JESUS – WORD INCARNATE

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John1:1-5)

Moving to the gospel of John and as usual I will focus on the points of particular relevance to the writing of “The Little Book of Providence”. In the process of explaining the mystery revealed by Paul concerning God’s secret plan for the Gentile nations (Eph3:9-11), it has been necessary to affirm what both Jesus and Paul themselves insisted upon, namely the Father’s monarchical status within the Godhead. This has application to His unique authority concerning the timing and ordering of dispensations (e.g. Acts1:7). In case there should be any doubt about the matter or my perspective on it, the opening passage of John affirms beyond any doubt the thoroughly divine origin of the Lord Jesus Christ. For what mere mortal would dare assert that everything that existed was created through them? (v3).

The opening of John is of course referring to the second Person of the Trinity in His pre-incarnate state as LOGOS, being the Word of God, the principle of divine reason and creative order, who by definition must always have existed. “In (LOGOS) was Life and that Life was the light of men” (v4), which later in the passage (v9) we are told enlightens every person coming into the world. Regrettably, the true implication of these statements has been obscured by translation in some more modern English language versions [note 1]. For the passage has relevance to the subject of natural law (which as I suggest in the quote below is something of a misnomer). It nevertheless needs to be appreciated if the broader benign providence I have been outlining is to be perceived. Here is a brief extract from my book in the context of John 1:  

Natural law is associated with Christ Himself since it pertains to an underlying faith in Logos by which little children can do no other than “believe” in the Saviour (Mt18:6). This should not be so surprising given that “natural law” is really Christ’s law, for all things, nature herself and the precious human soul were created by the pre-incarnate Christ as Logos – through Him and for Him (Col1:16) . Amongst the earliest Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, the principle was articulated in terms of this divine Logos (Word) whom they recognized had provided every age, race and each individual with seeds of divine truth – the “Logos spermatikos”, leading everyone to some knowledge of God and His law, however fragmentary. Origen specifically regarded the seed of reason provided to all men equipping them with a measure of wisdom and justice as the essence of Christ Himself, as did Justin Martyr. From such a perspective Christianity does not supersede natural law but rather builds on it. [The Little Book of Providence chapter five]

Given the testimonies of second century Irenaeus [note 2] and third/fourth century Church historian Eusebius [note 3], such will have been the consensus of the ante-Nicene churches. That is until the so-called Doctor of Grace came along and rejected any positive role for natural law. He affirmed instead that man by nature could do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action” except they “had fled to the grace of Christ” [note 4]. That was a sentiment with which I concurred for the first 25 years of my Christian life but now know it to be unbiblical, an observational falsehood, an affront to God’s gracious magnanimity and the dignity of the human person.

As the aforementioned observations from Church historians suggest (to which can be added the testimonies of Justyn Martyr, Clement and Origen), Augustine’s perspectives on natural law, free will and one-dimensional grace deform the living tradition of the early Catholic Church. In view of  his extraordinary influence (for he was a prolific writer and  apologist affirming much that was entirely orthodox and seemingly supremely spiritual), Augustine’s teaching shaped the future development of medieval Catholic theology as well as that of the Protestant Reformers who regarded him as “St Paul’s most trustworthy interpreter” [5]. Thus has the munificence and breadth of divine providence been obscured for much of the Christian era, and so shall the secret of God be brought to pass in accordance with the Good News He has brought to His servants the prophets (Rev10:7).

NOTES

[1] In terms of the translation of Jn1:9, 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” (some versions).


[2] God in His providence is present with all “who 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]

[3] “ “The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise”

 Given that both Eusebius and Irenaeus testified to the remarkable unity of the churches of their time, they would hardly have made such statements on natural law if it opposed the teaching of the churches they were surveying.

[4] Augustine’s  “On Rebuke and Grace” – chap. 3

[5] Quote from Introductory statement of “THE HEIDELBURG DISPUTATION” – presented by Martin Luther and Leonhard Beyer to a meeting of the Augustinian order at Heidelberg on 26th April 1518