Saturday, February 06, 2010

Assurance in Calvinism - a Response to Edward Reiss

Steve Hays been responding to Lutheran (I'm not sure of which stripe he is) Edward Reiss (link to Steve Hays).

Edward Reiss wrote: “There is no promise we will know we have eternal life.”

I'm not sure what constitutes a "promise" in Edward's mind:

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

Edward Reiss wrote: “We are told that we may deceive ourselves that we are elect when we are not”

Calvin explains it this way:
I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

Edward Reiss wrote: “This means looking for fruit runs the serious risk of us deceiving ourselves into thinking we are elect when we are not.”

1) Although we are to look for fruit for assurance, we are not to trust in our fruit. We are always to trust in Christ.

2) The fact that something is not perfectly reliable does not mean that it is not generally trustworthy. Does Edward refuse to believe his eyes at all because he once attended a magic (sleight-of-hand) show?

Edward Reiss wrote: “The spiritual danger of this should be readily apparent.”

The spiritual danger appears to flow from trusting in one's fruit rather than in Christ. Otherwise, it is impossible to see how spiritual danger arises simply from human falibility.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Examining ourselves for our fidelity and obedience is different from examining ourselves to ‘prove’ we are elect, which we cannot know anyway.”

One wonders how Edward would explain this passage in view of his comment above:

2 Peter 1:10-11
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Edward Reiss wrote: “We can know that when we hear the Gospel in e.g. baptism or communion that we are truly receiving what God promises because God does not lie--as opposed to our looking into our own lives for proof.”

This simply a false dichotomy. We can rely on God's promises and engage in self-examination.

Edward Reiss wrote: “No one has second party knowledge of my eternal state.”

No one except for God has certain knowledge of that. However, others are invited and even exhorted to judge us by our fruits.

Edward Reiss wrote: “And I don't think I even have first party knowledge (see 1 above). Given this, and the theological commitments of TULIP Calvinists, a TULIP Calvinist cannot say Christ died for him, or anyone else. I do however have first hand knowledge of receiving communion, being absolved and I have proof I am baptized.”

Edward seems to mean that a Calvinist cannot consistently claim to know that Christ died for him. This is simply a rehash of his claim above. Being unable to say that Christ died for some particular person only seems to be a problem for those who make "Christ died particularly for you" part of their evangelistic message.

Edward Reiss wrote: “You have ‘demonstrated’ something we have not claimed: that Sacraments guarantee everyone who receives the sacrament eternal salvation.”


Edward Reiss wrote: “What we have claimed is that the grace offered in Sacraments is real grace…”

Reification of grace is a real problem, and seems to be a problem in Edward's explanation here.

Edward Reiss wrote: “…and not actually a withholding of grace, as is the case in the Calvinist system where grace is only offered to the elect, because offered grace must be 100% ‘effective’ for it to be real.”

Saving grace saves. The grace of regeneration is given, not "offered." The forgiveness of sins is offered to all, but conditionally. Only the elect become qualified by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Finally, it is not the Lutherans who look at their navel, but the TULIP Calvinists looking within themselves to prove they are really elect.”

Calvinists don't normally go around trying to prove that they are elect.

Edward Reiss wrote: “If we can be deceived into believing we are elect even if we are not, where is the assurance in that?”

It seems that Edward is complaining that the level of assurance is not high enough.

Edward Reiss wrote: “But baptism and communion go one better--they promise the forgiveness of sins.”

The butcher down the road promises to give me meat for money. Comparing delivery of meat to forgiveness of sins would be a strange comparison - but it is a stranger comparison to compare forgiveness of sins (a kind that is apparently at least potentially temporary) with eternal life. So what if Lutheran theology does promise that someone can know that their sins are forgiven or if the butcher promises that someone can know that their meat has been delivered. Knowledge of such facts falls in an inferior category.

Edward Reiss wrote: "The standard "Protestant" syllogism works like this: All those who have faith in Christ are saved[;] I have faith in Christ [;] Therefore I am saved"

Steve has already demonstrated that this is Scriptural. Further to that explanation, as James explains, our works demonstrate that our faith is a true faith.

Edward Reiss wrote: "The "Lutheran" Syllogism works like this: Christ said "I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit"[;] Christ never lies and always tells the truth[;] Therefore I am baptized"

1) See above about the comparisons (comparing baptism to salvation is like comparing meat to baptism).
2) Christ does not personally baptize Lutherans, which throws something of a wrench in the syllogism.

Edward Reiss wrote: “If you object to a sacramental view of baptism feel free to insert "Christ said I died for you..." in lieu of baptism.”

Christ doesn't come down and tell individual believers that - though if he did, we ought to believe him.

Edward Reiss wrote: “The point is that there is no ‘if’ embedded in the Lutheran syllogism, where the Protestant syllogism has an ‘if’ embedded into it--do I really have faith?”

That formal point is truly without merit. We can remove that "if" from the "Protestant" one by saying "those who repent and believe are saved" rather than "if I repent and believe I am saved." Alternatively, we can rephrase the Lutheran one as "if Christ said... then it is true, because he doesn't lie; he did say ...; therefore it is true."

Edward Reiss wrote: “Do we ever keep his commandments? St. John himself allows for the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake which presupposes disobedience. I certainly don't see how we can get some sort of assurance of perseverance from our obedience as there is always the possibility we will not be obedient. In other words, it does not cut against the Lutheran position.”

If Edward thinks that perfect obedience is what Calvinists are looking for, he's mistaken. What cuts against what he calls the Lutheran position is the failure to recognize the inseparability of the love of God from the objects of that love.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Getting back to the larger issue, no one has really said I got the Reformed position wrong.”

Between Steve and myself, the number of such people seems to be at least two.

Edward Reiss wrote: “Calvinist assurance: You are assured of eternal salvation and under no circumstances will you lose it.”

You can lose assurance but you can't lose eternal life. If you could, it wouldn't be eternal life.

- TurretinFan

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 28/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 28/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

28) If Jesus intended for Christianity to be exclusively a “religion of the book,” why did He wait 1400 years before showing somebody how to build a printing press?

Simple Answer(s):

ROFL [Quick note, one reader has pointed out that laughter has been the answer for the last several questions. The reason is that some of the questions are rather absurd. This is one of the most absurd. The longer answers below in the qualifications section should provide meat that no simple answer to these kind of absurd questions could provide.]

Important Qualification(s):

1) This is a variant on the old "If God had wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings" argument. It is as absurd as that one.

2) But more seriously, we don't know God's exact reason, he hasn't told us.

3) One possible reason is that one's memory is aided by copying out the words of Scripture by hand. Thus, for example, the kings of Israel were given the following command:

Deuteronomy 17:18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:

4) But why stop at the printing press? Why not demand that God give the 1st Century a photocopier or Google books?

5) More to the point, if images of Christ are acceptable and if oral tradition is so important, why not have ever second of Jesus' incarnation recorded for us in 3D video with 7.1 surround sound and subtitles in our various languages? Or better yet, memory implants so that we all have a complete photographic memory of the entire ministry of Christ? But all this is absurd. We don't dictate to God how he carries out his work. We should be thankful he did give us his Word in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments rather than asking vain and unanswerable hypothetical questions that would require us to have a knowledge of the secret counsel of God.

- TurretinFan

Friday, February 05, 2010

Augustine: Scripture Can Thoroughly Equip the Man of God - Response to Taylor Marshall

Psalm 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

Augustine believed that Scripture itself is able to thoroughly equip a man to the point where Scripture itself would no longer be necessary for that man, except to teach less mature Christians. Taylor Marshall (a Roman Catholic contributor to the Called to Communion blog) has posted and commented upon the following passage from Augustine (link to Taylor's post):
And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” [1 Cor. xiii. 8.] Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect—of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity:” [1 Cor. xiii. 13.] because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured.
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Chapter 39 (section 43)

Taylor comments: "In the very least, it shows that Augustine was not a “religion of the book” sort of a Christian."

Taylor is dead wrong: the passage shows just the opposite - it shows that Augustine is very much a “religion of the book” sort of a Christian. For the purposes of instructing others, Augustine views Scripture as absolutely essential. Even the highly spiritual man cannot instruct others without Scripture in Augustine's view.

Psalm 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Taylor continues: "Scripture instructs in the faith, but it is not the object of our faith."

Augustine doesn't address this topic in the passage above. But Augustine did teach that men are to believe the Bible:
There was, however, undoubtedly marriage, even when sin had no prior existence; and for no other reason was it that woman, and not a second man, was created as a help for the man. Moreover, those words of God, “Be fruitful and multiply,” [Gen. i. 28.] are not prophetic of sins to be condemned, but a benediction upon the fertility of marriage. For by these ineffable words of His, I mean by the divine methods which are inherent in the truth of His wisdom by which all things were made, God endowed the primeval pair with their seminal power. Suppose, however, that nature had not been dishonoured by sin, God forbid that we should think that marriages in Paradise must have been such, that in them the procreative members would be excited by the mere ardour of lust, and not by the command of the will for producing offspring,—as the foot is for walking, the hand for labour, and the tongue for speech. Nor, as now happens, would the chastity of virginity be corrupted to the conception of offspring by the force of a turbid heat, but it would rather be submissive to the power of the gentlest love; and thus there 251would be no pain, no blood-effusion of the concumbent virgin, as there would also be no groan of the parturient mother. This, however, men refuse to believe, because it has not been verified in the actual condition of our mortal state. Nature, having been vitiated by sin, has never experienced an instance of that primeval purity. But we speak to faithful men, who have learnt to believe the inspired Scriptures, even though no examples are adduced of actual reality. For how could I now possibly prove that a man was made of the dust, without any parents, and a wife formed for him out of his own side? [Gen. ii. 7, 22.] And yet faith takes on trust what the eye no longer discovers.
- Augustine, Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin, Chapter 40 (Section 35)

I provided the whole chapter for context, though of course I was not primarily interested in Augustine's special Creationism (as opposed to the heresy of evolutionism) or Augustine's attitude towards sexual intercourse, but specifically his comment: "But we speak to faithful men, who have learnt to believe the inspired Scriptures" which shows that he did view the inspired Scriptures as an object of faith.

Psalm 119:42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

And lest that one passage be thought anomalous:
If, however, I am asked the second question which I have suggested,—whether there be a sinless man,—I believe there is not. For I rather believe the Scripture, which says: “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” [Ps. cxliii. 2.] There is therefore need of the mercy of God, which “exceedingly rejoiceth against judgment,” [Jas. ii. 13.] and which that man shall not obtain who does not show mercy. [Jas. ii. 13.] And whereas the prophet says, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart,” [Ps. xxxii. 5.] he yet immediately adds, “For this shall every saint pray unto Thee in an acceptable time.” [Ps. xxxii. 6.] Not indeed every sinner, but “every saint;” for it is the voice of saints which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” [1 John i. 8.] Accordingly we read, in the Apocalypse of the same Apostle, of “the hundred and forty and four thousand” saints, “which were not defiled with women; for they continued virgins: and in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault.” [Rev. xiv. 3–5.] “Without fault,” indeed, they no doubt are for this reason,—because they truly found fault with themselves; and for this reason, “in their mouth was discovered no guile,”—“because if they said they had no sin, they deceived themselves, and the truth was not in them.” [1 John i. 8.] Of course, where the truth was not, there would be guile; and when a righteous man begins a statement by accusing himself, he verily utters no falsehood.
- Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, Book II, Chapter 8 (Section 7)

Again, I've included the entire chapter for context, not simply to make the tangential point that Augustine denied the sinlessness of the saints including (though he does not specify here) that of Mary, the blessed mother of my Lord. Rather the point is to note that Augustine refers specifically to his belief in the Scriptures.

Psalm 119:148 Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.

Of course, we believe in them because they are the very word of God, not somehow independently of that fact.

Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.

Taylor further commented:
Now when I was at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, we were taught that 1 Cor 13 taught “cessationism” – the doctrine that prophecy and tongues ceased with the arrival of “the perfect” which was assumed to be the canonized text of Scripture.
Not the canonized text of Scripture, but the complete canon of Scripture (the difference being, of course, the difference between the objective reality that the canon was complete and the recognition of that objective reality). When public revelation was finished there was no longer the same need for prophets.

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Taylor continued:
Saint Augustine turns this on its head. Augustine lumps “Scripture” under “prophecies” and thus concludes that when the perfect comes (that is, faith, hope and charity), then Scripture is no longer needed.
That's not "on its head" of the Reformed explanation - rather it is another application of the same principle. When an edifice is built, the tools for building the edifice are normally laid aside. We see a very similar description of the church:

Ephesians 4:11-13
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ ...

Taylor remarks further: "Wow. The assumption is that you believe and act perfectly, you don’t need a Bible…"

It's more of a conclusion than an assumption - and even then you still need a Bible to teach others. But what is interesting is this: Scripture (for Augustine) is especially for those who are not spiritually mature! What more inverted view of perspicuity than the modern Roman view could Augustine have!

Psalm 19:11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

Before requesting comments (which this post provides) Taylor concludes:
Just for the record, I’m far from giving away my Bible, since I’m a rather poor exemplar of faith, hope, and charity. But still, I’m rather blown away by these words of Augustine.
If that blew Taylor away, this may similarly shock him:
If believers are to throw away all the books which have led them to believe, I see no reason why they should continue reading the Gospel itself. The Gospel, too, must be worthless to this inquirer, who, according to Faustus' pitiful supposition, rejects with ridicule the authority of Christ. And to the believer it must be superfluous, if true notices of Christ are superfluous to believers. And if the Gospel should be read by the believer, that he may not forget what he has believed, so should the prophets, that he may not forget why he believed. For if he forgets this his faith cannot be firm.
- Augustine, Against Faustus, Book 13, Section 18

Notice how Augustine views the books of Scripture as though books "which have led [Christians] to believe" and how the Gospels remind the believer what he believes, while the prophets remind him why he believes. Of course, for Taylor, reading the Scripture will only remind him of some of what believes, for he will not find papal infallibility, or the Marian dogmas, or Indulgences, in the text of Holy Scripture. Those articles of his faith are not among the articles of Augustine's faith, for the faith that Augustine held was one that Augustine believed was derived from Scripture.

Which is why Augustine's words above (which Taylor had quoted) are followed immediately by these in Augustine's work:
And, therefore, if a man fully understands that "the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned," and is bent upon making all his understanding of Scripture to bear upon these three graces, he may come to the interpretation of these books with an easy mind. For while the apostle says "love," he adds "out of a pure heart," to provide against anything being loved but that which is worthy of love. And he joins with this "a good conscience," in reference to hope; for, if a man has the burden of a bad conscience, he despairs of ever reaching that which he believes in and loves. And in the third place he says: "and of faith unfeigned." For if our faith is free from all hypocrisy, then we both abstain from loving what is unworthy of our love, and by living uprightly we are able to indulge the hope that our hope shall not be in vain. For these reasons I have been anxious to speak about the objects of faith, as far as I thought it necessary for my present purpose; for much has already been said on this subject in other volumes, either by others or by myself. And so let this be the end of the present book. In the next I shall discuss, as far as God shall give me light, the subject of signs.
- Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Chapter 40 (section 44)

Note especially Augustine's comment: "if a man fully understands that "the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned," and is bent upon making all his understanding of Scripture to bear upon these three graces, he may come to the interpretation of these books with an easy mind."

But if the words above blew away Taylor (and his apparent hope to one discard his Bible), consider what reaction the following will produce:
As for the books of the apostles and prophets, we read them as a record of our faith, to encourage our hope and animate our love. These books are in perfect harmony with one another; and their harmony, like the music of a heavenly trumpet, wakens us from the torpor of worldliness, and urges us on to the prize of our high calling. The apostle, after quoting from the prophets the words, "The reproaches of them that reproached You fell on me," goes on to speak of the benefit of reading the prophets: "For whatsoever things were written beforetime were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope." [Romans 15:4 If Faustus denies this, we can only say with Paul, "If any one shall preach to you another doctrine than that you have received, let him be accursed." [Galatians 1:9]
- Augustine, Against Faustus, Book 13, Section 18

Notice that Augustine places the importance of Scripture in such a central place that he is ready to place Faustus under an anathema (that's what "accursed" there means) for suggesting that the Scriptures are not written for our learning. And with the same stroke of his pen he also deflates the Roman denial of the perspicuity of the Scriptures: they are written for our learning! They are, therefore, written for the unlearned so that he might become learned - for the simple, that he may become wise, as it is written:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

For more on the Reformers and the Necessity of Reading the Scriptures click here.


This is part two a two-part series in response to Mr. Marshall. The first part can be found here (link).

Philip Paul Bliss (Revised) and Wade Burleson

Wade Burleson says he welcomes the charge of antinomianism (link) which I trust he simply means rhetorically. Of more interest than his main point, however, is how converts a 19th century poem from an orthodox sense to a legalist sense:
I love the following song, written by Philip Paul Bliss in the mid-1800's:
"Free from the law—oh, happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission;
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all." (P. Bliss)
Our brothers who don't understand our freedom might sing the following:
"Bound to the law-oh, everyone listen!
Jesus did die, but we're on a mission;
Live by the law and try not to fall,
cause Christ did nothin for us at all." (S. Baptist)
What is interesting is that I had previously heard the same technique applied to this poem to make antinomian:
"Free from the law—oh, happy condition!
I can sin as I please, and still have remission;
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all." (Antinomian)
Neither legalism (which Wade ascribes to Southern Baptists) nor antinomianism is proper. We are freed from the law, yes. Yet it is still our duty to follow the law, and if we love God we will obey his most holy commandments.


Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 27/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 27/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

27) If sola Scriptura is so solid and biblically based, why has there never been a full treatise written in its defense since the phrase was coined in the Reformation?

Simple Answer(s):


Important Qualification(s):

1) The phrase was not coined during the Reformation, though the phrase became a handy way of expressing the difference between the position of the Reformers as contrasted with the position of those who adhered to Trent.

2) William Whitaker wrote a full length treatise on the subject in the 1500's.

3) Since then, plenty of folks have written either full length treatises or large portions of larger treatises on the topic.

4) For example, William Webster and David King have a three volume set on the topic entitled, "Holy Scripture: the Ground and Pillar of the Faith," and Keith Mathison has a single volume that is entitle "The Shape of Sola Scriptura."

- TurretinFan

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Recent Squirm of Mr. Marshall (by Pastor King)

(Post by Pastor David T. King)

Mr. Marshall’s having suddenly “bumped into a zinger” from the language of Augustine in De doctrina Christiana (Book I, 39, 34) indicates to us his own unfamiliarity with this ancient African theologian, especially in terms of the development of Augustine’s mature convictions regarding the necessity of Holy Scripture. A. D. R. Polman, who has written at length on Augustine’s view of Scripture, and how it developed, commented…
St. Augustine has discussed the necessity of Scripture on many occasions, and his discussions are an excellent illustration of what we have called his first and second stages. In the first stage he held that Scripture is needed constantly by the uneducated masses, but temporarily by the spiritual elite. In the second stage, however, he emphasized the need for Scripture of all believers on their pilgrimage. God’s Word has become a kind of bond with God, in which He has deliberately set down His promises to all generations, so that all mortals can read them and keep them (See Enarr. In Ps. 144, 17). This necessity is, however, restricted to mortal life. In the new heaven and on the new earth, God’s people will no longer need any writings, for here faith will have become the direct contemplation of the Divine Countenance. [FN1]
The passage from Augustine referenced by Polman is as follows…
Augustine (A.D. 354-430) commenting on Psalm 145:13: The Lord is faithful in all his words, and holy in all his deeds. We might well have believed him if he had chosen only to speak to us, but he wanted us to have his scriptures to hold onto; it is like promising something to a friend and saying to him, “Don’t rely on word of mouth; I’ll put it in writing for you.” It was necessary for God’s written guarantee to endure as each generation comes and goes, as the centuries roll by and mortals give way to their successors. God’s own handwriting would be there for all the passers-by to read, so that they would keep the way of his promise. [FN2]
Other Romanists have likewise sought to exploit this passage from Augustine for apologetic “zingers,” such as G. Van Noort in his Dogmatic Theology: Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation, trans. & rev. John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D. S.S.L. and William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1961), p. 115. While ignoring a plethora of passages from many ECFs, who emphasized repeatedly the need for Christians to read Holy Scripture (minimizing, for example, this emphasis found in Chrysostom), Van Noort “cherry-picked” the same passage from Augustine (which Mr. Marshall himself has “bumped into” in recent days) and attempted to represent Augustine’s view in a manner as to suggest that this ancient witness agrees with the modern day Romanist’s emphasis against the necessity of reading Holy Scripture. Roman Catholic Theologians such as Van Noort held Bible Societies in contempt, noting that, historically speaking, this has been the standard posture of the Roman Catholic Church: “It is hardly necessary to point out that Protestant Bible Societies have been condemned over and over again by the [Roman] Church in no uncertain terms.” [FN3] Examples can be found in the encyclicals of various popes, who refer to the translation and publishing work of Bible Societies (Whose efforts it has been to disseminate the Scriptures in the vernacular of the people) as “a pernicious plan,” “wickedness,” and thus “condemned.” [FN4] Having reflected on the history of the Roman Church’s interaction with the Latin Vulgate, the late patristic scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan noted,
That twentieth-century affirmation of the prime authority of “the original texts of the sacred books” by Pope Pius XII [Divino afflante Spiritu] and then by the Second Vatican Council [Dei Verbum 6.22] may be seen as an ultimate vindication, more than four centuries later, of the sacred philology of the Renaissance and the Reformation. For although the humanists did urge that the corruptions of the Vulgate text, which had occurred through its transmission from one medieval copyist to another, made the production of a critical edition of the Latin text mandatory, their chief criticism was directed against the inadequacies, indeed the inaccuracies, of the Vulgate as such, which no collation of Latin manuscripts, however thorough, could be expected to set straight. [FN5]
But if this isolated reference of Augustine proves anything, as suggested by Van Noort (and now in recent days by Mr. Marshall), it proves too much. For if this indeed reflects the mature thought of Augustine, namely that these three virtues are all one needs, it would likewise, strictly speaking, effectively rule out the necessity of ‘unwritten traditions,’ any creed but ‘faith, hope, and love’ (which themselves have been normed by none other than Holy Scripture, 1 Cor. 13:13), as well as the Roman magisterium and the pope himself. Indeed, these three virtues would suffice for people out in the desert to the exclusion of the Church, her ministry of the sacraments, and the King of the Church himself, the Lord Jesus Christ! Augustine never intended his words to be construed with such a meaning, and especially with respect to his mature view of Holy Scripture. Thus the meaning which Mr. Marshall suggests to have gleaned from Augustine can by the same logic be pressed into service to misrepresent him in other ways, as demonstrated above. So, we cannot help but wonder if this consideration likewise registers “a zinger that [causes] even his own [Romanist] soul to squirm.”

FN1 A. D. R. Polman, The Word of God according to St. Augustine (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), p. 74.

FN2 John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, Vol. 20, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., Expositions of the Psalms, Psalms 121-150, Exposition of Psalm 144.17 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2004), pp. 393-394.

FN3 G. Van Noort, S.T.D., Dogmatic Theology: Vol. III, The Sources of Revelation, trans. & rev. John J. Castelot, S.S., S.T.D. S.S.L. and William R. Murphy, S.S., S.T.D. (Westminster: The Newman Press, 1961), p. 119. See also Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed., trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 25-26, which indicates that Bible Societies were still under official Catholic proscription as late as 1977.

FN4 See the following papal encyclicals: Pius VII’s epistle Magno et acerbo, Leo XII’s Ubi primum, and Gregory XVI’s Inter praecipuas in Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, pp. 398-401, 409-410. Interestingly enough, Leo II repeats the prohibition of Trent against the distribution of Bibles in the common vernacular of the people in his encyclical Ubi primum. In his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism (p. 45), Keating is very misleading with respect to history when he suggests that “The Church had no complaint about mere translations of the Bible . . .” Certainly the Council of Trent was of another mind, as was Pius VII.

FN5 Jaroslav Pelikan, The Reformation of the Bible/The Bible of the Reformation, p. 15. The pertinent section in Dei Verbum 6.22 reads: “But since the Word of God must be readily available at all times, the Church, with motherly concern, sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into various languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. If it should happen that, when the opportunity presents itself and the authorities of the Church agree, these translations are made in a joint effort with the separated brethren, they may be used by all Christians.” See Austin Flannery, O.P., general editor, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar And Post Conciliar Documents (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), Vol. 1, p. 763.

As noted above, this post is by Pastor David T. King. This is part one of a two-part series in response to Mr. Marshall. The other part (by TurretinFan) will be posted, Lord Willing, tomorrow.

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 26/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 26/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

26) How could the Apostle Thomas establish the church in India that survives to this day (and is now in communion with the Catholic Church) without leaving them with one word of New Testament Scripture?

Simple Answer(s):


Important Qualification(s):

1) Whether Thomas himself actually evangelized India is a question that is open to debate.

2) There's no reasonable basis for Steve Ray to claim that Thomas didn't bring any New Testament Scripture with him.

3) The Indian Orthodox church (also known as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church) uses the so-called Liturgy of St. James. That liturgy includes the reading of the gospels.

4) The Malankara church was out of communion with Rome for centuries (whether it is now in full communion is an interesting question in itself). Taking Steve Ray's claim in that regard for granted, however, why does their experience suddenly become relevant now, simply because they are now communing with Rome? In other words, isn't it odd for Steve Ray to point to a church that was apart from communion with Rome as though it were an example of authentic Christianity (given Steve Ray's own beliefs)?

- TurretinFan

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Francis Beckwith and Black Popes

I realize Francis Beckwith is just trying to fit into the modern culture of political correctness and to honor the contributions of those of the black race, but his recent post titled: "The Catholic Church's Black Popes" is a bit off the mark (even beyond calling the Roman church the "Catholic Church." (link to post)

First, the term "Black Popes" usually refers to the head of the so-called Society of Jesus (Jesuits), currently Adolfo Nicolás (who is apparently the 30th such head of the Jesuits)

Also, while there were three African bishops of Rome:

Pope St. Victor I (allegedly from 186-197 A.D.)

Pope St. Militiades (allegedly from 311-314 A.D.)

Pope St. Gelasius I (allegedly from 492-496 A.D.)

They were all North Africans, not Sub-saharan Africans and consequently were no more "black" than other notable African Christians like Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, or Athanasius.


P.S. Yes, I realize that he's quoting from Dr. Camille Brown

for much of his post, but her doctorate in education (source) seems to have left her sadly unaware of the racial distinction between north Africans and sub-Saharan Africans.

P.P.S. I don't mean for this post to suggest that I approve of the polarizing tradition of having a "black history month," nor to suggest any approval of disparagement of the black race.

Literature on the Early Roman Church

The early Roman church was a remarkable church. It was not, however, much like the Roman Catholic church. In an interesting post, John Bugay at Reformation 500 has explored some of the scholarly literature relating to the issue of the development of the papacy (link to post).

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 25/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 25/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

25) If Christianity is a “book religion,” how did it flourish during the first 1500 years of Church history when the vast majority of people were illiterate?

Simple Answer(s):


Important Qualification(s):

1) Literacy was actually much higher in the Roman empire in the early part of that period than Mr. Ray seems to think. Yes, toward the end of the medieval period in Europe literacy got low among the poor.

2) Those who could not read could still listen to the book being read.

3) Although the old churches had various liturgies, all of those liturgies read and sung Scripture.

4) It's hard really to view the Western church of the late medieval period as "flourishing" in anything other than numbers.

- TurretinFan

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

You Cannot Balance Out Sins with Virtues

I recently came across an article from "CathNews" that "Australia is the 'most sinful' nation on earth." (link to article) There are some obvious problems with a methodology that uses plastic surgery as the measure of pride, but I'd like to talk about the reaction provided the article.

A Melbourne priest named Bob Maguire responded:
I think the people who did this survey are just jealous of we Aussies, and rightly so ... Australians like to indulge and enjoy the good things in life - we are open about that. But people forget that the mirror image of the sins are the seven virtues and Australians also have a lot of virtues on balance. We're just too laconic to talk about the things we do right.
I certainly don't think that Australians are the most sinful people in the world any more than I think that Hatians are the most sinful people in the world (see here - and more importantly here). The priest's claim, though, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of morality. We're not able to balance out vices with virtues.

Luke 17:7-10
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Some might still argue that the standard of required righteousness is low enough that one might do some works of supererogation, thereby balancing out one's vices with superfluous virtue. Scripture stops such an idea in its tracks. Scripture indicates that the standard is:

Deuteronomy 18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

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

And lest someone say that "perfect" should be understood in some lesser sense:

Deuteronomy 6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Deuteronomy 10:12-13
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?

Mark 12:29-31
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Beware of Imprecise Terminology

The following is a story [FN1], allegedly originally printed by Henry Bebel in 1550 (as shown above)(a late middle English translation and expansion is here). My own modernization [FN2] of the expanded Middle English version follows:

Of the Parson that said a Requiem Mass for Christ's Soul

There was a certain country priest that was not especially well educated. Therefore, on the evening before Easter he sent his boy to the priest of the next town (about two miles from him) to know what mass he should sing the next day. This boy came to the neighboring priest and made his master's request.

The neighboring priest then responded, "Tell your master that he must sing tomorrow of the resurrection." The priest further added, "if you happen to forget it, tell your master that it begins with a capital 'R'," and showed him the mass book where it was written "Resurrexi." etc.

The boy then went home again, and all the way as he went he kept repeating "Resurrexi Resurrexi." At the last minute, however, it happened to fall clean out of his mind. When he came home, his master asked him what mass he should sing tomorrow.

"I swear, master," said the boy, "I have forgotten it, but he told me to tell you it begins with a capital 'R'."

"Aha," said the priest, "I know you say the truth, for now I remember well it must be 'requiem eternam,' for god almighty died as though on yesterday and now we must say mass for his soul."

By this you may see that when one fool sends another fool on his errand, oftentimes the business receives fool's-gold help.[FN3]

The moral I'd like to suggest is a little different. I'd like to suggest that an important lesson for us to learn is that we should be careful about using imprecise theological statements. While there is an orthodox sense to the expression that the priest used to describe the Good Friday commemoration of Christ's death, since Christ (who is God) died that day, nevertheless much absurdity can arise (and this story is but one facetious example) from a failure to properly distinguish between those things that belong properly to Christ's human nature (such as to be born, to grow, to learn, to die, and to be raised again) and those that properly belong to Christ's divine nature (such as to be omniscient, eternal, and immutable).

Therefore, we ought to be careful to avoid unnecessary ambiguity in our language. By speaking precisely we may aid the simple and edify the learned.

FN1: This story brought to my attention via Matthew at Shrine of the Holy Whapping

FN2: I've updated not only the spellings of words, and archaic words ("quoth" and "trow" for example) but also the archaic syntax and an instance of the priest taking the LORD's name in vain (replaced by "Aha").

FN3: The original punchline is a little hard to convey. The original ending was "the business is foolishly speed" which makes no sense to the modern reader given the modern shift in the semantic domain of the word "speed." English retains this kind of sense in the word "godspeed" of which "foolspeed" would be a sort of opposite. While we could say "assisted as though by a fool" that would reduce a lot of the punch of the punchline, so I've tried to get as close as possible with "fool's gold help" which manages to include a play on the word "fool" without simply stating the obvious.

Which Doctrine is Right?

A friend recently asked me how one goes about deciding whether a doctrine is correct or not. There are at least four answers to this question and an important caveat.

First, as my friend was already doing, one asks one's brethren for assistance. Scripture says:

Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.

Proverbs 24:6 For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Second, in particular, one should seek advice not only of one's brethren in general but of those who have the duty of being teachers in spiritual things. Thus, women should learn from their husbands, and the husbands should learn from the elders.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:24-26
And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

The third was is hinted at implicitly in the previous answers:

Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

Hebrews 5:11-14
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

The fourth answer is prayer to God for wisdom:

1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

The crucial caveat is that we need to be content with our limitations in the present life.

Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

1 Timothy 6:3-6
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain.

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

So, then, to sum up my response, one should seek wisdom from one's brethren as you, the reader, are already doing. Seek wisdom from your elders or, if you are a woman, from your believing husband. Most importantly, search the Scriptures and above all pray to God for wisdom.

When you reach an impasse in your understanding, of course you may continue to pray for wisdom, but strive as well to be content. Because our heavenly Father knows your needs, even before you ask (Matthew 6:7-8), and does graciously work all things together for the good of the elect (Romans 8:28), you can be assure that God will give you all the understanding that you need, even if that leaves one or more difficult doctrinal questions unanswered for the time being.

Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

- TurretinFan

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 24/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 24/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

24) How were the bishops at Hippo and Carthage able to determine the correct canon of Scripture, in spite of the fact that they believed all the distinctively Catholic doctrines such as the apostolic succession of bishops, the sacrifice of the Mass, Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, etc?

Simple Answer(s):

Again, this question is so loaded that even the simple answer, "the Holy Spirit," may not be helpful.

Important Qualification(s):

1) Hippo and Carthage actually had two different Old Testament canons.

2) Neither Hippo nor Carthage got the whole canon correct.

3) Athanasius got the whole New Testament canon correct before either Hippo or Carthage. We have evidence for Athanasius, but we don't think he was alone in this regard.

3) The bishops (and others) of Hippo and Carthage did not hold to all the distinctively Roman Catholic doctrines. For example, they did not hold to the immaculate conception or bodily assumption of Mary. They also did not hold to transubstantiation or papal infallibility. The second half of the question is just another one of Steve Ray's half-truths.

4) The half-truth is that the bishop of Hippo/Carthage may have held to baptismal regeneration and to the Real Presence (which is not the same thing as transubstantiation). However, while we have some evidence with respect to Augustine and perhaps a few other of the bishops, we have no extant individual writings for most of them, and the subject matter of their councils doesn't highlight those issues.

5) Getting into the topics of whether the bishops held to "apostolic succession" or the "sacrifices of the Mass" would require a much longer discussion of the anachronism that Steve Ray is employing by inviting the reader to impose modern Roman Catholic categoies onto 4th century Christians.

6) The term "determine" is itself ambiguous. Those councils were able to identify and recognize the correct canon of the New Testament thanks to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That's the same reason that Athanasius was able to do so before those councils and the same reason that we can do so today.

- TurretinFan

Monday, February 01, 2010

Death Penalty and Rome

Roman Catholicism today is mostly against the death penalty. For example, the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the RCC's view of capital punishment this way:
Capital Punishment

2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
"If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
(source - punctuation and citation as in original, footnotes omitted)

Many folks will recall that Rome was not traditionally opposed to the death penalty, particularly for accused heretics. However, Rome's view on this moral issue has been shifting to the liberal end of the spectrum, as evidenced by the CCC items above, which make capital punishment justifiable only in "very rare" if not "practically non-existent" circumstances.

Of course, the laws of Vatican City were originally drafted in older days, when this modernist mentality had not yet carried the day. Thus, the constitution of the Vatican City provided for capital punishment. However, it now reported that finally the laws of Vatican City have caught up to the shift in Rome's view of morality (link to report). Thus, the Vatican City will join the ranks of other nations who are unable to obey the following commands:

Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

- TurretinFan

Unloading 35 Loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" 23/35

Steve Ray has a list of 35 loaded Questions for "Bible Christians" (quotation marks his)(link to the whole list). This is number 23/35. I'm trying to provide the answers in a common format, for easy reference.

23) Why do Protestants follow postapostolic Jewish decisions on the boundaries of the Old Testament canon, rather than the decision of the Church founded by Jesus Christ?

Simple Answer(s):

This question is so loaded that the only simple answer that can be given is "they don't."

Important Qualification(s):

1) We follow, in the strongest sense, the canon to which Jesus referred when he said, "from Abel .. unto ... Zacharias." (Matthew 23:35 & Luke 11:51)

2) The Roman Catholic Church is not "the Church founded by Jesus Christ."

3) The decisions of various local councils in the first millenium were not decisions of "the Church" that would require anyone outside their jurisdictional boundaries to do anything. They are decisions of churches, but not of The Church.

4) There is more than one sense to "follow." We agree with the Jews regarding the canon, but that's not quite the same thing as "following" them in the way that we "follow" our leaders.

5) The post-apostolic Jewish views of the canon provide evidence regarding the Old Testament canon. It would be foolish to ignore that evidence, and the church fathers themselves did not all ignore that evidence.

6) Some scholars allege that there was a so-called "council" of Jews at Jamnia that established the current Hebrew canon (as with so many other things in ancient history, other scholars disagree). While this so-called "council of Jamnia" of about A.D. 90 may have come after the death of the apostle John (normally thought to have died about A.D. 100), its constituent Jews were naturally those who lived during the apostolic period. So, "post-apostolic" (if it is referring to Jamnia) is misleading.

7) It is frankly absurd to imagine that no one had any idea of what the canon of Old Testament Scripture was before the Incarnation. After all, when Jesus speaks to people in the Gospels he frequently refers to "the Scriptures" and even exhorts the Jewish leaders who doubted him to "search the Scriptures." They didn't reply, "But no one has provided us with an infallible canon yet!"

8) Suggesting that we should follow the decision of a post-reformation Roman Catholic council as to the Old Testament purely on the weight of its authority is troubling, given that the same council, in the same section refers to Hebrews as one of Paul's epistles, something that practically all Biblical scholars today (even Roman Catholics) recognize isn't accurate. In other words, we have no good reason to think that Trent was infallible or to accept its decision as a decision that should bind God's church.

- TurretinFan

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 5)

[Cont'd from previous section]

Is the Roman Catholic Magisterium More Sufficient than Sacred Scripture?
Bryan Cross answered on the subject of the ability of the Scripture to interpret Scripture sufficiently, from Scripture, reason, and tradition.
(Part 5)

Continuing to analyze the problem with Bryan's argument, we might characterize the problem as Bryan wanting to get a level of knowledge that goes beyond the divinely set limits - have knowledge of things about which Scripture is silent. Scripture explains: Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Judges 13:18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret? Daniel 12:4 But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. Revelation 10:4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.

The fathers also understood this.

Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150 - 215):
Who can read the Phaedo, and think of Plato and Socrates, without hope that the mystery of redemption applies to them in some effectual way, under St. Paul’s maxims (Romans 2:26)? It would torture me in reading such sayings as are quoted here, were I not able reverently to indulge such hope, and then to desist from speculation. Cannot we be silent where Scripture is silent, and leave all to Him who loved the Gentiles, and died for them on the cross?
- Clement of Alexandria, ANF: Vol. II, Book IV, Elucidations.

Basil of Caesarea (about A.D. 329-379):
I know the laws of allegory, though less by myself than from the works of others. There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Those who have written about the nature of the universe have discussed at length the shape of the earth. If it be spherical or cylindrical, if it resemble a disc and is equally rounded in all parts, or if it has the form of a winnowing basket and is hollow in the middle; all these conjectures have been suggested by cosmographers, each one upsetting that of his predecessor. It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us. Shall I then prefer foolish wisdom to the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Shall I not rather exalt Him who, not wishing to fill our minds with these vanities, has regulated all the economy of Scripture in view of the edification and the making perfect of our souls? It is this which those seem to me not to have understood, who, giving themselves up to the distorted meaning of allegory, have undertaken to give a majesty of their own invention to Scripture. It is to believe themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and to bring forth their own ideas under a pretext of exegesis. Let us hear Scripture as it has been written.
- Basil of Caesarea, NPNF2: Vol. VIII, Hexaemeron, Homily 9, The Creation of Terrestrial Animals, §1.

Hilary of Poitiers (about A.D. 315-67):
Such is their error, such their pestilent teaching; to support it they borrow the words of Scripture, perverting its meaning and using the ignorance of men as their opportunity of gaining credence for their lies. Yet it is certainly by these same words of God that we must come to understand the things of God. For human feebleness cannot by any strength of its own attain to the knowledge of heavenly things; the faculties which deal with bodily matters can form no notion of the unseen world. Neither our created bodily substance, nor the reason given by God for the purposes of ordinary life, is capable of ascertaining and pronouncing upon the nature and work of God. Our wits cannot rise to the level of heavenly knowledge, our powers of perception lack the strength to apprehend that limitless might. We must believe God’s word concerning Himself, and humbly accept such insight as He vouchsafes to give. We must make our choice between rejecting His witness, as the heathen do, or else believing in Him as He is, and this in the only possible way, by thinking of Him in the aspect in which He presents Himself to us. Therefore let private judgment cease; let human reason refrain from passing barriers divinely set. In this spirit we eschew all blasphemous and reckless assertion concerning God, and cleave to the very letter of revelation. Each point in our enquiry shall be considered in the light of His instruction, Who is our theme; there shall be no stringing together of isolated phrases whose context is suppressed, to trick and misinform the unpracticed listener. The meaning of words shall be ascertained by considering the circumstances under which they were spoken words must be explained by circumstances not circumstances forced into conformity will words. We, at any rate, will treat our subject completely; we will state both the circumstances under which words were spoken, and the true purport of the words. Each point shall be considered in orderly sequence.
- Hilary of Poitiers, NPNF2: Vol. IX, On the Trinity, Book IV, §14.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):
Eran.—In these points you seem to say sooth, but after its assumption into heaven I do not think that you will deny that it was changed into the nature of Godhead.
Orth.—I would not so say persuaded only by human arguments, for I am not so rash as to say anything concerning which divine Scripture is silent.
- Theodoret, NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret, Dialogue II.—The Unconfounded. Orthodoxos and Eranistes.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):
I do not say these things definitively. For I consider it presumptuous to speak definitively of things concerning which the divine Scripture does not speak distinctly. But I have said what I conceived was suitable to the views of piety.

[alternative translation of the above]

Now, I do not state this dogmatically, my view being that it is rash to speak dogmatically where holy Scripture does not make an explicit statement; rather, I have stated what I consider to be consistent with orthodox thought.
Greek text:
Ἐγὼ δὲ ταῦτα οὐκ ἀποφαινόμενος λέγω· τολμηρὸν γὰρ ἀποφαντικῶς οἶμαι λέγειν, περὶ ὧν ἡ θεία διαῤῥήδην οὐ λέγει γραφή· ἀλλʼ ὅπερ τοῖς εὐσεβέσι λογισμοῖς ἁρμόττειν ὑπέλαβον, εἴρηκα.
Citation: Quaestiones in Genesim, Interrogatio IV, PG 80:84; translation from William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. III, p. 191; alternate translation from Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, IV (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 19.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):
It does not become us to search after those things which are passed over in silence; but it behoves us to love those things which are written.

[alternative translation of the above]

We should not pry into secrets but be grateful for what is written.
Greek Text:
Οὐ δεῖ ζητεῖν τὰ σεσιγημένα· στέργειν δὲ προσήκει τὰ γεγραμμένα.
Citation: Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Genesim, Interrogatio XLV, PG 80:145.; translated by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, pp. 191-192; alternative translation by Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Genesis, Interrogatio XLV (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 95.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (about A.D. 393-466):
It is superfluous and unprofitable to inquire after those things which are passed over in silence.

[alternative translation of the above]

It is pointless and foolish to inquire into unspoken secrets.
Greek text:
Περιττὸν καὶ ἀνόητον τὸ τὰ σεσιγημένα ζητεῖν.
Citation: Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Exodum, Interrogatio XXVI, PG 80:256; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 192; alternative translation by Robert C. Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus: The Questions on the Octateuch, Volume 1, Questions on Exodus, XXVI (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) p. 271.

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch from about A.D. 412-444):
That which the divine Scripture has not spoken, how shall we receive it, and reckon it among verities?
Greek text:
Ὃ γὰρ οὐκ εἴρηκεν ἡ θεία Γραφὴ, τίνα δὴ τρόπον παραδεξόμεθα, καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀληθῶς ἔχουσι καταλογιούμεθα;
Citation: Cyril of Alexandria, Glaphyrorum In Genesim, Liber II, PG 69:53; translation by William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 2nd ed., 3 Vols. (London: John Henry Jackson, 1853), Vol. 3, p. 181.

Prosper of Aquitaine (died about A.D. 463) writing around A.D. 450:
Who will tell the reasons and motives of these differences within one and the same grace when Sacred Scripture is silent about them?
- Prosper of Aquitaine, ACW, Vol. 14, P. De Letter, S.J., PH.D., S.T.D., trans., St. Prosper of Aquitaine: The Call of All Nations, Book 2, Chapter 9 (New York: Newman Press, 1952), p. 103.

Caesarius of Arles (about A.D. 470-543):
Sacred Scripture speaks about the godhead and divinity of the Holy Spirit, but does not say whether He should be called begotten or unbegotten. See what confusion a lack of faith creates. You do not want to know what God did not want to be unknown, and you want to know what He did not decree should be asked. . . .
You ask whether He [i.e. the Holy Spirit] was begotten or not. Sacred Scripture has said nothing about this, and it is wrong to violate the divine silence. Since God did not think that this should be indicated in His writings, He did not want you to question or to know through idle curiosity.
- Caesarius of Arles, FC, Vol. 66, Sermons 187-238, Sermon 213.1-2 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1973), pp. 106, 107.

Gregory of Nyssa (about A.D. 335-395):
Since, my friend, you ask me a question in your letter, I think that it is incumbent upon me to answer you in their proper order upon all the points connected with it. It is, then, my opinion that it is a good thing for those who have dedicated themselves once for all to the higher life to fix their attention continually upon the utterances in the Gospel, and, just as those who correct their work in any given material by a rule, and by means of the straightness of that rule bring the crookedness which their hands detect to straightness, so it is right that we should apply to these questions a strict and flawless measure as it were, — I mean, of course, the Gospel rule of life, — and in accordance with that, direct ourselves in the sight of God. Now there are some amongst those who have entered upon the monastic and hermit life, who have made it a part of their devotion to behold those spots at Jerusalem where the memorials of our Lord’s life in the flesh are on view; it would be well, then, to look to this Rule, and if the finger of its precepts points to the observance of such things, to perform the work, as the actual injunction of our Lord; but if they lie quite outside the commandment of the Master, I do not see what there is to command any one who has become a law of duty to himself to be zealous in performing any of them.
- Gregory of Nyssa, NPNF2: Vol. V, On Ascetic and Moral Treatises, On Pilgrimages.

Augustine (about A.D. 354-430):
Well, then, let us grant that it is so, that many can now bear those things when the Holy Spirit has been sent, which could not then, prior to His coming, be born by the disciples: do we on that account know what it is that He would not say, as we should know it were we reading or hearing it as uttered by Himself? For it is one thing to know whether we or you could bear it; but quite another to know what it is, whether able to be born or not. But when He Himself was silent about such things, which of us could say, It is this or that? Or if he venture to say it, how will he prove it? For who could manifest such vanity or recklessness as when saying what he pleased to whom he pleased, even though true, to affirm without any divine authority that it was the very thing which the Lord on that occasion refused to utter? Which of us could do such a thing without incurring the severest charge of rashness, — a thing which gets no countenance from prophetic or apostolic authority? For surely if we had read any such thing in the books confirmed by canonical authority, which were written after our Lord’s ascension, it would not have been enough to have read such a statement, had we not also read in the same place that this was actually one of those things which the Lord was then unwilling to tell His disciples, because they were unable to bear them. As if, for example, I were to say that the words which we read at the opening of this Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God:” and those which follow, because they were written afterwards, and yet without any mention of their being uttered by the Lord Jesus when He was here in the flesh, but were written by one of His apostles, to whom they were revealed by His Spirit, were some of those which the Lord would not then utter, because the disciples were unable to bear them; who would listen to me in making so rash a statement? But if in the same passage where we read the one we were also to read the other, who would not give due credence to such an apostle?
3. But it seems to me also very absurd to say that the disciples could not then have born what we find recorded, about things invisible and of profoundest import, in the apostolic epistles, which were written in after days, and of which there is no mention that the Lord uttered them when His visible presence was with them. For why could they not bear then what is now read in their books, land born by every one, even though not understood? Some things there are, indeed, in the Holy Scriptures which unbelieving men both have no understanding of when they read or hear them, and cannot bear when they are read or heard: as the pagans, that the world was made by Him who was crucified; as the Jews, that He could be the Son of God, who broke up their mode of observing the Sabbath; as the Sabellians, that the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit are a Trinity; as the Arians, that the Son is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son; as the Photinians, that Christ is not only man like ourselves, but God also, equal to God the Father; as the Manicheans, that Christ Jesus, by whom we must be saved, condescended to be born in the flesh and of the flesh of man: and all others of divers perverse sects, who can by no means bear whatever is found in the Holy Scriptures and in the Catholic faith that stands out in opposition to their errors, just as we cannot bear their sacrilegious vaporings and mendacious insanities. For what else is it not to be able to bear, but not to retain in our minds with calmness and composure? But what of all that has been written since our Lord’s ascension with canonical truth and authority, is it not read and heard with equanimity by every believer, and catechumen also, before in his baptism he receive the Holy Spirit, even although it is not yet understood as it ought to be?
- Augustine, NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate 96, John 16:12, 13.

[cont'd in section 6]

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Temporary Forgiveness? - Responding to Dr. Robert Rayburn

Dr. Robert Rayburn (PCA pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA) wrote:
Justification – whatever else it is – is the forgiveness of sins. It is perfectly obvious that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness because the Bible says there is (cf. Num. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:5; Ezekiel 16:1-14; Matthew 18:32-34; etc.). Whether we are entirely satisfied with Dr. Leithart’s effort to incorporate this biblical material into the larger picture of the way of divine grace, the fact is, temporary forgiveness is a biblical datum.
(source)(brought to my attention here)

Dr. Rayburn's statement that it is "perfectly obvious" that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness in Scripture does not seem to be well supported. He provides four passages to support his claim.

1) Numbers 14:20-21
And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.

It is hard to see how Dr. Rayburn thinks that this verse evidences temporary forgiveness. In context, the punishment that God was threatening was a pestilence, disinheritance and re-formation of the people from the loins of Moses:

Numbers 14:11-12
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

God did not execute this judgment on the people. Instead, in answer to Moses' prayer, God imposed a lesser judgment on them:

Numbers 14:22-24
Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: but my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.

Since Dr. Rayburn doesn't provide an argument (just an assertion), it is unclear why Dr. Rayburn thinks that Numbers 14 evidences "temporary forgiveness," but if there is any sense in which it does, that sense is far from obvious.

2) 1 Corinthians 10:5
But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

This seems to be a similar reference to the reference above. However, in 1 Corinthians 10, we are given some specific examples of what provoked God's judgment:

a) Worshiping God with an image (the golden calf) (vs. 7)
b) Committing fornication (the Moabite's influence as counseled by Balaam) (vs. 8)
c) Complaining about the manna (vs. 9)
d) Murmering against Moses (for example, Korah's rebellion) (vs. 10)

There again is no obvious "temporary forgiveness" in this passage.

3) Ezekiel 16:1-14
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, And say,

Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem;

Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, "Live;" yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, "Live."

I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.

Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee,
saith the Lord GOD,
and thou becamest mine. Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.

I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers' skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.

And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee,
saith the Lord GOD.
This part of the passage doesn't directly deal with forgiveness at all. The passage goes on to explain that Jerusalem was basically like a wife who was extremely unfaithful (the text, though it uses some euphamisms, is pretty explicit), and that consequently God was going to bring judgments upon her. However, the passage concludes that God will use those judgments to turn her back and finally:

Ezekiel 16:61-63
Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger: and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD.

That part at the end really sounds rather permanent, but again - since Dr. Rayburn has provided assertion rather than argument - it is practically impossible to figure out why he thinks that temporary forgiveness is in view.

4) Matthew 18:32-34
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

This parable is the one place where an argument for "temporary forgiveness" might at first seem to find support. This understanding, however, is drawn from trying to draw a lesson from an aspect of the parable that is not the principal point of the parable.

Matthew Poole elaborates:
All these verses (except the last) are but a parable, which (as I before showed) is a similitude brought from the usual actions of men, and made use of to open or apply some spiritual doctrine. The main scope, or the proposition of truth, which our Saviour designs to open or press, is that which is first and principally to be considered and intended; and that, as I before showed, is to be known, either by the particular explication given by our Saviour, or by what went immediately before, or followeth immediately after. The scope of this parable is plainly expressed, ver. 35, So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses. Nor is it obscurely hinted to us in what went before, where our Saviour was instructing Peter in the great duty of forgiving men their trespasses. This being agreed, as we use to say, that similitudes run not on four feet, so we are not to expect that all the actions of men, mentioned in the parable, should be answered by some correspondent actions of God: as similitudes always halt, so never more than when by them God's actions are expressed and represented to us. The main points which this parable instructeth us in are, 1. That it is our duty, especially theirs who have received forgiveness from God, to forgive their brethren. 2. That if they do not, they may justly question whether God hath forgiven them, and expect the same severity from him which they show unto their brethren. These being the main things for instruction in which this parable is brought, and which we ought chiefly to eye as the things taught us by this parable, nothing hindereth but that it may also instruct us in some other things, though we cannot raise a proposition of truth from every branch of the parable, and some things be put in according to the passions and usual dealings of men, which possibly are in them unrighteous actions, and may follow from their ungoverned passions, which will by no means agree to the pure and holy nature of God.
When Poole thinks about the unrighteous actions of men, he means the same thing that Calvin means.

Calvin puts it this way:
31. When his fellow-servants saw what was done. Though we ought not to search for mystery in these words—because they contain nothing but what nature teaches, and what we learn by daily experience—we ought to know that the men who live among us will be so many witnesses against us before God; for it is impossible but that cruelty shall excite in them displeasure and hatred, more especially, since every man is afraid that what he sees done to others will fall upon his own head. As to the clause which immediately follows, it is foolish to inquire how God punishes those sins which he has already forgiven; for the simple meaning is this: though he offers mercy to all, yet severe creditors, from whom no forgiveness can be obtained, are unworthy of enjoying it.
Thus, the appropriate understanding to draw from the initial pardon is the offer of pardon - namely the general offer of the gospel.

John Gill explains it this way:
till he should pay all that was due unto him; which being so vast a sum, and he but a servant, could never be done: but inasmuch as this man was fully and freely pardoned before, how comes it to pass, that full payment of debt is yet insisted on? It is certain, that sin, once pardoned by God, he never punishes for it; for pardon with him is of all sin; he forgives all trespasses, though ever so many, and remits the whole debt, be it ever so large; which act of his grace will never be revoked: it is one of his gifts which are without repentance; it proceeds upon, and comes through a plenary satisfaction for sin made by his own Son, and therefore it would be unjust to punish for it: by this act, sin is covered out of sight; it is blotted out, and entirely done away, and that for ever. Hence some think this man had only the offer of a pardon, and not that itself; but it is not an offer of pardon, that Christ, by his blood, has procured, and is exalted to give, but that itself; and this man had his debt, his whole debt forgiven him: others think, that this was a church forgiveness, who looked upon him, judged him, and received him as one forgiven; but for his cruel usage of a fellow member, delivered him to the tormentors, passed censures on him, and excommunicated him, till he should give full satisfaction, which is more likely: others, this forgiveness was only in his own apprehensions: he presumed, and hoped he was forgiven, when he was not; but then his crime could not have been so aggravated as is: rather, this forgiveness is to be understood of averting calamities and judgments, likely to fall for his iniquities, which is sometimes the sense of this phrase: [see 1 Kings 8:34] and so his being delivered to the tormentors may mean, his being distressed with an accusing guilty conscience, an harassing, vexing devil, many misfortunes of life, and temporal calamities. Though after all, this is not strictly to be applied to any particular case or person, but the scope of the parable is to be attended to; which is to enforce mutual forgiveness among men, from having received full and free pardon at the hands of God; and that without the former, there is little reason to expect the latter, as appears from what follows.
Later in the same letter, Rayburn writes:
[T]here is obviously a sense in which forgiveness may be temporary, holiness temporary, a family relationship with God temporary, “life” itself temporary, even the love of God temporary (Deut. 7:7-11; Hos. 11:1). ... Where, pray tell, do the Standards “reject any form of `theoretical’ or temporary justification”? Do the Standards teach us to deny that the Lord pardoned Israel in the wilderness notwithstanding that she perished in her sins or to deny that he himself says that he washed Israel and made her clean (Ezek. 16:4,9)?
We'll pass over Dr. Rayburn's further assertions regarding Deuteronomy and Hosea. As to the Lord's pardon of Israel in the wilderness, the Lord kept his word and did not wipe out Israel with a pestilence in favor of Moses. They did die in the wilderness, but there was no revocation of the pardon given them, as shown above.

Similarly, while there was mention of Israel (Jerusalem, actually) being washed and made clean - this is (a) within a larger analogy relating to the birth of Jerusalem, (b) relates to Jerusalem being set apart as a nation, and (c) is something that the passage itself and Paul's epistles confirm is not something that has been destroyed, even if God is presently provoking Jerusalem to jealousy.