1. WITH THE WILD BEASTS.......................................................................................................................................................3
2. TOMORROW SHALL BE MY DANCING DAY....................................................................................................................13
3. BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY..............................................................................................................................................16
4. IN THE FIELDS OF BOAZ......................................................................................................................................................26
5. I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD................................................................................................................................................28
6. JOHN CALVIN ON ESCHATOLOGICAL PILGRIMS..........................................................................................................37
7. AUGUSTINE AND GRACE.....................................................................................................................................................38
8. BOOK REVIEWS.....................................................................................................................................................................53
KERUX is a publication of Northwest Theological Seminary and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 17711 Spruce Way, Lynnwood, WA 98037-7431. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $20.00 (U.S. and Canada); $25.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in New Testament Abstracts, Cambridge, MA, Old Testament Abstracts, Washingon, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in ATLA Religion Database, Chicago, IL and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
"With the Wild Beasts." That is the title I have given this sermon. Perhaps when you first read it, you thought you would be hearing a Christmas sermon on the scene at the mangerthat scene so beautifully captured for us in the well-known Christmas hymn: "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head; the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes . . . ." The hymn paints a most idyllic scene: Jesus surrounded by the beasts of burdenthe animals of the mangerthose beasts included in nearly every nativity scene. Perhaps when you first read the title of the sermon, you thought you would be hearing a Christmas sermon on the scene at the manger, complete with cattle lowing.
I hope I do not disappoint you, but that is not the scene I have in mind. I turn your attention not to the manger, but to the wildernessnot to the beasts of burden, but to the wild beasts.
In recording the temptation of Jesus, Mark is the only gospel writer
who makes specific mention of the wild beasts. Matthew makes no mention of
the wild beasts. Luke makes no mention of the wild beasts. John makes no
Now perhaps you think we are making too much of that statement. Is it not a rather trivial piece of information? Is it not a rather irrelevant detail? Would we not do better to simply read the statement and move on? Why "waste" an entire sermon (and that a "Christmas sermon" no less) on this rather inconsequential statement?
To ask the question is to answer it. No portion of Scripture is inconsequential. No portion of Scripture is irrelevant. No portion of Scripture is trivial. This is the Word of Godthis is his revelation. God does not waste time with trivial mattersGod does not waste time with irrelevant mattersGod does not waste time with inconsequential matters.
Mark's statement, "[He] was with the wild beasts," has bearing upon the history of redemption; it has to do with your salvation. In fact, Mark's statement, "[He] was with the wild beasts," is a statement of great consequence, of great relevance, and of great importance. To that statement we turn our attention.
The scene begins in verse 12, where we read, "Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness." That same Spirit who descended upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism (v. 10), now drives him into the wilderness.
Here we find Jesus reliving the history of Israel. As Israel was baptized in the waters of the Red Sea, so Jesus is baptized in the waters of the Jordan. As God said of Israel, "My son," so the Father says of Jesus, "My Son." As Israel was led through the wilderness by God's glorious Spirit-presence, so Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit. As Israel was tried and tempted in the wilderness for forty years, so Jesus is tried and tempted in the wilderness for forty days. Jesus relives the history of Israel.
That suffering is set before us in those words, "The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness." The Greek word is ekballei, which literally means "to cast out." The Spirit cast him out. The Spirit cast Jesus out. The Spirit cast the Second Adam out. Yes, it is the same word used in Genesis 3.24 (LXX), where we read, "So He drove out the man . . . ."
As Jesus is cast out into the wilderness, Mark points us back to the Garden; Mark points us back to Adam. Adam was tempted in the gardenAdam was placed on probation in the gardenAdam failed in the gardenAdam was cast out of the garden. Jesus is now cast out into the wildernessJesus must not fail in the wildernessJesus is placed on probation in the wildernessJesus is tempted in the wilderness. Jesus is cast out into the wildernessthat place where there is no food to eat, no trees, no fruit. Jesus is cast out into the wildernessthat place where there is no water to assuage one's thirst, no rivers flowing with pure water to drink. Jesus is cast out into the wildernessthat place that has not been subdued by man, that place over which man exercises no dominion. Jesus is cast out into the wildernessthat cursed un-subdued placethat cursed waterless placethat cursed food-less place. Jesus is cast out into the wildernessthat cursed placethat cursed garden! What, after all, is the wilderness, but a cursed garden?
Mark points us back to the gardenthat garden from which Adam was cast out. We would almost expect to see the cherubimwe would almost expect to see them with flaming swords flashing back and forthyes, we would almost expect to see the angels. Jesus is cast out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. That is suffering for Jesus. That is humiliation for Jesus. He subjects himself to the temptations of Satanand that not in a garden, but in the wilderness, a cursed garden.
Man was created to have dominion over the works of God's hands, even the beasts of the field. They were to be subject to man. In the garden, then, there were no wild beasts. Every beast was tame. Every beast was subject to man. Every beast was under the dominion of man. Jesus submits himself, however, not to a garden, but to the wilderness, a cursed garden. Jesus submits himself to the wilderness, where the beasts are indeed wildthey are not subject to manthey are not under the dominion of man. Jesus subjects himself to the realm of the curse: he was with the wild beasts. This was suffering for Jesus.
That it was suffering for Jesus is evident also from the presence of the angelsthose angels who ministered to him (v. 13). I have in mind here the words of Hebrews 1:14, where the angels are described as "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation." Here Jesus Christ, the King of the angels, subjects himself to the ministry of angelsthose angels who minister to the inheritors of salvation! Do you see the point? Jesus so identifies with sinners that he subjects himself to the ministry of angels! Indeed, here in Mark 1:12-13, we find that Jesus is already now "being made a little lower than the angels, and that for the suffering of death," Hebrews 2:9. Jesus subjects himself to the realm of the curse: the angels of heaven must minister to him. This was suffering for Jesus.
Furthermore, that suffering is seen through the silence of the Father. It
is not the Father who ministers here, but the angels. Only a few verses earlier
as Jesus came up out of the waters, the heavens were torn open, and the
Father spoke, declaring his verdict upon the Son, "You are My beloved Son, in
The wilderness, then, is a place of temptation. It is a place of suffering.
The wilderness is also a place of victory. Here too, in the wilderness, we begin to see the pattern of redemption: from suffering to gloryfrom the cross to the crowna bruised heel will crush the head of the serpent.
How do we see the victory of Jesus here in the wilderness? We see it in the wild beasts. To be sure, we see the suffering of Jesus in those wild beasts, but we see his victory as well. These wild beasts do not attack Jesus; they do not harm him; they are wild but they do not attack him. The bulls do not surround him. The strong bulls of Bashan do not encircle him. The lions do not rage at him. The lions do not roar at him. The lions do not gape at him with their mouths. The dogs do not surround him. The mouth of the lions is not opened against him. The horns of the wild oxen are not brought against him. The wild beasts do not harm him. The wild beasts do not attack him. He subdues them. They are subject to the second Adam. The second Adam exercises dominion over them. That speaks to us of his victory.
That it was victory for Jesus is evident also from the presence of the ministering angels. To be sure, those ministering angels speak to us of his suffering, but they speak to us of his victory as well. There would be no angels to minister to Jesus had he not won the victory. It tells us that he is still in contact with heaven. That speaks to us of his victory.
That victory is seen further still in the silence of Satan. You notice there is no dialogue in Mark's account of the temptation. Read Matthew's account of the temptation; he records the dialogue. Read Luke's account of the temptation; he records the dialogue. But here in Mark's account, you read no dialogue. Mark records no dialogue, and that, at least in part, to underscore the victory of Jesus. He has silenced Satan.
Ever so subtly, then, Mark is pointing you in verses 12 and 13 to the cross. He does it by mentioning the wild beasts and the ministering angels.
Did you ever consider the cross of Jesus Christ in light of the wild beasts? The psalmist directs you to do so.
Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion's mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! (Psalm 22:12-21)
Did you ever consider the cross in terms of the ministering angels? Mark directs you there as well. The scene at the cross directs you there. Angels are present at many points in the life of Jesus. They announce his birth. They minister to him in the wilderness. They strengthen him in Gethsemane. They are present at the opening of the tomb. But at the cross, no angels! No cherubim flanking him on either sideno cherubim on the right, no cherubim on the left. In fact, the cherubim have been replaced by thieves, one on his right, one on his left, and Jesus in the midst.
It is at the cross, then, that Jesus undergoes the sword of the cherubim. It is there that he undergoes the sword of the cherubim to bring man back into the Presence of Godback into the Paradise of Godback into the rest of God. Is that not where Mark points you?! You read in the 15th chapter, he "breathed His last. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom"that veil that stood before the Holy of Holiesthat veil woven with cherubim. Jesus has undergone the sword of the cherubim to bring his people into the true Holy of Holies.
The point, beloved congregation of Jesus Christ, is this: Jesus has done what Israel could not do. Jesus has done what Adam failed to do. For it was there at the cross that Jesus raised his bruised heel and crushed the head of the serpent. It was there at the cross that Jesus, in raising his bruised heel to crush the head of the serpent, passed the probation. He passed the test. He bound the Strongman. It is his obedience, thenhis obedience in life, his obedience in deaththat has earned for us the right to enter the eternal rest of God!
Jesus Christ has secured for us a position beyond probation. By his death our sins have been removed, and his perfect righteousness is imputed to us. It is the active and passive obedience of Christ that settles our standing before the throneyou cannot lose the righteousness of Your Savior?! No, it is impossible that you should lose it!
If our standing before God depends in any way upon our obedience, if it depends in any way upon our ability to withstand temptation, then before God we have no hope. You know how it goes. You give in to temptationyou fall again into familiar sinsand you say that from now on it is going to be different: you are not going to give in to that temptation again; you are going to live a more righteous life, you are going to live more piously. But then you fall again . . . .
And what is your confidence? What, dear child of God, is your confidence if your standing before the throne depends upon your ability to withstand temptation, upon your ability to live a righteous life, upon your ability to live piously? If your standing depends upon these things, you have no confidence!
But our confidence rests in Jesus Christthe One who was obedient in life, the One who was obedient in deaththe One who has lived our life, the One who has died our deathhe is all our confidence before the throne of God! He is the One who brings us through the sword of the cherubim into Paradise, even the Presence of God.
Consider the way in which Isaiah describes the inheritance earned for you by Christ.
Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).
A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; it shall not be found there. But the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:8-10).
"With the wild beasts." That is the title I have given this sermon. Perhaps when you first read it, you thought you would be hearing a Christmas sermon on the scene at the manger, with the beasts surrounding Jesus. These are not the beasts of which Mark writes. No, Mark writes of the wild beasts in the wilderness.
"He was with the wild beasts." A trivial piece of information? An irrelevant detail? An inconsequential statement? Not at all. It is a statement that sweeps you into the history of redemption; I trust it does not disappoint you!
Mark has set the wild beasts before you to tell you that here in the wilderness Jesus began to wage war for your soul and mine. Here he began the battle that would bring him to the cross. Here as we read of his obedience, we read of that work that will secure for us the Paradise of Godthat Paradise described for us in the words of Isaiah:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall
be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious (Isaiah 11:6-11).
Beloved child of God, because of the obedience of Christ in life and in death, that resting place is yours! And in that place, where there are no wild beasts, the angels will join you in worshiping the King who has dominion over all!
Trinity United Reformed Church
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day,
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance:
Thus was I knit to man's nature,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
In a manger laid and wrapp'd I was,
So very poor, this was my chance,
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Then afterwards baptized I was,
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father's voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance;
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold,
The same is he shall lead the dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
When Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Then on the cross hanged I was;
When a spear to my heart did glance,
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Then up to Heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance,
On the right hand of God, that man
May come into the general dance.
Sing oh my love, oh my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
You have come today with your face towards Christmas. You have come longing for a Saviorpossessing a Savior. With your face toward Advent, you have come today yearning for salvation from your sinspossessing salvation from your sins. You have come to this place today hoping for the fulfillment of the promisesparticipating in the fulfillment of the promises. You have come today with your face fixed towards the incarnationlonging for the union of God and manby faith, possessing union with God through the manthe God-manJesus Christ.
Are you then Abraham's covenant seed, looking for the miracle child, the son of the promise? Jesus is son of Abraham!
Are you then David's royal seed, yearning for the child who is King of kings, royal son of the everlasting covenant? Jesus is son of David!
Are you then sons and daughters of exilecaptivityseed of the death of a nation, looking for liberation, yearning for life out of death? Jesus is son of captivityseed of exilechild of death and resurrection!
Like Joseph and Isaac and Jacob and Judahare you sons of the covenantmen satisfied with your venerable role in the history of the seedsons and fathers, fathers and sons of the seed?
Jesus is the seed of the woman; the manchild from the fathers!
Are you seeking today to be includedincluded in the blessings of the covenant family with Tamar and Rahab and Ruth and Bathshebaoutsiders from the nations grafted in to the covenant family?
Are you stangers from the nations seeking to come hometo come home to the family covenanted with eternity? Jesus is the gathering of the nations; Jesus is the disciplerthe baptizer of the nations. Jesus commissions the nations with a great and everlasting covenant.
Are you seeking to find the Holy Spirit at work in you? To find yourself new createda new creation by the Holy Spirit hovering, brooding, shadowing creation-life over you, within you? Jesus is born of the Spirit. Jesus gives the Spirit without measure!
You have come today with your face towards Christ, looking for God, longing for God with youyearning for God the Son with you. Jesus is God, God with you, God the Son with you!
That which you seek today; that for which you long this Advent season; that for which you yearn this Christmas is herehere in Matthew 1here in the first miracle of the New Testament: this miracle conception, this miracle child, this son of Abraham, son of David, son of the Exile, son of the covenant genealogy, seed of the woman, Savior of sinners, Savior of the nations, born of the Holy Spirit, Immanuel!
This is your storyyou with your face towards Christmasyour face towards Jesusyour face towards the Savioryour face towards God, God the Son. Indeed, this old, old story has become yours by the birth of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1 is a story of hooks and frames; yes, a story of frames and hooks. Hooks to hang and connect and peg things toto peg and connect and hangto hook yourself to.
Matthew 1 is a story of framesframes to outline and enclose and encase things into encase and enclose and outlineto frame yourself in.
The hooks to which you may peg yourselfconnect yourselfhang with are in the genealogy, verses 1-17. The hooks with which to connect yourself begin in verse 1the first clause"the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ." Matthew begins by connecting you with the central figure in his storythe first namethe chief name in his dramathe most important person in the narrative is Jesus Christ. Indeed, hooked up with Jesus, you are connected to the central figure in all history. Matthew tells you so from the beginning.
But from the center of history, Matthew moves to the pastto David, to Abraham. And you will notice his method is to work backwardsback in the history of redemption to the great kings of Judahto the great patriarchs of Israel. Jesus, the central figure, is pegged, hooked, to the great figures of Israel's past. And the name that ends verse 1? Is the name that begins verse 2. Matthew in verse 1 having related Jesus to the past retrospectivelybackwardsnow in verse 2 reverses direction and moves forwardsprospectivelyfrom Abraham to David (v. 6) to the Babylonian Exile (v. 12) to Christ (v. 16). Hooked to the Abraham at the end of verse 1 is the Abraham at the beginning of verse 2. Having returned from Jesus to Abraham (v. 1), Matthew proceeds from Abraham to Jesus (vv. 2-16).
And as he moves forward in the history of redemption, you will observe another hook. Matthew pegs every genealogical relation to the phrase "was born": to Abraham was born Isaac (v. 2); to David was born Solomon (v. 6); to Josiah was born Jeconiah or Jehoiachin (v. 11). The formula "to X was born Y" is a hook pattern connecting father and son from Abraham to Joseph (v. 16), "the husband of Mary." But therein verse 16the hook pattern is broken! You see it, don't you! Verse16"to Jacob was born Joseph" (hook pattern) "the husband of Mary by whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." No
Now why does Matthew suspend his pattern? For fifteen and a half verses, he hooks X to Y, father to son. But abruptly in verse 16b, he breaks the pattern; he does not hook Jesus to Joseph. Every other name in his genealogy of Jesus is connected father to son. Why not Joseph the father of his son Jesus? Because Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, as the rest of chapter 1 makes clear. Verse 18before Joseph had sexual intercourse with Mary, she was found to be pregnant. Verse 25Joseph had no sexual intercourse with Mary until after she gave birth to Jesus; he kept her a virgin until then. The birth of Jesus occurred in this wayhe was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by no natural power; he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by supernatural power. The virgin birth of Jesus is more accurately called the virginal conception of Jesus. Conceived supernaturally in the womb of a virgin, Jesus is fathered by no natural human male. This child in utero is a miracle child. The first miracle of the New Testament is not by Jesus; the first miracle of the New Testament is by God the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. The sharp break in the hook pattern from verse 2 to verse 16 is an emphatic declaration of the supernatural, miraculous, preternatural conception of Jesus Christ. Matthew affirms the virgin birth of Jesushis supernatural conception and subsequent birth from a virgo intactaintact virgin.
Having concluded with Christ in verse 16, Matthew once again focuses our attention on the central figure in the history of redemption as he did at the inception in verse 1: Jesus Christ at the beginning of his gospel; Jesus Christ at the conclusion of his genealogical summary of the history of Israel. As if Matthew wishes to sum up all of Israel's history from Abraham to Jesus in Jesus himself. The genealogy of Israel's history culminates in Jesus. Is Matthew attempting to indicate at the outset of his gospel that Jesus is the true Israel? truly Abraham's son, truly David's son, truly the son of the Exile and return? I believe he is. Matthew pegs the genealogy of Jesus to the genealogy of Abraham's Israeli seed in order to proclaim Jesus as the eschatological Israel. Israel's patriarchal history; Israel's royal history; Israel's exilic and post-exilic history is summed up once and for all in Jesusson of the Exile, son of David, son of Abraham, Son of God.
The hook and the pegs in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus have connected us to the history of redemptionto the story of the patriarchs of Israel, to the story of the kings of Israel, to the story of remnant Israel. And finally, in the fullness of time, the fullness of the history of redemption: Matthew's genealogy has connected us to Jesus himself.
We now move from hooks to frames: verses 18-25. This section contains a series of diminishing frames. They are like smaller and smaller framed pictures or photos laid inside one anotheras if from largest framed picture to smallest framed picture, they are attempting to direct our attention more narrowly, more precisely. Matthew's frames are pictures of the drama and meaning surrounding the birth of Jesus.
The largest framethe most widely framed photo is the family
photo: Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus. This photo has borders of verse 18
and verse 25. At the beginning of his birth narrative, Matthew gives us a shot
of the family (v. 18); and at the conclusion of his birth narrative, Matthew
again gives us a shot of the family (v. 25). The term "birth" is the label on this
photo: birth at its inception (v. 18) and birth at its completion (v. 25). Incidental to
The second frame is smaller, more narrowly focused. Its borders are verses 20 and 24. The label on this frame is: Joseph, sleep and the angel. In verse 20, an angel appears to Joseph as he is sleeping. The dream vision is the means of communicating precious information about Joseph: he is a "son of David" (v. 20). Joseph is himself hooked into the genealogy of redemptive history. And the dream vision is the means of communicating precious information about Maryshe is without blame in the matter of her pregnancy and still eligible as a virgin to be Joseph's wife, for what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And the dream vision is the means of communicating precious information about the child in Mary's wombwhat she is about to deliver is a miraculously generated baby.
This second framed picture narrows the focus upon Joseph and his response to the supernatural conception. A supernatural assurance assuages confusion, hesitancy, even fear. Joseph is comforted by a heavenly messenger even as his fiancée carries heaven's only-begotten Son. Joseph awake (v. 24) acts on Joseph asleep (v. 20). He does what the angel tells him: note carefully the parallels. He took his wife (do not be afraid to take your wife, v. 20); he took her as his wife (v. 24). Righteous Joseph (v. 19) does as God by his angel instructs him (v. 24). Joseph is outlined in this frame photo as a man obedient to heaven's instructions. Joseph becomes a part of the story when heaven descends to him by supernatural messenger, even as Mary becomes part of the story when heaven descends to her by supernatural Holy Spirit conception.
Our frames have shrunk from larger to smaller; from family photo to Joseph photo. But the smallest frame remains. We are somewhat surprised by this frame because it is a border around a centerand a surprising center at that. Verses 21 and 23 definitely provide the final frame in Matthew's birth narrative. But at the center of the frame, surrounded by the verse 21 and verse 23 border is verse 22: "now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled." Strange! The border of our last photo frames a statement about prophetic fulfillment. Odd. Very odd! Or so it seems.
And the bottom of this frame? this frame whose topmost label is Savior Jesusthe bottom of this photo frame is Immanuel (v. 23). And just as he did in verse 21, Matthew provides the etymological explanation of the name: Immanu El. Again, the name is Hebrew: immanu ("with us") El ("God"). This child is GodGod with us. This child is GodGod the Son come to us. This child is the Son of Godvery God himselfincarnate for us. The bottom frame of this last photo is the most magnificent: God with us. None other than God himselfthe Son of God who is himself Godnone other than he has come to dwell with us, to live among us, to be our God and our Savior. The Son Mary bears is Jesus which means "Savior" (v. 21). The Son which the virgin bears is Immanuel which means "God with us" (v. 23). Jesus Savior is Immanuel God with us. Surely this is the focal frame; this smallest frame is the central frame in Matthew's birth narrative. A frame which declares that in fulfillment of his promises given through the prophets down through redemptive historyMary's child, Mary's boychild is Jesus the Savioris Immanuelis GodGod with us!
The virgin birth, or more precisely the virginal conception, is the inaugural miracle in a flurry of supernaturalism at the fulfillment of the history of redemption. And why not? God has come to us. God has taken flesh upon himselfincarnatus esthe has been enfleshed. God the Son has joined with his divine nature our human nature. But Mr. Dennison, you say, would that not make Jesus, God's incarnate Son, a sinner like us? And then, you say, how could a sinner like us save us from our sins? As a sinner like us, he would need salvation from sin just like we do.
Have you not heard; have you not seen that the narrative of father begetting son is not found in the birth of Jesus (again I refer you to verse 16)? Have you not heard; have you not seen that the virginal conception is precisely adapted to exempt Jesus, God's Son, from the guilt of sinoriginal and actual sin? Have you not heard; have you not seen that Christ's miraculous birthhis birth from heaven by the Holy Spiritthat Christ's supernatural birth is nothing less than a new creationa new birtha new generationa new beginning in the history of redemption. As Adam in the garden was generated by God immediately without the substance of a woman, so this second Adam is generated in the flesh by God immediately without the substance of a man. A supernatural creation of the protological Adam; a supernatural creation of the eschatological Adam! And as that first Adam came from the omnipotent hand of God sinless, so this second Adam recapitulates the first Adam coming from the omnipotent hand of God sinless. And that sinless Jesusthat pure, sinless Son of Godthat unblemished, unspotted man from heaven is able to save to the uttermost the sinful sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.
And do you not see yourself framed by Matthew's story of the virgin birththe supernatural, heaven-descended birth of Jesus? And do you not prayhave you not prayedJesus, Savior, Immanuel, God with usbe bornyes, be born in us today that we may be reborn from heavenreborn sons and daughters of the last Adamreborn sons and daughters of the true Israelsons and daughter of Abraham, David, remnant Israelsons and daughters of the end of the age, the fullness of the timessons and daughters of God.
And shall you not live as these heaven-born, new created, saved and delivered, God-with-you sons and daughters? Shall you not live as though God is with you and youyes, youare with God? Shall you not live as those saved from your sins by Jesus and youyes, youno longer living to the sins of the flesh, but living forgiven, cleansed, redeemed, justified, sanctified lives before the face of heaven?
Shall you not live as Joseph and Mary? Doing as you have been commanded by Jesus, your Lord, your God? fearing not the scoffing and scorn of the world. A virgin birth? Humbug! A miracle child? Nonsense! God in the flesh? Absurd! Fearing not such scorn and scoffingsuch tragic, pathetic, desperate kicking against the prickskicking against the virgin-born childImmanuelSaviorson of Davidson of AbrahamSon of God.
I leave you today with your face towards the virgin birthpossessing the virgin-born child. I leave you today framed, enclosed, enwrapped by the child born of the virgin Mary. I leave you today pegged, hooked, connected to the line of JesusJesus the Christ. Cradle this child in your arms of faith. Hold this virgin-born infant in your heart of love. Lean upon this miracle baby as you press him to your breast. Walk before this virgin conceived child as one born of the Holy Spirit, even as he.
Northwest Theological Seminary
Strange approach that anyone would
think Bethjeshimoth a haven
or Bozrah, north of the Arnon;
this land that sought sanctuary
from the contemptuous nation
only to find it in the lap
of an incestuous drunk.
And now she, a most uncommon
woman, steps across the river
back toward a distant modesty.
She gains for herself a mother
for the other turned granular,
pillarlike; thus, she arches
over generations to touch
more closely the father of faith
and find her way into his tents.
Past Pisgah and Nebo, over
past the currents of death for the
ascent to the fields of Boaz.
There, not known to her, he rules
his realm, where all the rushes of
grain overflowthe gleanings hers;
his angels hover near that not
a thread of her hem be disturbed.
Let me tell you very briefly how things used to be in Palestine during Jesus' time. I believe it will help you have a better understanding of some of the things that Jesus says in our text.
At the time of Jesus, most of the shepherds had small flocks, maybe twenty or thirty in number (Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John, p. 371). So a group of shepherds often would share a sheepfold. They might even have a doorkeeper in charge of the fold. The sheepfold could be connected to the house or it could be an enclosure in the middle of an open field. In the evening, after a whole day of grazing, the sheep would be brought to the sheepfold. Different flocks, then, would spend the night together in one fold. In the morning, the shepherds would come and call out their own flocks, even by their individual names. Each sheep would hear the voice of its own shepherd and follow him.
John 10:1-30 is Jesus' self-revelation. Jesus tells his audience who he is. In our text he refers to himself as two things; he is the door to the sheepfold; he is the good shepherd. But the dominant image used in our passage is that of Christ being the good shepherd. So we will focus on Jesus Christ as the good shepherd.
Jesus distinguishes between a shepherd and a thief and a robber.
The shepherd enters by the door and the doorkeeper opens the door for him.
Jesus also distinguishes between a shepherd and a hireling. A hireling is not a true shepherd. A hireling is not the owner of the sheep. For a hireling, shepherding is just a job. He does it to earn his living. It is just a means for his end and nothing more. So when he beholds the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and flees. The Mishnah ("the first part of the Talmud, containing traditional oral interpretations of scriptural ordinances [halakhot], complied by the rabbis about 200 A.D.") prescribed that one could run away from his sheep and not sin if two or more wolves came and attacked (Leon Morris, p. 379). But Jesus says that a hireling runs away as soon as he sees the wolf coming. Why? Because he cares not about the sheep. He cares not that the wolf will snatch away the sheep he's been shepherding, that they will be scattered without any protection. And we have heard much about how dumb the sheep are. The sheep lost in the wilderness without the shepherd will not know what to do and how to survive.
In telling us that he is the good shepherd, Jesus tells us what he is not. He is NOT a thief and a robber. He is NOT a hireling. HE is the good Shepherd. Notice: he does not just say that he is a shepherd. He declares that he is the good shepherd. He is not just a shepherd. He is a good shepherd. But he is more than just a good shepherd. He is the good shepherd. By calling himself a good shepherd, he is distinguishing himself not only from a thief and a robber, not only from a hireling, but also from bad shepherds. Jesus does not explicitly mention bad shepherds in our passage, but they are definitely implied when he calls himself a good shepherd. We read about the bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34. Listen to what God said to Ezekiel:
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, Thus says the Lord God, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and my flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek for them" (vv. 2-6).
There we have God's piercing indictment against the leaders of Israel, bad shepherds. They are worse than thieves and robbers, much worse than hirelings. Thieves and robbers are expected to steal, kill and destroy. There is nothing surprising about hirelings running away from the sheep at the first sign of danger. But the shepherds of Israel? They were entrusted with the task of taking care of God's flock. They were to make sure that the sheep of God's pasture lacked nothing. They were to make them lie down in green pastures. They were to guide them beside quiet waters. They were to refresh them and lead them in the paths of righteousness. With rod and staff, they were to protect and comfort the flock of God from all dangers. They were to strengthen the sickly. They were to heal the diseased and bind up the broken. They were to bring back the scattered and seek the lost.
But what did they do? Instead of feeding the flock of God, they feasted on them. Instead of taking care of them, they fleeced the sheep and clothed themselves with wool. Instead of caring for the sickly and diseased, they neglected them and ignored them.
So what should God do? God will surely judge the bad shepherds of Israel with terrifying judgments. And God himself will be the Shepherd of his flock. He will judge the bad shepherds of Israel and be the good Shepherd. So we read in Ezekiel 34:11-16,
Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for my sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest . . . . I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick . . . .
How touching and comforting are these words!
But God's promise in Ezekiel has an interesting clause added. God says in vv. 23-24, "Then I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken." David, spoken of here, of course, is not the David that died, whose grave is still in Palestine. But how appropriate it is for God to call the designated shepherd David! Was David not a shepherd boy, who was called to rule over Israel as its shepherd-king?
But here in Ezekiel 34, we have God as the true Shepherd of Israel and the David-figure as the one shepherd over Israel. Then who is the shepherd of IsraelGod or David? Of course, for the Old Testament Jews, this was not a problem. They simply understood that God would be the Shepherd of Israel through his servant David. For such was the "normal" way things were done in the Old Testament. The prophets, priests and kings were God's human agents, through whom God ruled over Israel. So it would be with David, the designated shepherd of Israel.
But we know better, don't we? When Jesus says that he is the good
shepherd, we know what God really meant by the promise in Ezekiel 34!
And this amazing, mind-boggling promise has been so wonderfully and fully realized in Jesus Christ! Jesus is the eternal Word, the divine Word, the begotten God, who became flesh and dwelt among his sheep. Jesus Christ is the divine Shepherd. Jesus is the promised David. So then, in Jesus Christ, who is the God-man, who is both perfectly God and perfectly man, God himself is the Shepherd of his flock as the David-figure. Jesus is the good shepherd, in whom both God and David are the Shepherd of God's flock.
What is more, when Jesus said that he was the good shepherd, how could we not be reminded of the most famous of the Psalms, which begins, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall now want"? Especially in the Gospel of John, when Jesus says, "Ego eimi," Jesus refers to his divine being. Ego eimi is translated as "I am"ego is "I" and eimi is "I am". As you can see, ego eimi is an emphatic form. In Greek, to say "I am", all you need to say is eimi. The proper way to translate ego eimi would be, "I myself am". But when Jesus says those words, it means more. Earlier in John, Jesus said to the Jews, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." When he said this, the Jews tried to stone him to death? Why? For what Jesus said spoke clearly, at least to the Jewish mind, that he was God. For God called himself, "I am that I am." And Jesus presented himself as the eternal God by saying, "Before Abraham was, I am." So when Jesus says in John, "I am [something]," his divine nature is implied. And when Jesus says that he is the good Shepherd, it means more than that he is a great leader of people; it means that he is God, who came to shepherd his flock.
Let us go back to Jesus' self-designation as the GOOD Shepherd.
Throughout the Scriptures, we do not find this expression "good shepherd"
anywhere except here in Jesus' reference to himself. We have descriptions that
show how good a shepherd is, but never is anyone called a good shepherd, not
even God. We read in Isaiah 40:11, "Like a shepherd he will tend his flock, In
his arm he will gather the lambs, And carry them
in his bosom; He will gently lead the nursing
ewes." But God is not called a good shepherd. What about
But Jesus calls himself the GOOD Shepherd. How could he be so daring?
Jesus says in v. 11, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus lays down here the unique qualification to be a good shepherd: a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. This is far beyond what is expected of a shepherd, isn't it? A shepherd is to feed the sheep on green pastures. He is to bring them to quiet waters (because the dumb sheep are scared of drinking from the running water). He is to seek out the lost sheep, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick. He must fend off wild beasts and relentless predators. He must stay with the sheep through rain and storm, heat and cold. This would require from the shepherd much time and attention, much effort and energy, even courage to brave many dangers. But laying down his life for the sheep?
This is where all the romantic notion of shepherding bursts. It may be good to talk about shepherds diligently and responsibly taking care of the sheep. But how far are they supposed to go? Shepherds understand the dangers and challenges involved in shepherding the flock. But they do not think about dying for the sheep, however responsible they are, however much they love their flock. They go out to the open field, into the wild, because they think that they will be back home at the end of the day. The ultimate question is, "Does the shepherd exist for the sheep or the sheep for the shepherd?" And the answer is obvious. No sheep is worth the life of the shepherd. Even the Mishnah allowed the shepherd to run for his life if more than one wolf attacked the flock. The romantic notion of the shepherd's care for the sheep has an obvious limit. The sheep will eventually have to be fleeced for the wool. The sheep will have to be sold or slaughtered for sacrifice or for food. For the shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep is ridiculous, utterly foolish.
But what is the core of the good news that we call the gospel? Why is
the gospel newsworthy to be proclaimed throughout the world above all
But why? Here we must leave the pastoral imageries of shepherd and sheep. They have served their function in pointing out the sheer absurdity of the gospel: the Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. But, after all, man is not a sheep. Sheep were created to be fleeced and sacrificed for man. Man was created in the image of God, to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. But sin entered into the world and man's fellowship was broken. Rather than worshipping the Creator God, man began to worship creatures. Rather than listening to the word of God, man obeyed the voice of Satan. Rather than enjoying God as his chief delight and fellowshipping with him, man formed an alliance with Satan against God and his Anointed. Thus man became a slave of Satan. He was shackled in the bondage of sin and death, guilt and condemnation. He incurred the debt of sin, which is death and eternal punishment.
And Jesus loved his people. But what did it mean for him to love
the unlovable, the rebellious, the guilty and the condemned? What would it
cost him to redeem them from their bondage, from their slavery; to restore
their guilt-ridden souls, to bind their wounds, to raise them up from the dead?
Would it be enough for him to come as a healthy doctor to heal the sick? Would it
be enough for him to come as a wealthy person and simply pay the debt for
But there is yet another dimension to Jesus' being our good Shepherd. Some see the meaning of the word, "good", as "beautiful" or "winsome". It may be so. But the text seems to suggest a more viable interpretation of the word.
What does it mean to be a good shepherd? It doesn't just mean that the shepherd is attractive and winsome. When the word "good" is attached to a job title, it no longer means "nice" or "pleasant". A good typist is not necessarily a nice person; a person is called a good typist because she types very fast and accurately. In the same way, when we call someone a good shepherd, it means that he is good at shepherding. What does it mean to be good at shepherding? Jesus says in vv. 27-28, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand." Jesus is the GOOD Shepherd because he does not lose his sheep. No one can snatch his sheep from him. He gives eternal life to his sheep and none of them will perish. Jesus is good at shepherding. He is perfect at shepherding.
This is why he laid down his life for his sheep. In order that he might not lose any of his sheep, Jesus was willing to lay down his life. He protected his sheep even at the cost of his own dear life. And he, who was willing to protect his sheep even at the expense of his life, will not allow any of his sheep to be lost. He was willing to lay down his life for his sheep because there was no other way for our sins to be paid for. If so, will he not, as the resurrected Lord of glory and power, use everything at his disposal to preserve and protect the ones he died for?
You have heard his voice. Trust him. Follow him. Do not depart from him. Do not fear even if you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He has overcome death itself when he rose again from the dead. He knows the way to heaven. He alone can take you to the quiet waters and green pastures of heaven. If you hear his voice and follow him, you are his sheep and his goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. Yes, he came, lived, died and rose again from the dead in order that he might give you eternal life and to give it abundantly. And he cannot fail. So, stay close to him. Never go astray. Listen to his voice and follow him. Yes, read his word, meditate upon his word and let his word guide your every step. Fill your mind with his word and let it be the strength of your life. And he shall lead you to the quiet waters and green pastures of heaven.
New Life Mission Church (PCA)
La Jolla, California
Let us always look at our Lord Jesus Christ. And for as much as we know that God's Son is come down hither, and will hereafter receive us into his glory, yea, and that God hath made him head of the angels as well as of us: let us assume ourselves that although we be here in this world, yet notwithstanding, we be but as pilgrims and cease not for all that to be citizens of heaven whereunto we be led by hope. And for the same cause he saith in another place that we be set already in the heavenly places. And how? By hope.
John Calvin, "Sermon 16 on Titus 3:4-7" in Sermons on the Epistles to Timothy and Titus (facsimile of the 1579 edition reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1983) 1235.
More than one hundred years age, B. B. Warfield wrote the introduction to volume five of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings ("Introductory Essay on Augustin and the Pelagian Controversy," pp. xiii-lxxi). In that essay, Warfield traced the concept of the sovereignty of grace in Augustine's intellectual and spiritual odyssey. Warfield followed up with studies of Calvin and Augustine (essays gathered in his Calvin and Augustine , but originally penned between the years 1905 and 1909). Warfield was persuaded of the magisterial Geneva reformer's dependence on the magisterial Bishop of Hippo; and both "masters" dependent on the magisterial apostle Paul.
The publication of the massive Augustine Encyclopedia1 affords the opportunity to examine the assessment of the Bishop of Hippo by scholars of the late 20th century. Is it the case that Augustine is still regarded as the theologian of sovereign grace by the scholarly community? And what of the so-called semi-Augustinian tradition? Dismissing those such as Elaine Pagels, who regard Augustine as responsible for all modern ills (defined by her as all opinions not culturally or politically correct), what do students of Augustine have to say about the North African church father nearly sixteen centuries after his death in 430 A.D.?
First, let me describe the features of this volume. Augustine is covered from A to Z (actually A to W, "Abortion" to "Worship"). Each article is authored by a recognized Augustine scholar. We have, for example, Gerald Bonner (author of one of the standard biographies of Augustine, St. Augustine of Hippo, 3rd edition 2002) on several of Augustine's works penned during the semi-Pelagian controversy (426-529 A.D.). J. Patout Burns contributes the article on "Grace" (Burns himself the author of a major book on the subjectThe Development of Augustine's Doctrine of Operative Grace ). Eugene TeSelle (author of Augustine the Theologian ) is a contributor, as is Roland Teske (Paradoxes of Time in Saint Augustine ). Rebecca Weaver's important Divine Grace and Human Agency: A Study of the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (1996) has earned her a spot in our encyclopedia. Other noteworthy contributors include: Brian Daley, Angelo Di Berardino, G. R. Evans, Boniface Ramsey, Tarsicius van Bavel and Maureen Tilley. From the Reformed perspective, Richard Muller of Calvin Theological Seminary offers "Reformation, Augustinians in the" (pp. 705-7) and Ronald Nash of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando writes "Illumination, Divine" (pp. 438-40) and "Wisdom" (pp. 885-87). But we miss Peter Brown. Strange!
The encyclopedia contains a complete list of Augustine's works: by Latin abbreviation (pp. xxxv-xlii) and by full Latin title (pp. xliii-il). The full list includes the date in which the work was written and a short explanation of each treatise's contents. The abbreviated list includes a table identifying standard sources (Migne, CSEL=Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum) and English translations where available (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1 [NPNF1]; Fathers of the Church [FC]; Ancient Christian Writers [ACW]; Library of Christian Classics [LCC]; and the New City project (Works of St. Augustine) which aims to publish English translations of the entire Augustine corpusto date 26 volumes.2 The 396 sermons of Augustine are listed in full on pp. 774-89 of the encyclopedia, complete with source, place and
There is an entry for every major work written by Augustine in this volume. They are listed alphabetically by the Latin title with a discussion of date, context and content. This provides a superb summary of the thought of Augustine book by book (scholarly bibliographies are also attached to each article). The personalities in Augustine's life are also covered from Adeodatus (son of his concubine) to Monnica (his devout mother) to Ambrose (his father in the faith) to Pelagius (his nemesis) and more. There is even coverage of post-Augustinian personalities (and movements): Calvin, Carolingian Era, Erasmus, Kierkegaard, Scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas. The editor has attempted to provide broad and thorough coverage of Augustine in his own time and context, as well as Augustine down through church history. That goal has been remarkably achieved making this volume the place to start when orienting the student to Augustine's life, his work and his thought.
But what of the assessment of the great African bishop? The evaluation of Augustine's thought began even in his own lifetime. Pelagius was insulted by Augustine's doctrine of grace and 5th century monks of southern France branded him an extremist. Since the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian controversies treat the heart of the gospel of salvation by grace, we will assess the content of our encyclopedia by tracing the details of the semi-Pelagian debate in particular through its pages.
Augustine testifies that the conflict with Pelagius originated when
the latter objected to Augustine's statement, "Give what Thou commandest
[O God] and command what Thou willest" (cf.
On the Gift of Perseverance[=De Dono
Perseverantie], 20.53; NPNF1, 5:547). The North African was
acknowledging his inability to comply with the demands of God and his
complete dependence upon God to supply the ability which he demanded. For
Augustine, "ought" does not imply "can"; ought is demand, compliance is
graciously supplied to sinful man. Pelagius was angered by this total dependence.
For Pelagius, God's demand is based on man's ability ("ought" requires "can").
Following the inception of his conflict with the British moralist in 411, Augustine's triumph over Pelagius was complete by 416 (Pelagius was condemned at the Councils of Carthage and Milevis [cf. "Milevis, Council of," p. 562, of our encyclopedia]). Pelagius, having fled to Palestine, disappears from history in 419 when the weight of Zosimus (Bishop of Rome, 417-18) and Honorius (Roman Emperor in the West, 395-423) is arrayed against him.
The fading of the Pelagian controversy was reversed in 426 when the monks at Hadrumetum (also spelled Adrumetum, now Sousse in Tunisia, North Africa) disagreed about Augustine's anti-Pelagian teaching on grace. The specific spark of the controversy was the discovery by a monk named Florus of a letter Augustine had written in 418 at the close of the Pelagian controversy (Letter 194 to Sixtus). To Sixtus, Augustine affirmed that grace is wholly gra-
4 "[God] knew that nature as he had made it was quite adequate as a law for them [men] to practice justice"Pelagius, "Epistle to Demetrias," in J. Patout Burns, Theological Anthropology (1981) 50. "We act like lazy and insolent servants, talking back to our Lord in a contemptuous and slovenly way: 'That is too hard, too difficult! We cannot do that! We are only human; our flesh is weak!' What insane stupidity! What impious arrogance! We accuse the Lord of all knowledge of being doubly ignorant. We assert that he does not understand what he made and does not realize what he commands. We imply that the creator of humanity has forgotten its weakness and imposes precepts which a human being cannot bear . . . The just one did not choose to command the impossible; nor did the loving one plan to condemn a person for what he could not avoid," ibid., p. 53.
The monks believed that Augustine's doctrine threatened (if it did not actually annul) human agency and freedom. Monkish striving for perfection through prayer, work, self-denial was seemingly made void. Valentinus, Abbot of Hadrumetum, dispatched two brothers, Cresconius and Felix, to visit Augustine in Hippo and ask for clarification. Augustine's reply was addressed in two letters to Valentinus (Letters 214 and 215; cf. NPNF1, 5:437-40). In addition, Augustine included a book which he wrote for the monks at HadrumetumOn Grace and Free Will(=De gratia et libero arbitrio)(cf. NPNF1, 5:443-65). In the book, Augustine attempted to steer between two errors: (1) those who think grace annuls free choice (or free will); (2) those who think free choice/free will makes grace unnecessary or that grace is given on account of human merit. Bonner's encyclopedia article on this work (pp. 400-401) leaves the impression that for Augustine grace is a helper or an assistant to free will after the Fall into sin. In fact, Augustine emphasizes the impotence of the fallen will and the absolute necessity of transformation by divine grace: "Thus it is necessary for a man that he should be not only . . . changed . . . but that even after he has become justified by faith, grace should accompany him on his way, and he should lean upon it"On Grace and Free Will, 6.13 (NPNF1, 5:449). Bonner seems to lean towards the so-called semi-Pelagian interpretation of Augustine in which grace is necessary, but the
"What we seek to know is how this hardening is deserved, and we find it to be so because the whole clay of sin was damned. God does not harden by imparting malice to it, but by not imparting mercy. Those to whom He does not impart mercy are not worthy, nor do they deserve it; rather, they are worthy and do deserve that He should not impart it. But when we seek to know how mercy is deserved we find no merit because there is none, lest grace be made void if it is not freely given but awarded to merit;" ibid., p. 310.
When his book was received at Hadrumetum, one monk refused moral and spiritual rebuke on the grounds that he could not be blamed for (sinful) failure if perseverance in good is due to grace. Augustine then wrote a second book, On Rebuke/Correction and Grace(=De correptione et gratia; NPNF1, 5:471-91). Here Augustine uses the famous phrase aguntur enim ut agant ("for they [men] are acted upon that they may act," 2.4; NPNF1, 5:473) to indicate the sufficiency of grace in human action. Whereas the monks viewed the will as undergoing a gradual process of conversion through their monastic regimen, Augustine emphasized the sovereign transformation of the will by the grace of regeneration and conversion. Correction or rebuke is an instrument of the divine agency; and it is an instrument subordinated to God's decree of election. In other words, as B. B. Warfield points out, election, transforming grace, free choice, correction run concurrently (Latin concursus). The choice of God (election) fixes on changing the sinner's nature (regenerating grace) liberating his enslaved will (free choice) to receive rebuke (correction): and all concurrently. Our encyclopedia once again diminishes Augustine's emphasis on sovereign, electing (monergistic) grace by alluding to the perseverance of the saints, i.e., some men persevere and others do not. That is, the encyclopedia (p. 245) implies that the "mystery" of persevering grace (i.e., citing Augustine's inability to explain why one perseveres rather than another) jeopardizes Augustine's emphasis on sovereign grace (dialectics again!). The "mystery" in Augustine's doctrine of perseverance tips the balance (per our encyclopedists) from divine monergism to human synergism (or worse).
The second book written for the monks at Hadrumetum apparently
resolved the tensions, pacified the consciences and laid the antinomies to
rest. As Peter Brown notes in his magnificent biography of Augustine, the
monks were content with "all-or-nothing grace"
(Augustine of Hippo: A Biography  403). The further silence of the monks at Hadrumentum represents
But when De correptione et gratia made its way across the Mediterranean to southern France (ancient Gaul), a very different response erupted. Stage two of the contention over Augustine's teaching on grace and predestination is, in fact, the inauguration of the semi-Pelagian controversy. I must pause here to acquaint the reader with the currently accepted scholarly protocols. The label "semi-Pelagian" is no longer acceptable in scholarly discourse. It is a misnomer, too pejorative and smacking of a benighted half-way paganism or anti-Christian heresy. Our encyclopedia labels the term an "anachronism", coined in the heated debates of the 16th century between Molinists (followers of Luis de Molina, Spanish Jesuit) and his Dominican opponents (p. 761). Further, according to our encyclopedia, John Cassian (ca. 360-ca. 435; cf. pp. 133-35, of our encyclopedia) and Faustus of Riez (ca. 405-ca. 490; cf. pp. 356-58, of our encyclopedia), the main protagonists in stage two of the controversy, were not disciples of Pelagius and thus do not deserve the negative association with the heretic suggested in the label "semi-Pelagian". It is clear that our modern revisionists do not want even the half-way association with a confirmed heretic. So they banish the term "semi-Pelagian" and replace it with the designation "semi-Augustinian" or "centrist" or something less inflammatory. I will point out below that these modern scholars hold on to key elements of Pelagius's case for (sinful) human ability, while claiming the Augustinian emphasis on grace (though it must be admitted that J. Patout Burns's article on "Grace" is a refreshing exception, pp. 391-98, albeit even he flinches when he writes, "Still, he [Augustine] allowed that humans must respond by cooperating with God's gift"p. 394). As Augustine himself understood, such a half-way house is a rejection of grace and an affirmation of the moral ability of the fallen man. Augustine would be as hostile to this revisionism as he was to Pelagius himself. But back to our story.
The leader of the debate in France was John Cassian. Maintaining a
centrist position, he argued that he did not endorse Pelagius nor was he
Responding to the charge that his doctrine of predestination was fatalistic, Augustine admitted that early in his career he had believed that faith was the product of human effort and that that effort was itself prior to saving grace. But he was dumbstruck by 1 Corinthians 4:7: "for what do you have that you did not receive?" And having been stopped by the inspired apostle, Augustine repudiated his earlier opinion and taught that faith is the result of grace, not the cause of grace. The sinner first received the gift of grace and thus had faith (grace "goes before" [Latin prevenio] or precedes faith). Divine election could not therefore be based on foresight or foreknowledge of faith, i.e., God looks forward and sees who will have faith and requites their work of faith with election. The (former) Augustine thus taught election on the basis of the merit of faith; the (later) Augustine saw that election was on the basis of undeserved grace. Augustine's Gallic opponents however were maintaining that the sinner's will has power to act prior to and apart from grace. Grace is gained by a prior act of the will. Citing the passage "believe and thou shalt be saved," Augustine's opponents argued that a sinner was able to believe, else the command was meaningless. Augustine's response to these semi-Pelagians was his response to the Pelagians: God gives what he commands. Supernatural grace moves the sinful will in such a way that it believes"our sufficiency, by which we
7 Gaiseric (or Genseric), King of the Vandals, crossed into North Africa from Spain in 429. By May/June of 430, his barbarian bands were in Hippo.
That which Augustine rejected in his treatise On the Predestination of the Saints was embraced by John Cassian. Prosper suspected Cassian of being neither a Pelagian (since he agreed with Augustine on the necessity of grace for salvation) nor an Augustianian (since he agreed with Pelagius that the sinful will has the ability to perform spiritual good). Suggested Prosper, Cassian was a tertium quid (a "third thing" altogether). Standard historians of doctrine have labeled this semi-Pelagianism (Robert A. Markus has recently labeled it the "Gallic orthodoxy"). If contemporary revisionists prefer semi-Augustinianism, they must still admit that Cassian endorses positions Augustine rejects and rejects positions Augustine embraces. Gerald Bonner writes that Augustine himself "had also asserted the power of free choice, by which an individual may believe and receive grace, and had even spoken of grace being given as a reward for the faith which God foresees that an individual will haveprecisely the view of the monastic theologian John Cassian (c. 365-c. 453) and his fellow divines of Marseilles, which Augustine would reject" (Expository Times 109:295). Bonner's article on De praedestinatione sanctorum in our encyclopedia (p. 669) is not quite as blunt, but it is a competent description of the book in its context. Cassian contrives the 5th century via media. He rejects absolute sovereign grace (Augustine) and he rejects the absolute primacy of free will (Pelagius). He straddles the antipodesnot the transformation of a dead will (Augustine), but the assistance (through grace) of a crippled will. For Cassian, the sinful will is not in as bad a state as Augustine imagines; nor is it in as good a state as Pelagius imagines. For Cassian, salvation begins in the proper use a sinner makes of the natural ability of his free will. Having inclined himself to good by his (naturally able) free will, the sinner is assisted by divine grace to complete the journey. Cassian calls the fallen will "weak". It is the role of grace to "cooperate" with man's weak will thus "assisting" it to salvation (cf. his Conferences 13; NPNF2, 11:427-30).8 Is grace irresistible
Cassian also suggested that 1 Timothy 2:4 ("[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth") teaches universal salvation. "How can we imagine without grievous blasphemy that He does not generally will all men, but only some instead of all to be saved?" (Conferences 13.7; NPNF2, 11:425). The argument over grace is now shaping the intention of Christ's death on the cross.11 With the departure from the bondage of the sinner's will comes a view of grace which is ameliorative, assistive, responsive. And that requires a redefinition of the cross of Christ from particular-elective to universal-meliorative.
Augustine died at Hippo in 430 with the Vandals besieging the gates. Cassian succumbed in 435 at Marseilles. Prosper survived to 455 (or beyond) dying probably in Rome. By mid-5th century, the issues were: if salvation is predestined, grace is absolutely unmerited; but if salvation is universal (or the will to salvation is universal), grace is, in some sense, merited. Augustine and the strict Augustinians argued that grace is the effect of election. The semi-Pelagians argued that grace is a foreseen reward or gift for those using their
10 "But who can easily see how it is that the completion of our salvation is assigned to our own will," Conferences 13.9; NPNF2 11:426. " . . . for when God sees us inclined to will what is good, He meets, guides, and strengthens us," 13.11; ibid., 11:428.
11 Augustine had declared, "Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6), and the unworthy, while being worthy himself . . . Because of your pity, Lord, deliver us. Not because of any previous merits of ours, but because of your pity, Lord, deliver us . . . not because of our merit. Obviously, not because of the merit of our sins, but because of your name. I mean, the merit of our sins, of course, is not reward, but punishment;" "Sermon 293," The Works of Saint Augustine: Sermons, vol. III/8 (1994), p. 152.
The next phase of the controversy over predestination, grace and free will occurs with the rise of Faustus of Riez (ca. 405-ca. 490; pp. 356-58, of our encyclopedia) and his nemesis, Fulgentius of Ruspe (462/68-527/33; cf. pp. 373-74, of our encyclopedia). Riez (Reii) is a town in Gaul where Faustus rose to become the most famous preacher of the day. In his major work, De gratia ("On Grace"), written about 422/23, Faustus declared that he was taking the via media between Pelagius (man's efforts are adequate for salvation) and the Augustinians (divine grace is the sole effective power in man's salvation). Our encyclopedia article on Faustus informs us that the great history of dogma writersAdolf von Harnack and Reinhold Seebergregarded him as the quintessential representative of the semi-Pelagian position.
Rebecca Weaver says that Faustus, with John Cassian, affirmed that "all is to be ascribed to grace and all is to be ascribed to free will" (Weaver, op. cit., 165). Since Christ died for all mankind (a la 1 Tim. 2:4), salvation is a combination of grace and works. Christ's mission is to "empower human self-reformation" (Weaver, ibid., 169).
For Faustus, divine predestination proceeds on the foreknowledge of human desert/merit (i.e., election succeeds human volition). He rejects total inability or total depravity arguing that the Fall rendered man merely weak. Faith unto salvation then is not a new creation or regeneration gift; it is a natural human capacity and ability merely requiring the proper assistance, direction and example. Because human freedom is absolute and indelible, man's free willeven in the fallen stateis fully able to choose God's will. He even declares that if faith is a gift, it loses its value. Our encyclopedist vainly seeks to sanitize this heresy by suggesting (with the great orthodox scholar of the 16th century, Erasmus!) that Faustus is more Augustinian than Pelagian (or semi-Pelagian). Surely Augustine would shudder at such a conclusion!
Faustus received the reaction he deserved from Fulgentius of Ruspe.
Ruspe (Byzacena) is a village in North Africa where Fulgentius became bishop
ca. 502. His call to the monastery and episcopacy stemmed from
The final stage in this debate occurred at the Second Council of Orange in 529 (cf. pp. 250-51, of our encyclopedia).12 Presiding over the Council is Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470-543; cf. pp. 115-16, of our encyclopedia), the apparent champion of Fulgentius and Augustine. And so our encyclopedia entry on Caesarius reads: "he takes an extreme Augustinian position on the impotence of nature, without grace, with regard to salvation." And the canons of Orange II have been regarded by many historians of Christian dogma as a vindication of Augustine Augustinianism and a condemnation of semi-Pelagian Augustinianism. Rebecca Weaver has cautioned that there are two sides to Caesarius: the moralistic side evident in his voluminous sermonic corpus; the sola gratia Caesarius evident in his major theological tome, De gratia. The
Using the Augustinian/Pelagian/semi-Pelagian controversy as a barometer, we look back on our excursion through the Augustine Encyclopedia with critical appreciation. The articles are thorough, well-written and accurate from the standpoint of names, dates, works, sequence of events, relevant issues and bibliography. Coverage is excellent (though not definitivecould it ever be?) in all areas of Augustiniana. On these scores, the encyclopedia rates exceedingly high.
But what we encounter in the assessment and evaluation of Augustine's thought is reflective of the battles over the great African bishop which have dogged his works since before his death. The polarizations remain: some read Augustine and believe he is paradoxicalaffirming the antinomies of divine (even sovereign) grace and human ability; some read Augustine and believe
Augustine requires a confession of absolute dependence on the electing grace of God in Christ Jesus. And the natural man from Augustine to the present is too self-sufficient to confess his utter dependence on what lies outside himself. No, the modern man replies, Augustine can't be right; I can't be as bad as all that; surely I am better, more virtuous, more able to commend myself to the deity than he allows. Augustine is too severe, too extreme, too relentless.
But Augustine still speaks; his works still speak. They speak with the voice of another theologian, the apostle Paul: "you were dead in your trespasses and sins . . . but God being rich in mercy . . . even when we were dead
Northwest Theological Seminary
Arthur C. Cochrane, Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century. Louisville: KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2003. 336 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-664-22694-9. $24.95.
The republication of Cochrane's compilation makes available, once more, this collection of Reformation era confessions. Although several of these are available in other collections (notably volume 3 of Philip Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom), five are not: The Tetrapolitan Confession (1530); The First Confession of Basel (1534); The Lausanne Articles (1536); The Geneva Confession (1536); and the Confession of the English Congregation at Geneva (1556). Each creedal statement is introduced with a short narrative of origin, author(s) and context. A bibliography is attached for further research. Since the original edition of this work appeared in 1966, the latter area (bibliographies) is somewhat dated. Nevertheless, Cochrane provides an excellent overview of each document so that we get the flavor of the theological issues in those turbulent and exciting times. B. B. Warfield once noted that the reading of the Reformed confessions is wonderfully edifying. In an era of shoddy Reformed theology, these confessions take us back to our roots (ad fontes). Perhaps this reprint can be of use in reminding us of our glorious confessional tradition and assisting us in reclaiming it.
James T. Dennison, Jr.
The release of Klauck's books in paperback by Fortress Press is a distinct boon. Originally published in hard copy (T. & T. Clarknow out-of-print) in 2000 with a hefty price tag of more than $60, this affordable edition is welcome.
The subtitle says it all. Klauck has provided a near definitive vade mecum of Greek and Roman religions in the era of early Christianity. What indeed were our fathers and mothers in the faith up against in their own religious environment? The answer is a plethora of religions as numerous as the plethora of (pagan) gods and goddesses. There is a religion for every Graeco-Roman taste: the Eleusian Mysteries; the Dionysius cult including Orphism (Orpheus in the underworld); the Attis cult (beloved of Cybele); Isis (Egyptian goddesswife of Osiris); Mithraism (Klauck is very helpful here with a most mysterious, but powerful devotion); claimants of miracles (Epidauros and Apollonius of Tyana); magic; astrology; emperor worship (Greek and Roman); and the philosophies which mimicked religion (Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism). Finally, there is Gnosticism which continues to fascinate and mislead scholars of our own generation.
With respect to the latter, our readers will be pleased to note the reference to the work of Dr. Edwin Yamauchi (p. 455) and Klauck's conclusion"we have no literary testimonies to a developed gnosis that can be dated indubitably to the first century CE or even earlier" (p. 458). He further scorns the notion of a pre-Christian gnosisa theory beloved by the history of religions school (Rudolf Bultmann, one of its mature members) as a basis for New Testament Christianity. Says Klauck, "There did not exist the kind of pre-Christian gnosis that the older history of religions posited, chronologically antecedent to the New Testament and providing one of its intellectual presuppositions" (459).
Such fairness, accurate reading of the primary documents and refusal
to stray where the data do not go make this an insightful if not revisionist
volume. We appreciate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the
James T. Dennison, Jr.
Cornelius G. Hunter, Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2001. 192 pp. Paper. ISBN: 1-58743-053-3. $12.99.
The debate over Darwinian evolution has raged ever since Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859. There is considerable discussion today, especially on college campuses, between scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Some of this intercourse is conducted in a professional, academic style, with cogent arguments presented in public forums such as the journal Creation/Evolution. But the interchange often becomes heated and pejorative, with argumentation centered on name-calling rather than logic. This is because the idea of evolution (as well as Christian faith) is ripe with metaphysical assumptions about our world, and thus is fraught with emotion.
It is an unfortunate reality that the academic endeavor often strays from its stated missionnamely the quest for truthand becomes embroiled in personality, politics, and ultimately the desire for self-glorification. Anyone who has even perfunctorily traced the evolution debate will observe an elitist, pugnacious spirit in the self-declared priests of this worldthe cult of Darwin. They decide what constitutes science, they decide what constitutes adequate substantiation of scientific claims, and they decide what ideologies will be transmitted to our citizens's children in our public schools. The lack of objectivity, so necessary to intellectual enterprise, is a disturbing reminder that the fall of man has infiltrated all aspects of human culture; perhaps most of all, it has affected the ivory tower.
Hunter effectively argues that Darwinian evolution is steeped in metaphysical suppositions about the nature of God. For naturalists, i.e., those who seek an explanation of the natural world without reference to God, these assumptions about God's character, together with the scanty biological supporting evidence, move evolution from the realm of possibility to plausibility. But it is more than factit is an explanatory paradigm against which all other fields of human knowledge are to be measured. The persuasiveness of evolutionary theory for natural man, built on speculation and science fiction, becomes salient: to forsake this cult is tantamount to abandoning the humanistic project of attaining knowledge independently of God.
I am not an expert on biology, and am unaware of predecessors to Hunter's position. From the discussion in his book, it seems that most attacks on Darwinian evolution historically have centered on the weakness of the evidence, as well as its unattractive corollaries, e.g., the redefinition of love as a meaningless chemical response, which is merely the unlikely outcome of time and chance.1 So it may well be that Hunter's contentionthat Darwinism is founded on certain humanistic notions about God's characteris entirely new. I will summarize the main argument below; the book contains many pertinent aspects of the debate that the interested reader may pursue on their own.
Hunter traces the trend in theological thought up through the nineteenth
This metaphysical belief is found not only among Darwin's own writings (and is actually used throughout the Origin of Species to justify the theory he advances), but is also encountered among all his intellectual descendents. And indeed, this argument from a non-Scriptural conception of God continues today among the priests of this world. If any of you have ever pinned a Darwinian against the wall in debate, exposing the utter frailty of biological evidence, you may have experienced their ultimate defense: "What's the alternative? Creationism?" Implicit in this response is the idea that 'God would not have created things the way they are.'
Hunter sticks to his main pointthat Darwinism is steeped in ideas about God, and thus is metaphysics rather than scienceand adroitly avoids the temptation to digress into a destruction of the evolutionary position point by point; this would have constituted another book. Some of the material is technical (for example, Chapter Two), though the majority should be accessible to Christians with a Reformed education. Again, I have no formal training in biology, but was able to follow his arguments easily.
This is an excellent book, but it is necessary to offer a few criticisms. Hunter subscribes to the common opinion that Milton was a latent Arminian, and makes a dubious parallel between him and Darwin on this basis. According to Hunter, Milton's difficulties with the doctrine of the Trinity are paralleled by Darwin's difficulties with the doctrine of God's sovereignty. To one that understands the orthodoxy of Milton, this connection seems unconvincing, as well as largely irrelevant to the main argument.
It seems one can say little about the biblical theological implications of this work; Hunter's argument is mainly negative, and he does not stray far into Christian views of science. Such views of science, to be properly Christian, must not merely take the rational, omnipotent God as their metaphysical presupposition, but must take into account the earth-shattering significance of Christ's resurrection. In my opinion, more scholarship should be devoted to the impact of new creation motifs on science. This is definitely not the focus of Hunter's book.
Another tactic for debate has occurred to me, which is the intermediary argument of intelligent design. When a Darwinist is cornered by flimsy evidence, and they retort, "What is the alternative to evolution?" then one may reply: "Intelligent Design." Note that this does not necessarily mean creation by God, because it includes more far-fetched ideas, like genetic engineering by extraterrestrial life forms. Convincing a Darwinist of the plausibility of intelligent design moves them onto more neutral ground, from which one can then argue that the simplest and most elegant formulation of intelligent design is that of a benevolent, wise deity who has cursed the earth with futility and entropy. Of course this tactic is similar to that of classical apologetics, which argues first for theism before moving towards the Christian God; thus it may not be appealing to die-hard presuppositionalists.
In the last analysis, it may very well require a gracious act of God to rescue man from such a pernicious and blasphemous belief system as Darwinism; and Christians should expect the cult of Darwin to continue until all the principalities of darkness are brought into subjection beneath Jesus' feet at his parousia.