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.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Friday, September 11, 2020
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 2:10-13.
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).
James offers here a brief lesson on anthropology, the doctrine of man, and hamartiology [from hamartia, sin or missing the mark], the doctrine of sin.
He begins with a hypothetical: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law…” Does James really think it is possible that a man can keep the whole law? Think of the rich young ruler who said he had kept the law since his youth (Luke 18:18-23).
I remember a street preacher who came to my college campus and claimed he had not sinned in years. Of course, the moment he uttered those words he committed the sin of pride (see also 1 John 1:8-10).
Think about trying for one day to see how long you could go without falling into sin. What if you stayed in bed, as if in paralysis, so that your hands could not steal, your mouth could not lie, your tongue could not gossip…. Ah, but you would still have your thoughts, would you not? Barely a few moments would pass before you would be aware of some conscious sin.
We cannot insulate or cut ourselves off from personal sin. So James says that if a man keeps the whole law, “and yet offends in one point he is guilty of all.”
James is not saying here that all sins are the same. Question 88 of the Baptist Catechism asks, “Are all transgression of the law equally heinous?” And it answers: “Some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”
Christ taught that the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit was an unpardonable sin. Paul talked about fornication as a sin against one’s own body (1 Cor 6:18). John talked about “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16). James was not “levelling” all sins.
His point: Our problem is not sins (plural) but sin (singular). Any sin, even the ones we rank lowest on our sin totem pole, our hierarchy of sin, condemns us a sinner deserving of God’s just wrath and punishment.
Our problem is not merely our sins (plural), our actual transgressions, but original sin (singular), the fact that we were born with a sin nature, so that before we ever commit any actual transgression, we are deserving of death.
So, David writes, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Psalm 58:3, likewise, says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.”
The old saying goes, “We are not sinners, because we sin; we sin, because we are sinners.”
One mark of the presence of sin ruins a man’s life. Think of a proper suit or dress one buys for a big event. Let’s say it is a white tuxedo or a white evening gown. And you get just one spot on it. Once you do that where is your eye going to go everytime you look int the mirror? To that one spot, that one stain. And what will those see who look at you? That one blemish, that one imperfection.
Our problem, alas, is not that we have but one sin, but many. Their name is legion.
Thanks be to God, however, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the spotless Lamb of God. He perfectly kept the whole law for us, and he covers those who are his own with his perfect righteousness.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, September 10, 2020
The Kept Pure in All Ages Conference has been rescheduled for Friday-Saturday, March 26-27, 2021 at the Five Solas Church in Reedbsburg, WI.
DV, I am looking forward to ministering alongside Pastor Christian McShaffrey and presenting a series of lectures upholding the traditional text of God's Word. Here's the schedule:
Wednesday, September 09, 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 8.
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter describes a time of famine, plague, and war that came after the renewal of persecution of the Christians under the tyrant Maximin.
First, there was a drought that led to an unexpected famine and after that a plague. Eusebius says the plague came in the form of a fiery ulcer, which he describes as an anthrax. It especially attacked the eyes and blinded many.
In addition to famine and plague there was also war, as the tyrant attacked the Armenians, formerly ancient allies of the Romans who had embraced Christianity.
Eusebius sees all these events as divine retribution against the boasting of the tyrant against God and the faith, since he had claimed that his worship of the gods would protect him from such calamities.
The population greatly suffered during this time with widespread starvation due to the famine. Dead bodies piled up in the marketplaces and alleys.
The plague came on top of this so that in every place was “full of lamentations.” Funerals were constantly held, with burials carried out for two or three at a time.
So through the “two weapons”, famine and pestilence, death was visited on many.
What is more, during this time, the Christians once again distinguished themselves from the pagans by their exercise of “sympathy and humanity.” They cared for the dead and dying and shared their bread with others, so that even the pagans took notice and “glorified the God of the Christians.”
Again, Eusebius sees all this as the providential hand of God. From a thick darkness, “the heavenly Champion of the Christians” caused “the light of peace” to shine upon them.
Eusebius in this chapter not only describes the further sufferings that came in the wake of the renewal of persecution but interprets these events as divine judgment on the persecutors. It is noteworthy that Eusebius says the Christians were particularly praised for their ethics. Soon the suffering would end and Christianity would be embraced and triumph in the Roman world.
Saturday, September 05, 2020
Friday, September 04, 2020
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 2:1-9.
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons (James 2:1).
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors (James 2:9).
In James 2:1-9, the apostle identifies the sin of “respect of persons” (cf. 2:1, 9). The phrase “respect of persons” does not mean being respectful to persons, or treating persons with dignity and charity. Such behavior is certainly not sinful. That phrase, as used here, refers to the showing of partiality or favoritism toward someone based on what appears to be his favorable outward appearance or standing, while at the same time neglecting or overlooking others who do not share in this favorable outward appearance or standing. James exhorts, in particular, that the brethren not show favoritism to the rich, while neglecting the poor.
The English phrase “respect of persons” renders but a single word in the Greek, which literally means “to receive the face” or “to look upon the outward appearance.”
Consider the Lord’s instructions to Samuel when seeking the man to replace Saul as king: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
Consider Peter’s response when he saw the faith of the God-fearing Gentile Cornelius: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
Paul, likewise, in Romans 2:11 writes, “For there is no respect of persons with God” (cf. Eph 6:8-9; Col 3:25).
James proceeds in vv. 2-3 to give a hypothetical example of how the believers might have exhibited “respect of persons.” Two men walk into an assembly of believers… (v. 2). Interestingly enough, the word here for “assembly” in Greek is synagogue. The first man has on a gold ring and “goodly apparel.” The second is a poor man in “vile raiment.”
Partiality or “respect of persons” is shown to the first man (v. 3). James says, “And ye have respect unto him that weareth the gay [stylish, expensive] clothing” and you find him a prominent and comfortable place to sit, saying, “Sit thou here in a good place.”
On the other hand, the poor man is told, “Stand thou there or sit here under my footstool” (v. 3).
When I read this I thought of some of the old colonial era Episcopal churches in Virginia, like the Bruton Parish church in Williamsburg, where the wealthiest families would pay an annual fee to rent their pews. The more money you paid the closer you could sit to the front, if not so much to hear the sermon, as to be near the stove in winter! If you were a poor man, however, you had to stand at the back, and if you were a slave you had to sit in the gallery (not a balcony).
Before we judge either the ancient Jewish Christians whom James addressed or the early Americans of Williamsburg, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we too are prone to offer preferential treatment to someone who might come into the church whom we might think will be able to help us financially or with respect to prestige? Do we cater to the impressive professional who might visit us with what looks like a solid intact family, a happy marriage, well-mannered children, etc. Do we size them up and say, “Wow, they might really be able to help us!”?
On the other hand, do we sigh when someone comes in whom we might perceive to be a liability, who might need to take more than he can give, who might tax our patience and stretch our generosity to the breaking point?
If we are a healthy church, I think God will send us, and we will welcome with open arms, both kinds of people. But James is warning us not to favor one of these over another.
If Christ received us when we were poor sinners, we should show no “respect of persons” to any man.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, September 03, 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 5-7.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters describe the renewal of persecution against Christians under the tyrant Maximin.
Chapter 5 describes a forged memoir concerning Pilate that blasphemed Christ. The pagans widely distributed this false report and required teachers in schools to review it with their young students.
It is also relayed that a commander or dux compelled certain “infamous women” to claim to be former Christians and to spread false stories of lewd practices in the churches, which Maximin recorded in documents that were then widely published.
Chapter 6 begins by noting that this dux eventually paid for his sin by taking his own life.
Meanwhile, however, the persecution only increased.
Three were put to death in Emessa of Phoenicia, given to wild beasts, including Silvanus who had served as bishop for 40 years.
Peter of Alexandria was beheaded, alongside other Egyptian bishops.
Lucian, the presbyter of Antioch, stood before the emperor at Nicomedia, was imprisoned, and then put to death.
Maximin’s zeal made this persecution seem worse than the first.
Chapter 7 notes how Maximin set up brazen tablets in the cities describing petitions against the Christians and his ordinances in reply against them. All the while, children in the schools were still being taught from the forged memoirs regarding Pilate and Jesus.
Eusebius provides a translation of one of the ordinances posted at Tyre from Maximin, “the hater of God”, against Christians, in response to public petitions. In this tablet he commends the pagans for continuing to worship the immortal gods rather than be deceived by the Christians. He asserts that they will be protected and rewarded by Zeus for this. Those, like Christians, who fail to worship the gods put the city as risk for the failure of crops, defeat in war, and suffering under storms.
Such tablets were posted in every city and gloom came over the Christians. Just when the believers were about to despair, however, God, “the Champion of His own Church”, intervened.
The respite from the Diocletian persecution was short-lived. The reputations of Christians were smeared by false reports and even through indoctrination of children in school. Pagans were blaming Christians for things like crop failures, wars, and storms, because they did not worship the gods. Though disheartening, the believers endured and relief was just around the corner.
Tuesday, September 01, 2020
Someone commented this week on a book note/article I did on my blog back in 2017 (read it here) on Thomas Howard (brother of Elisabeth Elliot), Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament (originally published by Thomas Nelson, Ignatius, 1984). So, I decided to try to give the article a little more exposure by recording an audio version.