Friday, May 26, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday of Easter

From “Maestà” by Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.” (Jn 17:1–2)

But what is the meaning of “You have given Him power over all flesh”? I will ask the heretics, “When did He receive this power? Was it before He formed them, or after?” He himself says that it was after He had been crucified and had risen again. At least then He said, “All power is given unto Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”* What then? Did He not have authority over His own works? Did He make them and yet not have authority over them after having made them? Yet He is seen doing all in times of old, punishing some as sinners, (for it says, “Surely I will not hide from My servant Abraham, that which I am about to do”)† and honoring others as righteous. Is it that He the power at that time but now had lost it, but He would receive it again? What devil could assert this? But if His power was the same both then and now, (for, He says, “as the Father raises up the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whomever He will,”‡ what is the meaning of the words? He was about to send them to the Gentiles. In order therefore that they might not think that this was an innovation, because He had said, “I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,”§ He shows that this seems good to the Father also.… But what is “of all flesh”? For certainly not all believed. Yet, for His part, all believed. And if men gave no heed to His words, the fault was not in the teacher, but in those who did not receive them.

John Chrysostom Homilies on the Gospel of John 80.1–2

*  Matthew 28:18–19
†  Genesis 18:7 LXX
‡  John 5:21
§  Matthew 15:24

Friday, May 19, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday of Easter

If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:15–17)

He says: I will confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that you may always have Him with you to teach you the truth. He speaks of another Advocate, as of another instructor, a comforter. This is a doctrine for those in dire straits, because the Spirit, through His grace, will make the afflictions inflicted on them by people lighter. And, as a consolation, through His gifts, He will enable them to easily endure their afflictions. This is what actually happened. Indeed, the more His disciples feared death before, the more they rejoiced in tribulations after the descent of the Spirit. He calls Him “Spirit of truth” since He teaches nothing but the truth, nor can He ever change to the contrary in order to teach anything different from the truth. He says “another” in relation to Himself, for while He was among them, He certainly filled the same role for them. In addition they received from the Holy Spirit the confirmation of all those things that He had taught them when He was present. Thus our Lord said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in all Judea and among the Samaritans, and all nations.”

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on John

Monday, May 15, 2017

Profitable Posts

I have not posted miscellaneous links to worthwhile posts and articles for a spell. Here are a few that I have been saving.

Joe Willman reinforces the idea that songs effectively convey a message, whether truth or error, recommending the use of hymns in the home. (This is why I so strongly advocate the greatest discernment for music in corporate worship.)

In the same vein, Jeff Meyer offers his thoughts on who (and what) shapes our worship.

Concerning worship topics, Uri Brito has two posts. The first gives ideas for reintroducing the creeds to our worship where they are missing, and the second deals with the hard work of worship.

Jason Helopoulos, in an older piece recently sent to me, presents the rationale from a Reformed perspective for an element of corporate worship missing in most assemblies—a corporate confession of sin.

Michael Kruger offers a reminder and antidote for those occasions when someone says, “God told me…”

Finally, Michael Horton reminds us why we should pray for our city—and it has nothing to do with political ends.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:12–14)

Plainly now He, being Very God, says that He will accept exceeding readily the prayers of His own people, and will supply right gladly whatever things they desire to receive, meaning of course spiritual gifts and such as are worthy of heavenly generosity. And not as the agent of another’s benevolence, nor yet as promoting another’s kindness, does He say such things—but as, with the Father, having all things in His power; and as Himself being the One through Whom are all things, both from us to God, and to us from Him.… Notwithstanding, it is by the Father through the Son that all good things are accomplished for the worthy, and the distribution of the Divine gifts is made; through the Son, I say, not as accepted in the rank of a servant, as we have already explained, but as conceived to be Co-Giver and Co-Supplier, and moreover as being truly so. For the nature of the Godhead is one, and also is believed so to be. For although it is extended to Father and Son and to the Holy Spirit, yet it has no absolute and entire severance; I mean, into each of the Persons indicated. For we shall be orthodox in believing that the Son is naturally both of the Father and in the Father, and that the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, that is, the Holy Spirit, is both of and in the Father. So then, for as much as the Godhead of Their nature both is and is conceived of as One, Their gifts will be supplied to the worthy through the Son from the Father in the Spirit, and our offerings will be carried to God manifestly through the mediation of the Son: for no one comes unto the Father but through Him, as to be sure He also Himself fully confesses. So then the Son both has become and is the Door and the Way as well of our friendship as of our progress towards God the Father, and the Co-Giver as well as Distributor of His bounty, for as much as it proceeds from a single and common generosity. For one is the nature of the Godhead in the person and substance both of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And for as much as it was unwonted in a way with them of old time, and as yet foreign to their practice, to approach the Father through the Son, He teaches this also for our profit, and laying first in His own disciples a foundation as it were of the structure, He implants in them both faith in this and knowledge, and dispatches to ourselves instruction both how we are to pray and wherein lies our hope. For He promises that He will Himself give us what we ask in prayer—a proof of the Godhead in His nature, and of the royal authority inherent in Him.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 9.14.14

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fixing What's Broken

For awhile now, I have noticed the increase in the use of broken or brokenness in discussions on the condition of people’s health, families, relationships, etc. Even with the increased knowledge and insights of various scientific and humanitarian endeavors, the human condition continues on a continual path of disarray, deterioration, and destruction. In recent weeks I have heard a couple sermons rightly describing the multiple examples in John 11. Following the narrative, one is presented with several examples as experienced by those in Bethany—debilitating sickness, earnest longing, dwindling hope, followed by death, grief, lament, and finally resignation—all within the span of a week or so. Those examples and others like them throughout Scripture provide a rich resource from which to draw and describe sin’s devastating effects. That being stated, I have also noticed the increased trend to ignore the cause of brokenness. In other words, an otherwise well-crafted presentation pointing out our dysfunction and need for rescue never gets to the underlying cause.

Why would someone fail to mention the root cause of the problem? Is there no desire to effect real change? Is there no expectation that change can be effected? Perhaps the pastor is tempted to soften the immediacy and severity of the condition in order to appeal to a mixed group, thinking that believers do not need to be reminded of the cause, and believers will not accept the explanation. Or perhaps the pastor simply fears giving offense, which is so easily taken in this culture. Whatever the reason, the net result is that, in spite of any passionate offering of Jesus as Savior, the gospel, as defined in Scripture, is never actually given.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. (1Co 15:3–5)
Christ died for sin, so without conveying that part of the message, there is no gospel. While Jesus may be offered as a savior or the savior, in effect that Jesus merely saves from our circumstances and feelings, but not our sin. We are offered a good therapist, or a moral example to admire and emulate, not One who transfers from death to life and cleanses from all unrighteousness. In an attempt to be relevant, nothing of substance is offered. All are left to wallow in the mire of their sin.

Instead of a veiled or milquetoast presentation offered in a way that salves the conscience, better to be forthright and forceful to all concerning sin, righteousness, judgment, and abounding grace. Friedrich August Crämer, rightly understanding that the force of Law and Gospel is not to be softened or otherwise nuanced based on audience but delivered for full effect, said:
Preach the Word, which is the power of God! Picture in vivid colors the deep misery of sin, so that the hearers become alarmed at their sinful state. Then preach also the Gospel in all its sweetness, pointing the people to Christ crucified, so that they come to a living faith in their Savior.*
This he directed to believers that they be reminded of the depths of misery from sin and be spurred to share Christ as “givers who will not look on their contributions as great sacrifices, but who will thank God that they are considered worthy to help in the spread of the Gospel by which they have been saved.” Yes, all are to have their sin made apparent that repentance and refuge might be sought in Christ. May our pastors be so caring that the message goes forth boldly and clearly to deliver the cure.

*  Quoted in The Lutheran Pioneer, Vol. 31.8, August 1909.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Good Shepherd Lunette, Galla Placidia, Ravenna

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I shall not want. (Ps 23:1)

Having said in the psalm before this, “The needy eat and will be filled, and those who seek him out will praise the Lord,” and again, “All the prosperous of the earth ate and adored him,” here he suggests the the provider of such food and calls the feeder shepherd. This in fact is the name Christ the Lord gave himself: “I am the good shepherd, I know my own, and I am known by my own.”* It is also what he called himself through the prophet Ezekiel.† So here, too, all who enjoyed the saving food cry out, “The Lord shepherds me, and nothing will be wanting for me”: this shepherd regales those shepherded by him with enjoyment of good things of all kinds.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 23.1

* This reading comes from the Majority Text.
† Ezekiel 34:23.

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (Jn 10:7-10)

Them that have fled for refuge to His ruling care, and through patient endurance have mended their wayward ways, He calls “sheep,” and confesses Himself to be, to them that hear His voice and refuse to give heed to strange teaching, a “shepherd.” For “my sheep,” He says, “hear my voice.” To them that have now reached a higher stage and stand in need of righteous royalty, He is a King. And in that, through the straight way of His commandments, He leads men to good actions, and again because He safely shuts in all who through faith in Him betake themselves for shelter to the blessing of the higher wisdom, He is a Door.

So He says, “By me if any man enter in, he shall go in and out and shall find pasture.” Again, because to the faithful He is a defense strong, unshaken, and harder to break than any bulwark, He is a Rock. Among these titles, it is when He is styled Door, or Way, that the phrase “through Him” is very appropriate and plain. As, however, God and Son, He is glorified with and together with the Father, in that “at, the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Therefore we use both terms, expressing by the one His own proper dignity, and by the other His grace to us.

Basil of Ceasarea, On the Holy Spirit 7

Friday, April 28, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday of Easter

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Lk 24:25–27)

All things that are read from the Holy Scriptures in order to our instruction and salvation, it behooves us to hear with earnest heed. Yet most of all must those things be commended to our memory, which are of most force against heretics; whose insidious designs cease not to circumvent all that are weaker and more negligent. Remember that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both died for us, and rose again; died, to wit, for our offenses, rose again for our justification. Even as you have just heard concerning the two disciples whom He met with in the way, how “their eyes were restrained that they should not know Him:” and He found them despairing of the redemption that was in Christ, and deeming that now He had suffered and was dead as a man, not accounting that as Son of God He ever lives; and deeming too that He was so dead in the flesh as not to come to life again, but just as one of the prophets: as those of you who were attentive have just now heard their own words. Then “He opened to them the Scriptures, beginning at Moses,” and going through all the prophets, showing them that all He had suffered had been foretold, lest they should be more staggered if the Lord should rise again, and the more fail to believe Him, if these things had not been told before concerning Him. For the firmness of faith is in this, that all things which came to pass in Christ were foretold.… Whereby shall we believe, but by that whereby it was His will that even those who handled Him should be confirmed? For He opened to them the Scriptures and showed them that it was appropriate for Christ to suffer, and that all things should be fulfilled which were written of Him in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms. He embraced in His discourse the whole ancient text of the Scriptures. All that there is of those former Scriptures tells of Christ; but only if it find ears. He also “opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures.” From which we also must pray for this, that He would open our understanding.

Augustine, Homily on 1 John 2:12–17

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

From Which Well Are We Drinking?

Allen Cagle has posted a good piece, Should We Sing That Song? [HT: Glenn Chatfield], on gauging the appropriateness of a song for corporate worship. I have mentioned elements of the major points in the past, but I wish to consider “Association and History” (given little attention in the selection process) by using two songs that have recently become popular in corporate worship.

O Come to the Altar Resurrecting
Are you hurting and broken within
Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin
Jesus is calling
Have you come to the end of yourself
Do you thirst for a drink from the well
Jesus is calling

O come to the altar
The Father’s arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ

Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there’s no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From the ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling

(Chorus x2)

Oh what a Savior
Isn’t He wonderful
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen
Bow down before Him
For He is Lord of all
Sing alleluia, Christ is risen

(Chorus x2)

Bear your cross as you wait for the crown
Tell the world of the treasure you've found
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now
The Savior knelt to wash our feet
Now at his feet we bow

The one who wore our sin and shame
Now robed in majesty
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see

(Chorus x2)
Your name, Your name is victory
All praise will rise to Christ our king

The fear that held us now gives way
To him who is our peace
His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me


(Bridge x3)
By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
Our God has robbed the grave

(Chorus x2)


The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me

Setting aside the gratuitous repetition, what do we learn? In the left column we are presented a song asking if we are hurting, overwhelmed, or thirsting for satisfaction after bad decisions made in life. In other words, we are told that we need a good therapist. In order to be that therapist, Jesus shed blood and rose again, and when we feel bad for doing something wrong, there is a Father who wants to hug us and make us feel better. In other words, we are offered a warm, cozy feeling with the encouragement to offer worship and praise for feeling better. Oh, and we are asked to tell others they can feel better, too.

The right column the songwriter at least attempts to show a humbled, yet glorified Savior, but in questionable language. Jesus’ crown was rightly changed from thorns to glory, but He never washed our feet: The song is improperly placing us in the Upper Room account. Moving on, He indeed took our sin and shame and is now robed in majesty; however, the radiance of love is not in His exaltation, but rather His humiliation and the cross, even as the apostle Paul wrote:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Ro 5:8)
In addition, the bridge teaches a confusion of justification and sanctification by equating them in a gradual process akin to Eastern Orthodox theosis. Resurrection does not happen in stages: one is either alive or dead. Again from the apostle Paul:
And you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ep 2:1, 5)
Those in Christ are alive now, not being made alive. The process of spiritual enlivening is not prolonged or elongated, but an instantaneous and certain change from one state to another.

Songs communicate a message, and within the church the message must be true to Scripture. It is incumbent on the lyricist(s) to correctly convey what God reveals in His Word.

Why these two?

Some may wonder why I use these two songs in presenting my case. They come from the same source, Elevation Church, whose head pastor is Steven Furtick. That’s right, the Earl of Eisegesis himself is the teaching source for those writing this music. In fact, Furtick is listed on both songs as a lyricist. We can see how this is yet another example, along with Hillsong United, of bad lyrics derived from bad teaching, but dressed in catchy music and salted with enough correct wording to make it palatable.

The music and teaching of these havens of heterodoxy need to be avoided.  They make mockery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus and change the message of the cross in order to glorify the Christian—here by using the “rising from the ashes” phraseology like the mythical phoenix. No such thing is promised to the believer, but it fits the template of spiritual power and triumphalism being promoted by Steven Furtick and Brian Houston.

Christians are not the exalted ones. We are the despised and rejected, because our Lord was deemed so; and we are not greater than He.
Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long;
    We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Ps 44:22)
By singing music that comes from these sources, we are affirming a theology that is antithetical to all our Lord and Savior accomplished in Himself. These teachers and their followers present a distorted picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross for our behalf.

Lighten up, will you?

I am certain some will consider my comments to be overly harsh, especially for “Resurrecting,” since I already acknowledged some correct content. Had the songwriters used biblical concepts throughout, there would be no issue; but as certainly as someone would grow sick or die if drinking from a poisoned well, so would those suffer who imbibe at the fount of a corrupt teacher or network. Discernment is needed when choosing worship resources.

Brethren, too often we offer trifles by trying to enter where we do not belong, labor where we have no work, and exalt what is to remain abased. Instead of salving guilty consciences or engaging in self-glory, perhaps lyricists (and their consumers, the congregants) should keep their eyes on the One of whom all Scripture speaks and remember with David:
They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
    And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.
For with You is the fountain of life;
    In Your light we see light. (Ps 36:8–9)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday of Easter

Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Christ Taking Leave of His Disciples
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace to you.” And having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:19–23)

As He gives the Spirit, Christ says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” even though only one who is by nature God has the power and authority to forgive sinners for their sins. After all, who could rightly grant pardon to others for their transgression of the divine law, except the one who gave that law? You may, if you wish, see the point of my statement from human affairs. Who has the authority to alter the decrees of earthly kings, and who tries to set aside the orders issued by decree and will of the rulers except someone who is invested with royal honor and glory? Only such a person cannot be accused of breaking the law. Wise is the saying, “Whoever says to the king, ‘You are a law-breaker,’ is insolent.”* In what way, then, and in what sense did the Savior clothe His disciples with an honor that belongs to the divine nature alone? The Word, who is in the Father, could not miss the mark of what is fitting; He was quite right to do this. He thought it was fitting that they who already had the divine and royal Spirit within them also have the authority to forgive and retain the sins of whomever they want, since the Holy Spirit dwelling in them forgives and retains sins according to His own will, even though the deed may be accomplished through human beings.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

*  Job 34:18

Friday, April 14, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Easter Sunday

But after the Sabbath, at the dawning toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, a great earthquake occurred; for an angel of the Lord, having come down out of heaven, came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards were shaken for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here! For He is risen, just as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord was lying.” (Mt 28:1–6)

Our Lord is one and the same Son of God and Son of man. According to both natures, divinity and flesh, He shows signs, now of His greatness, now of His humility. This is why in the present passage, though it is a man who was crucified, buried, and shut in the tomb, whom a stone holds back in opposition, nevertheless the things that are done outside show Him to be the Son of God: the sun takes flight, darkness falls, the earth quakes, the curtain is torn, the rocks split, the dead are raised, there are services of angels, which even from the beginning of His birth proved that He was God. … The guards are completely terrified with fear. They lie there stupefied like dead men, and yet the angels console not them but the women: “Do not be afraid.” Let them be afraid, he says. Panic persists in those in whom abides unbelief. But as for you, since you are seeking the crucified Jesus, hear this: He has been resurrected and has fulfilled His promises.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Learning from the Great Preachers

This morning, Pastor Christopher Jackson had a series of tweets on Twitter (@revcjackson) that I slightly edited for posting here.

Reading the great preachers of the past (Chrysostom, Nazianzus, and Luther, in particular), I’m struck by a few things. (Oh yea, should add Walther in there too.)
  1. Their preaching is guileless and straightforward. No cutting edge sermon forms. No gimmicks. No Fordean* manipulation of the congregation. They often just jump into the text, even going verse by verse to explain the text. Illustrations are there (Luther is one of the best at illustrations, actually!), but these illustrations are ministerial rather than magisterial. They serve the exposition of the text, which in turn governs the very outline and arc of the sermon. (Again, verse by verse is common!) This also makes sense given the preaching demand they had. Preaching a couple times a day, one doesn’t have time for slick intros, etc.
  2. They weren’t afraid to repeat themselves. They seemed to understand that the apprehension of truth requires hearing it again and again. This also goes for some of their illustrations. I keep finding Luther using the “God is a doctor making us well” illustration.
  3. They weren’t as strict as modern exegetes in their hermeneutical approach. They were faithful expositors, mind you. In fact, I think in some ways more faithful than many modern exegetes. But they weren’t tied to modern methods, which I think have a way of atomizing the Scriptures. (Which is the very opposite of the Sola Scriptura principle, btw.) This occurred to me when I was in seminary choir, btw. Singing Bach and other great composers, I realized that they were making exegetical connections within the Scriptures that were at the same time incredibly illuminating but also questionable if sticking to modern exegetical methods, strictly. God is an artist. I’m siding with Bach on these matters.
  4. They didn’t follow, any of them, not even Walther, a strict Law/Gospel outline. Even Walther would at times end his sermons with scathing Law, and yet, despite that, the Gospel predominates.
  5. They weren’t afraid of moral exhortation. Sometimes it wasn’t even related to the text at hand. My favorite example was a Chrysostom sermon I read recently. In it he laid out pretty simply the meaning of the text, and then he just goes on to say: “Some of you are usurers. This is not how Christians treat others. Cut it out.”  I gather by this that he became aware of an issue in the congregation and felt beholden to address it. Which leads to the final observation:
  6. They were aware of the spiritual needs of the people, and they addressed them. Preachers need to be in their shut-ins homes, in the nursing homes, in the prisons, aware of what’s going on in people’s lives. Even aware of what’s going on at the bar down the street. (This inspired several Luther sermons!)
*  A reference to the Radical Lutheranism of Gerhard Førde.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Palm Sunday

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

          ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
          The King of Israel!” (Jn 12:12–13)

As, therefore, He has promised to give very much to those who do now bring forth fruit, according to the gift of His grace, but not according to the changeableness of “knowledge;” for the Lord remains the same, and the same Father is revealed; thus, therefore, has the one and the same Lord granted, by means of His advent, a greater gift of grace to those of a later period, than what He had granted to those under the Old Testament dispensation. For they indeed used to hear, by means of [His] servants, that the King would come, and they rejoiced to a certain extent, inasmuch as they hoped for His coming. But those who have beheld Him actually present, and have obtained liberty, and been made partakers of His gifts, possess a greater amount of grace, and a higher degree of exultation, rejoicing because of the King’s arrival: as also David says, “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord; it shall delight in His salvation” (Ps 35:9). And for this reason, upon His entrance into Jerusalem, all those who were in the way recognized David their king in His sorrow of soul, and spread their garments for Him, and ornamented the way with green boughs, crying out with great joy and gladness, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But to the envious wicked stewards, who circumvented those under them, and ruled over those that had no great intelligence, and for this reason were unwilling that the king should come, and who said to Him, “Do You hear what these say?” the Lord replied, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” (Ps 8:3)—thus pointing out that what had been declared by David concerning the Son of God, was accomplished in His own person, thus indicating that they were indeed ignorant of the meaning of the Scripture and the dispensation of God. It was He Himself who was announced by the prophets as Christ, whose name is praised in all the earth, and who perfects praise to His Father from the mouth of babes and nursing infants; therefore also His glory has been raised above the heavens.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.11.3

Friday, March 31, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn 11:25–27)

When Christ sees that she did not understand the truth about Him, He clarifies the matter and says, “I am the life,” meaning “You do not need to look for Me somewhere else or to hope that after a long time your brother will have a resurrection. I, who call people to this, am here.” The Son is life by nature, who calls all things into being and who raises everyone by His own power, not simply raising them but raising them to life. That is why He joins “life” to the word resurrection. We must note that the Lord calls Himself “life,” not just “living one,” as some godlessly dare to say about Him. There is a difference between “life” and “living one.” A “living one” is capable of receiving life, but “life” causes living, just as wisdom causes a wise person. The one receives; the other gives.

Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment #11

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Word Is Near You

Christians feel the tension between a proper relationship of trust and obedience, of faith and works.  On the one hand, we have clear instruction that the righteous live by faith (Hab 2:4; Ro 1:17); while on the other, there are clear eternal penalties for not obeying the Lord (Joh 3:36; 2Th 1:8; He 5:9).  The tendency is to uphold one side of the faith–works coin to the detriment of the other; and while a two-headed coin may be suitable to win a wager, it has no effect in spiritual matters.

“Moses Speaking to the Children of Israel” - Henry F. E. Philippoteaux
Many, if not most, Christians have the misplaced notion that anything before the Cross was salvation and redemption by works of obedience.  Nothing could be further from the truth: Moses made this clear.  After delivering blessings of faithfulness, curses for faithlessness, and blessings for repentance, he comes to the end of his teaching with a summary statement, See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil (De 30:15), followed by the only alternatives they can take.  He explains that obedience and good works flow from trust in the Holy One of Israel, whereas disbelief and disobedience lead to destruction.  We can better see the relationship of alternatives by breaking the summary paragraph apart:
Life and good:
If you obey the commandments of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God that I command you today, by loving the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lᴏʀᴅ your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  (De 30:16)
Death and evil:
But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.  You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.  (De 30:17–18)
The path of life might cause one to think that God will bless simply by following His rules: in other words, I can work my way into God’s good graces—health and wealth is mine—lending itself to the perception of works righteousness.  The way of death, however, offers the corrective: if your heart turns away, and you will not hear…. The Septuagint helps clarify by translating the beginning of verse 16: If you hear the commandments of the Lord your God…. This is not to say that one can simply listen to Scripture being read or a sermon be proclaimed and instantly be righteous as a result.  That would be like fusing together the tail sides of the previously mentioned coins—again, suitable for deception but otherwise worthless.  The problem in our understanding of Moses’ instruction comes from the English translation.  The intent is to convey the two-fold meaning of hearing and heeding, so that the comparison given by Moses is not action versus inaction, but faithfulness versus faithlessness.  When Moses entreats the people to obey, he has the idea of actively clinging to the entirety of God’s revelation to His people and allowing it to be worked out in their lives: they hear with the intent to do.

Moses did not lay this on the people in a surprise fashion at the end.  He had begun his discourses with the same message, though stated differently.
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them.  (De 5:1)
Literally speaking, Moses instructed the people to take heed so that they might keep the commandments to do them.  And it was not out of a sense of burden that the people would do this.  Moses reminded them of the unique covenant that God made at Horeb: they were the recipients of this treasure—not Abraham, not Isaac, not Jacob, but this great people.  They experienced what great things the Lord had done, and though the people feared the Lord’s presence while the Ten Commandments were proclaimed, He was pleased by their initial desire to hold fast.
And the Lᴏʀᴅ heard your words, when you spoke to me.  And the Lᴏʀᴅ said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you.  They are right in all that they have spoken.  Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”  (De 5:28–29)
Moses brought the nation to a moment of decision.  He implored them to choose God because He was their life that would be manifest in a three-part manner: loving the Lord…, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him (De 30:19; see also De 5:32).  Devotion did not serve to win the Lord’s favor or gain the Promised Land: these they already had.  Instead, the people were to live out their calling and relish the blessing in believing His abundant promises, in order that they and future generations might enjoy the blessings of the covenant relationship (De 5:33; 30:20).

The combination of hearing and doing is brought out wonderfully in Psalm 119, which demonstrates the heart and intent of the grateful follower in relation to the Scriptures:
Blessed are the blameless in the way,
    who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who search out His testimonies;
    they shall search for Him with their whole heart.
For those who work lawlessness
    do not walk in His ways.
You have commanded us regarding Your commandments,
    That we should be very diligent to keep them.
Would that my ways were led,
    that I may keep Your ordinances.
Then I would not be ashamed,
    when I regard all Your commandments.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, with an upright heart,
    when I learn the judgments of Your righteousness.
I shall keep Your ordinances;
    Do not utterly forsake me.  (Psalm 119:1-8)
The psalmist begins with an attention to blessing on those who cling to the law of the Lord.  His desire is to always receive the commandments and meditate on them so that they would lead his steps.  The verbs might cause the reader to think this is a difficult task, but the life of faith is not arduous.  Moses had told the people that no courageous or audacious effort was necessary: only believe and follow the Word of God you have been given (De 30:11-14).  Paul picks up the same theme and words in relation to Christ: all that is necessary has been accomplished (Ro 10:6-10).  Take hold of what Christ has accomplished for you: trust and walk in it.

And what does the phrase mean, “The Word is near you?”  It means, “It is easy.”  For in your mind and in your tongue is your salvation.  There is no long journey to go, no seas to sail over, no mountains to pass, to get saved.  But even if you do not intend to cross so much as the threshold, you may  be saved while you sit at home.  For “in your mouth and in your heart” is the source of salvation.  And then on another score, he also makes the word of faith easy, and says, that “God raised Him from the dead.”  For just reflect upon the worthiness of the Worker, and you will no longer see any difficulty in the thing.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans XVII

Friday, February 10, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Now the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ.  Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.  And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk.  Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  (Jonah 3:1-4)

For with respect also to the fact that He destroyed all men in the flood, with the exception of one righteous man together with his house, whom He willed to be saved in the ark, He knew indeed that they would not amend themselves.  Yet, nevertheless, as the building of the ark went on for the space of a hundred years, the wrath of God which was to come upon them was certainly preached to them: and if they only would have turned to God, He would have spared them, as at a later period He spared the city of Nineveh when it repented, after He had announced to it, by means of a prophet, the destruction that was about to overtake it.  Thus, moreover, God acts, granting a space for repentance even to those who He knows will persist in wickedness, in order that He may exercise and instruct our patience by His own example; whereby also we may know how greatly it befits us to bear with the evil in long-suffering, when we know not what manner of men they will prove hereafter, seeing that He, whose cognizance nothing that is yet to be escapes, spares them and suffers them to live.

Augustine, On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed 19.32

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Theology and Doxology

Domenico Gargiulo, “David before the Ark of the Covenant”

Theology and doxology are inseparable.  Praise of God and faith in Him must spring from speaking about God using the Word of God.  The Word's own claims of power unto salvation drive us to confess the truth of the word that we obediently convey to the world in the discipline of theology.  The Word of God is never a dead letter, rather being spirit and life, it gives life and salvation to us who are dying and by nature damned sinners.

Who, when granted such a salvation, would not break forth in paeans of glory to the God who becomes man for our sakes in Christ?  Who would not praise the one who breaks the darkness?  Who would not offer prayers to honor the God who debases Himself in our Lord Jesus for our sakes?  Theology that does not echo in prayer and praise to God is not theology but self-babble, the blather of those confined to theological navel gazing.  It is an abuse of the word theology when it is not also doxology.

Praise of God also admits the true limits of theological talk.  What God has said we may repeat.  What God has not said, we may not say.  It is neither theology nor doxology to speculate about what God has not revealed in these last days by His Son.  True praise of God thus also includes faithful acceptance of the limitations that God has placed on us to distinguish us from Him.  He knows all.  We do not.  He reveals some things about Himself to us, others He has not.  We speak of what we know.  We remain silent when we do not.  Like rests are music, silence may also be eloquent praise too.  Our speculations about God must be made in silence, that God only may be praised.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray

Friday, February 3, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

Pieter Lastman, “Jonah and the Whale”
Then Jonah prayed to the Lᴏʀᴅ his God from the belly of the fish.  He said:
I called to the Lᴏʀᴅ out of my distress,
    and He answered me.
Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and You heard my voice.
You cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me.
All Your billows and Your waves
    passed over me.
Then I said, “I am cast away
    from Your sight;
yet I will look again
    to Your holy temple.”
The waters encompassed me; even to my soul
    the deep surrounded me;
    weeds were wrapped around my head.
I went down to the foundations of the mountains;
    the earth with its bars was around me forever;
yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
    O Lᴏʀᴅ my God.

When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered the Lᴏʀᴅ;
and my prayer came to You,
    into Your holy temple.

Those who follow vain idols
    forsake their true loyalty.
But I will sacrifice to You
    with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
    Salvation is of the Lᴏʀᴅ!
Then the Lᴏʀᴅ spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon dry land.  (Jonah 2:1-10)

Finally from these depths, Jonah who was set in the whale’s belly and had entered hell alive, spoke to the Lord with silent vehemence.  The whale was a house of prayer for the prophet, a harbor for him when shipwrecked, a home amid the waves, a happy resource at a desperate time.  He was not swallowed for sustenance but to gain rest; and by a wondrous and novel precedent the beast’s belly yielded up its food unharmed, rather than consumed by the normally damaging process of digestion.  Jonah bears witness to this in his book when he says, “And the Lord commanded a great fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights,” and the rest.  In that same passage he recounted his prayers as well with prophetic truth.  What an outstandingly and wholly glorious repentance, a humility that experiences no fall, grief that rejoices people’s hearts, tears that water the soul.  Indeed this depth, which conveys us to heaven, has no inkling of hell.  So observe the power of holy prayer, believing as it does that it must be heard the more quickly, the deeper the depths from which it cried to the Lord.  So finally there follows, “Lord, hear my prayer,” for those who have buried themselves in the bowels of holy humility are all the closest to the Highest.  Thus when he prayed from the depths he quickly gained the gifts of the highest Redeemer.

Cassiodurus, Exposition on Psalm 129

Friday, January 27, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”  Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.  Therefore they called out to the Lᴏʀᴅ, “O Lᴏʀᴅ, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lᴏʀᴅ, have done as it pleased you.”  So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.  Then the men feared the Lᴏʀᴅ exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lᴏʀᴅ and made vows.  And the Lᴏʀᴅ appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  (Jonah 1:12-17)

The sailors and the passengers…do not know the reasons why the prophet, a fugitive servant, deserved to be punished.  And yet they justify God and acknowledge the blood of him whose deeds they do not know to be innocent.… They do not question the justice of the judgment of God but acknowledge the veracity of the just Judge.

Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2.23

Now when we take the blessed prophet as a type of the ministry understood in Christ, there is need to add that the whole world was at risk and the human race was affected by the tempest, as if the waves of sin itself were raging; the dire and insufferable pleasures were overwhelming it, corruption impending in the form of a storm, fierce winds buffeting it—namely, the devil and the wicked powers subject to him and working with him.  When we were in this situation, however, the Creator had pity, and the God and Father sent us the Son from heaven; He took on flesh, arrived on earth even when it was at risk of tempests, and willingly went to His death to make the storm abate, allow the sea to become calm, settle the waves and put an end to the storm; by the death of Christ we were saved.  The tempest abated, the rain passed, and waves settled down, the force of the winds diminished, deep peace then prevailed, and we enjoyed fair weather of a spiritual kind, since Christ has suffered for us.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Jonah