Archive for August, 2009

Repentance is from Sin

August 31, 2009

Mr. Greg Koukl has lots of good things to say on many topics, but I was a bit disappointed by his recent post/video on the topic of Repentance, which he titles: “Repentance Has Nothing to Do with Sin.” (link to post with embedded video) [UPDATE: Mr. Koukl has pulled his video, and has posted some clarification, which you can find at the link. Hopefully the remainder of this post will be helpful as a general commentary on the nature of Biblical repentance without regard to its relevance to Mr. Koukl in particular. See his clarification in the linked post for his own take on this.]

With all due respect to Mr. Koukl, Biblical repentance (the kind we preach when preach Jesus’ gospel of repentance and faith) has to do directly with sin. Repentance is a turning from sin to Christ. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it well:

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

The Westminster Larger Catechism has a similar description:

Q. 76. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.

My Reformed Baptist brethen may enjoy the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689):


Paragraph 1. Such of the elect that are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, and therein served divers pleasures, God in their effectual calling gives them repentance to life.

Paragraph 2. Whereas there is none that does good and does not sin, and the best of men may, through the power and deceitfulness of their corruption dwelling in them, with the prevalency of temptation, fall in to great sins and provocations; God has, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation.

Paragraph 3. This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, does, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrancy, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavor, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things.

Paragraph 4. As repentance is to be continued through the whole course of our lives, upon the account of the body of death, and the motions thereof, so it is every man’s duty to repent of his particular known sins particularly.

Paragraph 5. Such is the provision which God has made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation, that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation, yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation to them that repent, which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.

Mr. Koukl makes hay of the fact that the Greek word for repentance, μετανοέω (metanoeō), does not necessarily have to do with sin. That’s absolutely true: it means a change of mind. The word itself doesn’t even necessarily have to do with God. Like the English word “turn” it can be applied to various things. Thus, we sometimes see it used in Scripture of things other than turning to God (God even anthropomorphically describes himself as repenting from some thing he would otherwise have done).

Those etymological and linguistic arguments miss the mark. Godly repentance, the kind that Christ preached, is two sided: it is a turning from sin, and a turning to God. It would be wrong to preach a one-sided repentance that only addressed sin, but it is also wrong to preach a one-sided repentance that does not address sin.

What’s more, while repentance is toward God, that’s normally only implied in Scripture, whereas repentance from sin (despite Koukl’s claimed word study) is frequently expressly or indirectly stated.

In the Old Testament, we see a few examples:

Jeremiah 8:6 I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle.

Ezekiel 14:6 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.

Ezekiel 18:30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.

We also see additional examples, that I won’t provide here of the usage of the term “repentance” for other things than turning from sin. Nevertheless, it should be clear that the emphasis in those cases is normally on the negation of some prior course of action or behavior. God “repents” of his plan to destroy Israel, or something like that. I welcome folks to try to prove me wrong, but it seems like the emphasis of repentance throughout Scripture is on the negative – the turning from, rather than the turning toward (which is normally much more indirectly indicated).

We are not limited to the Old Testament, of course, and the New Testament provides even more examples of the same connection between sin and repentance:

Matthew 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Mark 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 3:3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

Luke 5:32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 15:10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

Luke 17:3-4
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

Acts 26:20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

2 Corinthians 12:21 And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Revelation 2:21-22
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

Revelation 9:20-21
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

I’ve omitted the cases where the connection was less obvious and immediate, and so I hope that my readers will find the above examples sufficient to illustrate the matter. Repentance of the Biblical variety has much to do with sin, in fact it is a turning from sin that we preach when we tell the lost to “Repent and Believe” as Jesus our Master instructed.


Anathema Update

August 31, 2009

Somehow, in preparing my previous post (link), I had overlooked the single use of the word “anathema” in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (pointed out to me here). There is a recent (2001) English translation of the code (Peters, Edward N. 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law: in English translation, with extensive scholarly apparatus. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001.) and folks who think my translation below to be faulty are welcome to double check the matter for themselves. Also, there is a French translation (which I consulted) and which can be found here (link). I’ve provided the Latin, French, and English below:

Canon 2257

Part 1.

Latin: Excommunicatio est censura qua quis excluditur a communione fidelium cum effectibus qui in canonibus, qui sequuntur, enumerantur, quique separari nequeunt.

French: L’excommunication est une censure par laquelle quelqu’un est exclut de la communion des fidèles, avec les effets énumérés dans les canons qui suivent, et qui ne peuvent en être séparés.

English: Excommunication is a censure by which someone is excluded from the communion of the faithful, with the effects enumerated in the canons that follow, and from which it can not be separated.

Part 2.

Latin: Dicitur quoque anathema, praesertim si cum sollemnitatibus infligatur quae in Pontificali Romano describuntur.

French: On l’appelle aussi anathème principalement si elle est infligée avec les solennités décrites dans le Pontifical romain.

English: It is also called “anathema” – especially if it is inflicted with solemnities which are described in the Roman Pontifical.

So, unless one is going to try to argue that excommunications were eliminated in the canon law, it seems odd to try to claim that anathemas have been done away, since the 1917 code indicates that excommunications in general can be called by the name “anathema.”

So, while I thank Kelly for pointing this out to me, if folks like Akin are simply suggesting that the name “anathema” is not used or that the additional solemnities have been done away with … the issue seems extraordinarily trivial. The substance is the same, whether it is solemnized or not.


Colour Me Impressed!

August 31, 2009

This takes Scripture memorization the full distance (link). And what’s even better, the person in question is not content with simply memorizing the Bible: “I want a relationship with Jesus more than just reading and memorizing verses,” he’s reported as saying.


Infinite Punishment and Liberalism

August 31, 2009

One adherent to liberalism/progressivism recently commented on my post regarding eternal punishment (link to my post). He wrote:

Dear Turretinfan,

Sin against an infinitely holy God deserves an infinite punishment? Why? Out of necessity? And if not out of necessity, what kind of God would purposely frame a reality so that such a barbarous claim would be true?

Yes, the Bible has many terrifying things to say about God’s wrath against his enemies, as well as some very illuminating examples of how that wrath might get expressed in specific circumstances. Say, for example, the stoning of the one who picked up wood on the Sabbath, or the nice trial by ordeal of a woman accused of adultery. How about the murder of Achan’s entire family? Or the (implied) butchery of the women and children of the enemies of the Jews at the end of the book of Esther? Or how about those Babylonian babies in Psalm 137? None of these even raise the issue of post-mortem punishments and they are already generally recognized as beyond the pale.

In short, the doctrine of endless punishment is one of the surest demonstrations that what passes for Christian orthodoxy in the Reformed evangelical tradition speaks falsely about God.

This comment was signed “Dean Dough” which as his blogger profile indicates, is a pseudonym with his “identity withheld to protect family members still affiliated with very orthodox Christian churches from being tarred with my brush.”

Let’s examine his comments:

Sin against an infinitely holy God deserves an infinite punishment? Why? Out of necessity? And if not out of necessity, what kind of God would purposely frame a reality so that such a barbarous claim would be true?

This comment contains several layers of confusion. First, the reason why sin deserves an infinite punishment is because it is an offense against the dignity of the person of God, who is a person of infinite dignity. It is not so much the absolute holiness as the infinite majesty of God that is in play here.

Second, while it is not necessary that God permit sin, it is necessary that sin offend God in this way if God permits it, because of the nature of God. Thus, it is both necessary (in one sense) and free (in another sense) with respect to God.

Third, while it is easy to label something “barbarous,” it is more difficult to demonstrate that a position is incorrect. D.D. by taking the path of simply applying a pejorative label has demonstrated an apparent incapacity to address the substance.


Yes, the Bible has many terrifying things to say about God’s wrath against his enemies, as well as some very illuminating examples of how that wrath might get expressed in specific circumstances. Say, for example, the stoning of the one who picked up wood on the Sabbath, or the nice trial by ordeal of a woman accused of adultery. How about the murder of Achan’s entire family? Or the (implied) butchery of the women and children of the enemies of the Jews at the end of the book of Esther? Or how about those Babylonian babies in Psalm 137? None of these even raise the issue of post-mortem punishments and they are already generally recognized as beyond the pale.

This really looks more like a rebuttal argument for me to use against that “barbarous” label above. Yes, folks who think hell is “barbarous” are likely also to think that God’s wrath exhibited in the Old Testament is “beyond the pale.” Their rejection of the God of the Old Testament is their own condemnation. There’s really nothing I need to add to show that they stand opposed to God’s revelation of Himself.


In short, the doctrine of endless punishment is one of the surest demonstrations that what passes for Christian orthodoxy in the Reformed evangelical tradition speaks falsely about God.

The underlying logic seems to be:

1) If something strikes us as unpleasant, it is false;
2) The Reformed doctrine of endless punishment is unleasant;
3) Therefore, the Reformed doctrine of endless punishment is false.

The problem is with the major premise. To put it differently, the problem is with letting corrupt, human intuition substitute for revelation as the means for determining truth. No matter how “barbarous” or “beyond the pale” the doctrine of endless punishment may be, the problem is not with those who hold what the Scripture teaches, but with those who oppose the revelation of God.

What is illustrative about D.D.’s comment is that it illustrates one of many factors that have produced the diversity of denominations we see today: simple rebellion against the Scriptures. We know that Roman Catholics try to claim that the denominations are due to Sola Scriptura, but notice how liberalism is quite willing to oppose the clear revelation regarding God’s wrath. Scripture is not their standard, and consequently it is improper and illogical to suggest that liberal churches are the offspring of Sola Scriptura, just as it is improper and illogical to suggest that churches with new prophets (like Islam or Mormonism) are the result of Sola Scriptura. One group throws out Scripture one way, the other group another way, but neither seeks to make Scripture the ultimate authority for faith and life.


Analogical Argument on the Object of Prayer

August 30, 2009

There are many great arguments that are presented as to why we should not pray to anyone besides God. One underused argument, however, is the analogical or typological argument. The Old Testament worship of God employed incense. That incense is a symbol and picture of our prayers. We can see its connection to prayer in the New Testament:

Luke 1:9-11
According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Revelation 8:3-4
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.

It was, indeed, prophesied in the Old Testament that incense would be offered unto the name of the Lord throughout the world.

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.

Furthermore, Scripture informs us of the fact that prayer corresponds to incense and sacrifice:

Psalm 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Thus, today we do not offer literal incense to God but instead offer prayers.

This understanding, of course, is not unique to me.

We see it in Justin Martyr (lived about A.D. 100-165):

What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honour that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him.

– Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 13

We see it in Irenaeus (lived about A.D. 115 – 202):

But what other name is there which is glorified among the Gentiles than that of our Lord, by whom the Father is glorified, and man also? And because it is [the name] of His own Son, who was made man by Him, He calls it His own. Just as a king, if he himself paints a likeness of his son, is right in calling this likeness his own, for both these reasons, because it is [the likeness] of his son, and because it is his own production; so also does the Father confess the name of Jesus Christ, which is throughout all the world glorified in the Church, to be His own, both because it is that of His Son, and because He who thus describes it gave Him for the salvation of men. Since, therefore, the name of the Son belongs to the Father, and since in the omnipotent God the Church makes offerings through Jesus Christ, He says well on both these grounds, “And in every place incense is offered to My name, and a pure sacrifice.” Now John, in the Apocalypse, declares that the “incense” is “the prayers of the saints.”

– Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 17, Section 6

We see it in Clement of Alexandria (lived about A.D. 150 – 215):

Now breathing together is properly said of the Church. For the sacrifice of the Church is the word breathing as incense from holy souls, the sacrifice and the whole mind being at the same time unveiled to God. Now the very ancient altar in Delos they celebrated as holy; which alone, being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say Pythagoras approached. And will they not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar, and that incense arising from it is holy prayer? But I believe sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh. But without such idolatry he who wished might have partaken of flesh.

– Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book 7, Chapter 6

We see it in Origen (lived about A.D. 185 – 254):

Celsus then proceeds to say that “we shrink from raising altars, statues, and temples; and this,” he thinks, “has been agreed upon among us as the badge or distinctive mark of a secret and forbidden society.” He does not perceive that we regard the spirit of every good man as an altar from which arises an incense which is truly and spiritually sweet-smelling, namely, the prayers ascending from a pure conscience. Therefore it is said by John in the Revelation, “The odours are the prayers of saints;” and by the Psalmist, “Let my prayer come up before You as incense.”

– Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 8, Chapter 17

We see it in Cyprian of Carthage (died about A.D. 258):

That the ancient sacrifice should be made void, and a new one should be celebrated

In Isaiah: “For what purpose to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the Lord: I am full; I will not have the burnt sacrifices of rams, and fat of lambs, and blood of bulls and goats. For who has required these things from your hands? ” Isaiah 1:11-12 Also in the forty-ninth Psalm: “I will not eat the flesh of bulls, nor drink the blood of goats. Offer to God the sacrifice of praise, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you: and you shall glorify me.” In the same Psalm, moreover: “The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: therein is the way in which I will show him the salvation of God.” In the fourth Psalm too: “Sacrifice the sacrifice of righteousness, and hope in the Lord.” Likewise in Malachi: “I have no pleasure concerning you, says the Lord, and I will not have an accepted offering from your hands. Because from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name is glorified among the Gentiles; and in every place odours of incense are offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice, because great is my name among the nations, says the Lord.”

– Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 12, Book 1, Section 16

We see it in Methodius (died about A.D. 311):

Therefore, also, it stands nearer to God within the Holy of holies, and before the veil, with undefiled hands, like incense, offering up prayers to the Lord, acceptable as a sweet savour; as also John indicated, saying that the incense in the vials of the four-and-twenty elders were the prayers of the saints.

– Methodius of Olympus, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 5, Chapter 8

We see it in Lactantius (lived about A.D. 250 – 325):

But the worship of God consists of one thing, not to be wicked. Also in that perfect discourse, when he heard Asclepius inquiring from his son whether it pleased him that incense and other odours for divine sacrifice were offered to his father, exclaimed: “Speak words of good omen, O Asclepius. For it is the greatest impiety to entertain any such thought concerning that being of pre-eminent goodness. For these things, and things resembling these, are not adapted to Him. For He is full of all things, as many as exist, and He has need of nothing at all. But let us give Him thanks, and adore Him. For His sacrifice consists only of blessing.” And he spoke rightly. For we ought to sacrifice to God in word; inasmuch as God is the Word, as He Himself confessed. Therefore the chief ceremonial in the worship of God is praise from the mouth of a just man directed towards God.

– Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book 6, Chapter 25

We see it in Athanasius (lived about A.D. 293 – 373):

For such meditation and exercise in godliness, being at all times the habit of the saints, is urgent on us at the present time, when the divine word desires us to keep the feast with them if we are in this disposition. For what else is the feast, but the constant worship of God, and the recognition of godliness, and unceasing prayers from the whole heart with agreement? So Paul wishing us to be ever in this disposition, commands, saying, “Rejoice evermore; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks.” Not therefore separately, but unitedly and collectively, let us all keep the feast together, as the prophet exhorts, saying, “O come, let us rejoice in the Lord; let us make a joyful noise unto God our Saviour.” Who then is so negligent, or who so disobedient to the divine voice, as not to leave everything, and run to the general and common assembly of the feast? Which is not in one place only, for not one place alone keeps the feast; but “into all the earth their song has gone forth, and to the ends of the world their words.” And the sacrifice is not offered in one place, but “in every nation, incense and a pure sacrifice is offered unto God.” So when in like manner from all in every place, praise and prayer shall ascend to the gracious and good Father, when the whole Catholic Church which is in every place, with gladness and rejoicing, celebrates together the same worship to God, when all men in common send up a song of praise and say, Amen; how blessed will it not be, my brethren! who will not, at that time, be engaged, praying rightly? For the walls of every adverse power, yea even of Jericho especially, falling down, and the gift of the Holy Spirit being then richly poured upon all men, every man perceiving the coming of the Spirit shall say, “We are all filled in the morning with Your favour, and we rejoice and are made glad in our days.”

– Athanasius, Letter 11, Section 11

We see it in Ephraim the Syrian (lived about A.D. 306 – 373):

Glory be to You Who clothed Yourself in the body of mortal Adam, and made it a fountain of life for all mortals. You are He that livest, for Your slayers were as husbandmen to Your life, for that they sowed it as wheat in the depth [of the earth], that it may rise and raise up many with it. Come, let us make our love the great censer of the community, and offer on it as incense our hymns and our prayers to Him Who made His cross a censer for the Godhead, and offered from it on behalf of us all. He that was above stooped down to those who were beneath, to distribute His treasures to them. Accordingly, though the needy drew near to His manhood, yet they used to receive the gift from His Godhead. Therefore He made the body which He put on, the treasurer of His riches, that He, O Lord, might bring them out of Your storehouse, and distribute them to the needy, the sons of His kindred.

– Ephraim the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord, Section 9

We see it in John Chrysostom (lived about A.D. 347 – 407):

The psalmist therefore asks for his prayer to become like that sacrifice defiled by no blemish of the offerer, like that pure and holy incense. Now, by his asking he also teaches us to offer prayers that are pure and fragrant. Hence he is also the one who touched on the stench of prayer in saying, “Because my iniquities rose up over my head, they weighed me down like a heavy load. My wounds were putrid and foul-smelling.” As, then, the incense even of itself is fine and sweet-smelling, but gives particular evidence of its fragrance at the time when it is mixed with the fire, so too is prayer fine of itself but becomes finer and more sweet-smelling when offered with ardor and a glowing spirit, when the soul becomes a censer and lights a burning fire. I mean, the incense would not be added unless the brazier had previously been lit, or the coals set alight. Do likewise in the case of your own mind: first light it with enthusiasm, and then offer your prayer.

– John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, at Psalm 141:2

We see it in Augustine (lived about A.D. 354 – 430):

“Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands an evening sacrifice” Psalm 140:2. That this is wont to be understood of the Head Himself, every Christian acknowledges. For when the day was now sinking towards evening, the Lord upon the Cross “laid down His life to take it again,” John 10:17 did not lose it against His will. Still we too are figured there. For what of Him hung upon the tree, save what He took of us? And how can it be that the Father should leave and abandon His only begotten Son, especially when He is one God with Him? Yet, fixing our weakness upon the Cross, where, as the Apostle says, “our old man is crucified with Him,” Romans 6:6 He cried out in the voice of that our “old man,” “Why have You forsaken Me?” That then is the “evening sacrifice,” the Passion of the Lord, the Cross of the Lord, the offering of a salutary Victim, the whole burnt offering acceptable to God. That “evening sacrifice” produced, in His Resurrection, a morning offering. Prayer then, purely directed from a faithful heart, rises like incense from a hallowed altar. Nought is more delightful than the odour of the Lord: such odour let all have who believe.

– Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 141 at verse 2.

We see it in John Cassian (lived about A.D. 360 – 435):

Wherefore we ought to pray often but briefly, lest if we are long about it our crafty foe may succeed in implanting something in our heart. For that is the true sacrifice, as “the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit.” This is the salutary offering, these are pure drink offerings, that is the “sacrifice of righteousness,” the “sacrifice of praise,” these are true and fat victims, “holocausts full of marrow,” which are offered by contrite and humble hearts, and which those who practise this control and fervour of spirit, of which we have spoken, with effectual power can sing: “Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as the incense: let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.”

– John Cassian, Conference 9, Chapter 36

Doubtless many more could be added to these. The point is that Scripture is fairly clear in making the association between Old Testament incense and prayer. In the New Testament we no longer use incense. I realize that there are churches today who use incense, but that was not the practice of the ancient churches. Arnobius (flourished about A.D. 284-305) tells us:

Having shown briefly how impious and infamous are the opinions which you have formed about your gods, we have now to speak of their temples, their images also, and sacrifices, and of the other things which are nailed and closely related to them. For you are here in the habit of fastening upon us a very serious charge of impiety because we do not rear temples for the ceremonies of worship, do not set up statues and images of any god, do not build altars, do not offer the blood of creatures slain in sacrifices, incense, nor sacrificial meal, and finally, do not bring wine flowing in libations from sacred bowls; which, indeed, we neglect to build and do, not as though we cherish impious and wicked dispositions, or have conceived any madly desperate feeling of contempt for the gods, but because we think and believe that they — if only they are true gods, and are called by this exalted name — either scorn such honours, if they give way to scorn, or endure them with anger, if they are roused by feelings of rage.

– Arnobius, Against the Heathen, Book 6, Section 1

Similarly, John Chrysostom explains: “You must worship ‘in truth’; as former things were types, such as circumcision, and whole burnt offerings, and victims, and incense, they now no longer exist, but all is ‘truth.’” (John Chrysostom, Homily 33 on the Gospel of John, at John 4:24)

But how does this tell us that we should not pray to saints? Let us look closely at the institution and formula of incense:

Exodus 30:34-38
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: and thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: and thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

Notice that the incense is reserved for Jehovah: “it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.” Furthermore, God threatens with death those who used it for any other purpose: “Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.” By analogy, prayer is reserved for Jehovah as well.

Thus, as we saw above, the prophet Malachi declares that incense will be offered “unto my name … saith the LORD of hosts.” It is to God and God alone that we make our prayers. Prayers to anyone but God is an abuse of the incense of prayer. We are not free to pray to whomever we want to, but instead we are to pray to God alone by the merits of Christ alone, since he is the only mediator between God and man.


Dr. James White on Evangelizing Roman Catholics (and other things)

August 28, 2009

Thanks to I recently located a discussion recorded on October 16, 2005, at the Omaha Bible Church featuring Dr. James White discussing evangelizing Roman Catholics (here’s a link to the mp3 – about 1 hour). This is one of several presentations that was given that weekend. The rest are provided below:

  • Justification by Faith Alone (link to mp3 – about 50 minutes)
  • The Biblical Truth of the Trinity (link to mp3 – about 44 minutes)
  • Earnestly Contending for the Faith Against Antinomianism (link to mp3 – about 1 hour, 11 minutes)
  • Earnestly Contending for the Faith Against Legalism (link to mp3 – about 1 hour, 18 minutes)
  • Earnestly Contending for the Faith Against Relativism (link to mp3 – about 38 minutes)

Also, while we are identify recordings Dr. White made at Omaha Bible Church, there were a couple of recordings from January 2003 as well:

  • The Heart of the Gospel (Part 1) (link to mp3 – about 1 hour)
  • The Heart of the Gospel (Part 2) (link to mp3 – about 19 minutes)

Bonus: From about the time the 2005 conference ended, an interview of Dr. James White (link to to mp3 – about 50 minutes).



John of Damascus Points to Practices (not Doctrines) Handed Down Orally by the Apostles

August 28, 2009

I had asked: “I would be very interested if someone wanted to try to find any comparable statement by John Damascene on oral tradition” (link)

One kind reader of the Eastern Orthodox persuasion, using the handle “Orthodox,” responded with a list of three quotations, which I’ve taken the liberty of beefing up by providing greater context. All of these come from the same work of John of Damascus, and we’ll see a theme to them when we carefully examine them. I have maintained the order of the three quotations.


It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.

Since, therefore, God is spiritual light [1 St. John i. 5.], and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness [Mal. iv. 2.] and Dayspring [Zach. iii. 8, vi. 12; St. Luke i. 78.], the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rideth upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East [Ps. lxviii. 32, 33.]. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed [Gen. ii. 8.]: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West. So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. Moreover the tent of Moses [Levit. xvi. 14.] had its veil and mercy seat [Ibid. 2.] towards the East. Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East [Num. ii. 3.]. Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward. Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him. And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven [Acts i. 11.]; as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth. The old translation gives occupat.even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be [St. Matt. xxiv. 27.].

So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 12

As you may have guessed, the particular part quoted was: “So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten”

Note, first of all, that this is appeal to tradition for a practice, not a doctrine. The claim that John of Damascus makes is that the apostles worshiped to the East and handed down this tradition of worshiping to the East.

Note, second of all, that John of Damascus explains the practice quite extensively from Scripture. Every doctrinal and symbolic basis for the practice has (at least in John of Damascus’ view) Scriptural support.

Let’s continue to the next quotation:

But besides this who can make an imitation of the invisible, incorporeal, uncircumscribed, formless God? Therefore to give form to the Deity is the height of folly and impiety. And hence it is that in the Old Testament the use of images was not common. But after God [St. John i. 14; Tit. iii. 4.] in His bowels of pity became in truth man for our salvation, not as He was seen by Abraham in the semblance of a man, nor as He was seen by the prophets, but in being truly man, and after He lived upon the earth and dwelt among men [Bar. iii. 38.], worked miracles, suffered, was crucified, rose again and was taken back to Heaven, since all these things actually took place and were seen by men, they were written for the remembrance and instruction of us who were not alive at that time in order that though we saw not, we may still, hearing and believing, obtain the blessing of the Lord. But seeing that not every one has a knowledge of letters nor time for reading, the Fathers gave their sanction to depicting these events on images as being acts of great heroism, in order that they should form a concise memorial of them. Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord’s passion in mind and see the image of Christ’s crucifixion, His saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify. For wherein does the cross, that typifies the Lord, differ from a cross that does not do so? It is just the same also in the case of the Mother of the Lord. For the honour which we give to her is referred to Him Who was made of her incarnate. And similarly also the brave acts of holy men stir us up to be brave and to emulate and imitate their valour and to glorify God. For as we said, the honour that is given to the best of fellow-servants is a proof of good-will towards our common Lady, and the honour rendered to the image passes over to the prototype. But this is an unwritten tradition, just as is also the worshipping towards the East and the worship of the Cross, and very many other similar things.

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 12

As you may have guessed, the quoted part was “But this is an unwritten tradition, just as is also the worshipping towards the East and the worship of the Cross, and very many other similar things.”

Again, John of Damascus is alleging that the practice of giving honor to images is acceptable on the basis of it being an ancient practice of the church. Notice that John of Damascus is again appealing to tradition for the practice, not a doctrine.

The same can be seen from the next quotation which comes (in John of Damascus’ book) directly after the quotation I provided above:

A certain tale [Evagr., Hist. iv., ch. 27.], too, is told [Procop., De Bellis, ii. ch. 12.], how that when Augarus [i.e. Abgarus.] was king over the city of the Edessenes, he sent a portrait painter to paint a likeness of the Lord, and when the painter could not paint because of the brightness that shone from His countenance, the Lord Himself put a garment over His own divine and life-giving face and impressed on it an image of Himself and sent this to Augarus, to satisfy thus his desire.

Moreover that the Apostles handed down much that was unwritten, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, tells us in these words: Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught of us, whether by word or by epistle [2 Thess. ii. 15.]. And to the Corinthians he writes, Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I have delivered them to you [1 Cor. xi. 2.].”

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 12

You will not be surprised that the quoted part this time is: “Moreover that the Apostles handed down much that was unwritten, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, tells us in these words: Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught of us, whether by word or by epistle. And to the Corinthians he writes, Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I have delivered them to you”

And again, the issue is one of orally transmitted practices, not doctrines. The legend of Jesus’ supposed self-imaging is patently absurd, of course. Jesus’ human appearance was ordinary. He took on a true human nature as well as a true divine naure. Can anyone seriously imagine that Jesus shone so brightly that a painter couldn’t paint him, and yet Pilate would not be afraid to crucify him? Does anyone seriously think that Jesus shone so brightly that a painter couldn’t paint him, but the Roman soldiers were not afraid to nail him to the cross? This foolish legend is a most desperate straw used by John of Damascus to try to bolster the fairly novel (though clearly not first-generation) use of images for worship (against the objections of Christians at that time).

Finally, John of Damascus’ flawed reasoning has been picked up and expanded to matters not only of practice but also of doctrine by those who seek to deny the material and/or formal sufficiency of Scripture. Nevertheless, we do not – in any of the quotations provided above – see John of Damascus alleging that there are doctrines of the Christian faith that are not taught in Scripture and that are only transmitted orally from the apostles.

– TurretinFan

Anathemas Have Been Done Away!

August 27, 2009

Today I encountered the following comment: “Anathemas were done away with under the most recent Code of Canon Law.” (source) It’s not the first time I’ve seen this claim. The problem is this: I have the most recent Code of Canon Law and it doesn’t (that I can find) even mention anathemas. I suppose that some folks in Roman Catholicism think this silence means that anathemas have been done away. That seems like as weak an argument as the argument that prayer veils are no longer required because of the silence regarding them. I wonder whether there is anything more to the argument than that. Any ideas anyone?

I’m aware of Mr. Akin’s argument as follows:

Yet the penalty was used so seldom that it was removed from the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This means that today the penalty of anathema does not exist in Church law. The new Code provided that, “When this Code goes into effect, the following are abrogated: 1º the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917 . . . 3º any universal or particular penal laws whatsoever issued by the Apostolic See, unless they are contained in this Code” (CIC [1983] 6 §1). The penalty of anathema was not renewed in the new Code, and thus it was abrogated when the Code went into effect on January 1, 1983.

The problems with that type of argument are:

1) Where was anathema mentioned in the 1917 Code? I’ve perused that code and couldn’t find it. Perhaps I overlooked something?

2) A penalty and a penal law are not the same thing.

If that’s all Mr. Akin has, his argument seems exceptionally weak.


Those in Glass Churches …

August 27, 2009

I noticed that Steve Ray is mocking communion supplies that involve pre-packaged cup/wafer combinations (linklink to website he’s mocking). But it wasn’t so long ago when those in the Roman communion could generally only communicate under the species of bread – the people of that church being denied the symbol of Christ’s blood. Yes, we are aware that Trent insisted: “If any one denies that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema.” (Trent, Session 13, Canon III on the Eucharist – see also the similar comments of the Council of Constance in 1415) And yet we are also aware that Jesus, on the night he was betrayed “took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;” (Matthew 26:27) and while we are not sacramentalists, if you are going to take John 6 in a hyper-literal and carnal manner you must pay attention to the details of its commentary: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Even if the bread were also the blood of Christ (or even if it were tinged with the contents of the cup), it’s eaten, not drunk.

Oh, it is easy to mock folks with expressions like “crackers and grapejuice” but when your own church’s communion, until recently, consisted of crackers that you told the people were the “whole Christ,” your stones may be doing more damage to your own place of worship.


Recently a Man in High Power Passed Away

August 27, 2009

Quite recently a notorious American politician passed away. From all we can tell, he was an enemy of God and a disgrace even to his false religion. This post is dedicated to his memory, which I hope will soon pass.

Psalm 37:20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.

Psalm 68:2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

Psalm 112:10 The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Proverbs 10:28 The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.

Proverbs 11:7 When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.

Proverbs 11:10 When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.

Proverbs 28:28 When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.

I cannot verify whether all the details in the linked page are true – but the most significant ones are beyond dispute. (link)

As was said by the Jews at Purim (and perhaps still is?), “Let the name of the ungodly perish!”


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