Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Augustine vs. Rome - Definition of Grace

"Mercy and judgment I will sing to thee, O Lord, for it is only through unmerited mercy that anyone is freed, and only through deserved judgment that anyone is condemned."
(Augustine, On Faith, Hope, & Charity, as provided in Fathers of the Church, Volume 2, p. 447)

The Reformed doctrine of grace, because it is drawn from Scripture, finds resonance in the voice of Augustine, whose love of Scripture lead him to continually study it throughout his life and rely on it as his authority in all matters of doctrine and morals.

Augustine, in the epigraphic quote, does not mention the word "grace" but instead "unmerited mercy." That is simply an equivalent expression. Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace. While this is well recognized in Reformed theology, it is disputed by the theology of Rome.

The following is "Rome's position" (footnote 1) regarding merit:

427. What are the goods that we can merit?
Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods, suitable for us, can be merited in accordance with the plan of God. No one, however, can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion and justification.
- Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Question 427 (associated with items 2010-11 and 2027 of the CCC)(emphasis in original)(footnote 2)

The following is one (footnote 3) of Augustine's comments on grace:
And first of all we must be persuaded how much God has loved us, lest through despair we should not dare to be lifted up to Him. But we needed to be shown what kind of men we were whom He loved, lest being proud as it were of our own merits, we should draw away the more from Him, and fail the more in our own strength. And, therefore, God acted towards us in such a way that we might rather profit by His strength, and so the virtue of charity would be perfected in the weakness of humility. He reveals this in the Psalm, where it is said: "Setting aside, O God, a free rain for thy inheritance, and it was weakened, but thou hast made it perfect."[Ps. 67:10?] By the free rain he would have us understand nothing else but grace, which was bestowed not on account of our merits but given freely, and for this reason it is called grace. For He have it not because we were worthy, but because He willed it. If we realize this we shall not trust in ourselves, and this is to be made weak. But He Himself perfects us, who also said to the Apostle Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness."[2 Corinthians 12:9] Man had to be persuaded, therefore, how much God loved us, and what kind of men we were whom He loved: how much, that we might not despair, and what kind, that we might not become proud.
- Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 2 (taken from the translation in volume 45 of the Fathers of the Church series)

Notice the key portion of this quotation "By the free rain he would have us understand nothing else but grace, which was bestowed not on account of our merits but given freely, and for this reason it is called grace."

Here's an alternative translation, notice what is missing:
We must be persuaded how much God loved us so that we don’t shrink from Him in despair. And we need to be shown also what kind of people we are whom He loved so that we also don’t withdraw from Him out of pride. But He dealt with us so that we could profit from His strength, and, in the weakness of humility, our holiness could be perfected.

One of the Psalms implies this. It says, “Thou, O God, didst send a spontaneous rain, whereby Thou didst make Thine inheritance perfect, when it was weary.” The “spontaneous rain” is grace given freely and not according to merit. He didn’t give it because we were worthy, but because He willed. Knowing this, we shouldn’t trust in ourselves. That is what is meant by being made “weak.”

However, He perfects us and says to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” We, then, must be persuaded how much God loved us and what type of people we were whom He loved. The former is important, lest we despair; the latter, lest we become proud.
- Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, edited by Hudson et al. (presented as transcribed here)

The Schaff collection's translation has a slightly different wording:
And first we have had to be persuaded how much God loved us, lest from despair we should not dare to look up to Him. And we needed to be shown also what manner of men we are whom He loved, lest being proud, as if of our own merits, we should recede the more from Him, and fail the more in our own strength. And hence He so dealt with us, that we might the rather profit by His strength, and that so in the weakness of humility the virtue of charity might be perfected. And this is intimated in the Psalm, where it is said, “Thou, O God, didst send a spontaneous rain, whereby Thou didst make Thine inheritance perfect, when it was weary.” [Ps. lxviii. 9.—Pluviam voluntariam.] For by “spontaneous rain” nothing else is meant than grace, not rendered to merit, but given freely, [Gratis.] whence also it is called grace; for He gave it, not because we were worthy, but because He willed. And knowing this, we shall not trust in ourselves; and this is to be made “weak.” But He Himself makes us perfect, who says also to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” [2 Cor. xii. 9] Man, then, was to be persuaded how much God loved us, and what manner of men we were whom He loved; the former, lest we should despair; the latter, lest we should be proud.
- Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 2 (taken from the translation in NPNF1-03)(footnotes presented within brackets) Essentially the same translation may be found in The Works of Aurelius Augustine, a New Translation, Volume 7 (link)

Notice, however, that while this is a different wording, it is the same concept: "For by “spontaneous rain” nothing else is meant than grace, not rendered to merit, but given freely, whence also it is called grace; for He gave it, not because we were worthy, but because He willed."

This is not an isolated instance of this definition of grace for Augustine, he says much the same thing in his work, On Grace and Free Will:
When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,” [Zech. i. 3.] one of these clauses—that which invites our return to God—evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace. Here, possibly, the Pelagians think they have a justification for their opinion which they so prominently advance, that God’s grace is given according to our merits. In the East, indeed, that is to say, in the province of Palestine, in which is the city of Jerusalem, Pelagius, when examined in person by the bishop, [See On the Proceedings of Pelagius, above, ch. xiv. (30–37).] did not venture to affirm this. For it happened that among the objections which were brought up against him, this in particular was objected, that he maintained that the grace of God was given according to our merits,—an opinion which was so diverse from catholic doctrine, and so hostile to the grace of Christ, that unless he had anathematized it, as laid to his charge, he himself must have been anathematized on its account. He pronounced, indeed, the required anathema upon the dogma, but how insincerely his later books plainly show; for in them he maintains absolutely no other opinion than that the grace of God is given according to our merits. Such passages do they collect out of the Scriptures,—like the one which I just now quoted, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”—as if it were owing to the merit of our turning to God that His grace were given us, wherein He Himself even turns unto us. Now the persons who hold this opinion fail to observe that, unless our turning to God were itself God’s gift, it would not be said to Him in prayer, “Turn us again, O God of hosts;” [Ps. lxxx. 7.] and, “Thou, O God, wilt turn and quicken us;” [Ps. lxxxv. 6.] and again, “Turn us, O God of our salvation,” [Ps. lxxxv. 4.] —with other passages of similar import, too numerous to mention here. For, with respect to our coming unto Christ, what else does it mean than our being turned to Him by believing? And yet He says: “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” [John vi. 65.]
- Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 10 (Section V in the Latin)(footnotes placed into brackets)

Notice that Augustine places essentially the Roman view in the mouth of Pelagius: "God’s grace is given according to our merits."

And again:
Here surely is at fault the vain reasoning of those who defend the foreknowledge of God in opposition to His grace, and with this view declare that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, [Eph. i. 4.] because God foreknew that we should be good, but not that He Himself would make us good. So says not He, who declares, “Ye have not chosen me.” For had He chosen us on the ground that He foreknew that we should be good, then would He also have foreknown that we would not be the first to make choice of Him. For in no other way could we possibly be good: unless, forsooth, one could be called good who has never made good his choice. What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.” To which he adds: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” [Rom. xi. 5, 6.] Listen, thou ungrateful one, listen: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Not that thou mayest say, I am chosen because I already believed. For if thou wert believing in Him, then hadst thou already chosen Him. But listen: “Ye have not chosen me.” Not that thou mayest say, Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen. For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”? [Rom. xiv. 23.] What, then, are we to say on hearing such words, “Ye have not chosen me,” but that we were evil, and were chosen in order that we might be good through the grace of Him who chose us? For it is not by grace, if merit preceded: but it is of grace: and therefore that grace did not find, but effected the merit.
- Augustine, Tractate 86 on the Gospel of John, Section 2 (footnotes placed in brackets)

The key sentence in the above quotation is: "Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit." Rome's view, which permits grace to be on the priority of merit calls something grace that is not grace.

And yet again:
He commendeth the grace whereby He calleth according to His own purpose. Of which purpose the apostle says, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to the purpose of God,” [Rom. viii. 28.] to wit, the purpose of Him that calleth, not of those who are called; which is put still more clearly in another place in this way, “Labor together in the gospel according to the power of God, who saveth us and calleth us with His holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace.” [2 Tim. i. 8, 9.] For if our thoughts turn to the nature wherein we have been created, inasmuch as we were all created by the Truth, who is there that is not of the truth? But it is not all to whom it is given of the truth to hear, that is, to obey the truth, and to believe in the truth; while in no case certainly is there any preceding of merit, lest grace should cease to be grace. For had He said, Every one that heareth my voice is of the truth, then it would be supposed that he was declared to be of the truth because he conforms to the truth; it is not this, however, that He says, but, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” And in this way he is not of the truth simply because he heareth His voice; but only on this account he heareth, because he is of the truth, that is, because this is a gift bestowed on him of the truth. And what else is this, but that by Christ’s gracious bestowal he believeth on Christ?
- Augustine, Tractate 115 on the Gospel of John, Section 4 (footnotes placed in brackets)

In the above quotation, we see the similar expression: "while in no case certainly is there any preceding of merit, lest grace should cease to be grace."

Still further:
Now this election the Apostle demonstrating to be, not of merits going before in good works, but election of grace, saith thus: “And in this time a remnant by election of grace is saved. But if by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.” [Rom. xi. 5, 6] This is election of grace; that is, election in which through the grace of God men are elected: this, I say, is election of grace which goes before all good merits of men. For if it be to any good merits that it is given, then is it no more gratuitously given, but is paid as a debt, and consequently is not truly called grace; where “reward,” as the same Apostle saith, “is not imputed as grace, but as debt.” [Rom. iv. 4] Whereas if, that it may be true grace, that is, gratuitous, it find nothing in man to which it is due of merit, (which thing is well understood in that saying, “Thou wilt save them for nothing,” [Psalm lvi. 7, Lat. and LXX. ὑπšρ τοῦ μηθενὸς σὡσεις αὐτούς. But Heb. and E.V. “shall they escape by iniquity?”]) then assuredly itself gives the merits, not to merits is given. Consequently it goes before even faith, from which it is that all good works begin. “For the just,” as is written, “shall live by faith.” [Habak. ii. 4] But, moreover, grace not only assists the just, but also justifies the ungodly. And therefore even when it does aid the just and seems to be rendered to his merits, not even then does it cease to be grace, because that which it aids it did itself bestow. With a view therefore to this grace, which precedes all good merits of man, not only was Christ put to death by the ungodly, but “died for the ungodly.” [Rom. v. 6] And ere that He died, He elected the Apostles, not of course then just, but to be justified: to whom He saith, “I have chosen you out of the world.” For to whom He said, “Ye are not of the world,” and then, lest they should account themselves never to have been of the world, presently added, “But I have chosen you out of the world;” assuredly that they should not be of the world was by His own election of them conferred upon them. Wherefore, if it had been through their own righteousness, not through His grace, that they were elected, they would not have been chosen out of the world, because they would already not be of the world if already they were just. And again, if the reason why they were elected was, that they were already just, they had already first chosen the Lord. For who can be righteous but by choosing righteousness? “But the end of the law is Christ, for righteousness is to every one that believeth. [Rom. x. 4] Who is made unto us wisdom of God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” [1 Cor. i. 30, 31] He then is Himself our righteousness.
- Augustine, On Patience, Section 17 (footnotes placed in brackets)

Again note Augustine's explanation: "For if it be to any good merits that it is given, then is it no more gratuitously given, but is paid as a debt, and consequently is not truly called grace ... ."

Further still:
Read with a little more attention its exposition in the treatise of the blessed martyr Cyprian, which he wrote concerning this matter, the title of which is, On the Lord’s Prayer; and see how many years ago, and what sort of an antidote was prepared against those poisons which the Pelagians were one day to use. For there are three points, as you know, which the catholic Church chiefly maintains against them. One of these is, that the grace of God is not given according to our merits; because even every one of the merits of the righteous is God’s gift, and is conferred by God’s grace. The second is, that no one lives in this corruptible body, however righteous he may be, without sins of some kind. The third is, that man is born obnoxious to the first man’s sin, and bound by the chain of condemnation, unless the guilt which is contracted by generation be loosed by regeneration. Of these three points, that which I have placed last is the only one that is not treated of in the above-named book of the glorious martyr; but of the two others the discourse there is of such perspicuity, that the above-named heretics, modern enemies of the grace of Christ, are found to have been convicted long before they were born. Among these merits of the saints, then, which are no merits unless they are the gifts of God, he says that perseverance also is God’s gift, in these words: “We say, ‘Hallowed be Thy name;’ not that we ask for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beseech of Him that His name may be hallowed in us. But by whom is God sanctified, since He Himself sanctifies? Well, because He says, Be ye holy because I also am holy, we ask and entreat that we, who were sanctified in baptism, may persevere in that which we have begun to be.” [Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer; see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. v. p. 450.] And a little after, still arguing about that self-same matter, and teaching that we entreat perseverance from the Lord, which we could in no wise rightly and truly do unless it were His gift, he says: “We pray that this sanctification may abide in us; and because our Lord and Judge warns the man that was healed and quickened by Him to sin no more, lest a worse thing happen unto him, we make this supplication in our constant prayers; we ask this, day and night, that the sanctification and quickening which is received from the grace of God may be preserved by His protection.” [Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer, as above.] That teacher, therefore, understands that we are asking from Him for perseverance in sanctification, that is, that we should persevere in sanctification, when we who are sanctified say, “Hallowed be Thy name.” For what else is it to ask for what we have already received, than that it be given to us also not to cease from its possession? As, therefore, the saint, when he asks God that he may be holy, is certainly asking that he may continue to be holy, so certainly the chaste person also, when he asks that he may be chaste, the continent that he may be continent, the righteous that he may be righteous, the pious that he may be pious, and the like,—which things, against the Pelagians, we maintain to be God’s gifts,—are asking, without doubt, that they may persevere in those good things which they have acknowledged that they have received. And if they receive this, assuredly they also receive perseverance itself, the great gift of God, whereby His other gifts are preserved.
- Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 4 (Section II in the Latin)(footnotes placed in brackets)

Notice how in the above quotation, Augustine speaks exactly contrary to the Roman catechism. He declares that "perseverance in sanctification" is gracious and (consequently) not on account of merit. I don't expect anyone to agree with Augustine's definition of grace, simply because Augustine said it. Read Scripture (as Augustine would have wanted you to do) and see for yourself whether Augustine or the Roman Catholic Church is right about this issue.

Augustine tells us where he gets his ideas about grace: "From these and similar passages of Scripture, we gather the proof that God's grace is not given according to our merits." (Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 13, (Section 6 in the Latin)) So, search the Scriptures and see whether these things be as we have told you. Scripture is what proved it to us and to Augustine, perhaps it will prove it to you as well, dear reader, if you do not already agree.


Footnote 1: "Official" in the sense of being a public teaching in an official document. The document itself, however, like the overwhelming majority of documents in Catholicism, does not purport to be infallible.

Footnote 2: Note that this compendium serves to explain how simultaneously Rome claims: "Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life." (CCC1996) If that statement were taken by itself, Rome would sound nearly orthodox in its theology of grace. The fact of the matter, however, is that such a definition is applied exclusively to what Rome calls "initial grace."

Footnote 3: Augustine's works are massive and imposing. I don't make this blog post out to be the last scholarly word on the subject. Perhaps I've missed something in my reading of Augustine that ends up undoing the force of the material he provides here.

Jonathan Prejean on John Calvin

Roman Catholic (calls himself "Crimson Catholic") Jonathan Prejean provides the following description of Calvin:
In my opinion, Calvin's Institutes is the equivalent of spiritual pornography, worse than anything you hear in 99% of Beatles' songs, and most people who read it aren't doing it as an example of Middle French theological literature or as a purely historical document. There's no doubt in my mind that God hates that book in terms of its theological content, because he hates evil, and that book teaches blasphemy and all sorts of other evils.

It's truly amazing how folks will rant against Calvin, but when you search their blog (link) for substantiation, you find it completely absent. Obviously, Mr. Prejean is stating his opinion, and yet one would hope that such a harshly negative opinion would have at least some relationship to reality.

Read a copy of the Institutes of the Christian Religion today and see for yourself whether Calvin blasphemes God in that book (html format - multiple formats at Archive - volume 1 - volume 2), or whether Mr. Prejean's opinion, while not slanderous (since it is only a statement of his opinion, not an assertion of fact - and since Calvin is dead), is gravely mistaken. And yes, this is one of the books that was on Rome's "Index of Prohibited Books" back when Rome thought such attempts might work.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Offered Often or Once?

We're sometimes told that it an incorrect "either/or" mentality that causes us to reject the sacrifices of the mass on the basis that Christ was offered only once and not often. Yet Scripture itself has that mentality.

Hebrews 9:24-28
24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25 nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26 for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28 so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

Notice that there is a continual either/or mentality exhibited in the text. Jesus is not in a holy place that men built (sorry, my Roman Catholic friends, he is not in your golden tabernacles) but in heaven itself. It is an either/or.

Again, it is not "often" like the priests of old but "once in the end of the world." It is not both, but either/or.

He will appear a second time, coming from heaven to judge the world in righteousness on the last day. That is when he will come back to earth, not pulled down by priestly incantations however biblical the words are that they utter.

The Bible expresses it in either/or terminology. You cannot have it both ways. The Bible says Jesus offered himself once. Rome says that Jesus offers himself daily, even while elsewhere inconsistently affirming the Biblical truth.

Of course, the most excellent prayer of all is the one offered daily at the altar by Christ Jesus, the High Priest, to God the Father when the holy sacrifice of Redemption is renewed.
- Pius XII, Fidei Donum, Section 52, 21 April 1957

And likewise:
Above all, you will be ministers of the Eucharist: you will receive this sacrament as a priceless inheritance in which the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice is renewed daily and the decisive event of his Death and Resurrection for the world’s salvation continues. You will celebrate the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, as he himself offered it for the first time in the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion. You will thus be personally associated with the mystery of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
- John Paul II, Priestly Ordinations, Section 2, 3 May 1988

And again:
The third end proposed is that of expiation, propitiation and reconciliation. Certainly, no one was better fitted to make satisfaction to Almighty God for all the sins of men than was Christ. Therefore, He desired to be immolated upon the cross "as a propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but also for those of the whole world" and likewise He daily offers Himself upon our altars for our redemption, that we may be rescued from eternal damnation and admitted into the company of the elect.
- Pius XII, Mediator Dei, Section 73, 20 November 1947

Alternatively, the priestly role is given to the church and specifically the priests, but still it is a daily thing:

There is one amongst all others, the loss of which is more deplorable than words can express; We allude to the most holy Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ, both Priest and Victim, daily offers Himself to His Father, through the ministry of His priests on earth. By virtue of this Sacrifice the infinite merits of Christ, gained by His Precious Blood shed once upon the Cross for the salvation of men, are applied to our souls.
- Leo XIII, Caritatis Studium, Section 9, 25 July 1898

And again:
Without priests the Church would not be able to live that fundamental obedience which is at the very heart of her existence and her mission in history, an obedience in response to the command of Christ: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19) and "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19; cf. 1 Cor. 11.24), i.e:, an obedience to the command to announce the Gospel and to renew daily the sacrifice of the giving of his body and the shedding of his blood for the life of the world.
- John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, Section 1, 25 March 1992

And similarly:
Most abundant, assuredly, are the salutary benefits which are stored up in this most venerable mystery, regarded as a Sacrifice; a Sacrifice which the Church is accordingly wont to offer daily "for the salvation of the whole world."
- Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis, Section 17, 28 May 1902

And consequently we even see this embodied in Canon law:
they are to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of sacred scripture and the Eucharist; therefore, priests are earnestly invited to offer the eucharistic sacrifice daily and deacons to participate in its offering daily;
- Code of Canon Law, Book 2, Part 1, Title, 3, Chapter 3, Canon 276, Section 2, Subsection 2

Offered once or offered often? You can pick the Bible or you can pick Roman Catholic theology, but since the Bible expresses itself in a mutually exclusive way, you cannot have it both ways. It is not both once and often, but only either once or often. The Old Covenant sacrifices were often, the New Covenant sacrifice is once for all time. While Roman Catholic theology will affirm that Christ is offered once for all (in some places), in many other places (some of which are illustrated above) Rome makes the offering of Christ a daily event, not a once-for-all event. As such, Rome's theology is unbiblical and ought to be rejected and/or reformed.


Non Sequitur Illustrated

Here is a classic non sequitur: "The biggest reason I think that Protestantism lies at the heart of relativism is this. Protestants are in the awkward position of saving, 'All of Christendom c. 1516 and before, you all misunderstand Christianity!'" (Joe Heschmeyer at Shameless Popery) Leaving aside the ridiculous claim that Protestantism has to make such an assertion, there is simply no connection between that assertion and relativism. Quite to the contrary, claims that we understand correctly and someone else understands incorrectly is an absolutist claim, not a relativist claim. The blog is aptly titled, no doubt, and despite the link for those wishing to verify the accuracy of the quotation, I don't endorse his post or blog in any way.


The real Francis Turretin on: The Mosaic Covenant

Michael Brown at Pilgrim People has an interesting post in which he discusses the real Francis Turretin's view of the Mosaic covenant (aka Siniatic Covenant)(link). I believe that the Thomas Goodwin blog actually delved into this subject a bit more deeply a while back (post 1 - post 2), nevertheless it is still an interesting topic. Brown is in the midst of an ongoing (I think) series on the topic of the relationship of the Mosaic covenant to the covenant of grace and the covenant of works. His blog seems to have a bit of the two-kingdoms and redemptive-historical influence, but there is a lot of interesting reading material to be found there.


Allah said it?

Muslims sometimes (see footnote 1) make the claim:
We should read the Quran believing this is Allah speaking to us, because that is what it is. It is Allah talking to us directly.

Islam is unique among the Abrahamic religions in its understanding of sacred scripture. While the Hebrew and Christian scriptures contain an occasional direct quotation by the divinity (e.g., “And I heard the voice of the L-rd, saying, . . . ‘ Isaiah 6.8; “but [the Lord] said to me, . . . “ Galatians 12.9), these scriptures contain primarily narration, poetry, wisdom, sermon, instruction and epistle written in the third person. Only the Glorious Qur’an consists entirely of Allah speaking for himself in the first person. This direct identification of the Arabic words of the Qur’an with Allah has profound implications for communication and rhetoric in the Islamic world.

This kind of claims create serious problems from the very start of the Koran. Recall that the Koran begins with a chapter called "Al-Fatiha" (The Opening).

That chapter includes the following verse:

إِيَّاك نَعْبُدُ وإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِين

The translation of this is: "You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help"

Everyone who reads this recognizes that there are essentially two options:

1) These are the words of a man worshiping Allah; or

2) These are the words of Allah worshiping someone else.

Given the rest of Islamic theology (2) is wrong, and consequently (1) is really the only option. But if (1) is the option, then this is not the literal words of Allah, but the words of someone speaking to Allah. You might think (see footnote 2) that this would be readily admitted by everyone, but surprisingly I have observed this issue be disputed. The response given was "you can see it's a prayer, you can see it's a prayer," which is not really a matter of any dispute.

It is alleged (though I have not been able to find confirmation of this) that some copies of the Koran inserted the word "say" at the beginning of this chapter, so that the words would be Allah's words telling people how to praise him. No "say," however, is found in the most popular edition of the Koran today.

It is also alleged that the entire surah "Al-Fatiha" (the Opening) is a later (yet pre-Uthmanic) addition to the Koran. Even if we left out "Al-Fatiha" from our consideration, one does find "Allah" speaking in the third person (not just the first person) in other places in the Koran, such as:

From Surah 2, "The Cow,"
243 Have you not considered those who went forth from their homes, for fear of death, and they were thousands, then Allah said to them, Die; again He gave them life; most surely Allah is Gracious to people, but most people are not grateful.

The Bible is superior to the Koran in many ways. One way is that it teaches that prophecy does not have its origins in man's will, but yet it is the product of men speaking. As Scripture says:

2 Peter 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Where is any teaching like that in the Koran? Where is a proper understanding of the way by which God's revelation is conveyed through the prophets?


Footnote 1: There are a very large number of Muslims. Some say 1 billion. There is simply no way that the positions identified above are held by all 1 billion of them.

Footnote 2: Most of the usual readers of my blog are not Muslims.

Internet Calvinism or Internet Lumpkinsianism

Peter Lumpkins claims that:
The situation has improved somewhat on both sides now. However, websites like Triablogue offer the worst possible example of sectarian Reformed theology and thinking. The recent post entitled "The neo-Manicheans" surely stands as the quintessential rubbish plaguing otherwise sound Calvinistic thinking today (//link). To argue as does the author that James Arminius in particular and contemporary Arminianism in general are essentially Manichean is too historically ignorant for words.

Of course, Mr. Lumpkins doesn't care to include things like supporting arguments. That would be far too Calvinistic.

Nor does he care to actually delve into an analysis of the article that goes beyond reading the headline. That type of depth of reading and analysis, no doubt, would be far too much like those evil Internet Calvinists.

No, Internet Lumpkinsianism is so much better: you just insult someone with colorful verbiage, demonstrating that the extent of your perusal was the title of their post, and go merrily on your way. Why "Lumpkinsianism" instead of Arminianism? Because most Internet Arminians are at least able to demonstrate that they read articles that they flame.


N.B. For the reading-impaired - this post relies heavily on mockery of a flaming post with no substance. I'm not seriously suggesting that anyone should engage in Lumpkinsianism. I'm also not disagreeing with the idea that if one wants to learn about Calvinism, one should not rely solely on the blogosphere, but one should get a book (such as Turretin's Institutes, Calvin's Institutes, Witsius' Economies, or Hodge's Systematic Theology.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Day in God's Courts is Better than 1000 Elsewhere

A friend recently asked, in the comment box, for me to comment on the following verse:

Psalm 84:10 For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For context, I provide the entirety of Psalm 84 below:
{To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.}

How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.

Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.

Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
It's important to recall who the sons of Korah were:

1 Chronicles 9:19 And Shallum the son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his brethren, of the house of his father, the Korahites, were over the work of the service, keepers of the gates of the tabernacle: and their fathers, being over the host of the LORD, were keepers of the entry.

These were the sons of Korah. They were men who had very administrative tasks within the tabernacle worship in the Old Testament. They were not priests. In fact, when these roles were announced, Korah became famous because he tried to rebel against this menial role, suggesting that his family was just as holy as Aaron's. God judged him and his fellow rebels dramatically, the earth opening up and swallowing them.

The sons of Korah are designated in the headings of Psalms 42, 44-49, 84-85, and 87-88. Of those only Psalm 84 makes specific mention of the occupation of the sons of Korah, and yet one wonders whether this designation in the heading means that these Psalms were sung specifically by the door-keepers of the tabernacle and later temple.

In fact, what is interesting is that of all the titles, the only other personal designation is the heading of Psalm 72, namely "for Solomon," with the designation of Psalm 92, "A Psalm or Son for the sabbath day," being (it would seem) an occasional - not an anthropomorphic designation. This understanding seems to be confirmed by the designation "To the chief musician" which appears in the title of all of the Korahite psalms except 48 and 87, whereas the designation "To the chief musician" appears in just under a third of the psalms (forty six have that designation).

Some view this psalm as mournful, but it seems from what I can see that this psalm is jubilant. The psalm beings with rejoicing over how pleasant it is to be in God's tabernacle, in the symbolic place of his presence. That theme is mentioned again in verse 3 (the altars were in the tabernacle), then in verse 4 (house = tabernacle), and again in verse 10 (our focus). The title "LORD of hosts" is one of high praise for the might and power of God.

Verse 2 conveys in strong terms the desire (kâsaph) which is described as one that brings about fainting (kâlâh) and that causes one to shout (rânan) for the living God.

Verse 3 emphasizes the safety of being near God. The swallow and sparrow are timid birds, and consequently if they build their nests on the altar of God, that must be a safe place.

Verse 4 reiterates the them of verse 1 about it being wonderful to be in God's house.

Verse 5 takes the same idea and turns it a bit, pointing out that it is blessed to trust in God and to follow the paths of God.

Verse 6 points out that God provides for those following the path of God, and

Verse 7 completes that thought by teaching perseverance of the saints, namely that all those that follow God go to Zion, the picture of heaven.

Verse 8 seems to mark the end of the first prayer of the psalm with a request that God would hear the prayer.

Verse 9 begins the second prayer of the psalm, noting the protection that God provides and asking him to look on the face of "thine anointed." The primary significance of this "annointed" may be David. While this Psalm does not state its human author, it is frequently David, in the Psalms, to which that expression refers. (See Psalm 18:50, Psalm 89:20, and Psalm 132:10) Possibly, alternatively, though they were not priests, the sons of Korah may have been anointed when they came to serve the tabernacle. Nevertheless, the spiritual significance would seem to be Christ (which is translated as "anointed"). When God looks upon the face of Christ, he shows mercy.

Verse 10, as worded in the KJV, is a bit confusing to an English-speaker. Surely the idea is not that one day in God's courts are better than to be in God's courts for a thousand days. Instead, the idea is that one day in God's courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. We see this from the Hebrew parallelism in the second half of the verse, where the explanation is provided that the person would rather be a doorkeeper in God's house than to dwell in "tents of wickedness."

Verse 11 provides the explanation, which ties back to the beginning of the second prayer, namely that God is a shield as well as adding that God is a sun (in contrast to God being water in the valley of Baca). The verse continues by pointing out how God gives every good thing to those who "walk uprightly" which ties back to the earlier verses about following God's ways.

Verse 12 concludes by noting that those who trust in God are blessed.

Praise be to the Lord!


J.C. Ryle on the Idolatry of the Golden Calves

J.C. Ryle in his comments on idolatry, provided the following discussion relevant to my recent posts about the golden calves:
It is not necessary for a man to formally deny God and Christ, in order to be an idolater. Far from it. Professed reverence for the God of the Bible, and actual idolatry, are perfectly compatible. They have often gone side by side, and they still do so. The children of Israel never thought of renouncing God when they persuaded Aaron to make the golden calf. "These by thy gods," they said (thy Elohim), "which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." And the feast in honour of the calf was kept as a "feast unto the Lord" (Jehovah) (Exodus 32:4-5). Jeroboam, again, never pretended to ask the ten tribes to cast off their allegiance to the God of David and Solomon. When he set up the calves of gold in Dan and Bethel, he only said, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel (thy Elohim), which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28). In both instances, we should observe, the idol was not set up as a rival to God, but under the pretense of being a help—a steppingstone to His service. But, in both instances, a great sin was committed. The honor due to God was given to a visible representation of Him. The majesty of Jehovah was offended. The second commandment was broken. There was, in the eyes of God, a flagrant act of idolatry. Let us mark this well.
- J.C. Ryle, Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion, pp. 401-02 (see a modernized version of this specific essay)


Antinomianism - The Other Side of the Island

If on one side of the island of Christianity there is the dangerous water of Legalism as taught not only by Rome but many others, there is also on the other side of the island the danger of Antinominianism. Mark Jones at Meet the Puritans provides a more complete explanation, including a quotation from the real Francis Turretin to assist the reader in distinguishing between Justification and the entirety of the New Covenant (link). Legalism suggests that men are justified by works, whereas Antinomianism has no use at all for the law in the life of a Christian. Both errors ought to be avoided.

Defining Hyper-Calvinism

John Sneed at Ministerial Meanderings provides a good (and much better, imho, than Phil Johnson's) definition of hyper-calvinism in a recent re-post (link). Also important is his post's emphasis on the need to be Biblical Christians, recalling that for us the Scripture is not just a rule of faith, but the rule of faith.


UPDATE: Mr. Sneed mentions the "love of God for the non-elect" issue that is sometimes brought into the hyper-Calvinism discussion, normally without warrant. He doesn't really make that his definition (that I could see) and I didn't think it worthwhile mentioning that minor issue in his post. That said, plainly the two major points of his definition:

1) Teaching that God attains ends without means; and

2) Teaching that there is no need for evangelism,

hit two of the three main areas of hypercalvinism.

A third area would be teaching providence-favoring incompatibilism: the error of asserting that moral choice and divine Providence are incompatible, accepting Providence and consequently denying moral responsibility.

There are several things that are not properly classified as hypercalvinism:

1) Scrupling over words such as:
a) "Offer" of the Gospel (as long as one proclaims the gospel, refusal to use the word "offer" may make one unconfessional, but it does not make one an heretic);
b) "Common grace" (as long as one proclaims that God's providential dealings extend to both the elect and reprobate, one is not a heretic simply because one refuses to use the term "grace" for things other than saving grace);
c) "love of the reprobate" (there is no rule that says people have to use the adjective "love" to describe God's relationship toward those to whom he may give riches in this life but hell forever); and
d) "duty faith" (as long as one does not deny that faith is commanded by God, refusal to use the expression "duty faith" cannot be considered heretical).

2) Denying that non-Calvinists are unsaved. This is a rather extreme view, no doubt, but it is not what hyper-Calvinism is.

3) Being a big meanie. Remarkably, in some circles, I've seen this used. Don't be a big meanie, but if you are one, that doesn't make you a hyper-calvinist.

Hays on the Atonement

Steve Hays at Triablogue has a succinct response to a commonly heard Wesleyan argument against limited atonement (link).