Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Image: Opening of the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" or Bill No. 82 "A Bill for establishing religious freedom", written by Thomas Jefferson, and adopted by Virginia in 1786. For more info, look here.Last week (9/22/20) an important legal settlement took place that rolled back covid restrictions placed on the churches of Virginia by governor Ralph Northam.
It seems that this story has been vastly under-reported by the media.
Below is an article posted last week by wdbj7.com:
For another report see this article from the Culpepper Star-Exponent.
This is a victory for religious freedom as the courts have acknowledged that the governor's previous orders restricting churches violated the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the laws of the commonwealth of Virginia. What is more, the churches cannot be compelled to enforce the governor's "mask" restrictions, but this is left up to individual responsibility.
Monday, September 28, 2020
The 2020 Keach Conference was held on Saturday, September 26, 2020 with a limited enrollment of 90 participants.
Friday, September 25, 2020
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 2:20-26.
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
The question posed by James in James 2:21 is provocative and easily misunderstood. What does James mean when he says that Abraham was justified by works? Does this not contradict Paul? Is the Scripture broken?
Paul had a lot to say about Abraham, the first patriarch (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Paul claimed Abraham was the spiritual father of all believers, whether Jew or Greek (see Gal 3:26-29). He also saw Abraham as the model of those who were saved by God’s grace and justified by faith, citing Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom 4:3). Abraham was justified by faith, not by works (cf. Eph 2:8-9).
How then can what Paul says is Romans 4:2 possibly be made to square with James 2:21: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works….?”
Are the Scriptures broken here? Are they in a hopeless state of self-contradiction?
Insight is needed in order rightly to divide (interpret) the word. Notice two things:
First, the same word in the Bible can have more than one meaning.
We’ve seen that already with respect to the word “believe.” This verb can refer to “saving faith” as in the Ethiopian’s confession in Acts 8:37: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” But it can also mean to have an intellectual understanding apart from saving faith, as in James 2:19 when James says the devils also believe in God and tremble.
When Paul says that a man is justified by faith and not by works, he is referring to the fact that man is made right (just) in the sight of God, by grace, through the means of faith.
When James says a man is justified by works, however he is not talking about salvation, but he is talking about how a saved man acts in a righteous (just) manner through the doing of good works.
Second, context is key.
Notice the Old Testament reference used in James 2:21 to illustrate how Abraham was “justified” by works. It was when he offered up his son Isaac upon the altar in Genesis 22, one of the greatest narratives in all the Scriptures.
Here is the key point for our purposes: In Genesis 22 Abraham was already a believer. Genesis 15:6 (Abraham’s saving faith) comes before Genesis 22 (his good work of obedience).
Genesis 22 is not an account of Abraham’s salvation but his sanctification. It does not tell us how he was saved. It tells us how he lived out his salvation. It does not tell us about the root of his faith, but about the fruit of his faith. Abraham was justified (made righteous) by faith (Gen 15:6, Paul’s point), and he was justified (proven to be righteous) by works (Gen 22, James’s point).
Again, Paul and James are not in conflict. As Spurgeon responded when asked to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, “There is no need to reconcile friends.”
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 9, Chapters 10-11.
Notes and Commentary:
These final chapters describe the fall of Maximin the Tyrant of the East and enemy of the Christians.
Chapter 10 notes how Maximin came into conflict with Constantine and Licinius, which resulted in war between his forces and those of Licinius.
In the opening battle Maximin was defeated and in an act of unmanly cowardice divested himself of the imperial insignia and escaped to safety by slipping into the crowd.
Attempting to regroup, Maximin issued a decree giving full liberty to the Christians. Eusebius cites a Greek translation of the Latin original of this decree. In it, the tyrant claimed that he had instructed his governors to be lenient with the Christians, but some had misinterpreted and misapplied his instructions. He further ordered that Christians should be free to observe their religion and to build “the Lord’s houses.” He also decreed that any confiscated land be returned to them.
Eusebius notes that this order came less than a year after Maximin’s ordinances against Christians which were set up on tablets.
Not long after this, Maximin was smitten by a stroke of God. His body was consumed by “an invisible, divinely-sent fire,” till he was reduced to little more than a skeleton. His eyes fell out of his sockets, blinding him. With his last breath he acknowledged that this punishment had come upon him justly for this maltreatment of the Christians.
Chapter 11 describes the aftermath of Maximin’s death. Statues of the tyrant were smashed and portraits defaced. His high government officials, men who had led the persecution of Christians, were executed, including Peucetius and Culcianus. When Licinius came to Antioch he tortured and put to death Theotecnus and his associates. Finally, Maximin’s sons were also put to death.
Book 9 ends with the fall of Maximin the tyrant of the East, the persecutor and enemy of the Christians. His horrific death and the death of those associated with him shows the justice of God. It assures the reader that those who oppress believers will be given retribution according to the justice of God.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 2:14-19 (audio not yet available).
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:17).
In the opening sermon in our current preaching series through James I noted that one of its key themes is the importance of good works in the Christian life. The apostle James declares that a faith without works is a dead faith (see 2:17).
This is one of the most controversial aspects of this epistle. How can it be reconciled with Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”? Or what about Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ….”?
The prophet asks in Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” Can Paul and James walk together? How are we to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements?
There have been some who have attempted to muffle one or the other. Some of our Roman Catholic friends have, as it were, wanted to silence Paul and his message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, as revealed in Scripture alone.
On the other hand, there have been some Protestants who have wanted to silence James. The great Reformer Martin Luther in a preface to the book of James wrote, “He [James] does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by emphasizing law what the apostles try to bring about by attracting men to love. I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of the Bible….” (in Dillenberger, Martin Luther, Selections, 36). Thankfully, his position on James eventually softened.
The truth is that the earliest believers saw no contradiction between Paul and James. They acknowledged both to be sacred Scripture, both as being breathed about by God. As Christ himself declared in John 10:35: “the scripture cannot be broken.”
I recently read one theologian who suggested that James was inspired by God and added to the Scriptures to serve the function of guarding against “a false reading of Paul” (Childs, The New Testament as Canon, 29). He might well have added that Paul’s letters were added to guard against a misreading of James.
We know there were those from the very beginning who misused Paul’s bold preaching and teaching of the doctrines of grace. Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-16 talks about the epistles of “our beloved brother Paul … in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [twist], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Paul even seemed to be aware of this himself. In Romans 6:1 Paul asks, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” He was asking, By my teaching about grace, am I saying that it does not matter how you live? Am I saying you should sin boldly so that grace may abound? Paul answers in Romans 6:2: “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Paul later adds that since we have been buried with Christ in his baptism and raised with him in his resurrection, “even so we also should walk in newness of life” (v. 4).
What Paul calls walking in newness of life is what James describes as a faith that is not alone, but which is accompanied by good works. What James calls “dead faith” is really no faith at all. It is what Paul calls being unregenerate or “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1).
Must Paul and James be reconciled? No, they stand in agreement, with one complementing the other.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, September 17, 2020
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 9, chapter 9.
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter describes the beginning of the dissolution of the Roman Tetrarchy with the rise of Constantine and Licinius against the tyrants, Maxentius (in the West) and Maximin (in the East), a process which would eventually result in Constantine’s consolidation of power as sole emperor and his tolerance and favor extended to Christians.
Eusebius suggests that Constantine and Licinius, “both honored for their understanding and piety”, were driven by divine providence to oppose the tyrants, noting that Licanius would also eventually “become mad.”
He describes how Constantine came with full force through Italy to liberate the city of Rome from tyranny. Maxentius and his forces met Constantine at a bridge made by the joining of boats (The Battle of Milvian Bridge, October 28, 312). The bridge collapsed and Maxentius and his men were drowned and defeated. Eusebius is quick to draw a parallel to Moses’s victory over the Egyptians at the Red Sea: “the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea” (Exod 15:1).
Constantine then entered Rome in triumph. He ordered a statue be set up with him holding a cross (“a memorial of the Savior’s passion”) in his right hand, bearing, in part, the inscription, “By this salutary sign, the true proof of bravery, I saved and delivered your city from the yoke of the tyrant….”
Note: Though not mentioned here, in his Life of Constantine, Eusebius says that before the battle Constantine had a vision of the cross in heaven with the inscription, “In this sign conquer” (Vita Constantini, 1.28).
After this victory, Constantine and Licinius issued “a most perfect law in the fullest terms on behalf of the Christians.”
Maximin, the tyrant of the East, still standing and seeing the shifting of circumstances, issued an epistle, quoted by Eusebius, attempting to spin himself as having been tolerant of the Christians, despite his previous edicts against them.
According to Eusebius, reading this epistle, no one saw Maximin as truthful or trustworthy. The Christians did not yet dare to assemble in public, sensing that Maximin, a “monster of iniquity,” was resolved not to offer them toleration.
Eusebius presents the rise of Constantine as the beginning of the end of persecution against the Christians. One tyrant (Maxentius) was disposed and one more remained to be disposed (Maximin). Hope is on the horizon.