Posted by: reiterations | July 28, 2015

King Henry VIII’s Wife Problem – and Politics (Part 1)

Henry wished to marry Anne Boleyn.  Catherine was aging before her time, was too bleak to content the bounding energy of the king, and gave birth to a row of offspring of whom all but Mary were stillborn or died in infancy.  He could have satisfied his physical desires with a mistress.  But higher motives entered Henry’s formidable mind and sublimated the issue for him.  Catherine had been contracted to Henry’s elder brother, Arthur.  She had, therefore, been ineligible as Henry’s bride and had been permitted to marry him only after papal dispensation.  It was possible that the sickly children and the absence of a male heir proved that God’s blessing did not rest upon a marriage which was forbidden by God’s law.  And, with the memory of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty apparently so insecure, it was necessary, for the unity and prosperity of England, that a male and legitimate heir should be begotten by the king.  Catherine, he now began to believe, had never been his wife.  He turned to the church to declare the fact and to sanctify his marriage with Anne Boleyn.

Pope Clement VII, a diligent and unsuccessful politician, was too weak or prudent to refuse outright.  He kept postponing the decision.  In favorable circumstances, he might have been quick enough to declare what the king wanted.  But Henry and Wolsey were asking of him a doctrinal and a practical impossibility.  They were asking him to declare that the papal dispensation permitting Henry to marry Catherine had been invalid.  A pope could not declare that the act of a predecessor was invalid without, thereby, enfeebling his own authority.  And, among the vicissitudes of Italian politics, the armies of the Emperor, Charles V, who was nephew to Catherine of Aragon, sacked Rome in 1527 and captured the pope.  Clement could not gratify Henry VIII by mortally offending Charles V.

In the summer of 1529, the king, in despair of persuading the pope to yield, dismissed Wolsey and the policy of persuasion and turned to a policy of menace.  The princes of north Germany had successfully excluded the power of the pope from their dominions.  He talked of following this example.  He summoned the Parliament of 1529 and allowed the lay and anti-clerical lawyers, released from Wolsey’s domination, to draft a series of bills for reforming the ecclesiastical administration.

From: The Reformation by Owen Chadwick; 3rd edition; The Pelican History of the Church, Volume 3 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, Inc., 1972), pp. 99-100.  First edition published in 1964.

Posted by: reiterations | July 27, 2015

Paul’s Strange Experience

Towards the end of the largely unchronicled interval between Paul’s return to Tarsus and his call to Antioch, he had a strange experience, which left its mark on him for the rest of his life.  He gives some account of it in 2 Corinthians 12.2-10, where he says that it happened fourteen years before the time of writing.  Since the time of writing was about AD 56, the date of the experience would have been AD 42 or 43.  The experience belongs to the category which is commonly designated “ecstatic,” but it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion about its nature because Paul himself describes it in such vague terms.  What he says is that “whether in the body or out of the body” – a question to which he can give no answer – he found himself rapt to the extraterrestrial realm variously called “paradise” and “the third heaven” and there heard things impossible and impermissible to put into words.

This type of experience, described in this kind of language, is not unparalleled in Paul’s world.  We have a literary parallel in the account of Enoch’s bodily transportation into the celestial realms and his return to earth (1 Enoch 12.1ff; cf. 71.1ff).  But, whereas we are told quite particularly what Enoch saw and heard, Paul gives no such details.  What he heard was incommunicable.  In his account of the experience itself, he stands outside it and relates it as if it had happened to a third party – to “a man in Christ” whom he once knew or, even more vaguely, to “so-and-so.”  Only when the normal mode of existence has been resumed and he describes the sequel does he continue the narrative in the first person singular.

As a parallel from real life rather than apocalyptic literature, we have the story of four rabbis – Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Aqiba (all of whom flourished in the earlier part of the second century AD, and so were two generations younger than Paul) – who entered Paradise.  Ben Azzai looked and died, Ben Zoma looked and went mad, Elisha ben Abuyah became an apostate.  Only Aqiba survived the experience unscathed.  What, exactly, is meant by their “entry into Paradise” is a matter of debate, but some mystical experience is probable in their case, as in Paul’s.  The point of the story is that such an experience is perilous and liable to leave its mark indelibly on one who undergoes it.

Paul did not escape from this experience of his unscathed but, because of the spirit in which he accepted its disagreeable consequences, they became a blessing to him instead of a curse (2 Corinthians 12.7-10).

The sequel to Paul’s mystical experience was a distressing – indeed, a humiliating – physical ailment which he feared, at first, might be a handicap to his effective ministry but which, in fact, by giving his self-esteem a knock-out blow and keeping him constantly dependent on the divine enabling, proved to be a help, not a handicap.  Many guesses have been made about the identity of this “splinter in the flesh.”  Their very great variety proves the impossibility of a certain diagnosis.  One favorite guess has been epilepsy – a guess which, if substantiated, would put Paul into the company of such men of action as Julius Caesar and Napoleon – but it is no more than a guess.*  Whatever it was, it was probably the “bodily ailment” from which he suffered when he first visited the Galatians – an ailment which was a “trial” to them as well as to him and which might have been expected to repel them or make them spit in aversion whereas, on the contrary, they welcomed him as “an angel of God” (Galatians 4.13-14).  His thrice-repeated prayer for the removal of the ailment was answered not by his deliverance from it, but by his receiving the necessary grace to bear it – not simply to live with it but to be thankful for it.  If his ministry was so effective despite this physical weakness, then the transcendent power was manifestly God’s, not his own.  Infirmities like this were welcomed, together with the other hardships which were part of the apostolic lot, if they were the condition on which the power of the risen Christ operated through him.  They constantly reminded him not so much of his own inadequacy as of the total adequacy of Christ, in whom, when he was personally most weak, he knew himself to be most strong.

*In a footnote, Bruce mentions some of the other guesses: ophthalmia, Malta fever, malaria, neurasthenia, an impediment of his speech.

From: Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), pp. 134-136.

Posted by: reiterations | July 26, 2015

For the Lord’s Day (391)

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.  The name of his firstborn son was Joel and the name of his second, Abijah.  They were judges in Beersheba.  Yet, his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain.  They took bribes and perverted justice.  (1 Samuel 8.1-3)

Posted by: reiterations | July 25, 2015

On the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is not a mystical power or ethereal force.  He is a person as much as Jesus is a person.  He is not a floating fog or some kind of ghost-like emanation.  It is unfortunate that the King James translators used the term “ghost” instead of “spirit” to translate the Greek pneuma.  For generations, people have had the erroneous idea that the Holy Spirit is something like the comic-book character Casper the Friendly Ghost.  He is, however, not a ghost, but a person.

All believers have two Paracletes – the Spirit of God, within us, and Christ, at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  First John 2.1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But, if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  The word translated “advocate” in that verse is parakletos.

From: The Upper Room: Jesus’ Parting Promises for Troubled Hearts by John MacArthur (n.p.: Kress Biblical Resources, 2014), pp. 103-104.

Posted by: reiterations | July 24, 2015

Alexander Maclaren’s Preaching

It is right to say, then, that his preaching was Christ-centered.  It was interpenetrated by inherited Protestant evangelism, a religious force as difficult precisely to define as it has been creatively potent.  Throughout the range of his sermons, he describes and designates, ceaselessly, distinctive qualities of a Christian life.  It must begin in repentance, for which the sinner always had abundant need, for the sense of sin is strong in Maclaren’s preaching, not so much specified sins of omission and commission as a fundamental gone-wrongness of human nature.  Once saved by grace, the Christian had, thereafter, guidance, if so be he sought it, for all his pilgrim ways, strength enough for his burdens, wisdom for his perplexities, compensation for his losses, and comfort for his sorrows.  It is, always, a direct dealing with God through the mediation of Jesus Christ.  Then, the seeker may always know God’s will and be sure of His nearness.  When the soul thirsts after God enough, it is immediately satisfied.

From: The Best of Alexander Maclaren, edited, and with an introduction, by Gaius Glenn Atkins (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1949), p. xiv.

Posted by: reiterations | July 23, 2015

The Church’s Condition

We may define the purity of the church as follows: the purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church.

As we shall see in the following discussion, it is right to pray and work for the greater purity of the church.  But purity cannot be our only concern or Christians would have a tendency to separate into tiny groups of very “pure” Christians and tend to exclude anyone who showed the slightest deviation in doctrine or conduct of life.  Therefore, the New Testament also speaks frequently about the need to strive for the unity of the visible church.  This may be defined in the following way: the unity of the church is its degree of freedom from divisions among true Christians.

The definition specifies “true Christians” because, as we saw in the previous chapter, there are those who are Christian in name only but have had no genuine experience of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  Nonetheless, many of these people take the name “Christian” and many churches that are filled with such unbelievers still call themselves Christian churches.  We should not expect or work for organizational or functional unity that includes all of these people and, therefore, there will never be unity with all churches that call themselves “Christian.”  But, as we shall also see in the following discussion, the New Testament certainly encourages us to work for the unity of all true believers.

From: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), pp. 873-874.

Posted by: reiterations | July 22, 2015

For J. I. Packer’s 89th Birthday Today

The clash between liberalism and orthodox evangelicalism during the first quarter of this century was sharper in America than in Britain.  One reason for this was that American evangelicalism had, among its defenders, men of a broader range of learning, deeper theological insight, and greater intellectual virility than their British counterparts.  Some of B. B. Warfield’s polemical articles and J. G. Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, for instance, crystallized the issues at stake in their broadest implications with a judicious mastery that cannot be too highly praised.  A second reason was the more radical and uninhibited character of American liberalism itself.  The characteristic tenets of liberal faith in America in the early years of this century may be summarized as follows:

1.  God’s character is one of pure benevolence – benevolence, that is, without standards.  All men are His children, and sin separates no one from His love.  The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man are, alike, universal.

2.  There is a divine spark in every man.  All men, therefore, are good at heart, and need nothing more than encouragement to allow their natural goodness to express itself.

3.  Jesus Christ is man’s Savior only in the sense that He is man’s perfect teacher and example.  We should regard Him simply as the first Christian, our elder brother in the world-wide family of God.  He was not divine in any unique sense.  He was God only in the sense that He was a perfectly God-conscious and God-guided man.  He was not born of a virgin.  He did not work miracles, in the sense of “mighty works” of divine creative power.  And He did not rise from the dead.

4.  Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely, so Christianity differs from other religions not generically, but merely as the best and highest type of religion that has yet appeared.  All religions are forms of the same religion, just as all men are members of the same divine family.  It follows, of course, that foreign missions should not aim to convert from one faith to another but, rather, to promote a cross-fertilizing interchange whereby each religion may be enriched through the contribution of all others.

5.  The Bible is not a divine record of revelation, but a human testament of religion, and Christian doctrine is not the God-given word which must create and control Christian experience.  The truth is the opposite.  Christian experience is directly infectious within the Christian community – it is “caught,” like mumps – and this experience creates and controls Christian doctrine, which is merely an attempt to give it verbal expression.  Poetry, according to Wordsworth, consists of emotion recollected in tranquility.  Doctrine, according to liberalism, has a precisely similar character.  It is nothing more than an endeavor to put into words the content of religious feelings, impressions, and intuitions.  The only facts to which doctrinal statements give expression are the feelings of those who produce them.  Doctrine is, simply, a by-product of religion.  The New Testament contains the earliest attempts to express the Christian experience in words.  Its value lies in the fact that it is a first-hand witness to that experience.  Other generations, however, must express the same experience in different words.  Doctrinal formulae, like poetic idiom, will vary from age to age and place to place, according to the variation of cultural backgrounds.  The first-century theology of the New Testament cannot be normative for twentieth-century men.  But, this is no cause for concern, and means no loss.  Doctrine is not basic or essential to any form of religion.  No doctrinal statements or credal forms, therefore, are basic or essential to Christianity.  In so far as there is a permanent and unchanging Christian message, it is not doctrinal, but ethical – the moral teaching of Jesus.

Not all liberals went so far as this.  But the views detailed above were all implicit in the liberal outlook, and some liberals, at least, were ready to maintain them all.  And, as Machen insisted, “the true way in which to examine a spiritual movement is in its logical relations.  Logic is the great dynamic, and the logical implications of any way of thinking are, sooner or later, certain to be worked out.”  His own Christianity and Liberalism was a demonstration that liberal views formed a coherent system – but one which was, simply, not Christian.

From: “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles by J. I. Packer (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), pp. 25-27.  This quotation is from Packer’s first book – a book which has held its value, just as Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism (1923) has.

Posted by: reiterations | July 21, 2015

Calvin on the Lord’s Prayer

The first petition is, “Hallowed by Your name.”  The necessity of presenting it bespeaks our great disgrace.  For what can be more unbecoming than that our ingratitude and malice should impair, and that our audacity and petulance should, as much as in them lies, destroy the glory of God?  But, though all the ungodly should burst with sacrilegious rage, the holiness of God’s name still shines forth.  Justly does the psalmist exclaim, “As Your name, O God, so Your praise reaches to the end of the earth” (Psalm 48.10).  For wherever God has made Himself known, His perfections must be displayed: His power, goodness, wisdom, justice, mercy, and truth – which fill us with admiration and incite us to show forth His praise.

Therefore, as the name of God is not duly hallowed on the earth, and we are otherwise unable to assert it, it is, at least, our duty to make it the subject of our prayers.  The sum of the whole is: it must be our desire that God may receive the honor which is His due, that men may never think or speak of Him without the greatest reverence.  The opposite of this reverence is profanity, which has always been too common in the world and is very prevalent in the present day.  Hence, the necessity of the petition which, if piety had any proper existence among us, would be superfluous.  But, if the name of God is duly hallowed only when separated from all other names, it, alone, is glorified, and we are, in the petition, enjoined to ask not only that God would vindicate His sacred name from all contempt and insult, but also that He would compel the whole human race to reverence it.  Then, since God manifests Himself to us partly by His Word and partly by His works, He is not sanctified unless, in regard to both of these, we ascribe to Him what is due, and thus embrace whatever has proceeded from Him, giving no less praise to His justice than to His mercy.  On the manifold diversity of His works He has inscribed the marks of His glory, and these ought to call forth, from every tongue, an ascription of praise. Thus, Scripture will obtain its due authority with us and no event will hinder us from celebrating the praises of God in regard to every part of His government.

On the other hand, the petition implies a wish that all impiety which pollutes this sacred name may perish and be extinguished, that everything which obscures or impairs His glory, all detraction and insult, may cease, that all blasphemy being suppressed, the divine majesty may be, more and more, signally displayed. – John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes 3.20.41.

One of the difficulties that Calvin had to face was that his insistence on the idea that the Son and the Holy Spirit were autotheos in the same way as the Father left others with the impression that he was denying the Son’s eternal generation (and, by implication, the Holy Spirit’s eternal procession, too).  This misunderstanding was based on a fundamental inability to distinguish the two modes of discourse in God – the one personal and the other essential.  Classical trinitarian orthodoxy had always said that the Son was eternally generated from the Father as a person but that, as a substance or being, He was fully God.  It was not that distinction that caused the problem, but Calvin’s insistence that the Son’s personal generation had nothing to do with His possession of the divine essence.  Most people had always assumed that, when the Father begat the Son, He communicated the divine essence to Him, just as happens in human birth.  A child’s human nature is the same as that of his parents, but it is also derived from them, and this is how “eternal generation” was most naturally understood.

Calvin denied that.  As he believed, the Son was fully and eternally in possession of the divine essence in His own right, or a se ipso (“from Himself”), as this was expressed in Latin.  He argued that this “aseity” of the Son was not only biblical, but that it was also the only way that an essential subordination of the Son to the Father could be avoided.  What Calvin was trying to say was that the language of generation and procession described personal relationship and not essential origin.  In eternity, neither generation nor procession could have any temporal meaning, so that these words described a permanent state of affairs and not a process by which the Father somehow extended His being to the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It was a logical deduction from existing orthodoxy, but Calvin’s clear separation of essence from personal relation was a development of earlier tradition that many of his contemporaries interpreted as a departure from it.

Calvin’s originality in this respect was strongly influenced by his battles against the anti-trinitarians of his time.  In his view, for the traditionally orthodox to say that the Father alone was autotheos was to play into the hands of these heretics because they said exactly the same thing.  Indeed, on their own terms, the heretics could be justified if such a view were to be adopted by the orthodox because, if the Son and the Holy Spirit were not autotheos, they could not be God at all.  It would then matter very little whether the heretics were neo-Arians, neo-Sabellians (modalists), or whatever, because the fundamental point that held trinitarian orthodoxy together would have been conceded in advance.

From: God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Thought by Gerald Bray (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), pp. 1,004-1,005.

Posted by: reiterations | July 19, 2015

For the Lord’s Day (390)

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  (1 John 5.19)

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