market ceiling needed re-painting. As workmen built their scaffolds they noticed something strange. Wren’s pillars did not touch the ceiling. The space between their tops and the ceiling was so small as not to be noticeable without close inspection. The ceiling had long stood without support except in the city fathers’ imaginations. Wren was dead by the time this was discovered. The city fathers then added material to fill in the gaps “just in case.”
Like Wren’s deceptive pillars, our good works, intended to shore up our salvation (justification) and/or our favor with God in Christian living (sanctification) are at best psychological spiritual crutches. We are often so uncomfortable with the gospel of free grace that we demand our spiritual leaders give us something to add to God’s grace to support our sense of worth in God’s sight. Or our spiritual leaders are so uncomfortable promoting the gospel of free grace they add “grace boosters” we must perform to win and keep God’s favor. But, in fact, as beautiful as they may be, all such good works fall short and, in fact, detract from the beauty of the unsupported grace, the free gift of God’s favor in the cross of Jesus Christ. “For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves….”
Question (not part of the illustration or sermon): How is this consistent with Arminian theology? Can an Arminian use this illustration without falling into contradiction with his or her soteriology? I leave it to you, my faithful readers, to answer (more than “yes” or “no,” please).