Saturday, September 11, 2021
Friday, September 10, 2021
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 8:14-22.
And a certain scribe came and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest (Matt 8:19).
And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father (Matt 8:21).
After healing many who were sick of spirit and body (Matt 8:16), Christ left the home of Peter to cross to the other side of Galilee (v. 18). As he departed, two men cried out to him.
The first cry came from a scribe (v. 19). He said, “Master [didaskalos, teacher], I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.”
This seems on the surface like a solid declaration of faith and confidence in Christ. But Christ’s response indicates that perhaps this man made this declaration without first fully understanding or considering the costs.
His words remind us of Peter who said in the upper room to Christ: “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet I will never be offended” (Matt 26:33). And: “I will lay down my life for thy sake” (John 13:37). Within a few hours, however, Peter had denied three times that he even knew Christ.
Christ thus says to this scribe who offered this great swelling promise of fidelity: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (v. 20). You are ready to follow me anywhere? Are you ready to be home-less? Are you ready to give up every material attachment for me?
The second cry came from another of his disciples (v. 21). This fellow asked for an extension for the commencement of his discipleship, a delay for taking up his cross daily and following Christ: “Lord [kurios], suffer me first to go and bury my father.”
Charles Spurgeon quipped: “The first man was too fast, the second was too slow” (Commentary on Matthew, 87).
This seems art first glance like a reasonable and even a lawful request (in light of the fifth commandment), but Christ answers in what might seem to be a rather stern and unsparing manner: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (v. 22).
Christ’s point, of course, is not to be heartless in his response, but to demonstrate to this man the necessary priority of discipleship. Christ must be above all duties and every relationship. Christ will later tell his disciples:
Matthew 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Let us then not be too fast or too slow to follow Christ.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, September 09, 2021
Wednesday, September 08, 2021
Saturday, September 04, 2021
1.12: Of the fact that the God of the Jews, after the subjugation of that people, was still not accepted by the Romans, because His commandment was that he alone should be worshipped, and images destroyed.
Augustine declares that the Jews were defeated by the Romans and expelled from Jerusalem because of “the most heinous sin” of putting Christ to death. He adds that the Romans did not embrace the God of the Hebrews, because he demanded that he alone be worshipped and that images would not be permitted. He further notes that the Romans could not claim any moral superiority as to why God gave them victory over the Jews. They had no “piety and manners” to commend them, and, in fact, their early history reveals that Rome was originally an asylum for criminals and that Romulus committed fratricide in striking down his brother Remus. He closes by stressing the sovereignty of God, who acts as he pleases “according to the fore-ordained order of the ages.”
1.13: Of the question why God suffered the Jews to be reduced to subjection.
Why did God permit the Jews to be defeated by the Romans? For Augustine the answer is simple: It came about, because in their “impious fury” they put Christ to death.
1.14: Of the fact that the God of the Hebrews, although the people were conquered, proved Himself to be unconquered, by overthrowing their idols, and by turning all the Gentiles to His own service.
Augustine points out the fact that Christ is now being preached and worshipped across the Roman Empire. This fulfills the promise made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his seed (Gen 12). God took kingdom and priesthood from the Jews, because Christ is the true King and Priest. This was announced by the prophets (without the use of magical arts). Christ could not have written books promoting magical arts, because his doctrine is so vehemently opposed to it.JTR
Friday, September 03, 2021
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 8:1-13.
Matthew 8:11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In Matthew 8 a Roman centurion approaches Christ to intercede for the healing of his servant. After acknowledging the man’s faith (Matt 8:10), our Lord takes the occasion to anticipate the reality that while many Gentiles will believe in him, while many (though not all) of his fellow Jews will reject him. John 1:11: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”
So Christ prophesies, “That many shall come from the east and west…” That is, they shall come from the farthest reaches of the whole world, from one end of the horizon to the other. “… and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11).
This is spoken by the same Lord Jesus who when he is risen from the dead will commission the apostles to go and teach all nations (Matt 28:19-20).
This is the great “mystery” of which Paul speak in Ephesians 3 which in other ages was not known but is now revealed “unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph 3:5): “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel (Eph 3:6).
The other side of this prophesy is not so pleasant (v. 12). Namely, that the “children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He is talking here about unbelieving Jews, those who are the physical seed of Abraham but not the spiritual seed of Abraham (cf. Rom 2:28-29; 9:6; Gal 3:27-29). Spurgeon observed: “The centurion comes from the [soldier’s] camp to Christ, and the Israelite goes from the synagogue to hell” (Matthew, 83).
Do you see again the binary nature of the Christian religion? There are two ways. In the end, you are either sitting down at a feast in the kingdom or you are cast outside. And what is the deciding factor? It is not your ethnicity. It is how you have responded to Christ.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, September 02, 2021
Monday, August 30, 2021
Friday, August 27, 2021
Note: Devotional taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:24-29.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock (Matt 7:25).
In the climactic parable of the wise and foolish builders which concludes the Sermon the Mount, Christ begins with the wise man who built his house upon a rock (Matt 7:24). He then describes how natural hardships came upon that house (v. 25: rain, flood, wind).
Notice two things about this description:
First, the things that fall upon this house are not unusual things. We might even say they are ordinary things. Build a house and rain will fall. Waters will rise. Wind will blow.
Second, the wise man’s house was not exempt from these occurrences, because he was a wise man (a disciple of Christ). The implication here is that the man who hears Christ’s words (in a saving manner) and obeys his word, as an outward fruit or evidence of salvation, will not be exempt from the ordinary trials of life. Recall 1 Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man….”
This part of the parable dismantles any notion of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Christians are not exempt from hardship. In fact, being a Christian will often bring special hardships. Christ himself taught, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
But notice the last word about the wise man’s house: “and it fell not.” Christ provides this explanation: “for it was founded upon a rock [petra].”
What is meant here by the term “rock”? Later in Christ’s ministry at Caesarea Philippi, he will ask his disciples, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matt 16:15). Simon Peter will answer, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Christ will respond that “upon this rock [petra] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v. 18). The “rock” is Peter’s confession that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
To build one’s house upon a rock is to build one’s life upon the confession of faith that the Lord Jesus is the Son of the living God. He is the Rock. The wise man builds his life on Christ.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, August 26, 2021
1.8: Of the question why, if Christ is believed to have been the wisest of men on the testimony of common narrative report, He should not be believed to be God on the testimony of the superior report of preaching.
Augustine continues to respond to those who reject the authenticity and historical reliability of the Gospels in their presentation of Jesus. He notes that these skeptics hypocritically affirm that Christ was the wisest of men, based on various reports about his life, but then reject the Gospels, which are based on eyewitness reports from his closest followers. The Gospels present Jesus as the only begotten Son, as God himself, and as the creator of all things. He then counter-punches by asking why the pagan deities should be considered “proper objects of reverence” if they are ridiculed in popular theatrical productions. He challenges those who say they have books written by Jesus which support their view to produced them.
1.9: Of certain persons who pretend that Christ wrote books on the art of magic:
Here Augustine attacks those who make the false claims that they have books written by Jesus on magic, which he used to produce his miracles. If they have these books, he challenges such persons to use these books to do the miracles Jesus did.
1.10: Of some men who are mad enough to suppose that the books were inscribed with the names of Peter and Paul:
The attack continues, as Augustine points out that some of the spurious “magic” books have nonsensical dedications to Peter and Paul. These claims show their “deceitful audacity” and ignorance, making them a laughingstock. It would be total folly to suggest that Jesus wrote anything to Paul, who did not become a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry but only after his resurrection. Augustine chides such men for getting their information about Christ and the apostles “not in the holy writings, but on painted walls.” He notes that such spurious views likely developed in Rome where Peter and Paul were martyred on the same day. These men had then misunderstood paintings which depicted Jesus with Peter and Paul.
1.11: In opposition to those who foolishly imagine that Christ converted the people to Himself by magical arts:
Augustine here offers another challenge to those who claim Jesus did his miracles by magic. If this is so, how do they explain the fact that the prophets wrote about him. If he used magic to influence them, then he was “a magician before He was born.”
Augustine here continues his defense of the canonical Gospels, especially against popular pagan traditions, which suggested that Jesus had been a magician and used magic to manipulate circumstances and perform miracles. He shows that books presenting this view which claimed to be written by Jesus are spurious. He is especially critical of those who have received a distorted view of Jesus based on visual art (paintings) rather on the written Scriptures. His purpose, again, is to show the superiority of the canonical Gospels as sources for the life of Jesus.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
One month from today: 2021 Keach Conference
Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia
Dr. James Renihan, President, IRBS Seminary: Of Saving Faith (2LBCF chapter 14)
There is no cost to attend, but you must pre-register (sign up here).
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Saturday, August 21, 2021
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday afternoon's sermon on Hosea 13.
But when he offended in Baal, he died (Hosea 13:1b).
O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help (Hosea 13:9).
The opening verse in Hosea 13 is an obituary, a death notice for Ephraim. It begins in v. 1a with a description of Ephraim in her better, younger years when she spoke with fear and trembling before the LORD and was exalted. Then in v. 1b, Hosea notes that when Ephraim “offended in Baal” (offended the Lord by embracing Baal worship), “he died.” Israel experienced spiritual death and then later national death and destruction.
In Hosea 4:4, however, the LORD reminds Israel of how he brought them out of bondage from Egypt, declaring, “for there is no saviour beside me.”
Hosea 13:9a expresses the heart of this chapter, as it conveys the central theme of self-destruction: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” That word of judgement, however, is followed by a word of hope: “but in me is thine help” (v. 9b).
That hope comes to full bloom in Hosea 13:14a: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” The apostle Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 15:55 when he writes, “O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?” The obituary notice (v. 1) has become a resurrection notice (v. 14).
Hosea 13:14 ends with the statement: “repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” What does that mean? One might initially think it means God will not see Israel’s repentance. But the Puritan exegete Matthew Poole points out that “repentance” does not refer here to man’s repentance but to God’s. The point is that the LORD will never “repent,” that is change his word or his mind or his promises toward the elect. Poole: “this grace toward the godly, toward believers among Israel and in the church, through all ages, is unchangeable.”
Hosea 13 ends with hope for the elect in Israel. The Lord does not repent of his love for the saints. As one preacher put it, He has never torn up the birth certificate of any of his spiritual children. Though we do that which is self-destructive, in him is our help (v. 9b). He will ransom us from the power of the grave. There is salvation in none other. All praise be to him alone.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Friday, August 13, 2021
Note: Devotion taken from recent sermon on Matthew 7:15-20.
“Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16a).
I have suggested that the theme of Matthew 7 is proper discernment or judgement. In vv. 15-20, this theme is applied to false prophets: “Beware of false prophets” (v. 15a).
What test does Christ apply? “Ye shall know them (false prophets) by their fruits” (v. 16a). The point seems to be that a man’s true nature will be exposed by the things that flow from his life (i.e., the fruits). An unregenerate man cannot produce the authentic fruits of righteousness before God. Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith, it is impossible to please God.”
Good trees produce good fruit (v. 17a). Bad trees produce bad fruit (v. 17b). Is Christ saying that some people are naturally good, and they naturally do good things, while others are naturally corrupt, and they naturally produce evil things?
No. The Bible teaches that sin has corrupted every one of us. Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
To be transformed one must have his nature changed by the power of God in regeneration. As Christ told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). 2 Corinthians 5:17 add, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
A false prophet is one who has not had his nature transformed through regeneration, so he cannot produce good fruit.
What is meant by fruit?
It could mean the fruit of repentance. John the Baptist warned the crowds who came to him to be baptized: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt 3:8). False prophets showed no signs of genuine conversion, beginning with genuine repentance for their sin.
It could mean to fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Gal 5:22-23).
It could mean the fruit of good works. Paul said that we as believers are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:10).
The point is that just as there will be outward discernible evidences of those who are true disciples, there will be evidences of those who are true servants of the Lord
J. C. Ryle observed, “Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets—Let us remember this” (Expository Thoughts on Matthew, 68).
The office of prophet was an “extraordinary” office at the time of the apostles. It does not continue today. Peter made clear in 2 Peter 2:1 that false prophets appeared in times past, “even as there shall be false teachers among you.”
We can use the same test Christ suggested to discern false prophets to identify false teachers in our own day. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
Grace and peace,
Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, August 11, 2021
1.6: Of the four living creatures in the Apocalypse, which have been taken by some in one application, and by others in another, as apt figures of the four evangelists.
Augustine discusses here the so-called “tetramorph,” a development in early Christian literature and art, in which the four Evangelists are depicted as the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-7 (cf. Ezekiel 1:10).
Most early interpreters suggested the winged man to represent Matthew, the winged lion to represent Mark, the winged ox to represent Luke, and the eagle to represent John.
Augustine, however, reverses the first two by suggesting that Matthew should be the winged lion, given his royal emphasis on Jesus as king, and Mark, as the winged man, since he specifically describes Christ neither as king or priest.
He also mentions that some associated the man to Matthew, the eagle to Mark, and the lion to John.
He suggests the ox is right for Luke given his emphasis on Jesus as priest, and the eagle for John, since “he soars like an eagle” in his high Christology.
1.7 A statement of Augustine’s reason for undertaking this work on the harmony of the evangelists, and an example of the method in which he meets those who allege that Christ wrote nothing Himself, and that His disciples made an unwarranted affirmation in proclaiming Him to be God.
Augustine begins this chapter by describing the Gospels as “chariots” in which Christ is “borne throughout the earth and brings the peoples under His easy yoke, and his light burden.” Calvin will later borrow this image in his Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Augustine also notes the calumnious attacks on the Gospels by those who want to keep men from the faith. Thus, he sets out in particular to show that the Gospels “do not stand in any antagonism to each other.”
He also addresses the criticism raised by some that Jesus himself wrote nothing, but that we learn of his life and teaching only through the writings of his disciples, who exaggerated their master. Such men say Jesus was the wisest of men, but they deny that he is to be worshipped as God.
Augustine responds by pointing out that some of the most admired pagan philosophers left behind no writings, like Pythagoras and Socrates, but were written about by his disciples. If they accept their records of the philosophers, then why not accept the Gospel accounts of Jesus?
In his discussion of the tetramorph, Augustine continues to discuss what makes each Gospel distinctive. He also engaged here in apologetics, defending the harmony of the Gospels and their historical reliability, even though they contain nothing written by Jesus himself.JTR
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Notes and commentary:
1.3: Of the fact that Matthew, together with Mark, had especially in view the kingly character of Christ, whereas Luke was dealing with the priestly.
Augustine continues the idea stated in the previous chapter that Matthew (and Mark, who closely follows him) presents Jesus as the true King, while Luke presents him as the true Priest.
With respect to Christ as King, he notes the title affixed to the cross: “The King of the Jews.”
With respect to Christ as priest he calls attention to the prophecy of Psalm 110:4: “Thou art a priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
He closes with an interesting argument for Matthew’s focus on Jesus as King, noting that just as Kings have attendants, so Matthew had Mark as an attendant.
On the same principle, just as priests enter alone into the Holy of Holies, Luke’s presentation of Jesus stands alone, without an “epitomizer.”
1.4: Of the fact that John understood the exposition of Christ’s divinity.
Augustine suggests here that whereas the Synoptic Gospels stressed the humanity of Jesus, John focuses on his divinity. In John it is made clear that Jesus is the Father’s equal. Christ is thus born to “loftier heights” in John, which “leaves the other three far behind him.” John has more richly drunk in the divinity of Jesus, as though he drew it “from the very bosom of his Lord” on whom he reclined. Clearly Augustine sees the author of John as the beloved disciple.
1.5: Concerning the two virtues, of which John is conversant with the contemplative, the other evangelists with the active.
Augustine now draws a distinction between the first three Gospels and John, based on his understanding of two distinct virtues: the active and the contemplative. The Synoptic Gospels represent the active by focusing on the deeds of Jesus. John gives more care to the details of Jesus’ words and so represents the contemplative. This same pattern is seen in the wives of Jacob, with Leah representing the active and Rachel the contemplative.
Augustine draws a distinction among the Synoptic Gospels, with Matthew and Mark presenting Jesus as King and Luke presenting him as Priest. He also sees a Christological distinction to be made between the Synoptics and John with respect to Christ’s nature. The Synoptics focus on the true humanity of Jesus, while John stresses his true divinity. This also reflects the fact that the Synoptics demonstrate the active virtue, while John the contemplative.
Friday, July 30, 2021
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:13-14.
Matthew 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
This teaching is a parable. The two ways are those of unbelief and of faith, the ways of ignorance and of knowledge, the ways of falsehood and of truth, the ways of death and of life.
The way of unbelief seems wide and easy, while the way of faith seems narrow and hard. The problem is that in this life we do not see the end. We do not see the destination. The great faith chapter begins, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Christ reveals here, however, that one way leads to destruction and the other to life.
The way of unbelief requires no creed, no confession of faith, and no ethical code of conduct. It promises wide latitude and freedom. It asks nothing of you but whatever you want.
The alternative is a strait gate. You must confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus. You must believe, as Christ declared, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no man comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). There is salvation in none other: for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Some have called this the “scandal of particularity.”
Once through the gate, the path is also narrow. Christ calls upon any man who comes after him to deny himself, to take up his cross daily, and to follow him (Luke 9:23). Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will find it (Luke 9:24).
Remember the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-24). When Christ demanded he enter the strait gate and walk the narrow way, he went away sad because he had much (v. 22). Christ added that it is hard (but not impossible) for a rich man to go through the needle’s eye (v. 24).
Christ is describing here the way of faith (the gate) and the way discipleship (the way).
This teaching is about discerning one’s way in life, but it is really about obedience. Our all-wise Teacher, our all-competent Guide, stands at the crossroads and tells us which way to go: “Enter ye in at the strait gate.” The question is whether we will obey him.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Friday, July 23, 2021
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:12 (audio not yet available).
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).
This verse contains one of the best-known teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, popularly known as the “Golden Rule.” One commentator traced the first usage of this term to an English philosopher named Charles Gibbon at the beginning of the seventeenth century (see Alfeyev, The Sermon on the Mount, 359, n. 1). This same scholar describes the Golden Rule as “one of the fundamental moral reference points in Christian ethics” (Alfeyev, 362).
Notice at least five things about this teaching:
First, notice the context. The Golden Rule comes just after Christ’s teaching on petitionary prayer (vv. 7-11). 7:12 begins with the word “therefore”, which means, in light of what has just been said.
How is it connected to the previous teaching on prayer? Perhaps Christ especially wanted his disciples to keep this principle in mind when they were praying for others, even for their enemies (Matt 5:44).
Second, consider the scope of Christ’s command: “Therefore all things…”
What are the kinds of things we should do for others, as we would have them to do to us? All things.
Third, consider the object of Christ’s command: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you….”
The word “men” here in Greek is anthropoi, the basic term for a fellow human being, someone made in the image of God, whether he be friend or foe, Jew or Gentile, male or female, believer or pagan. It’s not a narrow, particular, or exclusive term. It is an expansive, universal, and inclusive term.
The Golden Rule is thus parallel to Christ’s teaching in the Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:39).
Fourth, notice the reciprocal nature of this teaching.
Just as the heart of the horizontal teaching in the Great Commandment is love your neighbor as yourself, so the positive reciprocal nature of the Golden Rule is that disciples should treat others, as they themselves would wish or want to be treated.
Fifth, consider the uniqueness of Christ’s teaching.
Some might tell you that some form of the Golden Rule is taught in the ethics of other world religions or philosophical traditions. That is not, in fact, the case. In a few places (from The Analects of Confucius to the apocryphal Jewish book of Tobit one finds a crude “negative” form of the Golden Rule that says something like, “Don’t do to others, what you do not want them to do to you.”), but in no other teacher do you find the positive version of the rule being given: As you would have other do to you, do to them.
It is that positive element that is crucial. Christ taught not merely that we avoid doing what is wrong, but that we do what is right.
As followers of Christ, we should strive not only for orthodoxy but also for orthopraxy. This includes adhering to Christ’s “Golden Rule.”
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Monday, July 19, 2021
Saturday, July 17, 2021
1.1: On the authority of the Gospels:
Augustine begins by noting that the Gospels are preeminent among the sacred writings.
The first Christian preachers were the apostles who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’s ministry.
Two of the apostles, Matthew and John, wrote Gospels. Those who were not apostles, Mark and Luke, made use of reliable information to compose their trustworthy Gospels.
Beyond the four Evangelists, no others composed written accounts of the life of Jesus which had canonical authority as Holy Books. So, Augustine rejects the apocryphal gospels.
These non-canonical were those “which the catholic and apostolic rule of faith and sound doctrine condemned [quae catholica atque apostolica regula fidei et sana doctrina condemnat].” Thus, we see Augustine’s appeal to the “rule of faith.”
1.2: On the order of the evangelists, and the principles on which they wrote.
Augustine suggests that there are four “fixed” Gospels, since there are four divisions of the world (presumably, North, South, East, and West), as a “mystical sign” of how the Christian faith would spread worldwide.
He further suggests they were written in the chronological order: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
In this way the first and last evangelists were apostles (Matthew and John), who supported the evangelists who were not apostles (Mark and Luke) on either side “like sons who were to be embraced.”
Of the four Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and the others in Greek. Each evangelist received “the gift of inspiration [unicuique inspiratum].”
Each Evangelist kept “a certain order of narration proper to himself.”
Matthew stressed the “royal lineage” of the Lord.
Mark “follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer [pedissequus et breviator eius].” Mark has “little to record” by himself that is not included in the other Gospels, especially Matthew.
Luke, on the other hand, present the Lord according to his “priestly lineage and character.” In his genealogy, he traces the Lord’s line not through Solomon (as Matthew does) but through David’s son Nathan, who was not a king.
Augustine’s introduction stresses the apostolic authority of the canonical Gospels. The canonical Gospels are consistent with the regula fidei. With respect to their chronological order, he puts forward what will become knowns as the “Augustinian Hypothesis” that the Gospels were written in their canonical order: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He sees a close connection between Matthew and Mark which present the Lord Jesus as King, alongside Luke, who present him as a Priest. We might note that he is seemingly among the first to group the first three Gospels (the so-called Synoptic Gospels) as distinct from John.
Friday, July 16, 2021
Introduction to this Project
I am undertaking a consecutive reading along with notes and commentary of Augustine of Hippo’s work Harmony of the Evangelists [De Consensu Evangelistarum], also known under the title The Harmony of the Gospels.
For the reading, I am going to be making use of this English translation edition:
From Marcus Dodds, Ed., The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. A New Translation. Vol. VIII. The Sermon on the Mount, and the Harmony of the Evangelists. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1873.
Translated by S. F. D. Salmond.
For the work in Latin online, look here.
A Very Brief Sketch of the Life of Augustine of Hippo
Augustine (354-430) was the influential bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He was born to a Christian mother, Monica, and a pagan father. He was intellectually gifted, embraced Neoplatonic philosophy, and became a teacher of rhetoric in Milan, Italy. In Italy he dabbled in an Eastern religion known as Manichaeism, which he rejected, and eventually came under the sway of the preaching of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. In 386 he was converted while walking in a garden, having heard a voice say Tolle lege (“Take up and read.”), having picked up a Bible to read Romans 13:13.
After his baptism he returned to North Africa thinking he might establish a monastic community with a circle of his Christian friends, but he was soon pressed into ministerial service by his local bishop and eventually become bishop himself of Hippo. Augustine was a prolific writer, teacher, and theologian. He was also a polemicist and apologist engaged in the great controversies of his day, including the Donatist Controversy dealing with the restoration of those who had accepted compromise during earlier seasons of persecution and the Pelagian Controversy, dealing with the unorthodox teaching of Pelagius, who denied the power and extent of sin among fallen men.
Among Augustine’s two best known works are his Confessions, which many consider to be the earliest example of an autobiography, and The City of God, his defense of Christianity in the face of those pagans who blamed Christianity for the fall of Rome (AD 410). When he died, his own city of Hippo was besieged.
Augustine’s writings had an immense influence in the generations after his death, particularly in the Western world. In the Middle Ages he was acknowledged to be one of the four preeminent “Doctors” of the Western church (the others being Gregory the Great, Ambrose, and Jerome). His teachings on original sin, predestination, and the sovereignty of God in salvation were among the hallmarks of what would come to be called “Augustinian” theology, a perspective that was heartily retrieved, in particular, at the time of the Protestant Reformation.
A Brief Introduction to the Harmony
This introduction is based on S. F. D. Salmond’s “Introductory Notice” provided in the 1873 edition (135-138).
The composition of the work is assigned to about the year AD 400. According to Salmond, “Among Augustine’s numerous theological productions, this one takes rank with the most toilsome and exhaustive” (135-136). It is an apologetic and polemical work. The editor notes, “Its great object is to vindicate the Gospel against the critical assaults of the heathen” (136). Persecution having failed, pagans tried to discredit the faith “by slandering its doctrine, impeaching its history, and attacking with special persistency the veracity of the gospel writers” (136). He continues, “Many alleged that the original Gospels had received considerable additions of a spurious character. And it was a favorite manner of argumentation, adopted by both pagan and Manichean adversaries, to urge that the evangelical historians contradicted each other” (136).
The plan of the work is presented in four divisions:
In Book 1, “he refutes those who asserted that Christ was only the wisest among men, and who aimed at detracting from the authority of the Gospels, by insisting on the absence of any written compositions proceeding from the hand of Christ Himself, and by affirming that the disciples went beyond what had been His own teaching both on the subject of His divinity, and on the duty of abandoning the worship of the gods” (136).
In Book 2, “he enters upon a careful examination of Matthew’s Gospel, on to the record of the supper, comparing it with Mark, Luke, and John, and exhibiting the perfect harmony subsisting between them” (136-137).
In Book 3, Augustine “demonstrates the same consistency between the four evangelists, from the account of the supper to the end” (137).
In Book 4, “he subjects to a similar investigation those passages in Mark, Luke, and John, which have no proper parallels in Matthew” (137).
Salmond notes that in taking up this task Augustine was both “gifted with much, but he also lacked much.” He had a high view of Scripture, but “he was deficient in exact scholarship” (137). Though well versed in Latin literature, “he knew little Greek, and no Hebrew” (137). The editor notes that there is “less digression” than is customary in his writing, and he less frequently indulges in “extravagant allegorizing” (137). He has “an inordinate dependence” on the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and almost seems to claim “special inspiration” for it (137-138).
With respect to Augustine’s harmonization of the Gospel narratives, Salmond observe: “In general, he surmounts the difficulty of what may seem at first sight discordant versions of one incident, by supposing different instances of the same circumstances, or repeated utterance of the same words” (138). Furthermore, “He holds emphatically by the position that wherever it is possible to believe two similar incidents to have taken place, no contradiction can legitimately be alleged, although no evangelist may relate them both together” (238).
Finally, Salmond suggests Augustine’s work should not be subjected to overly harsh judgement given he entered “an untrodden field” (138). His work cannot be denied “the merit of grandeur in original conception, and exemplary faithfulness in actual execution” (138).
It is this Harmony that we will attempt to read and offer notes and commentary in upcoming episodes in this series.