I have reworked and re-issued this blog as the more I think about the prophecies of Enoch, the more they stagger me. Ex-canonical for the reasons stated below yet there is little argument that the Book of Enoch was penned at least 2000 years ago. Yet it effectively envisages digital printing (a 1990s invention), for how else could “books be freely distributed to the righteous” other than via free e-book / pdf downloads? It makes you think – so does Enoch93:8-10 when related to the Church rather than the Temple, keeping in mind my previous few posts and the process in hand.
The Book of Enoch
The Book of Enoch is ex-canonical scripture that was nevertheless regarded as inspired and a genuine work of the Patriarch by a number of the early Church Fathers such as Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Tertullian. This is hardly surprising since it is directly quoted in the New Testament (Jude14,15). Tertullian specifically regarded Enoch as falling within the remit of 2Tim3:16 concerning “all scripture” being inspired and useful. It was excluded from the Old Testament cannon (apart from that formulated by the Coptic Orthodox Church) and for valid reasons; perhaps most significantly there was an unacceptable degree of variation in the manuscript copies available to the early Church councils that determined the composition of the Biblical Canon. Apart from being directly quoted in the Bible, this scripture clarifies some otherwise obscure verses which themselves are quite important and cannot be properly understood by comparing canonical scripture with scripture. None more so than Genesis 6; explaining in great detail the context of vv1-3, necessary for a rounded understanding of God’s nature and modus operandi, together with the respective culpability of the human and celestial agencies that contributed to the Fall and the Flood. The latter was another reason The Book of Enoch was more conclusively rejected by the later Fathers who believed it did not place sufficient emphasis on man’s culpability for those particular cosmic disasters, especially having endorsed Augustine’s austere take on the matter. This extra-biblical literature also clarifies less important but nevertheless intriguing issues such as “the blood that speaks better things than Abel” (Heb12:24), Enoch’s walk with God (in great detail) and the ethnicity of Adam, Eve and their offspring (hinted at in Genesis5:3).
With the aforementioned early fathers, I have no doubt the Book of Enoch is inspired and needs to be consulted in order to aid completion of the biblical jigsaw. In the context of “The Little Book of Providence” it also contains certain prophecies regarding God’s final providential mystery (cf. Rev10:4-7) that might not have remained a mystery had Enoch1 been received within the canon and historically focused upon within the churches. But there is another reason to believe the Book of Enoch was not intended for the Church throughout its history yet is relevant for today as profitable reading – that is the very opening verse:
“The words of the blessing of Enoch, wherewith he blessed the elect and the righteous who will be living in the day of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed” (Enoch1 ch1 v1)
And at the end of Enoch there is a prophecy concerning the book itself and other books:
“But when they write down truthfully all my words in their languages, and do not change or diminish anything from my words but write them all down truthfully – all that I first testified concerning them; then I know ANOTHER MYSTERY, that books WILL BE GIVEN to the righteous and the wise to become a cause of joy and uprightness and much wisdom. and to them shall the BOOKS BE GIVEN, and they shall believe in them and rejoice over them, and then shall all the righteous who have learnt therefrom all the paths of uprightness be recompensed”(Enoch104:11-13).
The idea of books or scrolls being made widely available for distribution is a concept nowhere to be found in the canon of Scripture and was beyond human envisaging before the invention of the printing press. It cannot be referring to the propagation of the Protestant Bible in the Middle Ages, for the Reformers like the Catholic Church did not regard Enoch as canonical, apart from which Enoch’s prophecy pertains to the generation living at the time “when the wicked are to be removed from the earth” (opening verse) – i.e. the generation that lives to see Christ come again. And as referred to in the introduction the concept of books being freely distributed would practically require digital printing, not available until the 1990s!
“The Little Book of Providence” – a prophetically inspired synopsis of the Bible
The “transition” simply refers to the fact that I am moving back to the main purpose of this website: to go chapter by chapter through the New Testament drawing out evidence to support what has been set out in “The Little Book of Providence”. For the last month or so I have been delving into Luther’s theses that formed the basis of what became known as the Heidelberg Disputation. I believe that self-imposed side-tracking was itself providential, for a lot of the issues covered in the previous posts were pivotal to the matters raised by Luther. A quarter of the way through that process (thesis#7 of 28) I gave up through exasperation – but not I trust before a point was made. Luther’s insights were often irrational and unsupported by Scripture, especially once the references he cited were examined in context. Also, his repeated appeal in his supporting evidence to the teaching of 5th century Catholic Bishop Augustine was also a pointer to where a number of doctrinal distortions in the Western Church originated. Indeed the mystery of lawlessness goes back further still (2Thes2:7 – Greek) and misinterpreting Paul’s writing was always the catalyst (2Pet3:15-16).
So now I return to the relative rationality of the Apostle Paul. I say “relative”, for during my 28 years as an Evangelical I was far from alone in making little sense of what the apostle appeared to be writing in Rom2 (vv6-16), Rom7 (vv14-25), Rom8 (vv12-13 and vv19-23), Rom11 (vv11,12,15 &30) – and that’s just Romans! Having converted to Catholicism in 2000, Rom2 may have been resolved but mysteries remained concerning the rest. It was not until the extraordinary spiritual experience I encountered in 2013 resulting in the writing of “The Fellowship of the Secret” – revised and systematized last year to form The Little Book of Providence** that Paul’s writings and Scripture as a whole came to make perfect sense. How that revelation impacts upon scriptural interpretation and the wondrous implications of the new interpretations to divine providence is what this website and posts are all about.
My lack of engagement
It will be evident from my post settings that I presently don’t engage with others. I simply do not have the time and above all the mental resilience to cope with doing so, knowing that what I write will unavoidably disturb many, especially those of my former ilk. Nevertheless, I thank those who “like” or “follow” my Facebook Page (currently 48k+) albeit it is the followers that are the key. For it is the response of those who currently least like what I write that shall collectively determine whether Christ’s prayer for unity can be fulfilled before His return (Jn17:11). Only if such a reaffiliation occurs will it be possible for a coherent witness to be provided to the nations before we all face that awesome event (Mt24:14).
** View or purchase paperback or kinder e-book from Amazon.uk HERE or Amazon.com HERE
The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.
[Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #7 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT
This is clear from Thesis 4. To trust in works, which one ought to do in fear, is equivalent to giving oneself the honor and taking it from God, to whom fear is due in connection with every work. But this is completely wrong, namely to please oneself, to enjoy oneself in one’s works, and to adore oneself as an idol. He who is self-confident and without fear of God, however, acts entirely in this manner. For if he had fear he would not be self-confident, and for this reason he would not be pleased with himself, but he would be pleased with God. In the second place, it is clear from the words of the Psalmist (Ps. 143:2), “Enter not into judgment with thy servant”, and Ps. 32:5, “I said: I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” etc. But that these are not venial sins is clear because these passages state that confession and repentance are not necessary for venial sins. If, therefore, they are mortal sins and “all the saints intercede for them”, as it is stated in the same place, then the works of the saints are mortal sins. But the works of the saints are good works, wherefore they are meritorious for them only through the fear of their humble confession. In the third place, it is clear from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses” (Matt. 6:12). This is a prayer of the saints, therefore those trespasses are good works for which they pray. But that these are mortal sins is clear from the following verse, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). Note that these trespasses are such that, if unforgiven, they would condemn them, unless they pray this prayer sincerely and forgive others. In the fourth place, it is clear from Rev. 21:27, “Nothing unclean shall enter into it” (the kingdom of heaven). But everything that hinders entrance into the kingdom of heaven is mortal sin (or it would be necessary to interpret the concept of “mortal sin” in another way). Venial sin, however, hinders because it makes the soul unclean and has no place in the kingdom of heaven.
MY COMMENTS on “Works of the righteous mortal sins unless feared as such”
🤷♂️ I think it’s time to get back to Corinthians.
The context of these Heidelberg posts – The Little Book of Providence
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The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless. [Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #6 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT (my highlighting)
In Eccles. 7:20, we read, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” In this connection, however, SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS MAN INDEED SINS, BUT NOT WHEN HE DOES GOOD. THEY MAY BE REFUTED in the following manner: If that is what this verse wants to say, why waste so many words? Or does the Holy Spirit like to indulge in loquacious and foolish babble? For this meaning would then be adequately expressed by the following: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does not sin.” Why does he add “who does good,” as if another person were righteous who did evil? For no one except a righteous man does good. Where, however, he speaks of sins outside the realm of good works he speaks thus (Prov. 24:16), “The righteous man falls seven times a day.” Here he does not say: A righteous man falls seven times a day when he does good. This is a comparison: If someone cuts with a rusty and rough hatchet, even though the worker is a good craftsman, the hatchet leaves bad, jagged, and ugly gashes. So it is when God works through us.
MY COMMENTS ON THE RIGHTEOUS SIN IN DOING GOOD
Luther has had to resort to Ecclesiastes for his main supporting narrative here, a book concerning the vanity of life. A few verses earlier its writer (probably Solomon) advised: “Don’t be too virtuous, and don’t be too wise. Why make yourself miserable? (v17 God’s Word Translation). Yet it is true that those God regards as righteous are never entirely free of sin. What is not the case is that when the righteous do what is right, God regards them as sinning. For as demonstrated in the previous posts, it is everything that is not of faith that is sin (Rom14:14-23) – the context of that passage not being religious faith but whether one is being faithful to the dictates of conscience. And when the righteous do good, they do so in accordance with the promptings of conscience; delighting in their inner man (i.e. their spirit) in fulfilling God’s Law focussed as it is on love for neighbour. If religious they also seek to be faithful in their service to God -though Paul doesn’t mention that here, just love for neighbour (Rom7:22; Gal5:14).
One of the more emphatic examples of the latter in the New Testament are John the Baptist’s parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth. Luke reported that “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Lk1:6). In terms of the unconverted, we have the example of Centurion Cornelius. He and his household were described as devout, God-fearing, generous and prayerful. This Gentile non-Christian’s good works and prayers had been acknowledged by God (Acts10:4). The case of Cornelius is the clearest example in the New Testament of a non-Christian who feared God, acted virtuously, and was accepted in God’s sight (Acts10:35).
If you have been following these posts it should be obvious by now that Luther’s paradoxical theses oppose sound reason and the teaching of Christ. The Latter sometimes went beyond reason (e.g. love your enemies) but never against it. For, after all, He is the incarnate Logos – the Word of God and principle of divine reason. But I am in the process of showing that Luther also seriously misunderstood Paul, as to a lesser extent did Augustine. Especially so in the areas of God’s Law, natural law (innate spiritual faculties), free will and the economy of grace. Both those theological collossi failed to distinguish between spirit (as a component of man), the spirit as opposed to letter of the Law and the Holy Spirit in the writings of Paul. Most crucially for Luther and his followers is their failure to recognize that the Holy Spirit is the Prompter and Facilitator but not the direct Agent in a vital component of Christian salvation – mortifying the deeds of the body so as to fulfil the spirit of God’s Law and be raised to eternal Life (Rom8 vv4&13). That requires the cooperation and self-discipline of believers themselves.
Both in this example and throughout Paul’s writings, my interpretation of this key issue of whether the apostle is referring to “spirit” (i.e. the human’s spirit referred to in Rom1:9; Rom8:16; 1Thes5:23; Heb4:12) or “Spirit” (Holy Spirit) always agrees with the casing of πνεῦμα/Πνεῦμα as it appears in the Textus Receptus [note 1], whereas that is rarely the case in Protestant translations. This can be verified in “Biblehub” Greek interlinear text – ignore the English translation “Spirit” or “spirit”, observe the Greek, whether it is πνεῦμα or Πνεῦμα. Romans chapters 7 and 8 are two key chapters. This can be summarized in two consecutive verses (Rom8:13-14). Again, ignore the Protestant translator’s English, observe the Textus Receptus Greek: The Holy Spirit leads (Πνεύματι v14); but it is our spirit that is actively involved in putting to death the deeds of the body (πνεύματι v13).
Note 1: It should be pointed out that the original New Testament text was written entirely in capital letters with no spaces or punctuation. So, whether the Greek word for spirit was a capital or lower case Pi is a scribe-based rather than genuinely textually based issue. But the point is that in all cases my interpretation is in line with the original Greek of the Received Text relied upon by the Protestant Reformers in their vernacular translations with regard to whether Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit or in some cases the spirit in the sense of fulfilling an aim or purpose (i.e. the spirit of the law).
THE LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE:
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vv6-11: “God will repay each person according to his works; 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life; 8 but to those who are self-serving and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, He will give wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of mankind who practices evil, for the Jew first and also for the Greek, 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who practices what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God (Rom2:6-11)
& CHAPTER SEVEN
vv21-25: I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person, 23 but I see a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my body’s parts. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God, it is through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
& CHAPTER EIGHT
Vv3b-4: “(Jesus) condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (not “Spirit” – see Textus Receptus – link below)
v9: “However, you are not in the flesh but in the spirit (not “Spirit” – see Textus Receptus), if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him”
Textus Receptus (Rom8) – note distinction between πνεῦμα (i.e. the human spirit e.g. vv4+5) and Πνεῦμα (i.e. the Holy Spirit e.g. v9). It should be pointed out that the original New Testament text was written entirely in capital letters with no spaces or punctuation. So, whether the Greek word for spirit was a capital or lower case Pi is a scribe-based rather than genuinely textually based issue. But the point is that in ALL cases throughout the New Testament my interpretation is in line with that of the earliest scribes with regard to whether Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, the human spirit or the spirit in the sense of fulfilling an aim or purpose (i.e. the spirit of the law).
The Little Book of Providence – unlike most Protestant bible translations (KJV usually excepted), always faithful to the Textus Receptus’ distinction between the Holy Spirit, the human spirit or the spirit of the Law – crucial for a right understanding of Paul’s writings, the true nature of the human condition, the role of God’s Law and natural law, and the scope of God’s benign providence:
View or purchase paperback or kinder e-book from Amazon.uk HERE or Amazon.com HERE
“Stay in Romans, my friend” – and avoid the teaching of Christ in the gospels:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; leave Me, you who practice LAWLESSNESS.’ 24 “Therefore, everyone who hears THESE WORDS OF MINE , and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock”. (Mt7:22-24NASB)
“Stay in Romans, my friend” – avoid Paul’s other epistles”:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to LIVE SENSIBLY, RIGHTEOUSLY, AND IN A GODLY MANNER in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the shekinah of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to REDEEM US FROM EVERY LAWLESS DEED, AND TO PURIFY FOR HIMSELF A SPECIALLY CHOSEN PEOPLE, ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS (Titus2:11-14)
The Little Book of Providence – not restricted to Romans or indeed the New Testament:
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The works of men are thus not mortal sins (we speak of works which are apparently good), as though they were crimes. [Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #5 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT (my underlining)
For crimes are such acts which can also be condemned before men, such as adultery, theft, homicide, slander, etc. Mortal sins, on the other hand, are those which seem good yet are essentially fruits of a bad root and a bad tree. Augustine states this in the fourth book of “Against Julian” (Contra Julianum).
MY OBSERVATIONS re: Good Works More Sinful than Homicide
My post heading itself appears almost Lutheran – paradoxical and seemingly turning sound reason and the teaching of Jesus on its head. But it is effectively what Luther is saying when taken with his later thesis #12 “In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal”. I’ll repeat the point I made in the previous post, partly because I added it in after many will have read it: “Whilst these theses are nowhere near the polished articles of the Protestant Faith, the latter stands or falls on Luther’s initial insights – whether they are rational and above all whether they are scriptural”. Referring to Luther’s unusually brief supporting statement, I have underlined the three words that are the most shocking, being “on the other hand”. Read in context it affirms that the criminal acts he cites “theft and homicide” are not regarded by him as mortal sins whereas performing that which is in accordance with God’s law, focussed on love and respect for one’s fellows (Gal5:14) is itself hell-deserving unless regarded as such by the doer.
Counter-intuitive or what? Imagine for one moment that Luther were right. What would be the providential implications for the vast proportion of souls who, unless they are acquainted with such contorted rhetoric would have no chance of discerning the matter? For apart from its irrationality, it turns received wisdom on its head. It also diametrically opposes the principles of natural law, i.e. the way the God-given conscience functions in man. For when one does what one senses is right, one has a measure of peace about it. That is not “evil pride” or “satanic self-reliance”, it is effectively the outworking of an innate godly fear. This can be demonstrated by the fact that there are some (children of the devil) in which that spiritual faculty simply does not function. If they lie, hurt, hate, cheat and kill, they do not feel chastened, more likely elated. They have no God-given incentive to do what is right – it gives them no peace or satisfaction whatsoever, for they have no working conscience. But for the majority, regardless of whether they have been spiritually regenerated, doing what they know they should matters – for their own peace of mind, not to mention the wellbeing of everyone else. That is because they are of God and have been enlightened by Christ. That is the case for all (Jn1:9KJV: Rom2:15), but for those who go in the way of Cain (Jude1:11) that Light has been extinguished. By their own free will they have morally demeaned themselves to the extent that their souls have been fatally compromised and given over to Satan (Gen4:7; Luk22:31; 1Pet5:8).
Good works can indeed be sinful
In terms of Luther’s reference to Augustine’s teaching, I have read the relevant sections. Luther and Augustine’s point that it is possible for seemingly good fruit (i.e. works) to be produced from a bad tree is a valid one. It pertains to Jesus’ teaching: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit” (Mt12:33). So, whilst an apple tree generally produces apples and a good person does what is good, it is an observable reality that a thoroughly bad person can also do what appears to be virtuous. The issue is why they did it. The apostle Paul hits the nail on the head in his statement “Everything that is not of faith is sin” (Rom14:23a). Amen, say Augustine and Luther; Amen, say I – yet we are not by any means in agreement on the matter. For (as ever), look very carefully at the context of Paul’s teaching – even within the verse itself “But the one who doubts is utterly condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that is not of faith is sin”. Then examine the broader context: whether a Christian should eat meat that had been offered to idols. Paul deals with the same issue in 1Cor8 which is expressed more pertinently to the matter under consideration:
If someone sees you, the one who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will his conscience, if he is weak, not be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge the one who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1Cor8:10-13)
It pertains again to conscience and how at the personal level it is supreme over everything, even religious faith and biblical truth. Truly, that is what Paul is effectively saying here. The weaker brother Paul sites believes that he should not eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. The truth is that this individual is wrong about the matter as Paul explained at the opening of the chapter. But what matters is not whether it is right or wrong, even whether it is biblically true or false, but what the person in question’s CONSCIENCE dictates on the matter. So, going back to Rom14:23, the context of everything “not of faith being sin” pertains not to religious faith but the dictates of conscience, i.e. natural law. God regards a positive response to conscience as faith, opposing it or doubting it as a lack of faith = sin. No surprise really, for as I commented a few posts ago, in terms of its origin, source and efficacy, natural law is Christ, Christ and Christ – the Cosmic Christ.
Conscience is universal, innate revelation whereas the Gospel of Jesus Christ (by which I mean the true Gospel – Mt24:14) is special revelation pertaining to what is required for “salvation”. That is to be empowered to “possess one’s own vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4), to partake of the divine nature even whilst the eternal spirit operates within such a sin-soiled vessel; to have a living relationship with God, Christ and Holy Spirit (aka “eternal Life” Jn17:3); to become conformed to the image of Christ so as to be in a marital relationship and reign with Him through eternity. None of the above can be attained through natural law, yet it plays an essential, but up till now largely obscured role within divine providence, ensuring that everything that can be redeemed and restored shall be so to the Glory of the Father., Son and Spirit:
For He has made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Eph1:9-10NIV).
The Little Book of Providence
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Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits [Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #4 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT [verifiable HERE (note 1)]
That the works of God are unattractive is clear from what is said in Isa. 53:2, “He had no form of comeliness”, and in 1 Sam. 2:6, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” This is understood to mean that the Lord humbles and frightens us by means of the law and the sight of our sins so that we seem in the eyes of men, as in our own, as nothing, foolish, and wicked, for we are in truth that. Insofar as we acknowledge and confess this, there is “no form or beauty” in us, but our life is hidden in God (i.e. in the bare confidence in his mercy), finding in ourselves nothing but sin, foolishness, death, and hell, according to that verse of the Apostle in 2 Cor. 6:9-10, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as dying, and behold we live.” And that it is which Isa. 28:21 calls the “alien work” of God “that he may do his work” (that is, he humbles us thoroughly, making us despair, so that he may exalt us in his mercy, giving us hope), just as Hab. 3:2 states, “In wrath remember mercy.” Such a man therefore is displeased with all his works; he sees no beauty, but only his depravity. Indeed, he also does those things which appear foolish and disgusting to others. This depravity, however, comes into being in us either when God punishes us or when we accuse ourselves, as 1 Cor. 11:31 says, “If we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged by the Lord”. Deut. 32:36 also states, “The Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.” In this way, consequently, the unattractive works which God does in us, that is, those which are humble and devout, are really eternal, for humility and fear of God are our entire merit.
MY OBSERVATIONS re: GOD’S WORKS APPEAR EVIL
For the supporting statement I have included a link for verification. You will see Luther really did write this – asserting that God’s actions always appear unattractive and evil to people. Once again, we are up against some extraordinarily inept biblical hermeneutics. Whilst these theses are nowhere near the polished articles of the Protestant Faith, the latter stands or falls on Luther’s initial insights – whether they are remotely rational and above all scriptural . So, do God’s actions ever appear evil and unattractive from a human perspective? – Absolutely, having His own Son crucified will appear worse than foolish to the unenlightened. Having become enlightened it becomes an act of love almost beyond human imagining. But to imply that all God’s actions appear evil to man is an insult to God’s intelligible goodness and the dignity of those made in His image. Luther cites Isaiah 53 which is undoubtedly referring to the coming Messiah – that He had no form of comeliness. But reading through the gospels it becomes evident that many ordinary people delighted in the Saviour’s actions of compassion, healing and forgiveness. The previous post/thesis referred to certain religious leaders who Jesus referred to as whited sepulchres (Mt23:27), but note this observation from Luke, contrasting such leaders from the rest of the people:
Every day Jesus was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the Law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill Him. Yet they could not find any way to do it because all the people hung on His words (Lk19:47-48)
In the ministry and life of Jesus, people saw “the acts of God” and most found them neither unattractive nor evil. It was the religious leaders referred to above who ingeniously turned the people against their Messiah resulting in His crucifixion, which all reading this are likely to recognize was predetermined and essential to God’s plans.
DISTINGUISHING GOD’S WAYS FROM HIS NATURE
The reality is that some works of God do appear evil and unattractive: that is because God’s ways are not our ways (Rom11:33-34). But when it comes to God’s nature, that is intelligibly and gloriously good from an enlightened human perspective, such as that of the psalmist:
1 SHOUT FOR JOY TO THE LORD, ALL THE EARTH. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the Lord is God. It is He Who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His Name. 5 FOR THE LORD IS GOOD and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm100:1-5)
Then there is the preaching of Paul addressing a pagan audience in Lycaonia:
We have come with Good News to make you turn from these empty idols to the living God who made sky and the earth and the sea and all that they hold. In the past He allowed all the nations to go their own way; but even then He did not leave you without evidence of Himself in the GOOD THINGS HE DOES FOR YOU: He sends rain from heaven and seasons of fruitfulness; He fills you with food and FILLS YOUR HEART WITH MERRIMENT (Acts14:15-17)
Such benign providence towards humanity as a whole are “the works of God” and Paul is confident they shall appear neither evil nor unattractive, even to Pagans.
THE HUMAN CONDITION
Speaking of man by nature, Luther comments “finding in ourselves nothing but sin, foolishness, death, and hell, according to that verse of the Apostle in 2 Cor. 6:9-10, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as dying, and behold we live.” Firstly, how in any meaningful way does that passage from Corinthians support his statement? Paul is writing about his experience as an apostle, not the human condition. Secondly, if all one does find within oneself is sin and foolishness, then one is likely to be satanic – a child of hell. What of the workings of conscience? What of sound reason and compassion for others? These natural precepts are not restricted to the spiritually regenerate but have been provided to all true humanity. Paul affirms as much when speaking of man by nature he writes: “I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person but I see a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my body’s parts. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom7:22-24) That assuredly is not the Christian as some try to assert. The Christian is no longer “a prisoner to the law of sin which is in the body” or, “fleshly, sold into bondage to sin, unable to practice what I wish to do, but the very thing I hate” (vv14-15). But neither is it the man who in Luther’s words “finds in himself nothing but sin, foolishness, death, and hell”. That is indeed true for some – the children of the devil. It is not man by nature, who inwardly admires what is good and virtuous but fails consistently to practice it because of the body/brain’s sinful tendencies. This is what Paul meant by “the body of THIS death [τοῦ σώματος τοῦ θανάτου τούτου] , being the inner conflict between the inner man (“spirit”/”heart” – the God-given intellectual spiritual entity which leaves the body after death) versus the instincts of the humanly procreated intellectual vessel (flesh/body/brain).
As for Luther’s assertion that the truly godly “do those things which appear foolish and disgusting to others”, Jesus teaches contrariwise: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Mt5:16). Note, Jesus says “your Father”, not “their Father” – He is speaking of those who cannot currently call God their Father – they have yet to be adopted into God’s family. Yet, providing they are not Satan’s seed (1Jn3:12), they are perfectly capable of discerning and praising goodness when they come across it. And they shall do so again when He who is the Source and Summation of everything that is holy and thoroughly attractive is revealed to all. “God’s works always appear unattractive and evil”? – to some, may be, but not to those who are of God (1Jn3:10).
[Revised Version – focussing more on Luther’s supporting evidence]
Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins. [Luther – Heidelberg Thesis #3 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT
Human works appear attractive outwardly, but within they are filthy, as Christ says concerning the Pharisees in Matt. 23:27. For they appear to the doer and others good and beautiful, yet God does not judge according to appearances but searches “the minds and hearts” (Ps. 7:9). For without grace and faith it is impossible to have a pure heart. Acts 15:9: “He cleansed their hearts by faith.” The thesis is proven in the following way: If the works of righteous men are sins, as Thesis 7 of this disputation states, this is much more the case concerning the works of those who are not righteous. But the just speak in behalf of their works in the following way: “Do not enter into judgment with thy servant, Lord, for no man living is righteous before thee” (Ps. 143:2). The Apostle speaks likewise in Gal. 3:10, “All who rely on the works of the law are under the curse.” But the works of men are the works of the law, and the curse will not be placed upon venial sins. Therefore they are mortal sins. In the third place, Rom. 2:21 states, “You who teach others not to steal, do you steal?” St. Augustine interprets this to mean that men are thieves according to their guilty consciences even if they publicly judge or reprimand other thieves.
MY OBSERVATIONS RE: WORKS OF MAN BEING MORTAL SINS
In terms of the thesis itself, by “works” Luther is referring to actions that at least have the appearance of being virtuous, for clearly acts that are blatantly sinful will not appear attractive to others. In his supporting statement Luther is effectively saying that acts of kindness and compassion towards others are likely in themselves to be worthy of damnation if not repented of before death (i.e. a “mortal sin”). He infers that Jesus Christ as Judge of humanity regards acts of human kindness as inwardly filthy. To do so he utilizes Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees’ in Mt23. But as ever, we need to examine the context.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have NEGLECTED THE WEIGHTIER PROVISIONS OF THE LAW: JUSTICE AND MERCY AND FAITHFULNESS; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but INSIDE YOU ARE FULL OF ROBBERY AND SELF-INDULGENCE… 28 Outwardly you appear righteous to people, but INWARDLY YOU ARE FULL OF HYPOCRISY AND LAWLESSNESS. (Mt23:23-25&28NASB)
What is the first thing for which Jesus rebukes these religious leaders? For attending to God’s Law rather than relinquishing their efforts to be righteous and trusting in the mercy of God? Hardly – “You have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done”. It was not so much their works that were inwardly filthy, they were as people. “Neglectful of the Law (v23), hypocrites (v24), self-indulgent (v25), legalistic about trivialities yet lawless in terms of the weightier matters of the Law” (v28). That is the context – Jesus is not rebuking them for attending diligently to God’s Law and works of service towards their people but their failure on both counts. Not for their good works but for the lack of them. Nor is this the way Jesus generally responded to human frailty. It is in view of who these people were – the intended guardians of the Faith and examples to God’s chosen people.
Moving on to Luther’s quote from Acts15:9, what Paul actually wrote was not “He purified their hearts by faith” but “their hearts having been purified by the Faith” [τῇ πίστει καθαρίσας τὰς καρδίας αὐτῶν]. If you check through Acts and also Paul’s writings[ref 1] you will see that whenever the definite article precedes “faith”, it is always referring to “the Faith”, i.e. the Christian or Jewish Faith rather than faith as a quality or possession. What Peter was reported as saying in Acts 15 is that as a result of believing Gentiles being given the Holy Spirit, God made no distinction between their hearts and those of believing Jews – both had been purified by the Faith.
In terms of his quote from Ps143, the psalmist and Luther are quite right to say that no living person is justified before God in their own right. Why? – because we have inherited a sinful nature. But like so many creationist Christians, in the past I had unwittingly inferred that God had given me a polluted soul at birth. Now, still a creationist, I know it was the intellectual vessel procreated from my father, ultimately from Adam that is the source of my problem with sin, not my God-given soul (cf. Rom7:23-25; 1Pet2:11). For once I have agreed with Luther regarding justification and for once he would agree with me when I add “but we are justified in God’s presence by faith”. But that is where the agreement will end for as explained in the previous post what he and I mean by faith/faithfulness (Greek: πίστις) is substantially different. My interpretation is in line with Hebrews chapter 11 and Hab2:4 – Luther’s is something else: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it”. This is the faith of Luther and many of his followers – it is not faith as the Bible defines it. Not for the first time, a 2nd century theologian can do better: “Faith is that which of itself and from its own resources always chooses what is best” [Ref 2]. The 1st century is of course safer still – compare with Hebrews chapter 11, being the definitive chapter on faith, just as Mt25 is the definitive chapter on final judgement, whilst Rom2&7 and Jn6 are arguably the 3 most definitive (but least understood and most disputed) chapters in the bible concerning the human condition and how it is to be remedied.
Finally, regarding Luther’s comments that “the Apostle speaks likewise in Gal. 3:10, ‘All who rely on the works of the law are under the curse’”, many, not least within Protestant scholarly circles, aided by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls’ insights into first century Judaism, recognize that both Augustine and the Reformers had misunderstood Paul in this area[Ref 3]. I explained this in the context of broader divine providence in my first book, the following quote from which might be helpful, covering as it does a number of issues that have arisen in the last few posts:
Often when Paul is referring to the Law, he is referring to the Torah, God’s Covenant Charter for His people, for in Philippians3:6 he declares that in terms of righteousness based on the Law he was “faultless”. He was not being ironic or saying he never sinned but claiming that he had perfectly observed all the physical requirements to be marked out as a Jew, such as circumcision, dietary restrictions and the like, that some Galatian converts were saying were essential for Christians to observe to be justified before God. No, said the apostle, we are justified by faith in Christ, not the works of the Law (Torah). If righteousness came through the Torah then Christ had died in vain (Gal2:21). The Jews also, he said, had approached the Law in the wrong way. It is not that they should not have personally striven to keep the Torah (God help us all, yet that is what many believe Paul to be saying), rather that they had sought to be regarded as righteous “as it were by works rather than faith” (Rom9:32), by which he meant they relied on “the deeds of the Law” – the fact they were circumcised and observed dietary and sacral regulations (cf. Gal4:9,10) to be marked out as the genuine children of Abraham and heirs to the Promise as opposed to being circumcised of heart, being those who deny the disordered desires of the body so as to serve God (cf. Col2:11). For the letter of the Law kills but the spirit (of the Law) brings life (2Cor3:6):
But now we are freed from the Law (Torah) that being dead wherein we were held that we should serve in newness of spirit and not the oldness of the letter (Rom7:6 King James Version)The spirit of the Law focusses on love for our fellow man:
For the entire Law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14 New International Version; see also Rom13:8)
This re-affirmed Jesus’s teaching that at the heart of the Old Testament Law and Prophets was the inculcation of kindness and treating others as one would wish them to treat us; that is the Teacher’s own summary of the Law and the prophets (cf. Mt7:12) with which Paul concurs. God’s Law was something about which the psalmists frequently eulogised (especially Ps119, by far the longest) for true human living expressed in fear of God and concern for fellow man was at its heart. Paul’s critique was never aimed at those Jews like King David who delighted in the Torah and had earnestly sought to keep it, but those individuals, especially leaders who were bogged down in the minutiae of rules, regulation and liturgy (and indeed had added to them), laying impossible burdens upon their fellows, whilst entirely neglecting the weightier matters of social justice, mercy and love. Nevertheless, to keep the Law perfectly in letter and spirit was impossible for anyone and had never been the basis of justification. If acceptance before God were on such a basis, then the Law would indeed be something to fear and hate for it would condemn us all. The point that Paul wished to make in the context of the gospel was that the Torah had now become redundant for “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor non-circumcision avails anything but faith operating by love” (Gal5:6 King James Version).
[Excerpt from “Fellowship of the Secret” chapter 3 re: Justification and the Faithfulness of Christ]
Truly, once Paul’s statement “faith operating by love” is grasped alongside a proper understanding of “justification by faith”, then Jesus and John’s teaching (in particular) along with much of what I have been writing about should fall into place. The works of man when they are motivated by love, far from being mortal sins are evidence of an underlying, justifying faith – which explains the Matthew25 “sheep”.
Ref1: An easy way to check is in Bible Gateway, searching for “the faith” in Acts and Paul’s letters using the Youngs Literal Translation – it takes less than 2 minutes. Just as the intransigent and doctrinally polluted monolith that the Roman Church had become in the middle ages failed to defend herself effectively against Luther’s attacks once the printing press had been invented, neither shall those whose very raison d’être depends on whether Martin Luther’s insights were sound, rational and above all, biblical, be able to defend the indefensible for very much longer thanks to the internet. Not to mention some even more extraordinary pre-Christian prophecy concerning digital printing (Enoch104 vv12-13)
Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end. [Heidelberg Thesis #2 of 28]
LUTHER’S SUPPORTING STATEMENT
Since the law of God, which is holy and unstained, true, just, etc., is given man by God as an aid beyond his natural powers to enlighten him and move him to do the good, and nevertheless the opposite takes place, namely, that he becomes more wicked, how can he, left to his own power and without such aid, be induced to do good? If a person does not do good with help from without, he will do even less by his own strength. Therefore the Apostle, in Rom. 3:10-12, calls all persons corrupt and impotent who neither understand nor seek God, for all, he says, have gone astray.
MY OBSERVATIONS ON LUTHER’S TAKE ON NATURAL PRECEPTS
In terms of the thesis itself, the “end” Luther mentions refers back to thesis#1 – concerning making progress in righteous living. But what does Luther mean by “natural precepts”? In his 1535 Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, he said the following:
“For albeit that all men have a certain natural knowledge implanted in their minds (Rom. ii. 14), whereby they naturally perceive that they ought to do unto others as they would have others do unto them (and this and other such opinions, which we call the natural law, are the foundation of human right and of all good works); yet notwithstanding man’s reason is so corrupt and blind through the malice of the devil, that it understands not this knowledge wherewith it is born; or else, being admonished by the Word of God, it understands it, and yet (such is the power of Satan) knowingly neglects and contemns it”.
Whilst taking issue with the latter part of that statement (to follow) Luther’s perspective on the role of natural precepts stated above is not dissimilar to that of my own, reflecting the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Unlike the more usual modern Protestant perspectives, Luther recognized that God has not left fallen humanity entirely in the dark but has planted in man’s spirit (or as Paul also refers to it “the heart” – Rom2:15) the principles of His law, borne witness to by the conscience. In Luther’s words it was intended to be “the foundation of human right and of all good works”. But whereas I would regard such a resource as a gracious provision on God’s behalf and a means of common grace, Luther concludes it to be useless in view of the depth of fallen man’s depravity. I totally disagree with that and so does the Apostle Paul – for in that same passage he observes that Gentiles ignorant of Torah (God’s written Law) nevertheless often practice by naturewhat is central to it, especially to exercise justice, generosity and show compassion towards their fellows. Of course they also sin and fail, for that is man’s nature (thanks to the procreated vessel the soul currently inhabits), but the spirit of the law is nevertheless fulfilled by all who heed the promptings of their conscience and show kindness to their fellow man (Gal5:14, Rom13:8).
Heresy? – not to the 2nd century Church who had recently received the Faith from the apostles or their close successors. As Irenaeus and historian Eusebius testified, they universally and unitedly accepted such a positive role for natural law [see my recent post]. As two of the principal theologians of the time testified: “God is present with allwho attend to moral discipline, paying heed to the natural precepts of the law by which man can be justified” [“Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap 13 para 1] whilst Justin Martyr spoke of God’s benevolence towards those who walk uprightly and in accordance with right reason ; “a God who accepts those who imitate His own qualities of temperance, fairness and philanthropy and who exercise their free will in choosing what is pleasing to Him” [first apology of Justin chaps. 43 & 46].
So, did the 2nd century Church (and the later Pelagius) believe that natural precepts were sufficient for gospel salvation? I trust not – I certainly do not. Indeed, if Luther’s thesis was slightly reworded to read, “Human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, cannot of themselves enable a person to be saved”, I would say Amen. The issue of course pertains to what is to be understood by “being saved”. This was covered in the previous post, but to re-iterate: biblical salvation, indeed religious faith and practice are not directly concerned with who does or does not go to heaven when they die. That should be evident from the key New Testament passages on the subject – primarily M25 (sheep and goats) where religion is not so much as mentioned. Likewise the passage on the rich man and Lazarus – no reason is given why Lazarus was blissfully “resting in Abraham’s bosom” other than he had had a hard life (thus had he been salted – Mk9:49KJV). The rich man, who it is to be noted, deferred to Abraham as father and had an altruistic concern for his family’s eternal welfare, was experience suffering (salting) because he had lived wantonly. As a Jew he had failed to fulfil the spirit of Torah (love for neighbour – Gal5:14), rejecting the needs of Lazarus and his kind. But he did not need the Torah to tell him to have done that – it was God’s law written in his heart witnessed to by the conscience (Rom2:15). It was natural precepts, our response to which, as indicated by Irenaeus and illustrated by Jesus, determines the destination of the soul at death. And it is not the quality or quantity of the work itself but what the earliest Fathers referred to as “natural faith”, the object of which is that which God has universally provided for our enlightenment, which as I will shortly demonstrate is not unrelated to Christ, the incarnate Word.
Salvation on the hand pertains to partaking of the divine nature whilst in mortal flesh – receiving the spiritual resources to override the instincts of what Paul refers to in Rom7-23-25 as the body of this death such that we are enabled “to possess our vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). That is in preparation for the yet more glorious prospects that await those “predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image” in the current age (Rom8:29) so that they might be in a corporate marital relationship with Him in the next.
Briefly, a reflection on Luther’s supporting statement. What does he believe to be the effect of the knowledge of right reason and humane living that God has implanted in the heart of every man and woman? Not the valid observation that it has the effect of increasing guilt if one entirely disregards or opposes it – that would be true and it is why Hell is by no means empty. No, says he, such innate knowledge has the effect of making us act all the more wickedly. By such statements I know with whom I am ultimately contending.
“Natural precepts” – a misnomer
Finally, natural precepts or “natural law” is something of a misnomer in this context. It is natural in the sense of being provided to all such that “Gentiles not having the Law do by nature that which it contains”, etc. But in terms of its origin, source and efficacy, it is Christ, Christ and Christ – the Cosmic Christ. For all things were created through Christ and for Christ and that includes nature and its laws. These are not creatures of a lesser god – everything that is good and holy derives from Him – Christ is their source and summation. In terms of spiritual faculties, it is the light of Christ provided to all men (Jn1:9KJV), the Logos Spermatikos or scattered Word of reason, some of the earliest Fathers believing it to be the very essence of Christ (so, Justin Martyr and Origen). As for natural law’s efficacy and any merit accruing from observing it, that again is down to Christ – His Passion to deal with human sin and the pardon it provides for those who “believe”. In the universal case that is to heed (i.e. be faithful) to the promptings of conscience, effectively exercising a form of godly fear (cf. Acts10:35).
Of course, much of the above was knocked on its head by the 4th/5th century, especially through the influence of Augustine in accordance with his particular interpretation of Scripture, reinforced by his contentions with Pelagius. But as I keep repeating, the 2nd century Church had not been dependent on Scripture alone to discern the truth. They had received the essentials of the Faith from the apostles or their near appointees – they cannot universally and unitedly have been in error on so profound an issue.
As hinted at in Scripture (later posts), a fuller understanding of the Creator’s bountiful providence has been reserved for the very last days. This final revelation of the mystery of God shall redound to His glory and to the One whose condescending incarnation and passion made it all possible. The Same shall be glorified in His saints and admired by all those who willingly submit and defer to Him once the Son of Man, the Saviour of the world has been made known to all (cf. 2Thes1:10).
The Little Book of Providence:
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