Tuesday, June 19, 2018


We will say many things and not reach the end,
But the sum of our words is seen in this: “He is the all.”
How shall we ever be able to adequately praise Him?
For He is greater than all His works.
Fearful is the Lord and exceedingly great,
And wondrous is His power.
Glorify the Lord and exalt Him as much as you are able,
For He will surpass even that.
And when you exalt Him, put forth all your strength;
Do not grow weary, for you cannot exalt Him enough.
Who has seen Him and will describe Him?
And who can magnify Him as He truly is?
There are yet many hidden things greater than these,
For we have seen but few of His works.
For the Lord made all things
And gives wisdom to the godly. (Sirach 43:27–33)

Those who do not know what to ask for in prayer, if they are moved to express something sacred regarding the Spirit, limit the flow of their words to maintain measure, as though they had already given Him enough honor. One should mourn their weakness; we, however, do not have words to express thanks for all the gifts of which we experience the effects. The Spirit in fact surpasses all knowledge and thwarts the possibility of any speech that fails to conform to at least a minimum of His dignity, according to the words of the book called Wisdom: “Exalt Him as you can, because He is higher still. In exalting Him, you will increase your strength. Do not grow weary; otherwise you will not reach Him.”

Basil of Caesarea, On the Holy Spirit 28.70

Indeed, with what understanding can a person apprehend God when he does not even apprehend that very intellect of his own by which he wants to know God? And if he does already understand this, let him diligently consider then that there is nothing better in his nature than his intellect. Let him see, then, if he discovers in it any features of form, brilliance of colors, spatial broadness, distance of parts, extension of mass, spatial dislocation, or anything else of this kind. Certainly we find nothing of this sort in that which is best in us, that is, in our intellect, with which we attain wisdom to the extent we are able. So then, what we do not find in what is best in us, we must not look for in Him who is much better than what is best in us. We conceive, therefore—if we can and to the extent we can—of good without quality, greatness without quantity, creator without necessity, in the first place without location, containing all things but without exteriority, entirely present everywhere without place, eternal without time, author of changeable things while remaining absolutely unchanged and foreign to all passivity. Whoever conceives of God in this way, though he still cannot discover perfectly what He is, at least avoids, with pious diligence and to the extent possible, attributing to Him what He is not.

Augustine, On the Trinity 5.1.2

Friday, June 15, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” (Mark 4:26–32)

Observe how creation itself has advanced little by little toward fruitfulness. First comes the grain, and from the grain arises the shoot, and from the shoot emerges the shrub. From there the boughs and leaves gather strength, and the whole that we call a tree expands. Then follows the swelling of the germen, and from the germen bursts the flower, and from the flower the fruit opens. The fruit itself, primitive for a while, and unshapely, keeping the straight course of its development, is matured, little by little, to the full mellowness of its flavor. In just this way has righteousness grown in history. The proximate righteousness found in creation is grounded in the holy God whose righteousness first emerged in a rudimentary stage as an undeveloped natural apprehension in the presence of the holy One. Then it advanced through the Law and Prophets to childhood. At long last through the Gospel, God's righteousness has been personally manifested with the vital energies of youth. Now through the Paraclete, righteousness is being manifested in its mature stage.

Tertullian, On the Veiling of the Virgins 1

Friday, June 8, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Out of the depths
I have cried to You, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice;
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplication.
If You, O Lord, should mark transgression,
O Lord, who would stand?
For there is forgiveness with You.
Because of Your law, O Lord, I waited for You;
My soul waited for Your word.
My soul hopes in the Lord,
From the morning watch until night;
From the morning watch until night,
Let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption;
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his transgressions. (Psalm 130)

The choir of the righteous beseeches the Lord not to measure punishments against sins. In this way those of the company of blessed Hananiah attributed the transgressions of the people to their own person: If You were to impose the yoke of judgment as justice requires, who would be in a position to sustain the sentence laid down by it? Everyone, in fact, would have to face ruin. You have loving-kindness joined with righteousness, and You are in the habit of employing the former rather than the latter.

He means: Aware of this Your goodness (You employed mercy like some law), I do not renounce firm hope as I await the promise of good things. He called the good promise here word; however, He promised loving-kindness to the repentant. My soul hoped in the Lord, from morning watch until night, that is, all day; morning watch is, in fact, the last hour of the night: the last watchers keep watch until that time. The righteous are not satisfied only to have the wealth of hope in God; instead, they urge all others to a like possession, and declare the advantage stemming from it. Full of pity and loving-kindness is the Lord, who furnishes salvation to the repentant.

He it is who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities. The verse directs its prophecy to the Lord: He is the Lamb of God in person, who takes away the sin of the world. This was also the way the divine Gabriel spoke to the holy Virgin: “You will have a Son, and you will give him the name Jesus, because He is the one who will save His people from their sins.”

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 130

Friday, June 1, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 2:23–3:6)

In the synagogue of the Jews was a man who had a withered hand. If he was withered in his hand, the ones who stood by were withered in their minds. And they were not looking at the crippled man nor were they expecting the miraculous deed of the One who was about to work. But before doing the work, the Savior plowed up their minds with words. For knowing the evil of the mind and its bitter depth, He first softened them up in advance with words so as to tame the wildness of their understanding, asking: “Is it permitted to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil; to save a life or to destroy one?” For if He had said to them, “Is it permitted to work?” immediately they would have said, “You are speaking contrary to the Law.” Then He told them what was intended by the Law, for He spoke as the One who established the laws concerning the Sabbath, adding, “except this: that which will be done for the sake of a life.” Again if a person falls into a hole on a sabbath, Jews are permitted to pull the person out. This not only applies to a person, but also an ox or a donkey. In this way the Law agrees that things relating to preservation may be done, hence Jews prepare meals on the Sabbath. Then He asked them about a point on which they could hardly disagree: “Is it permitted to do good?” But they did not even so much as say, “Yes,” because by then they were not in a good temper.

Athanasius, Homilies 28

Friday, May 25, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Holy Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity
Bring to the Lord, O you sons of God,
Bring to the Lord the sons of rams;
Bring to the Lord glory and honor.
Bring to the Lord the glory due His name;
Worship the Lord in His holy court.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
The God of glory thundered;
The Lord is upon the many waters.
The voice of the Lord is strong;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord shatters cedars,
And the Lord shall grind to powder the cedars of Lebanon;
And He shall grind them fine like the young bull, and like Lebanon,
But His beloved shall be like a son of unicorns.
The voice of the Lord cuts through fiery flames;
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert,
And the Lord will shake the desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes deer to calve,
And uncovers the thickets;
And in His temple, everyone speaks of His glory.
The Lord shall dwell in the deluge,
And the Lord shall sit as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace. (Psalm 29:1–11 LXX)

Everyone who discusses divine matters in an orderly way so as always to hold the correct opinion concerning the Father, the Godhead of the Only-begotten, and the glory of the Holy Spirit, brings glory and honor to the Lord. And, because His providence penetrates even to the smallest things, he increases the glory who is able to give the reasons for which all things were created and for which they are preserved, and also for which, after this present stewardship, they will be brought to judgment. He who is able himself to contemplate each individual creature with clear and unconfused thoughts and, after having contemplated them himself, is able to present to others also the facts concerning the goodness of God and His just judgment, he is the one who brings glory and honor to the Lord and who lives a life in harmony with this contemplation. For, the light of such a man shines before men, since by word and work and through manly deeds of every kind the Father in heaven is glorified.…

We have learned in the creation of the world that there is water above the heavens, again, water of the deep, and yet again, the gathered waters of the seas. Who, then, is He who holds together these waters, not allowing them to be borne downward by their physical weight, except the Lord who established Himself upon all things, who holds sway over the waters? Perhaps, even in a more mystic manner the voice of the Lord was upon the waters, when a voice from above came to Jesus as He was baptized, “This is my beloved Son.” At that time, truly, the Lord was upon many waters, making the waters holy through baptism; but, the God of majesty thundered from above with a mighty voice of testimony. And over those to be baptized a voice left behind by the Lord is pronounced: “Go, therefore,” it says, “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters.”

Basil of Caesarea, Homily on the Psalms 13.2–3

From this he prophesies the power imparted to the apostles.... The narrative of the Acts also teaches us things in harmony with this: we learn from there how at his ascension Christ the Lord addressed his holy disciples in the words, “Stay in this city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Ten days later on the feast of Pentecost, “there came a sound from heaven like that of a violent wind blowing.” ... Now, he gives the name “voice” to the grace of the Spirit filling the apostles with power and might and rendering puny people magnificent. ... The choir of the sacred apostles received the grace of the all-holy Spirit in forms of fire, and were illuminated but not burnt. In the future life, the twofold operation of fire will be divided, illuminating the athletes of virtue and incinerating evildoers.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 29.5, 7

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Worthwhile Reading

The last time I posted a potpourri of publications was October. I trust you will enjoy the following collection of articles from the past couple months. Let’s begin with a pair of unrelated items:

This article by Amanda Hinton gives good advice on what qualities a future husband should possess.

Larry Peters offers his thoughts on the importance of church membership.

Moving on…
I have read several books on making disciples, but there is one recent read that should be given a serious look – Follow Me: Discipleship According to St. Matthew (available at CPH and Amazon). While other works pore over the lives of godly men in Scripture to build a working discipleship method, Martin Franzmann explains how the apostle wove his narrative from an introduction of Jesus to the final sending of the Twelve as a model for discipleship. The book may be 50 years old, but there is much wisdom within.

Patristics twin-bill
Todd Pruitt from Mortification of Spin is recommending Craig Carter’s, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition. Carter exposes a 21st-century weakness: we do not know or care how the Church Fathers approached Scripture. He attempts to break the mold of modern and postmodern theological connect the reader to early exegesis—a largely untapped and unfamiliar resource. The likes of Irenaeus and Ambrose will challenge your thinking in a good way.

In similar fashion, Shawn Wilhite has written a piece for The Center for Baptist Renewal (CBR) on bringing Patristic exegesis into the local church. Pastors and teachers would do well to retrieve the wisdom of these ancient writers to improve their thinking and teaching.

And speaking of worship…
Two other articles of note have come from CBR on recapturing neglected liturgical elements. The first comes Ray Van Neste on the corporate confession of sin. Confession is acknowledged by every branch of Christendom: the difference is in the application. For millennia, the Church has been practiced corporate confession during worship, however, this practice went out of favor among those groups groups that emphasize individualistic Christian faith and practice. While individual confession is good and proper, so is corporate confession. One only needs to read the Psalms or other Old Testament prayers to understand the corporate bond as they confessed their sins before Almighty God.

The second article I find more intriguing and more necessary for today – Why We Should Include Lament Songs in Our Worship by Samuel Parkison. In a time when many (most?) local churches have relegated hymns to the proverbial dust bin in favor of the latest and greatest pop worship song, this is a needed corrective. Anymore, Sunday singing comprises attempted manipulation of God to come down, show His glory, and do what He does, so that we can live victoriously (Have you noticed that Scripture never speaks this way? But I digress.) Or there is some version of “Jesus, I love you, because it makes me feel good to say it.” And for any songs that may include an element of hardship or pain, the sentiment is closer to “Daddy, I fell down. Can you kiss my boo?” We can’t always feel upbeat. Lament helps us express the depths of suffering, and allows others to share in it.

And now for something truly lamentable
Andy Stanley appears to be headed into outright Marcionism (an ancient heresy rejecting the Old Testament) as noted in a First Things article by Wesley Hill. Stanley is quoted as saying, “Christians must unhitch the Old Testament from their faith.” As an aside, I have heard parts of the sermon being quoted and can affirm its accuracy. Pastor Stanley is either very ignorant of facts of the Bible and history, or he is lying in order to delude his hearers.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Pentecost Sunday

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:14–18)
The word of offering shows the lavishness of the gift, for the grace of the Holy Spirit was not to be granted, as formerly, only to individual prophets and priests, but to everyone in every place, regardless of sex, state of life or position. The prophet subsequently explains what all flesh may be, saying, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy” and so forth, and “I will give wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath.” The wonders in heaven were given when with the Lord's birth a new star appeared, and with his ascending of the cross the sun was dimmed and heaven itself was covered with darkness. The signs on the earth were given when, with the Lord’s breathing forth of his spirit, the earth trembled violently, broke open sepulchers, split apart rocks and brought forth alive again the bodies of many of the saints who had fallen asleep.

Bede, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles 2.17

Friday, May 11, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:11b-19)

Christ wishes the disciples to be kept in a state of unity by maintaining a like-mindedness and an identity of will, being mingled together as it were in soul and spirit and in the law of peace and love for one another. He wishes them to be bound together tightly with an unbreakable bond of love, that they may advance to such a degree of unity that their freely chosen association might even become an image of the natural unity that is conceived to exist between the Father and the Son. That is to say, he wishes them to enjoy a unity that is inseparable and indestructible, which may not be enticed away into a dissimilarity of wills by anything at all that exists in the world or any pursuit of pleasure, but rather reserves the power of love in the unity of devotion and holiness. And this is what happened. For as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul,” that is, in the unity of the Spirit. This is also what Paul himself meant when he said “one body and one Spirit.” “We who are many are one body in Christ for we all partake of the one bread,” and we have all been anointed in the one Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 11.9

Friday, May 4, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixth Sunday of Easter

And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:39–48)

The apostles, therefore, preached the Son of God, of whom men were ignorant; and His advent, to those who had been already instructed as to God; but they did not bring in another god. For if Peter had known any such thing, he would have preached freely to the Gentiles, that the God of the Jews was indeed one, but the God of the Christians another; and all of them, doubtless, being awestruck because of the vision of the angel, would have believed whatever he told them. But it is evident from Peter’s words that he did indeed still retain the God who was already known to them; but he also bore witness to them that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Judge of the living and the dead, into whom he did also command them to be baptized for the remission of sins. And not this alone, but he witnessed that Jesus was Himself the Son of God, who also, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, is called Jesus Christ. And He is the same being that was born of Mary, as the testimony of Peter implies.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.12.7

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Choosing the Obvious

What shall I give back to the Lord
For all He rendered to me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord. (Ps 116:12–13)

I read the above passage yesterday and was struck by the obvious. The Lord has provided all things abundantly in Christ. What else can I do but take up the cup of salvation He offers? what else but call upon Him? It is to His glory that I have been so richly blessed. It is only right that my response is fully unto Him, even as Cyprian once wrote:
For this it is which especially pleases God; it is this wherein our works with greater deserts are successful in earning God’s good-will; this it is which alone the obedience of our faith and devotion can render to the Lord for His great and saving benefits, as the Holy Spirit declares and witnesses in the Psalms: “What shall I render,” says he, “to the Lord for all His benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Who would not gladly and readily receive the cup of salvation? Who would not with joy and gladness desire that in which he himself also may render somewhat unto His Lord? Who would not bravely and unfalteringly receive a death precious in the sight of the Lord, to please His eyes, who, looking down from above upon us who are placed in the conflict for His name, approves the willing, assists the struggling, crowns the conquering with the recompense of patience, goodness, and affection, rewarding in us whatever He Himself has bestowed, and honoring what He has accomplished?

Epistle to Nemesianus and Other Martyrs in the Mines 76.4

Friday, April 27, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7–11)

Behold, in order that we may love God, we have exhortation. Could we love Him, unless He first loved us? If we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love in return. He first loved us; not even so do we love. He loved the unrighteous, but He did away the unrighteousness: He loved the unrighteous, but not unto unrighteousness did He gather them together: He loved the sick, but He visited them to make them whole. Love, then, is God. In this was manifested the love of God in us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live through Him. As the Lord Himself says: Greater love than this can no man have, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13) and there was proved the love of Christ towards us, in that He died for us: how is the love of the Father towards us proved? In that He sent His only Son to die for us: so also the apostle Paul says: He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how has He not with Him also freely given us all things? (Rom 8:32) Behold the Father delivered up Christ; Judas delivered Him up; does it not seem as if the thing done were of the same sort? Judas is traditor, one that delivered up, [or, a traitor]: is God the Father that? God forbid! Do you say. I do not say it, but the apostle says, He that spared not His own Son, but tradidit Eum delivered Him up for us all. Both the Father delivered Him up, and He delivered up Himself. The same apostle says: Who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. (Gal 2:20) If the Father delivered up the Son; and the Son delivered up Himself, what has Judas done? There was a traditio (delivering up) by the Father; there was a traditio by the Son; there was a traditio by Judas: the thing done is the same, but what is it that distinguishes the Father delivering up the Son, the Son delivering up Himself, and Judas the disciple delivering up his Master? This: that the Father and the Son did it in love, but Judas did this in treacherous betrayal. You see that not what the man does is the thing to be considered; but with what mind and will he does it. We find God the Father in the same deed in which we find Judas; the Father we bless, Judas we detest. Why do we bless the Father, and detest Judas? We bless charity, detest iniquity. How great a good was conferred upon mankind by the delivering up of Christ! Had Judas this in his thoughts, that therefore he delivered Him up? God had in His thoughts our salvation by which we were redeemed; Judas had in his thoughts the price for which he sold the Lord. The Son Himself had in His thoughts the price He gave for us, Judas in his the price he received to sell Him. The diverse intention therefore makes the things done diverse. Though the thing be one, yet if we measure it by the diverse intentions, we find the one a thing to be loved, the other to be condemned; the one we find a thing to be glorified, the other to be detested. Such is the force of charity. See that it alone discriminates, it alone distinguishes the doings of men.

Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on the First Epistle of John

Friday, April 20, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Peter and John before the Sanhedrin.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8–12)

The builders were the Jews, while all the Gentiles remained in the wasteland of idols. The Jews alone were daily reading the law and the prophets for the building up of the people. As they were building, they came to the cornerstone, which embraces two walls—that is, they found in the prophetic Scriptures that Christ, who would bring together in himself two peoples, was to come in the flesh. And, because they preferred to remain in one wall, that is, to be saved alone, they rejected the stone, which was not one-sided but two-sided. Nevertheless, although they were unwilling, God by Himself placed this at the chief position in the corner, so that from two Testaments and two peoples there might rise up a building of one and the same faith.

Bede, Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

For “there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” since “there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved,” and “in him God has defined to all men their faith, in that he has raised him from the dead.” Now without this faith, that is to say, without a belief in the one Mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus; without faith, I say, in his resurrection by which God has given assurance to all people and which no one could of course truly believe were it not for his incarnation and death; without faith, therefore, in the incarnation and death and resurrection of Christ, the Christian truth unhesitatingly declares that the ancient saints could not possibly have been cleansed from sin so as to have become holy and justified by the grace of God. And this is true both of the saints who are mentioned in holy Scripture and of those also who are not indeed mentioned therein but must yet be supposed to have existed—either before the deluge or in the interval between that event and the giving of the law or in the period of the law itself—not merely among the children of Israel, as the prophets, but even outside that nation, as for instance Job. For cleansing from sin was by the selfsame faith. The one Mediator cleansed the hearts of these too, and there also was “shed abroad in them the love of God by the Holy Spirit,” “who blows where He wills,” not following people’s merits but even producing these very merits Himself. For the grace of God will in no wise exist unless it be wholly free.

Augustine of Hippo, On Original Sin

Friday, April 13, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday of Easter

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Lu 24:44-49)

Then He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures. When He had quieted their reasonings by what He said, by the touch of their hands, and by partaking of food, He then opened their mind to understand, that “so it was necessary for Him to suffer,” even upon the wood of the cross. The Lord therefore recalls the minds of the disciples to what Me had before said: for He had forewarned them of His sufferings upon the cross, according to what the prophets had long before spoken: and He opens also the eyes of their heart, so as for them to understand the ancient prophecies. The Savior promises the disciples the descent of the Holy Spirit, which God had announced of old by Joel, and power from above, that they might be strong and invincible, and without all fear preach to men everywhere the divine mystery. He says to them now that they had received the Spirit after the resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and adds, “But tarry at Jerusalem, and wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard of Me. For John indeed baptized with water, but you must be baptized with the Holy Spirit;” in water no longer, for that they had received, but with the Holy Spirit: He does not add water to water, but completes that which was deficient by adding what was lacking to it. Having blessed them, and gone a little in advance, He was carried up to heaven, that He might share the Father's throne even with the flesh that was united to Him. And this new pathway the Word made for us when He appeared in human form: and hereafter in due time He will come again in the glory of His Father with the angels, and will take us up to be with Him. Let us glorify therefore Him Who being God the Word became man for our sakes: Who suffered willingly in the flesh, and arose from the dead, and abolished corruption: Who was taken up, and hereafter must come with great glory to judge the living and the dead, and to give to every one according to his deeds: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be glory and power with the Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Eat Me, Drink Me

There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it, (‘which certainly was not here before,’ said Alice,) and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters.

It was all very well to say ‘Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do
that in a hurry.… However, this bottle was not marked ‘poison,’ so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavor of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.…

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words ‘EAT ME’ were beautifully marked in currants. ‘Well, I’ll eat it,’ said Alice, ‘and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door; so either way I'll get into the garden, and I don't care which happens!’…

So she set to work, and very soon finished off the cake.

If you are familiar with the above from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, then you know Alice’s dilemma of being not quite the appropriate size for a doorway. A change is needed, and the only appropriate catalyst is something to consume, which she takes willingly because of the delicious taste. Alas, for poor Alice, matters go awry and her state after drinking and eating is worse than before. A similar end comes to Edmund Pevensie immediately after eating Turkish Delight in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though while Alice partook out of need, Edmund did so from selfishness and became enslaved. We can see from these literary examples, and also from common sense, that what we feed on has a direct influence on our outcome: healthy eating leads to soundness; unhealthy eating leads to corruption.

Where do we go for healthy eating? What is proper to consume? Probably one of the best things to take in is wisdom, of which the following provided the catalyst for this post:
Come to me, you who desire me,
And take your fill of my fruits.
For the remembrance of me is sweeter than honey,
And my inheritance is sweeter than the honeycomb.
Those who eat me will hunger for more,
And those who drink me will thirst for more.
He who obeys me will not be put to shame,
And those who work with me will not sin.
Sirach 24:19–22

Wisdom calls out and promises that not only will it be pleasing but will continually build desire to feed at that table ever more. Wisdom literature and the prophets also uses this same motif of the call to dine:

Proverbs 9:1–5 Isaiah 55:1
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn out her seven pillars;
She has slaughtered her meat,
She has mixed her wine,
She has also furnished her table.
She has sent out her maidens,
She cries out from the highest places of the city,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him,
“Come, eat of my bread
And drink of the wine I have mixed.”
Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.

With the invitation to eat and drink made, we return to the question of source. Where do we find wisdom that we may take that in? The initial offer tells us from where we should never partake. The serpent, in tempting the woman, described the effect of eating as being like God, able to know or distinguish good and evil (Ge 3:5), which the woman correctly understood as “desirable to make one wise” (Ge 3:6); however, this was not the way God had intended wisdom to be learned. By eating from the wrong source, they chose poorly. Better would have been to abide in the Divine presence and commune with Him.

God continued to reach out to His creation, offering times of communion with Himself. One of these came on Mount Sinai after the people of Israel had come out of Egypt.
Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Ex 24:9–11)
Here we find the beginning of a recurring theme found within the Mosaic Covenant: God communes with His people and they with each other. On an individual level, this can be seen in the Peace Offering wherein God, priest, and offerer share together in the sacrifice. The individual was welcome into fellowship with God because of the peace between them. On a corporate level, as part of their calendar, Israel was required to come together for three yearly feasts: Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits (or Harvest), and Tabernacles (or Ingathering) (Ex 23:14–16; Le 23:4–14, 33–43). These feasts brought the people of God together in systematic fashion to instill in them the need for fellowship beyond the family or tribal unit. All the elect are equally welcome participants as one family.

As important as the times of communion would become, there needed to be an established basis for that communion. Not long after being baptized with Moses in the Red Sea crossing (Ex 14:26–31; cf. 1 Cor 10:1–2), the people became hungry and thirsty being forced to rely on God’s daily provision of manna (Ex 16:14–16) and water (Ex 17:1–7). This reliance would serve as a picture of needed daily spiritual intake from Him enabled by regularly teaching future generations the Lord’s commands (De 6:1–9). It would be this regular feeding on and drinking in the good Word of God that would feed their souls and provide wisdom and nourishment characteristic of a holy people. Not that this endeavor would bring the follower into a right or better relation with his Lord, but because he has believed what has been graciously promised, so the commands are not bitter, but because they are “more to be desired than gold” and “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10).

Feasting continues as a theme in the New Testament but takes an interesting turn when, in a reference to the manna, Jesus taught that He was the bread of life, which would sate the desire man needed if one believed (John 6:33, 35, 48). Indeed, He seemed to ramp up the challenge of those listening to pronounce the seemingly impossible:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”… Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (John 6:51–57)
The net effect of this revelation was that all but the twelve turned away from following Him, yet this was, and continues to be, the very thing needed by all. As the true bread of life having come down, Jesus delivers to us what we need for true life—a spiritual eating and drinking through His Word. This would later be made most graphically as Jesus, on the night before He was crucified, took bread and wine and said this is My body, this is My blood. All that He taught and accomplished on earth was coming to its expected conclusion. In a most vivid fashion, He emphatically proclaims that He, in His fullness, is with the bread and cup coming to us as we partake and are built up in Him. Paul later elaborates on this when he teaches:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.  (1 Co 10:16–17)
As the visible elements are in communion with the body and blood, we have unity when we partake of the same, since Jesus Himself is being received.

Unlike Alice, who needed something to eat or drink to make herself appropriate for the topsy-turvy, nonsense Wonderland, we live in a nonsense world but look for a city whose builder and maker is God. We need the true food and true drink satisfying our spiritual hunger and thirst, and that brings “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). It is this eating and drinking that the Christian turns to and continues in to grow in Christ.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday of Easter

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! 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 are retained.” (John 20:21–23)

To the extent that light is more appealing after darkness, that serenity is more appealing after a gloomy storm, to the same extent is joy more welcome after grief. He said to them again: “Peace be with you” (v. 21). What does this repetition in bestowing peace mean, except that He wants the tranquillity that He had announced to their minds individually also to be kept collectively among them by granting peace repeatedly? He knew, at any rate, that they were going to have far from insignificant struggles in the future stemming from his delay, with one boasting that he had persevered in faith, and another in grief because he had doubted.… Peter denies, John flees, Thomas doubts, all forsake him: unless Christ had granted forgiveness for these transgressions by his peace, even Peter, who was the first in rank of all of them, would be considered inferior, and would perhaps be undeserving of His subsequent elevation to the primacy.

The mention of His having been sent does not diminish Him as Son, but declares that what He wants to be understood here is not the power of the One who sends, but the charity of the One who has been sent, since He says: Just as the Father, not the Lord, has sent me, so I send you no longer with the authority of a Master, but with all the affection of a Lover. I send you to endure hunger, to suffer the burden of being in chains, to the squalor of prison, to bear all kinds of punishments, and to undergo bitter death for all: all of which certainly charity, and not power, enjoins on human minds.

Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 84.5–6

What truly wonderful gifts! Indeed, it does not only give the power over the elements and the faculty to make signs and wonders but also concedes that God may name them [judges], and therefore the servants receive from Him the authority that is proper to Him. The prerogative to absolve and retain sins only belongs to God, and the Jews sometimes raised this objection with the Savior, saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The Lord generously gave this authority to those who honored Him.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on John

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Are We Missing Something?

Albrecht Durer, Christ Appears to the Disciples at Emmaus
… and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (1 Cor 15:5–8)

This past Sunday, our pastor delivered the goods from 1 Corinthians 15, choosing to not elaborate on the post-resurrection appearances in the chapter. What he shared was spot on, so I do not fault him for excluding them, Indeed, I think most pastors would omit them unless their intent was to deliver an apology for the resurrection and the veracity of the Gospel accounts. I wonder, though, if perhaps pastors should make that a more integral part of the message.

For decades, we were taught that the following is the most succinct definition of the gospel:
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,… (1 Co 15:3–4)
And this is exactly what happened: we are sinners; and for that Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead. All this He did according to what was foretold in the Scriptures (e.g. Ps 22:1, 16–18; 16:10; Hos 6:1–2). All this was accomplished according to the eternal plan of redemption on our behalf because we were completely incapable of improving our condition. What marvelous grace! And yet there is more.

The atoning work of Christ on the cross and His victory over the grave would seemingly suffice to explain the fullness of the gospel, and yet to finish his sentence, Paul adds that our Lord Jesus was seen by Peter and, later, the apostles as a group. This is perplexing, so we can treat this and the other appearances as parenthetical. However, the apostle links the appearances grammatically to the atoning work. In other words, the fullness of the good news is realized in Jesus coming to His own.

Why are these eyewitness accounts an important element? From our perspective, we might say that they establish credence to a physical resurrection. The variety is telling: the inner group, a large group, a disbelieving family member, and an antagonistic pharisee. Such a hodgepodge would be incapable of manufacturing and maintaining the story of a physical resurrection unless it actually occurred. With so many witnesses still alive at the writing of this epistle, a resurrection would be easily falsifiable.

However, the more important reason may be a more personal one. Notice that the first individual mentioned is the denier (Peter), then to the disbeliever (James), and finally to the self-righteous (Paul). Add to this the appearances to Mary Magdalene, then later to the other women and those on the Emmaus road, and we realize that though Christ died as Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He did it for me and delivered it to me. And it is not as if only that number centuries ago are the only ones to whom Jesus has come. We receive Him in baptism. We receive Him in the bread and cup.

Our Lord prayed that we would “be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21); and the work He began continues as promised: “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). He comes to us that we might be united both with Him and with one another. It is to this end that the work of redemption was accomplished. It is to this end that He yet comes to us. And it is to this end that Christ receives us unto Himself.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Easter Sunday

I saw the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
Therefore my heart was glad,
And my tongue rejoiced exceedingly;
My flesh also shall dwell in hope.
For You will not abandon my soul to Hades
Nor allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You made known to me the ways of life;
You will fill me with gladness in Your presence;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps 16:8–11 LXX)

So at this place, too, Christ the Lord in human fashion says, “Constantly supported by the divine nature, I am in the midst of My saving passion and find gladness in the hope of resurrection. My soul, you see, will not be abandoned in Hades, nor will My flesh suffer natural corruption. I shall achieve a rapid resurrection and return to life, giving all people a glimpse of this path.”

Since He had said approaching His passion, “My soul is sorrowful to the point of death,” it was right for Him to recall the resuurection, teaching that in place of that discouragement He will be in unceasing joy, having become immune to suffering, to change, to death, even in His human nature. As God, you see, this was always the case, and of course even in His human nature once formed in the womb it was easy to provide Him with this. But He allowed the nature He had assumed to travel through the sufferings so as by these means to loose the sway of sin, put a stop to the tyranny of the devil, undo the power of death and provide all people with the basis of a new life. So as man He assumes both incorruption and immortality.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms

Friday, March 30, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Good Friday

Into Your hands I shall entrust my spirit;
You redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
I am forgotten like one whose heart is lifeless;

I was made like a vessel that is utterly broken.
For I heard the blame of many who dwell round about
When they were gathered together against me,
When they plotted to take my life.
But as for me, I hope in You, O Lord;
I said, “You are my God.” (Ps 31:5, 12–14 LXX)

Let us consider why these words have been placed here which the Gospel text quotes.… Certainly so that you may recognize that here too he spoke who so many centuries later would speak the same words when fixed on the cross. “Into your hands” means “Into your truth” by which you always perform what is kind and just. In this way, he commends to the Father the inestimable treasure, namely, that soul that regularly carried out the Fathers desires in complete compliance with the Father’s intention. It was therefore fitting that such a spirit be commended to such a great guardian. Next he testifies that he was redeemed. But let us examine at what price; it was the price which the Apostle indicates: “He emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.” You see how great the price was that he brought his majesty as low as human flesh, and he emptied himself in order that he might fill human things with heavenly things.

Those who do not believe the Scriptures at all saw the Lord fixed on the cross and walked away from his divinity, anticipating that their expectation was ended by this death. Likewise heretics, who hear the divine Scriptures in the church and who see miracles, walk away from the church to hear wicked proclamations, fleeing from the truth in which they have little tolerance to continue on.… “A ruined vessel” is one that is broken and without purpose, and so it is always thrown away. So also Jesus, when he died, was considered by unbelievers to be like a broken vessel that should be thrown away. How could it be said more humbly than that the almighty Majesty be compared to fragile jars? But consider that it was those who were mad who thought about Christ this way. But there always existed in him a unique omnipotence and an amazing divine fullness.

The order of the words is wonderful and most holy. When his enemies … held on to a hope in their own strength, he says that he put his hope in the Lord, since he knew that their power was nothing and by the plots they were attempting they would kill themselves rather than him.… The Lord Christ says: “You are my God,” but he says this from the perspective of the human nature that he assumed, which, as he says later, was subject both to time and to death. He does not, as his enemies were thinking, mention that his life was going to be ended by their persecution, but he commends the times of his life to the Lord. For we exist by his work as our Creator; we are enlivened as he determines, and we also pass on when he gives the command. For this reason, it is necessary that his hope be set on the Lord, for he knew that his life and his death were under God’s control.

Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Maundy Thursday

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)

That bread which God the Word confesses to be His own body is the Word that nourishes souls, the Word proceeding from God, the very bread that comes from the living bread which is set out upon our table of which was written: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” That drink which God the Word confesses to be His blood is the Word that gives refreshment and exhilarates the heart.… This drink is the fruit of the true vine, the blood of that grape cast in the winepress of the passion. So also the bread is the word of Christ made from that corn which, falling onto the good ground, brought forth much fruit. He was not speaking of the visible bread alone which He was holding in His hands as He called it His body. It is the word in the mystery of which that bread was to be broken. Nor did He call that visible drink as such His blood, but the word in the mystery of which that drink was to be poured out. For to what else could the body and blood of the Lord refer other than the atoning Word that nourishes and gladdens the heart? Why did He not say, “This is My bread of the New Testament” just as He said, “This is My blood of the New Testament?” Because the bread is the word of righteousness, by the eating of which souls are nourished. The drink is the word of knowledge of Christ according to the mystery of His birth and passion.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 85.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Palm Sunday

Entry into Jerusalem, 12th Century Mosaic, S. Marco
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you;
He is righteous and saving;
He is gentle and mounted upon a donkey, even a young foal.
He will utterly destroy the chariots out of Ephraim
and the horse out of Jerusalem.
The bow of war shall be utterly destroyed,
and there shall be abundance and peace among the nations.
He shall rule over the waters as far as the sea
and over the rivers to the ends of the earth.
And by the blood of your covenant,
you freed your prisoners from the pit having no water.
You prisoners from the congregation,
you shall live in the fortress,
and for one day of your exile,
I will repay to you double. (Zech 9:9–12 LXX)

Be glad, therefore, O Jerusalem, since of such a kind is a king appointed for you by God, and he has come to you, capable of saving his own on account of the divine influence accruing to Him and justly inflicting total punishment on the adversaries. While he is riding a lowly animal for the reason that He has just arrived back from captivity, he assumes great power through divine grace, and so from Ephraim and from Jerusalem he will remove all the chariots of the adversaries, every war horse and every battle bow—that is to say, he will drive off all enemies so that there will be no longer any adversary against the country of Judah. He will also wipe out a great multitude of the adversaries and completely deprive them of peace, crushed and destroyed in a war waged by him.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Zechariah 9.8–10

It was fitting that the herald of his resurrection is reported to have been sitting, so that by sitting he might prefigure him who, having triumphed over the author of death, would ascend to his seat in the everlasting kingdom. Concerning this he said a little later, as he appeared to his disciples: All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me; and the evangelist Mark says: The Lord, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at God’s right hand. [The angel] was sitting upon the stone with which the tomb was closed, but which had been rolled away, to teach that He had cast down and triumphed over the closed places of the lower world by his power, so that He might lift up to the light and the rest of paradise all of His own whom He found there, according to the prophet’s You also because of the blood of your covenant, have led your prisoners back from the pit, in which there is no water.

Venerable Bede, Homily on the Gospels 2.7

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Making Way

But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded.” (Mark 6:16)

There are occasions in Scripture that make us stop and think to ourselves, “What a waste.” Recently, we were reminded of John’s beheading at the hand of Herod (Mark 6:14–29). The king had stolen his brother’s wife and was confronted by John. While that did not sit well with Herodias, Herod had a high regard the prophet and refused to do more than imprison him—perhaps hoping to keep him quiet for awhile until his new wife’s temper could be assuaged. It was all for naught as the “Queen of Hearts” triumphantly eliminated what had stuck in her craw.

We see this as wasteful, not just because John died in his thirties, but because this prophet was instrumental in pointing people to Christ. He knew his place and duty:
Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” (John 1:29–30)
and seemed perfectly content to give Jesus full honor: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).

Here, a powerful witness for the Lamb of God is cut down in early adulthood, and we are left wondering why God did not ensure that John was released from prison to assist as one of Jesus’ disciples. This is not the first time that the Lord has removed the forerunner that His anointed one may prosper.

In the days of a united Israel, King Saul had a son named Jonathan who was best friends with the future king, David. Because of a deep love for the Lord and David, Jonathan did everything in his power to impede Saul’s plots and to keep David safe. His singular desire was for David to take his rightful place and to be a faithful subject.
Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” (1 Sam 23:16–17)
Sadly, Jonathan was killed in battle with the Philistines (1 Sam 31:1–2; 1 Chr 10:1–2). We can only imagine how well this union would have worked out, although, we can be assured that Jonathan would have been a more trustworthy general than Joab. Again we question why the Lord removed such a promising individual.

Out with the old

John the baptizer and Jonathan, son of Saul, shared a common problem: they were sinners, though righteous through a life of faith, leading those who were called to be the same. Whether or not the followers acted righteously, what we know is that had the forerunner lived, a division in God’s work was certain.

After Saul and Jonathan died, others in the royal family attempted to wrest the throne from David. Initially, Abner, commander of Saul’s army, made Ishbosheth the son of Saul king in Mahanaim (2 Sam 2:8–10) for a two-year reign. Later, when David is fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, attempts to ingratiate himself to the king by reporting of his master: Indeed he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, “Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me” (2 Sam 16:3)—a falsehood made evident upon David’s return to Jerusalem (2 Sam 19:24–30). Finally, Bichri the Benjamite, Saul’s tribe, declared himself leader over Israel save for Judah (2 Sam 20:1–2). What we discover is a lingering loyalty to the house of Saul that was ultimately eradicated when the remaining sons of Saul were executed by the Gibeonites (2 Sam 21:5–9). Had Saul’s house (save for Mephibosheth) been allowed to continue, a long-term division, if not civil war, would have ensued as occurred after Solomon’s death.

We look at the situation in Israel and think to ourselves, “Well, that might have happened back then, but if John had been able to work with Jesus, this type of thing would have been avoided.” Not so fast. During Jesus’ ministry, John’s disciples asked Him why His disciples did not fast as they and disciples of the Pharisees do (Mt 9:14; Mk 2:18; Lk 5:33), so we see a difference in thought between the two groups that the Lord needed to address. Later, Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples (Lk 11:1). While the two groups would have a common basis for prayer, the emphases would be different since John was pointing to the Messiah, and Jesus was that One. Later, we are introduced to the teaching ministry of Apollos. We first meet this Alexandrian Jew after he begins teaching boldly in Ephesus (Acts 18:24), but as of yet, having only known the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). Because Apollos still lacked key information concerning Jesus, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside for additional teaching, after which he left for Achaia. This departure left a hole in that Apollos had made converts in Ephesus but unto the baptism of John. The apostle Paul finished the work of baptizing them into Christ (Acts 19:5–6). Though this seems fairly innocuous, the underlying issues came to a head in Corinth where believers were now defining themselves by whom they were baptized (1 Cor 1:11–13). Instead of recognizing the Lord Jesus as their head, the believers in Corinth had taken the cultural route of aligning with a particular teacher.

In with the new

We see the humility of both Jonathan and John. They knew their respective places, but their followers and families did not. Each was appointed to a particular service—loyalty to the coming anointed one—but because of the sinfulness of even righteous men, the former had to be removed so that the one to whom proper fealty was due might take his place unencumbered. The son of Jesse was to reign; the Root and Branch of Jesse is to reign forever.

These examples cause us to face the harsh truth that what man sees as a “dream team” or a “match made in heaven” can actually be a recipe for disaster. God had ordained individuals for specific purposes in His divine plan. In order to fulfill those purposes, the prior dispensation had to be removed. Returning to the scene in which the disciples of John asked about fasting, Jesus pointed forward to the inauguration of new things when He said:
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins. (Mk 2:21–22)
While we mourn the loss of the old, we recognize the wisdom of the new as our Lord works His eternal plan to our benefit, and we rejoice in it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday in Lent

“Behold, days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I shall make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took hold of their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not abide in My covenant, and I disregarded them,” says the Lord. “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will surely put My laws into their mind and write them on their hearts. I will be as God to them, and they shall be as My people. Each shall not teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their wrongdoings, and I will no longer remember their sins.” (Jer 31:31-34)

Obviously, those who have heard the gospel and refused to believe are all the more inexcusable than if they had not listened to any preaching of the truth. But it is certain that in God’s foreknowledge they were not children of Abraham and were not reckoned among the number of them of whom it is said, “In your seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed.” He promised them the faith when he said, “And no one shall teach his neighbor and no one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord.’ For all shall know me, from the small among them even to the great.” He promised them pardon when he said, “I will forgive their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” He promised them an obedient heart when he said, “I will give them another heart and another way, that they may fear me all days.” He promised them perseverance when he said, “I will give my fear in their heart, that they may not revolt from me, and I will visit them, that I may make them good.” Finally, to all without exception he promised the faith when he said, “I have sworn by myself, justice alone shall go out of my mouth, and my words shall not be turned away. Every knee shall be bowed to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

Prosper of Aquitane, The Call of All Nations 1.9

Friday, March 9, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Lent

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16–17)

Many of the more careless sort, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, saying: There is no hell, no future punishment. God forgives all our sins. To stop whose mouths a wise man says, “Do not say, ‘His compassion is great, He will atone for the multitude of my sins,’ for both mercy and wrath are with Him, and His anger rests on sinners” (Ecclus. 5:6); and again, “As great as His mercy, so great is also His reproof” (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 shall render to every man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12, LXX); the other, “Who will render to every man according to his work” (Rom. 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 did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.”

For there are two advents of Christ, one past, the other to come. The first was not to judge but to pardon us; the second will be not to pardon but to judge us. It is of the first that he says, “I have not come to judge the world but to save the world.” But of the second he says, “When the Son shall come in the glory of his Father, He will set the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left.” And the sheep will go into life and the goats 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 vengeances, 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, for a time he pardons instead of making enquiry. For if He had judged immediately, everyone would have been rushed into perdition, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Do you not see the unspeakable surplus of His lovingkindness?

John Chrysostom, Homilies on John 28.1

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Cure for What Ails

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”… And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25–28, 34)

One cannot help but see every person’s desperate condition. This unnamed woman, through no fault of her own, bore a grievous burden that caused her to be unclean and separated her from those around. Every human avenue had been pursued to no avail, but nothing in this world could free her from suffering and bondage. She had neither access to God nor fellowship with His people. In effect, this woman had the same status as any Gentile: without Christ, alien from God’s people and provision, and stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).

But then she does the remarkable: she acts in faith to gain the only One who could heal what was ailing her as Peter Chrysologous recounts:
No seas were ever so troubled by the ebb and flow of the tide, as the mind of this woman, pulled to and fro by the sway of her thoughts. After all the hopeless attempts of physicians, after all her outlay on useless remedies, after all the usual but useless treatment, when skill and experience had so long failed, all her substance was gone. This was not by chance, but divinely ordered, that she might be healed solely through faith and humility, whom human knowledge had failed through so many years. At a little distance apart from Him stood this woman, whom nature had filled with modesty, whom the law had declared unclean, saying of her: She shall be unclean and shall touch no holy thing [Lev 15:25]. She fears to touch, lest she incur the anger of the religious leaders, or the condemnation of the law. For fear of being talked about, she dares not speak, lest she embarrass those about her, lest she offend their ears. Through many years her body has been an arena of suffering. Everyday, unceasing pain she can endure no more. The Lord is passing by so quickly. The time is short to think what she must do, aware that healing is not given to the silent, nor to the one who hides her pain. In the midst of her conflicting thoughts, she sees a way, her sole way of salvation. She would secure her healing by stealth, take in silence what she dares not ask for, guarding her respect and modesty. She who feels unworthy in body, draws near in heart to the Physician. In faith she touches God. With her hand she touches His garment, knowing that both healing and forgiveness may be bestowed on this stratagem, undertaken due to the demands of modesty, and not as she otherwise would have preferred. She knew the gain she sought by stealth would cause no loss to Him from whom she took it.… In an instant, faith cures where human skill had failed through twelve years. (Sermon 33.4)
Notice the change. Once an outsider, this one is called daughter. She who had been separate from any benefit that may come to God’s people is now in a covenantal, familial relationship. No longer on the outside looking in, she now has full benefit as a fellow heir of the promises of blessing to Abraham, drawing close to worship and fellowship with God’s people.

What might be the most remarkable takeaway from this story might be that every person coming into this world has the same basic condition—hopeless and without God. Our natural inclination is to turn to the wisdom found in this world to find a cure for our condition, yet none can be found. We might be able to ease it somewhat with a salve applied to the conscience, but our condition continues to deteriorate. There is but one Great Physician who can heal the whole person. His cure cannot be earned or purchased. Only by grace through faith might we receive what Christ has so richly provided by taking our greatest ailment, sin, upon Himself and in exchange bestowing on us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3). This is where true healing occurs.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Lent

The law of the Lord is blameless, converting souls;
The testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making children wise;
The ordinances of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is bright, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring unto ages of ages;
The judgments of the Lord are true, being altogether just.
More to be desired are they than gold and a very precious stone,
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
For indeed Your servant keeps them;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who will understand his transgressions?
Cleanse me from hidden sins,
And spare your servant from unnatural sins;
If they have no dominion over me, then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be cleansed from great sin.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be always pleasing before You,
O Lord, my helper and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:7–14)

He calls the Mosaic law Law, testimony, judgments, command, decrees: this is what the Law calls itself, saying in one place, “These are the judgments and the decrees the Lord gave to Moses,” and elsewhere, “You will keep the Law of the Lord your God and observe His commandments.” It is called Law in that it regulates and prescribes the best way of life; testimony in testifying against sinners and highlighting the punishment for transgression; judgments in teaching what is right, forbidding what is wrong and declaring virtuous people righteous; command in commanding what is to be done and giving orders authoritatively; decrees in revealing the divine verdicts and teaching what goods the observant will enjoy and to what punishments the transgressor will be consigned.

So he means that the Law of God, being free of every fault, corrects people’s souls and makes them faultless; the testimony gives wisdom to the immature and simple by frightening them; the judgments gladden the heart by revealing the basis of judgment; the command gives light to the mind’s eye, teaching what constitutes service to the God of all. While piety and the fear of God, in suggesting observance of these, procure enjoyment of the eternal good, it was right for him to speak of the fear of God as pure—that is, free from blame—for the reason that human fear is blameworthy, being synonymous with dread. Now, he called the decrees true and justified on account of their conferring on people both honors and warranted punishments. In conclusion, he said these are worth more than gold and precious stones and sweeter than honey—not to all human beings, however, but to those truly human, whose life is not comparable with the brute beasts.

Your servant, in fact, will keep them. Be clearer in teaching what benefits come from it: abundant the repayment for keeping them. A wonderful reward, he is saying, is laid up for those choosing to keep them. And because he claimed to keep the decrees of God, calling to mind human weakness and considering the arrogance of the claim, he immediately added, Who will understand faults? Purify me from my hidden ones: even if I intend with great enthusiasm to keep God’s commands, I am dragged down by natural weakness to many faults against my will; some faults I commit in ignorance, some when overcome by the onset of circumstances. And even if I avoid sin in deed, thoughts fill me with every defilement. Hence, I beseech You, who are able to purify me, and I cry out.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 19.5–7