Brief Meditations … The Cross of Christ … Maundy Thursday

The Cross is made, simply enough, with a Vertical beam and a horizontal beam. The simplicity of this points us to the reality that the Cross work of Christ was both vertically and horizontally directed. Vertically, Christ died for God that God’s name might be cleared of injustice because He had not, until the Cross of Christ, visited Sin with the full punishment of His wrath that it was promised. Horizontally, Christ died for man that man might find a reconciliation with God that man could have never found without a propitiation that was both very God of very God and very man of very man.

In the Cross God is both Just and Justifier for those who have faith in Jesus.

As most clearly seen in the requirement that the ark of the Covenant would be made from wood, as combined with the reality that it is there on the Mercy Seat of that wooden ark that God would be propitiated it has been a reality that God has ruled from the Wood and that Salvation comes via the Tree. Like the lid of the Ark of the Covenant the Cross is the throne where the glory of God is revealed unto judgment and salvation.

Life and death — Judgment and Salvation — ever comes from the Wood.

Whether in the times of Noah where preservation of life came from a wooden ark, and judgment fell upon those who refused the wood of the ark life comes from the Wood. In the ministry of Moses, it was His wooden staff through which God Redeemed His people. Those who aligned themselves with the wooden staff were saved. Those who sought to gainsay the wooden staff perished. Life ever comes from the Wood.

Life and death — Judgment and Salvation — ever comes from the one who reigns from the Wood.

“Once you think that you behold the wood on which our salvation, the Lord of Majesty, was hanged with nails whilst the world trembled, you, too, must tremble, but you must also rejoice.”

Letters of St. Paulinus of Nola II,
Letter 31, 36:126

The Fall began with eating of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil. Good Friday announces that the Fall has ended for those who partake of the Fruit of the Tree of Redemption — The Cross of Jesus Christ.

O you Sons of Adam, fallen from heavenly status, through the bitter pleasure of the Olden Tree: Come!! See here the true and most revered Tree; hasten to kiss it and to cry out with faith: You are our Help, most revered Cross.

From the Byzantine “Veneration of the Cross” Liturgy

Mocked with a Cross of Thorns, our Lord Christ — whipped so that the bone was exposed, and bruised shoulders the Cross to the place of the skull (Golgotha). With each step upon the via dolorosa, He knew that the pain and agony He was undergoing was only at it’s beginning. He knows the full birth of pain, and agony lies ahead.

The scenario of the Crucifixion, from beginning to end, is a classic example of the Spiritual realities being incarnated into physical demonstration. The real pain and agony that was being incarnated in the pain and agony of the Trial and Crucifixion was the Spiritual pain and agony of being the sin bearer. That sin bearing was a spiritual reality that could not be seen except by those who were taking it all in,not only with, but through their eyes. For those who had eyes to see — and it is questionable whether there were any present — the very real physical pain and agony that the Lord Christ underwent was but the incarnation of the Spiritual pain and agony that found the Son of God being a sin bearer and so abandoned by God.

For those with eyes to see, the very tangible and seen corporeal suffering of the Lord Christ was a window into the very real but unseen incorporeal sufferings of being sin bearer and alienated from the Father.

“Thou, O Sacred Wood are alone in your glory among all other trees; no forest ever yielded its equal in leaf, flower and fruit for the fruit of the Cross is the Salvation of the World.”

A snippet from a Hymn of the Roman Liturgy

“Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the Salvation of the World.”

Part of Early Church Liturgy.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday Reflections

On Maundy Thursday Christ’s utter abandonment begins. First he is abandoned by His disciples as seen in their refusal to pray with Him. Later all 11 disciples will abandon the Lord Christ upon His arrest. Later still, Peter will abandon the Lord Christ in His denial of even knowing Jesus. All of this abandonment will lead to the place where the Son is abandoned by the Father on the Cross.

Our Lord Christ hence cries out … “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The Lord Christ, as part of His redemptive work suffers alienation and abandonment by all that our alienation from the Father might be ended.

Maundy Thursday begins the Lord Christ’s descent into the Sheol of abandonment that His people might know the favor of the Father.

What Thou, my Lord, has suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain
Mine was the transgression
But Thine the deadly pain

Our Lord Christ prays that this cup would pass.

The cup that he was praying would pass was the cup of woe that He would eventually drain to the bitter dregs. He drinks this cup O Christian that you might drink the cup of weal … a cup of blessing and the peace of God. His was the bitterness tasted for His Church. Ours is the blessing tasted because of His drinking of gall and wormwood.

Should He devote His Head
For such a worm as I?

Our Lord Christ enters into Gethsemane (Olive Press) to be pressed Himself as He prays that the cup might pass. He can find none of his Disciples to persevere with Him in prayer. He is on the cusp of being arrested. Even those who come to arrest Him will fall down and worship Him when He self identifies with the name of Deity, “I am He.”

The Lord Christ was pressed by the Father and in the pressing he was broken and bruised that those who trust in Christ Alone might be delivered from God’s just wrath and certain condemnation against them.

The Lord Christ was pressed by the Father and in the pressing he was broken and bruised that those who trust in Christ Alone might become the righteousness of God in Christ and so should walk in a newness of life that is increasingly consistent with the King’s Law Word.

Our Lord Christ prays while the Disciples sleep. Even after asking them to pray with Him the Disciples slept. The agony of the Lord Christ was so great he sweat as great drops of blood. Physicians say that sweating blood is possible but that the person who does so is nigh unto death. Some scholars have suggested, that when Christ prays, “Let this cup pass,” what he is praying is that He would not die their in Gethsemane before He could accomplish His Cross work where He would die for the Sins of the Elect.

Praise God for so great a Captain of Salvation as our Lord Christ.

Seven Words From The Cross … A Brief Meditation

1st Word – Luke 23:33-34 – Father Forgive Them

On the Cross the Lord Christ prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

We should not be surprised at these words for it was compassion and mercy, from the very beginning, that found our Lord Christ mounting the Cross. In this utterance our Lord Christ crowns his compassion that had Him mounting the Cross, with a compassion that pleads with the Father for even more mercy.

And compassion and mercy were what was needed for sinners such as us. The mercy and compassion of the Father sent Christ so that His just wrath did not fall on His people. The mercy and compassion of the Son found the Son willing to come and be our mercy and compassion that He might gain us as His inheritance. The mercy and compassion of The Spirit found the Spirit taking from the mercy and compassion of the Father and Son to apply that same mercy and compassion on sinners such as us that we might have peace with God.

Sinners never know what they do to insult God and yet with God there is mercy and compassion so that now is the appointed day of salvation.

Second Word – Luke 23:39-43 / Two Thieves

Two malefactors were Crucified with our Lord Christ. One on each side. One railed against Christ while the other defended His honor.

Here we find the antithesis between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The seed of the serpent always, like the insolent malefactor, rails against the Son, either overtly or by the even greater railing of not even giving him any consideration. While the seed of the woman, even when hanging on a Cross, takes up for His Lord and Master and defends Him to the hilt against the accusations of the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman owns their Sin and looks outside themselves to THE seed of the woman for the blessings of paradise and like that thief crucified next to THE seed of the woman sinners always find the Lord Christ promising paradise to those who are repentant and own their sin.

Which malefactor are you? Are you the malefactor who rails against Christ in mocking tones, or are you the malefactor who recognizes Jesus even when you are hanging on a Cross?

Third Word – John 19:25-27 / Mother & Son

While undergoing the rejection of the Father on the Cross the Lord Christ remembers His Mother at the foot of the Cross and provides for her future. Our Lord Christ thus displays that our Christian faith can never be so pious as to forget our responsibilities to our own family, our own kin, and our own people. The love of Christ, dying for the sins of the world, is not a love that is so universal that it forgets and fails to prioritize the particulars of immediate family, kin, and people. Yes, our Lord Christ dies for the sins of the World but at the same time He reveals His peculiar responsibility to His own Mother for whom He also died.

Our Lord Christ in the very service of being the Atonement, remembers to give His Mother a Son to care and provide for her.

Jesus, thus in dying for the sins of the world shows Himself to be a Kinist.

Fourth Word – Mark 15:33-34 // My God, My God, Why Has’t Thou Forsaken Me

On the Cross the Lord Christ cries out, “Eloi, Eloi,lama sabach-thani” (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.) and in that cry we see the nadir of the torture of the Cross; The felt abandonment of the Son by the Father.

Compared to this sense of divine abandonment the lacerations from the scourging whip, the wounds from the crown of thorns, the raked nerve endings and the exposed bone were nothing. Compared to this alienation from the Father, the dehydration with its accompanying convulsions were insignificant. Not even the pain wracked requirement to lift thyself by the crucified feet in order for the lungs to get just enough breath to remain miserable could compare to the agony of this sense of forsaken-ness. Here …. HERE is the real brutality of the Cross.

And here is presented the reality of Hell. Hell is the sense of being utterly forsaken by the Father in whom is all life, meaning, and joy. To be forsaken by God is to be in Hell.

And this sense of being forsaken … this entering into Hell … insures that those who look to the Elder Brother of Salvation will never taste that sense of forsaken-ness.

Fifth Word – John 19:28 // “I Thirst”

When the Lord Christ utters, “I thirst,” the divine irony is so thick that only the fallen could miss it. Here is the one who said of Himself that those who came to him would never thirst and that He was the one who to whom people must come to drink so that they themselves would, out of their hearts, have flowing rivers of living water. But now on the Cross the one in whom is the water of eternal life, is now paying the ransom price of sinners whose whole life is characterized by drought parched lifeless barrenness.

And so as the one dying in place of Sinners, Christ, “the living water” cries out with the voice of sinners, “I thirst,” and we are reminded that He thirsted that we might have our thirst for life quenched in Him.

Sixth Word – John 19:29-30 // It Is Finished

On the Cross when Our Blessed Lord Christ, cried out, “It is Finished,” He was not announcing surrender or defeat or even death. The Cry, was the cry of the Champion announcing that the back of sin had been broken and that the strong man had been bound. When our Lord Christ announced, “It is Finished,” the deepest chambers of Hell shook and quaked with fear because Hell’s power had been crushed, and its authority seized. With the cry of “It is finished,” the sting of death had been pulled and the portal of eternal life opened to such who would align themselves with the Finished work of the Champion Lord Christ.

“It is Finished” are not the words of a man surrendering to death but the words of a soldier who had conquered in battle. They are the words of a Savior whose mission was accomplished, the words of the Alpha and Omega whose all sufficient work for our salvation is complete. Jesus did not simply die on the cross to make salvation possible; His blood finished the purchasing of His Elect from the guilt and power of sin.

Seventh Word — Luke 23:46 // “Into Thy Hands I Commit My Spirit”

On the Cross when our Lord Christ commits Himself into the Hands of the Father we hear the Faith of our Lord Christ. Remember our Lord Christ felt the abandonment of the Father and yet His final words speak with the voice of Faith. He knew His Father would not abandon Him to the Grave and so with confidence He commits His life into God’s hands.

With His death the blessed Lord Christ vouchsafed His future vindication with the Father having faith that the Father would justify all of His words and work by the powerful working of resurrection.

The Son had faith that the eternal bond between the Father and the Son could never be severed and so with a calmness that speaks the end of the storm the Son commits His Spirit into the Hand of the Father.

Thoughts and Notes On John 13:31-35

I.) The Purpose Of Christ’s Humiliation — God’s Glory

A.) The connection between the betrayal and the glorification (now)

Judas has just left to do his Judas-work. Christ knows what is before him. The purpose of the 1st advent of Christ is steamrolling forward. With Judas departure the sense of inevitability grows.

It is interesting that the greatest work ever accomplished was preceded by the vilest deed ever committed.

Perhaps this should remind us that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. We struggle with the problem of evil … and rightly so. But here in this betrayal we are staring monumental evil straight on and yet God is using that evil to accomplish the Salvation of the world. That does not negate the evil of the betrayal but it does suggest to us that when evil comes into our lives that we can trust God, no doubt with great difficulty, to turn whatever adversity He sends us in this sad world to our good and His glory.

Judas’ betrayal does not overcome God’s intent and control.

B.) The connection between humiliation and glorification

1.) It is interesting that at this point where Jesus is about to enter into His deepest humiliation He speaks instead of His glorification. We make necessary distinctions between the humiliation of Christ and His Glorification but as glorification could not be arrived at apart from going through humiliation it is reasonable to speak of one’s humiliation as being intimately connected to one’s glorification. As such, even though we may think of the humiliation and the glorification of the Lord Christ as being opposite it really is the case that there is a fitting dialectic between the two that brings them into harmony. If one cannot be glorified without being humiliated then their humiliation is their glorification.

2.) But there is another way to think about this humiliation / glorification as well.

The Lord Christ elsewhere in John speaks of glorification in relation to His own Death

cmp. vs. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

a.) The “Humble Glory” of the Son (Origen)

In both John 12 and John 13 there is an intimate connection made between the Humiliation of Christ and His Glorification. How is this so, we might ask.

The Son of Man is Glorified in His humiliation because the purpose of the Son of Man’s coming was to seek and save that which was lost. In the Cross that seeking and saving comes to its penultimate fulfillment. Christ is glorified in His humiliation because in His humiliation He accomplishes the seeking and saving of His people.

The Son of man is Glorified in His Humiliation because the Son of Man was the lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. In His humiliation the Son of man is Glorified because in His Cross death the Son of Man began fulfilling His purpose as the spotless lamb of God who takes away sins. His humiliation is thus His glorification.

The Son of Man’s purpose, by His own words, was to come to this hour of humiliation. By His dying Humiliation he brings many sons and daughters to Salvation and so is Glorified.

So … there is no contradiction here for the Lord Christ to tie his humiliation to His glorification, for if they are understood in their proper connectedness they can be spoken of as much the same.

Of course all this speaks the Gospel. All this speaks of the reality that we, as those justly under the intense disfavor of God, could only be saved quite apart from our contribution to our cause. The Son of Man undergoes all this saving work are our representative head and in His standing in for us and as our substitute He does all the saving. The Son is glorified in this, His humiliation work, and when we deny that the Son alone saves we attempt to steal from His glory in an attempt to secure some of that glory for ourselves.

b.) The Glorification of the Father by the Son

Well, we might ask how it is that the Father is glorified in the Son.

First, we might offer that the Father is glorified in the Son in as much as the Son of Man did not seek His own will but the will of the Father who sent Him. Jesus came to do the will of the Father who sent Him, and so when the Father’s will is done in the connection with the Lord Christ’s obedience the Father is glorified. The Father is glorified in Christ because the Lord Christ always did those things that pleased the Father.

Second we would offer that the Father is glorified in the Son of Man because in the work of the Son of Man God’s name is cleared of any possible impugning. God had, in times past, overlooked men’s sins. A charge of injustice might conceivably be brought against the Father. He had not brought the full death upon mankind that mankind deserved. But now God is glorified in the self surrender of the Son of Man to a death that bore the full expression of the First person of the Trinity’s justice upon the Incarnate second person of the Trinity so that God’s just wrath upon sinful man might be justly spent. God is glorified in the Son because in the Son and His work, the Father’s name and reputation are cleared of any possible charge. According to the Father’s will the Son of Man, in His life, fulfilled all that was required in God’s law and and in His death withstood all the penalty that the law required against Sin. In the accomplishing of that the Father was glorified.

And allow me to add a slight wrinkle here,

Just as the Father’s name can no longer be impugned so the Son of Man’s name, having so accomplished redemption, will not be able to be impugned when the Son of Man finally crushes the opposition. Because of His finished work he has been commanding through His servants for men to be reconciled to God. He, through His servants, has been commanding all men everywhere to repent and if they refuse to reconcile … if they refuse to repent there will be no shadow cast upon His character when He finally thoroughly crushes His enemies, but only the Praise of His Saints.

c.) The Glorification of the Son by the Father

Well, might we ask how it is that the Son is glorified by the Father.

A hint of that answer is found in John 17:5

5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Clearly Christ is looking past the humiliation to His resurrection and ascension. The Father will glorify the Son by the resurrection and ascension thus putting the Father’s seal of approval upon the Son’s work and so vindicating Him. The fact that Jesus speaks in the future tense (“will glorify”) is suggestive that the Son is looking beyond the Cross to the Throne.

By the use of the word “immediately” in vs. 32 we know that the glory that Jesus anticipates will come swiftly upon His humiliation.

Just a point of application here,

Just as it was for the Lord Christ that humiliation preceded glorification so it is with His people. Indeed the Lord Christ can say in this same upper room discourse,

John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

And in his Epistle St. John 3:13 can write,

“Do not marvel brothers if the World hates you.”

Phil. 1:29

29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

Romans 8:17

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

II Timothy 3:12

12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

So, we must not shy away from this kind of reality nor trim our sails so as to avoid this. We must speak up for Christ and as Christ despised the cross, enduring the shame, so must we on a much much smaller scale do the same for we know that this light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.

3.) Significance of Son of Man statement

This is Jesus favorite self designation occurring over 80 times in the Gospels. It is only on the lips of anyone else twice (Stephen upon his Martyrdom [A. 8:56] and the inquirers probing into the meaning of Jesus usage of the term [John 12:34].) The fact that it is almost completely unique to Jesus combined with the fact that others have to inquire as to its meaning suggest that it was a fairly unknown title for the Messiah. In the usage of this title the Messiahship of Jesus could be cloaked against the wrong expectations of Messiah as developed by the low information and misguided Jew. So, in its being unknown Jesus can fill it with the meaning that He desires to fill it with and so seek to correct wrong concepts about the Messiah.

In the way that the Lord Christ uses the term we discover that it is a reference for both the “heavenly Son of man who comes in glory,” and “the Son of Man who suffers to bring salvation.” So, even in the term “Son of Man” we see a combination of humiliation and glorification that we spoke of earlier.

Leon Morris offers,

“The term ‘Son of Man,’ then points us to Christ’s conception of Himself as of heavenly origin and as possessor of heavenly glory. At one and the same time it points us to His lowliness and His sufferings for men. The two are the same.”

In 13:31 we see the two themes brought together.

Between Christ’s statement regarding glorification and His Precept to Love one another Jesus speaks a few words regarding the immediate future of the disciples.

We want to note especially the tenderness with which Jesus addresses the disciples.

“Little Children”

This is a common phrase that John uses in his 1st epistle. It is a term of endearment and reminds us of Jesus love for His people. One could surely excuse the Lord Christ for being more preoccupied with what is before Him then what is before His disciples and yet His mind is upon them and He prepares them for what lies immediately ahead.

III.) The Precept Upon Christ’s Humiliation — Love One Another as I have loved you

A.) Consistent w/ the OT?

The commandment of the OT (Lev.19:18, Prov. 20:22, 24:29) is tweaked.

Whereas the commandment of the OT is for us to love our neighbor as ourselves the commandment from Jesus is that we love one another as he has loved us.

Of course Jesus is demonstrating this love before them (cmp. 13:1) and will continue to do so.

Jesus revealed His love to them by looking not after His own needs but also the needs of other. The love that Jesus has for the disciples is a self sacrificing love. That is the way we as God’s people are to love one another. The standard for loving someone else is no longer “how would I love myself,” the standard for our loving one another is “How did Jesus love us.”

And Jesus loved us by fulfilling all that God’s law required of us. So, our sacrificial love, one for another, must also be consistent with God’s revelatory Law. We do not love sacrificially one another, if we are loving one another in ways that are defiant of God’s revelation of Himself in His law. We do not love the brethren if we encourage them in their sin. We do not love the brethren if we ignore how they know Jesus in a strange way. We do not love the brethren by letting them go on in harm’s way when we know that the way they are going is harmful. We do not love the brethren by protecting ourselves from their wrath by not warning them against some danger we see them headed towards.

Note that we can only have this love one for another as we all have love for Christ. Our mutuality of love for one another extends out of our love for Christ, which itself extends out of an understanding of His love for us. Herein is love, not that we first love him, but that he first loved us and gave Himself as a propitiation for our sins.

So, ultimately the way to grow in love for the Brethren is by plumbing the depth of the Triune Godhead’s love for His people.

B.) The Evangelistic Effect of Love

Tertullian — he one of the ECF — contrasted Christian love with pagan idea.

“But it is mainly the deeds of a love o noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See’ they say, ‘how they love one another,’ for they themselves (the pagans) are animated by mutual hatred; ‘see how they are ready even to die for one another,’ for they themselves (the pagans) will rather put to death.” (Apology XXXIX)

Our love in the community of faith for one another is to be the kind of thing that causes people who only have competition and temporary alliances w/ other people, to want what is found in the confines of the Church community. In the words of Dr. Fancis Schaeffer, “Love is the final apologetic.”

But again … not some syrupy sentimental love that is defined by the world but the love of Scripture that has sinews and tendons all about it. The love that is measured and defined. Not the love that is whatever makes us feel good.

This passage is a beautiful passage for the Church but we run the danger of shrinking it because of how the word love is so abused and ill defined today.



McAtee takes a look at Dr. Ian Hodge on Justification

The author of the article below is Dr. Ian Hodge. I count Dr. Hodge as a friend. We have entertained the Hodges in our home, and Dr. Hodge as filled the pulpit of the Church I serve on more than one occasion. We have had extended discussions on Federal Vision but Dr. Hodge goes further in this article in advocating a Federal Vision type of theology than I ever remember him going before.

Recently, my name was invoked in defense of this material and as such, I find it necessary to interact with this material so that it might be seen what I reject about this theology and what I accept.

The full article can be accessed here. There will be portions that I leave out in my interaction because I do not find it germane to the matter at hand.

Unbelief or Disobedience – Which Is It?
Dr. Ian Hodge


Sometimes, you just have to charge into a controversy, head down, full speed ahead. And taking on a topic that has been debated for 2,000 years and still remains a dividing line among the Christian community, is asking for trouble. But, here goes. . . .

It is suggested that the Reformation “solved” the problem of salvation: faith or works. One or the other. Take your pick, choose sides, and do battle. There is, apparently, no compromise. Luther tried to simplify the problem by suggesting that the book of James did not belong in the canon of Scripture for it went against his idea of salvation by faith alone.

Dr. Hodge begins by subtly admitting that whatever he is going to say is a “asking for trouble.” Thus, he won’t be surprised when trouble is found.

The first thing we want to note here is the necessity to distinguish between salvation and justification. Scripture teaches that we are justified apart from works of the law (hence, Faith alone). Justification is one constituent component in the ordo salutis (order of salvation). It is proper, technically speaking, to say we are “justified by faith alone,” but when salvation as a whole is considered we insist that good works (sanctification) are the necessary consequence of faith alone justification. This is why we can say that justification is by faith alone but never by a faith that is alone. This distinction between justification as one component of the whole complex that is salvation and salvation, considered in toto is a distinction we will have need to keep our eye on as we move through Dr. Hodge’s essay.

“After making the statement that Luther used so effectively from Rom. 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law”, the writer, Paul goes on to point out that both the circumcised and the uncircumcised are to be justified through faith. But . . . he does not stop there. St. Paul then makes this often neglected statement in Rom. 3:31 (from the Wycliffe NT translation).

Destroy we therefore the law by faith? God forbid [Far be it]; but we stablish the law

Remember the old song, “Love and Marriage”? I forget who sang it. But the punch line said “you can’t have one without the other.” And so it is with faith and works, according to the Apostle Paul AND James.

James says the same thing as Paul when he insists that justification is NOT by faith alone. This is the ONLY time in the Bible when these two words — faith alone — are used together. They are NEVER used by St. Paul this way, even in Rom. 3:28.”

St. Paul does indeed establish the law and St. Paul would agree that faith and works go together like love and marriage. However, for St. Paul and St. James the faith that propels our works presupposes a faith that is alone resting in Christ for all. One might say that faith’s proper work in justification is resting in Christ’s works for us and imputed to us while faith’s proper work in sanctification is to work so as to increasingly become what we have freely been declared to be in Christ Jesus. However, the proper work of faith in sanctification presupposes the a-priori proper work of a justifying faith which rests in Christ alone. (It should be said here that we are speaking of logical a-priori and not a chronological a-priori.)

Dr. Hodge then abstracts James 2:24 from its context to make it suggest that justification is not by faith alone.

24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

The problem with Dr. Hodge’s reasoning here is that St. James appeal to Abraham as his exemplar of the one who is justified by his works is not teaching what Dr. Hodge seems to be suggesting that St. James is teaching. St. James is not teaching that Abraham’s works contributed to his righteousness before God. St. James is not teaching that the works of Jesus for Abraham were not sufficient for Abraham’s status as “just.” St. James is not teaching that Abraham’s works and Jesus’s works combined together for Abraham were the ground of Abraham’s justification. St. James is teaching that the works of Abraham justified his justification.

If we avoid abstracting this James text from its largest Biblical context we learn that in Genesis 15 Abraham, well before the offering of Isaac, to which St. James appeals in chapter 2, was already justified. St. James appeals to the events of Genesis 22 where Abraham reveals his faith through his obedience. In Chapter 2 James is using the word “justified,” in the sense of “demonstration.” In Luke 7:35 Jesus uses the same verb “justified” as James uses in 2:21. In Luke 7 we read, “wisdom is justified by her children.” In the Luke passage the word “justified” is not being used to mean “to be reconciled to God” but rather it is used to demonstrate the truth of a prior claim. Just so in James 2. Just as true wisdom in Luke 7 is demonstrated by its fruit, Abraham’s claim to faith is justified by his obedience in offering up Isaac. If we are careful not to abstract from the James 2 text, we see that this is exactly the point of the text. The James 2 text is dealing with the issue of how justification is demonstrated, not with how a man is reconciled to God. So, we would say that in James what is being dealt with is how a man’s justification is seen as justified – demonstrated (by works) whereas for Paul in Romans 3 what is being dealt with is how a man’s person is justified (by faith alone).

Now combine what Paul says in Romans 4,

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

And it is only an abstractionism that could find James 2, in contradiction to Romans 4, saying that God only justifies the godly who are working.

It is a mark of abstractionism that pulls things out of its context then misreads the meaning of the words. Paul and James can NEVER be opposed to one another. And here’s the reason why. “For it is not merely the hearers of Torah whom God considers righteous; rather, it is the doers of what Torah says who will be made righteous in God’s sight.” Here’s the ESV version of the same passage: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” Doers of the law justifified! Does that sound familiar? It should, because it’s almost exactly the same words used in James’s letter. Except these words were written by St. Paul in the same book of Romans that people like to quote “faith alone” from. The only problem is that if you read Romans 3:8 as a faith “alone” idea, you’ve abstracted the verse from its context and given it a meaning that Paul could never have intended. Why? Because he’s already laid down the principle that it is doers of the law who will be made righteous.

The problem here with Dr. Hodge’s reasoning is that what the Torah requires above all else is faith alone in Christ.

St. Paul is not saying in Romans 2 that people could possibly be “enough doers of the law” that they could achieve self justification. The fact that those outside the law (and in Romans 2 it is Gentiles who are being referenced) are responsible to be “doers of the law,” does not mean that they are therefore able to be justified by doing the law.

When Dr. Hodge insists that it is doers of the law who will be made righteous, in contradiction of the Biblical principle of justification by faith alone, he abstracts the text from the corpus of all of Scripture. The only way that any of us can be doers of the law is to rest in Christ alone who has done the law for us and imputed to us His law doing righteousness so that we are now reckoned as “doers of the law,” who then as doers of the law increasingly become what we have been freely declared to be.

When Paul says we are justified by faith, an obvious question might be this one. “Does any old faith save us?” James gives us a clear answer. “No. Only the kind of faith which has works attached to it.” As Robert Johnson points out in his Banner of Truth commentary on James,

“To him who asks, ‘Is it faith that justifies. Or works?’ Paul replies, ‘Faith alone (sic) justifies, without works.’ To him who, knowing and believing this, asks further, ‘But does all faith justify?’ James answers, ‘ Faith alone, without works does not justify.’ — for an inoperative faith is dead, powerless, unprofitable. Both statements, looked at in connection with the questions they are respectively meant to answer, are true, and both of vast important. Faith alone justifies, but not the faith which is alone.”

We quite agree here with both Dr. Johnson and Dr. Hodge when they imply that dead faith can not justify. (However, I’ve always thought that dead faith is a bit oxymoronic since a “dead faith,” is a no thing.)

An interesting juxtaposition of unbelief and disobedience is given in Hebrews 3:18-19. “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.”

That makes it pretty clear. They are interchangeable concepts. Inseparable.

So it is not faith OR works, as both Paul and James are made to say. It is both.

And contemporary Christianity’s emphasis on faith alone at the expense of works indicates how far Christian theology has removed itself from clear biblical teaching.

First, in terms of the Hebrews passage we would say that they were disobedient precisely because of their unbelief. Their disobedience was the natural consequence of their unbelief.

Faith and works are interdependent and certainly imply one another in the way I have spoken of but to say that they are interchangeable concepts so that “faith alone,” could be as easily be made to say “works alone,” is not helpful. If those two words were exactly synonymous there would be no need for one of the words. I quite agree that it is both faith and works but each in their proper place. Faith does its proper work in justification when it rests in Christ alone and faith does its proper work in sanctification when it works out salvation in fear and trembling.

Consider this: The Greek philosophers debated over whether ultimate reality was mind or matter. Rationalism (mind) or empiricism (the senses) is how this played out in the post-Reformation period. As a result, the common understanding of the word “faith” in Scripture is that it is a cognitive activity. Thus, if you can give mental and verbal assent to a series of verbal propositions, you can consider yourself a Christian because that is all that is needed to be justified. Respond to the alter call, repeat the Sinner’s Prayer, say ‘amen’ to a series of propositions, and you are saved. Living a godly life, good works they are called, are not necessary for justification. These come after justification but have no meritorious effect in justification.

With this statement Dr. Hodge seemingly overthrows the whole Reformation and insists that we are not saved by faith alone but are only saved by Christ’s work for us combined with our works. This is most unfortunate.

Dr. Hodge seems to misunderstand the nature of mental assent. If someone genuinely mentally assents to the truth of the Gospel the consequence is the beginning of living a godly life. Where there is no godly life there is either no understanding of the truth or no mental assent and the course of action that one must take with such a person is to take them back to the truth of the Gospel in search of a mental assent that demonstrates its genuineness.

Faith is a cognitive activity though it always more than a cognitive activity. Orthodoxy (right faith) drives orthopraxy (right practice). There can be no right practice where there is no right faith.

Now, I agree with Dr. Hodge that mechanistic approaches to faith are suspect, however, having said that the problem isn’t with faith as being cognitive, but rather the problem is the mechanistic approach to securing faith.

That’s not quite how St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans. And for good reason. Because if you start in the Old Testament, you never get the idea that justification is merely a mental activity exercise. St. Paul, raised in the Old Testament tradition, knowing this, is not about to let a Greek neopolatonic concept of mind/matter become the controlling principle for understanding biblical faith. And this is the basis of his statements, first in Romans 2:3 and then in Romans 3:31. And in between those two statements you have his words in 3:28. So do not take his words there out of context. The law is not an add-on to faith alone. It is an integrated component, which is why “disobedience” and “belief” are interchangeable for the writer of Hebrews.

There is nothing neo-platonic in faith alone. Paul supports it Romans 3-5. Faith alone is a Scriptural principle that is supported in the book of Galatians. Paul appeals to faith alone by appealing to the Old Testament saints who were justified by faith alone. It looks to me that Dr. Hodge is either departing from the Reformed faith in this article or else he is seeking to redefine the Reformed faith.

And, the idea that justification is our mental activity is something that no knowledgeable person in the Reformed faith has ever advocated. Justification is not what we think or do. Justification is not about our mental activity nor about our combing our works with Christ’s works in order to be reconciled to God. Justification is God’s work whereby He imputes the righteousness of Christ to sinners who have not the righteousness required in order to be God’s friend. Further, a full orbed understanding of justification requires more than a consideration of subjective justification (which seems to be Dr. Hodge’s only consideration) but only requires a consideration of objective justification. When we consider that we, as God’s people, were objectively justified when Christ was crucified and resurrected we realize that subjective justification can’t include our performative works in any way.

Faith means action — not just intellectual assent. That’s the biblical version of faith, not the Greek version superimposed over Scripture.

Faith does mean action. But action does not result without thought. Orthopraxy presupposes orthodoxy.

In other words, Luther introduced a Greek concept of faith when he added the word “alone” to St. Paul’s words in Romans. And that neoplatonic concept has played absolute havoc with Christianity ever since.

A Trentian Roman Catholic could not have said it better.

Of course such a statement is Baloney.

“It is in this context that we need to understand R.J. Rushdoony’s call back to the law of God — the Torah — as the way of necessary godly living. It is not an option. It is the mark of the Christian without which, he will not be saved.”

Godly living is most certainly necessary but necessary in it’s proper place. The full blown Pelagian would agree that Godly living is necessary. So, nobody but the antinomian denies that Godly living is necessary. But the answer to the antinomian is not neonomianism or semi-pelagianism or covenantal moralism or legalism. The answer to anti-nomianism is a proper understanding of the third use of the law in the Christian’s life.

And in terms of Rushdoony we should listen to what RJR had to say on justification,

“In any court of law, to be transferred from legal guilt to legal righteousness is a tremendous fact of life. It is totally so in God’s supreme court of law and life. Justification by faith is thus a fact of life because it is an act of God’s absolute law court.”

Note that RJR — the man who properly emphasized the necessity for Christians to honor God’s Law-Word — disagrees with Hodge here when he observes that justification is an act of God’s absolute law court. RJR disagrees with Hodge when RJR writes about being transferred from legal guilt to legal righteousness. RJR never taught that we are justified by faith plus our works though he did teach that salvation includes our grace given and Spirit driven obedience — an obedience that is the consequence of justification and not causative of justification.

Not sure? Listen to the Second Person of the Trinity speak with authority:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”[1]

And this passage proves what? Does Dr. Hodge really believe that those who affirm justification by faith alone don’t also affirm Jesus words here?

Now in the process of understanding salvation, it is tempting to argue that faith and works are opposites rather than complementaries. In the former view, works are essential and meritorious. In the latter view, works are essential, but they are not meritorious, unless they are the works produced by trusting God (faith).

Faith and works are complementaries but not in the way that Dr. Hodge advances in this article.

In my estimation this last paragraph reveals that there is some kind of contradictory thinking going on here. I would note here that R. L. Dabney taught that even our good works must be imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ in order to be acceptable. If that is true I’m not sure how our works could ever be meritorious in the sense that they contribute to our justification.

Finally in terms of abstractionism, I would recommend reading Dabney on his chapter title “Abstractionists,” in his Vol. IV of his works. One can find it online.

Genesis to Revelation In Two Sentences

Like a symphony, Scripture is a unified whole that contains multiple diverse themes that are developed and incased in the narratival canonical plotline.

The OT is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.

The NT heightens and develops the OT score and storyline by giving us Jesus whose life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already — not yet new — creational reign, bestowed by grace alone through faith alone and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving unto the triune God’s Glory.

Paraphrase of G.K. Beale
A NT Biblical Theology — pg. 16

Now the question for Dr. Beale would be, “Is the worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign a commission that is exhaustive and totalistic touching every area of life?”

It is hard to imagine a new-creational reign that is limited, muted or stunted in what it re-orders.