Friday, March 24, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Lent


Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. (Jn 9:35–38)

The Lord had given sight to a man blind from his birth; the Lord of nature had removed a defect of nature. Because this blind man had been born for the glory of God, that God’s work might be made manifest in the work of Christ, the Lord did not delay till the man had given evidence of his faith by a confession of it. But though he did not know at the time Who it was that had bestowed the great gift of eyesight, yet afterwards he earned a knowledge of the faith. For it was not the dispelling of his blindness that won him eternal life. And so, when the man was already healed and had suffered ejection from the synagogue, the Lord put to him the question, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” This was to save him from the thought that he had lost everything, being excluded from the synagogue. It gave him the certainty that confession of the true faith had restored him to immortality. When the man, his soul still unenlightened, made answer, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” The Lord’s reply was, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” For His goal was to remove the ignorance of the man whose sight he had restored, and whom He was now enriching with the knowledge of so glorious a faith. Does the Lord demand from this man, as from others, who prayed Him to heal them, a confession of faith as the price of their recovery? Emphatically not. For the blind man could already see when he was thus addressed. The Lord asked the question in order to receive the answer, “Lord, I believe.” The faith which spoke in that answer was to receive not sight, but life.

Hilary of Poitier, On the Trinity 6.48

Friday, March 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Lent


Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (Jn 4:10–14)

Let then this much suffice concerning those outcasts; and now let us return to the divine Scriptures, and let us drink waters out of our own cisterns and out of our own springing wells. We drink of living water, springing up into everlasting life; but the Savior spoke this of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive. For observe what He says: He that believes on Me (not simply this, but), as the Scripture has said (thus He has sent you back to the Old Testament), out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, not rivers perceived by sense, and merely watering the earth with its thorns and trees, but bringing souls to the light. And in another place He says: But the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of living water springing up into everlasting life—a new kind of water living and springing up, springing up unto them who are worthy.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 16.11


Jesus shows the incomparable difference that there is between spiritual water and earthly perceptible water by saying, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.” But those who have their fill of my water, He says, not only will be raised beyond ever thirsting again but also will have in themselves a spring that is able to nourish them to eternal life. The one who gives greater gifts is greater, He says, than the one who has less, and the one who is inferior will not come away with the same glory as the one who conquers.

Next we must realize that the Savior here calls the grace of the Holy Spirit “water.” If anyone should become a participant of it, they will then have a supply of divine knowledge springing up in them so that they no longer need admonition from others. Instead they will be sufficient and capable to exhort with ease those who thirst for the divine and heavenly word. These were the saints, prophets, and apostles during their lives while they were still living here on earth, and the heirs of their service, concerning whom it is written, “Draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.” [Is 12:3]

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 4.14

Friday, March 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday in Lent


For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

Many of the more careless sort of persons, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, “There is no hell, there is no future punishment, God forgives us all sins.” To stop those mouths a wise man says, “Do not say, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation rests upon sinners” (Ecclus. 5:6): and again, “As His mercy is great, so is His correction also.” (Ecclus. 16:12) “Where then,” says one, “is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our desserts?” That we shall indeed receive “according to our desserts,” hear both the Prophet and Paul declare. One says, “You will repay every man according to his works” (Ps 62:12 LXX), and the other, “He will render to each according to his deeds.” (Ro 2:6) And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great. In dividing our existence into two periods, the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He has shown great lovingkindness.

“How and in what way?” Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of Regeneration and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. “What then,” says one, “if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries, after this commits ten thousand sins?” Such a one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after Initiation. And this Paul declares, saying, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:28–29) Such a one then is worthy of severer punishment. Yet even for him God has opened doors of repentance and has granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are. By Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, “God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.”

For there are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be, and the two are not for the same purpose. The first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to inquire. Therefore of the first He says, “I came not to condemn the world, but to save the world;” but of the second, “When the Son shall have come in the glory of His Father, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left.” (Mt 15:31, 46) And they shall go, these into life, and the other into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and acts of vengeance, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account. But, because He is merciful, He for a while pardons instead of making inquiry. For had He done so, all would at once have been hurried to perdition. For “all,” it says, “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Ro 3:23) Do you see the unspeakable excess of His lovingkindness?

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John 28.1

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Correction and Apology

Every now and then I send out a post that needed more editing than I initially gave. One such occurrence came on March 1st (The Downcast Soul) in which my response came out as a polemic against the women’s event and those in charge. (My wife and others pointed this out to me.) In my desire to get the post out, I failed to include wording that would have shown my true target, which was the mishandling and misapplication of God and His Word that has become pervasive in the American church scene. I have corrected my original post accordingly (though not as soon as I would have liked as this was my earliest convenience).

In addition, I have already had communication with those who posted on the event referenced in my post, explaining my intent, but damage has already been done. I apologize for my great error and the hurt it caused.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Christ, Our Only Mediator

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. (Ga 3:19–20)

The Law was interposed, he says, until Christ came—that is, until the seed came to whom was promised the inheritance. What had been entrusted to angels, therefore, was entrusted to the hand of the one who is a mediator, a mediator—clearly—between two realities. I have said ‘two,’ but God is one; therefore there cannot be a mediator of God alone, because God is one. Thus there is no way the Law justifies, there is no way the Law of works obtains the inheritance, because the heirs are those who originate from there and receive the Spirit from there, whence their inheritance will come. All this happens, clearly, by Christ’s joining the things which are separated, by His liberating the part of the church which is held here through the errors of the world, and by bringing it back to the heavenly church. For Christ Himself is the only mediator. But there cannot be a mediator of one party, as we have taught.

Now, God alone is one; the rest, beings coming after God, are not one. So whatever is outside of God is—are—many. These can be joined together because they are from there, or have been separated from there, because the Mystery was and is even now so disposed that they be joined, because some things are far apart, at enmity, and perishing. Therefore, because God’s existence is singular, the mediator is a mediator of more than God, a mediator which is nonetheless not a mediator of one. Those other realities, however, which have been diversified by a certain Mystery, the mediator Himself reconciles and conjoins—again, by a certain Mystery.

Now, we ourselves are those who have been separated by our more eminent predecessors, and who have been again joined, indeed by more eminent predecessors but according to Christ—that is, according to faith. From this it is apparent that we cannot be liberated without a mediator. If this is the case, it is a vain hope to believe that justification and salvation come from the Law of works, which, as we have said, is not a mediator. For Christ alone, who joins together what He mediates, is the mediator. So justification and liberation come about through Christ, and not through the Law of works.

Marius Victorinus, Commentary on Galatians

Friday, March 3, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday in Lent


Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mt 4:1–4)
The testimony was taken from Deuteronomy. The Lord responded in this way, for it was His purpose to overcome the devil with humility and not with power. At the same time, it should be noted that unless the Lord had begun to fast, the devil would not have had an occasion, in accordance with the passage: “My son, as you embark upon the service of God, prepare your soul for temptation.” [Sirach 2:1] But the Savior’s very response indicates that it was as man that He was tempted: “Not by bread alone shall man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” So if anyone does not feed upon God’s Word, that one will not live.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 1.4.4

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Downcast Soul


Early last month, I read an invitation sent out for a ladies’ gathering:
How is your soul?

In Psalm 42 the psalmist asks the question: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  And why are you disquieted within me?”

Lately I have met a few downcast souls within our family-of-God.  (I have been one of them!)  Things just don’t feel quite right and we are wondering what is happening to us, our thoughts, our souls?  We know God wants us to love him with our whole heart, soul, and strength.  But we feel tired and unable to muster up the strength.

Please, ladies, come to our dessert evening where we will explore scripture that instructs us how to take care of this soul God wants to be totally his.
The invitation prompted a question in my mind: How much mustered effort is enough?  And then there was another question: Who is the assumed effective agent in the process?  I am genuinely curious, because this afflicts everyone at some point in his or her walk with the Lord, and addressing the subject is a good step in the right direction.  I hope it is answered biblically at the gathering.

If the strength originates in or emanates from me, then the command to love (De 6:4–5) is nothing more than a plea to continually stir up passion or enthusiasm.  The effort will always be “just a bit more,” which ultimately leads to self-destruction as we continue to add man-made conditions in a never-ending quest for higher spirituality; whereas if the strength originates in God, then He must stipulate what is intended or how He will make this strength available.  Notice, then, the context of the command to love:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (De 6:6–9)
A whole heart is not described as one wherein all one’s time and energy are given over to performing self-imposed tasks or goals, but in knowing the Scriptures to do them and not forget from Whom all things have been received (De 6:10–15).

Later in the month, I saw the following quoted from The Deep Place Where Nobody Goes by Jill Briscoe pertaining to the same gathering as above:
I ran to the Deep Place where nobody goes, and found Him waiting there.  “Where have you been?” He asked me.

“I’ve been in the shallow place where everyone lives,” I replied.  I knew He knew.  He just wanted me to admit I’d been too busy being busy.  “I’m running out…”  I began.

“Of course,” He said.  “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

He sat down on the steps of my soul and smiled at me.  Angels sang; a shaft of light chased away the shadows and brightened my daily day.  I smiled back.

“I’m such a fool…”

“Shhh,” He said, putting His finger on my lips.

He touched my hurried heart.  Startled, it took a deep breath and skidded to a near stop.  My spirit nestled into nearness in the Deep Place where nobody goes.
My soul spoke, then: He answered with words beyond music.  Where on Earth had I been?
Matters became clearer for me and prompted another question: What is the proposed solution for the downcast soul?  The Lord does desire and require full fealty, and like the children of Israel, we intend much but in the routine of life, we falter.  The desire and strength to follow wanes.  What had been our joy and delight becomes lackluster, even burdensome.  Or maybe the daily grind of life is not the issue, rather sudden difficult circumstances.

What is the cure for the downcast soul?
Jill Briscoe offers a romanticized mystical solution by referring the reader to a “Deep Place” to find intimacy with “Him.”  There are immediate problems with this solution, beginning with the obvious: if nobody goes there, how does the author get there?  How did she find the way?  Is there a road map of sorts, and who has access to these directions?  The story hints at a secret knowledge for inner peace that is available to only a few that find it—key elements of the ancient heresy of gnosticism.

Let it be known that I am willing to give Mrs. Briscoe some literary leeway, rather than rush to assign the moniker of abject heretic, but difficulties remain.  Who is “He?”  For certain he cannot be God, because as much as the story character wishes to confess sin, he cuts her off as if to say that it is not a problem.  The Lord calls us to confess, so that He might forgive us our sins, not cut us off mid-sentence.  And why are the two so intimate?  Notice the close contact and caressing are reminiscent of lovers.  What is actually being portrayed?  I assume no intention of salacious behavior, but something is amiss.

A better solution to the question of the downcast soul would be found with Psalm 42, which the ladies correctly referenced in the original communication above.  This is a good starting place, wherein the psalmist admits he is downcast being separated from the worship life in Jerusalem.  He longs for that communion and cannot understand why God has seemingly neglected him.  One can feel the wrestling within the psalmist as he describes his longing, yet the inability to fulfill it.  The situation is difficult, but the psalmist rests in the ongoing care of the Lord, reminding himself that He is faithful and will not abandon His people.

Another good example is Psalm 77, which presents an apparently more dire condition.  Here the psalmist describes his constant entreaty marked by constant loud lament and outstretched hands.  Sleeplessness is his constant companion as he struggles with the idea that the Lord has forsaken him.  The psalm turns, however, as attention turns from his pain and proclaims:
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (Ps 77:10)
To what does Asaph appeal?  He appeals to what he has been taught in the Scriptures of the Lord’s mighty deeds in redeeming a people and the ongoing truth that He made His dwelling place with them.  It is these things that give the psalmist strength to persevere.

The solution, then, for the downcast soul is to remember: 1) God works on your behalf as demonstrated on the cross; and 2) there are great and precious promises, which explain to us what He freely bestows in Christ.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,
how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday


But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.  So he prayed to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and said, “Ah, Lᴏʀᴅ, was not this what I said when I was still in my country?  Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.”  (Jnh 4:1–2)

In other words, Jonah clearly indicated that this was responsible also for his flight, the realization that if in His goodness He sees them repenting, He would change His own sentence…. Hence he goes on: Therefore now, O Lᴏʀᴅ, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!…. God who is loving to the repentant and very gentle with His own, chides the prophet in a corrective manner: Is it right for you to be angry? as if to say,
You seem disappointed that so many have been saved.  You ought put the salvation of everyone ahead of your own reputation, and consider your being taken for such a person preferable to the loss of so many people.
Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Jonah


But the Lᴏʀᴅ said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”  (Jnh 4:10–11)

When Jonah admitted to feeling this way to the extent of preferring death to life on this account, God said: “I call you as judge.  Consider, then, if it is right for you to grieve over the pumpkin vine, which you did not cultivate, neither planting it nor watering it.  It came into being at dawn, and a worm and the sun proved its ruin at day’s end.  For my part, on the contrary, is it right for me to treat without mercy this city, which was brought into being by Me, containing more than 120,000 inhabitants who do not know their right hand from the left, and many cattle?”  Give thought to this, then, and marvel at the lovingkindness for its reasonableness.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Jonah

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hallowed be Your name


Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  (Mt 6:9)

This is, indeed, somewhat obscure, and not expressed in good German, for in our mother-tongue we would say: Heavenly Father, help that by all means Your name may be holy.  But what is it to pray that His name may be holy?  Is it not holy already?  Answer: Yes, it is always holy in its nature, but in our use it is not holy.  For God’s name was given us when we became Christians and were baptized, so that we are called children of God and have the Sacraments, by which He so incorporates us in Himself that everything which is God’s must serve for our use.

Here now the great need exists for which we ought to be most concerned, that this name have its proper honor, be esteemed holy and sublime as the greatest treasure and sanctuary that we have; and that as godly children we pray that the name of God, which is already holy in heaven, may also be and remain holy with us upon earth and in all the world.

But how does it become holy among us?  Answer, as plainly as it can be said: When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian.  For since in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty always to deport and demean ourselves as godly children, that He may not receive shame, but honor and praise from us.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism III.36–39

Friday, February 17, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Crispin de Passe, engraver - Story of Jonah, Plate 5

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.  Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.  (Jonah 3:5-10)

These things, beloved, we write unto you, not merely to admonish you of your duty, but also to remind ourselves.  For we are struggling on the same arena, and the same conflict is assigned to both of us.  Therefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling.  Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us.  Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.  Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him.  Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved.  Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were aliens [to the covenant] of God.

Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians 7