There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:5,6 NKJV)
Continuing into Luke, I am highlighting verses and passages of the new Testament that particularly came to my attention during the preparation of “The Fellowship of the Secret” (often because I used to believe quite the opposite of what I now understand them to be indicating!) Here we have an example of an individual or in this case a couple regarded as “righteous” in God’s sight. On what basis were they righteous? – According to Luke it was simply that they had faithfully observed the commandments and ordinances they had received as practicing Jews. But perfect they were not – a few verses later Zacharias was rebuked and punished by Arch-Angel Gabriel for his reluctance to believe the good news concerning his wife’s pregnancy. But how does Luke’s description concur with what Paul writes in the opening chapters of Romans, especially 3:10 “As it is written there is none righteous, no not one”, etc? One should observe that he then he goes on to write in reference to the Jews: “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). Would anyone believe that Paul considered that no Jewish individual had ever feared God? Acts13:16,26 confirms the contrary; likewise, Luke’s account of righteous Cornelius before his conversion to Christianity, confirming that his prayers and alms giving had been noted by God (Acts10:2,4,22). The apostle in his letter to the Roman churches had been utilising a typically Jewish literary technique, linking together OT scriptural references, in this case to adduce universal sinfulness, i.e. that both Jew and Gentile were under the reign of sin and fall short of God’s glorious holiness (Rom3:23); he was not intimating that it is in the nature of all people to be godless and hateful so as to act in the depraved manner described in those concatenated excerpts, which themselves need to be examined in context. Rather it refers back to Rom1:18 and his assertion that individuals (not all humanity as some translators’ insertion of a comma intimates) who wilfully suppress the truth God has revealed to them in creed or conscience will come under condemnation. This is not to deny that Paul is indeed in the business of affirming that to keep the law of God perfectly is quite impossible for fallen man – rather he is to submit to “the righteousness of God”, provided through the faithfulness of Christ [pisteos Iesou Christou – often translated “faith in Christ” – Rom3:22] for the benefit of all (including Cornelius) who even before he knew Christ “believed”, i.e. feared God and did what he knew to be right (cf. Acts10:35). Such “believers” are justified, not on the basis of their law-keeping or accrual of good works but freely through God’s kindly favour (grace) and the faithfulness of Christ, i.e. by the merits of His atoning death which avails for all the scattered children of God. Such people effectively exercise godly fear when they pay heed to the light of Christ provided through the faculty of conscience, being as Paul himself affirms, the law of God written in the heart (Rom2:15; cf. Jn1:9 Greek). These principles are worked out, hopefully in a more comprehensive manner in chapter three of the book*.
* “The Fellowship of the Secret” e-book freely available from: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/606930
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” So (Jesus) called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.
According to One who should know, the only sin that will not be forgiven either in this age or the next (cf. Matthew’s account 12:22-32) is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The above passage indicates that relates to knowing or sensing in one’s heart that something is of God working through the Spirit but asserting it to be wicked or satanic, precisely as these scribes did with regard to Jesus’ miracle which they wished to discredit in order to preserve their own status and traditions. One may well have challenged the working of the Spirit in ignorance, but what is done in ignorance cannot be the unforgivable sin, which is why even blasphemy against Christ can be forgiven but not what is said against the direct working of the Spirit where that is perceived within the conscience; for in such cases the Spirit Himself convicts the person of their error yet they are determined to persist with their accusation. In the field of activity that I’m currently concerned with, writing and blogging and of necessity challenging some established Christian teaching (and esteemed teachers) as a result of what I believe the Spirit has shown me, I have to be very careful to pay heed to the dictates of conscience before asserting my ideas or challenging others. But so also would anyone determined to defend a particular theological position or tradition against what they sense might in fact be divine light. If they do sense as much, it is because the Spirit affirms it in their mind and conscience yet they rebel against it. For this sin is a form of intransigence being an unwillingness to be persuaded of the truth by any means. Heretics and false prophets can be sincere but simply mistaken or deluded for which they will no doubt be punished for their presumption, but those who directly revile or obstruct the workings of the Spirit are in still greater danger. Such were these scribes and Pharisees who will have known in their hearts that the Saviour’s acts of compassion and miraculous healing were never the devil’s work, but were determined to malign them for their own ends, wilfully speaking evil of the work of the Spirit.
Heavenly Father, your will be done, as in Heaven so on Earth
Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, *moved with compassion*, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Mk1:41-44NKJV)
The fearsome Augustine had once insisted that charity should be exercised “in serenity” rather than an emotional empathy. Those who were moved by compassion to help others he believed lacked wisdom. He concluded on the matter: “There is no harm in the word ‘compassionate’ providing there is no passion in the case” [A]. Such stoicism is surely misplaced: it is noble enough for an individual to endure misery without complaint but any who remain unmoved by another’s pain or distress show themselves to be inhumane and spiritually dead. Jesus Christ provided the pattern for genuine stoicism: silent resilience in the face of personal suffering and abuse; yet filled with heartfelt (literally bowel-felt) compassion (Greek: splagchnistheis) towards others who were in need, as with the leper in the quoted passage. Neither is Jesus merely reflecting “the human face of God”: YHWE’s character even as it is revealed in the Old Testament exhibits both passion and compassion; the Father’s nature that we are to emulate (Eph5:1) is thoroughly animated in the face of human wickedness, cruelty, injustice, lies and hypocrisy: He does not exhibit a placid, deistic indifference to these matters but is filled with righteous anger, as was often expressed through His prophets (e.g. Jer6:11). Yet equally He is compassionate towards those who fear Him and who suffer through the wickedness of others, and has promised to punish the latter firmly and proportionately, recompensing the offended at the expense of the offender (cf. Is59:18KJV). Those who are pained by the suffering of others, far from “lacking wisdom” show themselves to be truly human by reflecting the definitive quality of the divine, being Agape (1Jn4:7,8).
[A] Augustine – “On the morals of the Catholic Church” chap. 27 (para 53)
“Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Mt28:19,20)
Such was the great commission: to relay the teaching OF CHRIST to the nations. If any teaching should arise that should contradict that teaching it is to be rejected – it is not the Gospel but heresy. If therefore one imagines Paul to be contradicting the moral teaching of Christ, then that thirteenth apostle’s writings should be rejected; he should be regarded as an infidel. But as my book endeavours to demonstrate, Paul’s teaching does not in any way contradict either the moral or juridical teaching of the Master; the way many have interpreted him is another matter. But he is the thirteenth apostle (Matthias replacing Judas as #12) and there is an aspect of Christ’s teaching as received by the twelve which Paul DOES subvert at the risen Christ’s command: matters pertaining to the constitution of the people of God. In terms of Paul himself, Jesus will not have indicated there were to be thirteen apostles: He opted for twelve for a reason (cf. Mt19:28). Likewise, the Lord clearly had not taught (or disclosed) that the Gentiles were to receive the same nature of spiritual blessing as the Jews: it was a shock to everyone; not least Peter (Acts11:17,18). All this relates to the subject of my book*: the fellowship pertaining to the secret (plan) hidden in God (the Father) from the previous age (cf. Eph3:9-12). Paul refers to it as “MY gospel”, being the revelation of the mystery which has been KEPT SECRET SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN” (Rom16:25). Or as he wrote to the Colossian church:
THE MYSTERY WHICH HAS BEEN HIDDEN FROM AGES AND GENERATIONS, BUT NOW HAS BEEN REVEALED TO HIS SAINTS, TO WHOM GOD WILLED TO MAKE KNOWN WHAT ARE THE RICHES OF THE GLORY OF THIS MYSTERY AMONG THE GENTILES, WHICH IS CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY (COL1:26,27NKJV)
Once the implications of this mystery are grasped, God’s broader providence towards all people of good will may be perceived. Such should bring joy to many without detracting at all from the preaching of the Good News of the Kingdom, concerning which (as Paul has just indicated) those who are to be glorified with Christ are exclusively His disciples: those who suffer with Him, dwell in Him and are indwelt by Him – Christ in you, the hope of glory (cf. Jn6:56; 2Tim2:12).
* “The Fellowship of the Secret” – Available from Amazon and Smashwords; free downloads of e-book version at Free-ebook.com and Lulu
“In truth I tell you in so far as you did this (act of kindness) to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (cf. Mt25:31-40)
I have come to recognise Jesus’ teaching here to be the definitive teaching on final judgement. In the past I regarded it as an almighty fly in the ointment as far as my particular (Reformed) understanding of gospel salvation was concerned. For a start there is no reference to religious faith or practice whatsoever. What’s more it appears to be teaching justification by works. Actually it isn’t as such, but it would take the forty or so pages of chapter three of my book to explain exactly how that can be the case and also demonstrate that this teaching is not contradicted by Paul or any other contributor to Scripture. It pertains to the context of justification, gospel salvation and the Church within overall providence, which is what “The Fellowship of the secret” is ultimately about. So for blogging purposes I’ll just quote a brief passage from the aforementioned chapter three entitled “Justification and the faithfulness of Christ” which may give a clue to the solution:
(Regarding the Matthew 25 passage): “It might appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works. Not as such; Matthew25:31-45 is demonstrating justification by virtue of faith with reference to works. No mention is made of how consistently or perfectly the “sheep” showed compassion, they just demonstrated they possessed it and were justified by exercising it regardless of measure. They therefore demonstrated they possessed the quality called faith whose product is agape, being the essence of true humanity. On the other hand “faith alone” (sola fide) if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on someone or something is quite dead if it does not result in positive action; it can be possessed by devils (cf. Jam2:17-19KJV). The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their conscience motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and indeed so as to be at peace with themselves. Jesus was thereby affirming that final salvation is not “all of grace” for fruit must be produced, yet it is entirely dependent on grace since the “sheep” are accepted on the basis of exercising the quality called faith (being an innate faculty, i.e. freely provided so nothing to boast about) rather than having perfectly fulfilled God’s law or lived a sinless life. So at the universal level justification is granted on the basis of such common faith, being a positive response to conscience (the light of Christ in the spirit) evinced by compassion, through the kindly favour (grace) by which pardon for sin has been granted to all producing the fruit of faith through the all-sufficient merits of Christ’s atonement.
Illustration courtesy of historeo.com
And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When his disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “who then can be saved? But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter answered and said to him, “see, we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have?” So Jesus said to them, “assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the son of man sits on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first
The camel and needle analogy was in the context of Jesus’ preceding encounter with the rich young ruler, who though claiming to have been obedient to the Law since his youth (an assertion that Jesus does not directly challenge) was unwilling to part with his wealth and follow the Master. Clearly the pursuit of wealth, power and prestige in this life is not compatible with Christian discipleship, yet the irony is that those who are prepared to forsake all for Christ and His kingdom are rewarded with privileges of a like nature that they have not directly coveted as well as the spiritual blessing that they HAVE rightly craved: to know and enjoy God for ever. The twelve were told that when the Son of man came again, a time Jesus referred to as the regeneration or renaissance (Greek: paliggenesia) , they themselves would be enthroned and called to exercise judgement ( as shall others – 1Cor6:1-4). The blessings of life that the elect of God are required to forsake are compensated for a hundred-fold. Quoting from my book, “The rich, the mighty, the proud and the glory-hunters (have been) detracted by the shame of the cross of Christ and the demands of humble cruciform service as his disciples; whereas the humble, the gentle, the poor in spirit and in material possessions who are rich in faith will be the true inheritors of the kingdom and the earth (CF. JAM2:5; MT5:5) [Fellowship of the Secret ch. 3]