Posted by: reiterations | July 25, 2014

On Forgiveness

In regard to the passage in Luke (Luke 7.36-50), no man of sober judgment who reads the parable there employed by our Lord will raise any controversy with us.  The Pharisee thought that the Lord did not know the character of the woman whom He had so easily admitted to His presence.  For he presumed that He would not have admitted her if He had known what kind of a sinner she was and, from this, he inferred that one who could be deceived in this way was not a prophet.  Our Lord, to show that she was not a sinner inasmuch as she had already been forgiven, spoke this parable…By these words, it is plain He does not make love the cause of forgiveness, but the proof of it.  The similitude is borrowed from the case of a debtor to whom a debt of five hundred [denarii] had been forgiven.  It is not said that the debt is forgiven because he loved much, but that he loved much because it was forgiven.  The similitude ought to be applied in this way: You think this woman is a sinner, but you ought to have acknowledged her as not a sinner in respect that her sins have been forgiven her.  Her love ought to have been, to you, a proof of her having obtained forgiveness, that love being an expression of gratitude for the benefit received.  It is an argument a posteriori, by which something is demonstrated by the results produced by it.  Our Lord plainly attests the ground on which she had obtained forgiveness when He says, “Your faith has saved you.”  By faith, therefore, we obtain forgiveness.  By love, we give thanks, and bear testimony to the lovingkindness of the Lord.John Calvin (1509-1564), from Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.4.37 (Henry Beveridge translation)

Posted by: reiterations | July 24, 2014

An Appeal to Believe

Let this now make a Savior precious and His salvation acceptable to you.  One would think that should be enough to raise the esteem of Christ among a company of perishing sinners, to read that title of His, “Even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1.10).  That He is the great and only deliverer, that He hath the keys of death and hell and is able to quench those everlasting burnings for us and free us from going down to the pit.  Oh, then, if you would not have your everlasting abode in that burning lake, look unto Him now, that you may be saved.  If once you come there, the gulf will then be fixed and there will be no coming thence again, and you are going apace to that congregation.  Now then, while a Savior calls, give no rest to your eyes nor give Him any rest until you are gotten under the shadow of His wings and set free from the condemnation of hell.  Oh, that you were now persuaded to fly as for your lives, that so you may never be made to know what it is to dwell with these everlasting burnings by your own doleful experience.

From: A Complete Body of Divinity in Two Hundred and Fifty Expository Lectures on the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Unfolded, their Truth Confirmed, their Excellence Displayed, their Usefulness Improved, Contrary Errors and Vices Refuted and Exposed, Objections Answered, Controversies Settled, Cases of Conscience Resolved, and a Great Light Thereby Reflected on the Present Age by Samuel Willard; 2 volumes (Boston: Printed by B. Green and S. Kneeland for B. Eliot and D. Henchman, 1726), 1:219.

The quotation is an excerpt from Sermon 67, preached on November 25, 1693.  (In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, sermons were often referred to as “lectures” or “discourses.”)

Posted by: reiterations | July 23, 2014

Moderation in All Things

This is a time when many people are prone to indulge themselves in all manner of luxuries.  Iniquity now abounds, and nothing can scarcely be seen but things of the greatest extravagance imaginable, not only for the necessities of the body, but to pamper it in lust, to feed its vices, to make us go on in sin, and to be a means for gratifying our carnal appetite.  This wickedness is a means to make us forget the Lord of glory.  It only makes us fit to do such drudgery as the devil shall set us about.  These things only prepare us to run wherever the devil sends.  This, instead of denying ourselves, is indulging ourselves.  It is not nor can be called a celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ when we are making ourselves worse than the beasts that perish.  I am not speaking against eating and drinking of the good things of life, but against the eating and drinking of them to excess because they thus disqualify us for the service of God.  And, to our fellow creatures, they make us unsociable and may occasion us to be guilty of saying and acting those things which we should be ashamed to think of if we had only eaten or drunk with moderation.  Whatever we partake of must be done to the honor and glory of God.George Whitefield (1714-1770)

From: George Whitefield: Daily Readings, edited by Randall J. Pederson (Fearn: Christian Heritage, 2010), entry for July 22.

Posted by: reiterations | July 22, 2014

Jesus’ Birth Narratives

From time to time, various questions have been raised about the chronology of the events recorded in the birth narratives of Jesus but, as these are not strictly theological matters, they need not detain us long.  Jesus must have been born sometime between the announcement of the census carried out when Quirinius was governor of Syria (9 BC) and the death of King Herod the Great (4 BC).  In passing, we may note that the fact that He was not born in 1 BC or AD 1* is due to a computational error made by a sixth-century monk, Dionysius Exiguus, when he was trying to calculate backwards to the time of Herod and Augustus, and the mistake has no bearing on the subject one way or the other.  The biggest problem is that, if Jesus was still a small baby when Herod died, how could He have been born during the census taken by Quirinius four or five years before?  The simplest answer is that, in ancient times, a census of the kind described in the Gospels would have taken several years to complete.  The text does not say that Mary and Joseph were taxed while Quirinius was *still* governor of Syria, only that the process began at that time (Luke 2.1).  To appreciate what this might have entailed, we can, perhaps, compare the 1291 census of Pope Nicholas IV, in which he ordered that the clergy of the British Isles should be taxed.  That census was still being carried out fifteen years later and was never completed, probably because the death of King Edward I, in 1307, caused it to lapse.  Nevertheless, it is still referred to today as the 1291 census of Pope Nicholas IV in spite of the fact that much of it is considerably later in date.  In short, the chronological difficulties raised against the texts are by no means insuperable, and should not be used as evidence of untruthfulness.

*Note that there was no year 0.  When BC and AD dates are added together, it is, therefore, necessary to drop one from the total.  Augustus Caesar, for example, reigned from 27 BC to AD 14, a total of forty years, not forty-one.  [Bray's footnote 31]

From: God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), pp. 192-193.

Posted by: reiterations | July 21, 2014

The Holy Spirit Comes

The benefits of Christ’s atonement and His righteousness are communicated to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  By sending His Holy Spirit into the world, God the Father has fulfilled His promises to us and applied the work of His Son in the lives of His chosen people.  This took place at the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after His ascension into heaven, when God poured out His Spirit on the disciples (Acts 2.1-4).  The timing is significant because the Holy Spirit did not come until the Son was seated in His heavenly glory.  It was the ascension of Jesus that marked the transition from His earthly and temporal work to His heavenly and eternal mediation at the Father’s right hand.  This is why it is the ascension, and not Pentecost, that is the last event recorded in the Gospels and the first in the Acts of the Apostles.  The coming of the Spirit is set firmly in the context of the heavenly reign of Christ, whose ambassador He is.  The Holy Spirit did not come into the world to draw people to Himself, as Jesus did (see John 12.32), but to confirm the truth of Jesus’ message by making it come alive in our hearts.  He sustains it in us so that we may be increasingly conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8.29; see also 1 Corinthians 2.14-16).

The Bible does not explain why Pentecost was chosen as the date for this event to take place but, as it marked the end of the harvest of the later grains and was the day of the firstfruits, when the loaves made from those grains were offered on the altar, the timing seems appropriate (Exodus 23.16; Leviticus 23.17; Numbers 28.26).  Paul picked up the symbolism of the firstfruits as a description of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, who are waiting expectantly for the redemption of our bodies as part of the new creation, so it seems that this connection was accepted in the early church as the reason why the Spirit came when He did (Romans 8.22-23).

From: God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), pp. 603-604.

Posted by: reiterations | July 20, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (338)

Now, we know that the Law is good if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the Law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.  (1 Timothy 1.8-11)

Posted by: reiterations | July 19, 2014

The Uniqueness of Christianity

When faced with the claims of other religions, the Christian response is to proclaim that everyone needs to have a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  That is the only thing that can offer the peace of mind and spirit they are all looking for but that none of them has found.  As Christians, we assert that, in Jesus Christ, we have met the God who made us, who has delivered us from our sins, and who has promised us deliverance from the troubles we suffer in this world.  We proclaim that the way of salvation has been found, not because someone has invented it or discovered it, but because it has been revealed by God Himself.  The Son of God…fully equal to [the Father] in every respect, became a man so that he could unite us to Himself, pay the price for our sins, and bring us back to God.  No other religion makes such a claim, and none of them penetrates so deeply into the heart of the human condition or resolves it in the way that the Christian gospel does.  Christianity is not a national or cultural expression of human spirituality but a universal faith revealed by God and freely available to all without distinction or preference.  It is true that it is also exclusive, but only in the sense that there is no other way in which people can be saved.

From: God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), p. 439.

(This is post number 2,400.  No wonder my fingers are tired!)

Posted by: reiterations | July 18, 2014

The Effect of Sin

The effect of all sin is to make us less conscious of its presence, as persons in an unventilated room are not aware of its closeness.  It is with profound truth that the apostle speaks of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  It comes to us in a cloud and enfolds us in obscure mist.  Like white ants [= termites], it never works in the open but makes a tunnel or burrows underground and, hidden in some piece of furniture, eats away all its substance while it seems perfectly solid.  The man’s perception of the standard of duty is enfeebled.  We lose our sense of the moral character of any habitual action, just as a man who has lived all his life in a slum sees little of its hideousness and knows nothing of green fields and fresh air.  Conscience is silenced by being neglected.  It can be wrongly educated and perverted, so that it may regard sin as doing God’s service.  And the only judgment in which it can be absolutely trusted is the declaration that it is right to do right, while all its other decisions as to what is right may be biased by self-interest.  But the force with which it pronounces its only unalterable decision depends on the whole tenor of the life of the man.  The sins which are most in accordance with our characters and are, therefore, most deeply rooted in us, are those which we are least likely to recognize as sins.  So, the more sinful we are, the less we know it.  Therefore, there is need for a fixed standard outside of us.  The light on the ship’s deck cannot guide us.  There must be the lighthouse on the rock.  The sad answer of the heart untouched by God’s appeal prevents all further access of God’s love to that heart.  That love can only enter when the reply to its indictment is, “I have despised Your name.”Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Malachi 1.6-7.

Posted by: reiterations | July 17, 2014

Reading the Bible – or Not

Most people in churches nowadays have never read through the Bible, even once.  The older Christian habit of reading it from start to finish as a devotional discipline has virtually vanished.

From: Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know by J. I. Packer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), p. 21.

(HT: Michael Snow)

Posted by: reiterations | July 16, 2014

Augustine and Pelagius Miss Each Other

It’s a small world.  In Augustine’s time, it was even smaller and, of all the roads leading to and from Rome, some were used more than others in the autumn of 410, after Alaric’s capture of the city, especially those that channeled the exodus of fugitives in search of hospitable lands, southwards towards Sicily and, principally, Africa.  The shortest route to safety was the “via Ostiensis.”  At Ostia, which was more overflowing than ever, one could embark for Carthage, but also for Hippo Diarrhytus (Bizerte), Thabraca (Tabarka), and Hippo.  And it was at Hippo that one of these refugees landed – Pelagius.  He probably did not choose this destination deliberately.  Like all the rest who were there, in haste to shake Italian soil from their feet, he doubtless boarded the first boat that was leaving, which happened to be going to Augustine’s town. 

The ancient world was small.  Yet, at the end of the autumn of 410, the paths of Pelagius and Augustine failed to cross.  Not that the bishop shrank from a meeting that curiosity alone would have made him seek.  At the time, he was simply unaware of Pelagius’ arrival at Hippo, and we know why: he was either ill or convalescent during those weeks, and absent from his episcopal town.  In any case, the refugee did not linger there and, as Augustine says, he had neither the time nor the opportunity to cause much stir.  Pelagius would take away from his stay in Hippo only the short, prudent note – though attentive and more than courteous – in which the bishop had welcomed him to the town, and of which Pelagius would later say that it expressed Augustine’s great desire to see his unexpected visitor and converse with him.

From: Saint Augustine by Serge Lancel; translated from the French by Antonia Nevill (London: SCM Press, 2002), p. 325.  French original published in 1999.

Serge Henry Lancel (1928-2005), who was born and raised in Cuba but spent much of his adult life in France, was Emeritus Professor of Latin Literature and Roman Civilization at the University of Grenoble in Grenoble, France.

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