Sunday Meditation – The End of Affliction

“The end of affliction is the discovery of sin, and of that to bring us to a Saviour. Let us therefore, with the prodigal, return unto him, and we shall find ease and rest. A repenting penitent, though formerly as bad as the worst of men, may, by grace, become as good as the best. To be truly sensible of sin is to sorrow for displeasing of God; to be afflicted that he is displeased by us more than that he is displeased with us. Your intentions to repentance, and the neglect of that soul-saving duty, will rise up in judgment against you. Repentance carries with it a Divine rhetoric, and persuades Christ to forgive multitudes of sins committed against him. Say not with thyself, To-morrow I will repent; for it is thy duty to do it daily. The gospel of grace and salvation is above all doctrines the most dangerous, if it be received in word only by graceless men; if it be not attended with a sensible need of a Saviour, and bring them to him. For such men as have only the notion of it, are of all men most miserable; for by reason of their knowing more than heathens, this shall only be their final portion, that they shall have greater stripes.”

John Bunyan

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church

The debate over sola Scriptura or the sufficiency of Scripture as the sole infallible rule of faith is the area where Catholic apologists believe they have the strongest argument. I have already responded to the most common objections to sola Scriptura, but here I will be demonstrating from church history that sola Scriptura is the historic belief of the early church, not the invention of Protestants:

“Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.8.1).

“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed ‘perfect knowledge,’ as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.2.1).

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.16).

“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. . . . So all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever things they teach, these let us learn” (Hippolytus, Against Noetus 9).

“Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture” (Athanasius, De Synodis 6).

“These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me’” (Athanasius, 39th Festal Letter).

“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” (Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy 1.23.102).

“Have thou ever in your mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4.17).

“Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps you may be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man. For one who at present thus teaches may possibly be suspected: but what man of sense will suspect one that prophesied a thousand and more years beforehand? If then you seek the cause of Christ’s coming, go back to the first book of the Scriptures” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 12.5).

“It would be the instigation of a demonical spirit to follow the conceits of the human mind, and to think anything divine, beyond what has the authority of the Scriptures” (Theophilus of Alexandria, Epistola 96; PL 22:778).

“But as we do not deny what is written, so we do reject what is not written” (Jerome, Against Helvidius 21).

“We are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings” (Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection).

“The hear­ers taught in the Scrip­tures ought to test what is said by teach­ers and accept that which agrees with the Scrip­tures but reject that which is for­eign” (Basil of Caesarea, Moralia 72).

“Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth” (Basil of Caesarea, Letter 189).

“Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right” (Basil of Caesarea, Letter 283).

“Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Corinthians, Homily 13).

“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher” (Augustine, Of the Good of Widowhood 2).

“It is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place” (Augustine, Letter 82.3.24).

“For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics, and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine” (Augustine, Letter 148.15).

“You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?” (Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 2.3).

“Especially as in writings of such authors I feel myself free to use my own judgment (owing unhesitating assent to nothing but the canonical Scriptures), whilst in fact there is not a passage which he has quoted from the works of this anonymous author that disturbs me” (Augustine, On Nature and Grace 71).

“This shows that the established authority of Scripture must outweigh every other; for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfillment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 13.5).

“In the matters of which we are now treating, only the canonical writings have any weight with us” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean 23.9).

“But for us the sufficient demonstration of the soul’s immortality is the teaching of Holy Scripture, which is self-authenticating because [it is] inspired of God” (Nemesius of Emesa, On the Nature of Man, Chapter 2, Of the Soul).

“Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone” (Theodoret of Cyrus, Dialogue 1).

“All things, therefore, that have been delivered to us by the Law, and Prophets, and Apostles, we receive, and acknowledge, and confess; and beyond these, we seek not to know anything. For it is impossible for us to say, or at all think anything concerning God, beyond what has been divinely declared by the divine oracles of the Old and New Testament” (Cyril of Alexandria, De Sacrosancta Trinitate 1).

“The canonical scriptures alone are the rule (measure) of faith (Sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John XXI. 24-25, paragraph 2656).

Sunday Meditation – A Shield to the Soul

“Before you enter into prayer, ask thy soul these questions – To what end, O my soul, art thou retired into this place? Art thou not come to discourse the Lord in prayer? Is he present; will he hear thee? Is he merciful; will he help thee? Is thy business slight; is it not concerning the welfare of thy soul? What words wilt thou use to move him to compassion? To make thy preparation complete, consider that thou art but dust and ashes, and he the great God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that clothes himself with light as with a garment; that thou art a vile sinner, he a holy God; that thou art but a poor crawling worm, he the omnipotent Creator. In all your prayers forget not to thank the Lord for his mercies. When thou prayest, rather let thy hearts be without words, than thy words without a heart. Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer. The spirit of prayer is more precious than treasures of gold and silver. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.”

John Bunyan

Why the Apocrypha Is Not Scripture

If you have ever done any study of the canon of Scripture, you will notice that Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. In addition to the 66 books Protestants accept, Catholicism also accepts Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, Baruch with the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, additions to Daniel, and additions to Esther. In addition to these, Eastern Orthodoxy accepts 1 Esdras or 3 Ezra, the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Maccabees, and Psalm 151. While there are many historical arguments for rejecting the Apocrypha as Scripture, I want to focus here on the texts themselves.

It is much easier to prove which books do not belong in the Bible than to prove which ones do. For example, the gnostic Gospel of Thomas teaches polytheism or the belief in many gods. It claims that Jesus said, “Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.” But since the Bible teaches that there is only one God (John 5:44), the Gospel of Thomas is not canonical because it contains doctrinal error and the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. In the same way, the apocryphal books contain doctrinal and historical errors in them which preclude them from being accepted by Christians as coming from the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom 8:19-20 teaches the pre-existence of the soul which Roman Catholicism does not teach. The text reads: “As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.” “Soul” in Wisdom is distinct from the body: “For a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind” (Wis 9:15). “A man in his wickedness kills another, but he cannot bring back the departed spirit, nor set free the imprisoned soul” (Wis 16:14). The belief in the pre-existence of the soul was condemned as heresy at the Fifth Ecumenical Council which is considered to be an infallible ecumenical council by Catholicism.

Another error in Wisdom is the denial of creation ex nihilo, or “out of nothing,” which is taught in Scripture (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3). Wisdom 11:17 says, “For thy all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions.” This also contradicts another text in the Apocrypha which does teach that God created all things out of nothing: “I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being” (2 Macc 7:28).

The book of Judith is filled with historical errors. The first verse of the book reads: “In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh, in the days of Arphaxad, who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana.” The problem is that Nineveh fell in 612 to Nebuchadnezzar’s father Nabopolassar. Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in 605 after his father’s death and never ruled over Nineveh. The twelfth year of his reign would have been 593, 19 years after Nineveh’s fall. Judith 4:3 teaches that the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple before Nebuchadnezzar died: “For they had only recently returned from the captivity, and all the people of Judea were newly gathered together, and the sacred vessels and the altar and the temple had been consecrated after their profanation.” The Babylonian captivity did not end until 539, but Nebuchadnezzar died in 562. The author of Judith intentionally put historical errors like these into the text to indicate that this is a work of fiction and not meant to be taken as history.

Tobit 1:15 says that Sennacherib was the son of Shalmaneser and reigned in his place after he died: “But when Shalmaneser died, Sennacherib his son reigned in his place; and under him the highways were unsafe, so that I could no longer go into Media.” But Sennacherib did not reign when Shalmaneser died, but Sargon II. The reign of Shalmaneser V was from 727-722, the reign of Sargon II was from 722-705, and Sennacherib’s reign was from 705-681. Tobit 6:6-7 teaches that smoke from a fish’s heart and liver drives away demons: “Then the young man said to the angel, ‘Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?’ He replied, ‘As for the heart and liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman, and that person will never be troubled again.’” Not only is this verse ridiculous (why would an immaterial demon be frightened away by smoke?), but it contradicts God’s Word which teaches that we are not to use magic (Deut 18:9-14; Acts 19:18-19). Tobit 14:15 says, “But before he died he heard of the destruction of Nineveh, which Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus had captured. Before his death he rejoiced over Nineveh.” But Nineveh was not captured by Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus, but by Nabopolassar and Cyaxares.

1 Maccabees 6:8-16 says that Antiochus Epiphanes died in his bed of an illness. But 2 Maccabees 1:14-17 says he was stoned to death. A third contradictory account is found in 2 Maccabees 9:1-29 which says that he died far away in the mountains of an internal pain in the bowels. 2 Maccabees 2:4-5 says that Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave. But this contradicts Jeremiah 3:16 which tells us that the ark was destroyed by the Babylonians: “And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.” The author of 2 Maccabees denied that his book was inspired Scripture when he closed by saying, “If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do” (15:38). This is a far cry from the “thus says the Lord” of the authors of Scripture.

Sirach 3:30 says, “Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin.” This verse became the basis for the practice of indulgences which undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s death to save us. Sirach 12:4-5 says, “Give to the godly man, but do not help the sinner. Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back his bread, and do not give it to him, lest by means of it he subdue you; for you will receive twice as much evil for all the good which you do to him.” But Jesus taught the opposite of this in Luke 6:33-35: “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” For more on this subject, I recommend William Webster’s book on the Apocrypha.

Sunday Meditation – The School of the Cross

“Nothing can render affliction so insupportable as the load of sin: would you, therefore, be fitted for afflictions, be sure to get the burden of your sins laid aside, and then what afflictions soever you may meet with will be very easy to you. If thou canst hear and bear the rod of affliction which God shall lay upon thee, remember this lesson – thou art beaten that thou mayest be better. The Lord useth his flail of tribulation to separate the chaff from the wheat. The school of the cross is the school of light; it discovers the world’s vanity, baseness, and wickedness, and lets us see more of God’s mind. Out of dark affliction comes a spiritual light. In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God. Did we heartily renounce the pleasures of this world, we should be very little troubled for our afflictions; that which renders an afflicted state so insupportable to many is because they are too much addicted to the pleasures of this life, and so cannot endure that which makes a separation between them.”

John Bunyan

What Are Indulgences?

The practice of indulgences could never exist apart from a belief in purgatory. Since no one wants to go to purgatory, indulgences exist to reduce or eliminate the amount of time one needs to spend in suffering after death before being allowed entrance into heaven. Because of purgatory, Catholics argue that prayers should be offered for the dead that they might be delivered out of the suffering of purgatory into heaven. An indulgence is the granting of remission from the temporal punishment due to sin through the application of the supererogatory righteousness of the saints in the treasury of merit which the pope has access to through the keys of the church. The practice of indulgences is still alive and well today and is expressed most clearly in the papal encyclical Indulgentiarum doctrina. In it, Pope Paul VI proclaims that by carrying our crosses, we expiate our sins and the sins of others:

“Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Christian faithful have always endeavored to help one another on the path leading to the heavenly Father through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervor of charity, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings, carrying their crosses in expiation for their own sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God the Father of mercies.”

In the church, there is a great treasury of merit which contains the righteous deeds of the saints which help to bring about the salvation of others:

“This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by His grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”

It is rather shocking that the document admits that the practice of indulgences developed over time (the first historical reference to indulgences does not appear for at least a thousand years after Christ) and was not practiced by the earliest Christians:

“The conviction existing in the Church that the pastors of the flock of the Lord could set the individual free from the vestiges of sins by applying the merits of Christ and of the saints led gradually, in the course of the centuries and under the influence of the Holy Spirit’s continuous inspiration of the people of God, to the usage of indulgences which represented a progression in the doctrine and discipline of the Church rather than a change.”

The Catholic Church anathematizes anyone who says that indulgences are useless:

“But the Church, in deploring and correcting these improper uses ‘teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them.’”

I agree with John Calvin that indulgences are a Satanic mockery of the work of Christ. The righteousness by which we stand before God is not a patchwork righteousness made up of a combination of the righteousness of Christ, Mary, the saints, and ourselves. The doctrine of the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ is essential to justification and the foundation for the Protestant rejection of indulgences. This alone is the gospel.

A common verse used to support indulgences is Colossians 1:24 where Paul says that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” Therefore, it is argued that the sufferings of Christ on the cross are not sufficient to save us. We need to complete what is lacking in Christ’s atonement through our own suffering. But the affliction of Christ Paul is speaking of is not his suffering of atonement on the cross for sin (Heb 10:10-14), but his lifelong suffering as a minister of God. These are the ministerial sufferings of Christ which Paul continued by acting as a servant of God for the sake of the church through his apostolic ministry. Because Christ and Paul are now in heaven and no longer suffering, it is the church’s responsibility to continue this suffering. This is especially true for pastors as they shepherd and suffer for the church of God. This suffering includes persecution which is the calling of all Christians (2 Tim 3:12).

Sunday Meditation – Sin Bars Our Happiness

“Sin is the great block and bar to our happiness, the procurer of all miseries to man, both here and hereafter: take away sin and nothing can hurt us: for death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, is the wages of it. Sin, and man for sin, is the object of the wrath of God. How dreadful, therefore, must his case be who continues in sin! For who can bear or grapple with the wrath of God? No sin against God can be little, because it is against the great God of heaven and earth; but if the sinner can find out a little God, it may be easy to find out little sins. Sin turns all God’s grace into wantonness; it is the dare of his justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, and the contempt of his love. Take heed of giving thyself liberty of committing one sin, for that will lead thee to another; till, by an ill custom, it become natural. To begin a sin, is to lay a foundation for a continuance; this continuance is the mother of custom, and impudence at last the issue. The death of Christ giveth us the best discovery of ourselves, in what condition we were, in that nothing could help us but that; and the most clear discovery of the dreadful nature of our sins. For if sin be so dreadful a thing as to wring the heart of the Son of God, how shall a poor wretched sinner be able to bear it?”

John Bunyan