JOHN’S PARENTS – “RIGHTEOUS BEFORE GOD”


 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:5,6 NKJV)

Continuing into Luke, I am highlighting verses and passages of the New Testament that particularly came to my attention during the preparation of “The Fellowship of the Secret” (often because I used to believe quite the opposite of what I now understand them to be indicating!) Here we have an example of an individual or in this case a couple regarded as “righteous” in God’s sight. On what basis were they righteous? – According to Luke it was simply that they had faithfully observed the commandments and ordinances they had received as practicing Jews. But perfect they were not – a few verses later Zacharias was rebuked and punished by Arch-Angel Gabriel for his reluctance to believe the good news concerning his wife’s pregnancy.

But how does Luke’s description concur with what Paul writes in the opening chapters of Romans, especially 3:10 “As it is written there is none righteous, no not one”, etc?  One should observe that he then he goes on to write in reference to the Jews: “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). Would anyone believe that Paul considered that no Jewish individual had ever feared God?  Acts13:16,26 confirms the contrary; likewise, Luke’s account of righteous Cornelius before his conversion to Christianity, confirming that his prayers and alms giving had been noted by God (Acts10:2,4,22). The apostle in his letter to the Roman churches had been utilizing a typically Jewish literary technique, linking together OT scriptural references, in this case to adduce universal sinfulness, i.e. that both Jew and Gentile were under the reign of sin and fall short of God’s glorious holiness (Rom3:23); he was not intimating that it is in the nature of all people to be godless and hateful so as to act in the depraved manner described in those concatenated excerpts, which themselves need to be examined in context. Rather it refers back to Rom1:18 and his assertion that individuals (not all humanity as some translators’ insertion of a comma intimates) who wilfully suppress the truth God has revealed to them in creed or conscience will come under condemnation.

This is not to deny that Paul is indeed in the business of affirming that to keep the law of God perfectly is quite impossible for fallen man – rather he is to submit to “the righteousness of God”, provided through the faithfulness of Christ [pisteos Iesou Christou – often translated “faith in Christ” – Rom3:22] for the benefit of all (including Cornelius) who even before he knew Christ “believed”, i.e.  feared God and did what he knew to be right (cf. Acts10:35). Such “believers” are justified, not on the basis of their law-keeping or accrual of good works but freely through God’s kindly favour (grace) and the faithfulness of Christ, i.e. by the merits of His atoning death which avail for all the scattered children of God. Such people effectively exercise godly fear when they pay heed to the light of Christ provided through the faculty of conscience, being as Paul himself affirms, the law of God written in the heart (Rom2:15; cf. Jn1:9 Greek). These principles are worked out in a more comprehensive manner in chapter three of the book “The Fellowship of the Secret” a PDF of which is freely available HERE

MARK 3 – THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”So (Jesus) called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to age-enduring condemnation”— because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”.

According to One who should know, the only sin that will not be forgiven either in this age or the next (cf. Matthew’s account 12:22-32) is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The above passage indicates that relates to knowing or sensing in one’s heart that something is of God working through the Spirit but asserting it to be wicked or satanic, precisely as these scribes did with regard to Jesus’ miracle which they wished to discredit in order to preserve their own status and traditions. 

One may well have challenged the working of the Spirit in ignorance, but what is done in ignorance cannot be the unforgivable sin, which is why even blasphemy against Christ can be forgiven but not what is said against the direct working of the Spirit where the matter is perceived within the conscience. In such cases the Spirit Himself convicts the person of their error yet they are determined to persist with their accusation.  In the field of activity that I’m currently concerned with, writing and blogging and of necessity challenging some established Christian teaching (and esteemed teachers) as a result of what I believe the Spirit has shown me, I have to be very careful to pay heed to the dictates of conscience before asserting my ideas or challenging others. But so also would anyone determined to defend a particular theological position or tradition against what they sense might in fact be divine light. If they do sense as much, it is because the Spirit affirms it in their mind and conscience, yet they rebel against it. Such a  sin is a form of intransigence being an unwillingness to be persuaded of the truth by any means. Heretics and false prophets can be sincere but simply mistaken or deluded for which they will no doubt be punished for their presumption, but those who directly revile or obstruct the workings of the Spirit are in still greater danger. Such were these scribes and Pharisees who will have known in their hearts that the Saviour’s acts of compassion and miraculous healing were never the devil’s work, but were determined to malign them for their own ends, wilfully speaking evil of the work of the Spirit.

A free PDF of “The Fellowship of the Secret” HERE

MARK1 – COMPASSION NOT A WEAKNESS


Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Mk1:41-44NKJV)

The fearsome Augustine had once insisted that charity should be exercised “in serenity” rather than an emotional empathy. Those who were moved by compassion to help others he believed lacked wisdom. He concluded on the matter: “There is no harm in the word ‘compassionate’ providing there is no passion in the case” [A]. Such stoicism is surely misplaced: it is noble enough for an individual to endure misery without complaint but any who remain unmoved by another’s pain or distress show themselves to be inhumane and spiritually dead. Jesus Christ provided the pattern for genuine stoicism: silent resilience in the face of personal suffering and abuse; yet filled with heartfelt (literally bowel-felt) compassion (Greek: splagchnistheis) towards others who were in need, as with the leper in the quoted passage.

Neither is Jesus merely reflecting  “the human face of God”: YHWE’s character even as it is revealed in the Old Testament exhibits both passion and compassion; the Father’s nature that we are to emulate (Eph5:1) is thoroughly animated in the face of human wickedness, cruelty, injustice, lies and hypocrisy: He does not exhibit a placid, deistic indifference to these matters but is filled with righteous anger, as was often expressed through His prophets (e.g. Jer6:11). Yet equally He is compassionate towards those who fear Him and who suffer through the wickedness of others, and has promised to punish the latter firmly and proportionately, recompensing the offended at the expense of the offender (cf. Is59:18KJV). Those who are pained by the suffering of others, far from “lacking wisdom” show themselves to be truly human by reflecting the definitive quality of the divine, being Agape   (1Jn4:7,8).

[A] Augustine – “On the morals of the Catholic Church” chap. 27 (para 53)

MATTHEW 28: THE GREAT COMMISSION

Such was the great commission: to relay the teaching OF CHRIST to the nations. If any teaching should develop that should contradict that teaching it is to be rejected – it is not the Gospel but heresy. If therefore one imagines Paul to be contradicting the moral teaching of Christ, then that thirteenth apostle’s writings should be rejected; he should be regarded as an infidel. But as my book endeavours to demonstrate, Paul’s teaching does not contradict either the moral or juridical teaching of the Master; the way many have interpreted him is another matter. But he is the thirteenth apostle (Matthias replacing Judas as #12) and there is an aspect of Christ’s teaching as received by the twelve which Paul does subvert at the risen Christ’s command: matters pertaining to the constitution of the people of God.

In terms of Paul himself, Jesus will not have indicated there were to be thirteen apostles: He opted for twelve for a reason (cf. Mt19:28). Likewise, the Lord clearly had not taught that the Gentiles were to receive the same nature of spiritual blessing as the Jews: it was a shock to everyone; not least Peter (Acts11:17,18). All this relates to the subject of my book*: the fellowship pertaining to the secret (plan) hidden in God (the Father) from the previous age (cf. Eph3:9-12). Paul refers to it as “MY gospel”, being the revelation of a mystery which had been kept secret since the world began (Rom16:25). Or as he wrote to the Colossian church:

THE MYSTERY WHICH HAS BEEN HIDDEN FROM AGES AND GENERATIONS, BUT NOW HAS BEEN REVEALED TO HIS SAINTS, TO WHOM GOD WILLED TO MAKE KNOWN WHAT ARE THE RICHES OF THE GLORY OF THIS MYSTERY AMONG THE GENTILES, WHICH IS CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY (COL1:26,27NKJV)

Once the implications of this mystery are grasped, God’s broader providence towards all people of good will may be perceived. Such should bring joy to many without detracting at all from the preaching of the Good News of the Kingdom, concerning which (as Paul has just indicated) those who are to be glorified with Christ are exclusively those who become His disciples: those who suffer with Him, dwell in Him and are indwelt by Him – Christ in you, the hope of glory (cf. Jn6:56; 2Tim2:12).

Mt 25 – THE DEFINITIVE PASSAGE ON FINAL JUDGEMENT

“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” (cf. Mt25:31-40)

I have come to recognize Jesus’ teaching here to be the definitive teaching on final judgement. In the past I regarded it as an almighty fly in the ointment as far as my particular (Reformed) understanding of gospel salvation was concerned. For a start there is no reference to religious faith or practice whatsoever. What’s more it appears to be teaching justification by works. Actually it isn’t, but it would take the forty or so pages of chapter three of my book* to explain exactly how that can be the case and also demonstrate that this teaching is not contradicted by Paul or any other contributor to Scripture. It pertains to the context of justification, gospel salvation and the Church within overall providence, which is what “The Fellowship of the secret” is ultimately about. So for blogging purposes I’ll just quote a brief passage from the aforementioned chapter three entitled “Justification and the faithfulness of Christ” which may give a clue to the solution:

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(Regarding the Matthew 25 passage): “It might appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works. Not as such; Matthew25:31-45 is demonstrating justification by virtue of 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 (or efflux) is agape, being the essence of true humanity. On the other hand “faith alone” (sola fide) if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on someone or something is quite dead if it does not result in positive action; it can be possessed by devils (cf. Jam2:17-19KJV).

The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their conscience motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and indeed so as to be at peace with themselves. Jesus was thereby affirming that final salvation is not “all of grace” for fruit must be produced, yet it is entirely dependent on grace since the “sheep” are accepted on the basis of exercising the quality called faith (being an innate faculty, i.e. freely provided so nothing to boast about) rather than having 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 such faith through the all-sufficient merits of Christ’s atonement”. (From: ch3: Fellowship of the Secret*)

A free PDF is available HERE

Illustration courtesy of historeo.com

MATTHEW 19 – THE REWARD OF FAITH


And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When his disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “who then can be saved? But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter answered and said to him, “see, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the son of man sits on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

The camel and needle analogy was in the context of Jesus’ preceding encounter with the rich young ruler, who though claiming to have been obedient to the Law since his youth (an assertion that Jesus does not challenge) was unwilling to part with his wealth and follow the Master. Clearly the pursuit of wealth, power and prestige in this life is not compatible with Christian discipleship, yet the irony is that those who are prepared to forsake all for Christ and His kingdom will in the ages to come be rewarded with privileges of a like nature that they have not directly coveted as well as the spiritual blessing that they have rightly craved: to know and enjoy God for ever. The twelve were told that when the Son of man came again, a time Jesus referred to as the regeneration or renaissance (Greek: paliggenesia) , they themselves would be enthroned and called to exercise judgement (as indeed shall others – 1Cor6:1-4).

The blessings of life that the elect of God are required to forsake are compensated for a hundred-fold.  Quoting from my book, “The rich, the mighty, the proud and the glory-hunters have been detracted by the shame of the cross of Christ and the demands of humble cruciform service as his disciples; whereas the humble, the gentle, the poor in spirit and in material possessions who are rich in faith will be the true inheritors of the kingdom and the earth (cf. JAM2:5; MT5:5) [Fellowship of the Secret ch. 3] “

Free PDF of e-book available HERE

MAT.21 – WHO INHERITS GOD’S KINGDOM?


Israel – God’s beloved vineyard (Isaiah ch. 5)

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Mt21:33-43NKJV).

A few verses later, Matthew confirms to whom the wicked vinedressers referred – the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day (v45), and in view of their being supplanted by another “nation” (Greek: ethnos), by implication Israel as a whole. “The kingdom of God” would be taken from them and given to a “nation” who would bear fruit. Again this is indicative of what Matthew’s references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven actually refer to: not “individuals going to Heaven when they die” but the establishment of a divinely ordered people subject to and living in accordance with the heavenly principles Jesus had been outlining; not exclusively for their own benefit but so as to be a blessing for the whole world.

The Old Testament had consistently foretold that Israel described by Isaiah as God’s beloved vineyard (Is5) would inherit God’s kingdom . Jesus as Prophet was now indicating that that was no longer to be the case. This anticipated Paul’s revelation that my book* focusses on, namely that the nation expected to inherit the privileges of the Messianic community had defaulted and were to be replaced by people derived from every nation (cf. Eph3:9,10; Rom11:11-15). His fellow apostle Peter would go on to describe this elect people as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people, to proclaim the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9). Such is the Church, sometimes described as the kingdom of God in mystery; inaugurated but not yet fully realized on Earth. Nor can it be until the King in Person presents Himself “whom Heaven must receive until the time of the restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets (Acts3:21).

  • A PDF is available HERE

MATTHEW 18 THE UNFORGIVING SERVANT


Parable of the unforgiving servant

The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and knelt before him, saying, ‘lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’ the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. “But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, ‘pay me what you owe!’ “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘have patience with me, and I will repay you!’ He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him in, and said to him, ‘you wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”— MATTHEW 18:23-35

This parable teaches many truths:

            – The enormous capacity of God’s forgiveness (cf. the 10,000 talents)

            – Such forgiveness should be the model for the way that Christians forgive others

            – An unforgiving spirit is an offence to God

            – Forgiveness must be “from the heart”

Whilst it would be inadvisable to adduce doctrinal particularities from a parable, Jesus’ last statement  is not a part of the story, it is a warning of what “My heavenly Father will do TO YOU if you don’t forgive your brother” (v35). Those who have been forgiven by Christ and refuse to forgive others will be punished in some way and for some period (v34). If that were not the case, such a warning would be a deception. As in the Lord’s prayer, God’s forgiveness is conditional; dependent on our willingness to forgive others. Likewise with the beatitudes, those who are merciful shall themselves receive mercy. Such is the nature of God’s thoroughly intelligible justice, and as my book* endeavors to establish, Paul once rightly understood writes nothing to countermand this or any of Christ’s moral or judicial teaching.

*Free PDF HERE

Illustration: courtesy Goodsalt.com

MATTHEW 18 – INFANTS: JESUS’ VERDICT

‘Christ Blessing Little Children’, mid 19th century. Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. From the Bible (Mark 10). (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

According to my one-time hero John Calvin, infants by nature are “odious” and “an abomination to God, their very natures being a seed-bed of sin” (Institutes of the Christian Religion:  Second Book Chapter 1 para 8). That supported the so-called “Doctor of Grace” Augustine’s assertion that mankind’s will is united in evil intent from his birth, having been turned to the will of Satan [cf. Confessions – F J Sheed Book7/ XXI]. Children dying without baptism, he believed, must endure sensual pain (Latin:paena sensus) for all eternity, albeit of a mild variety (cf. New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia: “Unbaptised infants” – Para 2 ).  If you check out this observation taken from his autobiographical account (“Confessions”), you will note that Augustine derived his assertion concerning fallen man’s nature being united in evil (i.e. both in action and intention) in the context of Romans7:15-23, which I now understand to be teaching quite the contrary, namely a form of anthropological dualism arising from the disparate immediate origins of body and soul/spirit.

This in turn relates to the nature of “original sin”, which is certainly a reality according to Scripture (Rom5:14) – the contention being whether Adam’s guilt is imputed to the new-born such that they are created in a state of condemnation (as the Western Church has largely taught) or, as I now understand Paul to be indicating, whether the spirit/soul is derived from God, pure but violable and planted within a procreated intellectual vessel contaminated (indeed governed) by sin, resulting in an inner conflict between the light of Christ influencing the conscience pertaining to the spirit or inner man  (cf. Rom7:22, Jn1:9) and the concupiscent impulses of the human senses processed through the brain pertaining to the “flesh” or “body of this death” as Paul refers to the temporary vessel / tent discarded at death (2Cor5:1; 1Thes4:4 cf. 2Pet1:13,14 )

In terms of Jesus’ regard for little children (whom in the context of Mt18:1-6 cannot be referring to adult believers), He would appear to have a quite different perspective from the aforementioned spiritual masters: “Except you turn and become as little children you shall not enter into the rule of the heavens” (v3 Greek).

So what would be the distinctive features of a young child which the Lord would have His disciples emulate? It is surely a humble acknowledgement of one’s need for guidance, provision and discipline from Father God and Mother Church; a sweet and intuitive simplicity, credulity, a sense of wonder and a keenness to please. What a young child certainly does not possess is a sense of self-loathing or conviction of moral impotency. And nor should he, for looking intently into the eyes of an infant one is observing the windows of a soul newly supplied by God and enlightened by Christ; not one who is odious and an abomination to God or one whose will is in accordance with the will of Satan. Nevertheless, that child, except he goes on to receive the grace of Christ through the gospel will soon have to acknowledge that though he instinctively admires in others what is good (compassion, kindness, sacrificial love, courage etc.) and desires to do what is right himself, “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members”.

Of course he is unlikely to express the matter in such Pauline terms but that will be the reality: an admiration for what is good and a desire to do some good but failure consistently to practice it. Such is not “total depravity” but neither is it the Life that God intends for those beings made in His image: “For THIS is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn17:3 NKJV). That is to be made free indeed by the Son to serve the living God. Such are the exclusive privileges of those baptized into Christ and faithful to their calling. Yet all children are precious in God’s sight, their angels forever beholding the face of my Father which is in Heaven (v10).

Much of the above is almost diametrically opposed to what I  was brought up to believe and will appear heretical to many, but it is what I believe I have been shown by the Spirit and it coheres seamlessly with the rest of my interpretations set out in “The Fellowship of the Secret” (free PDF HERE)

MATTHEW 17 – MORE INTRIGUING VERSES TO PONDER


Jesus said to (his disciples), ‘the son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men and they shall kill him, and on the third day he shall be raise again’ and his disciples were exceedingly sorrowful (Mt17:22,23)

They really didn’t get it, did they? It is important to recognize that even Jesus’ closest disciples had no idea whatsoever that an essential element of their Messiah’s earthly ministry  was to die to pay the price for human sin – they were depressed even having been assured He would be resurrected three days later! It re-affirms the Lukan narratives identified in earlier post concerning the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Lk9:44-46; Lk18:33-34) and the fact that that particular Good News cannot have incorporated soteriology pertaining to the Cross. Of course the apostolic writers and the churches founded by them have rightly focussed upon the latter, but that cannot be “this gospel of the Kingdom” that Jesus referred to in the context of His second coming (Mt24:14). It also challenges the mighty Augustine’s proposal that people in Old Testament times were “saved by believing in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Christ as a future event” [a]. To the chagrin of many it has been necessary in my book [b] and within these posts to subvert virtually every distinctive teaching of that 4th/5th century colossus if God’s munificent providence is to be perceived, more especially with regard to natural law,  free will, anthropology and the economy of grace that will feature more once we consider the writings of Paul.

[a] Augustine: “Against two letters of the Pelagians” Book III Chap. 11

b] A PDF is available HERE

Exploring the mystery of divine providence