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.
Monday, August 30, 2021
Friday, August 27, 2021
The Vision (8.27.21): Founded on the Rock
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
Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.8-11: Jesus was not a magician
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
2021 Keach Conference Coming: September 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
Book Review: R. T. Kendall, In Pursuit of His Glory: My 25 Years at Westminster Chapel
Saturday, August 21, 2021
The Vision (8.20.21): Spiritual Self-Destruction
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
WM 208: The Ending of Matthew, A Liberal Lutheran, And Craig A. Evans
Friday, August 13, 2021
The Vision (8.13.21): Ye shall know them by their fruits.
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
Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.6-7: Why didn't Jesus write anything?
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
Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.3-5: Gospels and Christology
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.