Friday, July 22, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.  But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.  For you are all children of light, children of the day.  We are not of the night or of the darkness.  So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  (1 Thess 5:1-6)

The winged messenger of day
Sings loud, foretelling dawn’s approach,
And Christ in stirring accents calls
Our slumbering souls to life in Him.

“Away,” He cries, “with dull repose,
The sleep of death and sinful sloth;
With hearts now sober, just, and pure
Keep watch, for I am very near.”

Prudentius, Hymns 1.1-8

He writes this as though to people already instructed.  He compared the suddenness of the Lord’s coming to a thief, who tries to escape notice, but the one guarding the house detects the coming of the thief, whereas the one who is heedless and goes to sleep is robbed.  In similar fashion the one keeping watch for the Lord’s return recognizes the signs.… The pregnant woman knows she is carrying an unborn child, but does not know the time of labor.  So too in our case, the fact that the Lord of all will come we know, but we have not at all been given clear teaching about the time itself; hence we must always be on the lookout for that day.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on First Thessalonians

Friday, July 15, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Resurrection of the Flesh by Luca Signorelli
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.  (1 Thess 4:13-18)

Here he proceeds now to start his discourse concerning the Resurrection.  And why? … Resurrection was sufficient to comfort him that was grieving.  But that which is now said is sufficient also to make the Resurrection eminently worthy of credit.… Therefore to afflict yourselves for the departed is to act like those who have no hope.  And they justly, for a soul that knows nothing of the Resurrection, but thinks that this death is death, naturally afflicts itself, and bewails and mourns intolerably as for lost ones.  But you who expects a resurrection, on what account do you lament?  To lament then is the part of those who have no hope.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Thessalonians

All men rise again, but let no one lose heart, and let not the just grieve at the common lot of rising again, since he awaits the chief fruit of his virtue.  All indeed shall rise again, but, as says the Apostle, “each in his own order.”  The fruit of the Divine Mercy is common to all, but the order of merit differs.  The day gives light to all, the sun warms all, the rain fertilizes the possessions of all with genial showers.

We are all born, and we shall all rise again, but in each state, whether of living or of living again, grace differs and the condition differs.  For, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the dead shall rise incorruptible and we shall be changed.”  Moreover, in death itself some rest, and some live.  Rest is good, but life is better.  And so the Apostle rouses him that is resting to life, saying: “Rise, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”  Therefore he is aroused that he may live, that he may be like to Paul, that he may be able to say: “For we who are alive shall not precede those that are asleep.”  He speaks not here of the common manner of life, and the breath which we all alike enjoy, but of the merit of the resurrection.  For, having said, “And the dead which are in Christ shall rise first,” he adds further, “And we who are alive shall together with them be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ in the air.”

Ambrose, On Belief in the Resurrection 2:92-93

Friday, July 8, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (1 Thess 4:9-12)

The blessed Apostle, like a true and spiritual physician, either seeing this disease, which springs from the spirit of lethargy, already creeping in, or foreseeing, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit that it would arise…, is quick to anticipate it by the healing medicines of his directions.  For in writing to the Thessalonians, like a skillful and excellent physician he at first applies the soothing and gentle remedy of his words to the infirmity of his patients.  He begins with charity … that this deadly wound, having been treated with a milder remedy, might lose its angry festering and more easily bear severer treatment.  He writes: “But concerning brotherly charity you have no need that I write to you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another.  For this you do toward all the brethren in the whole of Macedonia.”  He first began with the soothing application of praise, and made their ears submissive and ready for the remedy of the healing words.… At last with difficulty he breaks out into that at which he was driving before.  He gave the first aim: “and that you take pains to be quiet.”  Then he adds a second: “and to do your own business,” and a third as well: “and work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” … He who does not care to sufficiently secure his daily food by the dutiful and peaceful labor of his hands is sure to look with envious eyes on another’s gifts and blessings.  You see what conditions, serious and shameful, may spring solely from the malady of leisure.

John Cassian, Institutes 10.7

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles by Eugene Merrill – Book Review

Merrill, Eugene H. A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2015. 637 pp. Hb; $39.99. Link to Kregel.

There are portions of Biblical books that are avoided by Christians because the content seems insurmountable or downright boring.  The solution for this malaise may be found with instructors and instructional materials produced at an academic level, yet accessible to the average Christian.  Such a resource is available through this work from Eugene Merrill.

The introduction sets a solid foundation for later chapters, presenting a balanced presentation of theories concerning the Chronicler’s identity, intent, and provenance, along with textual concerns.  Especially helpful are explanations of overall structure and theology.  While an average reader may approach this part of Scripture as simply nine painful chapters of genealogies followed by dry historic narrative, Merrill posits an intentional chiastic literary structure centered on Solomon’s temple in light of the promises delivered in the Davidic Covenant.

The Scripture text is divided into logical sections, depending on a prominent theme.  Each section is then subdivided into events wherein Merrill uses a three-fold outline—(1) biblical text, (2) text-critical notes, and (3) exegesis and exposition—to develop the passage.  Finally, an overall theology of the section is given.  While the average reader will likely not have an interest in the text-critical notes, the exegesis and theology are a strength of this work.  Merrill does not wander into theoretical speculations but maintains a solid aim of explaining how the Chronicles are moving forward and how tie to redemptive history with a culmination in Jesus Christ.  This conservative approach to the presentation of the material speaks to the author’s high regard for the Scriptures and his intent to properly instruct his readers.

Throughout the book the author will place a helpful chart or excursus to enable understanding through tangential comparisons and topics.  Notably, commonalities with 1 and 2 Samuel plus 1 and 2 Kings are made to help fill understand thematic differences and place rulers and subject matter in proper perspective.  I found this extra material to be beneficial in understanding the background of an event or person.

I found this work to be a solid, robust look at what many might consider dull material and has much to commend it.  That said, there are a possible weak points:
  • First, the text of Chronicles within this book appears to be New International Version (NIV) throughout, but the title page specifically states that the English translation was the author’s own.  At no place in the book did I find a reference to the NIV translation’s use save for the acronym where the text was given.
  • Second, Merrill may have overstated his understanding of the Mosaic instruction of a central sanctuary as applied to David’s desire to build a permanent temple (375).  The Lord’s instructions to David and Solomon are sufficient believe to conclude that while God did not want or need a permanent structure at the time, He would honor their desire by taking residence therein
  • Third, Merrill states that prior to King Ahaz “the worship of Yahweh at high places was sanctioned by Samuel, Elijah, and others who built or made use of those places” (486).  This statement is problematic since worship of the Lord was to be specifically at the tabernacle, not the high places.  It is more probable that worship away from the tabernacle was endured, rather than blessed, by a merciful and long-suffering God.
The Chronicles are an interesting read, recounting the history of the United and Divided Kingdoms with a clear emphasis on the Davidic line.  Minor weaknesses aside, this work would make a useful addition to any Bible student intent on furthering their knowledge of Chronicles and its place in the canon.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.  (1 Thess 4:3-8)

It is, then, a matter to be diligently learned not to be wanton.  But we possess our vessel, when it is pure.  When it is impure, sin possesses it.  And reasonably.  For it does not do the things which we wish, but what sin commands.  “Not in the passion of lust,” he says.  Here he shows also the manner according to which one ought to be temperate—that we should cut off the passions of lust.  For luxury, and wealth, and idleness, and sloth, and ease, and all such things, lead us on to irregular lust.  “Even as the Gentiles,” he says, “who do not know God.”  For such are they who do not expect that they shall suffer punishment.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Thessalonians

It is quite possible to pass decisive sentences on vessels and on instruments, to the extent that they may participate in the merits of their proprietors and employers.… For every vessel or every instrument becomes useful by external manipulation, consisting as it does of material perfectly extraneous to the substance of the human owner or employer; whereas the flesh, being conceived, formed, and generated along with the soul from its earliest existence in the womb, is mixed up with the soul likewise in all its operations.  For although it is called “a vessel” by the apostle, such as he enjoins to be treated “with honor,” yet it is designated by the same apostle as “the outward man,”—that clay, of course, which at the first was inscribed with the title of a man, not of a cup or a sword, or any common vessel.

Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh 16

Friday, June 24, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.  (1 Thess 4:1-3)

There is only one calamity for a Christian, which is disobedience to God.  But all the other things, such as loss of property, exile, peril of life, he does not even reckon to be a grievance at all.  And that which all dread, departure hence to the other world,—this is to him sweeter than life itself. For as when one has climbed to the top of a cliff and gazes on the sea and those who are sailing upon it, he sees some being washed by the waves, others running upon hidden rocks, some hurrying in one direction, others being driven in another, like prisoners, by the force of the gale, many actually in the water, some of them using their hands only in the place of a boat and a rudder, and many drifting along upon a single plank, or some fragment of the vessel, others floating dead, a scene of manifold and various disaster.  Even so he who is engaged in the service of Christ drawing himself out of the turmoil and stormy billows of life takes his seat upon secure and lofty ground.  For what position can be loftier or more secure than that in which a man has only one anxiety, “How he ought to please God?”

John Chrysostom, Letters to Theodore 2.5

For the devil tempting us, knowing what we are, but not knowing if we will hold out, but wishing to dislodge us from the faith, attempts also to bring us into subjection to himself.  This is all that is allowed to him, partly from the necessity of saving us from ourselves, who have taken opportunity of the commandment—partly for the confusion of him* who has tempted and failed, but also for the confirmation of the members of the Church, and the conscience of those who admire such constancy.… For neither did the Lord suffer by the will of the Father, nor are those who are persecuted persecuted by the will of God.  Indeed, either of two things is the case: either persecution in consequence of the will of God is a good thing, or those who decree and afflict are guiltless.  But nothing is without the will of the Lord of the universe.  It remains to say that such things happen without the prevention of God, for this alone saves both the providence and the goodness of God.  We must not therefore think that He actively produces afflictions (far be it that we should think this!).… Providence is a disciplinary art—in the case of others for each individual’s sins, and in the case of the Lord and His apostles for ours.  To this point the divine apostle says: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.”

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.12

* I.e., the devil.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.  (1 Thess 3:11-13)

This is a proof of excessive love, that he not only prays for them by himself, but even in his epistles inserts his prayer.  This argues a fervent soul, and one truly not to be restrained.  This is a proof of the prayers made there also, and at the same time also an excuse, as showing that it was not voluntarily, nor from lack of effort, that they did not go to them.  As if he had said, “May God Himself cut short the testings that everywhere distract us, so that we may come directly to you.”  Do you see the unrestrainable madness of love that is shown by his words?  “Make you to increase and abound,” instead of cause you to grow.  As if one should say, that with a kind of superabundance he desires to be loved by them.  “Even as we do also toward you,” he says.  Our part is already done, we pray that yours may be done.  Do you see how he wishes love to be extended, not only toward one another, but everywhere?  For this truly is the nature of godly love, that it embraces all.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Thessalonians

Friday, June 10, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions.  For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.  For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.  (1 Thess 3:1-5)

Whenever anything happens to the helmsman, either the officer in command at the bows, or the seaman of highest rank, takes his place, not because he becomes a self-appointed helmsman, but because he looks out for the safety of the ship.  So again in war, when the commander falls, the chief tribune assumes the command, not in the attempt to lay violent hands on the place of power, but because he cares for his men.  So too the thrice blessed Timothy when sent by the divine Paul took his place.  It is therefore becoming to your piety to accept the responsibilities of helmsman, of captain, of shepherd, gladly to run all risk for the sake of the sheep of Christ, and not to leave His creatures abandoned and alone.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Letter to Eusebius

Friday, June 3, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.  But wrath has come upon them at last!  (1 Thess 2:13-16)

Do you see how he introduces this as containing great consolation? And constantly he refers to it.  And upon a close examination one may find it in nearly all his epistles, how variously, upon all occasions of temptation, he brings forward Christ.  Observe accordingly, that here also, when accusing the Jews, he puts them in mind of the Lord, and of the sufferings of the Lord; so well does he know that this is a matter of the greatest consolation.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Thessalonians

Then he brings out the manner of the hostility.  The example suffices for encouragement: the similarity of the suffering provides adequate consolation.  The text teaches us that the believers in Thessalonica were ravaged by the non-believers and deprived of their possessions; and those who accepted the saving message in Judea suffered the same fate.  He also prophesied the destruction of the Jews, Wrath has come upon them at last: there will be no revoking the sentence for them.  Blessed David spoke in similar terms, "O God, why do You cast us off forever?"  Now the phrase oppose all mankind should be taken this way: We were bidden to offer the saving message to everyone, but they resisted us; so they are in opposition to everyone.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians

Friday, May 27, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness.  Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.  But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  (1 Thess 2:5-7)

To those, therefore, that have made progress in the Word, He has proclaimed this utterance, bidding them dismiss anxious care of the things of this world, and exhorting them to adhere to the Father alone, in imitation of children.… Then it is right to notice, with respect to the appellation of “little one” is not used in the sense of lacking intelligence.  The notion of childishness has that pejorative meaning, but the term “little one” really means “one newly become gentle,” just as the word gentle means being mild-mannered.  So, a “little one” means one just recently become gentle and meek in disposition.  This the blessed Paul most clearly pointed out when he said, “When we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ, we were gentle among you, as a nurse cherishes her children.”  The little one is therefore gentle, and therefore more tender, delicate, and simple, guileless, and destitute of hypocrisy, straightforward and upright in mind, which is the basis of simplicity and truth.

Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 1.5

But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.  For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?  Is it not you?  For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess 2:17-20)

For we ought to walk by the standard of the saints and the fathers, and imitate them, and to be sure that if we depart from them we put ourselves also out of their fellowship.  Whom then do they wish you to imitate?  The one who hesitated, and while wishing to follow, delayed it and took counsel because of his family, or blessed Paul, who, the moment the stewardship was entrusted to him, “straightway conferred not with flesh and blood?”  For although he said, “I am not worthy to be called an Apostle,” yet, knowing what he had received, and being not ignorant of the giver, he wrote, “For woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”  But, as it was “woe to me” if he did not preach, so, in teaching and preaching the gospel, he had his converts as his joy and crown.  This explains why the saint was zealous to preach as far as Illyricum, and not to shrink from proceeding to Rome, or even going as far as the Spains, in order that the more he labored, he might receive so much the greater reward for his labor.  He boasted then that he had fought the good fight, and was confident that he should receive the great crown.

Athanasius, Letters to Dracontius 49.4