The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, April 29, 2011

Congratulations To Their Royal Highnesses

When this weekend is over, Canada will be faced with the unpleasantness of another federal election, in which we get to yet again try and make up our minds which of the parties has put forth the least objectionable candidate. It is an extremely difficult decision to make as they are usually equally loathsome.

It is therefore good that we get to start this weekend on a positive note. The highest office in our government, thankfully, is never filled by a politician. That office is far too important to be left to the choice of the unthinking mob we call the "electorate". It is rather filled, by a constitutionally defined line of succession.

Currently that office is filled by Queen Elizabeth II of the House of Windsor. Upon her death or resignation the next in the line of succession is her son Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. The next in line after Prince Charles is his son Prince William who as of this morning became the Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, and the Baron Carrickfergus.

These titles were bestowed upon the Prince upon his marriage to the former Catherine Middleton, now Her Royal Highness, Catherine, Dutchess of Cambridge. Many of us across Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Queen's other realms, watched the royal nuptials this morning (I caught the end of it starting with the procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace).

May God save the royal couple, grant them many years of wedded bliss, and preserve their royal House to continue their blessed reign over our country.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This and That No. 9 (Pre-Election Edition)

Our next federal election is rapidly approaching and judging from the advance polls we are living in interesting times indeed (remember that "may you live in interesting times" is supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse). If the actual election goes the way the polls are indicating (which is by no means guaranteed) the Conservative Party will finish with the largest number of seats with the New Democratic Party having the next largest and the Liberal Party being significantly reduced in seats.

I am certainly shedding no tears for the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party is the party which has spent all of its existence trying to rob Canada of her rich heritage while arrogantly presenting itself as the voice of true Canadians. The Liberal Party began as the party of free trade, which sought to distance Canada from her British heritage, her loyalty to the Crown and to the British Empire, and to replace Canada's British ties with ties to the American Republic, believing that Canada's destiny lay with the United States. George P. Grant, Canada's most brilliant conservative philosopher, wrote his famous Lament for a Nation in the belief that the Liberal Party had succeeded in this goal, when it and the NDP brought down the Diefenbaker government in 1963 over the Conservative government's refusal to allow American nuclear weapons onto Canadian soil.(1)

While Lester Pearson, the Liberal leader who became Prime Minister after Diefenbaker, probably did not see himself the way Grant saw him, i.e., as working to make Canada a province of the American Empire, he certainly went out of his way to undermine Canada's traditional identity. Canada had become a country in her own right in 1867. The title the Fathers of Confederation chose for our country was "The Dominion of Canada". The word "Dominion" came from the eighth verse of the seventy second Psalm and was chosen as a synonym for "kingdom" which would be less potentially provocative to our American neighbors than the originally proposed "Kingdom of Canada" (see the discussion of this in The Kingdom of Canada, an excellent one-volume history of Canada until 1963, by Manitoban historian W. L. Morton). Pearson, however, treated the term as a synonym for "colony", which was essentially how he regarded Canada's status at the time. He saw our flag at the time, the Canadian Red Ensign (a red background, with the Union Jack in the canton, and the shield of the Canadian coat of arms in the fly) as a "colonial flag" and in 1965 succeeded in having it replaced with the current flag. The so-called "colonial flag" was the flag our armed forces fought under in Canada's most glorious military moment, when we fought, side by side with Britain, against Hitler in a war we entered under our own Parliament's declaration. (2)

Pearson was succeeded, as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister of Canada, by Pierre Eliot Trudeau. Trudeau, a Quebec law professor and far-left journalist, would have been unelectable had Pearson not brought him into the Liberal Party, made him his Justice Minister, and groomed him to be his successor. (3) Trudeau continued Pearson's program of abolishing Canada's traditional identity and replacing it with a new one, with a Liberal stamp on it. Indeed, the foundations of virtually everything Trudeau did as Prime Minister had been laid in the Pearson premiership. It was Trudeau's government that passed the Official Languages Act in 1969, making Canada officially bilingual, on the recomendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism which Lester Pearson had started in 1963. It was Trudeau's government that passed the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977 and established the Canadian Human Rights Commission/Tribunal. Section 13 of the CHRA would became a major threat to freedom of speech in Canada in the decades to follow. The Trudeau government had already set limits on freedom of speech, however, in 1970 when the Criminal Code was amended to criminalize the distribution of "hate propaganda". This was done on the recommendations of the 1966 report to the Minister of Justice of the Special Committee on Hate Propaganda in Canada, headed by Maxwell Cohen. The Cohen Committee had been commissioned by Guy Favreau, Pearson's second Minister of Justice (Trudeau, who was a member of the Cohen Committee, was Pearson's fourth and final Minister of Justice).

It is important that we understand the connection between Official Bilingualism, Official Multiculturalism (which Trudeau declared in 1971), and mass immigration on the one hand and the loss of political liberty which we have suffered in Canada on the other. The two are very much interconnected. To understand the connection, we need to abandon a notion, that was very popular in rural and Western English-speaking Canada when I was growing up, and remains popular among much of the old support base for the Reform Party of Canada. Trudeau was not acting against English Canada on behalf of Quebec. Trudeau was acting against traditional English Canada and traditional French Canada alike. If anything, he hated the latter more than the former. Remember that the Quebec Trudeau grew up in was the ultra-conservative, Roman Catholic, Union Nationale Quebec of Maurice Duplessis (4). Trudeau, like Pearson, wished to replace both traditional English Canada and traditional French Canada with a "new Canada" in which everybody would be both English and French.

Thus the Official Languages Act declaring Canada "officially bilingual" and the official declaration of Canada to be "multicultural" according to the mosaic model. In the last year of the Pearson premiership, a new "points system" was introduced into Canadian immigration, in which new immigrants would be approved on the basis of their knowing English or French, having skills that we are in short supply of in Canada, and other such positives. That part of the system is non-objectionable but it came with a number of large backdoors that Trudeau was able to exploit in order to drastically alter the demographic makeup of immigrants coming into the country. This was done deliberately in order to undermine the ethnic homogeneity of both the traditional English Canadian communities and the traditional French Canadian communities in the hopes of grinding down both traditional communities in order to replace them with "new Canada". All of this rot about "hate propaganda" was introduced as a tactic to silence critics of the government's policies. (5)

Trudeau left his biggest and most devastating change for last. In 1982, he had Canada's constitution, the British North America Act of 1867, repatriated to Canada and renamed the Constitution Act. What "repatriation" meant was that now the constitution could be amended by Canada's Parliament without it having to be voted on in London. This, in itself, was not the problem. The problem was that Trudeau could not resist adding something to the Constitution which drastically altered its nature. That something was the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms".

Do not let the name of that document fool you. You do not possess a single right or freedom today, as Canadians, as a result of that Charter, that you did not possess prior to 1982. Nor are your rights and freedoms as Canadians more secure as a result of it. The exact opposite is the case. Before 1982, you already enjoyed, as subjects of the British/Canadian sovereign, all the traditional, prescriptive, rights and freedoms of Englishmen. Those freedoms, include the freedom to do whatever you want so long as it is not specifically proscribed by positive law, and rights which protected you against the arbitrary use of government power. All of those rights and freedoms were rendered less secure by the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms". In section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, many of your most basic freedoms are listed (freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, etc.) and in sections 7 through 14 your traditional rights protecting you from the arbitrary abuse of government power are listed. Section 33, authorizes the government to pass temporary laws which ignore completely all those rights and freedoms, for a period of up to five years. This is called the "notwithstanding clause". Section 1 of the Charter, also gives the government room to weasel out of these rights and freedoms by saying that they are "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

This is the Liberal Party's legacy in Canada. I will not be sorry to see them lose their influence in this country.

It is unfortunate, however, that their downfall must be accompanied by the rise of the NDP. If the NDP really has risen to 31% popularity in this country that does not speak well of the intelligence of our electorate. I just checked out the NDP's platform over at their website. Jack Layton is saying that he has an " affordable plan" to "get Ottawa working for your family - one practical step at a time". That sounds pretty good. The problem is that Layton appears to have forgotten what the meanings of the words "affordable" and "practical" are.

His first "practical step" is to "hire more nurses and doctors". The expansion of this says that more nurses and doctors will be trained and incentives will be given to doctors who have left Canada to return. Who is going to pay for the nurses and doctors to be trained? "Incentives" translates into money. Who is going to pay for that?

What Jack Layton wants you to think is that he and the government he leads will pay for all of this. The problem with that is that the only resources government has to pay for anything are what it obtains from you and from me through taxes. This is a fact which Layton's program consistently ignores.

His second "practical step" is to "work with the provinces to double your public pension", which again raises the question of where this money is going to come from, and to "offer you more choice over your retirement savings". These are mutually exclusive. If the government doubles your public pension, that means it will have to take more money from you now in the form of taxes. If it takes more money from you now in the form of taxes, that will reduce your choices as to your retirement savings, not increase them.

It gets more interesting when you open up the expanded version of his platform. He promises to "increase the annual Guaranteed Income Supplement to a sufficient level in the first budget to lift every senior in Canada out of poverty immediately", again giving no indication as to where the money to do this is going to come from. The section entitled "Improving Family and Maternity Leave Benefits" is a fascinating example of the ways in which language can be used. He describes his "Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefit" as "more flexible and generous" and says that it will "permit family members to take up to six months leave from work to tend to relatives near the end of their lives, up from the current six weeks". Now what that means translated into ordinary English is simply this: that he will pass a law ordering employers to give their employees six months leave to take care of dying relatives. He has managed to describe a law which tells someone that they have to do something as an act of permission which is "more flexible and generous". What an utter perversion of the English language!

He promises to create "25,000 new child care spaces per year for the next four years" and to create "integrated, community-based, child-centred early learning and education centres that provide parents with a “one-stop shop” for family services". The former is yet another expensive promise that Layton will have to pay for out of your pocket. The latter sounds like something out of a dystopic novel, the establishment of government institutions to program your children.

It is disturbing to think that there are actually enough people considering voting for this man that some commentators are actually taking seriously the idea that he might form the next government.

It is not the role of government, people, to provide you with everything that you want but which you do not want to pay for out of your own pocket. That is not the government's role because the government is not capable of filling that role. A government's only resources are what it receives in taxes from its people. The purpose of government is to provide what only government can provide - laws, justice, defense of society against foreign attacks, etc.

It is most likely that the Conservative Party will form the next government. The best thing that can be said about the present Conservative Party is that it appears to be committed to maintaining Canada's ties to the monarchy. "A belief in our constitutional monarchy, the institutions of Parliament and the democratic process" is one of the Conservative Party's "founding principles". As a Johnson Tory that gets my whole-hearted approval.

Sadly, there is very little else I can think of that is good about the present Conservative Party. It was founded by a merger of the Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party of Canada/Canadian Alliance. It tends to unite the worst qualities of both of these parties. It has proven to be no friend to those wishing to restore traditional freedom of speech in this country. It has barred controversial speakers like British Labour MP George Galloway and American conservative scholar Dr. Srdja Trifkovic from entering the country, giving absurd official reasons, when it is their controversial speech that is truly being targetted. It was Stephen Harper who appointed Jennifer Lynch Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Lynch defended all of the most atrocious behavior of that body. Stephen Harper and his immigration minister Jason Kenney have shown themselves to be committed to Trudeau's vision of multiculturalism. (6) Stephen Harper continues to declare that social issues like abortion will not be discussed.

So, who do I vote for on Monday?

If only the Rhinoceros Party were running a candidate in my riding!

(1)Ironically, Grant was the uncle of the current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Michael Ignatieff's mother was Grant's sister.

(2) Pearson, who thus insulted Canada's brave World War II veterans, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, for talking the United Nations into creating an army of international busybodies to help the UN more effectively go around the world, sticking its nose into peoples' conflicts where it isn't wanted, and get credit for doing good when it 9 times out of 10 just makes things worse.

(3) "But it was obvious that he was systematically building up Trudeau, by bringing him into federal politics in 1965, by making him his won parliamentary secretary in 1966 and then justice minister in 1967, by orchestrating constitutional, legislative and party happenings to ensure his prominence, and finally by resigning on 1968 at the moment best calculated to benefit him and inconvenience his rivals. At various times afterwards Pearson admitted his role, and the other candidates had no doubt they were up against what one of them, the young John Turner, denounced as 'the Liberal Establishment' and its 'backstage deals'" - Peter Brimelow, The Patriot Game: National Dreams & Political Realities (Key Porter Books: Toronto, 1986) p. 62. At the same time Trudeau was brought into the Liberal Party, two of his far-left friends Gérard Pelletier and Jean Marchand came with him. The trio were dubbed "the three wise men".

(4) One of George Grant's criticism's of John Diefenbaker was that he should have strengthened his government by working with the Union Nationale in Quebec. Grant attributed Diefenbaker's failure to do so to Baptist prejudice against Roman Catholics.

(5) Supporters of our "hate speech" laws will tell you that they were drawn up to combat a threat from Nazism and other forms of violent racism in Canada. This is pure nonsense. A law to combat the threat of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster would make more sense.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is risen

As He walked the lonely road
To Calvary that day
A cross was not His only load
Our sin upon Him lay

He bore that weight upon the cross
And for our sin He died
We now in faith look up to Him
To Christ the crucified

We will proclaim His power to save
To everyone who’ll listen
Our sin lies buried in His grave
But Christ, our Lord, is risen.

Christ the Lord is risen today,

Thursday, April 21, 2011

This and That, No. 8 (Maundy Thursday Edition)

Holy Week, which began five days ago with Palm Sunday, the feast commemorating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, is drawing to a close. The Triduum Sacrum began today with Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper, the Passover which Jesus Christ celebrated with His disciples, at which He commissioned the sacrament of the Eucharist, following which He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot into the hands of the High Priests, who charged and convicted Christ with blasphemy, then brought Him before Pontius Pilate and demanded His crucifixion. Tomorrow, which is Good Friday, is the annual memorial of Christ's death. On Holy Saturday we remember Christ's lying in the tomb and anticipate Easter Sunday, when Christ our Savior triumphed over death and rose victorious from the grave.

My Lenten essays have focused upon the significance to us of the events we remember this week (and which should be foremost in our thoughts throughout the entire year). In my first Lenten essay The Centre of Christianity, I wrote about how the person of Jesus Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith. Christianity is not just a bunch of lessons about how we should be good and selfless and kind to other people. Jesus placed His identity as God's Son and man's redeemer at the heart of His message. In my second Lenten essay, The Sacrifice, I talked about the significance of Christ's death, which we will be remembering tomorrow. It was not an act of martyrdom. It was not just a tragedy. It was not an example given to teach us non-resistance. It was a sacrifice, in which God once and for all dealt with man's sin, so that He could forgive us and reconcile us to Himself. In The Righteousness of God and Man, I talked about the difference between human standards of righteousness and God's, how God demands of us perfect heart righteousness, a demand we cannot meet, but when we trust Christ, God gives to us the righteousness He demands so as to make us acceptable to Him. In Law and Gospel I discussed the differences between the Old and New Testament, emphasizing the orthodox Christian teaching that the same God is at work in both Testaments, and pointing to the basic difference between the message of the Law and the message of the Gospel. The Law shows us the righteousness God requires of us - a requirement we cannot meet, and which the Law is powerless to produce. The Gospel shows us the righteousness God freely gives in Christ and through faith transforms our lives. In Gospel Promises and Assurance, I talked about how we can rest confidently, in the promises God makes to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and be assured that through His saving work for us, we have everlasting life.

Needless to say, I have not exhausted this theme. Since Lent is a period of Penitence I would have liked to have written an essay on repentance, but I did not find the time to do so. The basic gist of the essay would have been that just as faith is an ongoing confidence in Christ so repentance is not a one-time act, done at conversion but never to be repeated, but is rather something we should be doing on a daily basis. I would also have liked to have written a topic directly on the subject of grace, but it is a topic that I hope has come across as a major underlying theme of all the previous essays. God's grace is His selfless giving, motivated entirely by His own love, to sinners who don't deserve it, everything that they need. God's saving grace is His gift to us of the Savior we needed in His Son Jesus Christ. Grace is God's initiative and not a response to any merit on our part.

My essays will continue to focus on theological themes until Trinity Sunday.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gospel Promises and Assurance

What was the Reformation in the 16th Century AD all about?

You will get different answers to that question depending upon who you ask and what their emphases are.

An historian, especially one with materialistic presuppositions who seeks explanations of religious events in secular concerns, might say that the division in the Western Church was brought about by the invention of the printing press (which made the Scriptures and learning available to a wider number of people) and the emergence of the nation-state in the late Medieval/Renaissance periods which weakened the authority of the papacy.

An ecclesiastical historian would point to corruption and abuses in the Church, such as simony, the selling of indulgences, etc. to which both the Reformation and Counter-Reformation were responses.

A Protestant theologian would stress the doctrinal issues – particularly the five Latin solas summarizing Protestant theology : sola Scriptura – the Bible alone is the final authority, sola gratia – salvation is by grace alone, sola fide – justification by faith alone, solus Christus – Christ alone is the Savior, soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory.

A conservative historian might argue that the Reformation was one step, an ecclesiastical step, in a general decline in respect for authority in the Western world that began with Renaissance humanism and developed into liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries, and post-modernism in the 20th and 21st centuries.

A reactionary Roman Catholic might argue for a version of the latter which makes the Reformation the cause of the decline (see Hilaire Belloc’s The Crisis of Civilization for an example of this approach).

Someone who highly values Christian unity might argue that cultural differences were the primary cause of the Reformation. Northern peoples, especially those who spoke Germanic languages, tended to become Protestants, whereas southern peoples, especially those who spoke Romance languages (languages that evolved from dialects of Latin) tended to retain their ties to the papacy.

These different answers do not necessarily contradict each of the others. They reflect different perspectives as to what is most important and different historical contexts within which to place the Reformation.

Dr. Martin Luther, the central figure of the Reformation, would undoubtedly have stressed “justification by faith alone” as lying at the heart of the matter. This was the article, Luther said, upon which “the church stands or falls”. Even here, however, there is a different way of looking at. “Justification by faith alone” is St. Paul’s doctrine stated in the language of systematic theology, an objective intellectual discipline. For Luther however, this doctrine had a very personal, subjective significance. St. Paul’s doctrine came to him, as refreshing good news, as the answer to a long, personal, agonizing struggle for assurance of salvation. There is a sense then in which we can say that assurance of salvation is what the Reformation was really all about.

Can a person know that their sins are forgiven, that they acceptable and righteous in the eyes of God, that have everlasting life and that they will be with the Lord eternally?

The Scriptural answer to this question, particularly in the Johannine writings where it is stated explicitly, is yes.

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. ( 1 John 5:13)

Unfortunately, the answer which Christ’s holy, catholic, and apostolic church has given to this question, has not always matched Scripture’s answer, in every time and place. Hence the Reformers’ emphasis on “sola Scriptura”.(1) While St. Augustine championed the doctrines of God’s justifying grace against the Pelagian heresy, which taught that man could initiate his own return to God through his own will, St. Augustine unfortunately also taught that except from special personal revelation to saints, a believer cannot know that he will be eternally saved, although he can through faith have an assurance of forgiveness of his sins in the present. Final salvation, St. Augustine taught, required that one end their life in a state of grace, and while we can know that we are in a present state of grace if we are walking with Christ by faith, we cannot know that we will persevere to the end. This doctrine unfortunately prevailed in the church for centuries and still prevails in certain parts of Christ’s church.

Note however, that the Roman Catholics and others who hold to St. Augustine’s doctrine on assurance, are not necessarily the furthest people in Christ’s Church from the Biblical, Johannine doctrine of assurance. Among Protestants, there are many who identify themselves as followers of John Calvin, who express their belief in the doctrines of justification by faith alone and in assurance of salvation, who nevertheless teach these doctrines in such away as to undermine faith and assurance in actual experience of the Christian life.

How can the doctrines of justification by faith and the believer’s assurance of salvation by preached and taught in such away as to undermine faith and assurance?

By separating faith and assurance and making the believer’s subjective experience the basis of assurance.

The Gospel message, consists of objective facts about God’s love and graciousness to sinners, revealed in His gift of a Savior, His Son Jesus Christ, in Christ’s death for the sins of the world which completed the work of salvation, and God’s raising Jesus from the dead. The Gospel invites all sinners to believe in Jesus and promises everlasting life to all who do.

Christian faith consists of believing this message, of trusting in Jesus Christ, the Savior God has given. Christian faith then, is based upon something objective and external to the believer.

The Puritans, English-speaking Calvinists influenced by the teachings of Theodore Beza and William Perkins, would affirm that. They would, however, say that faith and assurance are two different parts of the Christian experience and that the latter must be based in part upon evidence in one’s life of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit that distinguishes someone with true faith from someone with “temporary faith”. (2)

Needless to say, the Puritans were not noted for their strong assurance of salvation.

John Calvin himself, taught no such doctrine. He, like Martin Luther, taught that the subjective experience of faith in Jesus Christ and the subjective experience of assurance of salvation were one and the same experience, and therefore both have as their sole basis, the external, objective, redemption accomplished for the believer in Christ and transmitted to the believer through promises of God in the Gospel. This is the doctrine of Scripture:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

This verse is difficult for people in our modern era because of the positivist assumptions that under-gird the materialistic, scientific worldview that has become dominant in the Western world. Positivism is the notion that knowledge and certainty come through the scientific method which has evolved from primitive “theology” and “metaphysics”. The necessary conclusion of this worldview is that certainty pertains only that which is observable to the senses or demonstrated through reason. This conclusion was explicitly stated in the “logical positivism” of the early 20th Century. While philosophy has moved on from here (3) these concepts still widely prevail in the worldview of the society to which we belong (4). Certain well-meaning Christian responses to this materialistic trend, such as Søren Kierkegaard’s concept of faith as a “leap in the dark” have been less than helpful in illuminating the relationship between Christian faith and certainty.

The Christian message stands in contrast to modern materialism, scientism, and positivism. Christianity teaches the Incarnation – that the eternal Word of God “became flesh and dwelt among us”. In other words God, Who transcends the physical universe which is His creation, has made Himself known to us by becoming One of us, living among us, and most importantly dying for us and rising again. What God has revealed of Himself in Jesus, is more certain than that which see with our own eyes. Faith is not a leap in the dark but our reception of God’s revelation of Himself. What God has revealed of Himself is absolutely true and certain and therefore more reliable than our own deductions, no matter how impeccable our logic, or our own observations.

Thus, when the New Testament speaks of the believer’s “hope” it does not use the word “hope” the way we use it today. Today we use the word “hope” to describe the situation of wishing something to happen but of being uncertain that it will happen. In the Bible, however, the believer’s hope is a confident expectation based upon the promises of One Who is eternally trustworthy.

In the order for the burial of the dead in the Book of Common Prayer it prescribes the following to be said at the graveside:

Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to receive unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our mortal body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

“Sure and certain hope”. While this phrase would be an oxymoron if “hope” were taken to mean what we usually mean by it, it expresses a wonderful Biblical truth when “hope” is used the way the Bible uses the word. Faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”. What God has promised in Jesus Christ to all who believe, we can be certain of simply by believing God.

What has God promised in Jesus Christ to those who believe?

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. ( John 11:25-26)

Some try to argue against the assuring testimony of these verses by saying “Yes, these verses say faith is necessary, but other verses teach that we have to do other things in order to obtain eternal life”. These promises, however, (there are over 100 of them in John’s Gospel), are worded in a way that does not allow for that argument. Take John 3:16 for example. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. If someone can believe in Jesus but fail to have everlasting life because they did not do something else required elsewhere in Scripture, then how can John 3:16 be said to be true? “Whosoever believeth” excludes the concept of “except for those that don’t do this, that, and the other thing”.

God’s promises of everlasting life in Christ to all who believe need to be understood in the context of the Gospel revelation of Who Christ is, the significance of His death on the cross, and the demonstration of the truth of Christ’s claims in His glorious resurrection, otherwise these promises would be completely unbelievable. We should also consider exactly what it is that Christ is offering. What is everlasting life?

The Book of Genesis opens with an account of the creation of the world, and the creation and fall of mankind. It tells how man was created by God, and placed in the Garden of Eden. In that Garden, God provided man with “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). The verse that tells us this goes on to say that in the midst of the Garden, God placed two trees, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told man that he could freely eat of every tree of the Garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was forbidden to eat from that tree, and told that the day he did he would surely die.

In the next chapter, the man and woman were tempted and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God, mercifully did not slay them on the spot, but He drove them out of the Garden of Eden “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (3:22).

However literally we choose to read this part of the book of Genesis, it is more than the fable or just-so story, that skeptics make it out to be. It depicts man as having been given a choice between a knowledge that was forbidden man and everlasting life. Man could have one but not the other and man chose foolishly. He was led into this choice through unbelief, through mistrust in God, through believing the serpent’s lie that God was withholding this knowledge from man, not for man’s own good, but for selfish reasons.

It was for man’s own good, however, that the knowledge was forbidden. Only God could have that kind of knowledge without possessing sin in His own heart. Man could only possess it by sin, and that sin rendered man unfit for everlasting life.

God, however, loved man, and in His mercy, not only did not slay man, but promised that He Himself would set right what man had made wrong, and would make it possible for man to have everlasting life. The first hint of this is in the curse on the serpent where God says that the seed of the woman “shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”. From this first hint in the earliest chapters of Genesis, the picture develops throughout the Old Testament, of the redeemer that God would one day send to save His people and establish His kingdom. The clearest picture would be found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:3-11)

Depicted here, is the Lord’s suffering servant, Who is willingly led to suffer and die, and upon Whom the sins of God’s people are placed, satisfying God, and bringing peace, healing and justification.

The promised redeemer of God’s people was called the Messiah, which means “the Anointed One”. In Greek, Messiah is translated “Christos”. We call Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, because the Christ was Who Jesus claimed to be. Jesus identified His role as the Christ, or Messiah, with that of the suffering servant of Isaiah. When He asked His disciples who they said that He was, and St. Peter declared “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, it was then that Jesus began teaching them that He must go up to Jerusalem, be put to death on the cross, and raised from the dead on the third day. His disciples did not understand this until after these events had taken place because it was not common to think of the Messiah in terms of the suffering servant. To Jesus, however, the cross was central to His identity as the Christ. It was by means of His death on the cross that He paid for the sins of the world. This is how Jesus is able to fulfil His promise of everlasting life to all who believe in Him. His death on the cross took away the barrier to man’s having everlasting life – man’s sin.

Jesus’ resurrection is the evidence that Jesus is Who He claimed to be. When the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Him, He declared that none would be given them except “the sign of the prophet Jonah”, referring to His resurrection (Matt. 12:38-40). St. Paul wrote that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Christ’s life, death, and resurrection “was not done in a corner” as St. Paul testified to King Agrippa (Acts 26:26). St. Paul summed up the abundant eyewitness testimony that existed to Christ’s resurrection in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Church in Corinth.

It is in this context of the Gospel message that Jesus’ promises of everlasting life to all who believe in Him are both understandable and believable. Jesus is demonstrated by His resurrection to be the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior that God gave to the world, Whose death on the Cross paid for the sins of the world so that those who believe in Jesus will have everlasting life. Salvation then, in the sense of our being rescued from our sin condition and given everlasting life, is something that God has done for us out of the love and goodness of His heart, and not something that we are to accomplish for ourselves through our own efforts. We can therefore be certain of our everlasting life by simply trusting in what God has done for us in Jesus.

This certainty is the foundation of the Christian life. If we do not believe that our acceptance with God has been accomplished for us by Christ, that we can do nothing to add to it, and that we are to simply trust in Jesus, then we must always be trying to earn our acceptance with God by our own efforts. Such efforts can never please God, however, because they are not done out of the God-centered motive of seeking to please the God we love, but out of the self-centered motive of seeking to obtain God’s favour for ourselves, and because they are an insult to God by offering to pay for something He has already given us freely in Christ.

“The just shall live by faith” the prophet Habakkuk and St. Paul the Apostle both write. This means more than just that we possess everlasting life and the righteousness of God through faith. It means that those who God considers to be just or righteous, i.e. those who trust in God, are to live their lives on the basis of faith. The life Christ prescribes for His followers is very demanding. He demands that His followers be perfectly righteous in their heart and not just in their outward behavior (Matt 5:20-48) and that we place the pursuit of God’s kingdom and righteousness before even essential worldly needs like food, shelter, and clothing (Matt 6:25-44). He demands that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. He meant that literally, not metaphorically. The person who “took up his cross” was the person condemned to die by crucifixion, who had to carry his cross to the place of execution. When Jesus said that His disciples must take up their cross and follow Him, He was challenging them to give up their lives and die for Him.

Apart from faith in Christ, His death for our sins, and His promise of everlasting life to all who trust Him for it, these demands are pure Law, an insurmountable obstacle preventing us from approaching God, for there is no way we can come close to meeting these demands through our own efforts. When looked at through faith in Christ, however, these demands take on a new light. When we trust God’s promises of everlasting life in Christ to all who believe, we can walk the path Christ has laid before us in confidence because our acceptance with God does not depend upon it.

We who are evangelical Protestants affirm our belief in the doctrines of justification by faith alone and the believer’s assurance of salvation and often accuse the rest of the Christian church of muddling up the Gospel with rituals and good works. While these accusations are often accurate we need to be aware that we ourselves are frequently guilty of the same thing.

In the tradition of evangelical revivalism, for example, the Gospel is frequently preached as an ultimatum that challenges sinners to “make a decision for Jesus”. What that decision consists of differs from evangelist to evangelist, sermon to sermon. Sometimes it is “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior”, sometimes it is “invite Jesus to come into your heart (or life)”, sometimes it is “give your heart (or life) to the Lord”. Two things are notable about these different ways of presenting the “decision for Christ”. First, each of them can suggest a very different concept from each of the others. Second, none of them necessarily means “believe in Jesus Christ”.

This is very different from the New Testament, where the Gospel is literally a message of “good news” about Jesus Christ, Who He is, what He did for us on the Cross, and His resurrection and promise of everlasting life to all who believe. In the New Testament the Gospel is a message to be believed not a challenge to “make a decision”.

There are two potential dangers in decisional evangelism. The first is that it can produce shallow conversions combined with a cocky, arrogant form of “assurance” which seems to be more faith in one’s decision than in Jesus Christ and His saving work. The second is that it can lead to people responding to invitation after invitation, altar call after altar call, making decision after decision, each time hoping that “this time it will work” and never coming to the full assurance of hope.

Some well-meaning evangelical theologians and pastors, try to warn people against the first danger by telling them that they need to have “heart faith” instead of just “head faith” or “mental assent”. This is not necessarily wrong but it can be misleading. What is the difference between “head faith” and “heart faith”?

The only legitimate difference between the two is if “head faith” is taken to mean believing a set of facts that have no personal significance to the person believing them, whereas “heart faith” is taken to mean believing a set of facts that are of tremendous personal significance to the person believing them. This is the difference between believing that Jesus Christ died and rose again as historical facts, and believing that Jesus Christ died and rose again and through doing so redeemed me from sin and obtained for me everlasting life. The difference between the two is really a difference in what is believed not a difference in where or how it is believed.

Other ways in which theologians and pastors try to distinguish between “the right kind of faith” and “the wrong kind of faith” are “trusting a person” as opposed to “believing facts”, and “believing in” as opposed to “believing that”. While these distinctions can sometimes clarify for a person what it means to believe in Jesus they can also be misleading.

These distinctions are foreign to the Bible and to common sense. To trust a person, means to believe certain facts about that person, i.e. that he is reliable and will keep his word. In the Gospel according to St. John “believing in” Jesus means “believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. When the Bible speaks of the heart, it speaks of the inner person, and the contrast is always with the outside, particularly one’s words, and not with the mind or intellect. “[M]an looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7), “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matt 15:8, quoting Isaiah 29:13), “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Rom 10:9) (5)

Pastors and theologians who speak this way are well-meaning, but the danger is that they re-create the Puritan problem of trapping people in the question of “do I have the right kind of faith?” This question is a bottomless pit because it focuses one on one’s own faith which is the surest way of making faith disappear. As A. A. Hodge put it:

The man who is talking about his love unceasingly has no love; the man who is talking about his faith unceasingly has no faith: the two things cannot go together. When you love, what are you thinking about? Are you not thinking about the object of your love? And when you believe, what are you thinking about? Why, the object that you believe. Suppose you ask yourself, 'Am I believing?' Why, of course you are not believing when you are thinking of believing. No human being believes except when he thinks about Christ. (6)

Decisional evangelism and calls for introspection as to whether one has “the right kind of faith” are versions of the same subtle mistake – the mistake of turning faith itself into a work, which leads people to focus their faith on their faith, instead of on Jesus Christ. Faith, however, received God’s favour, which is freely given. It does not earn God’s favour. Faith does not plead its own merits to God, but rests upon the promises God has made to in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who believe.

(1) I would argue that “suprema Scriptura” would more accurately express Luther and Calvin’s doctrine than “sola Scriptura”, and that the latter phrase has had unfortunate consequences in Protestantism, but that is a subject for another essay.

(2) Max Weber argued that this is the source of the Protestant work ethic which developed into capitalism, the belief that material prosperity through hard work is an indication of one’s election. This (the Puritan doctrine, not Max Weber’s sociological analysis) seems rather inconsistent with Christ’s teachings about not serving both God and mammon.

(3) This does not mean that philosophy has moved back to classical and Scriptural truth. The logical positivism of the early 20th century was abandoned when the 19th century view of scientific theory as “that which is verifiable” was replaced by the 20th century view of scientific theory as “that which is falsifiable”, largely associated with the work of liberal philosopher Sir Karl Popper. A connection can be drawn between this and the birth of the ultra-relativistic nihilism of post-modernism, although I would not wish to impute the latter to Popper and his writings.

(4) Since logical positivism represents an outdated stage in the decline of Western appreciation for metaphysical truth which has lingering influences to this day, I recommend an old, but not outdated book, to those looking for a response to it. That is Owen Barfield’s The Rediscovery of Meaning: And Other Essays, published in 1977 by Wesleyan University Press.

(5) See Gordon H. Clark, Faith and Saving Faith (Trinity Foundation: Jefferson, MD, 1990).

(6) A. A. Hodge, “Assurance and Humility”.

Friday, April 8, 2011

This and That No. 7

My last two essays have been on topics that are central to evangelical Protestantism. My next essay will continue in that vein, after which my essays in this theological series will address topics on which small-o orthodox Christians are in agreement and topics in which I tend to be more "High Church".

I went to see the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Winnipeg's production of H. M. S. Pinafore last Friday at Pantages Playhouse. It was an excellent performance, although it was a bit strange to hear Fred Cross in his role as Sir Joseph Porter sing "I am the monarch of the sea, the ruler of the king's navy". As today, when the operetta was originally written and performed a queen sat on the throne. This production was neither in its original setting nor contemporary, but was actually set in the 1930's. This could also be seen in the costuming and in the set itself, where the ship had very WWII-era looking artillery on prominent display.

This past Sunday (April 3) was my birthday. I am now half-way to the three-score and ten that Moses says is allotted to a man.

The Manitoba Opera will be performing Mozart's "The Magic Flute" in the upcoming week, with performances tomorrow, Tuesday, and next Friday. I look forward to seeing it.

Unless you have been completely avoiding international news for the past few months you are undoubtedly aware that civil wars are breaking out in northern Africa and that Western countries, including our own, have for some foolish reason or another decided to get involved in the latest one in Libya. Neither side, in this conflict, deserves Western support. Colonel Qaddafi is a power-mad, evil dictator, to be sure, but that does not mean that the uprising against him is worthy of our support either. We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into thinking that "democracy" is an ultimate good and that therefore we must support it, whenever and wherever in the world it rears its head. This makes an idol out of democracy. Democracy is not an "ultimate good". Indeed, it is hardly a good at all, and perhaps ought to be considered an evil. It is the most destructive and tyrannical of all forms of human government. The only reason it has worked out fairly well in the English-speaking world is that other, stronger forces, have historically kept it in check. Originally, those were the power of the Crown and of the titled, landed, nobility and aristocracy. Then, when liberal individualism weakened the power of the Crown and aristocracy, liberal individualism itself held democracy in check. Now democracy is triumphant and like most demon idols it is calling upon us to make human sacrifices to itself. This is what those bombs we are dropping on Libya are truly about.

Every year in Canada we sacrifice about 100, 000 children to the demon idols of "women's rights", "sexual equality" and "sexual freedom". Having grown tired of worshiping the idols of "race" and "nation" we are now desperately trying to sacrifice our own people to the post-modern Moloch of "racial equality". It is not enough, for the modern and post-modern pantheon of pagan devils, that we sacrifice our own children. "Democracy" and "human rights" demand the blood of both our own children and other peoples' children as well.

Lent, in the Christian year, is a traditional period of self-examination and penitence in anticipation of our remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter. As we consider, this Lent, the children, our own and others, that we have sacrificed to the above mentioned demons let us follow the prophet Joel's instructions, and rend our hearts not our garments, and turn in contrition to the Lord our God, for "he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness".

For those of you looking for a less-preachy analysis of our involvement in the Libyan conflict that is none of our business, I refer you to James Bissett, former Canadian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago and former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia. His excellent remarks can be found here:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Law and Gospel

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

If you were to go around asking people if the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were the same God you would probably come across many who would answer “no”. If you were to then ask them why they thought so the most likely answer you would hear would be “the God of the Old Testament is cruel, vindictive, harsh and punishing, whereas the God of the New Testament is loving and merciful”.

The idea that there is an inconsistency between how God is portrayed in the Old and New Testaments has been around for a long time. In the second century AD Marcion of Sinope taught that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were different. He taught the Gnostic idea that the God of the Old Testament, the creator of the physical world, was the evil Demiurge and that the God who was the Father of Jesus Christ was the true benevolent God. He rejected the Old Testament as Scripture, and rejected several books of the New Testament as well. He taught docetism, the heresy which states that Jesus only appeared to be a physical, human being. Marcion was ultimately excommunicated from the Church and his views, sometimes called Marcionism, were condemned as heretical.

It was in response to Marcion and other Gnostics who taught similar views that the Church realized that it would have to decide which books the Christian faith considered to be canonical Scriptures and which it didn’t. It was also in response to these heretical ideas that the Church drew up the first paragraph of the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

This was placed at the beginning of the Creed to identify the God Who is the Father of Jesus Christ with the God Who created the heavens and the earth in the Book of Genesis and to make clear that that God was the Creator of both the spiritual and the physical world. Hence the “and of all things visible and invisible”. This is the orthodox, Apostolic, Christian teaching on the subject.

Why was it necessary for the Church to define orthodox doctrine in this way? What did Marcion and the other Gnostic heretics find in Scripture upon which to base their false idea that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament? How can what they found be explained better in a way that is consistent with orthodox Christianity?

The idea that there is a discrepancy between how the Old and New Testaments portray God is based upon the perception that the God of the Old Testament is always punishing people for their sin whereas the God of the New Testament is always forgiving them. This, however, does not do justice to either Testament.

In the Old Testament, God is always showing mercy to people and forgiving them of their sins. It starts at the beginning of Genesis. God had told Adam in the Garden of Eden that he was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and that the day he ate of that fruit he would die. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, God drove them from Paradise, but He showed mercy on them and did not kill them. When Cain murdered his brother Abel and God sent him into exile in punishment, He also showed mercy to Cain and put his seal upon Cain, that no man would do him any harm. The Psalms frequently proclaim that God is slow to anger, merciful, and compassionate, and quick to forgive. The prophets never proclaim judgment upon God’s people without calling them to repent and without proclaiming the hope of a future restoration. The prophet Ezekiel was told to proclaim “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). When the prophet Jonah was sent to proclaim God’s judgment upon Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the Ninevites repented and God spared their city.

Meanwhile, the New Testament frequently warns of God’s judgment. The concept of everlasting punishment beyond this life is found in the Old Testament in one verse alone Daniel 12:2: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” When Psalm 9 says that the wicked shall be turned into hell, it does not use a word meaning a place of everlasting punishment. No such word existed in the Hebrew language. It uses “sheol” which was understood by the Hebrew people in basically the same way that the Greek people understood “hades” – a gloomy, underground place, that everybody goes to, righteous and wicked alike. The concept of hell as we understand it today, everlasting fiery punishment beyond death, is taken from the teachings of Jesus. Outside of Jerusalem, there was a valley called Hinnom. In the Old Testament, this place was cursed because people sacrificed their children in fire to the demon Moloch there. The valley became the garbage dump of Jerusalem and the place where the bodies of criminals were thrown. It was constantly burning. In the period between the Testaments, Jewish rabbis had taken the name of this valley and used it metaphorically to refer to a place of punishment beyond death. Their concept of “Gehenna” was similar to the Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory. People would go there for about a year to be punished and cleansed of their sins then they would go to be with God. Jesus spoke of Gehenna as being “eternal” and “everlasting”. He spoke of it more often than anyone else in the Bible.

If God is depicted as merciful and compassionate and forgiving of sin in the Old Testament and His most severe judgment upon sin is mentioned mostly in the New Testament, then clearly the Gnostic understanding of the God of the Old Testament as harsh and severe and the God of the New Testament as loving and kind is false. Both Testaments portray God as both the just Judge of sin and the merciful and loving Father Who pleads with people to turn back to Him in repentance, trust Him, and be forgiven of their sins. The orthodox teaching of the Church then is in accordance with the Scriptures. The God of the Old Testament is the Father of Jesus Christ.

Where then did the idea that the God of the Old Testament is harsher than the God of the New Testament come from? What is the actual difference between the two Testaments?

When we speak of the “Old Testament” and “New Testament” we are speaking of collections of books. The Old Testament is a collection of Books revered as Scripture, the written Word of God, by Jews and Christians alike. The New Testament is recognized as Scripture by Christians alone. The word “testament” used to mean “covenant”. The two divisions of the Christian Scriptures are called the Old and New Testament, because they are the records of two covenants which God made. The first covenant was made with the Israelite nation at Mt. Sinai. The second covenant was made at the Cross. The new covenant can be said to be universal in the sense that everybody in the world is invited to enter it through faith. It is also a particular covenant, made with the organism/institution called “the Church” which consists of those who believe.

Both covenants arose out of events in which God saved His people. God made His old covenant with Israel after saving them from the condition of slavery in Egypt. He made His new covenant when His Son came down from heaven and became a man and died on the cross for the sins of the world. Both events were acts of grace on the part of God. The New Testament teaches that the second event was foreshadowed in the first:

For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. (1 Cor. 5:7)

Christ’s sacrifice, which established the new covenant, was what made possible God’s acts of grace in the Old Testament, for Christ is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) and God, Who exists outside the limits of time and space, looked ahead to Christ’s sacrifice as the justification of His grace to sinners. Now that Christ has come and fully revealed God’s grace to us and accomplished salvation through His death on the cross, God’s new covenant is to be brought to the world through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News that God has been gracious and merciful to the sinners of the world by providing His only Son as the Savior through His death of all those who place their faith in Him and by raising Jesus from the dead.

The old covenant, on the other hand, was a covenant in which God promised temporal blessings to His people, particularly the possession of the land He would give them, conditioned upon their obedience to His commandments. In Exodus 19, after the Israelites arrive at Mt. Sinai, God speaks to Moses and tells him:

Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. (vv. 3-16)

Moses speaks these words to the elders of Israel and the people tell him “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do.” Moses gives God this answer, and God tells the Israelites to sanctify themselves, then comes down onto the mountain to speak to Israel. After warning the people not to come upon the mountain, God gives to Moses the famous ten commandments (20:1-17) then Moses enters the darkness with which God has surrounded His immediate presence and receives more commandments from God. The commandments go on until the end of chapter 23, when God summons Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel to ascend the mountain and worship Him. They offer sacrifices unto God, then go up to meet with God, then Moses is summoned up the mountain again to receive yet more commandments. Moses is up in the mountain for forty days and nights and the list of the commandments he receives runs from chapter 25 to the end of chapter 31, where God gives Moses tablets of stone upon which His commandments were written.

The emphasis in this covenant is clearly upon rules and for this reason the books in which the covenant is recorded are called the Torah – the Law. St. John wrote in the first chapter of Gospel that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”. How is this consistent with what we saw earlier about God’s graciousness in the Old Testament and His judgment in the New?

The God Who made both covenants is holy, just, and sovereign as well as loving, gracious, compassionate and merciful. These characteristics are eternal attributes of His and both are on display in both Testaments. In Christ’s death which is at the heart of the Gospel message it is revealed how God can be both just and merciful at the same time, how God can be “just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”. The old covenant places the emphasis on God’s holiness and justice, however, by focusing on rules which tell God’s people what He demands of them. The new covenant emphasizes God’s mercy and grace. For this reason the old covenant, and the sacred books which record that covenant, are sometimes referred to as “the Law”. Similarly, the sacred books which record the life, teachings, works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are called “Gospels”. There is grace, which is at the heart of the Gospel message in the former, and law (think of the Sermon on the Mount) in the latter, but the covenants and sections of Scripture which record them, are characterized by their emphasis.

Law and Gospel are the two messages which run throughout Scripture. Law tells us of the holiness and justice of God and lays plain the righteousness which God demands of us. The Gospel tells us of the mercy and grace of God Who made a way for us, who being sinners cannot meet the requirements of the Law, to be given the righteousness the Law demands freely, as a gift through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the fuller revelation of God which the Law points to.

Dr. Martin Luther saw the importance of understanding and distinguishing the purposes of these two messages. He said “Hence, whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.” As with so much else of what he taught, here Dr. Luther displayed a superb understanding of the writings of St. Paul in the Scriptures. To attempt to do with the Law what can only be done with the Gospel leads to disaster. This is the message of St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatian Church. The distinction between Law and Gospel became very important to Dr. Luther and his followers and the confessions within the Lutheran tradition display a clarity on the subject that the rest of Christ’s holy, catholic, and apostolic Church can learn from. The fifth article of the 1577 Lutheran Formula of Concord is entitled “Law and Gospel”. In this article the Law is identified as any Scriptural message that “reproves sin” as distinct from the Gospel which proclaims that “Christ has expiated and made satisfaction for all sins, and has obtained and acquired for him, without any merit of his [no merit of the sinner intervening], forgiveness of sins, righteousness that avails before God, and eternal life.”

In the sixth article of the Formula of Concord, entitled “The Third Use of the Law”, three purposes of the Law are given. The first is “that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men”. This purpose of the Law is often illustrated by a curb or a fence. It contains human sinfulness and keeps it within bounds. The second purpose of the Law is “that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins”. This use of the Law is illustrated with a mirror. The third use of the Law is that believers “might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life”. This use is illustrated by a roadmap or compass. It shows us what we should be but does not provide us with the ability to be that. For that we need God’s justifying and sanctifying grace, revealed in the Gospel.

All of this is in accordance with the writings of St. Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. In his epistles to the churches of Rome and Galatia he tells us what the Law cannot do. It cannot justify us, make us righteous in God’s eyes (Romans). Nor can it produce in us the holy life it describes (Galatians). What then was it given for?

In chapter one of his first pastoral epistle to Timothy he writes:

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. (vv. 8-11)

What does St. Paul mean when he says that “the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient”? He could be understood as giving the spiritual equivalent of something that is noticeable in everyday life. In every institution, from the family, to the workplace, to society, there are rules. When are rules made? Frequently rules are made by those in authority in an institution when the need for them arises, because someone has been doing something wrong. We see the same thing in Scripture. God gave mankind only one rule in the Garden of Eden. That rule was broken and mankind was expelled from the Garden. Then Cain murdered his brother and before you know it the world was full of murder. God judged the world with the Flood, then He gave a new rule that “if man shed blood, by man shall his blood be shed”. God gives us rules because our sinfulness creates the need for them. If this is what St. Paul had in mind this corresponds with the first use of the Law in the Formula of Concord. St. Augustine, in a passage in his writings which Dr. Luther wrote influenced his coming to understand St. Paul’s doctrine of justification, sees this passage as being a case of the second use of the Law. The lawful use of the law that St. Paul refers to, St. Augustine wrote wrote, was to bring one to Christ to receive God’s righteousness. (1)

It is the second use of the Law that St. Paul emphasizes in his epistles, and which Lutheran theology emphasizes as well. It is the Law that shows us that we are sinners. St. Paul, in the seventh chapter of his epistle to the church in Rome writes:

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (v. 7)

What does he mean by “not known sin”? He cannot mean “not have sinned” for that meaning would clearly contradict what he wrote to Timothy quoted above. He is speaking of his awareness of his own sinfulness which came about through the Law because when the Law spoke his sinful nature produced the very thing which the Law forbade bringing about his awareness of his own sinfulness and the conflict within himself described in the rest of the chapter.

In Galatians St. Paul writes that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (3:24). The word translated “schoolmaster” here depicts a slave whose job was to watch over the child of the family he served and bring him to his instructors. This is the illustration St. Paul uses to describe the function God intended the Law to serve in Israel up until His revelation of Himself in Christ. While he may have partially had in mind the concept of the author of the book of Hebrews, that Christ and His sacrifice are prefigured in the ceremonies of the Old Testament, the context of the chapter would suggest that he is primarily referring to the Law revealing our sin and hence our need for Christ. This is how St. Augustine understood him in the same passage alluded to above.

In his second epistle to the church in Corinth, in the third chapter, St. Paul refers to the Law as “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones” and a “ministration of condemnation” (verses 7 and 9 respectively) which he contrasts with the “ministration of the spirit” and the “ministration of righteousness” (verses 8 and 9) which is the new covenant (v. 6), the Gospel. The Law can only condemn people because being sinners we cannot meet its requirements. This revelation of our condition, however, if we do not harder ourselves to us, can humble and break us, making us receptive to the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. This use of the Law is itself a work of grace as the hymn writer John Newton clearly understood:

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear -conviction of sin through the Law
And grace my fears relieved (2) - proclamation of forgiveness through the Gospel.

Dr. Robert Preuss put it this way:

Neither contrition nor faith is something we work out for ourselves. The Holy Spirit works both in us. He works contrition through the Law, and exclusively through the Law; and He works faith through the Gospel, and exclusively through the Gospel. The most important distinction between Law and Gospel lies in just this fact. (3)

Thus Law itself, can be a work of grace, but only if the Gospel is also preached and received in faith.

In this we see most clearly how the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are indeed one and the same.

(1) Chapter 16 of St. Augustine’s A Treatise on The Spirit and the Letter.

(2) John Newton, “Amazing Grace”, second stanza.

(3) Robert D. Preuss, Getting Into The Theology of Concord, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), p. 63.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Righteousness of God and Man

Who is a good person?

This used to be a fairly simple question. Our society had standards which defined certain behavior as right and certain behavior as wrong. A good person was a person who behaved in the right way and a bad person was a person who behaved in the wrong way.

The question has become complicated because there have been radical changes over the half of a century in how our society defines right and wrong. Behavior that was once defined as “wrong” such as sexual intercourse outside of wedlock is now considered, if not to be “right”, to at least be “none of your business”. Meanwhile behavior that nobody would have dreamed of considering to be “wrong” one hundred years ago has jumped to the top of the totem pole of sin. Much of this behavior consists not of outward actions but of inward thought patterns.

Consider, for example, the terms “racism”, “sexism”, and “homophobia”. All of these terms are very recent additions to the English language. Racism entered the English language in the 1930s, sexism and homophobia were first used in the 1960’s, with homophobia not gaining widespread usage until the 1980’s and ‘90’s. All of these terms describe ways of thinking more than they describe ways of acting. Is there any doubt that these are considered to be the greatest of evils in society today – at least by politicians, teachers, the media, and liberal clergy?

Was our society more right in what it deemed to be right and wrong behavior one hundred years ago or today? (1)

In spite of these changes there remains a general concept of a “good person” as someone who is kind, considerate and helpful to others, who obeys the law and pays his taxes, and doesn’t hurt other people. If you were to ask most people if they consider themselves to be a good person you would get answers like “I try to be”, or “I’m as good as the next person”, or if the person is particularly self-righteous “Well I’m better than a lot of other people”.

What these answers demonstrate is the human concept of righteousness. We judge ourselves to be good or bad by comparing ourselves with others. We look at people who commit major violent crimes like murder, robbery, and rape and consider them to be the “bad people”. We look at people in general and judge ourselves to be better than most. We look at someone like Mother Theresa and feel guilty.

We also feel guilty when we take a look at our own behavior and realize that we have not lived up to the moral standards we profess. We then try to justify ourselves by justifying our behavior. We make excuses for ourselves. We concoct nice logical arguments as to why our bad behavior is really right behavior. This is generally our first response if someone else points out our bad behavior to us.

Who does God consider to be a righteous person? Does He judge us in the same way other human beings do or does He have His own standards of righteousness by which He judges us?

The Scriptural answer to this question is, of course, that God holds us accountable to His own standards. He does take our standards into consideration, in judging us, Jesus said:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2)

This is the reverse of the way in which we judge ourselves and others. We tend to be easier on ourselves than on other people, excusing and justifying in ourselves, behavior that we would condemn if committed by someone else. Jesus says, however, that God will hold us accountable if we don’t live up to the standards whereby we judge others.

Is there even one among us who has such perfect integrity as to endure such a judgment and be deemed righteous?

In the Sermon in which Jesus made the remark quoted above He tells us what the righteousness which God demands from man looks like.

He said:

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

The scribes were the teachers of the Law in Israel. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect that dated back to the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century BC, who stressed purity and strict adherence to the law. When Jesus says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees He is setting the bar very high indeed. We should not try to get around this verse by thinking “well, the Pharisees weren’t really that righteous”. To do so would be to miss Jesus’ point altogether.

After saying the above, Jesus goes on to comment on six Old Testament commandments. Each time His remarks are to the effect that mere conformity to the letter of the commandment is insufficient to meet the requirements of righteousness God demands of people. We are required to be righteous in our hearts, which are only seen by God, and not just in our outward behavior seen by other people. He brings this section of His Sermon to a close by saying:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Jesus then went on to say that it is alms-giving, prayer, and fasting that is done in secret rather than in front of other people that God rewards (Matthew 6:1-18) and that we must make God’s kingdom and righteousness the chief ends of our lives, placing the pursuit of them ahead of concerns about basic human needs such as clothing, food and shelter, warning us that we cannot serve God and money at the same time (Matthew 6:19-34).

As Jesus brought this Sermon to an end, He described the way of righteousness He had been preaching as a straight gate, and a narrow way, leading to life, which few find, as opposed to the wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction. It is a straight and narrow way indeed. There is not a human being other than Himself who has ever walked it. None of the rest of us have come even remotely close. Friedrich Nietzsche was in this limited sense correct when he wrote:

The very word 'Christianity' is a misunderstanding--at bottom there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross. (2)

The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew. The word “Gospel”, from the Old English “godspel” means “glad tidings”, and translates the Greek “euangelion” – “good message” or “good news”. How can a Sermon proclaiming that God requires of us a righteousness which we do not come close to meeting, be considered “Good News”?

The answer lies in the rest of the story. In the very next chapter a leper comes and worships Jesus and says “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”, an expression of faith. Jesus heals him. Then a centurion comes and tells Jesus that he has a servant at home suffering from palsy. Jesus says that He will come and heal him and the centurion says that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his home but that if Jesus just speaks the word his servant would be healed. Jesus commends him for his faith, saying that He had not found such faith in Israel, and grants his request saying “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee”. Later in that same chapter, Jesus and His disciples enter a ship and a tempest arises while Jesus is asleep in the boat. The disciples, in terror awake Him. He rebukes them for their lack of faith – then calms the sea.

Throughout this chapter we see that Jesus rewards faith. In the chapter following Jesus will tell the Pharisees that He is not come to call the righteous but “sinners unto repentance”.

In the New Testament, the righteousness of God is both something God demands of people (as we saw in the Sermon on the Mount) and something God gives to people who trust Him. The righteousness that God demands of us is a righteousness we cannot achieve. When Jesus told the Pharisees that it is the sick that need a physician, not the well, and that He is come to call sinners unto repentance, He was not telling them that they didn’t need Him. He had already given the Sermon which demanded a righteousness higher than their own. They, therefore, were sinners just like the publicans and sinners whom they objected to Jesus eating with.

Earlier, when I described our tendency to make excuses for our bad behavior, I used the word “justify”. The word “justify” means to “declare to be righteous”. When we, having been caught doing something wrong, try to justify ourselves, we try to come up with arguments to convince others and ourselves that we were actually right in doing what is wrong.

God does not engage in that kind of justification in Scripture. He does not call bad actions good. He does not call wrong behavior right.

He does, however, justify sinners. Throughout the Bible, God calls those who trust in Him, righteous. These are not people who meet the standards of righteousness Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount. In Genesis 15, God speaks to Abraham, who is old and childless, and tells him that he will have a son and from his son descendants as numberless as the stars in the sky will be born. Abraham believed Him, and according to verse 6, “He counted it to him for righteousness”.

In the Psalms, King David frequently distinguished between the righteous and the wicked and calls upon God to rescue the former and to punish the latter. Yet, in the Psalms King David also expresses a deep sense of his own sinfulness. Psalm 51, for example was written after Nathan the prophet had come to David and exposed his sin in the affair with Bathsheba. David had slept with another man’s wife, gotten her pregnant, then in his attempt to cover up his sin had had her husband killed. Psalm 51 expresses his sorrow and repentance, and calls upon God to have mercy upon him, and to cleanse him from his sin and to create a clean heart within him. In repenting David expresses His faith that God can cleanse him of his sins and make him righteous. The theme of trust in God is a dominant one in the Davidic Psalms. Psalm 16 for example, opens by saying:

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.

Jesus, throughout the Gospels, rebuked unbelief more frequently than He rebuked sin and rewarded faith. St. Luke records a parable in which He compared a Pharisee and a tax collector, who both went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed this way:

God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Luke 18:11-12)

The tax collector, on the other hand, smote his breast and said:

God be merciful to me a sinner. (v. 13)

It is the tax collector who went home justified, Jesus said, and not the Pharisee.

It is St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church of Rome who provides us with the most detailed account of the righteousness God gives to those who trust in Him through Christ. In the first chapter St. Paul writes that the Gospel of Christ:

[I]s the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (vv. 16-17)

The Gospel of Christ, the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again from the dead, brings salvation to everyone who believes it, Jew or Greek it is for everybody. The “righteousness of God” revealed in the Gospel, is both God’s personal righteousness, and the righteousness He gives to those who believe.

St. Paul expands upon this by first writing about the wrath of God, God’s anger against man’s unrighteousness, describing the general condition of men as having rejected the revelation of God in His creation, and turned away to worship idols, and commit all sorts of sin (1:18-32) He then goes on to argue in the next two chapters that both Jews and Gentiles are alike condemned, for the Law only justifies those who obey it, that it will condemn those who possess it and do not obey it, and will justify those who obey it even if they have never heard it, but that no one will be justified by the works of the law “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.

It is here that he introduces the concept of justification by grace through faith:

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. (3:24-26)

It is because of the death of Jesus Christ, that God can be righteous Himself, and at the same time declare those who believe in the Savior He has given us, to be righteous as well. Christ’s death satisfies God’s just wrath against sin (this is what propitiation means) so that He can declare those who trust Him to be righteous without compromising His own righteousness. The mechanics of how Christ’s death accomplishes this is not fully explained in Scripture, and is probably beyond human comprehension, but St. Paul and St. Peter do explain that it involves substitution. St. Paul wrote that God “made Him to be sin for us Who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). St. Peter writes that Christ “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth… his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:22, 24). In His death, Jesus took our sins upon Himself, and suffered for us, paying the penalty we owed to God’s justice and satisfying God’s wrath.

St. Paul goes on to explain that our works do not contribute to the righteousness that God gives us through faith. If righteousness in the eyes of God is something we must strive for through our own actions, we would be able to boast if we achieved it. The righteousness of God, however, is a gift freely given to us.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Rom 3:27-28)

Note that St. Paul writes “without the deeds of the law”. A few verses later he writes:

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (4:4-5)

This is the doctrine of “justification by faith alone”, which was not invented by Martin Luther in the 16th Century, but was clearly taught by St. Paul in the first. It is false to say that St. Paul did not teach sola fide because the word “alone” does not appear modifying the word “faith” in this epistle. The “alone” in “faith alone” means “without works” not “without grace, without Christ, without the Atonement” or anything of the sort, and St. Paul clearly says “without the deeds of the law” and “to him that worketh not”.

What this means is that being righteous in the eyes of God, is not something God dangles before us, like a carrot before a horse, as an end for which we are to strive, in order to keep us on a perpetual treadmill of good works. It is something God has already freely given us in Jesus Christ and we are to simply trust Him (take Him at His word) about it. This righteousness is not something of which we are to boast, but is rather something that should humble us. It is also the only proper foundation for a life of good works. Remember that St. Paul said, quoting the Prophet Habakkuk “the just shall live by faith”?

This means that trusting Jesus Christ as Savior is not a one time act (3) but the ongoing foundation upon which the Christian life of good works is to be lived. We are to live for God based upon the conviction (another word for faith) that Christ has died for us, redeemed us to God, and risen from the dead, and that through this God forgives us of our sins and gives us His righteousness and everlasting life in accordance with His promise in the Gospel to all who believe.

It is only by trusting God in this way that we can come to love Him and it is only through loving Him that we can do works that are pleasing in His sight. Jesus said the first and great commandment is the commandment to love God with all our hearts. St. John says that this is only possible because of His love for us:

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9)

We know of this love, because it is revealed to us in Christ, in the Gospel, which we receive through faith.

If our righteousness in the eyes of God, if our acceptance by God, depended upon our fulfilling the Great Commandment we would never be accepted by God. God deserves and demands that we love Him wholeheartedly. This we never do in this life and we cannot love Him at all if we strive to love Him in order to be accepted by Him. Love is not something that can be produced upon command. If, however, we trust in Christ, if we believe that God out of the love, kindness, mercy, and grace of His heart, has made us completely acceptable to Him in Christ already, through our faith God will work love for Himself in us. And out of that love will flow works that are pleasing in His sight. It is not those works that make the believe righteous in God’s eyes, however, but the work of Christ.

The traditional Christian distinction between “works of the law” and “works of love” is the fundamental distinction between the works acceptable to God and works that are not – but the distinction is lost if we make “works of love” the basis of our personal acceptance with God. If they are something we must do in order to be accepted by God then they are “works of the law” not “works of love”.

(1) A lengthy answer to this question would sidetrack this essay but my answer is that we have moved away, as a society, from a more right view of right and wrong towards a more wrong view of right and wrong.

(2) Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by H. L. Mencken, The Anti-Christ (Middlesex: The Echo Library, 2006), p. 39.

(3) The evangelical practice of talking about one’s conversion as one’s salvation has pitfalls here. Faith is supposed to look away from the believer, away from his works, and away even from itself, to Christ. The Gospel is that Christ saved those who trust Him through His death on the Cross – not that we are to save ourselves by trusting in Christ. Thus, the familiar evangelical question of “do you know when you were saved” should be answered, by the believer, with “Yes – I was saved when Jesus died on the Cross” not by giving the date of the believer’s conversion. Likewise, the best answer to the evangelical question of “If you were to die tonight, and God were to say to you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven’?” is perhaps not what many evangelicals think it is. The answer is “Because You gave Your Only-Begotten Son to die on the cross for my sins, raised Him from the dead, and promised everlasting life to whoever believes in Him”.