Stylos is the blog of Jeff Riddle, a Reformed Baptist Pastor in North Garden, Virginia. The title "Stylos" is the Greek word for pillar. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul urges his readers to consider "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar (stylos) and ground of the truth."
Image (left side): Decorative urn with title for the book of Acts in Codex Alexandrinus.
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:
strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there
be that find it.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Image: Saturday morning hike at 2021 Youth Conference, Louisa, Virginia
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:12 (audio not yet available).
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
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
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.
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.”
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
Matthew stressed the “royal lineage” of the Lord.
“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.
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
For the reading, I am going to be making use of this English
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.
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
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”
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.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7).
Christ here teaches that his disciples should pray with
boldness and confidence. He starts with three consecutive imperatives or
commands, each followed by a promise.
Petitionary prayer is like asking. It is like seeking. It is
And each of these things also perhaps suggests different
aspects of petitionary prayer.
Asking is perhaps the most common way of speaking about
petitionary prayer in the NT. It implies a defined request. You know what you
want, and you make a specific request for it.
Think of your birthday. Your family says, “What do you want
for your birthday?” And maybe there is something specific you really want. You
ask for it. You make a specific desire known. This is what I want.
Seeking has a different connotation. It implies that one has
a need, but perhaps he does not know how to find it or even how to articulate
it. He needs something, but he is not quite sure what that thing might be. So,
he goes out looking or seeking for it.
Knocking has yet another connotation. It implies a closed
door. There is a way through which one wants to enter, but the pathway is
blocked. The door is closed. And one knocks in hopes that it might be opened.
So, we might say there are asking prayers, seeking prayers,
and knocking prayers.
Some might take this teaching out of context and use it to
promote what is called a “name it and claim it” theology of prayer.
All I have to do is ask, and God is obligated to give what I
All I have to do is seek, and God is obligated to let me
All I have to do is knock, and God is obligated to open the
But this where we must apply the Reformation principle of
Scripture interpreting Scripture, or what Paul called “all the counsel of God”
(Acts 20:27). Christ made it clear that he promised to grant the petitions of
those who prayed “in my name” and who were abiding in him, and his word in them
(cf. John 14:13-14; 15:7; 16:23-24).
Prayer is not “name it
and claim it.” It is not like rubbing a lamp to find a genie in a bottle who is
compelled to grant you three wishes. It is not about making God do our bidding,
but about our being so conformed to Christ and his will that we want what he
Let us then pray with
boldness and confidence, asking, seeking, and knocking.
Give not that which is
holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample
them under their feet, and turn again, and rend you (Matthew 7:6).
In keeping with the
theme of discernment in Matthew 7, this verse calls for wise judgement in
sharing gospel truth.
We can divide the content of this
single verse into three parts:
1.A command to disciples NOT to give that which is
holy and precious to those who are spiritually incapable of receiving it (v.
2.If one does so, he risks bringing reproach to the
truth (v. 6b).
3.If one does so, he risks bringing injury to himself
and to the fellowship of the saints (v. 6c).
Let me offer some
application of this teaching to various circumstances:
First, with respect to
Some of us may have
friends and family with whom we are eager to share the gospel and bear witness
to our faith in Christ. We need to recall Ecclesiastes 3:7, which says, there
is “a time to keep silence and time to speak.” We need to exercise discernment.
This does not mean,
however, that we are to use this teaching as an excuse never to share the
gospel. In 1 Peter 3:15 the apostle urges believers to be “ready always to give
an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with
meekness and fear.”
in Christ’s parable of the sower that the sower sowed promiscuously so
that the seed fell on the path, the shallow ground, the thorny ground and the
good soil (Matt 13).
the record of Christ’s encounter with a Canaanite woman with a demon possessed
daughter (Matt 15:21-28). When Christ tells her it is not right to give the
children’s bread to the dogs (v. 26), she responds that even the dogs eat the
crumbs from the table (v. 27). Christ then declares her to be a woman of great
faith (v. 28).
are not to use Matthew 7:6 as an excuse not to share the truth with those whom
Christ is drawing.
With respect to apologetics (defending the faith):
here suggests that there can be diminishing returns in merely seeking
intellectual dialogue about religion with those who are hostile to the faith or
recall reading the memoir of a Brethren missionary to the Berber people of North
Africa who lamented the “missionaries” who spent more time in speaking with nominal
Muslims about comparative religion (essentially teaching them Islam) rather
than simply sharing with them the gospel.
at Peter’s teaching on this in 2 Peter 2. He addresses false teachers (v. 1),
referring to them as “natural brute beasts” (v. 12), and concludes by saying it
would have been better for them if they had not known the way of righteousness
(v. 21), for they are like dogs returning to their vomit or pigs wallowing in
their mire (v. 22).
observed: “When men are evidently unable to perceive the purity of a great
truth, do not set it before them…. Saints are not to be simpletons; they are
not to be judges, but, also, they are not to be fools” (Commentary on Matthew,
with respect to our own self-understanding:
of the “dog” and the “pig” here recalls Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that
the “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are
foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually
Matthew 7:6 might bring to our minds a remembrance of what we were like before
our conversion, before the change of our nature. We were hostile dogs and
indifferent swine, till the Lord opened our hearts and renewed our minds
through spiritual regeneration and made us new creatures in Christ.