Saturday, May 17, 2008
The relevant Scripture is:
Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
This was a creation ordinance. It is not part of the Mosaic law, and it was not fulfilled by Christ. We can see that it was not fulfilled by Christ, for example, from the fact that there is no record of (and no reason at all to suppose) Christ marrying. But more importantly, we can see it from the fact that it predates the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, and even predates the fall of man.
While we certainly should make disciples of all nations, spiritually being fruitful and multiplying and replenishing the earth and subduing it to the Gospel, that is not the primary sense of the text, but simply an application we can make via analogy. The primary sense is the literal sense.
We can determine this exegetically. Almost the same command shows up again after flood:
Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
From the two contexts in which see that command, we see that it is a command for literal procreation: a command to have children at more than a replacement rate.
If anyone will argue further, we can see that a similar commands were made with respect to animals:
21And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
So also, to Noah God said:
Genesis 8:17 Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.
And it is arguable whether God addressed the following command to the animals or Noah and his family, though the former seems more likely in context:
Genesis 9:7 And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.
Note as well as that this is not simply a command, but a blessing. Viewed as such, we should not consider it as an absolute command. It was not required, as Shelton seems to imagine, that men were required to have absolutely as many children as possible, without considering anything else. Indeed, if that were the case, one would expect to see Jesus with a large family and many children.
Even the papists recognize that the command was not absolute. Thus, they limit the command to married folks, and then further to married folks who engage in copulation. Ultimately, it is all for naught.
The command simply is not universal and unexceptional. There are men who are eunuchs - by nature, by their own will, or by imposition of others. There are women as well who are barren. Indeed, it is God who opens the womb.
Thus it is written:
Psalm 128:3 Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.
Genesis 29:31 And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
Psalm 127:3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
This is not simply for the Old Testament time. No, likewise in the New Testament it is the norm for men to have natural children:
Titus 1:6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
By natural children, I do not of course exclude adopted children, but simply differentiate between children physically and children spiritually.
There can be overlap, certainly. As Paul explains:
1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
You see, the mission field can begin in the bassinet or crib. We are to come to the Lord, and we are to bring our children, following the example here:
13And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
So, I must disagree with Shelton's apparent conclusion (which he qualifies by "one might argue that") "the Old Testament command was merely a prelude to the Great Commission." It is a prelude - for the promise to Abram:
Genesis 17:6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
is spiritually fulfilled in us, as Paul tells us. Nevertheless, it is a creation ordinance. It has not passed away, though it will (apparently) in heaven. For there:
Matthew 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.
May God's kingdom come!
Of course, they are also not Reformed doctrines in consequence of not being evangelical doctrines.
Ultimately though, we should be cautiously charitable in approaching professing believers who hold such errant views as open theism. There is an important difference between people simply being in error (due, for example, to inadequate teaching), and those who stubbornly resist the truth. By correctly identifying open theism as outside the evangelical walls, we must be careful not to insist that everyone must have a perfect understanding of every aspect of the nature of God in order to be saved.
I don't think Ware was trying to suggest anything to the contrary. Indeed, reading Ware's article, one can sense the tension in Ware, who would prefer to include Pinnock and other open theists within the walls of broad evangelicalism.
1. Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology
2. Benedict Pictet's Christian Theology
3. John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion
4. Herman Witsius' Economy of the Divine Covenants Between God and Man
5. Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology
6. W.G.T. Shedd's Dogmatic Theology
7. William Ames' Marrow of Sacred Divinity
Among the contemporary systematic theologies, I would rank in the first place Robert Reymond's New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (link to a bookstore that sells this book). At least the first six above are freely available on the internet, and Ames' Marrow is back in print, I believe.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
There is a new book out, entitled "The Evangelical Universalist." Its premise appears to be that Christ will save everyone, and that he will do so through the preaching of the gospel. (link to review/author interview) While one can appreciate the softness of heart that would motivate such a conclusion, it is not a Scriptural conclusion.
That there is a hell, a place of eternal death and corruption, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched is taught clearly in Scripture, from the very lips of Jesus (Mark 9:43-48, relying on Isaiah 66:24).
Moreover, Paul clearly states that those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be punished with “everlasting destruction” (ολεθρον αιωνιον) in 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
While we must preach the gospel without regard to how many God chooses to save, we may be touched in our empathy for our fellow sinners and spurred on to spread the gospel, by the fact that those who do not repent and believe will perish forever and by our knowledge that the means to their salvation is the preached Gospel of Christ.Therefore, we should call all men to repentance from sin and faith in the risen Lord, by whom alone there is victory over death.
There's another way that we can arrive at the conclusion too - which is the papist notion that Mary, as "Queen of Heaven," is the queen of Mercy (whereas Christ is not the King of Mercy, but the King of Justice, in the description below ... though he certainly is called the "King of Mercy" elsewhere in Roman Catholic writings).
The kingdom of God consisting of justice and mercy, the Lord has divided it; he has reserved the kingdom of justice for himself, and he has granted the kingdom of mercy to Mary, ordaining that all the mercies which are dispensed to men should pass through the hands of Mary, and should be bestowed according to her good pleasure. St. Thomas confirms this in his preface to the Canonical Epistles; saying that the holy virgin, when she conceived the Divine Word in her womb, and brought him forth, obtained the half of the kingdom of God by becoming Queen of Mercy, Jesus Christ remaining King of Justice.As reported here (link), and essentially confirmed here (link).
For comparison (link).
This title, "Queen of Mercy," is apparently even part of the ordinary (i.e. not extraordinary) teachings of the Vatican, for it can be found in the document, Marialis Cultus (link), subtitled: "For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary." In that document, it is written: "It is also important to note how the Church expresses in various effective attitudes of devotion the many relationships that bind her to Mary: ... in loving service, when she sees in the humble handmaid of the Lord the queen of mercy and the mother of grace ... ." (Marialis Cultus, paragraph 22, emphasis added)
Thus, we can see that this concept of Mary's alleged Queenship of Mercy is actually the standard teaching of the modern Roman Catholic church. One could argue that Marialis Cultis is written in such a way that it qualify as an ex cathedra proclamation under the standard enunciated by the first Vatican council, although I recognize that modern Roman Catholics would almost to a man not recognize it as such.
But this is not the teaching of Scripture. Scripture states that "the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." (James 5:11) Likewise, it tells us that God is "rich in mercy" (Ephesian 2:4). Furthermore, it clearly indicates that it is by his compassions and mercies that we are saved: "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. " (Lamentations 3:22)
And Scripture also teaches that God is sovereign in his mercy: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Romans 9:15) So then, it is purely the invention of the imaginations of men's hearts to elevate Mary from the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38) to the Queen of Mercy. Let us turn instead and pray to God alone, beseeching him for Mercy who is the Merciful God (Deuteronomy 4:31).
For it is written: "for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him." (2 Chronicles 30:9) Therefore, repent of yours sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
UPDATE: Updated to reflect the fact that despite the division discussed above, Roman Catholics elsewhere do call Christ the "King of Mercy," since - based on a single comment I received, it appears that this was not clear from the original post. Also, despite criticism to the contrary from the same commentator, Mary is not only described by Catholic authors as the Queen of Heaven, but also the Queen of Hell: "Mary, Queen of heaven, is also Queen of hell; the devils themselves, bend under the yoke of her sovereignty ..." (source).
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
One will encounter certain testimonials, such as this one: "I was taught as a RC youngster that approaching Mary was "easier" than approaching Jesus because she was more compassionate than Jesus was/is," (link) but these may be easily dismissed by RC apologists as being merely faulty memories of youth (though I suppose many folks would be able to confirm that they too were taught such a view of Mary). Likewise one may find a phrase like "more compassion than Jesus" from questionable internet apologists (example) who oppose Catholicism.
Nevertheless, there are also other ways in which inappropriate devotion to Mary can be seen in Roman Catholic writings. For example, this site (link - caution - images) provides prayers of "reparation" to be made to Mary for "Blasphemy against the Blessed Virgin Mary"! I wish I were joking, but I am not.
But this is not a post specifically about Mariolatry (as evidenced by the very idea that Mary is capable of being "blasphemed") but more specifically about the supposed greatness of Mary's compassion. In the prayer there to Mary, the writer calls her: "the Immaculate Virgin and most compassionate Mother of God." Now, we could chalk this up to simply flattery of Mary in the hopes of getting her favor, but the question remains: is she is truly "most compassionate"? Is not Jesus more compassionate?
Someone might argue that "most" is simply being used as synonym for "very." While this cannot be totally ruled out, consider whether we would interpret the other extreme comments in the prayer as equally hyperbolic. Would we consider "immaculate" as simply meaning "very pure"? Would we interpret "Most glorious Virgin Mary" to mean that she was only "very glorious"? Would we interpret "most holy Mother" to mean that she was only "very holy"? And what about the appellation "the supreme comforter of the afflicted" -- shall we interpret that in the prayer to mean only a very good good comforter of the afflicted? Surely, when we consider he phrase in context, it seems to be meant to be taken literally, as though there is no greater comforter of the afflicted, no more glorious person, and that she is totally free of sins.
But let us turn to a book. This book is called, "The Glories of Mary," and was originally written in Italian by "St." Alphonsus de Liguori, founder of the "Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer," and was translated into English by a "Father" of that congregation. The book was approved and commended by Achbishop Wiseman of Westminster.
Under Section II - Mary is the Hope of Sinners, the following example and prayer are provided (pp. 97-99):
EXAMPLE*** End of Quoted Materal ***
Blessed John Herold, who out of humility called himself the Disciple, relates, that there was a married man, who lived at enmity with God. His wife, who was a virtuous woman, being unable to engage him to give up sin, begged him, in the wretched state in which he was, to practise at least the devotion of saluting our Blessed Lady with a 'Hail Mary,' each time that he might pass before her picture. He began to do so. One night this wretched man was on his way to commit a crime, when he perceived a light at a distance: he drew near to see what it was, and found that it was a lamp, burning before a devout picture of Mary, holding the child Jesus in her arms. He at once, according to custom, said the 'Hail Mary." In the same moment, he beheld the Divine Infant covered with wounds, from which fresh blood was streaming. Terrified, and at the same time, moved to compassion, at this sight, he reflected that it was he, who, by his sins, had thus wounded his Redeemer. He burst into tears, but the Divine infant turned his back to him. Filled with shame, he appealed to the most Blessed Virgin, saying : 'Mother of Mercy, thy Son rejects me: I can find no advocate more compassionate and more powerful than thee, for thou art his Mother; my Queen, do thou help me, and intercede for me.' The Divine Mother, speaking from the picture, replied: 'You sinners call me Mother of Mercy, but, at the same time, you cease not to make me a Mother of Sorrows, by crucifying my Son afresh, and renewing my sorrows.' But as Mary can never let any one leave her feet disconsolate, she began to implore her Son to pardon this miserable wretch. Jesus continued to show himself unwilling to do so. The most Blessed Virgin, seeing this, placed him in the niche, and, prostrating herself before him, said: 'My Son, I will not leave thy feet until thou hast pardoned this sinner.' 'My Mother,' then said Jesus, 'I can deny thee nothing; thou willest that he should be forgiven; for love of thee I pardon him; make him come and kiss my wounds.' The sinner, sobbing and weeping, did so, and, as he kissed them, the wounds were healed. Jesus then embraced him, as a mark of forgiveness, and he changed his life, which, from that time, was one of holiness ; and he always preserved the most tender love and gratitude towards this Blessed Virgin, who had obtained him so great a grace.
O most pure Virgin Mary, I worship thy most holy heart which was the delight and resting-place of God, thy heart overflowing with humility, purity, and Divine love. I, an unhappy sinner, approach thee with a heart all loathsome and wounded. O compassionate Mother, disdain me not on this account; let such a sight rather move thee to greater tenderness, and excite thee to help me. Do not stay to seek virtues or merit in me before assisting me. I am lost, and the only tiling I merit is hell. See only my confidence in thee and the purpose I have to amend. Consider all that Jesus has done and suffered for me, and then abandon me if thou canst. I offer thee all the pains of His life; the cold that He endured in the stable; His journey into Egypt; the blood which He shed; the poverty, sweats, sorrows, and death that He endured for me; and this in thy presence. For the love of Jesus take charge of my salvation. Ah my Mother, I will not and cannot fear that thou wilt reject me, now that I have recourse to thee and ask thy help. Did I fear this, I should be offering an outrage to thy mercy, which goes in quest of the wretched, in order to help them. O Lady, deny not thy compassion to one to whom Jesus has not denied His blood. But the merits of this blood will not be applied to me unless thou recommendest me to God. Through thee do I hope for salvation. I ask not for riches, honours, or earthly goods. I seek only the grace of God, love towards thy Son, the accomplishment of His will, and His heavenly kingdom, that I may love Him eternally. Is it possible that thou wilt not hear me? No: for already thou hast granted my prayer, as I hope ; already thou prayest for me; already thou obtainest me the graces that I ask; already thou takest me under thy protection : my Mother, abandon me not. Never, never cease to pray for me until thou seest me safe in heaven at thy feet, blessing and thanking thee for ever. Amen.
Now, consider, dear Reader, whether or not this tale suggests that Mary is more compassionate and approachable than Jesus? It is hard to read it any other way. For Jesus, in the tale, rebuffs the sinner, but Mary is the solution. Indeed, the man in the tale asserts: "I can find no advocate more compassionate and more powerful than thee...." Now doubtless those advocating the papist position today might argue that there is no better advocate before Jesus than Mary - and not simply no better advocate than Mary. But the problem is this: Scripture is clear that Jesus is compassionate and merciful to those who come to him. Furthermore, Jesus is our advocate, and is the mediator between God and man.
We need Jesus, not Mary, to plead our case for the forgiveness of our sins. Mary was blessed, indeed - but not with the role of mediatrix. Scripture nowhere teaches or hints at such a role for the mother of Christ, the Son of God.
So, let us turn from what is - in essence - idolatry that would be offensive to Mary if she were still with us, and turn instead to the pure worship of the One True God, by His Son, our Savior, Jesus the Righteous!
As the Orthodox are so wont to say: Lord have mercy!
P.S. This is Part I, but it is the main part. Part II is planned simply to be the provision of a similar example of an excessively high view of Mary.
UPDATE: updated to address a typographic error, and to clarify one point.
Monday, May 12, 2008
A typical presentation of Cyprian's words is presented thus:
"Those who have received a libellus from the martyrs and with their help can, before the Lord, get relief in their sins, let such, if they be ill and in danger, after confession and the imposition of your hands, depart unto the Lord with the peace promised them by the martyrs " (Ep. xiii, P.L., IV, 261).
What's usually not mentioned is that this "libellus" is a certifiate: a piece of paper filled out by the martyr. In Epistle XII, Cyprian refers to these certificates as "by their letters to us." It's not 100% clear which martyrs Cyprian has in mind (at least not from this particular epistle). In Epistle VIII, Cyprian writes to certain martyrs, to wit men about to die for their faith.
In Epistle IX, Cyprian conveys the fact that apparently the martyrs had written to him requesting that those who had lapsed during the time of persecution be restored to communion when the time of persecution was over. He explains that some were willing to accept people back on the bare word of the martyrs, before the persecution was past, before there was repentance, and even before the martyrs themselves had been martyred! Cyprian explains that this is not proper. Furthermore, Cyprian explains that "even if the martyrs, in the heat of their glory, were to consider less carefully the Scriptures, and to desire anything more, they should be admonished by the presbyters' and deacons' suggestions, as was always done in time past."
From Epistle X, we gather that the martyrs had identified "certain of the lapsed" for this benefit. In Epistle X, though, Cyprian has to politely decline their request in part, for he insists that there must be repentance of sin before their can be a granting again of communion. Furthermore, toward the end of the epistle (part 4), Cyprian urges the martyrs to be specific in their commendations. Cyprian explains that they should name names, and only designate those "whose penitence [repentance] you see to be very near to full satisfaction."
In Epistle XI, Cyprian explains that "no one can come to communion unless the hands of the bishop and clergy be first imposed upon him" and therefore urges "how much more ought caution and moderation, according to the discipline of the Lord, in these gravest and extremest sins!"
For you see, the problem is this: in the time of persecution, many abandoned the faith. It was an enormous task for the elders (even assisted by the deacons) to examine those who wished to return to communion. The testimony of the martyrs was viewed as compelling - partly because the martyrs could themselves be trusted (for they were willing to die for their faith) and also an honor for the martyrs as indicated in part 3 of Cyprian's Epistle XIV.
In short, in the historical context, when Cyprian writes: "Those who have received a libellus from the martyrs and with their help can, before the Lord, get relief in their sins, let such, if they be ill and in danger, after confession and the imposition of your hands, depart unto the Lord with the peace promised them by the martyrs," we understand that Cyprian is referring to restoration into the visible church of Christ: a restoration of fellowship and communion, and of peace with the church.
Even so, Cyprian immediately goes on to contrast them with the "others who, without having received any certificate from the martyrs, are envious ..., must wait, in dependence on the protection of the Lord, for the public peace of the Church itself."
What is Cyprian trying to convey? He's explaining that even though it is not technically proper to begin restoring the lapsed while the church is being persecuted, those who appear to be at death's door may be received back, assuming the other conditions for re-acceptance are met.
In Epistle XIV, Cyprian explains that he "wrote twice" and indicated that those qualifying in dire straits should be "remitted to the Lord." In the same epistle he goes on to explain how he came to provide epistles XII and XIII, namely because there way too many, and way too many spurious, certificates being written - and lapsed were being welcomed back in, who should have been excluded. But after this had been stopped, those who had certificates started to stir up trouble, basically demanding that the churches honor their certificates. So, the purpose of XII and XIII were to limit the acceptance of the certificates to those at death's door, at least until the persecution was over.
In short, even with the certificates of the martyrs, Cyprian goes in Epistle XXVI to state that "although they [i.e. certain lapsed folk] had received certificates from the martyrs, nevertheless, that their satisfaction might be admitted by the Lord, these persons beseeching have written to me that they acknowledge their sin, and are truly repentant, and do not hurry rashly or importunately to obtain peace ...."
From all this context, we see that these certificates of the Martyrs were, in essence, personal commendations to the effect, "I know this person - he is truly sorry for his sins, please accept him back into the church of God." This was taken by some of the certificate recipients to their spiritual benefit - but by others to a demanding and insistency, as though the certificates were "Get out of Excommunication Free" cards.
So we even read a response from the presbyters and deacons of Rome to Cyprian, in which they explain "Let them, then, see what they are trying to do in this matter. For if they say that the Gospel has established one decree, but the martyrs have established another; then they, setting the martyrs at variance with the Gospel, will be in danger on both sides. For, on the one hand, the majesty of the Gospel will already appear shattered and cast down, if can be overcome by the novelty of another decree; and, on the other, the glorious crown of confession will be taken from the heads of the martyrs, if they be not found to have attained it by observation of that Gospel whence they should become martrys; so that, reasonably, no one should be more careful to determine nothing contrary to the Gospel, than he who strives to receive the name of martyr from the Gospel." (Ep. XXIX, pt. 2)
Notice how both Cyprian and the Roman presbyters agreed that even if the martyrs thought otherwise, it was their loss: not the Gospel (word from the Romans) /Scriptures (word from Cyprian). But finally, one could turn to the end of the second epistle from the roman presbyters to Cyprian, in which they assent to his thought of making an exception for those on death's door. For they essentially repeat his ideas and expound and (most notably, slightly expand):
"but of such as impending death does not suffer to bear the delay, having repented and professed a detestation of their deeds with frequency ; if with tears, if with groans, if with weeping they have betrayed the signs of a grieving and truly penitent spirit, when there remains, as far as man can tell, no hope of living; to them, finally, such cautious and careful help should be ministered, God Himself knowing what He will do with such, and in what way He will examine the balance of His judgment; while we, however, take anxious care that neither ungodly men should praise our smooth facility, nor truly penitent men accuse our severity as cruel."
After such an investigation, I think we can conclude that neither Cyprian or his colleagues in Rome had any concept of Indulgences in mind in the various letters they exchanged. They were concerned, very concerned, about proper church discipline, and had very serious reservations about those who had lapsed during time of persecution.