On Humility

Humility is the frame of mind which we should labor and pray for, if we would not be offended.  If we find any of Christ’s sayings hard to understand, we should humbly remember our present ignorance and believe that we shall know more by and by.  If we find any of His sayings difficult to obey, we should humbly recollect that He will never require of us impossibilities and that, what He bids us do, He will give us grace to perform. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), commenting on John 6.53-61.

On Studying the Bible

In [Psalm] 1:2, we are told that the good man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he will exercise himself day and night.”  To “exercise himself” in it apparently does not mean to obey it (though, of course, the good man will do that, too) but to study it, as Dr. Moffatt says, to “pore over it.”  Of course, “the law” does not here mean simply the Ten Commandments, it means the whole complex legislation (religious, moral, civil, criminal, and even constitutional) contained in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  The man who “pores upon it” is obeying Joshua’s command (Joshua 1:8), “the book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night.”  This means, among other things, that the law was a study or, as we should say, a “subject,” a thing on which there would be commentaries, lectures, and examinations.  There were.  Thus part (religiously, the least important part) of what an ancient Jew meant when he said he “delighted in the law” was very like what one of us would mean if he said that somebody “loved” history or physics or archaeology.  This might imply a wholly innocent – though, of course, merely natural – delight in one’s favorite subject or, on the other hand, the pleasures of conceit, pride in one’s own learning and consequent contempt for the outsiders who don’t share it, or even a venal admiration for the studies which secure one’s own stipend and social position.

From: Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1958), pp. 65-66.

Theology Must Include Ethics

It is, of course, essential to remember that theology is not merely a matter of intellect but also of experience.  Theology is concerned with spiritual realities and must include personal experience as well as ideas.  Pectus facit theologum.  This association of theology with experience will always prevent the former from continuing merely abstract and philosophical.  Dogmatics, as Martensen points out, must come from within the church and not from outside.  It is a science of faith, with faith as its basis and source.  In past days, theology has been too closely limited to metaphysics, intellectualism, and philosophy.  The Articles bear the marks of this tendency of the age which produced them.  But, while the intellectual element must necessarily always be at the basis of every presentation of Christian truth, the intellect is not the only, perhaps not the dominant factor, and other elements must enter.  The feeling, equally with the reason, must share in the consideration of theology because theology is of the heart, and the deepest truths are inextricably bound up with personal needs and experiences.  The moral consciousness of man must also find a place and conscience be allowed to take its part in the provision of a true creed.  This is only one instance out of many which proves the impossibility of limiting ourselves to that which is merely rational, and also the absolute necessity of emphasizing the personal and ethical in our discussion of theology.  Time was when dogmatics and ethics were separated, and the latter regarded as subsidiary and supplementary to the former.  But this is not possible today.  A theology which is not ethical, while it includes ethics, cannot be rightly called theology.

From: The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles by W. H. Griffith Thomas (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1930), p. xxv.

On Confession

As there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation, so there is no sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.  Men and women ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every person’s duty to endeavor to repent of his or her particular sins particularly.  As every person is bound to make private confession of his or her sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof, upon which and the forsaking of them he or she shall find mercy, so he or she who scandalizes his or her brother or sister, or the church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his or her sin, to declare his or her repentance to those who are offended, who are, thereupon, to be reconciled to him or her and, in love, to receive him or her. – Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), 15.4-6. (amended slightly for clarity)

For the Lord’s Day (477)

So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab according to the word of the Lord, and He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.  Moses was 120 years old when he died.  His eye was undimmed and his vigor unabated.  And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.  Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.  (Deuteronomy 34.5-8)

Matthew Henry (1)

In settling friendships and correspondences, there is need of the wisdom of the serpent as well as the innocence of the dove.  Nor is it any transgression of the law of meekness and love plainly to signify our strong perception of injuries received and to stand upon our guard in dealing with those who have acted unfairly. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714) on Genesis 26.26-33.

The Trinity in the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach

The number three, the symbol of the Trinity, is at the heart of this volume that contains a total of 27 pieces (3x3x3), 21 chorale preludes (7×3), and three versions of the chorale dedicated to the Trinity (Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr).  The key of E-flat major for the prelude and fugue, extremely rare in Baroque organ works, contains three flats.  The prelude is based on three contrasting motives and the triple fugue is constructed in three sections and has three subjects.

From: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Complete Organ Works (Ricercar Records, catalog number RIC 289, released in 2009).  Booklet note by Bernard Foccroulle, with Jerome Lejeune and William Hekkers, p. 76.

On the Believer’s Relationship to the Lord’s Supper

Because of the selfish indulgence of some within the church, the poor were being humiliated during the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11.22).  Such sins are so serious that they call forth the Lord’s judgment and discipline (1 Corinthians 11.29-34).

Yet, we also see that the good news about Jesus (the gospel) has power to pardon sin and transform hardened hearts.  Jesus has secured our forgiveness by giving His body and blood for us (1 Corinthians 11.24-25; cf. Luke 22.17-20).  When we “remember” Him through the Lord’s Supper, we remember His great act of love – and we proclaim that we need the power of the Lord’s death to strengthen us “until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11.26), just as we need food (“the bread”) and drink (“the cup”) to sustain our bodies.  Only through His power are we able to honor the least privileged (“those who have nothing,” 1 Corinthians 11.22) and prioritize the good of others before our own (“wait for one another,” 1 Corinthians 11.33).

From: Daily Devotional New Testament: Through the New Testament in a Year (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), p. 143.  Commenting on 1 Corinthians 11.17-34.

A Roman Catholic Evaluation of John Calvin

Such a man is not easily judged.  Only He who sounds the secrets of all our hearts and minds can do that.  Moreover, Calvin has always been the subject of widely differing opinions.  Michelet was too ardent an admirer of his work of “liberation.”  Renan regarded him as hard-working and ambitiously self-seeking, but as otherwise unexceptional.  We can join with his supporters in exalting his genius, his acute understanding of great problems, his capacity for synthesis and organization.  We can even admit that kind of frigid attraction which emanates from Calvin, as from all great minds, which possesses a taste for the long and careful study of ideas as well as for their perfect expression.  And it would be grossly unfair not to recognize his ardent zeal for God, his passion to win souls, that tragic seriousness with which he always regarded his vocation, and his unfailing sense of duty.  But it is equally impossible not to observe that this outstanding personality lacked two essential Christian virtues which would have set the seal upon his greatness.  First, true humility, not only before God but before men also, the kind of humility which later impelled St. Vincent de Paul to fall on his knees before a peasant who had struck him in the face.  Secondly, true goodness, which knows how to love men despite their abjection and, indeed, because of it, and which is always ready to pardon any fault.  It seems that, though Calvin read his gospel so thoroughly, he had not understood its two noblest precepts: that it behoves us to be the least important at the table end, and that we ought to love our enemies.

Opinions regarding Calvin’s historical role are also conflicting.  “Calvin was the principal destroyer of genuine Protestantism,” says one historian (J. Dedieu).  “Calvin saved Lutheranism,” says another (Doumergue).  Both are correct.  Calvin undoubtedly led Protestantism far from its original bases and directed it towards ends which Luther had not desired.  But the ways which Luther had in mind led to one of two impasses – anarchy or the subjection of religion to the State.  Protestantism owed to Calvin its order, its common faith, its clergy, its method, and also that solemn face which we know so well, a face that is often more respectable than lovable.  In short, it owed him a new type of believer.

Calvin was, however, first and foremost, the man who sealed the final rupture and, on this point more than on any other, a Catholic cannot but look upon him with horror.  He set himself to build an impassable well or an abyss between the Church which had given him baptism and that which he wished to “draw up,” and he did this far more thoroughly than Luther had done, and with a kind of devilish severity.  It is true that, dialectically speaking, his role, like that of his German predecessor, could, in the last resort, be considered favorable to the ultimate designs of Providence, for the terrible blow he dealt Christendom was the cause of her re-awakening.  But this does not lessen the extent of his sin.  After Calvin, all hopes of repairing the rent in the Seamless Robe vanished for centuries to come.  Such, in brief, is the significance of this man’s life.  Such was the success of John Calvin.

From: The Protestant Reformation by H. Daniel-Rops; History of the Church of Christ, Volume 4; translated from the French by Audrey Butler (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd./New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1961), pp. 440-441.  French original published in 1958.

Henri Daniel-Rops (pen name of Henri Jules Charles Petiot) (1901-1965) was a French Roman Catholic church historian and a prolific author.  He was a member of the French Academy.

How Civil Authority and Ecclesiastical Authority Differ

Various Christian bodies have defined the extent of civil authority and ecclesiastical authority in different ways.  For example, in Reformed churches, the authority of the church is viewed as ministerial and declarative rather than ultimate and intrinsic.  God, and God alone, has the absolute right to bind the consciences of men.  Our consciences are justly bound to lesser authorities only when they are in conformity to the Word of God.

From: Can I Trust the Bible by R. C. Sproul; The Crucial Questions Series, No. 2 (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009) p. 8.  Previously published in 1980 and 1996 with  different titles.