Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glory in the Marvelous Providence of God

By those instances then which we have brought forward from the gospel records we can very clearly perceive that God brings salvation to mankind in diverse and innumerable methods and inscrutable ways, and that He stirs up the course of some, who are already wanting it, and thirsting for it, to greater zeal, while He forces some even against their will, and resisting.  And that at one time He gives his assistance for the fulfillment of those things which he sees that we desire for our good, while at another time He puts into us the very beginnings of holy desire, and grants both the commencement of a good work and perseverance in it.  Therefore it comes that in our prayers we proclaim God as not only our Protector and Savior, but actually as our Helper and Sponsor.  For whereas He first calls us to Him, and while we are still ignorant and unwilling, draws us towards salvation, He is our Protector and Savior, but whereas when we are already striving, He is gwont to bring us help, and to receive and defend those who fly to Him for refuge, He is termed our Sponsor and Refuge.

Finally the blessed Apostle when revolving in his mind this manifold bounty of God’s providence, as he sees that he has fallen into some vast and boundless ocean of God’s goodness, exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”*  Whoever then imagines that he can by human reason fathom the depths of that inconceivable abyss, will be trying to explain away the astonishment at that knowledge, at which that great and mighty teacher of the gentiles was awed. For if a man thinks that he can either conceive in his mind or discuss exhaustively the dispensation of God whereby He works salvation in men, he certainly impugns the truth of the Apostle’s words and asserts with profane audacity that His judgments can be scrutinized, and His ways searched out. This providence and love of God therefore, which the Lord in His unwearied goodness permits to show us, He compares to the tenderest heart of a kind mother, as He wishes to express it by a figure of human affection, and finds in His creatures no such feeling of love, to which he could better compare it.  And He uses this example, because nothing dearer can be found in human nature, saying: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  But not content with this comparison He at once goes beyond it, and adds these words: “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”†

John Cassian, Conference XIII: On the Protection of God, 17

* Romans 11:33-34
† Isaiah 49:15

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wrath and Grace—The Same God Pours Out Both

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.  (Ex 20:5-6)

Although these words relate to all the commandments (as we shall hereafter learn), yet they are joined to this chief commandment because it is of first importance that men have a right head; for where the head is right, the whole life must be right, and vice versa.  Learn, therefore, from these words how angry God is with those who trust in anything but Him, and again, how good and gracious He is to those who trust and believe in Him alone with the whole heart;* so that His anger does not cease until the fourth generation, while, on the other hand, His blessing and goodness extend to many thousands, lest you live in such security and commit yourself to chance, as men of brutal heart, who think that it makes no great difference how they live.  He is a God who will not leave it unavenged if men turn from Him, and will not cease to be angry until the fourth generation, even until they are utterly exterminated.  Therefore He is to be feared, and not to be despised.† … Let every one seriously take this to heart, lest it be regarded as though a man had spoken it.  For to you it is a question either of eternal blessing, happiness, and salvation, or of eternal wrath, misery, and woe.  What more would you have or desire than that He so kindly promises to be yours with every blessing, and to protect and help you in all need?

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: 31-34, 41

*  Deuteronomy 6:5
†  Deuteronomy 10:20

Friday, June 20, 2014

O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee

Someone on the internet made a comment about how he had been considering the love surrounding Christ’s incarnation. Another person replied with a link to this hymn pointing out verse four, which considered the same thought.  This is a wonderful hymn.  Take some time and consider the God who did such great things for you.

If a person desired, minor editing could be applied to update language for modern use, but a case could be made for leaving it as is.  Now if only Chris Tomlin, Matt Redmond, etc. could deliver the same depth and breadth of content in their lyrics.
1. O Lord, how shall I meet Thee,
How welcome Thee aright?
Thy people long to greet Thee,
My Hope, my heart's Delight!
O kindle, Lord, most holy,
Thy lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please Thee best.
6. Ye need not toil nor languish
Nor ponder day and night
How in the midst of anguish
Ye draw Him by your might.
He comes, He comes all willing,
Moved by His love alone,
Your woes and troubles stilling;
For all to Him are known.
2. Thy Zion strews before Thee
Green boughs and fairest palms,
And I, too, will adore Thee
With joyous songs and psalms.
My heart shall bloom forever
For Thee with praises new
And from Thy name shall never
Withhold the honor due.
7. Sin’s debt, that fearful burden,
Let not your souls distress;
Your guilt the Lord will pardon
And cover by His grace.
He comes, for men procuring
The peace of sin forgiven,
For all God’s sons securing
Their heritage in heaven.
3. I lay in fetters, groaning,
Thou com’st to set me free;
I stood, my shame bemoaning,
Thou com’st to honor me;
A glory Thou dost give me,
A treasure safe on high,
That will not fail or leave me
As earthly riches fly.
8. What though the foes be raging,
Heed not their craft and spite;
Your Lord, the battle waging,
Will scatter all their might.
He comes, a King most glorious,
And all His earthly foes
In vain His course victorious
Endeavor to oppose.
4. Love caused Thy incarnation,
Love brought Thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling,
That led Thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race!
9. He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to His foes,
A Light of consolations
And blessed Hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth Thy beams so cheering,
And guide us safely home.
5. Rejoice, then, ye sad-hearted,
Who sit in deepest gloom,
Who mourn o'er joys departed
And tremble at your doom.
Despair not, He is near you,
Yea, standing at the door,
Who best can help and cheer you
And bids you weep no more.
Text: Matt. 21:1-9
Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653
Composer: Melchior Teschner, 1613

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Continue in What You Have Learned and Firmly Believed

I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.  (Psalm 119:15-16)
[W]e should feel sufficiently constrained by the command of God alone, who solemnly commands in Deuteronomy 6:6ff that we should always meditate upon His precepts, sitting, walking, standing, lying down, and rising, and have them before our eyes and in our hands as a constant mark and sign.  Doubtless He did not so solemnly require and enjoin this without a purpose; but because He knows our danger and need, as well as the constant and furious assaults and temptations of devils, He wishes to warn, equip, and preserve us against them, as with a good armor against their fiery darts and with good medicine against their evil infection and suggestion.  Oh, what mad, senseless fools are we that, while we must ever live and dwell among such mighty enemies as the devils are, we nevertheless despise our weapons and defense, and are too lazy to look at or think of them!

Martin Luther, Large Catechism: Introduction 14-15

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who Has the Keys?

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:17-18)

This is not the property of Peter alone, but it came about on behalf of every man.  Having said that his confession is a rock, he stated that upon this rock I will build my church.  This means that he will build his church upon this same confession and faith.  For this reason, addressing the one who first confessed him with this title, on account of his confession he applied to him this authority, too, as something that would become his, speaking of the common and special good of the church as pertaining to him alone.  It was for this confession, which was going to become the common property of all believers, that he bestowed upon him this name, the rock.  In the same way also Jesus attributes to him the special character of the church, as though it existed beforehand in him on account of his confession.  By this he shows, in consequence, that this is the common good of the church, since also the common element of the confession was to come to be first in Peter.  This then is what he says, that in the church would be the key of the kingdom of heaven.  If anyone holds the key to this, to the church, in the same way he will also hold it for all heavenly things.  He who is counted as belonging to the church and is recognized as its member is a partaker and an inheritor of heaven.  He who is a stranger to it, whatever his status may be, will have no communion in heavenly things.  To this very day the priests of the church have expelled those who are unworthy by this saying and admitted those who have become worthy by repentance.

Theodore of Mopsuestia

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Prevents You?

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”  (Acts 8:36)

Imitate the eunuch.  He found an instructor on the road, and he did not spurn instruction; but although he was a rich man, he caused the poor man to mount into his chariot: a grand and splendid courtier placed at his side a private individual, on whom others would look with contempt; and when he had learned the gospel of the kingdom, he embraced the faith with his heart, and did not delay to receive the seal of the Spirit.  For when they drew nigh to a stream, “behold,” he says, “here is water,” thus showing his great joy: behold what is required: what prevents me from being baptized?  Where the will is ready, there is no obstacle: for He that calls us, loves mankind, the minister is at hand, and the grace is abundant.  Let the desire be sincere, and every obstacle will vanish.  There is only one to hinder us, he who blocks up the path of salvation, but whom by prudence we can overcome.  He causes us to tarry: let us rise to the work; he deludes us by vain promises: let us not be ignorant of his devices.  For does he not suggest to commit sin today, and persuade us to defer justice till tomorrow?  Wherefore the Lord, to defeat his perverse suggestions, says to us: “Today, if you hear my voice.”  He says: today for me, tomorrow for God.  The Lord cries out: “Today hear my voice.”  Mark the enemy: he does not dare counsel us utterly to abandon God, (for he knows that this were shocking to Christians,)* but by fraudulent stratagems he attempts to effect his purpose.  He is cunning in evil doing: he perceives that we live for the present time, and all our actions regard it.  Stealing from us, then, artfully today, he leaves us to hope for tomorrow.  Then when tomorrow comes, the wicked distributor of time appears again, claiming the day for himself, and leaving tomorrow to the Lord; and thus perpetually, by using the bait of pleasure to secure for himself the present time, and proposing the future to our hopes, he takes us out of life by surprise.

Basil of Ceasarea, Exhortation to Baptism, 5

*  Basil applies the term here to catechumens, persons professing faith in Christ, but not yet baptized.

Friday, June 13, 2014

… And He Died

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.  (Gen 5:21-24)

People often look at chapter 5 of Genesis and are amazed at how long everyone lived. Yet the point of the chapter is not the long lives, but the death which man cannot avoid.  Even though men lived much longer, death reigned over them.  Men still pursue long life but cannot avoid death.  God had created men to live but human rebellion brought only death instead of a better way of life.

Why does death hold us so fast?  We are bound fast by God’s that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  What is to free us from this sentence of death?  Our only hope is in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who was willing to become one with us to free us from the curse of the Law.  Jesus subjected Himself to the power of death that through Him death might be destroyed.  No descendant of Adam could free himself from the power of death, yet Christ, the Second Adam, came to give us life.

In the midst of all this death, Enoch is born in the seventh generation as a message of hope.  In this “generation of the Sabbath,” God gives rest to a son of Adam who is under the curse.  Enoch, whose name means “one trained up” (like a child in Prov. 22:6) or “dedicated” (like the temple in 1 Kings 8:63), has been taught to trust in  the Promise.  Enoch walked with God, that is, he lived by faith in the righteousness of the coming Savior, as did Noah (6:8-9) and Abram (15:6).  Enoch’s 365 years remind us of the days in each year and how quickly the days of our lives pass away.  Here God promises that the days of our lives are numbered and He will give true rest from all our labors.  God takes Enoch’s body away from the grip of death to testify that our bodies are His temple, set apart in Holy Baptism.  In this one man we see the abundance of the grace of God revealed.  This grace of God is now graciously extended to all men through the one Man, Jesus Christ.  The shortness of the days of Enoch reminds us that real life is only given through faith in this one Man who conquered death by His own death.

Enoch’s son, Methuselah, is not to be envied.  The length of his days only returns him to the burden of sinful existence and death.  Methuselah means “the sent male.”  Enoch had sent his son to proclaim the news of God’s grace, just as Jesus sent out his ministers of the Gospel to proclaim salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.  The “good news” for Methuselah was not his 969 years but the saving grace of God in Christ for eternity.

Karl Fabrizius, Gottestiendst, Vol. 22.1

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Will You Receive Undeserved Bliss or Just Desserts?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.… And [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.  (Matt 25:31-33)

For all, the righteous and the unrighteous alike, shall be brought before God the Word.  For the Father has committed all judgment to Him, and in fulfillment of the Father’s counsel, He comes as Judge whom we call Christ.…  He, in administering the righteous judgment of the Father to all, assigns to each what is righteous according to his works.  And being present at His judicial decision, all, both men and angels and demons, shall utter one voice, saying, “Righteous is your judgment.”*  Of which voice the justification will be seen in the awarding to each that which is just; since to those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment.  And the fire which is unquenchable and without end awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which dies not, and which does not waste the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain.†  No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no voice of interceding friends will profit them.  For neither are the righteous seen by them any longer, nor are they worthy of remembrance.  But the righteous will remember only the righteous deeds by which they reached the heavenly kingdom….  You who believe these words, O men, will be partakers with the righteous, and will have part in these future blessings, which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”‡  To Him be the glory and the power, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Hippolytus, Against Plato, on the Cause of the Universe 3

*  Psalm 119:137
†  Isaiah 66:24
‡  1 Corinthians 2:9

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Victor Returns with Honor

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  (Psalm 110:1)

All these things are brought about in us by Christ, the Lord who, before He returned to heaven, made this promise to His disciples: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.*  Thus it must be believed that Christ has ascended to the Father when we see that the Helper has descended upon the apostles.  It must be believed, I tell you, that He sits at the right hand of God, as David says of the Savior, because we see the Holy Spirit, as the Lord promised, exulting in the disciples.  Consequently, the prophetic psalm says: The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand.†  According to our custom, the right of sitting is offered to one who, like a victor returning from having accomplished a great deed, deserves to be seated for the sake of honor.  And so the man Jesus Christ, who overcame the devil by His suffering and unlocked the underworld by His resurrection, returning to heaven like a victor after having accomplished a great deed, hears from God the Father: Sit at my right hand.  And it is not to be wondered at that sitting on the same seat is offered to the Son by the Father, since by nature He is of one substance with the Father.  But perhaps someone is puzzled that the Son is said to be on the right.  For although there are no degrees of dignity where the fullness of divinity is concerned, nonetheless the Son is on the right, not because He is preferred to the Father, but so that He not be believed to be inferior.  And the Son is on the right because, according to the Gospel, the sheep will be gathered on the right but the goats on the left.  It is necessary, therefore, that the first lamb occupy the place of the sheep and that the unsullied leader come before the unsullied flock that will follow Him, as John says in the Apocalypse: It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.  It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.‡  Therefore the prophet David says: The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand.  That is to say, the Lord who is Father offers the lofty seat of His throne to the Lord God Christ, who is His Son, and for the sake of honor He places Him at His right hand on an eternal seat.

Maximus of Turin, Sermon 40, 2

*  John 14:16-17
†  Psalm 110:1
‡  Revelation 14:4

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sunday Morning: Hanging Out or Showing Honor?

I have recently finished reading one book on liturgy and am about to dive into another.  Christians can and will disagree on the degree of formality in liturgy.  From formality based on desire for adherence to historical and denominational norms to informality derived from freedom in the gospel and the lack of specific texts in God’s word, a case can be made both directions after weighing factors of culture, literacy, biblical knowledge, historicity, etc. for the proper place and use of formal elements.

One factor I have noticed in my reading on liturgy (formal or informal) is the level of care and concern godly spiritual leaders over the centuries have had for worship.  In creating structure, they took pains to ensure that the overall movement (scripture lesson prior to Lord’s Supper), responsive readings, prayers, music, and movements worked together to as a unit to reinforce both the rightful place of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) with respective persons and work in the plan of redemption acknowledged and praised.  The original intent of the framers was always to fulfill a need based on solid doctrine and scriptural practices.

Aberrations entered both early and through the centuries necessitating changes in liturgy to accommodate alterations in doctrine and church polity.  One might ask what brought on the errors and allowed them to take so prominent role.  While the sinfulness of man and the ongoing work of Satan stand foremost, a subtle over-arching factor derived from these was the relative ease enjoyed by the church.  Consider this for a moment: moments of doctrinal clarity came during periods of great internal or external pressure—sometimes both.  During times of relative ease, error made its way more freely under the guise of inquiry or speculation.  The Church became comfortable and casual; doctrine and practice followed suit.

How does this past practice compare with today?  Western Christianity has enjoyed great ease in this world, so much so that we lack a sense of what is important.  The same comfortable and casual attitude described above permeates most every church body.  How do I know?  There are multitude examples among the celebrity pastor set, but they can be found in your backyard, maybe in your own body of believers.  Is every part of worship pointing to the Sovereign of the universe, or does it cater to me/us?  What comes from the pulpit?  Is it the terrors of Law and of God followed by the free gift of grace through Jesus Christ and sweet consolation of sins redeemed?  Review what is taught in Sunday School.  What or who is the focus?  Is it me or the Lord Jesus?  Does the congregation come with a lackadaisical attitude toward worship or with an expectation that God is present who is to be feared, or do we treat Hebrews 4:16 more like: Let us then casually draw near to the throne of grace, that we may hang out and feel loved in time of need?

Burnell Eckhardt wrote recently:
A people who have grown accustomed to being comfortable will be less inclined to take biblical injunctions against certain cultural trends seriously.  Do we still intend to maintain that homosexuality is sinful, or that women are ineligible to serve as pastors?  If your goal was to make people feel comfortable when they come to church, beware: such teaching might not fit that goal.  (Gottesdienst, Vol. 22.1)
How we treat God, how we view worship is directly related to the instruction received.  Each believer has an obligation to come before the Lord, both privately and corporately, with respect and honor.  That is His due and our privilege.  Teachers, do you prepare to effectively teach the lesson?  Preachers, do you teach the whole counsel of God concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment or offer up platitudes to not scare of the “unchurched?”

Comfortable and casual is good on vacation or other times when relaxation is in order, but the gathering of the church is not the place.  Coming into the Lord’s presence with singing, into His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise (Psa 100:2, 4) requires acknowledgement that he made us and we are His (Psa 100:3).  The Lord alone is good and has steadfast love and unending faithfulness (Psa 100:5).  Why not treat Sunday with the greatest honor?  We have an audience with our Redeemer and King.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Semper Paratus (Always Prepared)

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  (2 Tim 4:2)

Nothing that happens out of season wins compliments.  So Paul urges Timothy to preach not idly and to no purpose, but to consider every time suited to it.  It was his own practice in prison, at sea, at table.  The events in Philippi, in Troas, and at sea testify to this.  The wise surgeon does this, too.  They operate on the hidden problem first, and use the harsher remedies, and only then apply the milder ones.  So reprove is like the surgery, rebuke is like the more concentrated remedies, and exhortation like the milder ones.

Theodoret of Cyrus, “The Second Letter to Timothy”