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