AUGUSTINE – HERO OR HERETIC?

augustinepic
THESIS #52 of 95 - Augustine’s assertion that Adam's disobedience resulted in God degrading human nature to the extent that man could do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action” is unbiblical, an observable falsehood, an affront to God's gracious magnanimity and the dignity of the human person
THESIS #53 of 95 - On the contrary, acts of compassion, kindness and courage delight God's heart and will be rewarded by Christ

COMMENTS

The doctrinal aspects of this subject were covered in the previous post on Pelagius. These two related theses focus on that British theologian’s arch-enemy Augustine. In the following extract from my book, I suggest that it was the widely esteemed Bishop of Hippo rather than scorned Pelagius who deviated further from earlier (2nd century) Church Fathers’ teaching on human nature, the economy of grace, free will and natural law.

THE EXTRACT

“For much of the Church’s history the understanding has been that God’s benign providence is restricted to faithful Jews and those subsequently elected to Christian salvation; the prospects for the rest of humanity being worse than oblivion.  That is in stark contrast to what I understand the Holy Spirit to have shown me, set out in the Little Book of Providence, namely that God’s elect people are, under Christ, the agents of restoring and reconciling the world back to God, not the sole beneficiaries. Humanly speaking it was the Roman African Aurelius Augustinus (AD354-430) and his especially forthright and uncompromising manner in defending the catholic faith against potential heresies together with the extraordinary regard with which he has been held in the Western Church that has resulted in doctrinal errors being incorporated in their understanding of God’s intentions for wider creation and the nature of the human condition.

Pelagius, a contemporary of Augustine, was understood to have taught [note#1] that human nature had not been profoundly wounded by Adam’s sin, so humans were able to fulfil the law without divine aid. Augustine, still more perversely came to affirm that fallen man could not so much as do, think or desire any good at all apart from the grace of the gospel. The heretic Manes had propounded a dualistic view of the cosmos impacting upon human anthropology, leading Augustine to insist that Paul could not possibly have been saying that human nature comprised opposing moral influences from flesh and spirit. The millenarians (chiliasts) of his day were carnally minded so the whole system should be repudiated, and man’s future destiny be understood as fulfilled within the spiritual sphere.

Though sainted by the Roman Church, Augustine’s insistence that God intended to damn the bulk of humanity was undermined fifty years ago by the Vatican Council’s pronouncements on God’s broader providence regarding His dealings with those outside the Church. Yet the foundational biblical theology underpinning the earlier narrower conceptions has largely remained intact. One has only to contrast Augustine’s grim eschatological montage as depicted in his “City of God” with the relative inclusivity of Vatican II’s “Lumen Gentium” to see how the Spirit has enlightened the Catholic Church through the centuries. But to attain coherence one cannot avoid revisiting many of the theological assumptions that led to Augustine’s treatise, culminating as it does in a cosmic horror story of breath-taking proportions, albeit one which many Evangelical Christians have come to take for granted.

THE WITNESS OF THE EARLIEST FATHERS

Augustine placed fidelity to Scripture as he interpreted it above regard for the more philanthropic and open-minded reflections of earlier Fathers who had perceived more than a vestige of God’s image being retained in fallen man’s nature and perceived a role for natural law within a multifaceted economy of grace. “Let us reflect how free from wrath God is toward all His creation… He does good to all but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ”. So wrote Clement[citation#1], fellow worker with Paul; whilst his namesake Clement of Alexandria (2nd century) enquired “What is loveable that is not loved by God; and man has been proved to be loveable, consequently man is loved by God”#2. Justin Martyr (2nd century) spoke of God’s benevolence towards those who walk uprightly and in accordance with right reason#3; 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#4. Irenaeus, also 2nd century, recognized that God in His providence is present with all “who attend to moral discipline”#5 paying heed to the natural precepts of the law by which man can be justified#6.

 [Quote from The Little Book of Providence chapter one]

NOTE

#1 Because Pelagius came to be denounced as a heretic, little of his work remains. We are largely reliant on Augustine’s account of his teaching and manner of life, the latter of which even Augustine acknowledged to be saintly. As Wikipedia affirms, more scholars are coming to the view that this British theologian had been more faithful to the teaching of the earliest fathers than had previously been asserted.

CITATIONS

#1 Letter to Corinthians of Clement (c. AD30-AD100) chaps. 19 & 20 [Clement, fellow worker with Paul]

#2 “The Instructor” Book 1 chap. 3 [Clement of Alexandria – 2nd century]

#3 The first apology of Justin chaps. 43 & 46 #4 ibid. chap. 10 [Justin Martyr 2nd century]

#5   Irenaeus against heresies Book III chap. 25 (para 1) #6 Ibid. Book IV chap. 13 para 1 [2nd century]


PELAGIUS – RIGHT OR WRONG?

Pelagius
  • THESIS #49 of 95. Pelagius was right in believing that man possessed the innate spiritual faculties to perform good works such as exercising compassion towards his fellow man
  • THESIS #50 of 95. Pelagius was wrong if he believed that man possessed the innate spiritual faculties to live a sinless life or merit co-heirship with Christ
  • THESIS #51 of 95. Pelagius was wrong if he believed that any man could be saved in the gospel sense apart from being in a living cognisant relationship with Jesus Christ

BIBLICAL REFERENCES

1Cor9:24-27(NASB): Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. So, they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified

Rev3:21 (NASB) The one who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne

1Thes5:23 (NASB) May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

COMMENTS

Pelagius (CE354-418) was a British-born theologian and monk who migrated to Rome around 380AD. Though not a priest, he became a highly regarded spiritual teacher for both clergy and laity. He was greatly distressed by the moral standards of the church and people of Rome and blamed their laxity on the doctrines of grace, especially as they had been fashioned by his contemporary (born the same year), Augustine of Hippo. That bishop in turn became the fiercest critic of Pelagius.

Both these men feature in my theses, for the dispute between the two was pivotal in the development of Christian theology thereafter, more particularly in the West. That cannot be examined in any detail here, merely a few comments on the three related theses stated above, with pointers to some earlier posts that deal with related issues.

WHAT PELAGIUS GOT RIGHT

The first of the related theses (#49) affirms Pelagius to be broadly correct and Augustine profoundly in error regarding the underlying goodness of human nature. That is partly because Augustine unlike most of the earlier Fathers rejected anthropological trichotomy – i.e., that a human being consisted of body, soul and spirit (1Thes5:23). The British theologian was right to affirm that man by nature is perfectly capable of performing that which is good and pleasing to God.

Such is supported by Jesus’ teaching on final judgement in Mt25 and by Paul’s statement that pagans who do not possess the Law can instinctively perform that which fulfils its requirements (Rom2:14NASB). This all pertains to “natural law”, covered in an earlier post. Augustine’s teaching in this area is more akin to that of mankind’s Adversary than any reasonably minded human being. For He considered that man by nature could do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action” [“On Rebuke and Grace – chapter 3].

That would be total depravity, a doctrine moderated to an extent within his Church’s teaching but embraced and reinforced by the Protestant Reformers. For as Luther asserted in his introduction to the Heidelberg theses, he believed his former monastic patriarch Augustine to be “the Apostle Paul’s most trustworthy interpreter”.

WHAT PELAGIUS GOT WRONG

It needs to be said that little is known about what Pelagius actually believed and taught, for most of his writing was destroyed by the Catholic Church once they had denounced him as a heretic. But he certainly went too far if he actually taught that man is capable by his own efforts of avoiding sin or attaining what the New Testament means by salvation (Heb7:25). Such requires a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and access to the sacraments of grace. That, writes Paul, commences with “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit3:5). It is followed up by regular participation in what the early Fathers, including Augustine himself, regarded as the central rite of the Church: the eucharistic sacrifice with its sacred species: the bread of Life and cup of salvation. Self-determination, discipline, even the most stringent asceticism apart from such means of grace will not raise a man to eternal life or enable him to attain the first resurrection.

What Pelagius would have recognized and emphasized is that such spiritual advancement is not through grace alone but requires personal effort and self-discipline. Observe carefully what Paul wrote in 1Cor9 (quoted above under “Biblical Reference”). If, as was the case for the first 28 years of my Christian life, it appears at odds with your understanding of gospel salvation, then scorned Pelagius was closer to the Kingdom than you currently are.  For truly, such self-determined discipline is required along with the means of grace to attain “the prize of the high calling of God” (Phi3:14). That refers to co-heirship with Jesus Christ, no less; and the scarcely imaginable glories that attend it (Rev3:21).

Pelagius, if his views have been rightly represented, also failed to recognize that the Fall resulted in a radical disruption in the relationship between mankind and his Maker. In addition, that a vital part of human nature has indeed been corrupted – the temporary intellectual vessel the soul currently inhabits. A part of human nature I say, for as Paul declared but few appear to have understood him, “Whilst I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person, I am aware of a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my (spiritual) mind, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my body’s parts. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (Rom7:22-24).

That cannot be Paul speaking of himself as a Christian, for in no way was the Apostle enslaved to the sins of the flesh; he was victorious through his association with Christ, the empowerment of the Spirit and determined self-discipline.

THE SOLUTION

Many of the biblical tensions that arise from both Augustine’s and Pelagius’s polarized positions regarding the economy of grace, human nature and the freedom/bondage of the will can be resolved. But only once the mystery concerning the conflicting laws of flesh and spirit that Paul was outlining in Rom7 has been rightly interpreted. That subject was considered in more detail in my earlier post covering theses #29-#32. That in turn had to be reconciled with the rest of Scripture. Through God’s help I believe that such has been achieved – set out in the Little Book of Providence, available to all as a free PDF.

Free PDF download of The Little Book of Providence:  https://richard777.blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HERE.pdf

SERVING THE SON OF MAN

THESIS #48 of 95 - Those who show compassion to the destitute are judged as serving Christ and rewarded accordingly

BIBLICAL REFERENCES

Mt25:40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Gal5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Gal5:14 For the WHOLE LAW IS FULFILLED IN ONE WORD, in the statement, “You shall LOVE your neighbour as yourself

Rom13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law

Rom13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbour – that is why love is the fulfilment of the Law

1Jn4:7 Let us love one another; for love is from God, and EVERYONE WHO LOVES HAS BEEN BORN OF GOD and knows God

COMMENTS

This is another thesis relating to what I have described as “common faith” and its interrelationship with compassionate love – the above verses refer. Such “faith” is shown to be present when love (agape) is exercised, being a genuine concern and care for another person, which is the heart of God’s law (Gal5:14). Since love is the efflux of faith (Gal5:6), faith must be present for that love to flow out from it; love and faith being quite inseparable, faith being the agent of love and love being the product of faith. A person is justified within the Universal Covenant by responding positively to God’s witness to them through creed or conscience regardless of the degree of accomplishment. Providing the person demonstrates agape they are accepted by God, for He knows that agape was derived from Him, being His Own nature (1Jn4:7). This aligns with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 concerning the sheep and goats. In serving the weakest of humanity through any act of compassion, the “sheep” are regarded as serving Christ Himself even though they have no personal knowledge of Him:

“In truth I tell you in so far as you did this (act of kindness) to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to Me”

It will appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works. But Matthew25:31-45 is demonstrating justification through faith with reference to works. No mention is made of how consistently or perfectly the “sheep” showed compassion, they just demonstrated they possessed it and were justified by exercising it regardless of measure. They therefore demonstrated they possessed the quality called faith whose product is agape, being the essence of true humanity. On the other hand, faith alone if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on something (or even Someone) is dead if it does not result in positive action. The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their “heart” motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and to be at peace with themselves. Jesus was thereby affirming that acceptance before God is not entirely a matter of grace for fruit must be produced. Yet it is entirely dependent on grace since the “sheep” are accepted by exercising the quality called faith, being an innate faculty provided through common grace. They will not have perfectly fulfilled God’s law or lived a sinless life. So, at the universal level justification is granted on the basis of such common faith, being a positive response to conscience (the light of Christ in the spirit) evinced by compassion, through the kindly favour (grace) by which pardon for sin has been granted to all producing the fruit of faith through the all-sufficient merits of Christ’s atonement.

Such divine magnanimity pertains to Who Jesus Christ is. During His earthly ministry He almost exclusively referred to Himself as the Son of Man. As Son of God, Jesus uniquely represented God to man, for He alone had been begotten of the Father. As Mary’s Son, He uniquely represents members of the human race. You or I could never represent mankind as a whole, but Jesus does. So, when we show kindness to another, especially a person in need, we are regarded by Christ as serving Himself and shall be rewarded as such. It should not be such a surprise then that whenever the apostle Paul summarises the requirements of God’s Law, such as in Gal5:14 and Rom13:8&10, religious service is never mentioned, only our dealings with our fellow man. Likewise, James describes love for neighbour as the Royal Law (Jam2:8), for when both apostles are rightly understood, they agree about everything. There is so much more that could be said on this subject, and it has been in the remaining theses. More importantly, these doctrines been synthesised with the teaching of the bible as a whole in The Little Book of Providence.

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LITTLE ONES WHO BELIEVE IN ME

THESIS #47 of 95 - In describing infants presented to Him as "little ones who believe in Me", Jesus was alluding to an internal witness of the light of Christ reflected in their God-given spirits/consciences, guaranteed in their case not (yet) to have been obscured or distorted by the lusts of the flesh or impurities of the mind

BIBLICAL QUOTATIONS

Mt18:2-6 Jesus called a little child and set him among them, saying “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So, whoever will humble himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child in My name, receives Me. But whoever causes one of these LITTLE ONES WHO BELIEVE IN ME to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Mt6:22-23 The (mind’s) eye is the lamp of the body; so if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light.But if your (mind’s) eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. So, if the light that is in you is darkness, how great the darkness!

Rom2:14-15 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law are a law for themselves in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts either accusing or else defending (particular actions)

Jn6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day

1Tim2:4 God our Saviour wishes for all people to be saved and to come to a recognition of the truth

Rom7:9 I was alive without the law at one time; but when the commandment (i.e. an awareness of right and wrong) came, sin came to life, and I died

COMMENTS

This thesis is allied to the subject of the post before last on “common faith” – a concept alien to many Christians today but not to the earliest (pre-Augustinian) Church Fathers. The Christian’s “object of faith” is (or should be) the God of the bible, especially as He has been revealed through Jesus Christ. But as I have been at pains to point out, knowing Jesus Christ in a personal, saving manner is the province of those whom God the Father chooses to draw to Him (Jn6:44). [With respect to the previous post, that is something Calvin got right]. Yet that same Creator wishes all men, women and children to be healed and come to knowledge of the truth (1Tim2:4). That is why the light of Christ has been provided in the human spirit and conscience that all possess from birth (Jn1:9KJV; Rom2:15). So, at the universal level the object of faith is something innate. Yet it is still associated with Christ – as Logos. It is the inward eye of the spirit (Mt6:22-23 strictly NASB – see note #1). That inward eye is referenced by the conscience, by which those who do not know the Law of God as a creed become a law for themselves (Rom2:15)

In terms of our thesis, the above should provide a clue as to why Jesus described the little children who were brought to Him as “little ones who believe in Me”. I have included the preceding verses in the Mt6 citation, for the context makes it absolutely clear that Jesus is not on this occasion referring to His adult disciples that He also sometimes describes in such a way. Nor was He anticipating those infants who would go on to “receive Jesus as their personal Saviour” or become baptized Catholics. It was an inclusive observation concerning all young children who were placed into His loving embrace. Remember also that at that time his own chosen disciples scarcely understood Who Jesus was, still less would little children have known Him to be the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Their simple “belief” in Jesus refers to what is innate and instinctive to all very young lives – the internal witness of the light of Christ (the Word/Reason – Logos) through Whom their souls were created. It is guaranteed in their case not (yet) to have been obscured or distorted by the lusts of the flesh or impurities of the mind, which when combined with a growing awareness of transgressing God’s law defiles the conscience and extinguishes Life (Rom7:9).           

NOTE

#1 re-Mt6:23 – “How great is the darkness” not “that darkness” (most translations). They obscure the fact that divine light is provided innately (aka natural law). Yet it still leaving man in a measure of darkness unless further aided by celestial grace. Then there is a third category whose mind’s spiritual eye is evil. Such are, like Cain, the children of the devil who have extinguished that light provided to all men (Jn1:9KJV) so as to be in total darkness – devoid of sound reason, conscience and integrity.

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“AN ABOMINATION TO GOD?”

Thesis #46 of 95 – The Reformer John Calvin’s description of little children by nature as "odious" and "an abomination to God" opposes the teaching of Christ

BIBLICAL QUOTATION

Mt18:2-6 Jesus called a little child and set him among them, saying “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever will humble himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child in My name, receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.

COMMENTS

This thesis refers to a quotation from my one-time hero John Calvin: “All men’s thoughts, inclinations and efforts are corrupt and viscous”, even young infants being “odious and an abomination to God; their very natures being a seed-bed of sin” [Institutes of Christian Religion – Second Book chap. 1 para 8]. 

Such sentiments, intrinsic to the doctrine of “total depravity” are piously packaged and presented, claiming to exalt God’s grace whilst “trouncing man’s arrogant determination to in some way contribute to his own salvation”. Yet it is a doctrine that must delight Satan’s heart in view of what it implies about both divine and human nature. That is no doubt why his party has shown such displeasure that the Reformers’ ingenious fabrication is being systematically dismantled by yours truly.

The extent to which Calvin’s perspective on children opposes the teaching of Christ should be evident to anyone with a modicum of understanding of the Gospels. It will be the subject of the next post/thesis – in particular what the Lord was intimating in the passage I have quoted and highlighted from Mt18.

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COMMON FAITH

common faith
Thesis #45 of 95 - In showing deference to the dictates of their conscience, even avowed agnostics and atheists unknowingly exercise faith in Christ [as Logos]. They may have cause to mourn for their sin and disbelief but will readily submit to Him when He is made known to them

BIBLICAL REFERENCES

Rev1:7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him

Jn1:9(KJV) That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world

Rom2:15 (Gentiles) show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts either accusing or else defending (particular actions)

Gal5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall LOVE your neighbour as yourself

1Jn4:7 Let us love one another; for love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God

COMMENTS

The faith referred to in this thesis is what I along with some of the earliest Church Fathers have described as common faith (cited in next paragraph). Spiritual faith is man’s positive response to God as He is in various ways revealed to the individual. At the universal level it is most definitively a positive response to conscience. Given that the human’s spirit is planted by God and will one day return to Him it would be surprising if it did not include a blueprint for human behaviour, and so it does: the law of God written on the “heart” (Rom2:15). That is also described (but sometimes mistranslated) as the light of Christ that enlightens every man coming into the world (Jn1:9). [In terms of the translation, it is hardly likely that John writing in the late first century would be informing his readers that the Light (Christ) “is coming into the world” (as per NASB, NIV)].

The atheist and agnostic, whenever they perform what they believe to be right, not merely for the praise of others or to be accepted within society are effectively exercising faith. They are responding positively to God (actually to the will of Christ as Logos) as He has revealed Himself and His law (the principles of sound reason and humane living) in their conscience. In that instant, they are choosing to do a good, for in their innermost being they sense it is good and should be practiced. It is not entirely altruistic for they receive inner gratification by performing it, for in their inner being they are concurring with a natural precept which is ultimately an eternal law. It is no different from a Christian receiving a measure of peace when he knows he is being obedient to Christ’s will; it is how conscience functions. In both cases it is a response of faith.

 In the language of second century Christianity, it is that common faith which lies beneath as a foundation that is built upon and consummated in those who come to faith in Christ (ref#1). Such faith or faithfulness (same word in Biblical Greek) is shown to be present when love (agape) is exercised, being a genuine concern and care for another person, which is the heart of God’s law (Gal5:14). Since love is the efflux of faith, faith must be present for that love to flow out from it; love and faith being quite inseparable, faith being the agent of love and love being the product of faith.

A person is justified within the Universal Covenant by responding positively to God’s witness to them through creed or conscience regardless of the degree of accomplishment. Providing the person demonstrates agape they are accepted by God, for He knows that agape was derived from Him, being His Own nature (1Jn4:7). This aligns with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 concerning the sheep and goats considered in the previous post/thesis.

Reference

#1 E.g., Clement of Alexandria (A.D.153-217) The Stromata Book V chap. 1

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FINAL JUDGEMENT

Thesis #44 of 95: Acceptance as a subject of God's kingdom at death and final judgement does not require adherence to a religious creed, simply the exercise of compassion arising from the promptings of conscience

BIBLICAL REFERENCES

Mt25:40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did (these acts of kindness) to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me

Gal5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word within in the statement, “You shall LOVE your neighbour as yourself.”

COMMENTS

To the befuddlement of many a theologian, Jesus’ “sheep and goats” parable to which this thesis refers is the NT’s most substantial and effectively its definitive passage on final judgement. In the past I also regarded that passage as an almighty fly in the ointment as far as my earlier (Reformed Evangelical) understanding of gospel salvation was concerned. For a start there is no reference to religious faith or practice whatsoever. What’s more it appeared to be teaching justification by works.

Actually, it isn’t as such, but it would take much of chapter three of my book to delineate the matter in full whilst at the same time demonstrating that neither Paul nor any other contributor to Scripture contradict this teaching. It pertains to the context of justification, gospel salvation and the Church within broader benign providence. That is the central theme of “The Little Book of Providence”. So, for the purpose of this thesis, I’ll quote a brief passage from the aforementioned chapter three “Faith and Justification” which points towards the solution:

Final Judgement

 It will appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works in Matthew25:31-45. Rather it is justification through faith by reference to works. The passage makes no mention of how consistently or perfectly the “sheep” showed compassion. They just demonstrated they possessed it. The sheep were justified by exercising it regardless of measure. They therefore demonstrated they possessed the quality called faith whose product is agape, being the essence of true humanity. On the other hand, faith alone if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on someone or something is dead if it does not result in positive action. The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their “heart” motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and to be at peace with themselves”.

Salvation DEPENDENT on grace

Jesus’ sheep and goats parable was thereby affirming that final salvation is not all of grace; there must be fruit. Yet it is entirely DEPENDENT on grace since the “sheep” are accepted by exercising the quality called faith; being an innate faculty provided through common grace, rather than having perfectly fulfilled God’s law or lived a sinless life. That would be justification by works. So, at the universal level justification is granted on the basis of such common faith. It is a positive response to conscience (the light of Christ in the spirit). It is evinced by compassion through the kindly favour (grace) by which pardon for sin has been granted to all producing the fruit of faith through the all-sufficient merits of Christ’s atonement.

[Excerpt from The Little Book of Providence chapter three]

LINKS

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Enlarged version suitable for mobile phones: https://richard777.blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HERE.pdf

All 95 theses: https://richard777.blog/2020/05/28/95-theses-of-the-little-book-of-providence/

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WHAT IS BIBLICAL SALVATION?

salvation
Thesis #43 of 95 - Biblical salvation is provided to a specially chosen people for them to relate to God whilst in mortal flesh and function within His royal priesthood. For such they require spiritual renewal and ongoing sanctification through a mystical participation with Christ

BIBLICAL REFERENCES

1Pet2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.

Jn6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

Acts13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and those who had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Jn6:54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Phil3:13-14 I do not regard myself as possessing it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

2Cor4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Rev19: 7 Let’s rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has prepared herself.”

Rev3:21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne.

Rev10:10 I took the little book from the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey but when I had eaten it, my gut became bitter.

COMMENTS

Whilst the gospel of Jesus Christ was intended to be preached to the whole world, as a result of historical cultural and religious formation, exacerbated by ecclesiological division and apostacy, relatively few have heard a faithful account of the gospel. And of those only the proportional few that God has chosen/predestined/appointed to eternal life have effectually responded. The above verses refer, and they make clear that those who do respond and persevere in the faith shall experience inestimable glory. In Paul’s words such are the “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, providing that is we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom8:17). That such glory should be on offer to fallen humanity (Col1:27) is breathtakingly extraordinary, but then so is the notion that the vast majority who are not called and enabled by God’s grace to attain such sublimity are to be condemned to hell, which is what so many Christians believe.

That prospect with its dire implications to God’s providential care, loving nature and equitable justice results from a misunderstanding of what the bible actually means by “salvation”. This thesis has briefly defined biblical salvation, but only its barest bones. The remaining 94 theses should help, some more recent ones having explained what salvation is from and what it is for. But for exactly how such soteriology is to be squared with the teaching of the bible as a whole, refer to The Little Book of Providence.

LINKS

Free PDF of The Little Book of Providence: https://richard777.blog/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/tlb4pdfcompversion.pdf

Enlarged version suitable for mobile phones: https://richard777.blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/HERE.pdf

Author’s FACEBOOK page HERE

ROLE OF NATURAL LAW

natural law
Thesis #42 of 95 - Natural law in its Christian anthropological context pertains to the functioning of conscience and is normative for humane living and acceptance with God

BIBLICAL REFERENCES

Rom2:14-16 – When Gentiles who do not have the Law perform BY NATURE (the requirements of) the Law [φύσει τὰ τοῦ νόμου ποιῶσιν],  these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves,in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending (particular actions), with respect to that day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of mankind through Christ Jesus.

Rom13:9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and every other commandment is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Rom13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilment of the Law.

Gal5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall LOVE your neighbor as yourself.”

COMMENTS

The previous thesis showed that the Covenants of Promise initiated through Abraham in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New do not determine the destination of the soul after brain death. That, as exemplified in the definitive final judgement parable in Mt25 (sheep and goats) is not related to religious faith or practice at all, but to fulfilling the spirit of God’s Law, which as Paul asserts is focussed on love for neighbour (verses above). Likewise, in the Mt25 passage, God and religion are not so much as mentioned, only other people and how the “sheep” and “goats” respectively related to them. But herein lies the mystery: God, His Law and the very Atonement of Christ are, albeit subliminally, bound up within the divine judgement being made.

That would take a lot of explaining, and the first two posts linked below point the way. How this and the rest of my 95 theses fit in with the bible’s teaching as a whole has been set out in The Little Book of Providence. The Mt25 judgements can be said to pertain to “natural law” which in view of what has just been said about them also being a function of the Atonement might appear to be something of a misnomer. The description relates to what Paul was writing about in Romans 2 concerning Gentiles performing by nature things contained within God’s Law even though they did not materially possess it. It had been “written in their heart” and reflected in their conscience.

Given that Augustine of Hippo was the architect and primary influencer of Christian theology in the West, it is no surprise that my assertions concerning natural law will appear alien to many Christians today. However, the writings of 3rd century Church historian Eusebius and 2nd century Irenaeus indicate that such was unlikely to have been the case in the Church of their day (post at link#3). That blog also outlined how those same men witnessed to the remarkable degree of unity of essential doctrine and praxis that existed within the pre-Nicaean Church. It is surely another reason why the writings of the earliest Church Fathers should be examined carefully by genuine seekers of the truth. 

LINKS

Author’s FACEBOOK page HERE

NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL

The apostle Paul writing

Thesis #41 of 95: Paul’s teaching regarding Law and grace in his epistles to the Galatian and Roman churches is in the context of Jewish infiltrators who insisted that Christian believers complied with works and rituals pertaining to the Torah such as circumcision, observing festivals and the like. On the contrary, said Paul, justification within the new covenant required faithfulness towards Christ, not compliance with “deeds of the Law”.

BIBLICAL REFERENCE

 Gal4:9-10 How is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years!

COMMENTS

This wordier thesis relates to what has become known in Christian academic circles as “the New Perspective on Paul”, aka the Sanders Revolution after the theologian who developed it. That was a product of the recent scholarly interest that has been shown in studying the Bible in the context of other ancient texts – aided by the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. Those manuscripts threw new light on the various forms of Judaism that prevailed in the first century, resulting in new perspectives on Paul’s teaching arising, particularly within Protestant academia.  These have considerably reshaped the understanding of justification by faith in the apostle’s thought in the minds of many biblical scholars, although the development has had less impact at ground level within independent Evangelical churches.  And no wonder, for it challenges what so many there understand to be the central focus of gospel salvation. But then so does virtually everything I have been setting out in these 95 theses and The Little Book of Providence.

Once again it is a case of the principal architect of Western theology Augustine misreading Paul and Luther distorting the picture still further – in this case interpreting what Paul wrote about first century Judaism, law, faith, works and covenant. Hence the radical, alien-to-most synopses that I have been setting out, which as I stated recently are not entirely new revelation (which they could never be), but new insights as to how the bible should be interpreted. And as explained in a recent post, the extra-canonical Book of Enoch, written not for the Church through her history but as its opening verse affirms, for the blessing of Christians who would live to experience the tribulations and Parousia, foretold that such a process would occur at this time. And it could not have happened before all the necessary manuscripts, research materials and suitable propagation facilities became available. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the internet, digital printing and (I believe) the working of the Holy Spirit have seen to that.  

Author’s FACEBOOK page HERE

A book exploring the mystery of divine providence

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