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