Friday, May 27, 2016
I John 4:7-21 * Luke 16:19-31
The subject of faith and good works has been very important throughout the history of the Church, and it was especially important during the sixteenth century in the various forms taken by the Reformation. It was no less a burning issue in
than anywhere else.
Nonetheless, most people tend to think of Martin Luther when the subject comes
up, and his alleged dislike of the Epistle of James. England
In fact, Luther did not call the Epistle of James an “epistle of straw” exactly. Rather he wrote:
"St. John's Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul's Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and St. Peter's Epistle-these are the books which show to thee Christ, and teach everything that is necessary and blessed for thee to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book of doctrine. Therefore, St. James' Epistle is a perfect straw-epistle compared with them, for it has in it nothing of an evangelic kind." (Preface to the New Testament)
That is, he thought it was of lesser importance.
Now, I do not think we need dwell on that, for he was not suggesting that anyone should fail to read all of Scripture. Nonetheless, to this day people contend that between
St. James a great gulf is set in place, a barrier of disagreement too wide to
traverse. So, we need to read carefully the passages in question, always
remembering that the invisible hand that authored Scripture was Almighty God,
the Holy Spirit opening the eyes and minds of the several writers with the
revelation of God’s holy word. Therefore, no genuine contradiction can exist in
the doctrine of those writers. St. Paul
Works of the Law and works of faith
The most significant passages are the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Church in
and the second chapter of James’ general Epistle. Let us begin with Rome . St. Paul
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (
In this passage
talking about works of the Law. Writing about our Article X, I said this, which
begins by quoting a part of the Article: St. Paul
“’The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.’
“Is this telling us not to prepare ourselves, or not to do good works? Read that way it can provide an excuse for laziness and disobedience to the commandments of God. On the contrary, we would sin by not doing these things. But, even our performance of them, were it the best we possibly could do, could not make us righteous…
“It would all look completely hopeless if we did not have the second sentence of this brief Article. ’Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.’
“There we see that word, ‘grace.’ That is the whole difference. However good our good works may be, God’s standard of ‘good’ is too high for even our best efforts. Righteousness by His true and perfect standard exceeds our reach. We cannot achieve it. That is not because His standard is unjust. In fact, it is because His standard is just, in fact perfectly just. This is why no one can understand the doctrine of grace unless and until he understands the reality of human sin.”
It is, as Paul said, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” That is, in the work of the great Physician of souls, the Law is diagnostic. As
St. Paul said to the ,
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring
us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24) Galatian Church
It all boils down to the fact that justification is a gift given, not a reward earned.
tells us in
today’s Epistle, “Herein is love, not that we
loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for
our sins.” It would be hopeless
if not for the grace of God: “But of him
are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness,
and sanctification, and redemption.” (I Cor. 1:30) St. John
So, when works of the Law are good and commendable it is only by the grace of God in Christ. On their own, works of the Law come up short, failing to meet God’s perfect standard. Works of the Law do not justify. Such good works are not weighed against sins to see which are heavier on the Day of Judgment. They are commanded and must be done; but are not counted or weighed against sins in some eternal ledger. Only the blood of Christ cancels out sin. The Law does not justify, for that is not its purpose.
But, it appears at first glance that James contradicts Paul.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18)
After citing examples from the Old Testament (Abraham & Rahab), James comes right out with the most direct line of all, seeming to contradict Paul: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (v.24)
So, which is right? Is it Paul, who says, “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”? or James who says, “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Both men are right, both agree, for both were inspired to write their doctrine by the Holy Spirit who guided them in what to say.
Paul spoke of works of the Law, and James spoke of works of faith. Paul explained that the Law cannot make anyone righteous, but that only faith can justify; and James explained that faith is evident by works. If we find a passage that sums up what both men were saying, in full agreement, it from Paul’s Epistle to the Church in
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
Paul, again to the Galatians: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” (Gal. 5:6) And, to the Corinthians, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Cor. 13:13) “Faith without works is dead, being alone… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” James tells us. This works well with Paul’s doctrine, that faith is accompanied by love. James says that we show faith by our works, and Paul tells us that faith "works by love.”
A true believer, one who has faith in Christ, cannot live in that faith and not be changed by it. The fact that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” as Paul wrote, simply has to find expression in our lives. Where faith is, a person having been justified already, can be transformed by the Holy Spirit in day to day life.
The second great commandment, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” comes with that piercing diagnosis. It is the Law. It reveals to each heart its own shortcomings and failure. But, God gives us more grace even still, to live as John teaches us in today’s Epistle reading. We know that God loves us. How do we know that God loves us? Because He gave His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins. And, now we have been given a power to love God because He first loved us. And, because we can love God, we have that power to love our brother also.
The love that springs from a life of true faith, due of course to the Holy Spirit (“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
makes good works inevitable and spontaneous. A true believer simply cannot ignore the needs he
encounters among people. Works of the Law count for nothing in terms of
justification; works of faith, however, are a pleasing fruit of that faith,
because that faith works by the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the
Holy Ghost. Rom.
The rich man who ignored the suffering of Lazarus, is lost, finally, because he did not hear the word of God. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Had he heard the word of God and believed, could he have left Lazarus out there at his gate? Would not faith have worked by love? If the goats at the King’s left hand (in Matt. 25: 31-46) had the faith of those sheep at His right hand, could they have failed to do for “one of the least of these” His brethren?
The First Sunday after Trinity is very important for reasons I have said before.
“The Summary of the Law with the Two Great Commandments summarizes the Ten Commandments; we have two commandments and two tables. For, in the Ten Commandments we have the first Table, with four commandments about loving God. Then we have the second table, with six commandments about loving your neighbor.
“In the middle of the Church Year we turn to the second table on this day. Up until now we have concentrated on the commandments to love the Lord thy God; now we look at the commandments that tell you, and me, how to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’
“Where, in all of that emphasis from Advent through Pentecost, do we concentrate on the commandments that tell us how to love God? It seems that the opposite is true. What we have seen is the proof that God loves us. Exactly so. This is what
us in the Epistle reading we have heard today: ‘We love him,
because he first loved us.’” St. John
“And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
The following is in the current issue of THE TRINITARIAN, and is posted here with permission from the editor.
THE THIRD HORSEMAN UNLOOSED
By the Rt. Rev. Wilson Garang, Bishop of the Diocese of Aweil, Anglican Catholic Church
A humanitarian catastrophe has overwhelmed the Diocese of Aweil in
South Sudan, of which I am the Bishop
Ordinary. People are not getting enough to eat, and many are dying. Recently, I
returned from a visitation to my diocese, during which I got a first-hand look
at the situation. I saw with my own eyes how desperate the situation is. It is
a horrific picture. People are collecting wild leaves because there is nothing
else for them to eat. Some have died falling from trees while trying to get
leaves. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates
that some 38,000 people have crossed the border into North
Sudan in search of food. Many thousands more may follow if nothing
is done. Making things worse, unrest is growing in northwestern South Sudan, where my diocese is located.
Mostly Christian and animist South Sudan began its descent into misery and chaos in late 2013, only five months after achieving independence from overwhelmingly Muslim North
Sudan. Since then, the situation
has gone from bad to worse. People continue to leave their homes, looking for
safety and, above all, food. A global food security body has placed the number
of people lacking adequate diet at 2.8 million out of a population of about 12
million. A recent news agency dispatch reports the arrival of nearly 6,000
South Sudanese refugees at two locations in North Sudan’s . And in West Kordofan
State East Darfur, an average of 500 South Sudanese — or about
100 households — have been arriving daily. Many more are expected in the days
and weeks to come. In addition, thousands of refugees, mostly children, have
fled to Uganda,
the news agency reports. The UNHCR says most arrivals have traveled up to four
weeks before reaching their destination. They carry few personal belongings.
Most are in poor health, many having risked their lives along the way. They
need food, water and basic relief items, and they need help in reuniting with
other family members. The situation looks to get no better. But a solution is
hard to find. We all must pray for God’s help, and to make more people aware of
the disaster that is unfolding day by day. Dear friends in Christ, please pray
for the Diocese of Aweil and for its people. Pray for all South Sudanese. Pray
that they may get their daily bread. Pray for peace. Amen.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Tomorrow I will also post an audio recording of a new sermon (God willing). In the meantime, here are two from the archives of this blog. The first one is about the doctrine celebrated on this Sunday, and the second is from the appointed Gospel reading, and speaks of the Kingdom of God.
THE REVELATION OF THE TRINITY AND SALVATION
TRINITY SUNDAY 2014 (THE KINGDOM OF GOD)
THE REVELATION OF THE TRINITY AND SALVATION
TRINITY SUNDAY 2014 (THE KINGDOM OF GOD)
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Commonly Called Whitsunday
Acts 2:1-11 * John 14:15-31
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as
travailed, she brought forth her children. Zion
We could say rightly that
labor was brief, for, after only ten days of prayer, the Church came forth as a
nation born in a day. Christ, as touching his human body as Jesus of Nazareth,
had stepped behind the veil when a cloud took him out of their sight. Then, on
the Day of Pentecost, the infant Church was born in what we might rightly call
the second chapter of the Incarnation. Zion
God the Word (λόγος) came into the world on the Day of the Annunciation, and showed himself in his Nativity when he was born in
He walked the earth as a man, and "went about doing good, and healing all
that were oppressed of the devil." (Acts 10:38) On the Day of Pentecost,
the Church that waited so short a time, as they were together in prayer for ten
days, sprang forth to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ. He still goes
about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, this time
through the Church which is his Body. Make no mistake about it; when the Holy
Spirit was poured out on the disciples, the Church became the Body of Christ
just as truly as Christ had been born years earlier in Bethlehem . Bethlehem
Our ministry as the Church is His ministry, as he extends his Incarnation through us, and goes about doing good not only as far as one man may travel, but into every place on earth, preaching the Gospel in all the world as a testimony to all nations, gathering out of all nations those who are his disciples. The Church, his bride and his Body, believes and does works greater in number, just as the disciple Elisha did twice in number the miracles of Elijah the prophet, when a double portion of the same Spirit rested on him. (II Kings 2:9f, John 14:12)
Among the many people in Jerusalem, who had come for the feast of Pentecost, were pilgrims from various nations, that is the God-fearers and proselytes who were born as Gentiles, and either had begun to convert to Judaism, or had fully converted. Also, there many Jews of the Diaspora who lived most of the time in foreign countries. Although just about everyone in the
Roman Empire spoke
enough Greek to get by, as it was the international language, these pilgrims
heard the disciples speaking in the languages of their own distant homelands.
Anyone with genuine experience of such things knows fully well that this was
not something uncontrollable, not the result of a trance or ecstasy, and certainly
not emotionalism; the speaking was subject fully to the self-control of each
one who spoke in these other tongues; but the words themselves were known only
to those foreigners who heard the word of God each in his own native tongue.
“Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in
Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene,
and strangers of .
Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues
the wonderful works of God.” Rome
What were these tongues (γλῶσσα, glōssa) that we read about? How did they serve as a sign for unbelievers (I Cor. 14:22)? Why did God choose a thing that seemed so weak and foolish that onlookers expressed derision? "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." The Scripture goes on to say, "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day." (Acts 2: 13-15) The many disciples spoke mysteries to God (I Cor. 14:2), understood by none of the local men. But to those who heard the truth spoken in their own tongues, by men who never learned to speak them, but were simply given utterance of praise and thanksgiving for "the wonderful works of God," this was not a thing to be treated with contempt, but with fear. It was a sign. The division of mankind into different nations through the confusion of tongues at
, was a curse that was undone within the
Church. In Christ we are one Body, gathered by one Spirit from the four corners
of the earth. Babel
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9,10)
Peter had no trouble identifying what had happened, and doing so from Scripture:
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18 quoting Joel 2:28)
Peter had changed. He had been a natural man (ψυχικός psychikos-soulish) unable earlier in his life to understand why the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was ready and willing to take up the cross; later he was afraid and denied the Lord three times. But, now he stands on his feet boldly, not afraid of death, having his mind focused on the truth, able to understand and know from Scripture everything that had unfolded and was unfolding. He had been a disciple for more than three years, but now was closer to Christ than at any time when he beheld him with the eyes; for he was now part of the Body of which Christ is the Head. Many a time Peter had stumbled and tripped over his own tongue; and he had failed to speak the right words on the night in which his Lord was betrayed. But, now he spoke with more clarity, more power and more authority than any prophet of the Old Covenant. He delivered the first Christian sermon, as he was now the fisher of men Christ had foreseen; his dragnet of words brought in about three thousand souls. The young Church thrived with healthy vital signs.
None of this was man-made. The best efforts of organization could not have produced it; the most detailed planning could not have pulled it off. No human effort could have brought it forth in a day, because the nation born on the Day of Pentecost was chapter two of the Word made flesh. The Body of Christ now came into the world.
What is the life of the Church? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. What is the strength of the Church? It is the power (δύναμις) of God by his Holy Spirit, present within us. Who is it that takes fallible and failed human beings, lifts them up from the ground and sets them on their feet? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is is that puts his word of eloquence and power on their formerly unclean lips? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is it that fulfills his own purpose and will with flawed human instruments? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes Christ known among all nations of the earth to people of every race and tongue? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who has unlimited power, and works most effectively through us after we have come to the end of our own strength, and can go no further? It is the Holy Spirit present within us.
We know from the end of the Gospel of Luke that the disciples were forbidden to take this work on themselves prematurely, as if it depended simply on human power and wisdom.
“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of
, until ye be endued with power from
on high.” (Luke 24:45-49) Jerusalem
Frankly, in light of the foolishness of sinful men, it is very obvious that God's power and grace have never depended on anyone less than God himself. Never think that we, as the Church, have succeeded in representing God and spreading his kingdom by our own human cleverness, or our best laid plans, or our own strength. We have an organized structure, but the permanent shape of that structure was revealed and enacted by the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Church is charismatic (χάρισμα); from the receiving of Scripture to the Sacraments, from the Apostolic Succession to the faithful service of each member.
Indeed, St. Paul, speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, even goes as far as to call the Church by the name of Christ himself: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (I Cor, 12:12, 27) So, I have not spoken carelessly in saying that the Church is part two of the Incarnation. The Jesus who goes about now doing good and healing is none other than the Body of Christ and members in particular. He does his work through you, through his Body the Church, by the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter who is with us and in us.
The day of Pentecost was a feast in the Law of Moses when the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before the Lord. It was also the same day that the Lord had descended on Mount Sinai, when the whole nation of
heard the voice of God as he spoke his ten commandments. Therefore, it is quite
fitting that the Lord Jesus foretold the outpouring of the Spirit in terms of
his commandments. "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray
the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you
for ever; even the Spirit of truth." Therefore, if we remain faithful to
him, we continue to take part in his Incarnation as the Church, the Body of
Christ. For his Spirit not only comes upon us, but abides within us always. Israel