The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

And the Word Was Made Flesh


St. John is not the first of the Four Evangelists that we usually think of in association with Christmas.   It is St. Matthew and St. Luke who provide us with the narrative of our Lord’s nativity.   St. Luke tells of the census of Caesar Augustus that required Joseph and the Virgin Mary to journey to Bethlehem where they found no room in the inn and so had to lodge in the stable where the Lord Jesus was born.   St. Luke also tells us of the angelic choir who appeared to the shepherds and directed them to where they might find the newborn Messiah.   St. Matthew tells us of the visit of the wise men from the East bringing the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   It is St. John, however, who plainly states the importance of these events:


And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14)


This is a theological statement.   It, and the words which immediately follow after in which the Evangelist testifies to his and others (SS Peter and James at the Transfiguration) having beheld the glory of the Word, conclude the extended theological discourse about the Word that serves as a preamble to the fourth Gospel.


That the celebration of the birth of our Saviour is a time for deep theological reflection was evidently an opinion shared by the writers of the most familiar and loved of Christmas carols.   Think of these words from what Charles Wesley called his Hymn for Christmas Day later retitled Hark the Herald Angels Sing by George Whitefield:


Veil'd in Flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th' incarnate Deity!
Pleas'd as Man with Men t'appear,
Jesus our Emmanuel here.


Since the days of Wesley and Whitefield the last two lines have been further revised to “Pleased as Man with Men to dwell/Jesus our Emmanuel” but the import is the same and it is also the same as that of John 1:14 – God came down and took on human flesh and dwelt among us.


Or think of the second stanza of Adeste Fideles, known in English as O Come, All Ye Faithful, the composition of which is uncertain but which was first published to our knowledge by John Francis Wade in the eighteenth century (Frederick Oakeley was the translator for the English version):


Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine
Gestant puellæ viscera
Deum verum, genitum non factum.


Or in English:


God of God, light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God, begotten, not created.


This is largely taken from the Nicene Creed.   It comes from the section of the Creed that addresses the Arian heresy that the Nicene Council was convened to deal with. (1)   These words were put in to make it absolutely clear that the Jesus in Whom the Church places her faith is God, co-equal and co-eternal, with the Father.   The middle line references the ancient hymn Te Deum Laudamus traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan.


Later in the carol we find this more direct reference to John 1:14:


Patris aeterni Verbum caro factum.


A literal translation would be “The Word of the Eternal Father made flesh”.   In the usual English version it is rendered:


Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.


This, the Incarnation, is the key theological truth of Christmas.   While the Gospel message is focused on the events of Good Friday and Easter, in which Jesus took our sins upon Himself, paid the penalty as our Redeemer, defeated the foes who had long held us captive – sin, the devil, death, hell – and rose triumphant over them from the grave, none of this would have been possible without the events of Christmas, without the Incarnation.   Just as the joy of the empty tomb and the encounters with the risen Lord could not have been had there not first been the sorrow and the suffering of the Cross, so there could have been neither Cross nor empty tomb, had there not first been that birth in the stable in Bethlehem.  The road to Calvary – and what came after – began at the manger.


There are some who like to tell us that “Logos” in John 1:14, and the entire Johannine preamble to which it belongs, should not have been translated “Word” in English.   The English word “Word”, they tell us, does not do justice to the Greek word.   While they are partly right in that the Greek word has a lot more meaning to unpack than is suggested by its English equivalent it is very wrong to say that any word other than “Word” could properly render Logos in the Gospel of St. John.   To render it otherwise, as Reason perhaps, or Logic, might bring out some of the philosophical implications of Logos, but would lose the significance that St. John himself attached to Logos in using it to identify Him Who became Incarnate and was born of the Virgin.   The very first words of the preamble “En archei” are an obvious allusion to the first words of Genesis – “in the beginning”.   After asserting of the Logos that He was with God and that He was God – two Persons, co-equal, co-eternal – , and repeating for emphasis that He was in the beginning with God, the very next thing St. John says of the Logos is “panta di’ autou egeneto kai choris auto egeneto oude hen ho gegonen”.  The Authorized Bible faithfully and accurately renders that as “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made”.   This too alludes to the first chapter of Genesis. 


The first verse of Genesis says “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth”.   This introduces us explicitly to the Father, the God with Whom, the Logos/Word was in the beginning according to John 1:1.   God the Son, the Logos/Word through Whom all things were made is implicit in the verse.   The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, is introduced to us in the second verse “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”   Then in the third verse He Who was implicit in the first is brought out into the open and introduced to us explicitly “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light”.


These words “And God said” occur throughout the Creation account.   The sixth verse “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”   The ninth verse “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” The eleventh verse “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.”   Verses fourteen to fifteen “ And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.”   The twentieth verse “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”   The twenty fourth verse: “And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”   Finally the twenty-sixth verse “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”


When St. John says of the Word, “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made”, this summarizes the entire first chapter of Genesis.  God the Father created all things by speaking them into existence.   God the Son is the living Word thus spoken through Whom the Father created all things. This is Who St. John tells us “was made flesh and dwelt among us”.     So, as usual, the translators of the Authorized Bible got it right, and the preachers who like to think they are a lot smarter than they actually are have it wrong.   (2) Word, and only Word, is the right word for Logos in the English of John 1:1-14.


The All-Powerful Word of God, Who was with God the Father from the beginning, and sharing His divine essence is Himself God, became flesh and dwelt among us.   He was, as He Himself told Nicodemus in John 3:16, God’s gift to us – the first Christmas gift.

The response that this calls for from us is that of the refrain of Adeste Fideles:


O come, let us adore Him

O come, let us adore Him

O come, let us adore Him

Christ the Lord.


Merry Christmas!





 (1)   Speaking of the Nicene Council, the sixth century Church historian Theodorus Lector in his Historia Tripartita lists the Right Reverend Nicholas, Bishop of Myra as having been in attendance.   Yes, that is the Saint Nicholas.  According to later legends, he slapped either Arius himself or one of the heresiarch’s followers in the face at the Council.

(2)   Preachers who think they are a lot smarter than they actually are tend to come out of the woodworks at this time of the year.   There are those who like to tell us that Jesus couldn’t have been born in December and that the Church borrowed a pagan holiday when she made December 25th Christmas.   Hippolytus of Rome, who died almost a century prior to the first Council of Nicaea wrote that Jesus was born eight days before the kalends of January, and a December birth is the implication of the account of the angel’s visit to Zechariah in St. Luke’s Gospel.  Zechariah was of the division of Abijah that served in the Temple during the week of Yom Kippur in September/October.  The sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, therefore, would have been March/April, when the conception of Jesus took place, making His birth in December/January.   Then there are those who claim Jeremiah 10 forbids Christmas trees.   These might have a point if anyone burned incense to a Christmas tree, offered it a sacrifice, or prayed to it, but as this is not what is typically done with Christmas trees, which are decorations not idols, these preachers merely prove themselves to be Pharisaical clowns of the worst sort.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Your Holiday Reading Assignment


At the beginning of this, the first week in Advent, we in the Dominion of Canada were given an early Christmas gift.   On Monday the book Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (And the Truth About Residential Schools) was released.   This book was co-written by C. P. Champion, historian and editor of the Dorchester Review and Tom Flanagan, historian, political scientists, and former adviser to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.   It was co-published by Dorchester Books, the book imprint of the semi-annual history journal that Champion edits, and by True North Media, the online media company that is one of the few sources of news in our country not under the thumb of the current Prime Minister, the evil Captain Airhead.   A foreword was contributed by the Right Honourable Baron Black of Crossharbour.   The book, from the description of it provided by its publishers, addresses the many misconceptions, partial truths, and outright lies that a far too large percentage of the population have accepted with regards to the Indian Residential Schools since Canada’s corrupt and dishonourable mainstream media, with the backing of our corrupt and dishonourable politicians and academics, turned the announcement of the discovery of ground disturbances on the site of the former Kamloops Residential School a couple of summers ago into a pretext for launching a disgusting campaign of hate directed against our country, her founders, her historical leaders, and her churches.


This is a book notice rather than a review.   I have not had the opportunity to read the book myself, yet, having only just learned of it this week, and am not in the habit of reviewing books that I have not read.   I am familiar with the writers and publishers, however, and on that basis am quite confident that it is everything it advertises itself to be and on those grounds am comfortable with recommending it to others.


The timing of this book’s release could not be more fortuitous.   On 30 November, the Canadian Press reported that John Robertson, a municipal counsellor in Murray Harbour, Prince Edward Island, had been suspended for six months, fined $500 and ordered to write a letter of apology, for displaying a sign on his own property that said “Truth: Mass grave hoax” and “Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A.’s integrity”.   There was nothing wrong with that sign.   When the CBC and other mainstream media outlets took the Kamloops band’s announcement that it had discovered what it believed to be unmarked graves, a claim that as it turned out itself exceeded what its evidentiary basis could support, and exaggerated that into a claim of mass graves, hoax is indeed the appropriate word to describe it.   That anybody, anywhere in this country, could be suspended from duty and fined for standing up for the reputation of the leading Father of Confederation, our first and greatest Prime Minister, is obscene.     This incident, however, is an indicator of something much larger that is underway in our country.    The forces in media, academia and government, bent on tearing apart the foundation of our country and civilization, who have latched on to the Residential Schools narrative as a means of accomplishing their unholy, Satan inspired, Year Zero, Cultural Maoist ends, have grown bolder in their intolerance of any dissent from their narrative as the flimsy from the onset evidentiary support for that narrative has eroded away to nothing due to the efforts of researchers, such as those associated with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy here in Winnipeg, who have been willing to examine that evidence.   They have weighed it in the balance over and over again, and as with King Belshazzar in the book of Daniel, it has been found to be wanting every time.   The Cultural Maoists are demanding that these researchers and everyone who repeats their findings be silenced.   There is even a movement in Parliament to outright criminalize disagreement with the narrative.


This is why it is so timely that a book like this, challenging that narrative head on, has appeared.   It is also why it is imperative that we get it into the hands of as many Canadians as possible.


Get your copy today.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Sheep and Goats, Law and Gospel

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:  And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.  Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Matthew 25:31-46


The Parable of the Sheep and Goats occurs at the very end of a long discussion by Jesus that is traditionally called the Olivet Discourse after the location where it was given, the Mount of Olives.    This sermon occupies two chapters in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.   Much more abridged versions of it can be found in the Gospels according to SS Mark and Luke.   It was given on the Tuesday of Passion Week, that is, the Tuesday after His Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and prior to His Crucifixion on Good Friday.   The occasion of His giving this sermon was His having told His disciples that not one stone would be left on another of the Second Temple, prompting the disciples to ask Him when this would be and when would be the time of His Coming.


The Olivet Discourse as a whole has long been a hermeneutical conundrum.   Is it eschatological, that is to say, talking about the events that will take place at the very end of temporal history at what we after the Ascension would call the Second Coming of Christ?   Is it historical, that is to say, discussing events that took place within the first century, specifically when the Roman army led by Titus crushed the Jewish rebellion and destroyed the Temple.  Much of the language within the Sermon is apocalyptic, suggesting that it is eschatological.   The context, however, suggests the historical interpretation since it was certainly the events of AD 70 to which Jesus was referring when He predicted the dismantling of the Temple.


The closest thing to a traditional consensus is to say that the Olivet Discourse pertains to both the events of AD 70 and those that will occur at the end of time because the disciples had, without realizing it, asked a question about both by conflating the Destruction of the Temple that Jesus had been talking about with His Second Coming which, of course, they would not have conceived of as a Second Coming at that point in time.    Accepting this consensus does not solve the interpretive problem, however, because the question then becomes how does the Discourse pertain to the events of the first century and those of the end of time?   Is it a matter of everything in the Discourse having a double reference, first to the events of AD 70 and second to the events surrounding the Second Coming?   Or does part of the Discourse refer to the Destruction of the Temple and part to the end of time?


Something in between these two seems the most likely answer.  The parts of the Discourse that most obviously are speaking of the Destruction of the Temple could easily be understood as having a secondary reference to the Second Coming.   There are other parts of the Discourse, however, where the reference to the end of time is quite clear but which would require a great deal of text-torture to fit the events of AD 70.  The Parable of the Sheep and Goats is one of these parts.


The Parable presents us with a different sort of interpretive conundrum.   It seems to be teaching that salvation is a reward for good works.   How do we reconcile this with the rest of the New Testament that teaches that salvation is a gift and not a reward for works?


A few observations are in order.


The first is that the Parable is about the Last Judgement.   This is why works are in focus here.   Works are the subject matter of all judgement, temporal or final.   That is the nature of judgement.   To judge is to pronounce what someone has done to be either good and praiseworthy or bad and worthy of condemnation.   The question, therefore, is not so much how this Parable squares with the New Testament teaching of salvation by grace but how the idea of a Last Judgement squares with the idea of salvation by grace.   The Parable, as we shall see, sheds a lot of light on the answer to this question.


The second observation is that in the Parable the works are not what determines who is a sheep and who is a goat.   It is amazing how often this obvious detail is overlooked.   The Parable does not say that the Judge will say to some people, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me and for this reason I count you as my sheep” and that He will say to others “I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not and for this reason I count you as goats”.   No, they are divided into sheep and goats first, then the judgement of each takes place.


The reason that it is important to note this is because of our third observation: the Parable does not say that the corporal works of mercy were done only by the sheep and never by the goats.   What it says is that in the Judgement the goats will be held strictly accountable and condemned for the slightest neglect or failure to do these works.   The sheep, on the other hand, will receive a very different sort of Judgement in which they are rewarded for the slightest example of their doing such works.


The difference in the way the two groups are judged is precisely the difference between Law and Gospel.   In the Law, God establishes His standard of righteousness, holds people strictly to account, and “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10).   The goats are those who receive Judgement according to the Law.   This is the Judgement that those who reject the Gospel will receive.


The Gospel is the Good News to people who deserve the Judgement the goats receive, and that is all of us, that God has given us His Only-Begotten Son to save us from our sin and the destruction it brings upon us through His death on the Cross for our sins and His Resurrection.   The salvation proclaimed in the Gospel is free and is received by believing in the Saviour given.   To believe in the freely given Saviour and His salvation, however, one must abandon all claim to reward based on his own merit and pronounce himself worthy of condemnation.   Hence the surprise on the part of the sheep to hear their works brought up in a commendatory way.  The sheep are those who had renounced their works, renounced the idea that they could merit any reward from God, pronounced themselves to be unprofitable servants, and put their trust in the freely given mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ.


That the Judge does commend their works and speak of their entrance into His Kingdom as a reward is itself an act of mercy and grace.   Their works most certainly did not merit this.   Held up to the strict scrutiny of the Law they would merit only the condemnation the goats received.   The Judge, not as Judge at His Second Coming but as Saviour at His First Coming, had taken their sin upon Himself that He might share His righteousness with them, and the cleansing of His blood had removed the sin from their works, that He might now at the Last Judgement, in an act of pure grace, commend them for the works that did not merit such commendation and could not be so commended apart from His saving mercy.



Friday, November 24, 2023

The Bad News and the Good News

There is a common trope in which someone says “I’ve got some good news and some bad news” and then tells both in such a way that the good news doesn’t really seem all that good.   For example, he might follow up by presenting one piece of news which horrifies his listener who then says something to the effect of “that’s terrible, what’s the good news” only to be told “that was the good news!”


God’s Word also contains good news and bad news.   Indeed, the very name of the good news in God’s Word is good news, for this is the meaning of the Greek word “euangelion” and the English word “Gospel” that translates it.   In a much older form of English the word good was distinguished from the word god by a long o rather than a double o and the word spel meant tidings or news.   Good news, therefore, was Godspel, which eventually contracted to our Gospel.   The bad news is not named bad news, but it is bad news.   By contrast with the good news and bad news in the popular trope, however, the bad news does not detract from or overshadow the goodness of the good news, but rather makes that goodness shine all the brighter.   It is because of the bad news that the good news is good news.


The bad news of the Bible is called the Law.   The Bible speaks of the Law with several different but related meanings.   The Law can be a Covenant, the Covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai.   It can also be the books that contain that Covenant and the historical narrative of its coming to be starting from the Creation of the world and ending with the death of Moses on the eve of Israel’s entering the Promised Land.  Used in this sense, the Law is one of the major divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.   Since the other parts of the Old Testament point back to the Law in various ways its name is sometimes used as shorthand for the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures.   Sometimes, however, the Law is used in a more abstract sense than these.   In this sense it means God expressing Himself and relating to people in His capacity as Sovereign Ruler over all His Creation, requiring that they do or don’t’ do certain things, promising the reward of blessing if they obey and threating punishment if they disobey.   The principle of the Law used in this sense is captured in Leviticus 18:4-5:


Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.  Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.


The Law is bad news because since the Fall of Man brought sin upon the entire human race nobody can meet the Law’s requirements.    Some people think that God accepts less than perfect performance of the righteousness He requires in the Law.   Such people have not thought this through very well.   If someone were brought before a human judge and charged with having brutally murdered his neighbour and this man’s lawyer were to argue that yes, his client has committed murder in this one instance but it needs to be weighed against all the people that he did not kill, we would regard the judge as incompetent and unfit for his office if he were to accept this spurious reasoning and set the defendant free.   Since we expect better than that from human judges, how much less ought we to expect that the Supreme Judge Who is perfect in His Justice will act in this manner.    The Apostle James tells us:


For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (Jas. 2:10)


In actuality, of course, our sin is much greater than that of St. James’ person who has offended in only one point.


The core of the Law, as God handed it down to Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai, is the famous Ten Commandments.   These God had written on two stone tablets.   Although the book of Exodus doesn’t spell this out, tradition and reason tell us that the first four were on the one tablet and the last six on the other.   This is because the first four Commandments are all about duties directly to God, whereas the last six are about duties to God that also affect our fellow man.   Here are the Commandments as they can be found in the twentieth chapter of Exodus following the preamble that reads “ I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”:


First Table


1.      Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2.      Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

3.     Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

4.      Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.


Second Table


5.       Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

6.      Thou shalt not kill.

7.      Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8.      Thou shalt not steal.

9.     Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

10.  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.


While certain commandments pertain particularly to thoughts (the tenth) and words (the ninth), the righteousness that God requires of people consists of keeping each of these in thought, word, and deed.   This is a point Jesus stressed in the ethical component of His teachings over and over again.   God demands of us a righteousness that is internal as well as external.   In the Sermon on the Mount He taught that being angry with someone without a cause violates the sixth commandment and that that lusting after a woman violates the seventh.   In Matthew 12:36 He warned “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”.


It has been often noted that the Ten Commandments are overwhelmingly negative in tone.   With the exception of the last of the first table and the first of the second table they are all prohibitions, “thou shalt nots”.   Jesus, famously, summarized the Commandments, and indeed, the entire Old Testament, in two positively worded commandments.   Asked what the great commandment in the Law was, He said “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matt. 22:37).   This commandment comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 where it immediately follows after the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” in the preceding verse.   Jesus went on to say:


This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:38-40)


Unlike the Ten Commandments as worded in Exodus, both of these Commandments are positives, thou shalts, rather than thou shalt nots.   The truth of what Jesus says about all the law hanging on these can be seen in that the entire first Table of the Ten Commandments is summed up in the first and greatest commandment and the entire second Table is summed up in the second.    By reducing ten mostly negative commandments to two entirely positive ones, ones that are all about love even, Jesus does not make the Law any less bad news, however.    Note that the extent of the love required in these commandments is specified.   We are to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, in other words with all our being.   Can any of us say that we have loved God to that extent for even a second in our entire lives?    If we cannot say that then we must confess that we have been and are in constant, unremitted, violation of the greatest of God’s commandments our entire lives.


Jesus’ two commandment summary of the Law, therefore, must not be understood, as many unthinkingly misunderstand it, as a softening of the message of the Law.   It is not the Gospel that Jesus summed up in the two commandments, but the Law, the bad news.   Indeed, stripped down to its very essence in the two commandments, its message of bad news is more glaring, more obvious.   The message is that we must abandon all hope that when we come to the end of our lives and stand before our Creator and Judge to give an account that we will be able to present to Him in our account of our lives the righteousness that He is looking for, the righteousness that will satisfy His demands.     This is the bad news message of the Law.   The message is what it is, it needs to be said, not because of a defect in the Law, not because God’s standards are too high, but because of a defect in us, because we are sinful and wicked.


The bad news of the Law is the dark background against which the good news of the Gospel shines bright.


We turn now to that good news.   The most well-known and well-loved verse in all the Scriptures, John 3:16, has often been called “the Gospel in a nutshell” and deservedly so.   That verse reads:


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.


The Gospel starts with the love of God.   The bad news of the Law tells us that we are sinners who cannot meet the righteous standards of our Creator.    The Gospel tells us that nevertheless God loves us.   Furthermore, it tells us that because God loves us, He acted.   He gave us a gift.   Not just any gift, He gave us that which is most precious to Him, His only-begotten Son.   Not His “one and only Son” as recent mistranslations would have it – God has plenty of children by creation and adoption – but His only-begotten Son, His only non-created, natural Son, Who shares His essence, and is therefore Himself God, not a different God, for God is essentially One, but the same God as His Father.  


When the Bible says that God gave us His only-begotten Son this means that He sent Him into the world to be born into the human race and become One of us.   The account of how He did so is a very familiar one.   A little over two thousand years ago the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin named Mary with the message that she was highly favoured by God and that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and cause her to conceive and bear a Son Whose name was to be Jesus and Who would be the Son of God.   An angel was also sent to her fiancé Joseph to assure him that Mary had not been unfaithful, that her child was the Son of God, and that he was to take her as his wife and raise the child.    The couple, who were descendants of King David, had to travel to Bethlehem due to a census ordered by Augustus Caesar and while there, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable, for there was no room in the inn.   Angels appeared in the sky nearby and announced the birth of the Messiah – the long promised Saviour King of David’s line – to shepherds tending their flocks, who went to see Him and found Him where the angels said they would, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.   Wise men from the east, guided by a star, arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to pay homage to Him.   The story of these events, recorded in the early chapters of the Gospels according to Saints Matthew and Luke, has been told around the world on the anniversary of their occurrence for two thousand years.   God’s gift of His only-begotten Son was the world’s first Christmas gift.


The purpose for which God in His love gave us His only-begotten Son is clearly stated.   That purpose was that all who believe in God’s Son would not perish but have everlasting life.   Everlasting life here does not mean merely life that lasts forever, but life in the eternal Kingdom of God, from which all evil is forever banished.   It is the opposite of what it means here to perish, i.e., to go before God as one’s Judge, weighed down with the guilt of all one’s sins, receive the sentence justly due those sins, and face the eternal consequences of one’s wickedness.  


Now, since the message of the Law, the Bible’s bad news, is that we are all sinners who deserve to perish, how does God’s Christmas gift to the world of His only-begotten Son effect its intended result that we, instead of perishing, have everlasting life in His eternal kingdom?


The events we remember at Easter are needed along those we commemorate at Christmas to complete God’s message of good news.


In the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul declared “unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand” (v. 1).   Here is that declaration:


For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. (vv. 3-8)


The list of witnesses is the evidence St. Paul gives for the truth of the Gospel he preached, which consists of the events remembered on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday – the death of Christ for our sins, His burial, and His Resurrection.   Jesus Christ died for our sins.   He had no sins of His own.   While the eternal Son of God became truly One of us when He entered the Virgin’s womb and was born into the human race, the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Trinity Who worked the miracle whereby the Son of God became Man, prevented His human nature for bearing the taint of Adam’s Original Sin.    The devil tempted Him to sin, as St. Mark mentions in his Gospel with fuller accounts provided by SS Matthew and Luke, but He did not succumb to the temptation.  He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).    Therefore, when He allowed Himself to be crucified that He might die a criminal’s death, it was for our sins that He died.   St. Paul elsewhere says:


For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.  (2 Cor. 5:21).


St. Peter put it this way:


For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (1 Pet. 3:18)


Jesus, the Son of God, the only Man Who could face the Law and meet its demands, took the guilt of our sins upon Himself and paid for them, so that He could share His Own perfect righteousness with us.    Death having no claim on Him other than our sins which He freely took on Himself, having paid for our sins with His death, He defeated death and rose again from the grave, never to die again.   His eternal resurrection life, He shares with us along with His righteousness.

This is how in the events of Easter weekend, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, accomplished the end for which God had given Him to the world as the first Christmas gift.    The account of Jesus Christ, from Christmas to Easter, is the Bible’s good news, the Gospel.   It is good news because it tells us how God in His love, has given us a Saviour Who met the need which the Bible’s bad news, the Law, has revealed in us, our lack of righteousness due to our sin.


The Gospel, the good news, operates on a very different basis from the “this do, and thou shalt live” basis of the Law, the bad news.   The Gospel, in its unadulterated, Scriptural, form does not first tell us about Jesus, then call on us to perform some act on our part in order to benefit from Christ and His work.    In the Law God says “do”, in the Gospel He says “it is finished”. The Gospel is good news to everyone who believes it for it is to those who believe the Gospel, who believe in Jesus Christ Whom the Gospel is all about, that the promises of the Gospel, such as that of everlasting life in John 3:16, are addressed.    The Law is powerless to produce in us the obedient righteousness it requires of us (Rom.8:3).    The Gospel creates in us the very faith to which it speaks by providing us with Someone in Whom to believe.

 Believe in Him.


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The False Climate Religion


Through science, technology, and industry we have achieved a very high standard of living, measured in terms of material prosperity, in Western Civilization since the beginning of the Modern Age and especially the last two centuries.    Prosperity in itself is not a bad thing.   We have a tendency, however, in our fallen sinfulness to respond to prosperity inappropriately.   The inappropriate way to respond to prosperity is to look at it with self-satisfaction, thinking that it is due entirely and only to our own effort and ingenuity, and to forget God, from Whom all blessings flow, as the doxology says.  There is a lot of sin in this attitude, especially the sin of ingratitude.   This sin is an invitation to God to take away His blessings and curse us instead.     It is a sin of which we have been most guilty as a civilization.   That we have been so guilty and have forgotten our God is evident in how we now refer to ourselves as Western Civilization rather than Christendom – Christian Civilization.


The appropriate thing for us to do would be to repent.   These familiar words were spoken by the Lord to King Solomon on the occasion of the completion and consecration of the Temple but the message contained within them is one that we would do well to apply to ourselves today:


If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)


Now, imagine a man who in his prosperity becomes self-satisfied and forgets God.   His conscience keeps nagging at him but unwilling to humble himself, pray, seek God, and repent, he misinterprets his guilty feelings and concludes that his prosperity is the problem and not his ingratitude and his having forgotten God.   In an attempt to assuage this misdirected guilt, he decides to sacrifice his prosperity to an idol.   He does so, however, in such a way, that it is his children more than himself who end up suffering.


What ought we to think of such a man?   Does he deserve commendation for trying to make things right, albeit in an ill-informed and ineffective way?   Or does he deserve rebuke for piling further errors and sins upon his initial sin of forgetting God?


“Thou art the man” as the prophet Nathan said to King David in 2 Samuel 12:7 after telling a story that prompted the king to unknowingly condemn himself in the affair of Bathsheba.   Or rather, we all “art the man”.   For this is precisely what we as a civilization have done or are in the process of doing.


For centuries, ever since the start of the Modern Age, Western Civilization has been turning its back on its heritage from Christendom.   Indeed, the conversion of the Christian civilization of Christendom into the secular civilization of the West could be said to have been the ultimate goal of liberalism, the spirit that drove the Modern Age, all along.   The liberal project and the Modern Age were more or less complete with the end of the Second World War and since that time Westerners have been abandoning the Church and her God in droves.    In the same post-World War II era we have reaped the harvest in material prosperity sown through centuries of scientific discoveries.   These were made possible because at the dawn of Modern science people still believed in the God Who created the world and that therefore there is order in the world He created to be discovered.   This is the basis of all true scientific discovery.


Collectively, we feel guilty for abandoning God, but we have not been willing, at least not yet, to return to Him on a civilizational scale.   Sensing that we have incurred divine displeasure, but not willing to admit to ourselves that our apostasy from Christianity and forgetting the True and Living God is the problem, we have instead blamed our material prosperity and the means by which we attained it.   By means, I don’t mean science, which we have been so far unwilling to blame because we have transferred our faith in God onto it and turned it into an idol, but rather our industry, aided and enhanced by science.    


Just as we have transferred our guilt for having forgotten God in our material prosperity onto the industry that we put into attaining that prosperity, which so laden with transferred guilt we usually call capitalism after the name godless left-wing philosophers and economists gave to human industry when they bogeyfied it in their efforts to promote their Satanic alternative, socialism, the institutionalization of the Deadly Sin of Envy, so we have transferred the sense of impending judgement from God for abandoning Him, onto industry.   We have done this by inventing the crackpot idea that such things as burning fuels to heat our homes in winter, cook our food and get about from place to place, and even raising livestock to feed ourselves, are releasing too much carbon dioxide, methane, etc. into the atmosphere and that this is leading to an impending man-made climate apocalypse in which temperatures rise (or plummet depending on which false prophet of doom is talking), polar ice caps melt, the coasts are inundated from rising sea levels, and extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity. 


To prevent this climactic apocalypse, we have convinced ourselves, we must appease the pagan nature deities we have offended with sacrifice.   We must sacrifice our efficient gasoline-powered vehicles and agree to drive ridiculously expensive electric vehicles, even when travelling long distance in Canada in the dead of winter.   We must sacrifice heating our homes in winter and grow accustomed to wearing enough layers to make Eskimoes look like Hawaiian hula girls in comparison indoors all winter long.   We must sacrifice the hope of affordable living and watch the cost of everything go up and up and up.   We must sacrifice the future of the generations who will come after us


Those of us who express skepticism towards all this are mocked as “science deniers” even though this new false religion is not scientific in the slightest.   Carbon dioxide, which is to plant life what oxygen is to ours, treated as a pollutant?   The seas rising from all that floating ice melting?   You would have to have failed elementary school science to accept this nonsense.   It is certainly incredible to anyone with a basic knowledge of history and who grasps the concept of cause and effect.   The Little Ice Age ended in the middle of the nineteenth century.   When an Ice Age ends a warming period begins.   This is one of the causes of the boom in human industry at the end of the Modern Age, not its effect.   It is a good thing too, for humans, animals, plants and basically all life on earth, because live thrives more in warmer periods than colder ones.  Anyone who isn’t a total airhead knows this.


Speaking of total airheads, Captain Airhead, whose premiership here in the Dominion of Canada was already too old in the afternoon of his first day in office, has been using that office as a pulpit to preach this false climate religion for the duration of the time he has been in it.   Recently, in response to his popularity having plunged lower than the Judecca, he granted a three year exemption on his carbon tax for those who heat their homes with oil, which, as it turns out, benefits Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada and hardly anyone else.   Faced with demands from across Canada that he grant further exemptions, he has so far resisted, and with the help of the Lower Canadian separatists, defeated the Conservative motion in the House, backed by the socialists, for a general home heating exemption.   Hopefully this will speed his departure and the day we can find a better Prime Minister to lead His Majesty’s government in Ottawa.  The point, of course, is that by granting even that partial exemption, for nakedly political purposes, Captain Airhead by his actions admitted what he still denies with his words, that the world is not facing imminent destruction because of too much carbon dioxide.


Captain Airhead’s climate religion and its doomsday scenario have been proven false let us turn to the words of St. Peter and hearing what the true religion has to say about the coming judgement:


But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.  Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?  Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.   Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.  (2 Peter 3:7-14)


It may be today, it may be a thousand years from now, we don’t know, but when God has appointed it to happen, it will happen, and there is nothing we can do that will prevent it.   Instead of trying to do the impossible, prevent it, we should rather prepare ourselves for it, by doing what the Apostle recommends in the above passage, the avoidance of which is as we have seen, the source of this false climate religion.   For if we turn back in repentance to the God we have forgotten, we can look forward to His coming again in fiery judgement with faith and hope and peace and sing, in the words of gospel songwriter Jim Hill:


What a day that will be When my Jesus I shall see And I look upon his face The one who saved me by his grace When he takes me by the hand And leads me through the Promised Land What a day, glorious day that will be!






Friday, November 3, 2023

Dr. Luther’s Trick and Treat


Sola Fide as Catholic Truth


We are in Allhallowtide, the period long ago set aside by the Church for the remembrance of those who have passed on before us.   It begins on the 31 October, All Hallows’ Eve, so called because on sacred calendars days are counted from evening to evening, not from midnight to midnight as in secular calendars, and 1 November is All Saints Day.   All Hallows’ Eve is also the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation for it is on that day in 1517 that Dr. Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg.   This was a great trick on the corrupt Roman Patriarch and those who accepted his usurped supreme jurisdiction over the Church because the Ninety-Five Theses were a devastating critique of corrupt practices, like the sale of indulgences, that the Roman Patriarch – at the time it was Leo X – was using to raise funds.   Soon thereafter, Dr. Luther would provide a wonderful treat for Christian souls by hosing down the doctrine of justification, as taught by St. Paul in the New Testament, and washing away all the mud that had accumulated to obscure it so that it could be viewed in all its peace-and-assurance bringing clarity.


Dr.  Luther is often quoted as having said that justification is the article on which the Church stands or falls.   If you go looking through the corpus of Dr. Luther’s works for the exact phrase you will not find it, although you will find the idea stated in different words in multiple places, and the earliest attribution of the saying to him is close enough to his own time that there is no good reason to question its authenticity.   Justification, in the quotation, means the doctrine of justification by faith alone.


The Roman Church took a rather different view of the doctrine.   In the Council of Trent, which met from 1545 to 1563 to address the Reformation, the Roman Church pronounced an anathema upon justification by faith alone in the fourteenth canon of the Council’s sixth session in 1547, although the doctrine condemned in the canon is worded in such a way as to be unrecognizable as that which Dr. Luther and the other Reformers taught.       Here are the words of the canon:


If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.


In the doctrine condemned by this canon, the only content identified for this faith is that one is absolved and justified.   If this were the only content of one’s faith, the Roman Church would indeed be right in condemning the idea that such faith by itself absolved and justified one, for that idea would amount to the claim that one can make something be true by believing it.   You find that sort of idea in a lot of fuzzy, pop, New Age, thinking today, but you will look in vain to find it in the writings of Dr. Luther or Zwingle or Calvin or Archbishop Cranmer.  


The Reformation article is quite otherwise than the caricature that is condemned in the Roman canon.   In the Reformation article, the Gospel is the content of saving faith.   The Gospel is the Good News about everything God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  We needed a Saviour because of our sins and God gave us a Saviour, the Saviour He had promised from the Fall.   This Saviour is God’s Only-Begotten Son, that is to say, the Son Who is eternally begotten of God the Father, shares the Father’s nature, and so, like the Father and the Holy Ghost, is the One True God.   God gave Him to us in the Incarnation, in which the Son of God came down to Earth from Heaven, and took on our nature through a miracle wrought by the Holy Ghost in which He was conceived and born to the Virgin Mary and so became fully Man while remaining fully God.   Through this miracle, His human nature was not tainted with sin like ours and so He lived out the righteousness God requires of us all but which we are unable to produce because of our sin.   Then, rejected by the leadership of the people into which He had been born, He was condemned in a mock trial, and crucified at the order of a Roman governor who knew Him to be innocent but wished to appease the mob.   He submitted to this meekly in order that He Who had committed no sin, much less a crime, might die the death of a criminal.   Dying that death, He did what only One Who was both God and sinless Man could do, which was take the burden of all the guilt of the sins of the entire world upon Himself and pay for them once and for all.   Having so expiated the sins of the world and remaining sinless in Himself Death had no claim on Him. He entered Death’s Kingdom as Conqueror and rose triumphantly from the Grave before Ascending back to the right hand of the Father.   By doing all of this Jesus effected the salvation of the world on our behalf and the benefits of that salvation are promised in the Gospel to whosoever believes in Him.


Note how I worded that last sentence.  If you compare that with what the Roman canon condemns another way in which the canon misrepresents the Reformation doctrine should become clear.   Faith’s role is not to effect our absolution and justification.   That is what Jesus did in the events of the Gospel.   Our faith’s role is to receive absolution, justification, and indeed, all of the salvation that has been given to us freely in our Saviour Jesus.


This is where the stress needs to be when talking about faith in respect to salvation – that its role is that of the hand that receives the free gift which God has given us in Jesus Christ.   Unless we are clear that the role of faith in God’s plan of salvation is instrumental, and instrumental on our part – how we receive the gift God has given – as opposed to instrumental on God’s part – how He brings, confers, and bestows the gift of Jesus Christ and His salvation upon us – justification by faith alone does not make sense.  Sola fide is in the ablative case.   It does not mean just “faith alone” but “by faith alone” and what this expression means is that it is by faith alone that we receive the gift of salvation.   It does not mean that faith, by itself, so pleases God that on the intrinsic merits of faith He accepts us despite our plentiful bad works and deficiency in good ones.   It does not mean that the only thing Christianity asks of people is faith or, to put it another way, that Christianity consists only of believing.   It means that the task of faith in the order of salvation – the receiving, on our part, of the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ – belongs to faith alone, and that nothing else can either substitute for faith or add to faith in the reception of salvation.


That this is what Dr. Luther’s article of justification by faith alone means cannot be emphasized enough.   For while the Church of Rome, in whose eyes Dr. Luther had been poking his fingers, was the only ancient Church to pronounce a formal condemnation of the article, none of the other ancient Churches, except our English Church which joined the Reformation, embraced it.   They regarded it as a novelty because the Fathers, doctors, and theologians of the ancient Churches had not been in the habit of using the word “alone” in conjunction with “faith”.   Neither did St. Paul in the Bible.   What was meant by Sola Fide, however, that faith is the only hand we have with which to receive the gift of salvation, was clearly taught in other words by St. Paul.   We shall have more to say about that shortly.   First I wish to observe that just as the Roman Church’s formal condemnation of Sola Fide at the Council of Trent did not condemn Sola Fide as Dr. Luther taught it, that faith is the sole means by which we appropriate to ourselves the gift of salvation, but a weird caricature of it in which belief creates its own reality, so none of the reasons that the other ancient Churches gave for not affirming it speak to what the article actually says.


Consider the objection based upon the role of baptism.   At the end of St. Peter’s sermon on the first Whitsunday (the Christian Pentecost) in the second chapter of Acts, the crowd, under heavy conviction of sin, asked the Apostles “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” and received the answer from St. Peter “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”   Other passages can be pointed to that stress the role of baptism (1 Peter 3:21, Rom. 6:3-6, Mk. 16:16).   These verses, however, do not say that the role of baptism is the same as that of faith, that of a hand receiving a gift.   Nor is that the Catholic – held by all Christians, everywhere, at all times – understanding of the role of baptism.   Baptism is linked by the Scriptures to three distinct aspects of salvation – regeneration or the new birth, our sins being washed away, and our being joined in union with Jesus Christ.   Baptism is not how we receive these salvific blessings, however, but the ordinary means by which God bestows them upon us.    


I will try to make the distinction clearer.   God has given us salvation in our Saviour Jesus Christ.    This took place in the events of the Gospel, from the Incarnation to the Ascension, two millennia ago.   For that salvation to be ours, however, two things must happen.  1.  God must bring the salvation He has given us in Jesus to us.  2.   We must appropriate it to ourselves.    Both of these things involve the use of means or instruments.   God uses means to bring the salvation He has given us to us.   We use means to receive it to ourselves.   The means God uses to bring Jesus Christ and His salvation to us are the Church and her ministries of Word and Sacrament.   The means we use to appropriate Jesus Christ and His salvation to us is faith.


Baptism is the Sacrament that God ordinarily uses as His means, along with the Ministry of the Word, in bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ to us for the first time.   This is why it is connected specifically to regeneration, cleansing from sin, and union with Christ.  These are the aspects of salvation that are most prominent as the beginning of the Christian life.    Faith is the means by which we appropriate this salvation to ourselves and make it truly ours.   Baptism is the means God ordinarily uses to confer, faith is the means we always use to receive.  


A few words are in order here about what is meant by “ordinarily” and “always”.   It should not be surprising that we speak of the means God uses as ordinary but the means we use as absolute.   This merely means that God does not limit Himself to His appointed means, the way He limits us to ours.   What this means in practice with regards to baptism is that someone who hears the Gospel and believes in Jesus Christ will not be damned for lack of baptism.   This is why Jesus in Mark 16:16 promises salvation to those who believe and are baptized, but pronounces damnation only on those who do not believe.   It also means, however, that those who think this an excuse for neglecting baptism, ought to consider the account of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, and particularly verses 10-13.  


It is also important to note that while God always brings salvation, and more specifically regeneration, cleansing from sin, and union with Christ, to us in baptism, they are not ours unless we receive them by faith in Jesus Christ.   In the early Church controversies arose about the efficacy of baptism administered by those who had failed to be faithful witnesses in periods of persecution.   The orthodox Fathers, in answering the Novatians and later the Donatists, maintained soundly that the efficacy of the sacrament does not depend on the worthiness of the minister who administers it.  By the time of the Reformation, many in the Roman Church had twisted these arguments into arguments for the mechanical efficacy of the sacrament, that the salvation conferred through it is ours regardless of faith on our part.  The Reformers, rightly, upheld the original intent of the arguments of St. Augustine et al., that the efficacy of the Sacraments as channels of Grace was not overthrown by the sin of the minister, but, also rightly, rejected the mechanical view, and emphasized that Grace conferred is not received, except by faith.   The only benefit that one receives mechanically upon baptism is external, formal, membership in the Church.   To truly be united to her and her Saviour internally and spiritually requires that the Grace conferred in the Sacrament be received by faith in Jesus Christ.


Everything just said about baptism also applies to the other Gospel Sacrament, the Lord’s Supper.   Baptism is the Sacrament through which God bestows on us the initial Grace of regeneration, washing of sin, and union with Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Supper is the Sacrament through which God confers the Grace that sustains the new life in Jesus Christ, by feeding the believer with the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ as broken and shed for us on the Cross in His One True Sacrifice.   As with baptism, so with the Lord’s Supper, God uses the Sacrament as a channel to bestow Grace apart from the worthiness of the minister, but we only receive it by faith in Jesus Christ.


The orthodox understanding of the Sacraments as the ordinary means of Grace along with the ministry of the Word, therefore, does not conflict with Sola Fide.    The Sacraments and faith are both instrumental means by which the gift of salvation given to us in Jesus Christ becomes ours, but the Sacraments, or more properly the Church in both of her ministries, is the means God has appointed for Himself to bestow the gift upon us, and faith is the means, the only means, God has appointed for us to receive it.


Another objection to Sola Fide is on the grounds of the necessity of repentance.   While some answer this objection by pointing out that in the New Testament, at least, the word translated by repent literally means to change your mind, something that must necessarily occur whenever someone believes for the first time, this does not, I think, do justice to the Scriptural teaching on repentance.   Repentance is not just any change of mind but the kind illustrated by the Prodigal Son’s coming to himself and returning to his father.    The right answer to the objection is to say that while the necessity of repentance is certainly taught and emphasized in the Bible this does not mean that repentance does the same thing as faith, that it shares faith’s place in the Order of Salvation.  Note that in the preaching of John the Baptist, as well as St. Peter’s response to the crowd under conviction in Acts 2, repentance is linked with baptism, whereas in the passages that talk about the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry repentance is linked with faith.   Just as repentance does not perform the same function as baptism, neither does it perform the same role as faith.   It is linked to both because it performs the essential auxiliary function of breaking down the pride and self-righteousness which otherwise keep sinful human beings from recognizing their need for the salvation given in Christ, conferred in baptism, and received by faith.    Repentance, therefore, is not another hand with which to receive Grace alongside faith.   It can be likened to the act of emptying the hand that it might receive the gift.


This brings us back to the most common objection to Sola Fide, the claim that it was novel, invented in the sixteenth century by Dr. Luther.   This is, on the surface, the most plausible of these objections.   Those who make it appeal to both Scripture and tradition.   The appeal to Scripture consists of the argument that the expression “faith alone” appears only once in the Holy Scriptures and that one occurrence is St. James’ denial in the twenty-fourth verse of the second chapter of his Epistle.   The appeal to tradition is basically that the Church Fathers and those who succeeded them down to the sixteenth century did not speak of “faith alone”.   The first point I wish to make in response to this objection is that the important matter is not whether the Scriptures and Church tradition used the expression “faith alone” but whether or not the idea behind those words is contained in the Scriptures and tradition.    Once again, the idea behind Sola Fide, is that salvation is a gift that we have been given in our Saviour Jesus Christ, and that it is only by believing in Him that we receive this gift.    It does not deny to anything else its place in the Order of Salvation, it merely insists that the place assigned to faith is not shared by anything else, and especially not by human works.    When it is clearly understood that this is what the expression means, this seemingly plausible objection becomes nonsense, for this is clearly taught in the Scriptures, and is implicit in the doctrine that salvation is a gift that God has freely given us in Jesus Christ that is very much a part of the tradition of the Church.   Nobody thinks Sola Gratia was a novelty invented in the sixteenth century.


That salvation is a gift means that it cannot be by works and works are what Sola Fide explicitly excludes.   This is common sense.   Something that you get by working for it is not a gift.   It is a wage, a payment, a reward.   You are owed it not given it.   Not only is it common sense, it is Scripture.   St. Paul spelled it out for us explicitly in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Romans:


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. (Rom. 4:4-5)


These words make nonsense out of the claim that the only time the Scriptures mention “faith alone” is the denial in James 2;24.   Indeed, since the “alone” in “faith alone” means “and not by works”, Sola Fide is affirmed throughout the New Testament.   Here are a few examples:


Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal. 2:16)


For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.  (Eph. 2:8-9)


Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.  (2 Tim. 1:9)


Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Tit. 3:5)


Consider that last example.   Some try to explain St. Paul away by claiming that when he denied that we are saved by works he was talking only about ceremonial works and not moral works.    In 2 Timothy 1:9, however, it is clearly “works of righteousness” that St. Paul says we are not saved by.   His entire reasoning in Romans 4 that it cannot be by works because otherwise it would be of debt rather than Grace would collapse if it were only ceremonial and rather than moral works that were in view.


Once again we need to remember that Sola Fide means that faith does not share its place in the Order of Salvation, the place of the hand that receives the gift, with anything else.   It does not deny to anything else its proper place.   This is true of works as well.   St. Paul identifies for us what the proper place of works is in regards to salvation in the verse that follows immediately after those in the above verses from Ephesians:


For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.


The place of works in the Order of Salvation, is not prior to salvation as a cause, but after salvation as an effect.  I recently watched a video in which a clergyman claimed that Sola Fide was the weakest of the Reformation doctrines.   I won’t embarrass him by naming him since he is usually much sounder than this but he spent some time criticizing the idea that works are the evidence of faith, which he seemed to think to be the only role available for works in the Protestant scheme.   Evidence for whom, he asked?   For us?  For God?   Neither is very satisfactory.   Evidence of faith, however, is not the role assigned to works, but fruit of salvation.   As has been pointed out many times in the past it is a matter of getting things in their proper order, identifying the cause and effect.   We do not do good works in order to be saved.   We are saved in order that we might do good works. (1)


Aristotle in the third chapter of the second book of his Physics identified four different types of “causes”.   He explained the difference between them with the illustration of a statue.   Its material cause is that from which it is made, bronze, stone, whatever.   Its efficient cause is the sculptor who makes the statue from the material.   Its formal cause is the idea of the statue in the sculptor’s head to which he makes the material conform.   Its final cause is the purpose for which the sculptor makes the statue.   John Calvin in section 17 of Chapter XIV of the third book of his Institutes of Christian Religion borrows these terms and applies them to salvation saying that the efficient cause is “the mercy and free love of the heavenly Father towards us”, that the material cause is “Christ, with the obedience by which he purchased righteousness for us”, and the formal cause as “faith”.   Calvin erred slightly on this last point because he identified the formal cause with the instrumental cause.   Aristotle did not identify the instrumental cause in his Physics but if he had it would have been the hammer and chisel employed by the sculptor in his illustration.   As we have seen, since salvation is a gift, there are two kinds of instrumental causes, the instrument God uses to put the gift of salvation into our hands, the Church and her ministries, and the hand which receives it and is therefore instrumental on the part of the receiver, which is our faith.    What actually corresponds to Aristotle’s formal cause with regards to salvation is God’s eternal design.   It is rather amusing that John Calvin of all people got that wrong.  

Where do works fit into this?


Works share the same final cause as salvation.   Of the final cause of salvation, John Calvin says “The Apostle, moreover, declares that the final cause is the demonstration of the divine righteousness and the praise of his goodness.”  A simpler way of putting that would be “the glory of God”.   Numerous verses could be cited in support of the glory of God being the final cause, the end or telos, of salvation, but since this is not really a controversial point, I will reference only 1 Tim. 1:15-17.   Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:16) and St. Peter in his first epistle (chapter 2, verse 12) instruct their hearers/readers to do good works that thereby men would glorify God.   This tells us that the good works of the believer have the same telos as our salvation.   Works are not any kind of cause of our salvation, but our salvation is the material cause of our good works, the final cause of both being the glory of God.


St. James does not contradict this.   Earlier in the epistle, long before the controversial passage, he asserts that salvation is a gift:


Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (Jas. 1:17-18)


It is significant that he does not say this of the salvation and justification of which he writes in the controversial passage in his second chapter.   Nor does the word Grace appear in that passage, unlike the other key terms shared by the passage and the fourth chapter of Romans.   This, and the argument of St. Paul in Romans 4:4-5, indicates that whatever the salvation and justification St. James was talking about is it is not salvation/justification by Grace, justification/salvation as a gift of God.   St. James points further to that conclusion in the very verse that has caused so much difficulty:


Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.


The word “only” there is an adverb in Greek, modifying “justified”, not an adjective modifying “faith.”   St. James is saying there are two justifications, one by faith, one by works, not that faith and works are two causes of the same justification.   St. Paul himself seals that interpretation as the correct one when he writes:


For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. (Rom. 4:2)


That is St. Paul interpreting St. James.   Whatever St. James was talking about when he said Abraham was justified by works it was not justification before God which is a gift by Grace and therefore cannot be of works.


The only novelty in Dr. Luther’s article of justification by faith alone, was the wording.   That salvation is a gift that God gives us in Jesus Christ and not something we earn by our works is the plain teaching of the New Testament and it is the teaching of Catholic – belonging to the entire Church everywhere, at all times – tradition as well.   Sola Fide, that we receive this gift to ourselves only by the hand of faith in Jesus Christ, while not usually expressed in Dr. Luther’s wording prior the sixteenth century, is implicit in this Catholic doctrine of Sola Fide.   It is also required by the Catholic concept of good works as the fruit of a faith that works by love.   If the works of love are necessary, it is not the necessity of an imposed condition – do these or salvation is invalidated – because that kind of necessity would eliminate the distinction between the works of love and the works of the law.  Works of love are works of love, because the one who does them does them not in order to obtain God’s favour or out of the fear that he will lose God’s favour if he does not, but because he loves God.   Love cannot be produced by the compulsion of the Law.   That is the entire point of the Law.   Jesus summed up the Law in the commandments to love God and love our neighbour.   That should be regarded as the most sobering and terrifying words that Jesus ever spoke.  They were not words of comfort.   If love of God and love of our neighbour is what the Law demands, and these loves come with qualifications –we are to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbour as ourselves – then we are in constant violation of the two greatest commandments.   Not one of us has lived up to either of these for a second of our lives.   The works of love that are the fruit of salvation are the fruit of a love that God works in our hearts by His Grace, through the means of the Gospel, which assures us that God in His love has met the demands of the Law for us, both its demands for perfect righteousness and its demands for just punishment of our sin, in Jesus Christ, freeing us to love God, not because the Law demands it, but because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).   Ironically, that which the Roman Council of Trent feared most in Dr. Luther’s doctrine, which, as is obvious from their straw man caricature, was its assuring nature, is precisely what makes Sola Fide so essential to this Catholic truth of faith working by love.   It is only when one is assured through faith that he is secure in the freely given Grace of God in Jesus Christ that one is free to love God because God is so worthy of our love rather than to try and love God under the compulsion of the threats of the Law. 


All of this was clearly lost on the Church of Rome at the Council of Tent.    A recent Roman Patriarch, the late Benedict XVI, wrote:


For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).


This displayed far more understanding than his predecessors in the sixteenth century.   Such a pity that he was forced from St. Peter’s throne and replaced with the Clown Pretender that currently occupies it.


Happy All Hallowtide

(1) It is sometimes said in response to this that salvation is a process not just an event.   More elaborately put, there are three tenses to salvation.  There is salvation past, our being brought into God’s family, united with Jesus Christ, cleansed of past sins, justified, regenerated.   There is salvation present, in which we are progressively conformed into the image of Christ by the sanctifying work of God and in which we are cleansed and forgiven of our ongoing sins.   There is salvation future, in which we are perfected, and brought into the presence of God.   Sometimes this is put more simply as salvation from the guilt of sin (past), power of sin (present), and presence of sin (future).   Or they are just called justification, sanctification, and glorification.   The more simpler the version the more precision is sacrificed.  Justification and sanctification, at least, have past, present, and future aspects to each of them, just as they have both positional and practical aspects, corresponding to the two aspects of our union with Christ (positional = us in Christ, practical = Christ in us).   All of this is valid, but what we have stressed in the main body of this essay, is true of all of it.   Salvation in all of its tenses and aspects, is the gift of God.   All of it was accomplished for us by Jesus Christ in the events of the Gospel.   It is all given to us on the basis of Grace.   The means God has appointed to bring all of it to us is His Church and her ministries of Word and Sacrament.   Faith is always the hand by which we receive it.   None of this changes from salvation past, to salvation present, to salvation future, although the specific Sacramental ministry God uses to bring it to us changes from the not-to-be-repeated baptism of salvation past to the perpetual Lord’s Supper of salvation present.   Those things that have auxiliary roles, like repentance, may vary over the course of the progress of salvation present (the specifics of what repentance calls for depend on the situation).   The basics – salvation is a gift, it was accomplished by Jesus Christ in the events of the Gospel, it is brought to us through the ministry of the Church, we receive it by faith – never change, nor does the fact that our good works are always the fruit of salvation – in all of its aspects and tenses – and never the cause of it in any of its aspects or tenses.