Monday, 5 November 2018

C.S. Lewis: created humans and Incarnation of God the Son

One must be careful not to put this in a way which would blur the distinction between the creation of a man and the Incarnation of God.  Could one, as a mere model, put it thus?  In creation God makes--invents--a person and "utters"--injects--him into the realm of Nature.  In the Incarnation, God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being.  So that "He came down from Heaven" can almost be transposed into "Heaven drew earth up into it," and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within.  The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up.  Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?

                               - C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, 70-71

Monday, 15 October 2018

Justification in Thomas Cranmer & Richard Hooker

"Our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God, and of so great and free mercy that, whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ's body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied.  So that Christ is now the righteousness of all that truly do believe in him."
                                                                           - Thomas Cranmer

"The righteousness wherewith we shall be clothed in the world to come is both perfect and inherent.  That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent.  That whereby we are sanctified, inherent, but not perfect."

"The best things we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned.  How then can we do anything meritorious and worthy to be rewarded?"

"Faith is the only hand which putteth on Christ unto justification, and Christ the only garment which, being so put on, covereth the shame of our defiled natures."

"God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief, but for his worthiness who is believed; God rewardeth abundantly everyone who worketh, yet not for any meritorious dignity which is, or can be, in the work, but through his mere mercy, by whose commandment he worketh."

                                                                            - Richard Hooker

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Incarnation, Justification & Sanctification

“In the humanity of Jesus Christ, God has lowered himself to us in order to raise us to himself.” 

“The God who in His humiliation justifies us is also the man who in His exaltation sanctifies us.” 

                                                                                                     - Karl Barth

Friday, 14 September 2018

Augustine's little prayer...

“My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid it of these things? There is no one but you.”

                                                                      Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Richard Hooker on Justification

"Let men count it folly, or frenzy, for fury, or whatsoever, it is our wisdom and our comfort, we care for no learning, no knowledge in the world but this, that man has sinned and God has suffered, that God is made the sin of man, and man is made the righteousness of God."

                                                            - Richard Hooker, Treatise on Justification

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Assurance: What is your only comfort...?

Regarding assurance of salvation, the famous first question of the Heidelberg Catechism says it well:
Q:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A:  That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death--to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
This sweet assurance comes not from conjuring up confidence from within one's self, or from repeating a mantra, but from repeatedly looking to and trusting God's promises in Christ to his people in the gospel.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 
                                                                              - John 10:27-29 (ESV)

Our assurance of salvation is not based on how tightly we can hang on to faith in God, but in how strongly God holds on to us in Christ.  Eternal life is a gift from Christ, and believers are given to Christ by the Father, and we are held both in Christ's hand and in the Father's hand together.  That is ultimate security.  No one can force those hands open to snatch God's children, Christ's sheep, out. 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.     
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.      
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.      
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.       
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, 
     “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
       we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
                                                                                    - Romans 8 (ESV)

Not only are we held by both Father and Son, but God dwells in us by the Spirit of adoption.  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who resonates with our own spirits as adopted daughters and sons of God by which we can cry out to the Father of Christ and call him, our Father.

Brad Littlejohn points out in his little primer on Richard Hooker (Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work, p. 107), speaking of those who trust in Jesus Christ, Richard Hooker says that "their faith when it is at the strongest is but weak, yet even then when it is at the weakest so strong that utterly it never faileth, it never perisheth altogether no not in them who think it extinguished in themselves."  This is because even when we falter in our walk or fail in our faith, God never falters in his love or fails in his care. 
...for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
                                                                                     - John 3:20

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Richard Hooker on doubt and assurance

Richard Hooker (1554-1600), the great Anglican divine, has some pastoral words for those who struggle with doubting their own status as a Christian, with wondering if they perhaps are not truly elect.  These doubts are particularly troublesome in light of the Reformed and Puritan teaching that true saving faith is a faith that is assured and certain.  Hooker was arguing against an over emphasis on assurance as an unhealthy and unhelpful doctrine which can tend to put too much of a burden on people's consciences and have them turning inward to examine their own hearts as though under a magnifying glass when they ought to be turning to and trusting in Christ. Hooker reasons that only those who are true believers, who possess real faith, are in a position to suffer anxiety over whether or not their faith is genuine.
But are they not grieved with their unbelief?  They are.  Do they not wish it might and also strive that it may be otherwise?  We know they do.  Whence cometh this but from a secret love and liking which they have of those things that are believed?  No man can love the things which in his own opinion are not.  And if they think those things to be, which they show that they love when they desire to believe them, then must it needs be that by desiring to believe they prove themselves to be true believers. 
So for those who doubt their whether or not they are saved by Christ, who question the genuineness of their faith and their status as a redeemed member of Christ's household, Hooker has more words of comfort.
I know in whom I have believed, I am not ignorant whose precious blood hath been shed for me, I have a shepherd full of kindness, full of care, and full of power; unto him I commit myself; his own finger hath engravened this sentence in the tables of my heart, "Satan hath desired to winnow thee as wheat, but I have prayed that thy faith fail not."  Therefore the assurance of my hope I will labour to keep as a jewel unto the end and by labour through the gracious mediation of his prayer I shall keep it.
So true assurance of saving faith comes not so much from looking inside our hearts and minds at whether or not our faith is genuine, but looking to Christ, the true, real, genuine and actual saviour of sinners.  Assurance of salvation is found in Christ's love and in his efficacious saving work on the cross.  Certainty comes from looking not to the strength or power of our faith but from looking to the strength of the sacrifice Christ made to rescue us from sin and looking to the power of his promise to intercede for us before the Father so that no one can pluck us from his hand.   

Saturday, 28 July 2018

We praise thee, O God

I just finished a two week course on the history and theology of the Anglican Church.  It was simply great.  J.I. Packer used to teach the course, and our instructor was someone who had taken the course with Dr. Packer.  Having myself taken a Packer course several years ago, I know he always began his class by having everyone stand and sing the Doxology.  This flowed out of his conviction that the purpose of theology was for doxology (worship).  The instructor for Anglican history and theology had us pray a prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to start every class: the Te Deum Laudamus (we praise thee O God).  Praying that prayer every day, even only for two weeks, made me appreciate the shape of it, particularly how it combines theology and piety, doctrine and devotion.  The prayer confesses and acknowledges truth; it is very creedal in both doctrine and shape, following as it does the Apostle's Creed.  It also is very biblical, full of quotes and allusions to Scripture.  And out of all this doctrinal, confessional and biblical truth, this foundational basis in who God is, this prayer asks our God to help us, to bless us, out of his great mercy.  Church tradition says that this prayer was co-written by Ambrose and Augustine on the occasion of Augustine's baptism.  Perhaps.  What a wonderful prayer to pray on the occasion of a baptism, or just to begin a class period, or a day at work, or a day at home, or for any occasion, or for no occasion at all.  What a great prayer to pray simply because God is always truly all that he reveals himself to be and we always need his mercy.  (This prayer is intended to be a corporate prayer, so in the BCP, the colons indicate a pause.)

We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee: the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels do cry aloud: the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and Seraphin: continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy: Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven, and Earth are full of the Majesty: of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles: praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets: praise thee. 
The noble army of Martyrs: praise thee.  
The holy Church throughout all the world: doth acknowledge thee;
The Father: of an infinite Mercy;
Thine honourable, true: and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost: the Comforter.
Thou are the King of Glory: O Christ.
Thou are the everlasting Son: of the Father. 
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man: thou didst not abhor the Virgins womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death: thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all  believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God: in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come: to be our Judge. 
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants: whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints: in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save thy people: and bless thine heritage.
Govern them: and lift then up for ever. 
Day by day: we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name: ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord: to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us: have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us: as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Evangel at the heart of Evangelism

Here is a thoughtful article by Al Mohler regarding the need to keep the Evangel - the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ - at the center of Evangelism.  If the gospel we bring is not centered upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his redemptive atoning work on behalf of helpless sinners, who apart from that stand under God's righteous judgement, then the message we bring is a different gospel, or at best only a partial gospel.  This article certainly doesn't say all there is to say about evangelism, or the message of the gospel, but what Mohler says here can't be neglected without the gospel ceasing to truly be the good news of God's saving grace in and through Christ to a lost and sinful world.  You can read this article here.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Evangelicalism - how it all started and what it really is

Over the last couple of years there have been many calls for discontinuing the use of the term "evangelical" for religiously and ethically conservative Protestant Christians.  This call has gone out mainly by Evangelical leaders and teachers who opposed the election of Donald Trump.  I am certainly sympathetic to the concern that evangelicals have, in the US, become too closely tied to the Republican party such that too often it is not their doctrine, biblical convictions or personal piety that publicly defines them as evangelical but their voting habits, at least according to the media.  I don't think this is a good thing, no matter how one voted or what one's opinion on the Trump presidency is.  However, I would like to challenge the those who argue for discontinuing the use of the term evangelical. 

This seems to me to be largely an American issue.  One of the problems with Trump's presidency is his America-is-greatest and America-is-always-right attitude.  Those who advocate discontinuing the use of the term evangelical have caved in to Trump's and the media's parameters of public debate, which is a discussion that seems to forget that the rest of the world exists.  No matter what they may think of him, Evangelicals in the rest of the world didn't vote for Trump.  Why non-American evangelicals should give up using the term evangelical because of the voting choices of some (not all) American evangelicals does not make sense.  The term evangelical was around before Trump.  Perhaps those in the evangelical camp ought to fight for the recovery of the right understanding and use of the term rather than cave in to the media and cultural pressure to dispose of it. 

Toward understanding Evangelicalism, I would like to recommend a book.  Bruce Hindmarsh, one of my professors at Regent College, has written an excellent work on The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism.  This book describes the spiritual awakening of the earliest leaders of Evangelicalism as well as their interactions with the emerging modern age.  Anyone who thinks that a single election or the media coverage of a 4-year presidential term is reason enough to quit using a term that has represented a rich, three hundred year long, bible-centered, Protestant spiritual tradition really should read this book before they jump on the band wagon. 

For a taste of what to expect from this book, see this interview at the Gospel Coalition.

As Bruce says in the interview:   'The gospel (or “evangel”) as the good news of Jesus Christ to needy sinners transcends time and place. God’s decisive word has rung out for all time: “This is my beloved Son: Listen to him.” The gospel is, as Luther said, “nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him.” Yet a new episode in the history of Christian spirituality came about 300 years ago as the gospel was preached afresh under the conditions of a newly modernizing world.'