Friday, August 30, 2013

Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.  (Prov 4:23)

And yet, certainly, when the mind is pleased in thought alone with unlawful things, while not indeed determining that they are to be done, but yet holding and pondering gladly things which ought to have been rejected the very moment they touched the mind, it cannot be denied to be a sin, but far less than if it were also determined to accomplished it in outward act.  And therefore pardon must be sought for such thoughts too, and the breast must be smitten, and it must be said, "Forgive us our debts;" and what follows must be done, and must be joined in our prayer, "As we also forgive our debtors" (Matt 6:12).

Augustine, On the Holy Trinity 12.12.18

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Christ's Redemptive Work: Absurd, Impossible, and Accomplished for Our Sake

For [man's] sake He came down (from heaven), for his sake He preached, for his sake "He humbled Himself even unto death—the death of the cross" (Phil 2:8).  He loved, of course, the being whom He redeemed at so great a cost.  If Christ is the Creator’s, it was with justice that He loved His own; if He comes from another god, His love was excessive, since He redeemed a being who belonged to another.  Well, then, loving man He loved his nativity also, and his flesh as well.  Nothing can be loved apart from that through which whatever exists has its existence.  Either take away nativity, and then show us man; or else withdraw the flesh, and then present to our view the being whom God has redeemed—since it is these very conditions* which constitute the man whom God has redeemed.  And are you for turning these conditions into occasions of blushing to the very creature whom He has redeemed, (censuring them), too, as unworthy of Him who certainly would not have redeemed them had He not loved them?… For which is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? that He should bear the flesh, or the cross? be circumcised, or be crucified? be cradled, or be coffined? be laid in a manger, or in a tomb?… Was not God really crucified?  And, having been really crucified, did He not really die?  And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again?  Falsely, then, did Paul "determine to know nothing amongst us but Jesus and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2);" falsely has he impressed upon us that He was buried; falsely inculcated that He rose again.  False, therefore, is our faith also.  And all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom.… The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it.  And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.  And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible.  But how will all this be true in Him, if He was not Himself true—if He really had not in Himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again?

Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 4-5

* I.e. man’s nativity and his flesh.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Waiting on the Lord

Recently, I was asked (challenged?) to study the theme of waiting on/for the Lord as found in the Bible.  The context of the request was an effort to convince me that Christians should be led by "leading of the Spirit," not just from the words of scripture, as a sign of a deepening relationship with the Lord and increased maturity by relying on his direct leading.  The protagonist assured me that this line of thinking was correct because of his own experiences.  To be sure, his abundance of zeal to see his brothers and sisters in Christ grow is admirable.  Who was I to refuse?

I fired up a Bible program (Online Bible)* and found approximately 30 occurrences in the ESV of waiting on or waiting for the Lord.  The majority of passages were in Psalms and Isaiah with a smattering in Lamentations and the Minor Prophets.  Also, there are six to be found in Acts and the Pauline epistles.

In reviewing the context of each passage, the results fell into four general areas:
  • 1.  Impending danger from the unrighteous has caused the person to request rescue, resting on the assurance that God is faithful to deliver.  Justice will come, but in the Lord's own time (Psa 52:9).
  • 2.  The manipulations of the unrighteous are compared to the quiet assurance of the righteous.  There is no immediate threat but an acknowledgment of God's care (Psa 25:3, 5, 21; 27:14; 31:24; 37:7, 9, 34; 62:1, 5; Pro 20:22; Isa 40:31; 51:5).
  • 3.  The nation or the individual is acknowledging the consequences of sin and is looking to the Lord to do what is right according to his character (Psa 38:15; 106:13; 130:5; Isa 33:2; 64:4; Jer 3:25-26; Lam 3:25-26; Hos 12:6; Mic 7:7).
  • 4.  God's people are to have a long-range approach to life, always looking for the final coming of Messiah with the resulting resurrection and righteous reign (Isa 26:8; 49:23; Zeph 3:8; Rom 8:23-25; 1 Cor 1:7; Gal 5:5; 1 Thess 1:10).
One might disagree with how these are classified, however, the clear conclusion is that waiting on the Lord is a patient expectation for him to fulfill the commands, statutes, precepts, and promises he has revealed through the prophets and apostles.  These words are certain being God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16) and therefore firmly established in his high and holy name (Heb 6:13). God's word alone illuminates the heart and mind of man (Psa 119:105; John 3:19-21).

The experience of man cannot serve as a measuring rod for life.  The heart—even that of the believer—is deceitful and sick (Jer 17:9) and prone to following every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14).  It is to keep unity in the faith (i.e., doctrine and practice) that the Lord gave gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers (Eph 4:11-13).  God wisely designed each person to feel and exhibit emotions as ways of rejoicing in are coping with the circumstances of life, but they make terrible guides.  Something more solid is needed.
Psalm 19:7-14
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

* My preference for quick searches.  I also have Logos, but that takes longer to boot up.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ignorance of the Law Is No Excuse

Ignorantia juris non excusat is a legal principle holding that a person is liable whether or not the offender knows that law exists.  Mankind does not like a strict, disciplinarian, all-or-nothing approach to governance.  Guilt remains, though a judge may be lenient in the administration of judgment because of ignorance or in cases of mental deficiency or incapacity.  Martin Luther noticed this when he wrote: "In the affairs of government there is room for invincible ignorance, as when someone is at fault because he is encumbered by sickness or is insane" (Lectures on Genesis, Gen 12:17).  Where leniency goes awry is in the application.  Attempting to mitigate the effects of our wrongful actions to our fellow man, we excuse ourselves by claiming ignorance or diminished mental capacity in hopes of escaping the due penalty for willful actions.  What is meant to administer mercy in justice becomes a weapon to allow unbridled expression of our innate depravity.

The same principle of inexcusable culpability is in effect before God.  He has established a law consistent with his character against which all offenses are capital.  The first statute imposed on humanity was simple and clear: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:17).  Obedience is required; disobedience carries the death penalty.  As the Lord continued to reveal more of himself through his commands, the norm never changed.  Man responded by excusing himself rather than acknowledging the problem.  Luther continued:
But these ideas [of invincible ignorance] should not be carried over into religion and matters of conscience.  We are born with the blindness of original sin.  That evil is invincible in the sense that it holds even the regenerate captive; but this does not make it excusable, the way the scholastics have declared invincible ignorance excusable, so that it directly excuses…, that is, does away with sin entirely.)
Ibid, Lectures on Genesis

The reasoning went like this: if the nature of the offense and its penalty could be sufficiently ignored, it never existed at all.  But while people and nations have done this to one another on a regular basis, "God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Gal 6:7).  You and I are guilty, without excuse.

To deal with both the demands of the law and our inability and unwillingness to abide by it, God the Son took on our human nature, fulfilled all the righteous requirements, and freely accepted in himself the full penalty due to us (Rom 3:21-26;1 Pet 3:18).  This he did, not because we deserved any of it, but because he loves us (John 3:16; Rom 5:8).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sermon Illustration Is Not Abstract Art

When used appropriately and sparingly, allegories delight, stimulate, and remove tedium, which is why they are especially well suited for sermon openings.  One must work tirelessly to make allegories appropriate, firstly and foremost that they be analogous to the faith.… Be sure, however, not to search too far for allegories, for then they will be crude and inane.  Be sure they do not militate against the chief parts of the historical account that we want to treat allegorically.  Do not dwell on them longer than they deserve; instead, approach them gracefully, simply touching upon them with a few words subtly and discreetly.  Let them not be too intricate or perplexing.  In short, it is not for everyone to appropriately and fittingly use allegories. Those who are less practiced in them should proceed soberly and prudently.  Those who make use of allegories hastily and without discernment can easily propose something that the learned will contemn, the vicious will mock, and that will cause the weak to stumble.  Undoubtedly Origen was rebuked by the ancients on this charge.

Johann Gerhard, On Interpreting Sacred Scripture

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Holy God Deserves Holy Worship

If you have followed this blog much, then you know my passion for the dignity of worship.  Yesterday morning I read a post by Ryan Ogrodowicz that in many ways expressed my thoughts in this area.  The thesis of the piece is that from the first "Let there be…" God has ordered his creation in a particular way for a purpose: this includes holiness in worship.  There is a pattern laid down in the Pentateuch that reflects this very thing.
The above categories existed for the relationship between God and his people.  Tangible holiness was in the midst of the congregation; a holy God dwelt amongst his people set apart to be his own.  Since the fall, there is a problem for sinners regarding holiness, namely God is holy and man is not.  Man is defiled by sin and in need of divine holiness and purity only God provides.  The distinctions between clean and unclean, holy and profane, come from the God’s overarching injunction in Scripture for holiness: "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev 19:2).  Holiness needs separation from the unclean, as seen in the reason God gives for keeping his consecrated people apart from her neighbors: "You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine" (Lev 20:26).
These words should cause the Christian to consider how they approach worship, not because we need to undertake the same details described for the sanctuary rituals, but because
the essence of God’s holiness hasn’t changed and neither has the sinner.  God is as holy today as He was for ancient Israel, and humanity is just as sinful today as in the years B.C.  We must not forget the God we worship is a holy God, a "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29).  Christian worship involves gathering in the holy name of Jesus Christ; our holy God is in our midst as we serve him in faith receiving the holiness he imparts by his word.  While not having holy relics, we have something far greater in that we have the holy word of God, the "most holy" of relics.  Luther: "the Word of God is the true holy relic above all holy objects. Indeed, it is the only one we Christians know and have."  When the word of God is on the scene, Christ and his holiness are present.  In short, we still encounter a holy God when we worship, and we are still sinners gathered to receive the forgiveness and sanctification he promises to impart by his grace through faith in Jesus.
The remainder compares contemporary and liturgical worship, so you may therefore be uninterested.  The principles, however, are apropos for Christians of any stripe.  Our worship reflects the God (or god) we follow.  May our local assemblies be worshiping the only true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—demonstrating it according to his desire.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Approach the Scriptures with Humility

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.  (Psalm 119:18)

The Holy Scriptures require a humble reader who shows reverence and fear toward the Word of God and constantly says, "Teach me, teach me, teach me!"  The Spirit resists the proud.  Though they study diligently and some preach Christ purely for a time, nevertheless God excludes them from the church if they're proud.  Therefore every proud person is a heretic, if not actually, then potentially.  However, it's difficult for a man who has excellent gifts not to be arrogant.  Those whom God adorns with great gifts he plunges into the most severe trials in order that they may learn that they're nothing.  Paul got a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being haughty.…  Pride drove the angel out of heaven and spoils many preachers.  Accordingly it's humility that's needed in the study of sacred literature.

Martin Luther, Table Talk 5017

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Please Your Neighbor to Build Him Up

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Rom 15:1-2)

Yesterday in our Bible study, we were discussing Romans 15:1-7.  The passage is the summation of what Paul has been teaching on the application to "present you bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and more directly how to love your neighbor (Rom 13:9-10).  Notice that the direct context is the gathering and fellowship of believers.  At those times, the stronger believer has an obligation to not just salve a fellow Christian's conscience, but act in accord with whatever will build up that person in the faith.  John Chrysostom nicely points out these things:

  • "We who are strong, ought"—it is "we ought," not "we are so kind as to."  What is it we ought to do?—"to bear with the failings of the weak."
  • See how he has roused their attention by his praises, not only by calling them powerful, but also by putting them alongside of himself.  And not by this only, but by the advantage of the thing he again allures them, and by its not being burdensome.  "For you," he says, "are powerful, and are no bit the worse for condescending.  But to him the hazard is of the last consequence, if he is not borne with.  And he does not say the failing, but the "failings of the weak," so drawing him and bending him to mercy.  As in another place too he says, "You who are spiritual restore him.” (Gal. 6:1)  Have you become powerful?  Render a return to God for making you so; and render it you will if you set the weakness of the sickly right.  For we too were weak, but by grace we have become powerful.  And this we are to do not in this case only, but also in the case of those who are weak in other respects.  As, for instance, if any be passionate, or insolent, or has any such like failing bear with him.  And how is this to be?  Listen to what comes next.  For after saying "we ought to bear," he adds, "and not to please ourselves."
  • But what he says is this.  Are you powerful?  Let the weak explore your power.  Let him come to know your strength; please him.  And he does not merely say please, but for his good, and not merely for his good, lest the advanced person should say,  "See I am drawing him to his good!" but he adds, "to build him up."  And so if you are rich or powerful, do not please yourself, but the poor and the needy, because in this way you will at once have true glory to enjoy, and be doing much service.  For glory from things of the world soon flies away, but that from things of the Spirit is abiding, if you do it to edification.  Therefore of all men he requires this.  For it is not this and that person that is to do it, but "each of you."
Homilies on Romans, 27

All who are strong have this obligation to allow the weak to test the greatness of the faith that the Spirit has given and to see the patience and humility the strong are expected to exhibit.  Self-seeking is an affront, yet even while gathered for the purpose of worship and instruction, we allow this sin to burst forth.  We enjoy pleasing ourselves: it feels good, and we want it to continue.  But this is not the way of Christ who willing bore our reproach, therefore let us confess that this works in us, both as individuals and a group, and allow God, the source of endurance and encouragement to so move
to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Rom 15:5-6)
With the result of welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you—dead in sin, children of wrath, weak in our efforts—for the glory of God.  (Rom 15:7)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Only Sinners Can Be Saved

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)

Thus although the message of the Gospel is universal, only those who believe in Christ become active sharers of the goods promised and offered in the Gospel; serious contrition comes before this faith and its handmaid is good works.  Thus they who are influenced by no feeling and hatred of sin but go on in sin securely and yet still have the conviction that the Gospel promises belong to them commit a kind of sacrilege.  About these someone might, and not without merit, declare that the Gospel is preached as a witness against them.  This is a very shameful abuse of the Gospel in these last times of the world.  Alas! This attitude is so strong that almost all hope for a remedy has been removed, although all Scripture declares the Gospel message pertains only to those who experience true repentance, who grieve steadfastly over their sins, and seek anxiously to be freed from them.
  • Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Matt. 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31)
  • The poor have the Gospel preached to them. (Matt. 11:5).
  • Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)
Thus John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles always gave the message of repentance before they preached the Gospel.  Christ does not enter into people’s hearts through the grace of the Gospel unless John first prepares the way for Him through repentance.  God does not pour out the oil of His mercy except into a contrite vessel.

Johann Gerhard, On the Gospel

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Righteousness Is Only Found in Believing Christ

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  (Rom 10:4)

See the judgment of Paul.… He shows that there is but one righteousness, and that has its full issue in this.  And he that has taken to himself this, the one by faith, has fulfilled that also.  But he that rejects this, falls short as well of that also.  For if Christ is "the end of the Law," he who has not Christ, even if he seems to have that righteousness, has it not.  But he who has Christ, even though he has not fulfilled the Law correctly, has received the whole.…  For what was the object of the Law?  To make man righteous.  But it had not the power, for no one fulfilled it.  This then was the end of the Law and to this it looked throughout, and for this all its parts were made—its feasts, and commandments, and sacrifices, and all besides—that man might be justified.  But this end Christ gave a fuller accomplishment of through faith.  Be not then afraid, he says, as if transgressing the Law in having come over to the faith.  For you do transgress it then, when for it you do not believe Christ.  If you believe in Him, then you have fulfilled it also, and much more than it commanded.  For you have received a much greater righteousness.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans 10

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Let Us Offer the Well-Pleasing Sacrifice

For see, we have our victim on high, our priest on high, our sacrifice on high: let us bring such sacrifices as can be offered on that altar, no longer sheep and oxen, no longer blood and fat.  All these things have been done away; and there has been brought in their stead "the reasonable service." (Rom. 12:1)  But what is "the reasonable service?"  Those through the soul; those made through the spirit.  ("God," it is said, "is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth"— John 6:24); things which have no need of a body, no need of instruments, nor of special places, wherein each one is himself the priest, such as, moderation, temperance, mercy, enduring ill-treatment, long-suffering, humbleness of mind.

These sacrifices one may see in the Old Testament also, shadowed out beforehand.
Offer to God a sacrifice of righteousness (Ps. 4:5)
Offer a sacrifice of praise (Ps. 50:14)
A sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me (Ps. 50:23)
The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit (Ps. 51:17)
What does the Lord require of you (Mic. 6:8) but to hearken to Him?
Burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin you have had no pleasure in: then I said, Lo I come to do your will, O God! (Ps. 40:6-7)
To what purpose do you bring the incense from Sheba? (Jer. 6:20)
Take away from me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your viols. (Amos 5:23)
I will have mercy and not sacrifice. (Hos 6:6)
You see with what kind of "sacrifices God is well pleased." (Hos. 13:16)  You see also that already from the first the one class have given place, and these have come in their stead.  These therefore let us bring….  And as much as a man is superior to a sheep, so much is this sacrifice superior to that; for here you offer your soul as a victim.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews 11.5