Thesis #58 of 95 - The more liberal churches are in error in believing that anyone other than a Christian can be saved in the gospel sense
Acts4:12 There is salvation in no Other; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among mankind by which we can be saved.
Rom1:16 For I am notashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, also to the Greek.
Mt24:14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come
Dan7:27a Then shall sovereignty, dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven be given to the saints of the Most High
Acts20:32 I entrust you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified
Rom8:17 WE are children of God, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Many Christians, labelled as liberals, are understandably resistant to the derisory, narrow depictions of God’s providential care for humanity that is the outworking of the prevailing Augustinian-derived biblical theology. Such people have a sense of God’s goodness and intelligible justice and anticipate that providential outcomes will be consistent with His self-declared loving nature. And so they shall be.
But what tends to be lacking on the part of such liberal, open-minded Christians is a substantive delineation of their convictions from Scripture. They are “liberal” with respect to their interpretation of the bible, believing they have to be, given how it is usually interpreted. Not so yours truly – I would sooner be labelled a literalist 😂. For humanly speaking, such is how the seemingly radical synopsis I have set out in the Little Book of Providence came about – by applying a rigorous and highly literal interpretation to the Word of God
And surely, a trustworthy approach to Scripture is needed to provide at the personal level the peace and assurance that comes from a hope for eternity that is solidly grounded. Whilst at the global level, a unified interpretation of the essential teachings of Scripture are necessary to present a clear and coherent Good News message to the world. And such is to be provided in these last days if the gospel and its Hero are to be believed (Mt24:14).
As recent theses have sought to delineate – whilst the Creator desires that all true humanity (cf. 1Jn3:12) are ultimately soul-healed (“saved”) and brought to an understanding of the truth (1Tim2:4), only those who know Jesus Christ in a personal way during their earthly lifetimes can be fitted to share an inheritance with Christ, His saints and angels. As the above references indicate, such an inheritance (co-heirship with Christ, no less😲) is restricted to those who are being sanctified (Acts20:32; Rom8:17)
THESIS #57 of 95 - For much of their history the churches especially in the West have been under the misapprehension that their institution and the practice of the Christian faith primarily exists to enable people to go to heaven when they die
Mt25:34-35 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink etc, etc.
Mt16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works
Rom2:9-11 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of mankind who does evil, for the Jew first, also for the Greek, but glory, honour and peace to everyone who does what is good, to the Jew first, also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.
Rom8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers
1Pet2:9 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
Rev19:7 The marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has prepared herself.”
Rev3:21 He who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne.
Rev5:9-10 And with Your blood you bought people for God of every race, language, people and nation and made them a line of kings and priests for God, to rule the World
A collection of prooftexts such as the above cannot do justice to a thesis as radical as this. What is needed is a complete re-synopsis of the bible, and this (I am clear with the Spirit’s help) I have already provided [link#1]. What the first four texts point to is the fact that ultimately, we are to be judged by what we do, not what we claim or understand ourselves to believe. Yet what we do and our manner of life is GOVERNED by what we believe, or more particularly whether we possess “faith”. Note that Paul writes “AS IT IS WRITTEN, ‘the righteous shall live by faith’” But WHERE was it written? In Habakkuk2:4. The apostle was not introducing a new-fangled concept of justification by faith – it had always been the case. What WAS new in terms of Paul’s revelation concerned the annulment of Torah.
Hence Gal5:6 – “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE. As 2nd century Clement of Alexandria rightly asserted “faith is that which OF ITSELF AND FROM ITS OWN RESOURCES chooses at once what is best”. That is why the Mt25 sheep acted as they did – because they possessed and utilized the God-given quality of faith. Likewise, those who “do what is good” in the Romans 2 passage quoted. This is not how I in the past and no doubt many Christians today understand “faith”. But interpreted in this way, it resolves many tensions or seeming contradictions of scripture – not least the moral and juridical teaching of Paul vis-à-vis Jesus, James and John.
The latter five bible references, which to some may seem to be saying something different again (hence the “however”), pertain to the fact that whilst God cares for the wellbeing of all people of good will, He has chosen a particular people for Himself who are to be permanently associated with His Son. Only these are what the bible refers to as “saved” in the present age. Only these currently possess the Life God intends for those he has made in His own image.
Some recent theses dealt with what the bible means by “death” in the spiritual context. In a sentence it is a disruption in the soul’s communion with its Maker resulting from a defilement of the conscience (cf. Heb9:14). It is a result of the Fall.
The immediate cause of such is what Paul describes as “the body of this death” and the solution is a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ (Rom7:24,25). THAT is what Christianity is for. It is for those Peter goes on to describe as a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for GOD’S PERSONAL POSSESSION“. In terms of what happens at the end of physical life, Christians are being prepared for something that others cannot be. True disciples are being refashioned into the image of their Master (Rom8:29). They already partake of the divine nature (2Pet1:4) – a clue to their ultimate destiny, as are the quotes above from Revelation.
Expressed another way, becoming a Christian enables one to be raised to eternal life. That in turn relates to being re-united to God in Christ:
“And this is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (Jn17:3)
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has (present tense) eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn6:54)
“No murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1Jn3:15)
Eternal life (literally age-life) is something to be experienced now; a higher form and quality of life than that which one can naturally know as fallen human beings. It should be noted that even the sinless Saviour asserted that He “lived by the Father” (Jn6:57a). In the same way “those who eat Me shall liveby Me (Jn6:57b). It affirms that “life” as Jesus, Paul and others speak of it does not refer to avoiding perdition or “going to heaven when you die” for that was hardly an issue for Jesus, yet even He “lived by the Father”. It relates rather to a present empowering relationship with the divine; “death” being the deprivation of such.
So much for the Christian – what of everyone else? The definitive New Testament passage on final judgement (Mt25) should make it clear enough that whether or not one gains admittance to God’s eternal Kingdom is not determined by religious faith or practice. That is not so much as mentioned, merely the exercise of compassionate LOVE towards those in need – with whom Christ as Son of Man personally identifies. That in turn pertains to natural law – whether one has a positive response to the innate spiritual faculties with which everyone is provided, functioning through the conscience. For everyone who is truly humane shows themselves to be of God (1Jn4:7).
But only those who have a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ can be saved from what Paul described as the body of this death (Rom7:24,25). Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they follow the inclinations of their spirit rather than succumbing to the flesh – so that they might Live (Rom8:13 Textus Receptus Greek). Partaking of the Lord’s body and blood, their “consciences are purged from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb9:14; cf. 1Jn1:7). Such are to be raised on the last day (Jn6:54; Rev20:6). Those of the faithful still alive at the Parousia shall be joined to Christ (1Thes4:17). Whether alive or resurrected, the souls of such will have been made ready for the unspeakable glories destined for them in the age to come.
Such is the context of the Church and Christian salvation within broader benign providence. God’s declared wish is that every soul that CAN be healed is ultimately restored and brought to a realization of the truth (1Tim2:4). It is perhaps not that surprising that God does not intend that all humanity are betrothed to His Son and come to share His throne (Rev3:21 &9:7). But many more shall one day “comprehend WITH the saints what is the width and length and height and depth of the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge”. Each to be filled, according to their varying capacities, with the fullness of God.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that HER INIQUITY IS PARDONED: for SHE HATH RECEIVED OF THE LORD’S HAND DOUBLE FOR ALL HER SINS. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God”. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (Is40:1-5KJV)
Georg Friedrich Handel (pictured) was on the whole creditably faithful to the (KJV) scriptural narrative within his much-loved Christmas musical offering. Such subtle changes as he did make would have been for metrical scanning purposes; but not, I suspect, the omission of the phrase I have capitalized within the prophecy he was quoting from Isaiah (above). That had asserted that God’s chosen nation’s many iniquities were now pardoned, for she had already received double (punishment) for her sins; a statement which should make it clear enough that “Jerusalem” could not in this context have been an allegory for the future universal Church; “Jerusalem” was Jerusalem, city of the great king (David), the heart of the Jewish nation. That nation had been punished severely but now she was to be forgiven; and that was the context of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”, the “Elijah” (John Baptist) who was promised to restore everything (Mt17:11) was on his way to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for Him (Lk1:17NJB); the Arch-Angel Gabriel (no less) had promised as much in John’s annunciation. According to such prophecy all would soon be well for Israel (God’s servant cf. Is49:3, Acts13:47), and the whole world would witness it – “all flesh would see it TOGETHER.
AS WITH OTHER OT PROPHECY, IT SIMPLY HAS NOT PANNED OUT THAT WAY – in terms of timing, sequence and personnel that is. But “the mouth of the Lord has spoken it” and He will not go back on His promises. As Paul addressed the matter, though many of his fellow Jews were hostile to the gospel of Christ they were still elect for the sake of their fathers: “there is no change of mind on God’s part concerning the GIFTS HE HAS MADE OR OF HIS CHOICE” (Rom11:28-29 NJB). No change of Mind, but there has been a change to the published Plan, and Saul of Tarsus was chosen by God’s grace and commissioned by the glorified Christ to proclaim it (Acts26:17-18), along with the other twelve apostles once they had grasped what was going on (Acts11:5-9;17-18), namely that many Gentiles were also to gain a glorious inheritance with God’s holy people (26:18b) through the establishment of the fellowship pertaining to “a secret (plan) hidden in God (the Father) who had created all things through Jesus Christ. That THROUGH the Church should NOW be revealed TO the sovereignties and authorities of Heaven, the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom according to (His) purposes for the ages” (cf. Eph3:8-11 from the Greek).
The apostle to the Gentiles would not wish us to be ignorant of this mystery so as to become wise in our own conceits – that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the complement of the Gentiles has come in. Once the Church fully recognises and acknowledges her error regarding “replacement theology”, indeed her understanding of the very nature and purpose of the current epoch within the overall framework of salvation history🤣.
Then also might the Jews, being her fathers in the faith acknowledge their reprehensible rejection of the Son of Man – once, that is, they grasp along with the Church why the terrestrial promises of the Law and Prophets were not fulfilled through Him and by Him at the expected time. It would seem the Lord has concluded both fathers and children in ignorance in this matter so that he might enlighten and show mercy to both (cf. Rom11:32). No wonder Paul went on in the next verse to exclaim “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How inscrutable is His decision-making and His ways are quite beyond our discovery!” Even two millennia of erudite ecclesiological scholarship has scarcely perceived these matters whereas the Spirit holds no such bounds but works as, when and with whom he so chooses.
THESIS #56 of 95 - God's qualities such as love, holiness, compassion and kindness are superior in degree but the same in nature to those of man's, for every good quality man possesses originates from Him
Heb1:3a (Christ) is the radiance of God’s glory and the EXACT REPRESENTATION of His nature
1Jn4:7: Beloved, let’s love one another; for love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God
“I AM who I am: the God of tendernessand compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy, maintaining his faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, punishing the parent’s fault in the children and in the grandchildren unto the third and fourth generation [Ex34:6-7].
That is God’s nature; these are His judgements which are evidently right and just and in accordance with human reason. That is, they are exactly how one would expect a loving and just God to behave in judgement. There surely can be no better theologian than God Himself, so if anyone has presented a markedly different picture, he is no theologian at all however revered he may have become. We may be mystified by God’s ways at times, but this is a Being that we as human beings can truly love and adore as well as fear. Not just for His grace and mercy towards us, but because He is genuinely good from the perspective of those created after His own likeness.
YHWH is forgiving, tender and compassionate just as a saintly human is consistently tender and compassionate, only more so. Like a good parent He will have a special affection for His own (or His Son’s) immediate family but will show magnanimity towards all, for that is His nature. As such He makes full allowance for the human weakness unavoidably inherited at birth; toleration being a vital ingredient of love as any parent will know. At the same time, He will take vengeance on behalf of His people (2Thes1:6), being all who fear Him and seek to do justice in accordance with the revelation they have received from Him. And in John’s words, everyone who loves is born of God and knows God – but not alldo (1Jn3:12; Mt15:13).
Truly, we shall praise God with uprightness of heart when we have learnt of His righteous judgements [ יִצְחָ֔ק].
THESIS #55 of 95. GOD IS LOVE, and any theology that requires for its intrinsic coherence the notion that divine love is different in nature and outworking to that quality as it is defined in Scripture should be rejected, however revered its formulator may have been
1Jn4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love [Greek: θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν]
1Cor13:4-5 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered
These theses are intended to follow on from one another and the assertion that God is love is a corollary to what was asserted in the previous thesis: the fact that Jesus precisely represented His father’s nature (Heb1:3). But the apostle John was not merely saying in his first epistle that God possessed love or even that He is loving by nature, but that He is love personified [ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν]; ἀγάπη (love) being a noun, not an adjective. This is astonishing in itself; all the more so when one tries to reconcile that with the God of the bible, or rather what many understand it to be saying concerning the Creator’s providential purposes and intentions towards humanity. As I am in the process of demonstrating, that is because so many are under a misconception. They believe that only the relative few who have had a faithful account of the Gospel and have positively responded to it are to avoid perdition. Most of the remaining theses directly or indirectly point to why such is not the case.
Another reason John’s statement will appear barely credible to many pertains to what I also referred to in the previous thesis. That is that whilst God’s nature is humanly comprehensible and was reflected in life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Creator’s waysare often incomprehensible and extraordinary. That will be evident in any consideration of history [which is ultimately “His story”]. Not least, the career of the churches, but especially the global suffering, distress and confusion we continue to observe today. My theses and especially The Little Book of Providence’s theodicy explain why this is the case. It pertains to God’s plans for humanity, starting with His elect – the children of promise (Gal4:28) who in some measure must share in the sufferings of Christ (Rom8:17).
Any loving deity of human devising might be expected to ensure that those he/she/it created had opportunity to enjoy a peaceful, happy life, ideally extending through eternity. Truly, the God who is love, revealed in the bible, has done far, far better than this. He has not only created beings in His own image, but by the very suffering and trials they experience whilst in mortal flesh, He is preparing them to be united Himself and ultimately share His domain. But it is not just our suffering that He knows is necessary for such elevation (even in the case of His Son: Heb2:10), it involves His own suffering also. Quoting from my book:
“God had been perfectly entitled to enjoy unbroken felicity but for mankind’s sake He was prepared to endure the agony of observing His only begotten Son’s humiliation and death. If Satan had been barred from planet earth or Adam and Eve had been erased for their disobedience and replaced, Christ need not have died. But He permitted His enemy what appeared to be an extraordinary victory for the sake of what He knew would be the ideal preparation for the beings created in His image to be raised from dust to glory. This is the third reason apart from Satan’s treachery and our first parents’ disobedience that things have been as they have been in the world and in the Church. Suffering partnered with essential spiritual healing and progressive enlightenment are how God is drawing man toward his ultimate destiny as exemplified by His Son’s own experience (cf. Heb2:10)”.
[Excerpt from chapter 7 (theodicy) – Little Book of Providence]
In accordance with the progressive enlightenment just outlined, much traditional Western theology simply does not do justice to such Love as this. There has inevitably been bemusement regarding the continuance of evil and suffering, falling as it does under the auspices of a sovereign God, at the same time described in the bible as Love personified. And for many traditions, such as the Reformed Evangelicalism I grew up with, the matter is exacerbated by the dire eternal prospects awaiting the bulk of humanity. If this were the reality, divine love would need to be defined very differently from “love” as humans understand it or indeed the bible defines it for believers in 1Cor13.
That is why this thesis concludes that such paradoxical theology is to be rejected, however revered its formulator may have been. Especially so, now that a workable solution has been provided regarding the mystery of evil and the outworking of divine love, integrated at it has been within a synopsis of the whole bible. Still more so once it has been grasped that such a disclosure was foretold in ex-canonical Scripture that had not been intended (or even made available) for the Church through most of her history but for the final generation of believers [note #1]
NOTE #1 “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 [opening verse of the Book of Enoch]]
THESIS #54 OF 95 - The mature Christian has a sense of what pleases God for he/she already possesses the mind of Christ whom EVEN DURING HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY had the mind of His Father.
Prov11:20 The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those who are blameless in their ways are His delight.
1Sam13:14 The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.
Jn14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
1Cor2:16 – For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Col1:15 (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation
Heb1:3a (Christ) is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature
Many Christians including myself in the past, have understood that God is such that whatever we may do or whatever our manner of life, we are incapable of pleasing Him. The writer of Prov11:20 thought otherwise: “The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but those who are blameless in their ways are His delight“. The misconception in turn relates to the notion that God’s nature is alien in nature and incomprehensible to man. That is to misunderstand both Paul and Christ Himself as I will now demonstrate. But for starters it contradicts what the bible declares human beings to be: made in the image/likeness of God. And that still applies, even after the Fall (Gen9:6). Given that God is invisible, that likeness cannot pertain to appearance but to nature.
And at the individual level there are men and women whom God regards as instinctively being “after His own heart”. One such was the shepherd boy David whom He appointed King over His people, Israel. And God is preparing another people, no longer restricted to the Jews, who are being fashioned to be after His own heart. For the Father has foreordained that some are to become conformed to the image of His Son (Rom8:29), and He has provided the means of grace by which that might be accomplished. The apostle Paul was such a one, who declared that he and such like him, already “have the mind of Christ” (1Cor2:16).
Having the mind of Christ is one thing, but apprehending God’s own nature surely is another matter? Is it really? Not according to Jesus:
“If you know Me, you will have known My Father also; from now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus *said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’”? [Jn14:7-9]
Think through the implications in the context of this thesis. What pleased Jesus during His earthly ministry must please His Father also. Yet Jesus was a Man, indeed the Proper Man, as Luther aptly referred to Him. So, do you think that acts of kindness, generosity, courage and the like would not please our loving gracious Saviour? And that would be the case regardless of their imperfections as, classically, we see in the Mt25 sheep/goats passage.
That of course is the definitive New Testament passage on final judgement, the most important assessment of all. It frankly turns the theology I was brought up with on its head, but so does Jesus’ comments to Philip in Jn14 quoted above. For even during His earthly ministry, Jesus perfectly reflected the nature of His Father – AND YET HE WAS A MAN. Of course, when He returns in glory to judge the world, this King of kings and Lord of Lords will be a scarier prospect, but it will be the same Jesus. Oh, blessed words: “Have I been with you so long, Philip – if you have seen Me, you’ve seen the Father”. For man has been made in God’s image, and it was perfectly reflected in Jesus, even during His earthly ministry. For our sakes He laid aside His glory but nothing of His nature.
When the implications of this are grasped, then so much traditional theology is thrown into question. Not least, that of the Protestant Reformers that I adhered to for the first 28 years of my Christian life. For that more than any other is predicated on a Creator incomprehensible to human reason. Within such theology, God’s defining quality of LOVE (1Jn4:8) appears to mean something quite different from how Paul defines it in 1Cor13 (next thesis). For sure, God’s ways and methods are extraordinary and sometimes incomprehensible, not so His Nature. It was revealed to Philip, his fellow disciples and many others privileged to witness the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, being “the radiance of (God’s) glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb1:3NASB). That is my good news, and it was Paul’s also: “According to mygospel, the day is coming when God shall judge the secrets of mankind through Christ Jesus (Rom2:16; cf. Jn5:22).
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
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.
“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.
#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.
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
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
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.
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.
THESIS #48 of 95 - Those who show compassion to the destitute are judged as serving Christ and rewarded accordingly
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 theLaw
1Jn4:7 Let us love one another; for love is from God, and EVERYONE WHO LOVES HAS BEEN BORN OF GOD and knows God
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.
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
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
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).
#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.