Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: John Bunyan”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”

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Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners[1]

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, during his incarceration, Bunyan writes a spiritual autobiography, where his conversion to Christ is contrasted from his former idolatry.  The son of a traveling blacksmith, Bunyan in 1653 was incarcerated for 11 years because he refused to refrain from preaching.

He starts his autobiography by explaining the former darkness that bound him (Eph. 2: 2, 3) such that a sinful lifestyle became second nature to him.  Yet, thoughts of coming judgment and hell tormented Bunyan around nine or ten years of age.  However, until he married, all manner of vice drowned out the aforesaid fears as he gave himself over to satisfy his every lust.

Experiencing Guilt Yet Not Converted

Bunyan was much vexed with guilt after hearing a sermon on keeping the Sabbath, and in a mystical experience, he heard a voice (supposedly from Christ) challenging him to leave sin for heaven or embrace hell for sin, despair gripped Bunyan, believing that he was beyond Christ’s forgiveness.  After this experience, Bunyan noticed that his speech went from swearing to leaving that pleasantly behind (this happened before he knew Christ).  Yet, while experiencing some outward manifestations of reform, Bunyan was not converted.  He had religion, but without Christ, he was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked.  He was pleased with his own righteousness, while ignorant of Christ’s righteousness.  That is, until it was initially revealed to him through women conversing about the new birth and as Bunyan read the Scriptures, his thirst to truly know God grew.

The Gift of Faith

As Bunyan read (1 Cor. 12: 8, 9) regarding the gift of faith, he wondered if he could receive it, moreover, if he actually had it, but simultaneously was puzzled as how to verify whether or not he had faith.  He then wondered how he could know if he was elect which tormented Bunyan, for he understood Romans 9: 16 to say that one’s election is grounded not on one’s desires, nor on one’s willingness, but on God’s mercy.  Hence, unless God elected him, he knew that hell awaited.  The Tempter tormented Bunyan much with this issue, discouraging his soul deeply, but eventually God’s sweet mercy and calling became real to him (Mk. 3:13).  In his soul, Bunyan understood Romans 8:39 and assured him of God’s love for him.

Struggling with Christ’s Exclusivity

He then had to deal with doubts about Jesus being the only Savior, for the Turks also have their scriptures and their savior is Mahomet.  Yet, something within his spirit allowed Bunyan not to doubt Jesus and the Scriptures he had.  But he still had many bouts with doubt, which caused Bunyan much unrest.  Yet scriptures such as (2 Cor. 5:21; John 14:19; Rom. 8:31; Heb. 2: 14-15) comforted him regarding salvation and the rescue from death, all of which are grounded on God’s goodness toward his creatures.

Called to Ministry

Now concerning his call to ministry, Bunyan offers a brief account explaining among other things how his peers recognized God’s hand on him and gladly desired to hear him preach.  After fasting and prayer, he was appointed to a more ordinary and public ministry of preaching.  Bunyan understood that God desired men with gifts to use them for the Masters glory, rather than bury them.   The following Scriptures encouraged him to labor diligently in the ministry of the word (Acts 8: 4; 18:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6) and also those of church history (Foxes Acts and Mounments).

Moved for the People

When he preached, Bunyan was moved for the people, as they were confronted with the gravity of their sin before a holy God.  In touch with his own wretchedness, Bunyan was amazed and humbled that the people loved him, and that God was using him for preaching the word.

Mode of Preaching

His mode of preaching focused first on the problem of sin in mans’ hearts, and the terror that awaits the ungodly.  Having been under the torment of such a reality himself, Bunyan understood his duty to warn people of God’s coming judgment and Christ’s rescue.  While he received opposition from the doctors and the priests, Bunyan did not shrink back from proclaiming the gospel.  He was not a polemical preacher, but focused primarily on the redemption that is only found in Christ.

Bunyan sensed God’s leading before he embarked going to any particular place.  Moreover, he also understood that where God lead him, the Devil would meet him trying to oppose the work of the gospel.  He desired to go into the darkest places spiritually speaking and preach the gospel among those who had not heard it, interceding much for them.

[1] Bunyan, Graces Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-58).

 

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Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Arminius Declaration of Sentiments

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Arminius Declaration of Sentiments[1]

In his Declaration of Sentiments, Arminius deals with the doctrine’s of predestination, Divine Providence, the freedom of the will, God’s grace, Christ’s deity, and man’s justification before God.

Many Facets to Predestination Obtain

The bulk of his treatise deals with the many facets of predestination, holding that Calvin’s view on many points is false and impertinent.  Arminius rejects the notions that the decree of God is the foundation of Christianity, salvation, and one’s certainty.  For predestination is not the foundation of the Gospel, Christ is through whom believers are built up into Him.  It’s neither the grounds for salvation, nor it’s certainty, for only those who believe shall be saved.   Arminius sees that the Gospel of Christ and of the Apostles after the ascension is one of repentance and belief, followed by a promise to forgive sins and realizing eternal life. But predestination belongs to neither of these injunctions and is not necessary for a doctrine of salvation; as an object of knowledge, belief, hope, or performance.

The Councils and Divines of the Church Never Held This Predestination View

Arminius continues and points to the early Councils[2] and to the Divines/Doctors of the church, while holding orthodox views, and defending God’s grace against Pelagius, never brought this doctrine forward or approved it.  Moreover, this doctrine is not found in the volume of Geneva[3] and is debatable in others.[4]  And as such, more tolerance of those opposing Calvin’s view should obtain.

Calvin’s Predestination View is Repugnant in View of God’s Nature

Arminius found the doctrine repugnant in view of God’s nature.  It is repugnant concerning God’s wisdom seeing Him decreeing something that is not good nor can be. Concerning His justice it counts against God loving righteousness and hating evil.  And concerning His goodness, it’s repugnant showing God to will the greatest evil.

Again, Arminius understands this doctrine to be contrary to man’s nature, for being created in God’s image with free will, certain commands to obedience cannot be excited in man if he can choose no other alternative (Rom. 10: 5; Gen. 2: 17).  Along the same lines, Arminius sees that determining man’s actions is inconsistent with creation by preventing the free exercise of liberty.  This predestination is totally opposed to the Act of Creation, for that which is by nature good, turns out to be a the determined perdition of the creature.  Reprobation is an act of hatred (Mt.26: 24) creation is the converse.  Creation is a perfect act of God whereby His goodness, wisdom and omnipotence are manifest.

Calvin’s Predestination View is Hostile to the Nature of Eternal Life

This predestination is both hostile to the nature of eternal life (Mt. 5:12; Tit. 3:7; Jn. 1:12), and to the nature of eternal death (Rom. 6:23).  It’s further inconsistent with the nature of Divine Grace because it denies that: grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51); that man can receive or reject it; and that man cannot freely exercise his will.

There are many more disagreements to Calvin’s views that Arminius expresses such as; this doctrine is hurtful to man’s salvation, it’s dishonorable to Jesus Christ, it’s openly hostile to the Gospel’s ministry, it’s subversive to Christianity in particular (dealing with supralapsarianism), etc.  Arminius then deals with a second and third kind of predestination and then positively affirms his position on the doctrine.

God’s Providence Generally and Specifically

He then deals with God’s Providence seeing in it the general care of God for the whole world and particular care for His intelligent creatures and of those who should be heirs of salvation.  For Arminius, his view of providence does not attribute see God as the cause of sin.  Concerning man’s free will, only the regenerate can perform what is truly good since they are delivered from sin’s power.  Concerning God’s grace, Arminius held men could reject it.  Concerning the perseverance of the saints, they can resist Satan and persevere to the end only through the Holy Spirit’s power.  However, certain passages seem to say that one can fall away from the faith, but many other passages buttress the contrary.  Concerning the assurance of salvation, Arminius holds that one can know with certainty that they are saved, but not with the same certainty that we know God exists.

Arminius then concludes with the believer’s perfection, Christ’s divinity, man’s justification before God and ends his treatise with a plea for toleration from those differing with him, for Christianity has had enough schisms.  Said schisms should be diminished and their influence ought to be destroyed.

[1] Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-36).

[2]  The first six centuries after Christ.

[3]  Which is done in the name of the Protestant and Reformed Churches

[4]  The Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Trent on Justification (Discussion) & (Canons)

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Trent, On Justification (Discussion)[1]

Pope Paul the III presided over the Council of Trent, which focused on clarifying the significance of Justification.  They understand that man in his state of original sin is incapable of self-rescue.  Said rescue can only be realized through faith in Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice as one appropriates the benefit of his death personally.  This justification is derived from God’s prevenient grace, which one can reject.

The justification of the impious has God as the final cause, God’s mercy as the efficient cause, Jesus Christ as the meritorious cause, the sacrament of baptism is the instrumental cause, and Gods justice as the alone formal cause.  We are freely justified by faith.  It’s the genesis of human salvation.  However, if one demonstrates confidence in that their sins are forgiven, they are not.  For nobody can have such certainty of faith or of perseverance.

Moreover, justification is realized not forensically, but dualistically as faith and good works manifest in a believer.  Furthermore, it is necessary and possible to keep the commandments, for works of righteousness are the means to realize final salvation.  If one falls away from justification, he can again be justified through the Sacraments of penance, confession of sins, sacerdotal absolution, fasts, alms, etc.  And finally, the ultimate fruit of justification is merited eternal life.   

Trent, On Justification (Canons)[2]

The Canons lay out a plethora of anathemas to those in disagreement with Trent’s views.  Such anathemas include those holding: that man’s image in Adam’s was erased, rather than effaced; that God is the cause of evil in man; that justification is by faith alone; that men are just without Christ’s righteousness; that by faith alone absolution and justification are realized; that perseverance is certain, unless divinely revealed; that Jesus is the Savior but does not need to be obeyed; that one cannot lose their salvation; seeing good works as fruit of being justified, rather than the grounds thereof, etc.

[1] Document retrieved through Hanover College, History Department,  Comments to: luttmer@hanover.edu

[2] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)

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Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)[1]

The Doctrine of Election

In Calvin’s treatise On Predestination, he first addresses the doctrine of eternal election, where some are predestined to salvation and others to destruction.  He begins by affirming that neglecting this doctrine essentially impairs God’s glory and produces pride in the individual.  He admonishes both the inquirers and those shunning the doctrine of predestination, to stay within the bounds of scripture, rather than venture into what God has concealed, for everything we need to know is contained therein.  When God ceases revealing, we cease wanting to be wise.  Calvin understood that profane men would scoff and cavil this doctrine, but it is not to deter one from its inquiry.  For scoffers will always find something to poke fun at.

Predestination is the Eternal Decree of God

For Calvin, predestination is “the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man,” God testifying his election of Israel in (Dt.32: 8, 9; 4: 37; 7: 7, 8; 10: 14, 15; Ps.47: 4; 33: 12; 1 Sam. 12:22; Is. 41:9 etc.).  God also shows His rejection of Ishmael, Esau, Saul, and Ephraim (Ps. 78: 67, 68; 147: 20; Mal.1: 2, 3; Rom. 9:8; Gal. 3:16; etc.).   Though in the line of Abraham, they were rotten, not the remnant.  Hence, in God’s eternal and immutable council some were elected for salvation, and others to perdition.

Calvin makes a case for election from Scripture contra those who interpret election, as those who God foreknew would not be worthy of his grace.  His election is certainly not based on man’s inherent worth, for it precedes works.  As Paul declares God’s choosing us (i.e., believers) before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 5; Col. 1:12; cf., 1 Tim. 2:9).  Jesus himself explicitly demonstrates God choosing us not based on past merits, but on God’s mercy (John. 15:16).  Again, Paul shows that the origin and cause of election proceed not from works of merit, but from God’s good pleasure (Rom. 9:11).  Calvin disagrees with those that assign election to past or future works, for he understands that God finds nothing in man to show him kindness (Rom. 9:15).

Moreover, Peter accentuates God accomplishing the believer’s salvation by his own determinate foreknowledge in Christ’s death (Acts 2:23).   Election is further supported by the Father’s donation to Jesus, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me” (John 6: 37, 39, 44, 45; 17:9; 12; 13:18;).  These texts demonstrate God’s gratuitous adoption of those whom according to his good pleasure, he wishes to be his sons, because God is contented with his secret pleasure.  Calvin then considers the church fathers on this issue (Ambrose, Origin, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas) understanding that Augustine got the doctrine correctly in his later years and continues dealing with objections to his position.

Responding To Objections

Calvin deals with several objections to his view and responds accordingly.  He first addresses those who object that God makes anyone reprobate, and reminds his dissenters that Paul does not try to defend God, but simply reminds us that it is unlawful for the creature to argue with the Creator.  Calvin further shows that the reprobate, are those trees not planted by the Father who are doomed to destruction (Mt. 15:13).

A second objection is that it seems unjust and capricious for God to doom some to destruction before they have committed any wrongs.  Calvin’s response is that because of God’s ontological status (being righteous), he does not commit any lawlessness, and by the mere fact of his willing (in election), is necessarily right.  A further objection is that God seems to be a cruel judge by preordaining the reprobate’s sin.  But, Calvin defends the justice of God with Paul’s words, “…O man, who are thou that replies against God…” (Rom. 9:20-21).  This passage couches God’s infinite mind, to man’s finitude.  The last objection we will consider is the charge that Scripture nowhere declares that God decreed Adam’s fall.  Calvin responds that Scripture proclaims all mankind was in Adam, made liable to eternal death.  The decree is dreadful, but it is impossible to deny that God foreknew man’s end before being created.  To do so, is rash and not advised.

Election Confirmed by God’s Calling

Calvin deals with election confirmed by God’s calling and the reprobate bring upon themselves the righteous destruction to which they are doomed.  Calvin admits that election is God’s secret, but is manifest in his effectual calling.  He then deals with the metaphysics of said calling and concludes that it is founded on God’s free mercy.  He then illustrates aforementioned and understands that this calling is grounded on Christ.  He further considers objections to his position that the elect sometimes fall away and responds accordingly (e.g., the son of perdition passage, many are called but few are chosen, etc.)

[1] Calvin’s Institutes: Chapters 21-24, (This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999. Contacting the CCEL).

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD_Martin Luther: On Christian Liberty, Justification, the Church Fathers and the Scriptures

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Luther, On Christian Liberty[1]

In his letter On Christian Liberty, Luther addresses Pope Leo X and

affirms that he has never thought any evil concerning his person, but regards him highly and his dispute is not over morals, but over the word of truth.  The Church of Rome “Babylon” doesn’t want reform, and the pope is as Daniel in that Satanically ruled city, the “seat of all pestilence”.  He views Luther’s chief nemesis, John Eccius, as the enemy of peace, evidenced by their exaltation of the Pope (i.e., only via his authority one can be saved, and he alone has the right to interpret Scripture).  Instead of trusting those who exalt him, Luther implores the Pope to trust the ones who humble him.

The Christian is the Freest Lord of All

For Luther, the Christian is the freest lord of all, and subject to none, but is also the most dutiful servant of all and subject to all (Paul’s example used: 1 Cor.9: 19; Rom.13:8).  He argues that mere outward pious acts do not make one justified or liberate the soul, but rather the risen Christ and his word (Jn.11: 25; Mt.4: 4).  The soul can do without everything but the word of God.  Through the word salvation is realized (Rom.1; 10:9; 10:4; 1:17) and the sinner liberated (Rom.3: 23).  This justification is by faith alone, hence, the Christian’s primary concern must be to grow, not in reliance on works, but in strengthening one’s faith.  Luther cites Jesus when confronted by the Jews what the work of God was, “to believe on Him whom He hath sent…” (Jn.6: 27-29).

Commands Teach Us What is Good, But They Do Not Help Us Obey

Precepts (commands) teach us what is good “thou shall not…” but it does not empower us to obey.  Once one understands the aforementioned, that person is ready to believe the promises of God, which by faith aids the obeying of commands, “the promises of God give that which the precepts exact” p.11 (see; 1 Tim.1: 9).  To disbelieve God’s promises is the highest form of insult toward Him, while the converse is the greatest honor toward the Almighty (1 Sam. 2:30).  Among other things Luther makes a case for the priesthood of all believers and sees the system that separates “laity” from “priest”,  “clergy” etc., as bad because the notion is not biblical.

Why Are Good Works Commanded?

To the objection: “if faith is everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded?  Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?”  Luther affirms no!  Pertaining to his freedom, man is justified (inwardly) subject to none, but concerning his works (outwardly) he is subject to all and the servant of all.  For Luther, those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh (Gal. 5:24), in his words: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works” p.18 (Mt.7: 18).  He continues and asserts that good works prior to justification profit the non-believer nothing concerning salvation.  But Luther wholeheartedly embraced the doing and teaching of good works to the highest degree, especially directed toward others (Phil.2: 1-4) as imitators of Christ (Phil.2: 5-8).   The works, which overflow from the joy of being justified, the believer is not concerned with recognition or recompense from friend or foe.  Luther then uses the Virgin Mary, and St. Paul as examples of the aforesaid life.

Justification is the Grounds for Love

For Luther, the man justified by faith in Christ is the one who serves his neighbor by love.  The liberty of the justified is a freedom from all sins, laws, and commandments (1 Tim.1: 9), and a liberty from believing that good works makes one right before God.

 Luther, Table Talk on Justification[2]

In Luther’s Table Talk on Justification, he begins by asserting that it is impossible for the papist to understand this article.  One remains a child of God even though periodically he sin or be tempted, for he is the Shepherds lamb.  Christians make the best use of natural wisdom and understanding because through faith, their reason furthers their understanding of things divine, not so with the unregenerate.  Their understanding is darkened because it strives against faith.

For Luther, the workmen who continuously is improving his craft, is like the righteous who constantly strive to increase their faith.  Faith and Hope are distinguishable in that, among other things, the former; it looks to the word and promise of truth, whereas the latter; looks to that which the Word promises (i.e., the good or benefit).  Again, faith is necessary for salvation because man is justified by it before God through Christ the Lord.  Justification is the key doctrine for all theological disputation; one cannot merit it, it is an inheritance from the Father, it bears the fruit of generosity toward neighbor, it produces virtues (the greatest being patience) and good works in the believer.  Luther understands that a believer’s good works are incompletely good, because they proceed from a weak obedience.

Luther, Table Talk on the Church Fathers[3]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the church Fathers, he does not want to be too critical of the Fathers.  He considers Chrysostum a rhetorician whose exegesis goes awry concerning the message of the text.  On the one hand, Luther’s disgust with the following fathers are because justification is nowhere to be found: St. Jerome; for his writings are cold, Ambrose; for his books are poor, Augustine; for his inattention to faith in Galatians or Romans and his apparent siding with the Church’s authority.  On the other hand, Luther appreciates the writings of Epiphanius; who compiled a church history, and Prudentius; who is the best of Christian poets.

The Fathers must be read with caution.  Luther asserts this because: First, their exegetical methods draw attention away from the Gospel of Christ.  Second, their writings are used in a way that undervalues the teaching of Christ’s apostles.  Third, Augustine noted; the laws of the Jews brought less trouble to the church than the ordinances and traditions of the bishops.  For Luther, faithful Christians must heed the words of Christ and those who stray from them in their teaching, should be shunned.

Luther, Table Talk on the Scriptures[4]

In Luther’s Table Talk on the Scriptures, he views the Bible as the highest and best of all books.  He understands that rulers have tried to destroy the Bible, and its survival is seen as an act of God alone.  Luther compares it to the writings of Homer, Virgil, and the like, and concludes that there is no comparison, regardless of how fine and noble these antiquated books may be.  He is thankful that finally, the Bible is written in the German language for all to read and understand.

Part of the reason Luther sees the Bible as superior to the rest is because of it’s divine content of virtues and gift’s.  The Scriptures abound in comfort for those undergoing trials and tribulations.  They should be studied and judged not by mere reason alone, but in humility bathed with prayer.  Moreover, for Luther, the one who has mastered the principles of the text will not err in its interpretation, but will rather silence his adversaries.  He also affirms that the Bible is to trump the authority of the fathers, regardless of their value.  Again, Luther sees that the knowledge of God in Scripture supercedes any of the other sciences whether philosophers, or jurists for the effect it has on our eternal destiny.

Luther understands that there is no harder discipline of knowledge to master than that of divinity, even though worldly wisdom would hold the contrary position.  He sees the worse thing that could possibly happen to Christians is for the Word of God to be taken from them or falsified.  Among other things, Luther continues lauding the Scripture’s magnificence and comments on the many books of the Bible with the respective authors intended message (Judges, Proverbs, John, Paul, etc.), and the is a discussion on the different genres (example: Gospel parables).  For Luther, the ablest teacher of the Word is the one who so familiarizes with its every text, that the context, verse, and meaning of the passage are known.

[1] Concerning Christian Liberty: by Martin Luther 1520, “The Harvard Classics”, Volume 36 (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910, Pages 353-397)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD_ St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict[1]

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The Centrality of Prayer

In his Rule, St. Benedict starts off the prologue by placing fervent prayer as the pre-eminent act before starting any good work so that it may be brought to perfection.   He then admonishes his disciples to not harden their hearts as the Israelites did when they heard God’s voice, to learn the fear of the Lord, and to work while it is still day.  Yet, like Paul the apostle (1 Cor.15: 10) as they see the progress and fruit of their work, they are not to boast of themselves, but are rather to give thanks to God for supplying the grace needed to accomplish their tasks.  Since disciples are in a battle, critical to holy obedience is the preparation of both heart and body.  And that which is impossible by nature, the disciple is to ask the Lord for his grace to help.  The purpose of the regulations is not intended to be harsh, nor burdensome, but where strictness obtains, it is to safeguard love and amend faults.

The Rule’s Impact

Benedict calls it a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.  He starts off the rule by explaining the four different kinds of monks that exist and that his order (the cenobites) live in a monastery and serve under a rule and an abbot.  The Abbot must exemplify the character of Christ and make Jesus’ teaching the anchor of all that’s instructed to the disciples, understanding that God’s stricter judgment awaits those who teach.  The primary manner in which the Abbot is to teach is not by mere words, but rather through example.  Furthermore, the Abbot is to show no favoritism and when teaching, he must use argument with the undisciplined, he must use appeal with the docile and obedient, and with the negligent and disdainful he must use reproof and rebuke.  Above all else, the Abbot must not treat lightly his duties by being distracted with the temporary things of the world.

Tools for Good Works Grounded in One’s Love for God

Concerning the tools for good works, Benedict points out that the great commandment on which all good deeds are grounded: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The restraint of speech is especially cherished so that sin is avoided (Prov.10: 19) and vulgar speech is abated.  Moreover, the twelve steps to humility first begin with the fear of the Lord.  One is to constantly remember that God sees their deeds and motives.  The second step is for a man to not delight in his desires or will, but rather to make God’s will his desire (Jn.6: 38).  The third step requires one to submit to his superiors in all things for the love of God, while the fourth step admonishes the disciple to submit even though being unjustly treated, for it is the one who endures to the end that will be saved.  Again, whether verbal, mental, or actual’ all sins must be confessed to the Abbot, the disciple must be grateful for the lowest tasks and see himself as a poor and worthless workman.  Furthermore, this workman must realize and confess that he is inferior to all and of less value than they.  The eighth step to humility is that the monk is only to do what the common rule of the monastery endorses and the example set by his superiors.  Again, a monk must control his tongue and remain silent unless spoken to.  He must not speak loudly with laughter or raise his voice, but instead he is to speak gently, seriously, and with becoming modesty.  Finally, the monk is to walk about with his head down at all times judging himself as a sinner who desperately needs Gods mercy to save him.  All these steps can only be realized through the power of the Holy Spirit’s grace being imparted to one.

The Reading of Scripture

Among other things the rule emphasizes the way, manner, and the days in which one is to read the scriptures and the catholic fathers.  Much attention is given to the Psalms and text memorization.  There is a specific procedure for the evening, morning and midday prayers, for the singing of the psalms, and for how one is to do their work.  Moreover, how to deal with the poor and excommunicated brothers is also addressed, as well as the proper and improper way for monks to interact with each other in the monastery.  Benedict ends his rule by reminding the monks that the rule is only the beginning of perfection, but by displaying the virtues in the rule, one displays that he has the beginnings of the monastic life.

[1] The Rule of St. Benedict In English; Editor Timothy Fry, O.S.B., (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1981 by the Order of St. Benedict).

Reflections From 1 Corinthians_CHAPTER 7:12-16 MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 2  

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Paul now addresses the spouse married to an unbeliever.  The married are to remain married but if there’s desertion or divorce they are to remain as they are and not cling to another.  To the unmarried, they are to remain single, but if they lack self-control, they are to marry.  To the married who are with an unbelieving spouse Paul says:

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.

For Paul, when one spouse converts to Christ it’s their duty to stay together and not divorce because of conversion so long as the spouse consents to live together.  This issue was difficult then and remains unto today.  Emotions run high, words are spoken, insults are unleashed, and at times physical abuse occurs.  This can be a difficulty and tricky situation to navigate but there’s a reason for the command:

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

Puzzling as it may be, here’s my best shot at getting the point.  Biblically one is not redeemed because of another’s trust in the living God.  For personal repentance is required of each one to be rescued from God’s wrath.

Second, the allusion to “unclean” and “holy” are OT themes where being set apart is a sign that one is part of the covenant community and thus  males were to be circumcised, the people were to eat kosher foods.

Third, taking part of said activities were signs one was part of the covenant community but did not guarantee one was part of the remnant (i.e., real regenerated believers in heart evidenced by their obedience to Yahweh).  That is, not all Israel was saved evidenced by their recalcitrant lives and while their lineage is Jewish not all were sons of Abraham (i.e., not all had the faith of Abraham).

Fourth, as it was then, so it is today where people partake of the covenant communities activities but remain unbelievers.  So what does Paul mean by “unclean and holy”?  Perhaps being around the believing community does offer an opportunity for genuine faith to arise in both spouse and children.  Again, even if they don’ have genuine saving faith, the Christian theist’s worldview has an impact on them that aids mirroring the image of God and somehow they are “clean and holy”

This text is tough to decipher, nevertheless when a text in Scripture is puzzling, the wise way to proceed is to use what is clearest in Scripture to deal with and try to understand the more difficult passages.  Paul continues:

15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

Paul notes several things here.  First, the previous verses on “clean and holy” can’t mean someone is in the covenant family because he addresses the issue of “saving” one’s spouse.  Personal repentance and faith is a necessary condition for salvation, thus one can’t be “saved” on another’s faith in Christ (e.g., your parents faith).

Second, Paul wants believers in this situation to understand that while being in this present evil age, believers married to non-believers will at times experience desertion or divorce.

Third, sometimes spouses believe that if they persevere in the marriage they will be able to save their spouse via example, but Paul reminds them that this is never a guarantee.  It may happen, but it may not.

Fourth, the bondage that such a believer may experience is not what God has designed for them but instead His peace.  What could this mean?  Minimally, once we were God’s enemies but now are his friends because of Christ, wrath is no longer ours to bear.  This peace is to be mirrored in our relationships.  He’s saying, “If they want to leave, let them go and cling to Christ”.

SDG

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Nature and Grace[1]

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            Augustine’s treatise On Nature and Grace was a response to the pernicious views of Pelagius’ concerning the grace of Christ.  He addresses the letter to Timasius and Jacobus, whom he calls ‘my beloved sons’.  Augustine’s manner in confronting the heresy is done graciously, not vehemently, for he does not judge the motives of his zealous rival, but rather his writings.

God’s Righteousness through Christ Alone

He begins by speaking of God’s righteousness, which comes not through the law, but only through Christ Jesus.  This righteousness makes one a Christian, that is, if he needs it.  But if one, by virtue of his own righteousness, needs not Christ’s righteousness, then the death of Jesus was in vain.  But if Christ’s death is not in vain then human nature cannot of its own merit, escape the wrath of God.  Said escape can only be realized by faith in Christ.

Our Corrupted Natures

Although our nature was created whole and sound, it was corrupted by original sin, which was committed by free will, and now requires Divine rescue from it’s fallen state.  This rescue is gratis, not merited, it’s a justification freely given by God through Christ’s sacrifice.   For because of original sin, all mankind is justly under God’s wrath, and as such needs a Savior, so that they can be ‘vessels of mercy.’

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Ability to not Sin

Pelagius advanced the argument that actually all men sin, but its possible that they can abstain from it.  Augustine responds that just because something is possible, it does not follow that it can actually happen.  Moreover, one is not unrighteous because of his own choice [Pelagius], but rather because of his inability to choose to be righteous.  To affirm the former, rather than the latter, would make the cross of Christ of none effect and prove one to be a liar (1 Jn.1:8).  Pelagius corrupts (Jam.3:8) to support the above notion by making an interrogative note: “Can no man, then, tame the tongue?” as opposed to “No man can tame the tongue.”  James wrote this of the tongue, emphatically, not interrogatively, so that we would petition God for his mercy and grace.  Augustine rightly points to (Jam.3: 10) to support his conclusion of our need for God’s grace to tame our tongue.  Furthermore, Augustine points out that in the Lord’s Prayer, we are commanded to ask for pardon from past sins, and to be kept from future transgression.  But, if we do not need divine assistance in the matter, why then are we commanded to ask for help?  It seems foolish therefore, to ask for something we have.

Pelagius’ View Concerning Our Corrupt Human Nature

Pelagius denies that human nature has been corrupted by sin, for if sin is not a substance, then how can it corrupt human nature?  Augustine responds by first pointing out, that such a view opposes the Jesus who said, “they that are whole, need no physician, but they that are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mt.9: 12-13)  Second, even though sin is not a substance, it does not prevent our nature from becoming corrupt.  Augustine continues and explains that we humans are sufficient of ourselves to commit sins, but insufficient of ourselves to be healed from it.  For the penalty of sin is death, and as such we need to choose to stop sinning, but we need to be revived from the grave, before being able to do that.  We need a Vivifier!   Until our souls are revived by Christ’s grace, we are unable to respond to God in righteousness.  To think we need no such assistance reveals our pride and restricts the humble petition for divine grace from being offered.

Augustins’ God-Centeredness for Man’s Healing

Augustine further points out that although God’s purpose in acting is to heal all things, He does not follow the sick patients prescription for its accomplishment.  For in His purpose to endow the Apostle Paul with power, God made sure that Paul was weak because “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor.12: 7-8).  In fact Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was given to keep him humble because of the multitude of revelations that God gave him, so that he would not be prideful, and that in the ‘right’ thing.  By doing this to Paul, God is preventing the apostle from boasting in gifts he has received, not earned, and as such, he is being protected from eternal peril.  Now, God in a certain sense forsakes the proud, so that such a one may learn that he has a Master, and thus learns to renounce the pride.

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Equality to God

Pelagius also equals man’s sinless to be equal to God, but Augustine responds by noting that the creature can never in substance become equal to God.  Moreover, Pelagius honors God as Creator but dishonors him as Savior when he holds that Jesus heals us of our past sins, but not the future ones.  Unwittingly, Pelagius is not encouraging that believers be watchful and pray, “lead us not into temptation”; instead he is advancing an independent attitude between the creature and the Creator.  Another argument Pelagius raises is that Abel was sinless on the heels of asserting that not all people’s sins in the Bible were recorded.  Augustine responds, by noting that Adam, Eve, and Cain’s sin are recorded, but to conclude and even ‘add’ that Abel did not sin because it’s not in the text, is a wicked act for the text also is silent on that.

Augustine addresses many other issues concerning how only by God’s grace one can be sinless, that what He commands is not impossible but in no wise removes the need for petitioning his divine help.  He also tackles the issue of free will and its ramifications to the believer’s life.  Toward the end of the letter, Augustine uses other authorities to combat Pelagius’ views, he demonstrates how to exhort men to godly living, and ends the treatise by accentuating the need for the Holy Spirit to help believers walk holiness.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “Treatise on Nature and Grace: Against Pelagius,” The Nicene and

Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume V, Pp.121-151, (T & T Clark Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Grace and Free Will[1]

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Augustine, On Grace and Free Will[1]

In his treatise on Grace and Free Will, Augustine writes to Valentinus and the Monks of Adrumetum concerning the Pelagian notion of free will and grace.  He warns that we must not deny free will when defending grace, nor deny grace while defending free will.  Yet, we must be grateful for what we do know, prayerful for what we do not understand, and charitable with each other in the learning process.

Free Will Grounded on God’s Commands

First, Augustine points out that free will exists by virtue of God’s commands.  That is, free choice of will is implied, for reward and punishment are grounded on the ability to choose righteousness or wickedness (Jn.15: 22).  Moreover, since God has revealed to man His righteousness, those claiming ignorance concerning His precepts have no excuse (Rom.1: 18-20).  Both Old and New Testament Scriptures illustrate our free will (Prov.1: 8; Ps.32: 9; Mt.6: 19; 10:28; 16:24).  Furthermore, those desiring to blame God for their sin are found wanting, for God tempts no man to do evil, but man is tempted to do evil from his own hearts desire (Jam.1: 13-15).

Pelagian View of Man’s Sufficiency to do Good Works

Second, Pelagius held that man is sufficient of himself to do good works.  Augustine responds by claiming that such a view is grounded on mans pride (Jer.17: 5), and prevents him from humbly asking for Gods help (Ps.27: 9).  He then maintains that in order for man to lead a good life, both grace and free will are necessary. Augustine grounds this assertion by demonstrating that faithfulness in marriage and in celibacy are gifts from God (Mt.19: 10; 1 Tim.5: 22; 1 Cor.7: 7, 36-37;).  Moreover, another proof of grace and free will is seen in prayer as it relates to temptation.  For when Jesus says, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation” Augustine maintains that both the will (pray) and God’s grace (that you enter not into temptation) are simultaneously at work.  Thus showing man’s insufficiency to do good works, by virtue of the need to pray for assistance.

Pelagius Held That God’s Grace Is Given Due to Man’s Merit

Third, Pelagius held that God’s grace was given to us by our own merits.  For example he quoted, “Turn unto me, and I will turn to you” (Zech.1: 3), to support his position.  However, Augustine points out that even our turning to God, is itself His gift, not our merit (Ps.80: 7; 85:4, 6-7;) and reminds us of what Jesus said, “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him by my Father” (Jn.6: 65).  Moreover, Augustine argues that grace is not a result of our merits as revealed by the Apostle Paul’s life.  His evil deeds of persecuting the church did not result in condemnation, but rather in mercy (1 Cor.15: 9), and said mercy, or grace, was not in vain, but it was demonstrated by his works, the source of which was God’s grace (1 Cor.15: 10).  In other words, God’s grace and Paul’s free will are seen working together.

Pelagius’ View of Forgiveness & Eternal Life

Fourth, Pelagius also maintained that the only grace that is not given according to our merits is the forgiveness of sins, but that eternal life is rendered by our merits.  Augustine responds by reminding Pelagius that every gift he has is from God, not himself, and that thinking the converse is the womb for pride.  Moreover, the fight and the race Paul the apostle engaged could only be realized through God’s grace and mercy, rather through his own sufficiency (2 Tim.4: 7; 2 Cor.3: 5).  Furthermore, Augustine points out that Paul’s faithfulness resulted from first receiving God’s mercy, “I obtained mercy that I might be faithful” (1Cor.7: 25), not by first showing himself faithful.   Again, the fact that mercy is shown does not negate the need for good works.  For it is impossible to sever faith from the fruit of good works (Eph.2: 8-10).  But good works precede from faith, not he converse.  And as for those who would argue that all we need is to believe, Augustine responds that even the demons believe in God and tremble (Jam.2: 19).

Pelagius’ View of the Law

Fifth, Pelagius maintains that the Law is the grace of God that helps us not to sin.  Augustine argues that the Apostle Paul sees it differently.  Although the commandment is just, holy and good, sin receives its strength through the law against man, for that which is good produces death in man.  The only deliverance from such a death comes from the Spirit’s life (2Cor.3: 6), which helps us mortify the deeds of the flesh, and shows that we are sons of God (Rom8: 14).  The point is not that the law is evil, but that it is good.  However, the law does not aid us to keep the commandments, only grace does this, it alone helps us be doers of the law, not merely its hearers. augustine_360x450

Pelagius’ View of Grace Concerning Past and Future Sins

Sixth, Pelagius also believes that grace only avails for the remission of past sins, not to aid in avoiding future sins.  Augustine reminds him that in the Lord’s Prayer, believers are to ask for pardon from past sins, as to petition for protection from future transgression.  If one could perform the latter without God’s help, then Jesus commanding us to pray in this manner would be empty, and misguided.

Augustine uses other examples of our need for God’s grace: to convert our hard hearts; to deliver our nature’s from the bondage of sin; to aid us in choosing righteousness; etc.  He continues his treatise by reminding us that we love God because He first loved us, that we chose God, because He first chose us, that our wills are also affected by God, that He operates even in wicked men’s hearts as He wills, and finally that the reason God works grace in one mans heart and not in another mans heart lie in His secret judgments.  Therefore, understanding and wisdom must be sought in God.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “On Grace and Free Will,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series Volume V, Pp. 443-465, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

 

Reflections From ISAIAH 3: THE LORD GOD OF HOSTS…FEAR HIM

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The topic of, “fearing God” from texts of the Old Testament are a puzzle to many of us for many reasons chief among which is the tendency to pick and choose what we like and we confuse the continuity and discontinuity of the Old and New Testament.

Preference not objective truth is often our guiding “compass”.

What I mean is that many professing believers happily embrace a God of love but one of fear and judgment they utterly reject.  If that’s you, friend, then how do you make sense out of the Gospel of Christ?

Why then was he brutally murdered on that bloody cross?  Is it not because God’s love and justice demanded it?  Is it not because the first Adam rebelled against the Holy One of Israel and plunged mankind into an eternal death sentence where the Creator became our enemy?  And was it not necessary for the last Adam to rectify this mess (which the first Adam plunged humanity into) to redeem us from God’s holy just wrath?

To fear God, among other things, means that we rightly relate to Him as Creator and understand that we are the creature (i.e., contingent, needy, and therefore dependent).  The pride in humanity pushes back and says, “I will be god, I’m self-sufficient”.  That’s the reason for wrath and the reason for judgment.

Moreover, to fear God means that those redeemed by His great mercy live according to His revealed truth because of His great love.  His word is their delight (even when it’s hard to understand and reconcile with life’s tragic experiences which are real).  Again, according to Solomon, the fear of the LORD is the pathway to knowledge and wisdom (See the proverbs).  But who is this one we are commanded to fear?

He is the changeless One (i.e., the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the perfections of His being.  God’s attributes of being (self-existent, omni-present, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, holy, loving, etc.) are simultaneously held.  This means that because God is holy and just, the judge will rightly deal with all wrongs and make them right.  Thus, when we His followers “pigeon hole” Him and reduce the Holy One to a one-dimensional being (God is love, which He is) we miss it and misrepresent the Savior.  He is the God of love, but He is also the Holy One who will judge the living and the dead.

Misunderstanding the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments also plagues believers.

We also have difficulty with the topic of fearing God because of a gross disconnect believers have between the Old Testament and New Testament.  What for example applied to God’s people under the old covenant that now does not apply under the new covenant?

Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary did away with the sacrificial system.  From the book of Hebrews we know that the sacrifices once performed under the old covenant are now obsolete because they pointed to the reality which is Christ our “Passover Lamb”, the “Lamb of God”.  Yet, as the Law of Moses forbade adultery, God still forbids it today.   And yes for His people.  To fear the LORD under the new covenant, the keeping of said law is evidence that we love God and fear His name (in word and deed).  It is not a yoke of bondage under the “letter of the law which kills” instead it’s the way human flourishing was designed to occur.

TEXT

For behold, the Lord God of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah
Both supply and support, the whole supply of bread
And the whole supply of water;
The mighty man and the warrior,
The judge and the prophet,
The diviner and the elder,
The captain of fifty and the honorable man,
The counselor and the expert artisan,
And the skillful enchanter.
And I will make mere lads their princes,
And capricious children will rule over them,
And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor;
The youth will storm against the elder
And the inferior against the honorable.
When a man lays hold of his brother in his father’s house, saying,
“You have a cloak, you shall be our ruler,
And these ruins will be under your charge,”
He will protest on that day, saying,
“I will not be your healer,
For in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
You should not appoint me ruler of the people.”
For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen,
Because their speech and their actions are against the Lord,
To rebel against His glorious presence.  (vvs.1-8)

When we cease to fear the LORD God of hosts, we put ourselves in a position to bear his wrath generally and his discipline specifically.  God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  In this passage God’s opposition is weighty seen through His removal of supply for sustenance (bread & water), His removal of support for safety (the warrior and mighty man), His removal of guidance (prophet and judge), and His removal of industry (the counselor and expert artisan) is simply devastating.

Solomon says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and understanding and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” yet God’s people lacked both and the consequences were ruinous.  Brazen rebellion will always result in the Creator being against the creature.  In verses (16-24) God declares to the gorgeous women who seduce their prey that their beauty He will reduce to an ugliness that reflects their hearts toward Him:

Moreover, the Lord said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud
And walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, And go along with mincing steps And tinkle the bangles on their feet,
17 Therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, And the Lord will make their foreheads bare.”

18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils,20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses,23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils.

24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; Instead of a belt, a rope; Instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; Instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth;
And branding instead of beauty.

While we’re not Israel in America, we nevertheless reflect the bold rebellion of Jerusalem and Judah in our age.  So when the supplies run out and our support is no more and our humiliation is realized, will God act to bring His people back to Himself?  Absolutely He will but not before a severe administration of His discipline.

LORD be merciful to us, grant your people repentance, renew our love for You so that our character, holiness, love, wisdom, knowledge, beauty, judgments, compassion, ingenuity, etc. may find their true expression, the purpose for why we exist.

(SDG)