Friday, July 30, 2021

The Vision (7.30.21): Enter ye in at the strait gate


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

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Vision (7.23.21): Five Observations on the Golden Rule


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).

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

Book Review: The Dark Side of Christian Counseling


I have posted above audio versions of my review of E. S. Williams, The Dark Side of Christian Counseling (Wakeman Trust & Belmont House Publishing, 2009).

I have also posted to the written version which appeared in the Reformed Baptist Trumpet, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2010): 9-10. Read it here.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.1-2: Gospel Authority and Order


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: Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists


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.


The Vision (7.16.21): Discernment in Petitionary Prayer


Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:7-11.

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 like knocking.

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 ask.

All I have to do is seek, and God is obligated to let me find.

All I have to do is knock, and God is obligated to open the door.

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 wants.

Let us then pray with boldness and confidence, asking, seeking, and knocking.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Audio and Images from 2021 Youth Conference


Image: 2021 Youth Conference, Louisa, Virginia, July 10, 2021

The 2021 Youth Conference was on the theme: Jesus Christ: True God & True Man. Pastor Ryan Davidson from Grace Baptist Chapel, Hampton was the teacher. Here are the Saturday sessions below:

Here are a few more conference pictures:

Images: From Teaching Sessions

Image: Scenes from "Reformed Chopped" S'mores edition.


Images: Scenes from recreation time.

Monday, July 12, 2021

First Lecture from 2021 Kept Pure Conference Overdubbed in Spanish

The opening lecture from the March 2021 Kept Pure Conference has been overdubbed into Spanish by my friend Ernesto Rodriguez:

Friday, July 09, 2021

The Vision (7.9.21): Pearls Before Swine

Image: David Phlox, North Garden, Virginia, July 2021

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:6:

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. 6a).

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 evangelism:

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.”

Remember 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).

See 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).

We are not to use Matthew 7:6 as an excuse not to share the truth with those whom Christ is drawing.

Second: With respect to apologetics (defending the faith):

Christ here suggests that there can be diminishing returns in merely seeking intellectual dialogue about religion with those who are hostile to the faith or false teachers.

I 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.

Look 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).

Spurgeon 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, 70).

Third, with respect to our own self-understanding:

The capacity 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 discerned.”

Reading 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.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Article: Who Wrote the Epistle of James?

I have posted audio versions of my article "Who Wrote the Epistle of James?" which appeared in Sword & Trowel, Issue No. 1 (2021): 13-16.