January 27, 2005

Philemon: We are all Onesimus

(This post is adapted from a Sunday school lesson delivered some time in 1999, and was my contribution to a series titled "The Little Books," discussing the shorter letters of the New Testament. It's one of my earliest attempts at exposition [only the two sola Scriptura pieces, below, are older] and despite the fact that my methods and outlook on Scripture have matured over the intervening six years, I'm still quite pleased with it.)

You are the wealthy head of a Roman household in the midst of the first century: a wealthy, respected man in the city of Colosse. You own a number of slaves. The institution of slavery is essential to your society's infrastructure. Imagine how you would feel if one of your slaves ran away  and what's more, you suspect that he has stolen a lot of money from you as well.

Think forward to a few months to a year later. You're relaxing in your house. One of your slaves or servants comes in and announces a messenger.

I should add you are a Christian. Not only that, but you're a close friend of a man named Paul - the Billy Graham of your generation. So you recognize the messenger. It's a man named Tychicus, one of Paul's most trusted associates. He's got a letter , which you take, and read . . .

How do you feel? What do you do?

This letter, which today we usually call the Epistle to Philemon, was most likely written by Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome, probably around AD 60. We also know it was written and delivered at the same time as Colossians, because Paul mentions the situation in Col. 4:9. But unlike Colossians, this letter is uncannily obscure. It is Paul's most personal letter. It doesn't teach any specific doctrines. I've never seen it quoted in any book of theology. Of the 3,500 sermons of Spurgeon's that saw publication, none of them were from Philemon. And, as I found out while doing my research, it apparently never inspired any hymns. In fact, over the years, it has been debated whether it rightly belongs in the canon of Scripture at all.

Nonetheless, Philemon is a personal favourite part of the Bible for me. As a rhetoric graduate, I can appreciate Philemon as a textbook example of the ancient art of letter writing, and I enjoy seeing how Paul structures his arguments. But Philemon is more than just a rhetorical model. It isn't just form and function. Rather, Philemon is evidence of the power of the Gospel to change lives. It is a true parable - a living analogy for God�s forgiveness and redemption of sinners.

Let's begin with the person of Onesimus. He is a slave. As I have already said, slavery as an institution was crucial to the Greek and Roman economy. Aristotle had once said that it was the natural order of things for some men to be slaves. Slaves were the personal property of their owners; they were "living tools."

But Onesimus was a runaway slave. He was rebellious. There were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. They had to be kept down, because if they had all decided to revolt, they had the raw manpower to overthrow the empire. Thus a slave owner had absolute power over the fate of his property. At best, a runaway slave might have been marked with a brand on his forehead, an "F" that stood for fugitivus - runaway. At worst, he would be crucified. Paul never said anything against the institution of slavery, at least directly, which is probably understandable given the social situation at the time.

But then, something happened to Onesimus. It seems he found his way to Rome. If you didn't want to be found, a big city like that was probably a good place to go. But while Onesiumus was there, he got in contact with Paul somehow, and as a result he became a Christian. And after he came to Christ, he decided that he wanted to do the right thing and risk returning to Philemon's household.

Paul, obviously agreeing, sends him back to Philemon in the company of Tychicus, but he also sends along a personal letter to Philemon. He begins the letter with a personal commendation (vv. 4-7), because Philemon loves for the saints, and because he has encouraged them.

But Paul then turns around and, having built up Philemon, becomes an advocate for Onesimus. He says that Philemon ought to welcome back Onesimus as though he were Paul himself, writing:

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who was once unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart. (10-13)

Incidentally, Paul's use of the words "profitable" and "unprofitable" here is a pun. Onesimus' name means "useful."

Furthermore, Philemon was to welcome Onesimus back, but not just as a returning runaway slave. Thanks to his changed relationship in Christ, Philemon was now a brother:

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? (15-16)

And then Paul guarantees the repayment of any debt Onesimus might owe Philemon. Maybe Paul made an educated guess that Onesimus would have had to steal to make his escape possible. Maybe Onesimus admitted it. We don't really know the situation, but whatever it was, Paul made a legally binding promise to cover Onesimus' debts (18-19). In that day, letters were customarily dictated to a professional amanuensis, or scribe. Writing in one's own hand signified a serious promise, as binding as a signature on a contract today.

We are Onesimus. Paul wrote his letter to Romans, he said numerous times that we were formerly "slaves to sin." We are all spiritual runaways from our true master, who is God. All men know who God is: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). But although we knew that God is our Lord and Creator, we chose instead to run away from him:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. . . . [a]nd changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. (Rom. 1:21,23)

Instead of glorifying God for who he is, all of us wanted instead to run away from him, like Onesimus, and risk the death penalty that we had rightfully earned.

But then we, too, heard the Gospel, the Good News, and it transformed us, from willful runaways into willing servants. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Where before we were useless, now "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Or, as Paul wrote to Titus:

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. (Tit. 3:8)

Moreover, we too return to God as more than a slave: Galatians 4:7 says that "thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."

Just as Paul began his letter by identifying himself with Philemon, Christ identified himself as an emissary of his Father when he began his mission on earth. For example, John writes that at one point some Jews asked him:

Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:25-29)

But then, in his death, Christ identified himself with us sinners, as John also wrote, later in his life:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Substitutionary atonement. Christ's death was an actual, real substitute for the death we deserved to die for our own sins. By taking our penalty on our behalf, Christ truly satisfied the justice of God, who no longer holds our sins against us, because our debt has been guaranteed by Christ, "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Eph. 1:7).

So, did he or didn't he? What was Philemon's reaction to this letter? I'm personally convinced that his answer was "Yes!" Here's why.

Paul's tone suggests that Philemon is accountable to many people for his response. First, to Paul himself, who tosses out his authority as an apostle, and then mentions to Philemon that he owes him his very life, spiritually speaking. This is a rather transparent rhetorical tactic - Paul says he doesn't want to bring these things up, and in fact he appeals to Philemon on the basis of their friendship rather than Paul's authority or Philemon's life-debt - but, well, there it is, anyway.

Paul also makes Philemon accountable to the church in Colosse, where Philemon lived. In fact, they met in his own home. Paul addresses the letter not only to Philemon personally, but also to the Colossian church at large, and also an "Archippus," thought by some to be Philemon's son, but evidently a pastor in the church. The letter to the Colossians was obviously written and sent at the same time, and says that Paul sent the letter with Tychicus and "with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you" (Col. 4:9). So everyone in the Colossian church knew Onesimus, now a believer, was back.

He also makes Philemon accountable to Timothy, whom, it seems, was present with Paul and is named as the co-sender of the letter (Philem. 1). No doubt Timothy's assent to Paul's message carried some weight, as he was one of Paul's most trusted emissaries, as well as a pastor in his own right.

So with all these people watching you, what would you do?

Second, we can be sure Philemon carried out Paul's request, simply because we have this letter at all. What do you think would have happened if Philemon had been offended? Would he have kept it, much less given a copy of it to someone else? No, he would have destroyed it, and that would have ended the matter then and there. But here it is, prima facie evidence that Philemon joyfully received the message, in the same spirit that it was sent; not only that, but he must have made copies!

Finally, we have the testimony of history. One of the Apostolic Fathers, Ignatius, wrote an Epistle to the Ephesians, which began:

I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God, which ye have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you. . . . I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop.

Is this "excellent bishop" the same man for whom Paul wrote so passionately and graciously? To be honest, history doesn't tell us for certain.

But the romantic side of me wants to believe. I want to think that Philemon realized the ramifications of the changed relationship between him and Onesimus, that if they were equal in the eyes of God, he could no longer justify owning Onesimus as a slave, and he gave him his freedom. I'd like to believe that Onesimus made his way to Ephesus and became the overseer of the Ephesian church. History tells us that the Pauline epistles were first collected at Ephesus; I want to believe that Onesimus had kept a copy of the letter to Philemon, and that he went to the people who were compiling Paul's letters and said, "Here. Put this one in. It's my story. It's what God did for me. Paul wrote this. It's the Word of God."

Today we have received Philemon as the Word of God, which means there's an example in there for us. There is a practical message of forgiveness in this short book. Paul wrote Philemon to tell him to forgive Onesimus, not to demand his life as the law would have allowed, but to accept him as a brother, and even more. Legitimate personal grievances come to an end when the offender comes to Christ; forgive the wrong and move on. Paul knew something about this personally. Luke records, in Acts 9, how at first the church was afraid of him because they remembered that he'd been trying to kill them before his conversion. But Barnabas didn't hold a grudge: he took Paul by the hand and introduced him to the apostles. Those whom God forgives, we forgive. Our personal issues don't trump God's grace.

The story doesn't end there. We are all Onesimus. Sure, we don't all have a dramatic story to tell about escaping from slavery and running halfway across Europe, but for all of us there was a time when we were running from God. Yet God has accepted us back. God has been patient with those who are running from him, but there is a time appointed where his patience will finally end, and the just penalty for sin will have to be paid, and that penalty is death. But the good news is, if you will turn away from your sinful life, and will put your trust in Jesus Christ, then guarantee of eternal life wasn't signed only in pen and ink, but in Jesus Christ's own blood. Be a slave no longer; be received as a son.

Next Thursday: More on Philemon.


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January 20, 2005

Solus Christus I: The sufficiency of Christ

(This blog entry is a repost from The Crusty Curmudgeon.)

The London Baptist Confession of 1689, with which I am in basic agreement as a personal statement of faith, has this to say about the person and work of Christ:

This office of mediator between God and man is proper only to Christ, who is the prophet, priest, and king of the church of God; and may not be either in whole, or any part thereof, transferred from him to any other.1

This is the LBC's expression of the Reformed doctrine of solus Christus (also sometimes referred to as solo Christo), or "Christ alone." In this post I want to discuss this doctrine from three perspectives: the atonement of Christ, the merits of Christ, and the mediatorship of Christ.

Solus Christus: Christ's atonement alone

Leviticus 16 spells out the regulations for the annual day of atonement, the day of the year in which the children of Israel collectively humbled themselves before God and confessed their sins. This was the one day all year where the high priest, robed in his priestly costume, brought the sacrifice into the most holy place and offered it in the very presence of God himself. The personal danger to the priest underscored the solemnity of the occasion: if he did not follow his instructions precisely, he might be struck dead.

On this occasion, two goats were selected from the herds of Israel. One of them was selected by lot to become the sin offering. It was slaughtered and its blood brought into the most holy place by the high priest, into the presence of God himself, as an offering for sin (Lev. 16:15-19).

The reality of sin is a crippling situation. Man cannot cleanse himself from sin (Prov. 20:9); his sin is part of his very nature (Jer. 13:23). Man can never be saved if he must depend on himself for salvation. Yet the perfect justice of a holy God requires that atonement be made for sin.

The animal sacrifices tell us something about the nature of atonement. While pure justice might demand that a man's own blood be shed as atonement for his sins, God by his grace allowed an animal to be substituted. The animal had to be unblemished, illustrating the an imperfect sacrifice was unacceptable. It had a cost, as it was taken from the sinner's own herds. And it had to shed its blood in death.

It was a fundamental truth of the sacrificial system that "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, although the goats were offered year after year, it was impossible for their continuous deaths to remit sins perfectly. Hence, they were really only a reminder of sin (Heb. 10:1-3), and not a true atonement: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (4).

But, the author adds,

[W]e are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (10-14)

What continual animal sacrifice could never begin to accomplish, Jesus Christ did once and for all. Impaled through the hands, feet, and side, he shed his blood on the cross when he died. The cost of his sacrifice was great: he cost the Father his only Son. Knowing no sin, Christ was a perfect and unblemished sacrifice.

Lastly, as a man and not an animal, he was a perfect substitute. For Christ's death on the cross was not merely an example or a demonstration of God's justice, as some claim (though it was those things and more). It was an actual, real substitute of one life for another.

The story is often told in evangelical circles about George Wilson, a robber who had been sentenced to death in 1830 for his crimes. Thanks to pleas from his friends, President Andrew Jackson pardoned him. Amazingly, Wilson refused the pardon, choosing to accept his sentence and be hanged. The Supreme Court ruled that the value of a pardon was contingent upon its acceptance. Thus Wilson had a right to refuse if he wanted to. By this story, well-meaning evangelists appeal to sinners: Christ has paid the sins for all mankind, and God has offered a pardon, if only you will accept it.

The problem with this kind of thinking, however well-intentioned, is that the analogy breaks down at the most fundamental level.

Christ's death expiated sins, that is, it removed the penalty for them. Christ died in place of sinners: "[T]he Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). The word translated for in this verse is one that means in place of or instead of. Christ's death expiates our sin because he died in our stead.

But Christ's sacrifice was also propitiatory, which means it was satisfactory. There was something in it, independent of our own change of mind from unbelief to belief, that satisfied God's justice and turned away his wrath towards sinners. Paul writes:

[W]e all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) . . . (Eph. 2:3-5)

Formerly children of wrath and dead in sins, thanks to the mercy of God, his wrath is appeased by Christ.

And to the Romans, Paul says:

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)

It was Jesus' obedience of his Father's will (his passive obedience in theological terminology), culminating in the crucifixion, that provides the objective basis upon which not only divine justice was satisfied, but divine mercy could be offered. His death was a propitiation. Those for whom Christ died are no longer the subjects of God's wrath.

Jackson's pardon of Wilson, by contrast, was a Presidential decree, nothing else. It made an offer of mercy without a satisfaction of justice; it was expiation without propitiation. It lacked the objective grounding of a substitutionary atonement.

Theologians such as C. H. Dodd claim that where the Bible says propitiation it really means expiation, saying that Christ's death cleansed sin but had no need to turn away wrath. This theory has had some popularity with theological liberals who find the idea of a vengeful God abhorrent. However, such a theory has a hard time reconciling itself with Romans 3:25-26 and other Biblical passages that speak of the wrath of God against sinners.

Some theories of the Atonement, such as the Moral Influence and Moral Government theories2, also affirm that forgiveness of sins is something God can do simply by decree, without any objective satisfaction. A Biblical, substitutionary view of the atonement agrees with the Moral Influence theory that Christ's death demonstrates God's love toward sinners. And it agrees with the Moral Government theory in that the crucifixion demonstrates the need for justice and the seriousness of sin. But both theories are wrong in what they deny: that the demands of divine justice must also be met. God is both just and justifier (Rom. 3:26).

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis also denied the idea of a substitutionary atonement, affirming instead a theory that could be called "vicarious confession," in which Christ the "perfect penitent" confessed and repented of sin on our behalf. Lewis found the idea of penal substitution barbaric. I think he failed to see, however, that Christ's death occurred amidst a culture in which shedding blood for the atonement of sins was integral to their worldview. Also, although the Bible calls Christ's death an act of obedience, it never discusses it in terms of repentance and confession on the part of Christ himself.

More recently, "Emergent Church" leader Brian McLaren agrees with Lewis' assessment of penal substitution, having one of the characters in his didactic novel The Story We Find Ourselves In call penal substitution "divine child abuse."3 He provides thumbnail sketches of six theories of the Atonement (including a favourable view of Lewis' version). McLaren treats all the various theories as different "windows" giving different perspectives on the whole truth. Perhaps this is true as far as it goes; however, there is really nothing true about any competing theory that is not covered by the penal substitution theory.

Christ our Substitute alone pays the penalty for sins and makes forgiveness possible: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Moses never died to provide salvation for sins. Neither did Mary, or Mohammed, or Buddha.

What continual animal sacrifice could never begin to accomplish, Jesus Christ did once and for all.

Solus Christus: Christ's merits alone

The second goat on the Day of Atonement was the "scapegoat." Today, when we call someone a scapegoat, it's not a good thing: it means he is taking the blame for someone else's problems. But it was certainly a good thing for the goat! It escaped a bloody death (hence "scapegoat"). Rather, the high priest laid his hands on its head and confessed the sins of the nation. The goat was then taken out of the camp and set free into the wilderness (Lev. 16:20-22).

Obviously, the goat itself was blameless. The sins of others were imputed, or transferred, to it, and then symbolically removed from the people by the goat's release.

Christ, too, was blameless, as Paul writes to the Corinthians:

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:20-21)

Christ played the rôle not only of the sacrificial goat, but the scapegoat. Although he himself was blameless, he was "made sin for us" - or, as the prophet Isaiah prophesied, using the language of the day of atonement: "the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6).

Christ was the last righteous Israelite, the only one who obeyed God's Law perfectly - indeed, as the God-Man, the only one capable of so doing. It was his perfect obedience to the Law (his active obedience) that secured a righteousness - God's righteousness - that could be transferred to others. Our guilt was transferred, or imputed, to him, and his righteousness was imputed to us.

This truth is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Church of Rome, which claims there is a "treasury" of merit comprising not only the merits of Christ, but "includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary" and "all the saints."4 In the Roman system, the merits of Christ are not sufficient; they must be supplemented with the superfluous merits of Mary and the saints. Rome also claims for itself the authority to dispense merit from the treasury for the remission of sins.5 This is the basis of the practice of indulgences, the crass commercialism of which goaded Luther into nailing his 95 theses to the church door. In addition, Rome's system of confessions and penances entails the efficiency of one's own merits to expiate some sins. Thus Christ, Mary, the saints, and oneself all cooperate to atone for sin. This is a categorical denial of the sufficiency of Christ.

It is Christ's merit alone that is imputed to us. No one else has ever lived a sinless life. Not Mary, not the saints, and most certainly not me.

Solus Christus: Christ's mediatorship alone

A mediator

intervene[s] between two parties in order to promote relations between them which the parties themselves are not able to effect. The situation requiring the offices of a mediator is often one of estrangement and alienation, and the mediator effects reconciliation.6

In the Old Covenant, the priest was the mediator between God and Israel, receiving the sacrifices from the people and presenting them to God. But he himself was in need of a mediator; before he could make atonement for the sins of his nation, it was necessary for him to make atonement for himself and the other priests with the sacrifice of a bull (Lev. 16:6). Moreover, the priests died and new priests had to replace them.

But, once again, the author of Hebrews says:

And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore. (Heb. 8:22-28)

Christ is that priest. He is the antitype not only of the goat who is killed for a sin offering, and the scapegoat that is left in the wilderness, but the priest who offers them.

Christ's priesthood is better than Aaron's, first because, unlike the Levites, he never sinned, and thus needs to make no atonement for himself. Jesus never makes confession or atonement; he says on the cross, "Father, forgive them," not "Father, forgive me." Thus he was able to mediate between men and God,

having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight. . . . (Col. 1:20-22)

Second, Christ's priesthood is better than Aaron's because, since he will never die, "his mediatory activity is never suspended."7 His intercessory work was not completed at Golgotha. He is a priest forever (Heb. 7:21, 24), interceding before the Father with the needs of his people.

I personally believe that the intercessory work of Christ is the strongest argument for particular redemption. Just as the priests of the Old Covenant interceded in the Temple for their people, the nation of Israel, Christ, the priest of the New Covenant intercedes before the throne of God for his people, the Church. It is inconceivable that the Father having elected someone, the Son would fail to atone for him; or that the Son having shed his blood for someone, would fail to intercede for him or that the Father would refuse to hear his intercession. Scripture ties Christ's atoning sacrifice and his priestly intercession together. They are co-extensive. Here is a practical example. Does the church freely offer the Lord's Supper to all and sundry, even committed unbelievers? Of course not. Jesus said of the cup of wine, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20). The elements are reserved for partakers of the New Covenant - Christian believers - because they symbolize the blood shed and the body broken for Christ's people, the Church.

Scripture comes right out and says that Christ alone is the mediator between God and man: "[N]o man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). And what could be clearer than 1 Tim. 2:5-6? "[T]here is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus: who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." Yet again, however, men have invented attempts to interpose other mediators between God and men. Popular Catholic piety views Mary as a mediatrix as well. How does the Hail Mary go? "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." Indeed Mary-as-intercessor is an official teaching of the Church of Rome: "We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the New Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ."8 I once asked a Catholic online how they could reconcile this belief with 1 Tim. 2:5, and he said that Mary was not a mediator between God and man, but man and Christ. Counterargument: There is only one day left until Christmas, but that doesn't mean there aren't six more days between that one day and now. Both arguments are, of course, semantic tomfoolery. Again, the Roman church nullifies the Word of God for the sake of its traditions.


Another of the five solas, sola fide, is said to be the material principle of the Reformation. But solus Christus is the core truth of the Gospel. If Jesus Christ were unable to save perfectly and completely, he would not be someone we could put our faith in.

But he is a powerful Saviour who accomplished what no mortal man could ever achieve. He removed the guilt of sin from men who could not save themselves. He turned away the wrath of God from men who could only incur it. He is the perfect priest, giving his people access to God himself.


1 London Baptist Confession of Faith 8.xi.

2 Briefly, the Moral Influence theory of the atonement was developed by Peter Abelard in response to the theory of penal substitution of Anselm. Abelard argued that the purpose of the atonement was to demonstrate God's love for sinners, and so in part to soften their hearts toward God. The Moral Government theory, developed by Hugo Grotius and held by many Arminians, states that Christ's death demonstrates the necessity of divine justice and the seriousness of sin, again with the purpose of persuading men to repent and turn to obedience.

3 Brian D. McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003) 102.

4 Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Image-Doubleday, 1995) 1477.

5 Catechism 1478.

6 J. Murray, "Mediator," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2 (London: Inter-Varsity; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1980) 970-71.

7 Murray 972.

8 Catechism 975.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Image-Doubleday, 1995.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998.

McLaren, Brian D. The Story We Find Ourselves In. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Morris, L. L. "Atonement." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. London: Inter-Varsity; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1980. 147-50.

Murray, J. "Mediator." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. London: Inter-Varsity; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1980. 970-72.

"1689 LBC: Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator." The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. June 1996. Truth for Eternity Ministries. 19 December 2004. <http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc08.html>.

Next Thursday: Unpublished material begins! An old sermon on Philemon.


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January 13, 2005

Sola Scriptura II: The transforming power of Scripture

(This blog entry is a repost from The Crusty Curmudgeon, and was originally adapted from the second part of a two-part Sunday school lesson on sola Scriptura that I delivered on August 15, 1999 to the college and career class at my church.

I believe that sola Scriptura is foundational to all further doctrine and practice within the Church; hence I begin the content of Sacra Eloquia with my statement on the subject.)

When I was first preparing this lesson, I ran through the headings in my Bible just to do a quick survey of what all the Psalms were about. I was surprised to learn how few of them actually seem to be about the Word of God. Understandably, most of the Psalms focus on God himself. Psalm 1 touches on it in passing, and of course Psalm 119, the longest chapter of the entire Bible, is a series of meditations on the Scriptures.

Psalm 19 is about the complete revelation of God. It starts with what we call general revelation: that is, the evidence of God from creation. Historically, Christians have held a view of "two books" of revelation - one was the book of Creation, and the other was the book of Scripture. This is the concept of Revelation held by such men as Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon, who once wrote:

[L]et no man . . . think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress, or proficience in both.

More recently, in the 19th century, the theologian Charles Hodge could say: "Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science."

But for now I want to focus on verses 7-10. This passage is about special revelation - that is, the Scriptures. It says:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul:
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart:
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever:
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold:
sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Psa. 19:7-10)

Note the parallelism in this passage: six declarations containing six descriptive titles and six characteristics of the Word of God, and six transforming effects that it has on the soul.

First, the law, or doctrine, of the Lord is perfect. Perfection is an attribute of the Word of God, as much as it is an attribute of God himself. This is self-evident, since the Word is theopneustos: God-breathed. A few years ago I took a course in the philosophy of God; one of the subjects we touched on was the divine attribute of perfection. In Greek thought, perfection carries the idea of completeness; figuratively speaking, it was like a cake that was cooked all the way through. In Hebrew, the word for "perfect" also carries the idea of completeness. The psalmist, David, is saying that the law of the Lord is complete, that nothing need be added to it to make it better. And David was only speaking about the Law, the first few books of the Scriptures. If David could call only a fragment of the Scriptures, "perfect," how much more can we say the same about the whole counsel of God?

Because the law of God is perfect, it converts the soul. The Scriptures are designed to produce faith, to turn sinning souls back to God, as Paul says in Romans 10:17: "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." In his commentary on the letters to Timothy, William Barclay tells a story of a colporteur in Sicily who was held up by a robber at gunpoint. (I had to look it up too: a colporteur is not a songwriter, but a peddler of religious books.) The robber demanded that he light a fire and burn his books. The salesman agreed, on the condition that he was allowed to read a bit from each one before consigning them to the flames. From the first one, he read the 23rd Psalm; from another, the Sermon on the Mount; from yet another, the Love Chapter from 1 Corinthians. Each time he read a passage, the robber would say "That's a good book; we won't burn that one." In the end, none of the books were destroyed. Years later, the two men met again, only this time the former robber was a minister of the Gospel. His first encounter with the colporteur had transformed his character. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.

The testimony of the Lord, the Psalm then says, is sure. Compare what Jesus said: "whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock" (Matt. 7:25). Last time I mentioned Luther at the Diet of Worms: how, when ordered to repudiate the books he'd written, he replied, "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God." Luther recognized that only Scripture was a sure foundation for doctrine; the shifting and unstable pronouncements of Popes and Church councils were like a foundation of sand.

Scripture makes the simple wise. It isn't enough merely to be converted. Did Jesus tell his disciples to "go and convert all the nations"? No, to "[g]o ye therefore, and teach [i.e. make disciples of] all nations" (Matt. 28:19). How many times do the Scriptures admonish us to grow up in our faith? Yet without continual study of the Bible and its application in our lives, we will never grow as Christians; our faith is grounded in the doctrines of this Book. In his farewell speech, Moses told the Hebrews that knowing and obeying God's law would make the other nations envious:

Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. (Deut. 4:5-6)

The statutes of the Lord are right: that is, they are grounded in righteousness. Again, righteousness is an attribute of Scripture that is inherited from God. A righteous doctor provides right treatment; a righteous lawyer provides a proper defense; a righteous God decrees righteous laws.

These statutes rejoice the heart. Have you noticed the way the thought of the Psalm progresses? The Word of God first converts the soul, then it makes it wise; now, it makes it joyful. Charles Spurgeon once wrote that "that truth which makes the heart right then gives joy to the right heart."

Next, David writes that the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Similarly, another one of my favourite Psalms says that "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psa. 12:6). They are absolutely pure, with no dross whatsoever. To borrow the metaphor used in this passage, the word of God is like pure, uncontaminated medicine for the eyes. Having converted the soul, produced wisdom and then joy, this divine medicine, applied to the eyes, clears the vision. Knowing God better makes our picture of the world clearer, as George Croly's hymn "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" says, in its second stanza:

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

Interestingly, I have yet to find this verse in any hymnbook I've inspected. Nowadays, we're more likely to sing:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

This hymn, written by Helen Lemmel in 1922, shows the influence of the Holiness and Fundamentalist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many people consider a proper faith to be a sort of pious tunnel vision, focusing on Christ and ignoring everything else; but I dare say that given the choice between the two, it is Croly's attitude that is the Biblical one.

The fear of the Lord is clean, the Psalm continues. The Scriptures clean the love of sin out of our souls.

The Scriptures endure forever. Jesus said that "[h]eaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). History has testified to this truth. Before the invention of the printing press, the Scriptures were subject to over a thousand years of copying by hand; yet, when we compare the newest copies with the oldest, the differences that can be ascribed to mere human error - missing words, misspellings, and the like - are minimal and do not affect a single teaching in the slightest. I understand that the Jewish copyists were even more meticulous, and that the variations in the Hebrew Old Testament amount to all of eight words that affect the meaning of the text. Skeptics have claimed that the Bible isn't reliable because it's been copied, rewritten, edited, and corrupted over thousands of years. Don't believe it for a minute! Whatever copy of the Bible you might look at, there's no doubt that it's the same book as it's always been.

Finally, David sums up his thought:

[T]he judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold:
sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Psa. 19:9-10)

In two other places, the Bible symbolizes someone receiving the Word of God with a scroll that tastes like honey when it is eaten (Ezek. 3:1-3; Rev. 10:9-10). We all know what a "gold rush" or "gold fever" are; there seems to be a natural craving in man to acquire this most valuable of metals. Similarly, if you've seen your friends drooling over a dessert menu, you know that we seem to have an innate craving for sweet foods, especially chocolate. David says that the Scriptures are more valuable than either one.

That is the transforming power of Scripture: it converts us, makes us wise, causes us to rejoice, and gives us a clearer vision. So how do we experience this transformation?

First, and most obviously, by reading the Scriptures. We should be doing this diligently - ideally, on a daily basis. We can all find time in the day to watch some TV, read good book, chat on the phone, or many other trivial tasks - is there any reason why we shouldn't apply the same diligence to our devotional duties? We should also read wisely: that is, not only using our time wisely, but reading the Bible wisely - reading systematically, rather than haphazardly; not limiting ourselves to a few favourite passages, but reading as much as we can of the whole counsel of God; and to aim to be well versed in the basic tenets of Christianity first, rather than be bogged down in the details.

After reading the Scriptures comes meditation - that is, serious thought and study of what the Scripture means and how it applies to us. The first Psalm says that the righteous man meditates on the Law of God "day and night" (Psa. 1:2). Meditation is like digestion. The food we eat has no value to us unless it is digested; similarly, our spiritual nourishment is only useful after it has been meditated upon. If we're the most diligent readers of Scripture in the world, yet we forget what we read only five minutes later because we haven't meditated upon it and internalized it, then we've accomplished nothing at all.

Above all of this are prayer and faith. Prayer, because we pray and give thanks before every meal; isn't our spiritual meal that much more worthy of the same honour? And faith, of course, because without faith it's not even possible to receive the Word of God or believe it.

Finally, of course, we ought to practice what we read. James admonishes us to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (Jas. 1:22). Again, we can read all we want, but if it doesn't change us, what have we accomplished?

The same points could be made about the second way we experience the transforming power of Scripture: hearing the Word. Protestant worship centres around the preaching of the Word; any church that is slack in its preaching is not fulfilling its mandate. On the other hand, a former pastor of mine once remarked that it took him twenty hours to prepare a sermon; it was discouraging for him to see many empty pews when he delivered it on Sunday. Our pastors have been called by God to be ministers to our souls. It's good for us to show up on time for Sunday services, to pay attention to what is preached, to pray over it, and to discuss it with other believers. And again, if we don't put what we hear into practice, our pastors might as well not waste their time.

The Word of God is the final authority in our lives, because it comes from God himself. In all matters of faith and behaviour, it is sufficient; we need nothing else to tell us what we need to believe and what we need to do. Scripture transforms us: it converts our souls, cleanses them, teaches us how to be wise, causes us to rejoice, and clears our spiritual vision. And when the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes, we can say the same thing to God that the Psalmist wrote so many years ago: "I [can] behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Psa. 119:18).

Next Thursday: solus Christus.


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January 09, 2005

Administrivia: Back to the drawing board

Unfortunately, I now know of two browsers which mangle my current template and style sheet for this blog. I've also had some other style sheet issues not affecting readability that I can't seem to resolve, for some reason. So I'm going to try something else. Too bad, because it looks darn nice in Firefox (IMO).

In the meantime, I've made a couple of quickie changes to one of Blogger's prefab templates, which looks alright. OK. I guess. (sigh)

Update: Well, it's not quite as ambitious as the previous homegrown design, but I like it anyway. It looks identical in IE and Firefox; so far, so good.


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January 06, 2005

Sola Scriptura I: The authority and sufficiency of Scripture

(This blog entry is a repost from The Crusty Curmudgeon, and was originally adapted from the first part of a two-part Sunday school lesson on sola Scriptura that I delivered on August 8, 1999 to the college and career class at my church.

I believe that sola Scriptura is foundational to all further doctrine and practice within the Church; hence I begin the content of Sacra Eloquia with my statement on the subject.)

I have a love affair with Holy Scripture that started very early. I think I must have been around nine or ten years old the first time I sat through a whole church service, rather than being dismissed to Sunday school, and heard a sermon preached. It was a fascinating experience, one that I later wanted to repeat as much as I could. I found out later that particular message had been geared toward children, but nonetheless the seeds were sown, and I tried afterwards to find any excuse I could to get out of Sunday school, sit in the sanctuary, and listen to the preaching. The seeds of my later Christian maturity were sown that morning though it was a long time before they really sprouted.

500 years ago, another young man fell in love with the Scriptures. His love affair with the word of God lit a wildfire under Christendom that has never been extinguished. Martin Luther's life climaxed when he stood before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms. Presented with a collection of his books and told to repudiate their contents, Luther answered:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

In that brief and triumphant speech, Luther had expressed the doctrine of sola Scriptura - Scripture alone. In a sentence, sola Scriptura teaches that the Bible is the sole and sufficient authority for Christians in all matters of faith and morals. The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, with which I am in basic agreement, says this:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture, to which nothing is to be added at any time, either by new revelation of the Spirit, or by the traditions of men. (I.6)

My favourite verse in the entire Bible says the same thing. Paul, writing to his protegé Timothy to stand firm against loose morals and false teachers, writes in 2 Tim. 3:16-17:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

The author of Scripture

The passage starts by stating that God is the author of Scripture. Earlier in his life, Paul had commended the believers in Thessalonika for receiving the teaching of the apostles as though it came directly from God. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13). 2 Pet. 1:20-21 says that "no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation" - that is, its origin is not in human initiative - "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

But Paul says something special about the Scriptures. He says it is given by inspiration of God. The NIV translates that word inspiration better: it reads, "[a]ll Scripture is God-breathed." This is a better translation for two reasons: first, it's a more dramatic image than "inspired"; second, it's a literal translation of the Greek word Paul uses, theopneustos, which means, literally, "God-breathed." In Genesis, God said "Let there be light," and there was light; here, Paul says, God breathed, and there was Scripture.

Only the Scriptures are said to be "God-breathed." In Greek, the Scriptures are graphe - a word which has been adopted in English for contexts related to writing: graph, paragraph, biography, graphite, and so forth. This word connotes written language; it is the written Word of God, and only the written word of God, that is said to be theopneustos.

The authority of Scripture

Paul moves on from the author of Scripture to its authority. Scripture is profitable for four things.

First, it is profitable for doctrine, or for teaching. It is through the Scriptures that we get our knowledge of who God is, or what Christ has done for us, or how we can be saved. Traditionally, Protestant churches center their worship around the preaching of the Word; any church that does not do this is not fulfilling its mandate. Furthermore, Scripture teaches these things clearly. The Baptist Confession says:

[T]hose things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and revealed in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the educated but the uneducated may attain a sufficient understanding of them by the due use of ordinary means. (I.8)

But Scripture is also profitable for correction. What we believe must be tested against what Scripture says. If there's a contradiction, it is us that must modify our beliefs or theories. The Word of God is not up for debate.

Paul also says that Scripture is profitable for instruction in righteousness; that is, in addition to teaching us what to believe, the Scriptures teach us what to do. The five books of Moses contain an elaborate Law that expressed God's standard of righteousness to the Hebrews. Although we as Christians are now bound to the spirit of that Law, rather than the letter, it doesn't change the fact that God expects us to behave in accordance with his will.

Finally, Scripture is profitable for reproof - or, you could say, conviction. In addition to teaching us the right way to act, the Bible shows us the error of our ways when we act wrongly. Again, the Word of God is not debatable. Wrong morals are sin.

The sufficiency of Scripture

Now, Paul goes on to say a third thing about the Scriptures. Not only are they God-breathed and authoritative, they are sufficient. 2 Tim. 3:17 says that, armed with a knowledge of the Scriptures, "the man of God may be perfect [complete], throughly furnished unto all good works."

Let's suppose that I need to buy a new computer, which I intend to use primarily as a means to get on the Net; however, as an amateur musician, I also want it to be powerful enough to use as a digital audio workstation. So I head down to Joe's Computer Warehouse, a store with a reputation for being able to provide hardware and software for virtually every application. There I buy a computer, monitor, keyboard, some kind of Internet starter kit, a high-end sound card, a few miles of MIDI cable, and some sequencing software. An hour after getting this new system home, I'm downloading my email; after a few more hours of fiddling with it, I'm able to lay down some tracks.

If Joe has sold me everything I need to experience the wonderful world of the Internet and digital audio, then I can say that Joe has "throughly furnished" me for those purposes. On the other hand, if Joe hasn't anticipated my need for the specialized hardware and software required for my little home studio, and I have to go to Fred's Guitars to get that, then I haven't been "throughly furnished" by Joe or Fred.

Similarly, the Scriptures are sufficient: they contain "those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation." However, if there were any such thing that were not found in the Scriptures but only outside them, then the Scriptures would not be sufficient. They would not "throughly furnish" the man of God.

In fact, the sufficiency of Scripture has been challenged many times by a wide variety of movements. Here are but a few examples. Many of these groups have recently been trying to gain greater respectability amongst evangelicals.

Some Charismatics split the "Word of God" into what they call the logos, or written word, and rhema, or the so-called "word of knowledge" or prophecy. This is in keeping with that Charismatic theology that says churches ought to be led by a prophet. Many such groups would put their "word of knowledge" on a par with the written Scriptures.

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treats a number of its own books as though they are equal to the Bible. The Book of Mormon, for example, instructs its readers to ask God whether it is true; if so, it says, the reader will feel a burning in the chest. Rather than grounding the truth in the objective, written word, the Mormons appeal to subjective, mystical feelings.

The Roman Catholic Church claims that it has been entrusted with a "Sacred Tradition" that is equally authoritative with the Scriptures, and that only its teaching magisterium can infallibly interpret Scripture or define what that Tradition is. According to Catholic dogma, the Scripture is infallible provided it is interpreted infallibly by the Church; and only the Church can define Tradition. Thus the final authority is not sola Scriptura, but sola Roma - Rome only.

Finally, within evangelicalism itself, there is a movement of certain Fundamentalists, ironically mostly Baptist, that claims that only the King James Version of the Bible is truly the Word of God in English. (Some go farther and claim that the KJV is the only Word of God at all.)

Scripture itself says that Scripture can make the man of God complete, "throughly furnished unto all good works." In one way or another, all of these groups imply that this is untrue. Mormonism is the farthest of the four from Christian orthodoxy and adds its own authority to that of the Bible, but at least is consistent in that it claims the Bible has been corrupted and is not entirely reliable. While the Charismatics and the Catholics claim they have a high view of Scriptural inspiration, their position is inconsistent with Scripture's own claim of sufficiency, saying there is another authority required to supplement Scripture. And the KJV-onlyists raise their preference for the KJV to the level of dogma by appealing to a complex of arguments and traditions not found in the Bible, ironically doing so in the name of defending the KJV as the "final authority."

(Rebecca at Rebecca Writes has also posted a good essay about why KJV-onlyism denies sola Scriptura.)

Why sola Scriptura matters

Here are three reasons why I believe holding to sola Scriptura is of fundamental importance to the Church.

Scripture itself promises blessings upon those who read and obey it:

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day: And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known. (Deut. 11:26-28)

Jesus said, in John 14:21, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." Those who keep Christ's words show they love him, and Christ promises that love will be reciprocated. Finally, the book of Revelation says in 1:3, speaking of itself, ""Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand."

Second, as Paul said, Scripture is our standard for faith and morals. We have laws against dishonest weights and measures; in fact there are government agents who go around with standard measures, making sure gas stations and other businesses aren't cheating their customers. Similarly, the Scriptures are a standard by which we must judge what we believe or how we behave. We use the word canon to refer to the collection of divine writings. This is a fitting word; it comes from a Greek word meaning "rule." Scripture is the "yardstick" against which we compare everything. Unfortunately, I've heard of some surveys that indicate that even amongst evangelical Christians, only 20% will actually open their Bibles on a weekly basis. When we're not steeped in knowledge of the Word, is it any wonder that sexual conduct or divorce rates in the evangelical world don't look all that different than the world any more? We don't measure our behaviour against the yardstick. Scripture left unopened is like gold left unmined: it has no value until it's brought out into the open.

Last, Scriptural authority is important because the Scriptures are true, and truth is the basis of real unity. These days, what we call "unity" seems really to be a sort of ecumenical smoothing-over of our differences, merely for the sake of presenting a unified front to the unbelieving world. It's a sort of postmodern ideal, whereby we prefer to emphasize what we agree about, or understand about each other, instead of what divides us. Division isn't nice. It isn't "tolerant." But this isn't true unity; it's a façade.

Someone might object: Didn't Jesus pray that his disciples would be one? If the visible Church is visibly divided, won't that hurt its credibility in they eyes of the world? Well, it's true that Christ did pray exactly that: that "[t]hat they all may be one . . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). However, only a few moments before, he had asked the Father to "[s]anctify [the disciples] through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). When Paul heard that dissension had arisen in the church at Corinth, he pleaded with them in 1 Cor. 1:10 to "all speak the same thing." Unity is grounded in a common knowledge of the truth. No truth, no unity.

It took me a long time to realize it, but I love the Word of God. I gladly affirm what Isaac Watts once wrote:

Lord, I have made Thy word my choice,
My lasting heritage;
There shall my noblest powers rejoice,
My warmest thoughts engage.

I'll read the histories of Thy love,
And keep Thy laws in sight,
While through Thy promises I rove
With ever fresh delight.

'Tis a broad land of wealth unknown,
Where springs of life arise,
Seeds of immortal bliss are sown,
And hidden glory lies.

Next Thursday: Psalm 19 and the transforming power of Scripture.


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January 01, 2005

Sacra Eloquia: Series table of contents

Five Solas

  1. Sola Scriptura: The authority and sufficiency of Scripture
  2. Sola Scriptura: The transforming power of Scripture
  3. Solus Christus: The sufficiency of Christ


  1. Introduction
  2. The Truth
  3. Paul's alibi
  4. The test case
  5. Paul vs. Peter
  6. Faith, not Law, justifies
  7. Why the Law, then?
  8. Sons, not slaves
  9. They started out so well
  10. Sarah and Hagar


  1. We are all Onesimus
  2. Background and word study


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Hello and welcome

This is the inaugural post of Sacra Eloquia, the theological companion to The Crusty Curmudgeon.

A while back I decided that if I was going to do the sort of detailed theology that I like to write about, it would be necessary to separate it from the rest of my writing ust for the sake of continuity. When I blog about five trivial things in a day, for example, longer, more "important" posts tend to get lost in the page. So I set out to create a parallel blog where I could collect specficially theological writings, usually extended series about certain topics or entire books of the Bible.

The name sacra eloquia comes from the works of Augustine, particularly the Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love. It means what it looks like - "sacred eloquence" - and is a nickname that the great African bishop often used for the sacred Scriptures.

As of today - on schedule, I might add - I think I've got everything preentable and operational, though no doubt there are a few bugs to work out here and there. For example, I notice that although my template looks pretty much as expected in Mozilla Firefox, in Internet Explorer it seems to be somewhat mangled. If anyone can suggest a way of making it look correct in both browsers, feel free to inspect my HTML source and style sheet.

A little bit about me: I haven't gone into too much detail about the specifics of my own beliefs over on the Crusty Curmudgeon, so now is as good a time as any. Specifically, I label myself as a Reformed Baptist, which means I am in basic agreement with the Baptist Confession of Faith, the doctrinal statement of such notables as Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Thus my approach to Scripture is credobaptist, Calvinist, and covenantal, insofar as I believe these positions are the Biblical ones. Call me "Calvinist," "Evangelical," "Fundamentalist," "Baptist," or what you will.

Expect to see some actual content appear here starting on Thursday, and more or less weekly thereafter. (Why Thursday? Why not? "Theology" and "Thursday" are nicely alliterative.) If you want a preview of this week's offering, it will be a rerun of the first part of my sola Scriptura mini-series, which you can read here.

In a few weeks, Lord willing, I'll settle down with some exposition of Paul's letter to the Galatians and work my way through that short but important book.

As always: Enjoy.


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