Posted by: reiterations | October 25, 2014

On Christ’s Merit

We must seek, from Christ, what the law would give if anyone could fulfill it, or, what is the same thing, that we obtain, through Christ’s grace, what God promised in the law for our works…For if righteousness consists in the observance of the law, who will deny that Christ merited favor for us when, by taking that burden upon himself, he reconciled us to God as if we had kept the law?John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.17.5.

Posted by: reiterations | October 24, 2014

On Petrarch

The first of these radicals was, doubtless, Petrarch.  He sought for his compromise formula with all the daring of the pioneer and all the hesitancy of a man lost in uncharted territory.  His ambivalence was conscious and persistent: he desperately needed to please, and yet he espoused unpopular views.  He longed for fame and for solitude and, when he achieved fame, he remained restless, dissatisfied, and often depressed.  He was vain, egotistical, selfish, and filled with self-doubt.  He claimed the loyalty of others while freeing himself from all shackles of responsibility.  His moods, like his philosophy, were in tense disequilibrium.  The healthy alternations between action and leisure preached by Cicero and embodied in Scipio were distant, unachieved ideals for him.

Petrarch’s private suffering has more than private significance: very much like Rousseau, Petrarch was a world-historical neurotic whose anguish mirrored a cultural situation and whose writings confronted problems other men failed to recognize.  He idealized, almost idolized, pagan antiquity, but he remained a Catholic Christian.  He celebrated individualism but cherished tradition.  He read ancient poems as they had been read in antiquity, in all their sensual worldliness, but he inflicted allegorical interpretations on them.  He was a republican enthusiast, nostalgically hoping for the restoration of the Roman Republic, but he also played the courtier to tyrants and preached submission to authority in good medieval fashion.  His life abounds with events that dramatize this ambivalence: in 1341, he was crowned in Rome with the poet’s laurel but, nine years later, he went to the same city as a pious pilgrim to celebrate the Jubilee.  The same duality haunts his famous climb of Mont Ventoux, which he ascended in the spring of 1335 for the sake of the view.  The book in his pocket was St. Augustine’s “Confessions.”

This excursion later earned Petrarch the title of the first modern man, but there is something pathetic about his modernity: his masters were Cicero and Plato, but he could not wholly approve of Cicero’s philosophy of life and he could not read Plato in the original.  And yet, it is easier to belittle revolutions than the make them.  The humanists, and the philosophers, too, quite rightly hailed Petrarch as the father of a great cultural revival.  Gibbon called him “the eloquent Petrarch,” the “first harbinger of day” and, while he claimed to see little value in his writings, he professed gratitude to “the man who, by precept and example, revived the spirit and study of the Augustan Age” and to the student of Greek who, after hard labor, “began to reach the sense and to feel the spirit of poets and philosophers whose minds were congenial to his own” – words that recall, precisely, Gibbon’s own discovery of the Romans.  Even if we cannot applaud Gibbon’s taste, we may applaud his penetration.  With his customary keenness, he has gone to the heart of the matter.  However inconclusive and inconsistent his revolution, Petrarch placed many generations in his debt, and those who went beyond him merely continued what he had begun.

From: The Enlightenment: Volume 1: The Rise of Modern Paganism by Peter Gay (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), pp. 270-272.

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar and poet.  As a poet, he created the sonnet structure that bears his name.  As a scholar, he is usually credited with being one of the first post-medieval humanists and the spark of the Italian Renaissance.

Posted by: reiterations | October 23, 2014

On the False Doctrine of Penance

Calvin devotes an entire chapter (3.4) to the scholastic doctrine of penance, according to which forgiveness of sins is conditioned on three elements: contrition, confession, and satisfaction.  If one is truly contrite, so the theory goes, one will have the desire to confess to a priest and to perform the work he prescribes as a penalty in order to receive absolution.  Forgiveness is, thus, conditioned on works and not received by faith alone.  The result is pure misery.  Of course, Calvin says, forgiveness of sins presupposes repentance.  “But it makes a great difference whether you teach forgiveness of sins as deserved by just and full contrition, which the sinner can never perform, or whether you enjoin him to hunger and thirst after God’s mercy to show him…where he ought to seek refreshment, rest, and freedom” (3.4.3, alluding to Matthew 11.28).  In the background is Lombard’s duel foundation of the hope of eternal life in the grace of God and the merit of works.  The crucial issue is, thus, synergism.  Calvin quotes Lombard by name: “If you dare to hope for anything without merit, that ought not be called ‘hope’ but ‘presumption'” (3.2.43).  For Calvin, the exact opposite is the case: to ground hope in good works to any degree is the height of presumption and an insult to God’s free grace.

From: “The Law and the Spirit of Christ: Institutes 2.6-9″ by David Clyde Jones, in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, edited by David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback; The Calvin 500 Series (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 306.

Posted by: reiterations | October 22, 2014

On Defining Sin

Biblical law is the one and only standard from God which defines sin for us, so that we can distinguish accurately between good and evil: “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3.20).  Paul said, in Romans 7.7, “I would not have come to know sin except through the law.”  Unless biblical law is used to determine what is good and what is evil, we have no reliable standard, and man himself will become the final authority in all things, which always leads to tyranny.  If God’s law is rejected, there can be no moral absolutes, no reliable authority to distinguish morality from immorality, except fallen human subjectivity, which “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”  “Where there is no law, there is no sin, hence, no need of salvation and, consequently, no Christianity.  Lawless Christianity is a contradiction.  The law tells man what God demands of him.  It instructs him in what he must avoid.  The law is the criterion of righteousness and sin” (Greg Bahnsen).  So, then, sin is neglecting or breaking “any law of God given as a rule to the reasonable creature,” i.e., the human race.

From: Authentic Christianity: An Exposition of the Theology and Ethics of the Westminster Larger Catechism by Joseph C. Morecraft, III; 5 volumes (Powder Springs, GA: Minkoff Family Publishing/American Vision Press, 2009-2010), pp. 658-659.

Posted by: reiterations | October 21, 2014

The Roman Family in Paul’s Time

In a legal point of view, however, the family was absolutely guided and governed by the single, all-powerful will of the “father of the household” (“pater familias”).  In relation to him, all in the household were destitute of legal rights – the wife and the child no less than the bullock or the slave.  As it was by the free choice of her husband that the virgin became his wedded wife, so it rested with his own free will to rear, or not to rear, the child which she bore him.  This maxim was not suggested by indifference to the having a family – on the contrary, the conviction that the founding of a house and the begetting of children were a moral necessity and a duty of the citizen had a deep and earnest hold on the Roman mind.  Perhaps the only instance of a support accorded on the part of the community in Rome is the enactment that aid should be given to the father who had three children presented to him at birth, while their views regarding exposure are indicated by its religious prohibition, so far as concerned all the sons – deformed births excepted – and at least the first daughter.  Censurable, however, and injurious to the public weal as exposure might be, a father could not be divested of his right to resort to it, for he was, above all, thoroughly and absolutely master in his household, and it was intended that such he should remain. 

The father of the household not only maintained the strictest discipline over its members, but he had the right and duty of exercising over them judicial powers and of punishing them, as he deemed fit, in life and limb.  A grown-up son might establish a separate household or maintain, as the Romans expressed it, his “own cattle” (“peculium”) assigned to him by his father but, legally, all that the son acquired, whether by his own labor or by gift from a stranger, whether in his father’s household or in his own, remained the father’s property.  So long as the father lived, the persons legally subject to him could never hold property of their own and could not, therefore, alienate, unless by him so empowered, or bequeath.  In this respect, wife and child stood quite on the same level with the slave, who was, not infrequently, allowed to manage a house of his own, and who was, likewise, entitled to alienate, when commissioned by his master.  Indeed, a father might convey his son, as well as his slave, in property to a third person.  If the purchaser was a foreigner, the son became his slave.  If he was a Roman, the son, while as a Roman he could not become a Roman’s slave stood, at least to his purchaser, in a slave’s stead (“in mancipii causa”).

From: The History of Rome: Volume 1 by Theodor Mommsen; translated from the 3rd German edition by William P. Dickson; Cambridge Library Classics series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 61-62.  The 3rd German edition was published in 1862.  The first German edition was published in 1854.

Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) was a German historian and author, specializing in the history of the Roman Empire.  In 1902, he became the first of only two historians to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  (The other was Winston Churchill, in 1953.)

Posted by: reiterations | October 20, 2014

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Holiness is not something we are called upon to do in order that we may become something.  It is something we are to do because of what we already are.  There is a great deal of teaching on this subject that really amounts to this: we are to be holy and live the holy life in order that we may become truly Christians.  Every phase or aspect of the doctrine of justification by works really teaches that.  But any suggestion we may have in ourselves that we are to deny ourselves certain things, that we are not to do certain things, and that we are to discipline ourselves in order that we may become Christian is a denial of the doctrine of justification by faith.  I am not to live a good and holy life in order that I may become a Christian.  I am to live the holy life because I am a Christian.  I am not to live this holy life in order that I may enter heaven.  It is because I know I am going to enter heaven that I must live this holy life.

That is the emphasis here: “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3.3).  I am not to strive and sweat and pray in order that, at the end, I may enter into heaven.  No, I start, rather, from the standpoint that I have been made a child of God by the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am destined for heaven.  I have an assurance that I have been called to go there and that God is going to take me there, and it is because I know this that I am preparing, now.D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

Posted by: reiterations | October 19, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (351)

Whom have I in heaven but You?  And, there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  (Psalm 73.25-26)

Posted by: reiterations | October 18, 2014

One and Three

Orthodox Christianity is often reproached with being dry and abstract in its formulas.  The trinitarian formula, in particular, is represented as the petrified residue of the speculations of neo-Platonism.  In reality, it expresses, in scientific form, the most vital statements of the faith of those who brought together the writings of the New Testament.  It proceeds from the intellectual necessity for harmonizing the religious faith of a conscious monotheism with the specific experiences which give birth to the Christian life.

Monotheism forbids believers to place their absolute confidence in anyone other than God.  Entire reliance is His exclusive right.  On the other hand, Christian experience shows the believer that he finds effectively his refuge in Christ, and his specifically Christian piety obliges him to place his entire confidence in Christ.  This is why our fundamentally theistic dogmatics will be a dogmatics of the trinity and the incarnation, an orthodox Christian dogmatics, orthodox in the sense of ecumenical.

From: An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics by Auguste Lecerf; translated from the French by S. L.-H. (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), p. 292.

Posted by: reiterations | October 17, 2014

On Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church

But the papacy is, for Luther, not simply a tyranny which can be described, as a liberal historian might describe it, in terms of the corrupting influence of power.  Its tyranny is of a unique kind, for which there can only be one category, the demonic, biblical category of anti-Christ.  By its entanglement with law and politics, the papacy has brought the souls of men and women into bondage, has confused, disastrously, the law and gospel, and has become the antithesis of the Word of God which comes to free and liberate men’s souls.  Thus, he cannot regard the papacy simply as a corrupt institution, as did the medieval moralists and the heretics.  In Luther’s later writings, the papacy is included along with the law, sin, and death among the tyrants who beset the Christians and is part of a view of salvation which demands an apocalyptic interpretation of history.

From: The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies: the Birkbeck Lectures for 1947 by Gordon Rupp (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953), p. 13.

Posted by: reiterations | October 16, 2014

On Separation

The biblical doctrine of separation includes man’s separation “to” God as fully as his separation “from” the world.  The initial idea of separation, in Genesis 12.1ff, is of Abraham’s enlistment in the divine purpose.  The idea of separation from evil is only implicit.  Israel is separate from the other nations only in and through God’s choice of her as His own special people (Deuteronomy 7.1ff; 14.2).

The great purpose of God in separating for Himself a people is not that they develop a negative or passive attitude toward certain areas of life.  Rather, it is that they be conformed to the character of the living God.  Jesus reserved some of His most scathing denunciations for those whose separation was only legalistic negativism.  Separation to God does not imply that separation from evil is unimportant, but only that separation from evil is the correlate of an intimate personal fellowship with the living God.

Granting that separation is primarily to God, not from evil, how much of the culture of the world about us shall the Christian assimilate?  It is, of course, impossible for him to escape from being greatly influenced by his cultural setting.  Culture does much to make him what he is as a person.  The question is not, “Shall he withdraw from his culture in protest against it?,” for he can no more withdraw from it than can the fish from water.  The question is, rather, “From what areas of his culture shall he withdraw?”

From: Christian Personal Ethics by Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), p. 435.

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