Plato’s Praise

August 27th, 2012

Augustine, The City of God, Book VIII, Chs.4,5

To Plato is given the praise of having perfected philosophy by combining both parts into one. He then divides it into three parts, — the first moral, which is chiefly occupied with action; the second natural, of which the object is contemplation; and the third rational, which discriminates between the true and the false. And though this last is necessary both to action and contemplation, it is contemplation, nevertheless, which lays peculiar claim to the office of investigating the nature of truth. Thus this tripartite division is not contrary to that which made the study of wisdom to consist in action and contemplation. Now, as to what Plato thought with respect to each of these parts, — that is, what he believed to be the end of all actions, the cause of all natures, and the light of all intelligences, — it would be a question too long to discuss, and about which we ought not to make any rash affirmation. For, as Plato liked and constantly affected the well-known method of his master Socrates, namely, that of dissimulating his knowledge or his opinions, it is not easy to discover dearly what he himself thought on various matters, any more than it is to discover what were the real opinions of Socrates. We must, nevertheless, insert into our work certain of those opinions which he expresses in his writings, whether he himself uttered them, or narrates them as expressed by others, and seems himself to approve of, — opinions sometimes favorable to the true religion, which our faith takes up and defends, and sometimes contrary to it, as, for example, in the questions concerning the existence of one God or of many, as it relates to the truly blessed life which is to be after death. For those who are praised as having most closely followed Plato, who is justly preferred to all the other philosophers of the Gentiles, and who are said to have manifested the greatest acuteness in understanding him, do perhaps entertain such an idea of God as to admit that in Him are to be found the cause of existence, the ultimate reason for the understanding, and the end in reference to which the whole life is to be regulated. Of which three things, the first is understood to pertain to the natural, the second to the rational, and the third to the moral part of philosophy. For if man has been so created as to attain, through that which is most excellent in him, to that which excels all things, — that is, to the one true and absolutely good God, without whom no nature exists, no doctrine instructs, no exercise profits, — let Him be sought in whom all things are secure to us, let Him be discovered in whom all truth becomes certain to us, let Him be loved in whom all becomes right to us.

Your View is Your Fault

August 11th, 2012

If a powerful intellect were essential to the right understanding of Scripture, you perceive at once that to the mass of the world, who possess only common minds, it would be a mere dead letter; but as no higher intellectual powers are necessary than fall to the common lot of man, in connection with the spirit of docility and dependence on divine illumination which all may, if they will, possess, it is manifest that the Bible is fairly open to all; and that every individual is as truly responsible for his religious opinions as for his moral conduct.

W.B. Sprague, Letters on Practical Subjects to a Daughter
Letter XIII, “Forming Religious Sentiments”

James Durham, in his 59th sermon on Isaiah 53 says this:

These three are the great warrant that a sinner has to roll himself over on; a complete Mediator; a faithful God promising to answer all grounds of fears, doubts and jealousies; and free grace, which answers all challenges that may come in to hinder his closing with, and resting on the promise. For if it should be said, ‘How dare you lay hold upon the promises?’ The answer is, ‘It is free.’ It is not the mount that may not be touched, but it is Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, etc. It is grace that is the rise, the end, and the condition of it. These are the three on which faith yields itself to Christ, and which are the object of it, on which it dare hazard, and on which it does hazard; and these three are revealed in the gospel of the grace of him that is faithful, and cannot deny himself.
May we not then say, ‘O sinners, if you will believe that, you have a good resting place,’ a sure Foundation, a tried Cornerstone, as it is Isa. 28:16 cited Rom. 9:33, where the apostle has it, He that believes on him shall never be ashamed. There is a sufficient surety, a full Mediator, there is a faithful God that will keep his word, and there is a free covenant and promise, softer a bruised soul to roll itself over upon, than any bed of the finest downs is for a weary and crazy body. This is a chariot paved with love for the daughters of Jerusalem.
Single out Christ from all that is in the word, without slighting any part of it, and believe in him and lippen to him; let him have another weight and lift of you than you give to any other thing; he is able to bear it, and God will never quarrel you for so doing, but will keep his word to you that do betake yourselves, or that have betaken yourselves to him. He that believes shall never perish, nor come into condemnation. O! know what a ground you have to rest upon; it is even the substance and marrow of all the Word of God. You have Christ and his fullness, God and his faithfulness, grace and its freeness. And are there such three things beside? Or is it imaginable or possible that there can be any beguile, or failure here? Spare not then to lay the weight of your souls upon it. Let it be the foundation of your peace, and let it answer all challenges that may be, whether for many, or for great and grievously aggravated sins. Only by faith take hold of this righteousness, and rest upon God’s faithfulness, and free promise to make it forthcoming to you. But upon the other side, O how great will it aggrege your guilt, that had such a remedy in your offer, such a tried cornerstone, elect and precious, to rest upon, and yet made no use of it! Let me exhort, beseech, and even obtest you, That ye receive not this grace in vain. But as Christ is laid for a sure Foundation, so come to him, and build upon him, that you may not be ashamed in the day of the Lord, when all the believe not, how presumptuously so ever they may hold up their heads now, shall be ashamed and confounded, world without end. O happy, thrice happy will they all be found to be then, who have trusted in him.

Sad and Sweet

August 7th, 2011

Great theological writing often takes on some of the pregnancy of expression that characterizes Scripture itself, where each thought can be unfolded and deductions drawn from it, so that it is seen that a very great deal of truth was compressed into quite a compact form. James Durham illustrates that in this paragraph from the 22nd of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53: it is not just that there are 72 sermons on the twelve verses that take up the chapter, but that in this paragraph there are many points contained that could be set out at large.

It is hard to tell whether the subject of this verse, and almost of this whole chapter, is more sad or more sweet. It is indeed a sad subject to read and hear of the great sufferings of our blessed Lord Jesus and of the despiteful usage that he met with, and to see such a speat of malice spewed and spit out on that glorious face; so that, when he is bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, we do even then account him plagued, smitten of God, and afflicted, and in a manner look upon it as well bestowed. Yet it is a most sweet subject, if we either consider the love it comes from, or the comfortable effects that follow it; that has been the rise, the cause, and the occasion of much singing to man here below, and is the cause and occasion of so much singing among the redeemed that are this day before the throne of God. And as the grace of God has overcome the malice of men, so we are persuaded this cause of rejoicing has a sweetness in it beyond the sadness, though often we mar our own spiritual mirth, and know not how to dance when he pipes unto us.

Doing Christ a Favor

July 18th, 2011

James Durham, Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53, speaking of that phrase in Isaiah 53:11, He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied has this to say:

There is here a sweet word of consolation to poor souls, that fain would have sin taken away and are afraid to presume. Our Lord will never be angry, that you make use of his sufferings for your own good; nay, he accounts it a satisfaction to him, that you improve them; that, when you find yourselves arrested for sin, you put it on his score, and draw a bill on him to pay your debt; that, when you find yourselves under them, which, to you, looks like the dominion of sin, you look to his cross for virtue to crucify, kill and subdue it. If therefore (as I have often said), you would do him a favor or pleasure, make use of him. Be assured, that the more weight you lay on him, you do him the greater pleasure; and this is all the amends that he seeks for all the wrongs you have done to him, and all the satisfaction that he seeks for all the good turns he has done to you, that you come to him, thus to make use of him. And it is good reason, even all the reason in the world, that he get this amends made to him, and this satisfaction granted to him.

The return we make to Christ for his work on our behalf, is to make use of it. It is not presumption, as the weak in conscience sometimes think, to stake a claim to the advocacy of Christ: on the contrary, refusal to use him is the ultimate insult to his grace. Would you please Christ? Then trust him alone for all your salvation and take each qualm of conscience and pang of guilt about your sin to him to deal with.

Scourging and Receiving

August 22nd, 2010

Augustine on Psalm 116

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful” (ver. 5).
He is gracious, righteous, and merciful. Gracious in the first place, because He hath inclined His ear unto me; and I knew not that the ear of God had approached my lips, till I was aroused by those beautiful feet, that I might call upon the Lord’s Name: for who hath called upon Him, save he whom He first called? Hence therefore He is in the first place “gracious;” but “righteous,” because He scourgeth; and again, “merciful,” because He receiveth; for “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth;” nor ought it to be so bitter to me that He scourgeth, as sweet that He receiveth. For how should not “The Lord, who keepeth little ones” (ver. 6), scourge those whom, when of mature age, He seeketh to be heirs; “for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?”

Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, (on Isaiah 9:1):

As always the people of God must decide what reading of their experiences they will live by. Are they to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten them? Or are they to recall his past mercies, to remember his present promises and to make great affirmations of faith? Isaiah insists here that hope is a present reality, part of the constitution of the ‘now’. The darkness is true but it is not the whole truth and certainly not the fundamental truth.

The church itself is still an advent church; for we are still waiting for him who is to come in the unveiled radiance of unconditional Godhead with the eternal kingdom. And that church rightly tells the impatient who want to see God directly here and now: Prepare for this God the true way, the way of faith, of love, of humility, and the way of patience with its unimpressive provisional messengers and their poor words and small signs. For then God will certainly come. He only comes to those who in patience love his forerunners and the provisional. The Pharisees of the Gospel, however, who rejected the forerunner of the messiah because he was not the definitive reality, did not recognize him who was the definitive reality either.

Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year

Faith Must Increase

June 25th, 2010

Faith and a desire for more faith frequently go hand in hand. The reason is that through faith we lay hold upon God, and in grasping the infinite object, the utter inadequacy of each single act of appropriation immediately reveals itself in the very act. It is the same in the Gospel: ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief’.

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology

But what advantage have godly men by these temporal promises?
Answer. This is not their advantage, to be always abounding in these outward things; that is, neither so de facto and eventually, nor were it meet it should be so. But 1. They have a promise of what is needful and useful simply, even of temporal things, which no wicked man has. They shall (Psa. 84) want no good thing; yea, though lions suffer hunger (Psa. 34:10), yet they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.
2. They may pray for these things so far as they are needful, and may confidently expect them, and go to God for them, by virtue of that right, ere they get them. So it is our daily bread by allowance, and promised before we get it (Matt. 6:11).
3. If a natural man abound, he cannot promise himself the continuance of meat till the end of his life; no, not so much as his dinner tomorrow, nor life till then. But, if a believer live, he may expect the continuance of as much food as shall be necessary for him; if he have nothing, he may confidently promise himself both life and food tomorrow, if either or both of them be needful, more than a wicked man, that has more wealth, health, and outward protection, can do.
4. He may promise himself the blessing, and the sanctified use of what he enjoys, which another cannot.
5. He may have peace, whether he have or want, in the enjoyment of creatures, or in their scarcity, because he has a right to them; for it is not from want of right to creature-comforts that scarcity of them comes, but God, like a wise and skilful physician, keeps back meat for health, where there is abundance in the right, and to be given also when needful. So that, comparing him with a wicked man, whether he have or want, whether he enjoy more plentifully, or be in scarcity, he has still the better of him by far; which should make us all love godliness the more, which has so great an advantage as this attending it.

-James Durham, Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments speaking of the promise attached to the 5th Commandment, and of the promise that godliness has for the life that now is.