In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul, with great care and precision, conducts us along the path of faith between the twin perils of legalism and license:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Rom. 3. 20
Where sin increased grace abounded all the more. Rom. 5. 20
What shall we say then? Shall we sin more that grace may abound? God forbid! Rom 6. 1
This concept of steering between opposing dangers occurs in a number of writings:
- In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus navigates with intrepid skill between Scylla and Charybdis.
- In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian must tread carefully between two chained lions. Surprisingly the lions are not named, but they are there as a trial of his faith and only by staying on the straight, narrow path does he escape harm.
- C. S. Lewis states that temptations often occur in pairs such that in perceiving the one and drawing away from it we fall prey to its opposite. In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the senior devil counsels Wormwood, his nephew and junior tempter, as follows: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
- Most arresting of all is G. K. Chesterton’s description of ‘Orthodoxy’ in his book of the same name.
“People have fallen into the foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.----- It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse, yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. --- It is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist, as it is easy to be a snob. ---- It is always simple to fall, there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”