Wednesday, January 30, 2013

God Answers Prayer as Only He Can

From this you perceive that we pray here not for a crust of bread or a temporal, perishable good, but for an eternal inestimable treasure and everything that God Himself possesses; which is far too great for any human heart to think of desiring if He had not Himself commanded us to pray for the same.  But because He is God, He also claims the honor of giving much more and more abundantly than any one can comprehend,*—like an eternal, unfailing fountain, which, the more it pours forth and overflows, the more it continues to give,—and He desires nothing more earnestly of us than that we ask much and great things of Him, and again is angry if we do not ask and pray confidently.†

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Lord's Prayer, 55-56

* Ephesians 3:20
† Hebrews 4:16

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Do Not Move the Ancient Landmark

There is a continual desire among men to improve on God's words and ways, not because they are found inadequate, but because they are considered antiquated: the church is not culturally relevant.  This is not a new trend.  Fifth-century churchman, Vincent of Lérins, sought to keep the church on a true course by giving the following warning against pursuing novel teaching by pointing to the solidity of the past and what was and is universally held to be true:
But here some one perhaps will ask, "Since the canon of scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the church’s interpretation?"  For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of holy scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.…

Moreover, in the catholic church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.  For that is truly and in the strictest sense “catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.  This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.  We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.
A Commonitory, 5-6

What happens when a section of the church goes off target and pursues a different teaching—so common today among those claiming to be God's elect?  Hold fast to what is resolved and certain from the past.
What then will a catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith?  What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member?  What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the church, but the whole?  Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.
A Commonitory, 7

And lastly, what happens if the ancient church was mistaken at some point?  Go to the decrees and creeds.  What if the decrees and creeds do not address the matter?  Study those who were considered faithful and hold fast to what was generally accepted in accordance with scripture.
But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province?  Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient general council to the rashness and ignorance of a few.  But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear?  Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one catholic church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation.
A Commonitory, 8

Fourteen centuries later William D. Conybeare echoed this sentiment when he wrote:
Yet assuredly, we should greatly mistake the intention of our church, did we imagine that she called on us to neglect the information which the venerable relics of Christian antiquity have preserved to us, in recording the sentiments of the primitive ages of the faith.  Our holy mother would never encourage us to depreciate the high and honorable claims of the first standard-bearers, and foremost champions of our religion.  The true line taken by our church appears to be this.  She knows nothing of tradition as an independent rule of faith; but genuine and primitive tradition she anxiously seeks to discover, and when found she honors, not indeed as a rival mistress, but as a faithful handmaid of scripture.

An Analytical Examination into the Character, Value, and Just Application
of the Writings of the Christian Fathers during the Ante-Nicene Period, 6-7

What God's people have received was given to establish and keep a holy and elect people.  It is our honor to faithfully share the Lord's good word to the next generation, that they might pass it to their children.  May we not forget this.

[The Lord] established a testimony in Jacob
        and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
        to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
        the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
        so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
        but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
        a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
        whose spirit was not faithful to God.  (Psalm 78:5-8)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Buried Treasure

Photo: Cyberbrethren
A blogger I follow dared to make the suggestion that personal libraries need to be pruned occasionally.

Barbarian!  Heretic!

Well, maybe not.  He does have a point.  My office area is not quite as bad as this picture, but I have an abundance of printed material standing on my shelves and lying about the house.

The difficulty comes in what to do with books I have read once and never intend to revisit because they are either poorly written or promoted doctrine I could not espouse.  More than once I have wrestled over whether to sell a book on eBay, donate it to an organization, or drop it in the recycle bin because of content.  I might give it to a discerning friend who can properly ascertain its usefulness.

For those books of good quality, I am all for putting them.  An aging preacher did that for me by selecting works from his personal library and handed them to me in a sort of sacred trust to glean from their collective wisdom.  His generosity has always been appreciated.  Maybe I should start doing the same.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Confessing the Holy Spirit's Sanctifying Work

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian* Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.  Amen.

This article (as I have said) I cannot relate better than to Sanctification, that through the same the Holy Spirit, with His office, is declared and depicted, namely, that He makes holy. Therefore we must take our stand upon the word Holy Spirit, because it is so precise and comprehensive that we cannot find another.  For there are, besides, many kinds of spirits mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, as, the spirit of man, heavenly spirits, and evil spirits. But the Spirit of God alone is called Holy Spirit, that is, He who has sanctified and still sanctifies us.  For as the Father is called Creator, the Son Redeemer, so the Holy Spirit, from His work, must be called Sanctifier, or One that makes holy.  But how is such sanctifying done?  Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion, whereby He wins us, through His birth, death, resurrection, etc., so also the Holy Spirit effects our sanctification by the following parts, namely, by the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; that is, He first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.  The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc.  But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost.  That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Spirit to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us.  Therefore sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain of ourselves.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Apostle's Creed, 35-39

* The well-known form of this creed uses Catholic here in the sense of universality, not allegiance to the bishop of Rome.  Luther altered the wording to avoid confusion and reflect what the creed intended.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Confessing Jesus' Redemptive Work

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

For when we had been created by God the Father, and had received from Him all manner of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil, so that we fell under His wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, as we had merited and deserved.  There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God in His unfathomable goodness had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness, and came from heaven to help us.  Those tyrants and jailers, then, are all expelled now, and in their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation, and has delivered us poor lost men from the jaws of hell, has won us, made us free, and brought us again into the favor and grace of the Father, and has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection, that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.

Let this, then, be the sum of this article that the little word Lord signifies simply as much as Redeemer, i.e., He who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same.  But all the points which follow in order in this article serve no other end than to explain and express this redemption, how and whereby it was accomplished, that is, how much it cost Him, and what He spent and risked that He might win us and bring us under His dominion, namely, that He became man, conceived and born without sin, of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, that He might overcome sin; moreover, that He suffered, died and was buried, that He might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owe, not with silver nor gold, but with His own precious blood.  And all this, in order to become my Lord; for He did none of these for Himself, nor had He any need of it.  And after that He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death, and finally ascended into heaven and assumed the government at the Father's right hand, so that the devil and all powers must be subject to Him and lie at His feet, until finally, at the last day, He will completely part and separate us from the wicked world, the devil, death, sin, etc.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Apostle's Creed, 28-31

Friday, January 18, 2013

Confessing God as Father and Creator

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Thus we learn from this article that none of us has of himself, nor can preserve, his life nor anything that is here enumerated or can be enumerated, however small and unimportant a thing it might be, for all is comprehended in the word Creator.

Moreover, we also confess that God the Father has not only given us all that we have and see before our eyes, but daily preserves and defends us against all evil and misfortune, averts all sorts of danger and calamity; and that He does all this out of pure love and goodness, without our merit, as a benevolent Father, who cares for us that no evil befall us.

Thus we have most briefly presented the meaning of this article, as much as is at first necessary for the most simple to learn, both as to what we have and receive from God, and what we owe in return, which is a most excellent knowledge, but a far greater treasure.  For here we see how the Father has given Himself to us, together with all creatures, and has most richly provided for us in this life, besides that He has overwhelmed us with unspeakable, eternal treasures by His Son and the Holy Ghost, as we shall hear.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Apostle's Creed, 16-17, 24

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Something More Sure: Comparing the Transfiguration to Gethsemane

Jason Braaten has written a post drawing comparisons between the Mount Transfiguration and Garden of Gethsemane.  I enjoyed the summary of his opening comparison list:
As impressive as this list of similarities is, what I find most striking is what is missing in Matthew's account of our Lord's agony in the Garden: (1) Moses and Elijah are conspicuously absent; (2) the Father is deafeningly silent; and (3) Peter, James, and John are so utterly uninterested in what's happening in the Garden that they fall asleep—three times.  In other words, our Lord is in a one-way conversation in Matthew's account of the Garden, whereas in the Transfiguration, He is speaking with Moses and Elijah, with Peter, James, and John, and with the Father.  What is highlighted then in the Garden is Jesus' Words.  What stands out is what Jesus is saying.  Listen to Him.  Not My Will but Your will be done.
And then near the end, he makes the point that we have something even more sure than that brief, shining glimpse of divine glory in the Lord Jesus on the mount:
And we have something more sure than the vision on the mount of Transfiguration.  We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed.  We have the Words of the Word made flesh.  We have the faithful promise of Him who submits to the Father's will and word, endures suffering and death and on the third day rises.  This is more sure because it confirms what the prophets had spoken.  It confirms what our Lord had spoken.  Listen to Him.  Not My will but Your will be done.  And it is so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We Rest in Him Who Is Truth

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  (John 8:31-32)

The word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, disdaining to fall under any skilful argument, or to endure the logical scrutiny of its hearers.  But it would be believed for its own nobility, and for the confidence due to Him who sends it.  Now the word of truth is sent from God, therefore the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant.  For being sent with authority, it would not be proper that it should be required to produce proof of what is said; since neither is there any proof beyond itself, which is God.… And God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the truth.  And the Word, being His Son, came to us, having put on flesh, revealing both Himself and the Father, giving to us in Himself resurrection from the dead, and eternal life afterwards.  And this is Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  He, therefore, is Himself both the faith and the proof of Himself and of all things.  Therefore those who follow Him, and know Him, having faith in Him as their proof, shall rest in Him.

 Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection, I

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Holiness Comes through God's Word

For the Word of God is the holy thing above all holy things.*  Yes, the only one which we Christians know and have.  For though we had the bones of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody.  But God's Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified.  At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all.  Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according to God's Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy.  Where this is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism I.91-92

* 1921 edition states "sanctuary above all sanctuaries."

Monday, January 7, 2013

God Works through the Seemingly Mundane

It seems strange to think … that God speaks to us in a literal book of ink, paper, and binding.  Or that the pastor's sermon is used by the Holy Spirit to create faith in our hearts.  These are rather spectacular claims for what goes on in an ordinary church service, with its weakly sung hymns, crying babies, and fidgeting people in their pews.  It is hardly credible to think that such a mundane and frequently dull setting could be the scene of such high and holy spiritual presences.

The prophet Isaiah—in the middle of national apostasy, political, collapse, and and divine judgment concludes, "Truly You are a God who hides Himself" (Isaiah 45:15).  To say God is hidden, of course, does not mean that He is absent.… The hiddenness of God is one of the most profound themes [in] what is termed "the theology of the cross," which might be better thought of as the spirituality of the cross.  It has to do with Christ's work, His presence, and how we draw closer to Him.  The theology of the cross also deals with the difficulties and hardships that Christians must live through in an utterly realistic and honest way.

Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross, 69-70

Friday, January 4, 2013

Letting God's Word Work

As you have noticed, I have been reading Justin Martyr recently. I enjoy his apologetic approach and the difference of method between his two apologies directed to Gentile rulers and the dialogue with a Jew, Trypho.  The former treatises juxtapose philosophy and politics with the truth of the scriptures, while the latter uses extensive passages of scriptures because both parties agreed to the veracity of the Old Testament.

As an example, we can use a question posited by Trypho:
And Trypho said, "You endeavor to prove an incredible and well-nigh impossible thing—that God endured to be born and become man."  (Dialogue, 68)
He is correct: that God should become man by natural means is unbelievable and an utterly ludicrous notion.  Justin takes up the challenge:
If I undertook to prove this by doctrines or arguments of man, you should not bear with me.
Justin agrees that if these arguments were made on a natural level using observable phenomena, they would be untenable, but that is not where the force of argument lies.  He continuously goes back to the Bible to make his points regardless of how Trypho attempts to take a different course.

His aim was to argue first and foremost from scripture as the ultimate authority.  It does not just contain truth: it is truth.  The Bible lives and works because its nature or being is bound in the person of God though penned by sinful humans.  Any listener of God's Word is obligated to make a decision whether to believe or disbelieve its content.
But if I quote frequently Scriptures, and so many of them, referring to this point, and ask you to comprehend them, you are hardhearted in the recognition of the mind and will of God.  But if you wish to remain forever so, I would not be injured at all; and for ever retaining the same [opinions] which I had before I met with you, I shall leave you.
Notice Justin's surprising conclusion to Trypho's indifference.  If the listener does not believe the message, the consequences are on his own head.  The presenter of the gospel does not fret that possibly not enough was done.  The message has been delivered, and he can leave with a clear conscience.  The one sharing the good news is not obligated to attempt new measures or relevant lingo to present the message in a different way to reach the intended audience.

More than once I have been come upon unbelievers and believers alike disregarding what scripture plainly states.  This is disappointing, but our job as witnesses is to speak the truth plainly of sin and a Savior.  Instead of attempting an emotional or entertaining appeal to draw in the listener, simply speak what needs to be said in a loving way and leave it there.

God's word can do its own work, if you let it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Messiah's Priesthood

For by this statement, "The Lord has sworn, and will not repent: You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek," with an oath God has shown Him (on account of your unbelief) to be the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek; i.e., as Melchizedek was described by Moses as the priest of the Most High, and he was a priest of those who were in uncircumcision, and blessed the circumcised Abraham who brought him tithes, so God has shown that His everlasting Priest, called also by the Holy Spirit Lord, would be Priest of those in uncircumcision.  Those too in circumcision who approach Him, that is, believing Him and seeking blessings from Him, He will both receive and bless.  And that He shall be first humble as a man, and then exalted, these words at the end of the Psalm show: "He shall drink of the brook in the way," and then, "Therefore shall He lift up the head."

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 33