Friday, May 31, 2013

O Love of God, How Rich and Pure!

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  (1 John 3:16)

For what more should I say?  Behold the mysteries of love.  And then you shall look into the bosom of the Father, whom God the only-begotten Son alone has declared.  And God Himself is love; and out of love to us became feminine.  In His ineffable essence He is Father; in His compassion to us He became Mother.  The Father by loving became feminine: and the great proof of this is He whom He begot of Himself; and the fruit brought forth by love is love.

For this also He came down.  For this He clothed Himself with man.  For this He voluntarily subjected Himself to the experiences of men, that by bringing Himself to the measure of our weakness whom He loved, He might correspondingly bring us to the measure of His own strength.  And about to be offered up and giving Himself a ransom, He left for us a new Covenant-testament: My love I give unto you.  And what and how great is it?  For each of us He gave His life,—the equivalent for all.  This He demands from us in return for one another.

Cyril of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? 37

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

God: Trinity in Person, Unity in Substance

What follows Philip’s question, and the Lord’s whole treatment of it, to the end of John’s Gospel, continues to furnish us with statements of the same kind, distinguishing the Father and the Son, with the properties of each.  Then there is the Paraclete or Comforter, also, which He promises to pray for to the Father, and to send from heaven after He had ascended to the Father.  He is called “another Comforter,” indeed;* but in what way He is another we have already shown, “He shall receive of mine,” says Christ, just as Christ Himself received of the Father’s.  Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another.  These Three are one essence, not one Person, as it is said, “I and my Father are One,” in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.

Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 25.

* John 14:16
† John 16:14
‡ John 5:30

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Keep Giving Me Christ Crucified

For the under-shepherds of Christ's sheep performing their duties while dealing with their own flaws—the vestiges of the sin natureI pass along this encouragement found at Ad Crucem to remain faithful in service according to God's word.

So, pastor, I plead.  In the middle of all the noise and thankless underpaid chaos that your life can be, give me forgiveness.  Give me the Gospel.  Give me Christ.  I can not tell you it will make your life any easier or even that I will complain any less about carpet color.  But I need it.  And I think you do too.  So give me Christ.  Tell me of the splendor of a king dying a criminal’s death being the best news I have ever heard.  Do not worry about boring me with repeating it: just keep building it up.  Let me sing of mercy shed on me, let me hear the words, "given for you."  Help me fix my eyes on Christ.

And since I may forget later, thank you for doing the often thankless job of preaching Christ crucified for sinners, a stumbling block to Jews, folly to Greeks, and the aroma of death to those who are perishing—but to us life, hope, and peace.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Guard the Deposit Entrusted to You

Christians are constantly presented with scenarios concerning unbelievers wherein the former must decide the best course of action based on their knowledge and understanding of scripture.  We bear the name of Christ and have no desire for the Lord's reputation to be sullied by our conduct.  Questions are asked: how do Christians converse and interact with the world in a way that will glorify God and testify of Christ's work on the cross?  And how do we interact with the world concerning festivals and solemn occasions of other religious bodies or the world in general?  Care is required because there is the real danger of affirming the false god believed by the person or group with whom we are engaged and can unwittingly affirm their idolatrous beliefs.

Tertullian stated that idolatry, by his reckoning, is "the main crime of the human race, the highest guilt on the world, the whole cause of judgment," since by immersing oneself in the conduct, the idolater is equated to a murderer of the worst kind as he strikes spiritually mortal blows—of grievous offenses against God—on himself as victim (On Idolatry, 1).  And if that did not suffice, the nature of idolatry promotes debauchery and falsehood, and above both, it is an act of fraud bringing the greatest insult.
The essence of fraud is, I think, if anyone will seize what is another's or deny his due; and of course fraud toward man is admitted to be a label of greatest crime. But idolatry does fraud to God by denying him, and conferring on others, his honor: fraud brings an insult.
By removing the glory due God and placing it elsewhere, anyone might be an idolater, heaping upon himself guilt and condemnation that justifiably could be held against him had the actions been toward a fellow human.  How much more so for bringing such an insult against the Almighty.

This is not to say that Christians overtly divert or diminish what is God's alone.  In some measure those intent on serving him properly seek to find scriptural bases for their actions, but the means cause more harm than good.  Tertullian reminds his readers (On Idolatry, 13) that while we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” (Rom 12:15) there is the offsetting “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14): we do not have permission to associate with any frivolity or solemnity unbecoming to or forbidden by the Lord.  By associating with such an event, believers give tacit affirmation to the proceedings and what they represent.  Attending a function without being known as Christian damages the conscience, but if the believer's position is known, this damages the conscience of others and shames God.

Churchgoers with what they perceive to be average or better command of scripture will read the above, give themselves a quick self-assessment, and think that this is rather preposterous.  What Bible-toting, amen-shouting believer would willing place themselves in a spiritually harmful way?  They have "purer" motives for reaching the lost and dying world and seek out ways to do so.  Some much so that, seeing the divide between the church and the world with inherent tensions, avail themselves of the world's events in order to foster discussion between worldviews and remove the stigma of Christian exclusivity.  They view dogma as some type of blasphemy on the name of Christ, which must be expunged so that people might be wooed by the love of God as demonstrated through the tolerance and openness of his people.  Rather than drawing the lost to Christ, this tactic works havoc because the one attempting it becomes the cause of blasphemy rather than the cure.  Tertullian noticed the same as he penned:
Now the blasphemy which must quite be shunned by us in every way is, I take it, this: If any of us lead a heathen into blasphemy with good cause, either by fraud, or by injury, or insultingly, or any other matter of worthy complaint, in which "the Name" is accordingly criticized, so that the Lord, too, is deservedly angry.  (On Idolatry, 14)
The desire to enter into the world's realm in order to befriend their worldview and customs for the sake of the gospel is not what the apostle Paul intended when he said "I become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Cor 9:22).  Rather Tertullian points to something quite different in his biting sarcasm:
No doubt he used to please them by celebrating the Saturnalia and New-year’s day! or was it by moderation and patience? by gravity, by kindness, by integrity?  In like manner, when he is saying, "I have become all things to all, that I may gain all," does he mean "to idolaters an idolater?" "to heathens a heathen?" "to the worldly worldly?"  (On Idolatry, 14)
The apologist makes plain that Paul did not join with the frivolities of the pagan holidays or worship but related to them as a man no different than they: deserving judgment but instead receiving grace through the work of a merciful God and Savior.

Lastly, not just our deeds can be compromised, but our speech as well.  Consider not just the above mentioned intercourse of ideas being promulgated by the postmodern and emergent movements but also in withholding a necessary verdict.  Too often we do not wish to engage a wrong idea but allow the other person to verbally bind us and
by remaining quiet, affirm their majesty, by reason of which majesty you will seem to be bound. … At all events, whoever the petitioner is, he binds you to himself either in friendly or unfriendly union.  If in unfriendly, you are now challenged unto battle, and know that you must fight.  If in friendly, with how far greater security will you transfer your engagement unto the Lord, that you may dissolve the obligation of him through whose means the Evil One was seeking to appropriate you….  (On Idolatry, 21)
Whether in friendly or hostile debate with the world, believers are not at liberty to refuse engagement.  The enemy is always seeking whom he may devour.  But neither are believers to respond in a sinful way.  Rather when confronted the proper response is to be
according to the precept [Matt 5:44, 1 Pet 3:9, etc.], not to return a curse in the name of God even, but dearly to bless in the name of God, that you may both demolish idols and preach God, and fulfill discipline.  (On Idolatry, 21)
The disciple of Christ should therefore, as both a privilege and duty, be always learning from God's word, so that he might rightly handle it, take every thought obedient to Christ, and be ready to give an answer to his hope.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Christian Rules of Prayer

To true, Christian and salutary prayer it is requisite:
  1. That a man lift up holy hands (II Tim. 2) and offer his devotions with a good conscience; for God does not hear sinners who are not repentant (John 9).
  2. That a man pray in every time of trial and need; for, the greater our need the stronger is our prayer.  Therefore also God, in the 50th Psalm, says: “Call upon me in the day of trouble.”  (Always and everywhere there is sufficient provocation to prayer if one will but realize it).
  3. That a man pray, cry and sigh from out of the depths of his heart, without hypocrisy, anger, complaint or doubt, even as Moses prayed upon the shore of the Red Sea.  Lip-service and mouth-work in which the heart participates not, is a vain service of God (Matt. 15).
  4. That a man call upon the one, true and only God as He has revealed Himself at the River Jordan, as Christ teaches in the Gospel (John 16), and in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6; Luke 11).
  5. That a man plead the name, merit, blood, death and intercession of Christ for help, and the support of the Holy Ghost (John 4, and 14).
  6. That a man pray with all boldness as Abraham prayed (Gen. 18); with a mighty faith, as the centurion prayed; without murmuring or impatience, continuing instant, as did the Canaanite woman; and with humility, as did Daniel (Dan. 9).
  7. That a man persevere, as Sirach teaches, and set no limit or goal for God, as is said in Chapter 8 of the Book of Judith.*
  8. He that will thus pray needs first of all to believe, that he is reconciled to God through His Son, and must base his pleas upon baptism† and the blood of Christ as well as upon God’s command and promise.  He must embrace the promise of Christ and the example of all the saints; and remember that God has frequently helped others before us (Ps. 22:34).
If prayer is to be rightly offered, all these things must be well observed and kept:
  1. Holy hands and a good conscience.
  2. Our need.
  3. From the heart, without hypocrisy.
  4. Calling upon the name of the One, Only God.
  5. In the name of Jesus Christ, who is the soul of all prayer.
  6. Boldly.
  7. Preseveringly.
  8. In faith.  Such prayer pervades heaven, as Sirach says; and makes our joy perfect, as Christ witnesses, John 16.  It attains help, gives comfort, joy, and a sure defense against all devils and evil men.
Wilhelm Loehe, Seed-grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians

* Historically, apocryphal works were bound with the canonical scriptures as useful though not authoritative.  After the mass production of Bibles began, the Apocrypha was omitted to reduce cost.  Citations were regularly used to give examples and bolster arguments.
† Remembering that at baptism one confesses being buried into death, in order that "we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4; see also Col 2:12), and he who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:7).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How to Answer the Fool

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.  (Proverbs 26:5)

I had the pleasure of listening to an interview of Sye Ten Bruggencate by Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith concerning the former's new film How to Answer the Fool.

Every believer is called to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15).  God is knowable and has made himself known in the scriptures, but most well-intended Christians inadvertently undermine themselves by appealing to evidence or experience as their basis.  While neither of these is incorrect when used properly, one should begin with the truth of the God who revealed himself in his word and not try to prove him through the material world or what happened to you in your faith journey.

I have edited out the bump music from the program.  The interview is 65 minutes and worth the time whether or not you purchase the film.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Grace Leads to Repentance, Leading to Grace

It is the Lord your God you shall fear.  Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.  (Deuteronomy 6:13)

But where there is no fear, in like manner there is no change; where there is no change, repentance is of necessity empty, for it lacks the fruit for which God sowed it—that is, man’s salvation.  For God … when He had hastened back to His own mercy, did from that time onward inaugurate repentance in His own self, by rescinding the sentence of His initial wrath, engaging to grant pardon to His own work and image.*  And so He gathered together a people for Himself, and cared for them with many abundant distributions of His bounty, and, after so often finding them most ungrateful, ever exhorted them to repentance and sent out the voices of the universal company of the prophets to prophesy.  By and by, promising freely the grace which in the last times He was intending to pour as a flood of light on the whole world through His Spirit, He called for the baptism of repentance to lead the way, with the view of first preparing, by means of the sign and seal of repentance, them whom He was calling, through grace, to the promise surely made to Abraham.

Tertullian, On Repentance, 2

* I.e., mankind.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Striving for Stellar Performances

Actors and actresses are not the only professionals who should endeavor to give grand performances.  Here is bit of instruction officials that execute, legislate, or administer justice should heed in their duties.

Hear therefore, you kings, and understand;
learn, you judges of the ends of the earth;
give ear, you that have dominion over multitudes
and boast of many nations,
because your dominion was given you from the Lord
and your dominance from the Most High.

He will examine your deeds and inquire into your counsels,
because, being servants of his kingdom, you did not judge rightly
or keep the law
or walk according to the counsel of God.

Terribly and swiftly he will come upon you,
because a severe judgment falls on those in high places.

For the least may be pardoned in mercy,
but the mighty will be mightily tested,
for the Sovereign Lord of all will not give way to anyone
or have regard for greatness,
because he himself made small and great
and takes thought for all alike,
but a strict inquiry awaits for the powerful.

To you therefore, you princes, my words are addressed,
that you may learn wisdom and not fall into error.

For those who have observed holy things in holiness will be made holy,
and those who have been taught them will find a defense.

Set your desire therefore on my words;
long for them, and you will be instructed.

Wisdom of Solomon 6:1-11

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

He Humbled Himself—for You

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Phil 2:6-8)

Will you deem Him little on this account, that He humbled Himself for your sake, and because to seek for that which had wandered the Good Shepherd, He who lays down His life for the sheep,1 came upon the mountains and hills upon which you used to sacrifice,2 and found the wandering one; and having found it, took it upon His shoulders3 on which He also bore the wood; and having borne it, brought it back to the life above; and having brought it back, numbered it among those who have never strayed.  That He lit a candle,4 His own flesh, and swept the house, by cleansing away the sin of the world, and sought for the coin, the Royal Image that was all covered up with passions, and calls together His friends, the Angelic Powers, at the finding of the coin, and makes them sharers of His joy, as He had before made them sharers of the secret of His Incarnation?  That the Light that is exceeding bright should follow the Candle—Forerunner,5 and the Word, the Voice, and the Bridegroom, the Bridegroom’s friend,6 that prepared for the Lord a peculiar people7 and cleansed them by the water8 in preparation for the Spirit?  Do you reproach God with this?  Do you conceive of Him as less because He girds Himself with a towel and washes His disciples,9 and shows that humiliation is the best road to exaltation;10 because He humbles Himself for the sake of the soul that is bent down to the ground,11 that He may even exalt with Himself that which is bent double under a weight of sin?  How comes it that you do not also charge it upon Him as a crime that He eats with Publicans12 and at Publicans’ tables, and makes disciples of Publicans13 that He too may make some gain.  And what gain?  The salvation of sinners.  If so, one must blame the physician for stooping over suffering and putting up with evil smells in order to give health to the sick; and him also who leans over the ditch, that he may, according to the Law, save the beast that has fallen into it.

Gregory Nazianzen Oration 45.26

1 John 10:11  5 Luke 15:8-9  8 Matthew 3:11  11 Luke 13:10ff
2 John 5:35  6 Luke 1:23; 3:9, 29  9 John 13:4-5  12 Mark 2:15-16
3 Hosea 4:13  7 Luke 1:1710 Matthew 23:12  13 Luke 15:2
4 Luke 15:4-5