Monday, November 23, 2020

Receiving a Good Conscience

Consider a window in a house. The dirtier it is, the more marred it is, the less light that comes in, and the more distorted is the view out. The clearer and cleaner the window, the more the light that floods in and the clearer is the view of the outside world. That is what our conscience is like. An unclean conscience, a bad conscience, does not let the light of God shine into our hearts so that our perception of God and the world around us is darkened and distorted. A clear conscience lets the light of God shine into our hearts so that we see the goodness of God and his world more clearly. With light comes sight.

The purpose of Christ’s human life, death, resurrection, and ascension is to give us a good conscience. He delivers that to each of us personally through baptism. Thus St. Peter declares:
Baptism … now saves you, not as the removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Pet 3:21–22)
Here Peter tells us four things about God’s gift to us of a good conscience.

First, Peter identifies our salvation with the gift from God of a good conscience and associates both of these with the sacrament of baptism. Yet even though baptism is something that happens at one time and in one place, it is not finished once the ceremony is over, just as marriage does not end after the ceremony has been completed. It is not just a past event; it is also a present endowment. It results in an ongoing relationship, a new state with increasing benefits that we receive every Sunday in the divine service. It does that here and now. So Peter declares that baptism now saves us by giving us a good conscience.

Second, when Peter says that baptism now saves us, he adds that this happens through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have a good conscience through his resurrection as well as his ascension. Jesus gives us a good conscience because he is both enthroned as King with God the Father and present with us in the divine service. He is our mediator. He intercedes for us with the Father and brings the Father’s gifts to us. He bridges heaven and earth and thus gives us access to heaven here on earth in the divine service.

Third, Peter contrasts two kinds of cleansing. We are all familiar with the first kind of cleansing by washing with water. Whenever we are dirty we remove the dirt from our bodies by taking a bath. But that is not what happens when we are washed with water in baptism. That washing provides us with a different kind of cleansing: a spiritual cleansing from sin. That happens whenever we appeal to God the Father for a good conscience by confessing our sins and asking for cleansing from the stain of sin. Baptism gives us the right to come to God for cleansing; it gives us a permanent pass, a free ticket to use that bathhouse again and again. We do not receive a good conscience as a permanent possession once for all time on the day of baptism but keep on receiving it as a gift from God the Father. This means that every divine service is an appeal to God for a good conscience.

Fourth, in the Greek, Peter speaks about an appeal to God of a good conscience. He, most likely, intends that to be taken in two ways. When we go to church we not only appeal to God for a good conscience but also appeal to God with a good conscience. The good conscience that we receive from God makes us fit for God, open and receptive to him. It adjusts us to him, like a TV set that is attuned to the same frequency as the transmitter. Once we have a good conscience, we have access to God’s grace (Rom 5:1–2). We can confidently approach God the Father and ask Him for what we need, the things that he has promised to give us.

We, therefore, participate in the divine service in order to receive the gift of a clear conscience. That is why God wants us to go to church. We cannot get that anywhere else on earth, but only there, fully from God, as he provides it for us. Yet that is not all! He gives us a clear conscience so that we can receive him and his heavenly gifts for our life here on earth. That is the purpose of a good conscience. God cleanses it so that we can serve him together with the angels and all the saints in the heavenly sanctuary.

John W. Kleinig, LOGIA 26-3: 8–9

Friday, November 20, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Last Sunday of the Year

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:31–46)

Having been given the faith, the righteous say, “Lord, when did see you hungry and fed you, thirsty, and gave you something to drink, naked and clothed you?” Other things also follow. What then, my most beloved? Does our Lord hunger and thirst? Is he who himself made everything in heaven and on earth, who feeds angels in heaven and every nation and race on earth, who needs nothing of an earthly character, as he is unfailing in his own nature, is this one naked? It is incredible to believe such a thing. Yet what must be confessed is easy to believe. For the Lord hungers not in his own nature but in his saints; the Lord thirsts not in his own nature but in his poor. The Lord who clothes everyone is not naked in his own nature but in his servants. The Lord who is able to heal all sicknesses and has already destroyed death itself is not diseased in his own nature but in his servants. Our Lord, the one who can liberate every person, is not in prison in his own nature but in his saints. Therefore, you see, my most beloved, that the saints are not alone. They suffer all these things because of the Lord. In the same way, because of the saints the Lord suffers all these things with them.…

You see, my beloved, there is no excuse for it. They knew what they had to do in this world. But greed and ill-will prevented them, so they laid up for themselves not treasures for the future but the world of the dead. Neither were they condemned because of the active wrong they did, nor did the Lord say to them, Depart from me, you wicked, because you committed murder or adultery or theft. But instead: because I was hungry and thirsty in my servants, and you did not minister to me. If those who did no wrong are thus condemned, what must be said of those who do the works of the devil? Will not the prophecy of blessed David come upon them: “The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous?” Not that they will not rise, but that neither in judgment [nor in] the congregation of the righteous do they deserve to enter. They will stand, however, so that from punishment they may enter into punishment. “And they will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Whatever will be is everlasting. Sinners will have everlasting punishment; and the righteous, everlasting life.

Epiphanius, Interpretation of the Gospels 38

Friday, November 13, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. (Matt 25:14–19)

The man who is the landowner is actually the Creator and Lord of all. The Word compares the time the landowner spends away from home in the parable to either the ascension of Christ into heaven or at any rate to the unseen and invisible character of the divine nature. Now one must conceive of the property of God as those in each country and city who believe in Him. He calls His servants those who according to the times Christ crowns with the glory of the priesthood. For the holy Paul writes, “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God.” He hands over [His property] to those who are under Him, to each giving a spiritual gift so that he might have character and aptitude. We think that this distribution of the talents is not supplied to the household servants in equal measure because each is quite different from the other in their understanding. Immediately they head out for their labors, He says, directly indicating to us here that apart from the procrastination of one they are fit to carry out the work of God. Surely those who are bound by fear and laziness will end up in the worst evils. For he buried, Jesus says, the talent given to him in the earth. He kept the gift hidden, making it unprofitable for others and useless for himself. For that very reason the talent is taken away from him and will be given to the one who is already rich. The Spirit has departed from such as these and the gift of the divine gifts. But to those who are industrious an even more lavish gift will be presented.

Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment 283

Friday, November 6, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

O God, make haste to deliver me.
May those who seek my soul be dishonored and shamed;
May those who plot evils against me be turned back and disgraced;
May those be turned back immediately
Who shame me, saying, “Well done! Well done!”
May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You,
And let those who love Your salvation always say,
“Let God be magnified.”
But I am poor and needy;
O God, help me.
You are my helper and my deliverer, O Lord; do not delay. (Ps 70)

The second section prays that all who love the Lord Christ should rejoice and be glad. For persecutors, confusion and shame are sought; for the devoted, exultation and abiding joy. As the Lord says in the gospel: And these shall go into everlasting punishment, but the just into life everlasting. But the psalmist inserts this mode of rejoicing appropriately, for by saying in You he confesses that the joy which boasts in human presumption is transitory. Joined to this is: All who seek You, O Lord. They do not seek You by their own powers, but are sought out by Your fatherly love. You gazed from heaven and sought that the human race might seek You; for the Lord came to us that we might deserve to return to Him. But those who seek the Lord are advised for their welfare on what they ought to say. They must say always: The Lord be magnified. Always indicates continuing time, because we must never cease praising the Lord. So that the meaning may become clearer to us, the order of words should be: “Let them who love your salvation always say: The Lord be magnified.” We should realize that the word magnified has been adopted from human practice, for it is he who is extolled with praises and grows in men’s good opinions who is magnified. But God experiences no increase, for He is known to be Fullness in its unique and inexpressible totality. He cannot grow from any external source, for He continually gives growth to all created things. But we profit from magnifying Him, and our awareness ever increases when with pious hearts we offer praises to God.

Cassiodorus, Exposition on the Psalms

Friday, October 30, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to All Saints' Sunday

Sing to the Lord a new song,
His praise in the assembly of His holy ones.
Let Israel be glad in Him who made him,
And let the children of Zion greatly rejoice in their King.
Let them praise His name with dance;
With tambourine and harp let them sing to Him;
For the Lord is pleased with His people,
And He shall exalt the gentle with salvation.
The holy ones shall boast in glory,
And they shall greatly rejoice on their beds;
The high praise of God shall be in their mouth
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
To deal retribution to the nations,
Reproving among the peoples,
To shackle their kings with chains
And their nobles with fetters of iron,
To fulfill among them the written judgment:
This glory have all His holy ones. (Psalm 149)

In the previous verse he said that we must rejoice in the Lord Christ, and now he says that the Lord’s name is to be praised in chorus. This is the chorus which by then suffers no dispersal or weariness or scandal, but is gathered on the worth of its merits, and ever abides in the most loving unity. Another psalm explains the nature and scope of this chorus in the words: From the rising of the sun unto the going down, praise the name of the Lord. The chorus is that gathered from the world’s beginning from the aggregate of nations; it can be fully mustered only in the homeland to come. Next comes: Let them sing to him with the timbrel and the psaltery. We have stated that the timbrel and psaltery are praiseworthy acts performed in this world as services to God, which are no longer observed in that homeland, but they will be in evidence there when there is rejoicing as we glory in them. What saddens us here delights us there; what afflicts us here cheers us there. As we read in Scripture, Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. So all these, whether timbrel or psaltery, hymn the Lord in the world to come, for they are known to be practiced or endured in this life for His name.

Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms 3

Friday, October 23, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Reformation Sunday

Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (Rev 14:6–7)

“Mid-heaven” signifies the exalted and sublime nature of the holy angel. He had “an eternal gospel.” The saving teaching that one should fear the Lord is from eternity, since the “beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, and its end is love.” But, it says, the harsh beast who works spiritual death, the antichrist, is not to be feared, even though he may threaten and do the most amazing feats. For “the hour of his judgment has come,” and He who is fearful to those who live on the earth will punish him in a way wholly unprecedented. Rather, we should worship Him who made every creature rather than worship the wicked devil who is hated by God.
Oecumenius, Commentary on the Apocalypse 8
The phrase “in mid-heaven” indicates that the angel that here appears is exceedingly lofty and heavenly. It has been sent from above to people who come from the ground, so that through this middle position it might be a mediator and lead them, in imitation of God, to heaven. And so the body of the church will be united to Christ, our head. The eternal gospel, which from eternity was foreordained by God, says, “Fear God, but have no fear of the antichrist who cannot kill the soul with the body; rather, fervently stand opposed to him who has power but for a short time, for the time of His judgment and the reward for what He has done is near.”
Andrew of Caesarea, Commentary on the Apocalypse 4.40

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Voter Accountability

Matthew Cochran has written a piece that asks the question: To Whom Are Christians Accountable for Our Votes? This topic is relevant not just for this election cycle but ongoing as tensions continue to escalate between disparate ideologies.

Matt forms his three points along the lines of Martin Luther’s teaching that we live in three God-created estates: Church, Family, and State.* The first two estates covered pertain to God and family. This makes sense within a biblical framework as Jesus explained to a scribe:
“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29–31)
Matt takes an interesting take on the third estate. There he does not consider government in general, but rather the deposit that has been handed to us.
Accordingly, we have a responsibility to care for what they’ve left to us. While we need not do everything exactly the way they would have, we do need to respect their values and purposes so that we are guided by them. So are you voting in a way that will “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”? Do you even define those words in much the same way as our founding fathers did? If we want to kludge some kind of re-purposing of the government they left to us, then we must beware.
After the Constituional Convention Benjamin Franklin was famously asked what we had been given. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Let us strive to do just that.

* For more on this, consider Bryan Wolfmueller’s helpful compilation.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way. (Matt 22:15–22)
“The things which are Caesar’s are to be rendered to Caesar.” It is enough that He set in apposition to thereto, “and to God the things which are God’s.” What things, then, are Caesar’s? Those, to wit, about which the consultation was then held, whether the tax should be furnished to Caesar or not. Therefore, too, the Lord demanded that the money should be shown Him, and inquired about the image, whose it was; and when He had heard it was Caesar’s, said, “Render to Caesar what are Caesar’s, and what are God’s to God;” that is, the image of Caesar, which is on the coin, to Caesar, and the image of God, which is on man, to God; so as to render to Caesar indeed money, to God yourself.
Tertullian, On Idolatry 15
There are certain kings of the earth, and the sons of these do not pay toll or tribute; and there are others, different from their sons, who are strangers to the kings of the earth, from whom the kings of the earth receive toll or tribute. And among the kings of the earth, their sons are free as among fathers; but those who are strangers to them, while they are free in relation to things beyond the earth, are as slaves in respect of those who lord it over them and keep them in bondage; as the Egyptians lorded it over the children of Israel, and greatly afflicted their life and violently held them in bondage. For the sake of those who were in captivity, like the bondage of the Hebrews, the Son of God took upon himself the form of a slave, yet doing nothing worldly or servile. As one who came in the form of a slave, He paid tax and tribute for us, in the same way that a restitution would be paid for His blood and that of His disciples.... Therefore, let anyone who possesses the things of Caesar render freely them to Caesar, so that he may be able then to render freely to God the things of God.
Origen, Commentary on Matthew 13.10

Friday, October 9, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Then the Lord of hosts shall do this to all the nations on this mountain. They shall drink in gladness; they shall drink wine; they shall anoint themselves with ointment on this mountain. Deliver all these things to the nations, for this is the counsel for all the nations. Death prevailed and swallowed them, but again God wiped away every tear from every face; He took away the disgrace of His people from all the earth; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Then it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God, in whom we hoped and rejoiced exceedingly; and we shall be glad in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6–9)

Having said that the Lord will reign in Zion and Jerusalem, Isaiah leads us to the mystical meaning of the passage. Thus Zion is interpreted as a high place that is good for surveillance, and Jerusalem is the vision of the world. In fact, the church of Christ combines both: it is high and visible from everywhere, and is, so to speak, located on the mountain. The church may be understood as high also in another way: there is nothing low in it, it is far removed from all the mundane things, as it is written, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Equally elevated are its orthodox and divine doctrines; thus the doctrine about God or about the holy and consubstantial Trinity is true, pure and without guile. “The Lord of hosts will make for all people,” not just for the Israelites elected for the sake of their patriarchs but for all the people of the world. What will He make? “A feast of wines on the lees; they will drink joy, they will drink wine. They will be anointed with myrrh on the mountain.” This joy, of course, means the joy of hope, of the hope rooted in Christ, because we will reign with Him, and with Him we will enjoy every spiritual joy and pleasure that surpasses mind and understanding.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Isaiah 25.6–7

And, in that day, when death has been swallowed up at the time of the resurrection, the children of the new age will sing a song of thanksgiving, seeing their own Savior in glory. And they will say: “Lo, our God, in whom we were hoping.” For we used to have hope in Him, believing in the divine teachings concerning Him, and in this way we were able to endure the painful trials that came on us, but now we see Him with our eyes. And, indeed, they will say these things, and He will give rest to them in the aforementioned mountain of His kingdom. And they will indeed enjoy the benefits of those good things which have been promised.

Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah 25

Friday, October 2, 2020

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O God of hosts, convert us now;
Look down from heaven and behold,
And visit this vineyard
Which Your right hand planted, and perfect it.
And visit the son of man, whom You strengthened for Yourself.
It was set on fire and uprooted,
But they shall perish at the rebuke of Your face.
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
And upon the son of man, whom You strengthened for Yourself;
Then we will not turn away from You;
You will give us life, and we will call upon Your name.
O Lord God of hosts, convert us,
and reveal Your face, and we shall be saved. (Ps 80:14–19)

In this psalm, among other things, is written, “look down from heaven and see; visit this vineyard and perfect what your right hand has planted and on the son of man whom you have confirmed for yourself.” This is the vineyard of which it is said, “You have brought a vineyard out of Egypt.” Christ did not plant another: by His coming, He changed that one into a better vineyard. Accordingly, we find in the Gospel: “He will utterly destroy those evil men, and will let out the vineyard to other vinedressers.” The Gospel does not say, “He will uproot and will plant another,” but “this same vineyard he will let out to other vinedressers.” The city of God and the congregation of the children of promise must be filled with the same community of saints by the death and succession of mortal beings and at the end of the world will receive its due immortality in all people. This same thought is expressed differently by means of the fruitful olive tree in another psalm, which says, “But I, as a fruitful olive tree in the house of God, have hoped in the mercy of God forever, yea, forever and ever.” It was not because the unbelievers and the proud had been broken away and the branches were on that account unfruitful and the wild olive of the Gentiles was ingrafted that the root of the patriarchs and prophets died. Isaiah says, “For if Your people, O Israel, shall be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved,” but through Him about whom the psalm says, “and on the son of man whom you have confirmed for yourself,” and about whom is reiterated, “Let your hand be on the man of your right hand: and on the son of man whom You have confirmed for Yourself. And we depart not from You.” Through this Son of man, Christ Jesus, and from His remnant, that is, the apostles and the many others from among the Israelites who have believed in Christ as God, and with the increasing number of Gentiles, the holy vineyard is being completed.

Augustine, In Answer to the Jews 6.7