Friday, September 28, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where

Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where

Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.
For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another. (Mark 9:42–50)

If today one is cast out of the assembly of this church because of some enormity, in how much grief and tribulation will his soul be? If it causes unbearable pain to be thrown out of this church, where the one who is rejected can eat and drink and speak with others and has the hope of being called back, how much more pain will there be if, because of his sins, one is separated from that church which is in heaven, and eternally separated from the assembly of the angels and the company of all the saints? For such a person it will not be enough punishment for him to be cast away, but in addition he will be shut out into the night, to be consumed by an eternal fire. One whose impenitent behavior has warranted his being finally shut out of that heavenly Jerusalem will not only be deprived of divine fellowship, but will also suffer the flames of hell, “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,” where there will be the wailing of lamentation without any remedy, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished; where death would be sought as an end to torment, and not found.

Caesarius of Arles, Sermons 227.4

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Jesus, Our Sabbath Rest

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. (He 4:9–10)

Pastor Mark Preus is a hymnist of high caliber. Recently, he posted the following on Jesus as our sabbath rest. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Lord Jesus, Be My Sabbath Rest

1. Lord Jesus, be my Sabbath rest
For body and for spirit;
The soul to whom You speak is blessed,
And will Your peace inherit;
Have mercy, Christ, and come, draw near
To open now my heart to hear.

2. Your Sabbath Day is still profaned
When we love work and leisure
And think our faith could be sustained
While we serve care and pleasure,
Avoiding preaching of Your Word
For worldly work and its reward.

3. But for this sin Jerusalem
Was brought to sad destruction;
Though many years You called to them,
They shunned Your Word’s protection,
And scorned their loving Shepherd’s rod,
And lied when they called You their God.

4. Lord, it is this idolatry
That I find in me living;
Ignoring You and loving me
No rest to me is giving –
When sin is what I labor for,
I only serve sin even more.

5. It’s not in keeping outward rules
That I could end this labor;
I cannot find in me the tools
To love You and my neighbor,
Since there is rest in love, I know,
But only You this love can show.

6. The Sabbath knows You as its Lord,
Since You obeyed the Father,
When all our work on you was poured,
Since You became our Brother
To offer pure and sinless hands
To do the work the Law demands.

7. What is this pouring from Your side
Into my weary spirit?
What are these words that You once cried?
My heart so longs to hear it!
“It’s finished! All your work is done –
Now claim the rest My death has won.”

8. The water quenches all my thirst,
Your blood now teaches Abel
To sing to all in Adam cursed,
“Come, sit at Jesus’ table
To find forgiveness for your sin,
And rest from all regret within.”

9. Lord Jesus Christ, our Sabbath rest,
Still speak, our faith sustaining,
Till all your saints will have possessed
The rest that is remaining,
When as we rise we hear Your voice,
“All things are ready! Come, rejoice!”

Friday, September 21, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, teach me, and I will know. Then I saw their purpose. For I did not know I was like an innocent lamb led to be sacrificed. They plotted an evil device against me, saying, “Come, let us put wood in his bread, and destroy him root and branch from the land of the living, so his name might not be remembered any longer.”
But, O Lord,
You who judge righteously,
Who tests minds and hearts,
Let me see Your vengeance on them
For I have revealed my righteous plea to You.
Jeremiah 11:17–19 LXX (Je 11:18–20)

It is the consensus of all the church that these words are spoken by Christ through the person of Jeremiah. For the Father made it known to him how he should speak and revealed to him the zealotry of the Jews—he who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, not opening his mouth and not knowing. But the word sin is implicitly added to this last phrase, in agreement with what was said by the apostle: “When he did not know sin, he was made to be sin on our account.” And they said, “Let us put wood on his bread,” clearly referring to the cross on the body of the Savior, for he is the one who said, “I am the bread that descended from heaven.”

They also said “let us destroy (or eradicate) him from the land of the living.” And they conceived the evil in their soul that they would delete his name forever. In response to this, from the sacrament of the assumed body, the Son speaks to the Father and invokes his judgment while praising his justice and acknowledging him as the God who inspects the interior and the heart. He asks that the Father would return to the people what they deserve, saying, “Let me see your vengeance on them,” obviously referring only to those who continue in sin, not to those who repent. Concerning the latter, he said on the cross: “Father forgive them, for they do not realize what they are doing.” He also “disclosed his cause” to the Father, that he was crucified not because he deserved it but for the sins of the people, as he declared: “Behold, the prince of the world came and found nothing against me.” The Jews and our Judaizers believe that all of this was said only by Jeremiah, arguing from prophecy that the people have sustained these evils in their captivity. But I fail to see how they hope to prove that Jeremiah was the one crucified, since such an event is nowhere recorded in Scripture. Perhaps it is just a figment of their imagination.

Jerome, Six Books on Jeremiah 2.110

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Christ in All the Scriptures

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.… 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. (Lk 24:27, 44–45)

The Law and the Prophets also are to our eyes books containing the promise of things which, from the benefit they will confer on him, naturally rejoice the hearer as soon as he takes in the message. To this it may be said that Before the sojourn of Christ, the Law and the Prophets did not contain the proclamation which belongs to the definition of the Gospel, since He who explained the mysteries in them had not yet come. But since the Savior has come and has caused the Gospel to be embodied, He has by the Gospel made all things as Gospel.… For when He had taken away the veil which was present in the Law and the Prophets, and by His divinity had proved the sons of men that the Godhead was at work, He opened the way for all those who desired it to be disciples of His wisdom, and to understand what things were true and real in the law of Moses, of which things those of old worshiped the type and the shadow, and what things were real of the things narrated in the histories which “happened to them in the way of type” (1 Co 10:11), but these things “were written for our sakes, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” With whomever, then, Christ has sojourned, he worships God neither at Jerusalem nor on the mountain of the Samaritans; he knows that God is a spirit, and worships Him spiritually, in spirit and in truth; no longer by type does he worship the Father and Maker of all. Before that Gospel, therefore, which came into being by the sojourning of Christ, none of the older works was a Gospel. But the Gospel, which is the new covenant, having delivered us from the oldness of the letter, lights up for us, by the light of knowledge, the newness of the spirit, a thing which never grows old, which has its home in the New Testament, but is also present in all the Scriptures. It was fitting, therefore, that that Gospel, which enables us to find the Gospel present, even in the Old Testament, should itself receive, in a special sense, the name of Gospel.

Origen, Commentary on John 1.8

Friday, September 14, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:14–29)

The answer of the Lord was suited to the petition; for the man said, “If You can do any thing, help us;” and to this the Lord answered, “If you can believe.” On the other hand, the leper who cried out, with faith, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean,” received an answer according to his faith, “I will, be clean.” There follows, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” But if he had already believed, saying, “I believe,” how is it that he adds, “help my unbelief?” We must say then that faith is manifold, that one sort of faith is elementary, another perfect; but this man, being but a beginner in believing, prayed the Savior to add to his virtue what was lacking. For no man at once reaches to the highest point, but in holy living a man begins with the least things that he may reach the great; for the beginning of virtue is different from the progress and the perfection of it. Because then faith mounts up through the secret inspiration of grace, by the steps of its own merits, he who had not yet believed perfectly was at once a believer and an unbeliever.…

Again, in a mystical sense, on high the Lord unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to His disciples, but below He rebukes the multitude for their sins of unfaithfulness, and expels devils from those who are vexed by them. Those who are still carnal and foolish, He strengthens, teaches, punishes, while He more freely instructs the perfect concerning the things of eternity. For oftentimes when we try to turn to God after sin, our old enemy attacks us with new and greater snares, which he does, either to instill into us a hatred of virtue, or to avenge the injury of his expulsion. Or by this demoniac are signified those who are bound by the guilt of original sin, and coming into the world as criminals, are to be saved by grace; and by fire is meant the heat of anger, by water, the pleasures of the flesh, which melt the soul by their sweetness. But He did not rebuke the boy, who suffered violence, but the devil, who inflicted it, because he who desires to amend a sinner, ought, while he exterminates his vice by rebuking and cursing it, to love and cherish the man.

Bede, Commentary on Mark

Friday, September 7, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Prophet Isaiah
Be comforted, you fainthearted. Be strong, do not fear! Behold, our God renders judgment, and will render it. He will come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will speak clearly. For water shall burst forth in the desert, and a valley in the thirsty land. The waterless desert shall become meadows, and the thirsty land springs of water. There will be the gladness of birds, a habitation of reeds and marshes. (Is 35:4–7 LXX)

The same rule of truth teaches us to believe, after the Father, also on the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the Lord our God, but the Son of God—of that God who is both one and alone, that is the Founder of all things, as already has been expressed above. For this Jesus Christ, I will once more say, the Son of this God, we read of as having been promised in the Old Testament, and we observe to be manifested in the New, fulfilling the shadows and figures of all the sacraments, with the presence of the truth embodied. For as well the ancient prophecies as the Gospels testify Him to be the son of Abraham and the son of David.… Him, too, Isaiah alludes to: “There shall go forth a rod from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall grow up from his root.” The same also when he says: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.” Him he refers to when he enumerates the healings that were to proceed from Him, saying: “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear: then shall the lame man leap as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shall be eloquent.” Him also, when he sets forth the virtue of patience, saying: “His voice shall not be heard in the streets; a bruised reed shall He not destroy, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.” Him, too, when he described His Gospel: “And I will ordain for you an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David.” Him, too, when he foretells that the nations should believe on Him: “Behold, I have given Him for a Chief and a Commander to the nations. Nations that knew You not shall call upon You, and peoples that knew You not shall flee unto You.” It is the same that he refers to when, concerning His passion, he exclaims, saying: “As a sheep He is led to the slaughter; and as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, so He opened not His mouth in His humility.” Him, moreover, when he described the blows and stripes of His scourgings: “By His bruises we were healed.” Or His humiliation: “And we saw Him, and He had neither form nor comeliness, a man in suffering, and who knows how to bear infirmity.” Or that the people would not believe on Him: “All day long I have spread out my hands unto a people that believes not.” Or that He would rise again from the dead: “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, and one who shall rise to reign over the nations; on Him shall the nations hope, and His rest shall be honor.”

Novation, On the Trinity 9

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Same Holy Spirit Who Worked in Christ's Birth Now Works in Rebirth

Baptism of St Paul - Capela Paletina

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Lu 1:35)

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (He 2:14–15)

And so to undo this chain of sin and death, the Almighty Son of God, that fills all things and contains all things, altogether equal to the Father and co-eternal in one essence from Him and with Him, took on Him man’s nature, and the Creator and Lord of all things deigned to be a mortal: choosing for His mother one whom He had made, one who, without loss of her maiden honor, supplied so much of bodily substance, that without the pollution of human seed the New Man might be possessed of purity and truth. In Christ, therefore, born of the Virgin’s womb, the nature does not differ from ours, because His nativity is wonderful. For He Who is true God, is also true man: and there is no lie in either nature. “The Word became flesh” by exaltation of the flesh, not by failure of the Godhead: which so tempered its power and goodness as to exalt our nature by taking it, and not to lose His own by imparting it. In this nativity of Christ, according to the prophecy of David, “truth sprang out of the earth, and righteousness looked down from heaven” (Ps 85:12). In this nativity also, Isaiah’s saying is fulfilled, “let the earth produce and bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together” (Is 45:8). For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is reborn, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing.

Gregory the Great, Sermon on the Feast of the Nativity 24.3

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Is God Mean or Good?

This past Sunday, Psalm 78:1–7 was read. During the reading, I was struck by the first four verses:
Give ear, O my people, to my law;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord,
And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.
Asaph exhorts God’s people to contemplate the dark sayings he will be teaching throughout the psalm, but the teaching is of God’s paternal care for His children. He narrates the history without sidestepping any negative issues or intentions of the people, for example:
And may not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not set its heart aright,
And whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Ps 78:8)
These deeds and commands of God are to be told to our children, so they can also live faithfully before Him. But there is no cover for sin amongst the people of God as they are disciplined severely for wandering away. God can be mean.

Earlier today, a Facebook acquaintance posted that the best argument against God’s goodness is the problem of evil/pain. I told him that he only needed to look at the cross of Christ to see that God’s goodness is actually demonstrated in this most evil, painful deed. And later, I noticed in a more full reading of Psalm 78 that evil/pain can work for good.
When He slew them, then they sought Him;
And they returned and sought earnestly for God.
Then they remembered that God was their rock,
And the Most High God their Redeemer. (Ps 78:34–35)
Notice that the calamities and the slayings brought upon Israel were designed to draw mankind unto Himself. Yes, the turning was short-lived, yet the slaying of the obstinate was just and turned the people to righteousness, though only for awhile.

Is God good? Absolutely. He gives us our very breath and daily sustenance. Is God mean, even cruel? He can appear so, but works the circumstance to good for those who love Him. Those who turn away have no such promise, but are are left to continue aimlessly until they might hear the word of God and believe.