Thomas Aquinas

God adopts men as children, in as much as through his infinite bounty, he admits them to the participation of his inheritance, to which naturally they would have no right. But in what does the inheritance of God consist?

We creatures need some addition to have a treasure. But God does need anything outside of himself, therefore the inheritance cannot be some mere creature – for everything beyond God is a creation of God, something less than God:

By an inheritance of some one is meant those goods which form his riches. Now that which forms the riches of God, is the fruition of God himself; for God needs not other goods outside of himself, but is rich in himself and of himself, and is completely happy by the enjoyment of himself.

What then would be the inheritance of God:

Therefore the inheritance of God is the fruition of God, that is to say, the happiness proper of God.

How then may may creatures partake of the happiness of God, when we are so unfit to receive it

And when he adopts men as children, he admits them to share in this happiness, which is natural to himself, but supernatural to them. And since man of himself is unable to attain such beatitude which transcends the power of his nature, God himself renders him capable through the gift of grace. Hence we see how much superior the divine adoption is to the human one. Man does not make the adopted fit but supposes him such, and therefore adopts him; whilst God, on the contrary, supposes man to be not fit, and, by adopting him, renders him fit for the attainment of the heavenly inheritance.

From Chapter III, Jesus Christ the Word Incarnate.

How the Doctrine of Simplicity Guards the Trinity


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Simplicity is the understanding that God is not composed of parts. There are no attributes or generic nature lying around which when combined in the right way produce God, like a recipe produces a cake.

First, God’s existence (act of being) and essence (quiddity) cannot be constituent components in Him, each supplying what the other lacks. Rather, God must be identical with His existence and essence, and they must be identical with each other. It is His essence to be. Strictly speaking, His act of existence is not what He has, but what He is.

Dolezal, James E.. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

A second aspect of simplicity guards against dividing God’s attributes into separate things — parts of God:

Now Christian theology has always been more or less conscious of this calling. On the whole, its teaching has been that God is “simple,” that is, sublimely free from all composition, and that therefore one cannot make any real [i.e., ontological] distinction between his being and his attributes. Each attribute is identical with God’s being: he is what he possesses. In speaking of creatures we make all sorts of distinctions between what they are and what they have. A person, for example, is still human even though he or she has lost the image of God and has become a sinner. But in God all his attributes are identical with his being. God is light through and through; he is all mind, all wisdom, all logos, all spirit, and so forth.67 In God “to be is the same as to be wise, which is the same as to be good, which is the same as to be powerful. One and the same thing is stated whether it be said that God is eternal or immortal or good or just.” Whatever God is, he is that completely and simultaneously. “God has no properties but is pure essence. God’s properties are really the same as his essence: they neither differ from his essence nor do they differ materially from each other.”

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 118.  These are admittedly difficult things to keep in mind — because this is not how our world exists.

Creatures are created things — they exist because they were composed, built by God.  But such segregation and separation of parts became more extraordinary with the entrance of death:

What then is spiritual death? Of course it entails severing the bond that God created in us at creation, but which bond? The answer is: the spiritual bond that connects our soul with God. Not only our body is tied to our soul with a bond, but [at creation] our soul was also tied with a bond to God. That bond is automatically unraveled through sin, and thus immediately at this point death enters simultaneously with sin. Instead of drinking in life with God, the soul is thrown back upon itself, even as a pipe unscrewed from the water supply empties out and dries up. It is thus entirely understandable that there is a dying, a death, in two respects. One involves the tearing asunder of the bond between body and soul in us, the other is a dying in which the bond between the soul and God is torn apart.

Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: The Historical Section, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, Melvin Flikkema, and Stephen J. Grabill, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman and Ed M. van der Maas, vol. 1, Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton Institute, 2015), 247.

Hence being a creature and living in a world which decays into parts makes the concept of a simple God very difficult.

This difficulty seems acute when we come to something such as the Trinity. How is that a simple God could be one God and three Persons? The obvious answer is to try to divide God into three Persons and then try to compose something which have sufficient interaction to make some sort of a “one”.

Yet, a division into parts, indeed into three gods, is unacceptable if we are to take the Scripture seriously. The New Testament, which more fully discloses the Trinity, does not lessen the absolute unity of the One God (indeed, this is one of the things which makes the early Church’s veneration of Jesus as God so striking — how indeed could these early Christians have believed in One God, One Father and One Son — not to mention One Spirit — all at once). Christianity cannot maintain its integrity and permit any division of God into any parts:

To affirm God’s spirituality is also to affirm his simplicity. Christian faith is adamant that God is one and indivisible, that he does not encompass within himself disparate parts or quantities.

Donald G. Bloesch, God, the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 90.

If we divide God into Gods, if we try to somehow lessen the simplicity of God to better make sense of the Trinity — to our thinking — we end up creating something which is an addition to God. The very act of trying to find divisions of being in the Godhead, to make the Trinity more easily comprehensible, will create something extra to God which is necessary for the God to be God (and what could such a thing be?):

By reason of its incomplexity and simplicity, divine essence is indivisible. Not being made up, as matter is, of diverse parts or properties, it cannot be divided or analyzed into them: “The nature of the Trinity is denominated simple, because it has not anything which it can lose and because it is not one thing and its contents another, as a cup and the liquor, or a body and its color, or the air and the light and heat of it” (Augustine, City of God 11.10).

William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 223. The divided parts would be something not-God.

Here is where are thinking must be precise — and precisely where it is most difficult. If we were to think of individual persons who were human beings, we would think of human nature and then human beings. They would be divided by place and appearance and whatnot:

In a multitude of beings of the same kind or class there is something more in the being of the individual than just the nature or essence by which it is defined. That is, something more than the nature or essence as such gives it distinction from all others in the class. This distinctive quality may be one’s particular matter or perhaps some other accidental features of its being.

Dolezal. Location in time and space are something which exist independently of human nature and permit us to distinguish one person from another. One man lived in New York in 1900 another man lived in Los Angeles in 2000. That time and space is an accident which is coupled to human nature and distinguish the two men (there would be numerous accidents which could be used to distinguish both men). Those distinguishing marks are things which can be separated from human nature while the human nature remains.

Yet, as we have seen, if we were to distinguish the members of the Trinity in the same way, we would draw on something outside of God to add to the Son or the Father, some “particularizing feature” which would not be God to distinguish God from God:

But in God, there can be nothing that He is that lies outside His nature—no determination of His being in addition to His essence. If there were, God would require something beyond His divinity, His Godness, for the fullness of His being. For God to be divine and for God to be this God we call Yahweh are one and the same reality. Thus, divinity cannot be a genus or species in which divine persons exist as so many particular instantiations.

Those who maintain the classical doctrine of simplicity deny that there is any distinction in God between suppositum and nature. God has no real particularizing features over and above His divine nature. This feature of simplicity rules out any possibility that true divinity could appear in a plurality of beings really distinct from each other, for instance, as true humanity (nature/essence) is able to appear in a plurality of really distinct humans (supposita). It is thus divine simplicity that undergirds monotheism and ensures that it does not just so happen that God is one, but it must be that God cannot but be one being because of what it means to be God.

Dolezal, James E.. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

How then to we maintain the simplicity of God and the Trinity? The Trinity is how this one God is:

What, then, are we saying about God when we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? First, it should be observed that we are not speaking of things that are distinct from the Godhead itself. Whenever we speak of the three, we are in fact speaking of the one, but under different aspects or modes of being. We alternatively speak of the one God Father-wise, Son-wise, and Spirit-wise—in sum, relation-wise. These relations are not something really distinct from the divine substance. As John Owen puts it, “A divine person is nothing but the divine essence…subsisting in an especial manner.”37 The challenge is that in our creaturely experience our talk about substances and our talk about relations must necessarily be distinguished. When we speak of what belongs to humans as human, we speak of them according to substance. When we speak of them as a parent, child, friend, employee, and so forth, we speak according to relation. Because these two realities—substance and relation—are not strictly identical in the human subject, we speak of them as really distinct features of the human’s being. Indeed, we have no other speech pattern available to us. But in God, relations are not features of His being that exist over and above His substance. They add nothing to the substance. They are not principles of actuality adjoined to the divine essence that determine it to exist in some sense, as if the essence were something abstract that is then made concrete in the persons. In God, there is no mixture of abstract and concrete. We are forced to speak of God’s essence under the rubric of substance terminology and relation terminology, which Augustine calls “substance-wise” and “relationship-wise.”38 Our inability to say or even think both at once is why we must proceed in this double way of speaking of the one God.39 Yet this double way of speaking of God, alternatively according to substance and relation, is not to be understood to mirror a double way of being within Himself. He is not composed of substance and relations as creatures are.

Dolezal, James E.. All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism . Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

Dolezal quotes Owen in brief, here is the entire paragraph. And in what might be the only instance in Western Civilization, a quotation from John Owen may be clarifying:

The distinction which the Scripture reveals between Father, Son, and Spirit, is that whereby they are three hypostases or persons, distinctly subsisting in the same divine essence or being. Now, a divine person is nothing but the divine essence, upon the account of an especial property, subsisting in an especial manner. As in the person of the Father there is the divine essence and being, with its property of begetting the Son, subsisting in an especial manner as the Father, and because this person has the whole divine nature, all the essential properties of that nature are in that person. The wisdom, the understanding of God, the will of God, the immensity of God, is in that person, not as that person, but as the person is God. The like is to be said of the persons of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Hereby each person having the understanding, the will, and power of God, becomes a distinct principle of operation; and yet all their acting ad extra being the acting of God, they are undivided, and are all the works of one, of the selfsame God. And these things do not only necessarily follow, but are directly included, in the revelation made concerning God and his subsistence in the Scriptures.

A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

In short, simplicity is necessary to protect the doctrine of the Trinity, because it prevents a collapse of God’s oneness into some lesser threeness. To solve the “problem” of three-ness, we need not carve up God but rather understand that the Divine Essence is relational in this manner. While our language and comprehension force us to consider the matter of substance and relation separately; we must not draw the invalid conclusion that substance and relation are separate in God. Our linguistic and intellectual limitations are not limitations in God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Worth of Your Calling (Ephesians 4:1).


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Worthy of Your Calling
Ephesians 4:1–3 (AV)

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In this sermon, MLJ considers the command that we walk “worthy of the vocation”.
It is this concept of “calling” which concerns Dr. Lloyd-Jones. First, he briefly considers the matter of “worthy”: we are to walk worthy of our calling. Worthy has two basic meanings: one is balanced – it is of the same weight. To that he contends that our life to be “worthy” must be balanced between doctrine and practice. At this point, I have one of my few disagreements with MLJ. That understanding cannot really be gotten from the text, even though he is correct that one’s life should have balance.
The second use of the word “worthy” is something fitting, proper – or as he says, something “becoming”. We must walk in a matter which is “becoming” of our calling. That leads to the primary concern in the passage: walking worthy of our calling.
His primary concern with the word “calling” or “vocation”. The word “vocation” used in the King James Bible comes from the word for “calling”:

Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin vocatio(n-), from vocare ‘to call’.

Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. The Greek is plainly “called” – not trade or profession, which is the usual understanding of the word vocation.

First he notes that the concept of “calling” has two basic uses in the New Testament. There is a general call which made to all people:

Acts 17:30 (AV)
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

All people are called to repent. But there is another call which applies only to believers:
Romans 8:28–30 (AV)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

It is this “calling” which is the measure of our walk:

That is precisely what the Apostle Paul is arguing here, that we have been called in order that we may show forth these things. Be worthy, he says, of the vocation, the gcalling by which you have been called. We do so by applying the doctrine and knowledge which we have. We have to live as those who realize that we have been called by God into his heavenly calling.

What then are the elements of doctrine which we must keep in mind in order that we have fitting life?
First, we have been blessed:

Ephesians 1:3 (AV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

There is no point in talking about our difficulties, or the problems of life in this complicated modern world of the twentieth century. What matters and counts is that we have been blessed with ‘all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus!

Second, there is a goal to our calling:
Ephesians 1:4 (AV)
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

God has called us not merely that we might not go to hell, and not only that we might know that our sins are forgiven; He has chosen us ‘to be holy’ and to be ‘blameless before him in love.’ We have no to argue or to question or query. That is the life to which He has called us.

Third, we have been chosen for this life: Ephesians 1:5 (AV)  Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

 We have been called into the family of God; we are God’s children. And we are to live in a manner that will reflect credit and glory upon the family and upon our Father.” But this status is not only what I am at the moment, it also entails what I will become. I am destined to be a joint-heir with Christ. We are being fit for an eternal status. “We are to live as realizing that we going on to glory.

Fourth, since we have been blessed in the heavenly places and are so called, “We must live, I say, as realizing that we are seated in the heavenly places even at this very moment.”
Fifth, we must live in the knowledge that this calling is all based upon the free grace of God. This was made possible by the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So when sin comes and tempts you, or when you are doubtful as to whether you ca go on with the Christian life, or feel that is hard and makes excessive demands, remember the price that was paid for your deliverance, your ransom. Christ gave His life unto death that we might be rescued and that we might be holy.
Finally, notice that Paul writes as a “prisoner of the Lord”. MLJ takes this not to refer to a temporal Roman imprisonment but as Paul’s status before God:

I am living the life of a prisoner; I am actually in prison at the moment. And I am in prison because I do not decide what I do; I am the servant of Jesus Christ, I am His bondslave….We have no right to live as we choose and as we please. We were the prisoners of Satan; we are not the prisoners of Jesus Christ. We should have no desire save to please Him.

A few interesting articles

Proof it’s possible to enhance or suppress memories

“Many psychiatric disorders, especially PTSD, are based on the idea that after there’s a really , the person isn’t able to move on because they recall their fear over and over again,” says Briana Chen, first author of the paper, who is currently a graduate researcher studying depression at Columbia University.

In their study, Chen and Ramirez, the paper’s senior author, show how traumatic memories—such as those at the root of disorders like PTSD—can become so emotionally loaded. By artificially activating in the bottom part of the brain’s hippocampus, negative memories can become even more debilitating. In contrast, stimulating memory cells in the top part of the hippocampus can strip bad memories of their emotional oomph, making them less traumatic to remember

(Philip K. Dick got there first.)

The Peculiar Blindness of Experts

The pattern is by now familiar. In the 30 years since Ehrlich sent Simon a check, the track record of expert forecasters—in science, in economics, in politics—is as dismal as ever. In business, esteemed (and lavishly compensated) forecasters routinely are wildly wrong in their predictions of everything from the next stock-market correction to the next housing boom. Reliable insight into the future is possible, however. It just requires a style of thinking that’s uncommon among experts who are certain that their deep knowledge has granted them a special grasp of what is to come.

Seeking Status Based upon Social Media

Other surveys have uncovered similar trends: Roughly two in three millennials think that social media has a negative impact on their financial well-being, according to a 2018 survey of more than 2,000 millennials from financial firm Fidelity. Data released in 2018 by mobile bank firm Varo Money found that 53% of millennials admit to buying something they saw advertised on social media. And a 2018 survey from Allianz Life shows that more than half of millennials (57%, versus just 28% of Gen Xers and 7% of boomers) say they’ve spent money they hadn’t planned to because of something they saw on social media.

This is partly because millennials say they feel pressure to keep up with their friends’ spending — and of those, nearly half say that social media posts of friends’ vacations and lifestyles contribute to that pressure, according to 2017 data from TD Ameritrade. Social media also makes 61% of millennials (versus just 35% of Gen Xers and 12% of boomers) feel inadequate about their own life and what they have, with 88% comparing themselves to others on social media (compared to just 71% of Gen Xers and 54% of boomers who say the same), according to the Allianz data. And the Varo data found that three-quarters of millennials feel social media portrays an unrealistically positive view of people’s lives — and as a result 41% have made a purchase to feel better about their own lives.

The power of shame and honor, of envy and resentment is remarkable. Solomon already answered the question about getting everything:

Ecclesiastes 2:10–11 (NASB95)
10 All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.
11 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.


Richard Sibbes Sermons on Canticles, Sermon 2.1 (Christ our Brother)


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The Second Sermon

I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have gathered my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.’—Cant. 5:1.

This song is a mirror of Christ’s love, a discovery of which we have in part in this verse; wherein Christ accepts of the invitation of the church, and comes into his garden; and he entertains her with the terms of sister and spouse. Herein observe the description of the church, and the sweet compellation, ‘my sister, my spouse;’ where there is both affinity and consanguinity, all the bonds that may tie us to Christ, and Christ to us.

1. His sister, by blood.

2. His spouse, by marriage.

To begin with: the relationship sibling and spouse do not usually mix in our understanding. Therefore, before we go on, we must consider the nature of metaphors used to describe the relationship between Creator and Creature: the metaphors are used to draw out some aspect of the relationship: no single metaphor provides us a complete understanding. There are other images which are used to describe the relationship between God and his people. We pray “our Father”. The Lord refers to Israel as his bride in Hosea. Minear finds 95 images of the church in the New Testament. When reading a metaphorical description, take it for what it has been proposed — but don’t begin to cross-reference the images to find contradiction. Read them as partials images to provide a complementary whole.

Notice how Sibbes draws out five implications of Christ being our brother

First, the church as “sister”: this implies the image of Christ as “brother”. Christ is our brother, because he is a human being like us:

Christ is our brother, and the church, and every particular true member thereof, is his sister. ‘I go,’ saith Christ, ‘to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God,’ John 20:17. ‘Go,’ saith he, ‘and tell my brethren.’ This was after his resurrection. His advancement did not change his disposition. Go, tell my brethren that left me so unkindly; go, tell Peter that was most unkind of all, and most cast down with the sense of it. He became our brother by incarnation, for all our union is from the first union of two natures in one person. Christ became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, to make us spiritually bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

Second, Sibbes then turns this around: if Christ has become like us, let us become like him:

Therefore let us labour to be like to him, who for that purpose became like to us, Immanuel, God with us, Isa. 7:14; that we might be like him, and ‘partake of the divine nature,’ 2 Pet. 1:4. Whom should we rather desire to be like than one so great, so gracious, so loving?

Third, there is an interesting thing to consider in all of this. In Romans 8, Christ is said to been found “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:7 (NASB95) His becoming like us was a loss, a degradation. In John 17:5, Jesus prays to be restored to the glory which he had “before the world was”. 

Despite this shame, he willingly took it on:

Again, ‘Christ was not ashamed to call us brethren,’ Heb. 2:11, nor ‘abhorred the virgin’s womb,’ to be shut up in those dark cells and straits; but took our base nature, when it was at the worst, and not only our nature, but our miserable condition and curse due unto us. Was he not ashamed of us? and shall we be ashamed to own him and his cause? Against this cowardice it is a thunderbolt which our Saviour Christ pronounceth, ‘He that is ashamed of me before men, him will I be ashamed of before my Father, and all the holy angels,’ Mark 8:38. It argues a base disposition, either for frown or favour to desert a good cause in evil times.

This has often struck me. He has every reason to be ashamed of me — I have no reason to be ashamed of him. I wonder if it is the shame of being found unworthy of his company; that I am not sufficiently like him to claim his friendship. How bizarre that to be ashamed of one so glorious. 

Fourth, to have such a brother is a great encouragement

Again, It is a point of comfort to know that we have a brother who is a favourite in heaven; who, though he abased himself for us, is yet Lord over all. Unless he had been our brother, he could not have been our husband; for husband and wife should be of one nature. That he might marry us, therefore, he came and took our nature, so to be fitted to fulfil the work of our redemption. But now he is in heaven, set down at the right hand of God: the true Joseph, the high, steward of heaven; he hath all power committed unto him; he rules all. What a comfort is this to a poor soul that hath no friends in the world, that yet he hath a friend in heaven that will own him for his brother, in and through whom he may go to the throne of grace boldly and pour out his soul, Heb. 4:15, 16. What a comfort was it to Joseph’s brethren that their brother was the second person in the kingdom.

(While that would not likely how Richard Sibbes have thought it possible to sing of this happiness — it certainly expresses the encouragement we should feel)

Fifth, to know that Christ is the brother of the Church, is to know that Christ is the brother of every Christian. The sorrows carried by the Church in earth are known by their brother in heaven:

Again, It should be a motive to have good Christians in high estimation, and to take heed how we wrong them, for their brother will take their part. ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ Acts 9:4, saith the Head in heaven, when his members were trodden on upon earth. It is more to wrong a Christian than the world takes it for, for Christ takes it as done to himself. Absalom was a man wicked and unnatural, yet he could not endure the wrong that was done to his sister Tamar, 2 Sam. 13:1. Jacob’s sons took it as a high indignity that their sister should be so abused, Gen. 34. Hath Christ no affections, now he is in heaven, to her that is so near him as the church is? Howsoever he suffer men to tyrannise over her for a while, yet it will appear ere long that he will take the church’s part, for he is her brother.

There is yet one more implication related to this final point. Yes, the persecutor of the Church should think of the danger he incurs by provoking the brother of the Church. But the members of the Church should also take this heart. Sibbes has said that we should become like Christ. But too often the Christians have become very devils. 

The slander, backbiting, unforgiving, judgmental, bitterness which infects congregations is a hideous black mark upon the church. Don’t these Christians realize that the brother or sister they are tearing apart with their tongue is a brother of Christ? Christ died for them, and we think ourselves better than one for whom Christ died? 

In Psalm 50, God warns:

Psalm 50:19–21 (NASB95)

19“You let your mouth loose in evil

And your tongue frames deceit.

20“You sit and speak against your brother;

You slander your own mother’s son.

21“These things you have done and I kept silence;

You thought that I was just like you;

I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.

We can comfort ourselves with the thought that Psalm 50 refers only to unbelievers. But what of Matthew 18 and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant? A servant who has been forgiven much by his master refused to forgive a fellow servant (remember that no one image exhausts the demonstration of our relationship to God). Here Christ applies the principle to all believers:

Matthew 18:31–35 (NASB95)

31“So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.

32“Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

33‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’

34“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

35“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Remember that the other person in your congregation is a brother of Christ, a son of God. To mistreat him is to provoke the ire of God. 

The limits of church leadership


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Proper leaders are marked by allegiance to God’s revealed word, which includes exhibit the holiness it enjoins. A claim to, or even possession of, a leadership role does not in itself invest authority. As we have seen elsewhere, pastor have significant authority; but this authority extends only so far as they conduct themselves in accord with Scripture. When leaders run counter to Scripture, church members must oppose them. Christ rules his church and does by means of Word taught and applied by church leaders.

Ray F. Van Neste, “The Church in the General Epistle,” in The Community of Jesus: A Theology of the Church, ed. Kendell H. Easley and Christopher W. Morgan (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 148.

The gate is narrow — what does that look like?


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Brethren, there is only one way into the true and full possession of Christ’s salvation, and that is poverty of spirit. It is the narrow door, like the mere low slits in the wall which in ancient times were the access to some wealth-adorned palace or stately structure—narrow openings that a man had to stoop his lofty crest in order to enter. If you have never been down on your knees before God, feeling what a wicked man or woman you are, I doubt hugely whether you will ever stand with radiant face before God, and praise Him through eternity for His mercy to you. If you want to have Christ for yours, you must begin, where He begins His Beatitudes, with that poverty of spirit.

Alexander Maclaren, The Beatitudes and Other Sermons (London: Alexander and Shepheard, 1896), 8–9.

MLJ on the Relationship between Doctrine and Application: “Therefore”


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Ephesians 4:1–3 (NASB95)

1      Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,

2      with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,

3      being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In his sermon on Ephesians 4:1-3, entitled, “Therefore”, Dr. Lloyd-Jones explains the importance of the word “Therefore” this point in Paul’s letter. Ephesians breaks down rather nicely into two sections: chapters 1-3 primarily concern doctrine. Chapters 4-6 primarily concern application, living out that doctrine. The word “therefore” ties the sections of the letter together.

MLJ first lays out three conclusions to draw from this conjunction at this point. First, “Therefore is a word which in a very practical way tells us how to read Scripture. The main principle is … that we must never pick and choose in our reading of Scripture.”

“Therefore” demands a context: the second half of the letter hinges upon the first. And just like this particular letter hangs together, so the entire Scripture hangs together. We cannot select portions of the Bible which make us comfortable and ignore those things which do not fit with our pat positions. “Our invariable rule with the Bible should be to read it from Genesis to Revelation, to read it constantly right through, not leaving out anything,, but following through it and being led by it.” A failure to do so creats “unbalanced and lop-sided Christians.”

Second, the movement from doctrine to application protects us from the fault of thinking that Christianity is only a set of propositions of ideas – and not a manner of life. “Doctrine comes first, but we must never stop at doctrine.”

There is a related fault of those who seek “experiences” – they want a sort of apprehension of the idea – and nothing more.

To know carries within it an implied application, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” John 13:17 (NASB95)

Third, the word therefore, “reminds us that the life which are to live is a life which always results from application of doctrine….the character and nature of that life which I am to live is one that is determined by the doctrine and results from the doctrine.”

He has an interesting illustration of how this works. He refers to a seed planted in the ground – which does not sprout for some length of time. Perhaps it is too cold or too wet. But then the day comes when the conditions are met and the seed sprouts. The life was not in the conditions about the seed, but in the seed. The application flows out of the life which is in the doctrine. The seedling is the application of the seed, so to speak.


What does “poor in spirit” mean

Blessed are the poor in spirit

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What then is necessary to come to this place of “poor in spirit”? It begins with an accurate understanding of oneself:

But the deepest reason for a habitual and fixed lowly opinion of ourselves lies in a sadder fact. We are not only recipient nothingnesses; we have something that is our own, and that is our will, and we have lifted it up against God. And if a man’s position as a dependent creature should take all lofty looks and high spirit out of him, his condition as a sinful man before God should lay him flat on his face in the presence of that Majesty; and should make him put his hand on his lips, and say, from behind the covering, “Unclean! unclean!” Oh, brethren, if we would only go down into the depths of our own hearts, every one of us would find there more than enough to make all self-complacency and self-conceit utterly impossible, as it ought to be, for us for ever. I have no wish, and God knows I have no need, to exaggerate about this matter; but we all know that if we were turned inside out, and every foul, creeping thing, and every blotch and spot upon these hearts of ours spread in the light, we could not face one another; we could scarcely face ourselves. If you or I were set, as they used to set criminals, up in a pillory with a board hanging round our necks, telling all the world what we were, and what we had done, there would be no need for rotten eggs to be flung at us; we should abhor ourselves. You know that is so. I know that it is so about myself, “and heart answereth to heart as in a glass.” And are we the people to perk ourselves up amongst our fellows, and say, “I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”? Do we not know that we are poor and miserable and blind and naked? Oh, brethren, the proud old saying of the Greeks, “Know thyself,” if it were followed out unflinchingly and honestly by the purest saint this side heaven, would result in this profound abnegation of all claims, in this poverty of spirit.

So little has the world been influenced by Christ’s teaching that it uses “poor-spirited creature” as a term of opprobrium and depreciation. It ought to be the very opposite; for only the man who has been down into the dungeons of his own character, and has cried unto God out of the depths, will be able to make the house of his soul a fabric which may be a temple of God, and with its shining apex may pierce the clouds and seem almost to touch the heavens. A great poet has told us that the things which lead life to sovereign power are self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self-control. And in a noble sense it is true, but the deepest self-knowledge will lead to self-abhorrence rather than to self-reverence; and self-control is only possible when, knowing our own inability to cope with our own evil, we cast ourselves on that Lamb of God that beareth away the sin of the world, and ask Him to guide and to keep us. The one attitude for us is, “He did not so much as lift up His eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” And then, sweeter than angels’ voices fluttering down amid the blue, there will come that gracious word, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Alexander Maclaren, The Beatitudes and Other Sermons (London: Alexander and Shepheard, 1896), 5–7.


The Conclusion of the Apology of Theophilus of Antioch


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The previous post in this series may be found here. 

Theophilus concludes his defense and advocacy of Christianity by an appeal to (1) its historical veracity; and (2) its antiquity.

He begins this section of the argument as follows:

But I wish now to give you a more accurate demonstration, God helping me, of the historical periods, that you may see that our doctrine is not modern nor fabulous, but more ancient and true than all poets and authors who have written in uncertainty. For some, maintaining that the world was uncreated, went into infinity;1 and others, asserting that it was created, said that already 153, 075 years had passed.

1 i.e., tracing back its history through an infinate duration.

 Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 116.

Theophilus then works through the then-current theories on the age of the earth, and various events (he spends much time comparing various understandings of the time of the Flood and also the Israelites in Egypt).  In each case, he contends that the Biblical understanding of the time period and events is correct.

First, he goes the basis for the biblical positions:

It behoved, therefore, that he should the rather become a scholar of God in this matter of legislation, as he himself confessed that in no other way could he gain accurate information than by God’s teaching him through the law. And did not the poets Homer and Hesiod and Orpheus profess that they themselves had been instructed by Divine Providence? Moreover, it is said that among your writers there were prophets and prognosticators, and that those wrote accurately: who were informed by them. How much more, then, shall we know the truth who are instructed by the holy prophets, who were possessed by the Holy Spirit of God! On this account all the prophets spoke harmoniously and in agreement with one another, and foretold the things that would come to pass in all the world.

Theophilus of Antioch,  116. That is, since they demonstrated the divine nature of their speech by means of predictive prophecy and coherence in doctrine, they should be trusted when they speak of other things which are far more debated (the ancient history of the world).

He compares the biblical accounts with the accounts of poets and philosophers; for instance:

From what has already been said, it is evident that they who wrote such things and philosophized to so little purpose are miserable, and very profane and senseless persons. But Moses, our prophet and the servant of God, in giving an account of the genesis of the world, related in what manner the flood came upon the earth, telling us, besides, how the details of the flood came about, and relating no fable of Pyrrha nor of Deucalion or Clymenus; nor, forsooth, that only the plains were submerged, and that those only who escaped to the mountains were saved.

Theophilus of Antioch,  116. He then compares the ages of the events set forth in the Bible with the dates for various Greek law givers and poets; and notes that the Biblical account begins before Greek history. This is a relative sort of argument. He does not try to argue that the Biblical accounts go earlier than every other potential account — just earlier than the Greek accounts:

These periods, then, and all the above-mentioned facts, being viewed collectively, one can see the antiquity of the prophetical writings and the divinity of our doctrine, that the doctrine is not recent, nor our tenets mythical and false, as some think, but very ancient and true.

 Theophilus of Antioch,  120. He concludes thus

But the Greeks make no mention of the histories which give the truth: first, because they themselves only recently became partakers of the knowledge of letters; and they themselves own it, alleging that letters were invented, some say among the Chaldæans, and others with the Egyptians, and others again say that they are derived from the Phœnicians. And secondly, because they sinned, and still sin, in not making mention of God, but of vain and useless matters. For thus they most heartily celebrate Homer and Hesiod, and the rest of the poets, but the glory of the incorruptible and only God they not only omit to mention, but blaspheme; yes, and they persecuted, and do daily persecute, those who worship Him. And not only so, but they even bestow prizes and honours on those who in harmonious language insult God; but of those who are zealous in the pursuit of virtue and practise a holy life, some they stoned, some they put to death, and up to the present time they subject them to savage tortures. Wherefore such men have necessarily lost the wisdom of God, and have not found the truth.

Theophilus of Antioch, 121. The relative argument is appropriate here, because he is merely contending against a particular man in a particular place. He is not attempting to respond to every possible argument, but he is responding to a particular argument. Why would anyone abandon Helenic Religion and Philosophy for Christianity:

Since, then, my friend, you have assailed me with empty words, boasting of your gods of wood and stone, hammered and cast, carved and graven, which neither see nor hear, for they are idols, and the works of men’s hands; and since, besides, you call me a Christian, as if this were a damning name to bear, I, for my part, avow that I am a Christian,1 and bear this name beloved of God, hoping to be serviceable2 to God. For it is not the case, as you suppose, that the name of God is hard to bear; but possibly you entertain this opinion of God, because you are yourself yet unserviceable to Him.

Theophilus of Antioch, 89. His argument has been to clarify what Christians do believe; and to demonstrate the immorality and absurdity of Greek thought; the elevation of Biblical thought; its morality and antiquity. This argument was antiquity was important in apologetics for the early church. For instance, Clement of Alexandria makes a detailed argument based upon the antiquity of Christianity:

On the plagiarizing of the dogmas of the philosophers from the Hebrews, we shall treat a little afterwards. But first, as due order demands, we must now speak of the epoch of Moses, by which the philosophy of the Hebrews will be demonstrated beyond all contradiction to be the most ancient of all wisdom.

 Clement of Alexandria, “The Stromata, or Miscellanies,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 324.   The idea that the Bible explains the antiquity of original revelation — and a corruption of that revelation as it spreads throughout human history is not merely an argument of the early church, but is a matter of current concern:

In arguing for a revelatory ‘single-source’ theory as to both the theological and historical origin of religion and the religions, does the Urgeschichte provide us with any more detail or explanatory ‘mechanism’ as to the pattern of religion that begins with an original divine disclosure but that, due to human sin, and without divine preservation, ends in a derivative religious degeneration and decay as God ‘gives people over’ to idolatry?

Strange, Daniel. Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (pp. 121-122). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. Tracing out that argument is well beyond this post. For now, we only note that the argument from antiquity — with an implicit element of corruption/derivation (Clement’s “plagiarizing”) is still a current concern.