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Early Church Fathers

(7 posts)

The Grace of Repentance

Monday··2007·07·30 · 5 Comments
Let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him. —Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter VII

Of whom the world was not worthy

Monday··2007·10·15
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. —Hebrews 11:32–40 The Martyrdom of Polycarp Chap. IX—Polycarp Refuses to Revile Christ. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade hem to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their customs, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand toward them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” Chap. X—Polycarp Confesses Himself A Christian. And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortunes of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee I have thought it right to offer and account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (Which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.” Chap. XI—No Threats Have Any Effect On Polycarp. The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.” But he answered, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” But again the proconsul said to him “I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despiseth the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and the eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.” —The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 2012), 1:41. So Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, went to his death. Others continue to suffer for their faith today. A testimony sent to The Voice of the Martyrs from a believer in Myanmar (Burma): One day we were sitting at the temple entrance receiving collections from the people, one of the Christians passing by gave me a tract. I kept it to take home with me and read it later. When I read this tract it spoke of receiving the gift of eternal life when believing in Jesus Christ. I started to question and wonder, “How can we know eternal life? What is this eternal life the tract spoke of?” I asked my wife and children about the matter of eternal life, and they simply joked about it saying, “Father you are a good man, you will surely be a rich man in your next life.” But the thought would not leave me, I felt it deeply as I was growing older, When I die, will there be a place that I go to? So I kept thinking about this over and over in my heart and mind, until finally at midnight I called on Jesus, “Lord Jesus I believe, please give me eternal life.” The Lord Jesus heard my prayer and answered my call. Then the light shone into my soul, light in my heart which was great joy. Simply stated, I am at peace, a real peace in my heart which I had never experienced before, which is difficult to put into words. Early the next morning I knew in my heart that I must throw out the image of Buddha, which I had previously worshipped every day. Without speaking to my wife, I took the image and threw it into a small river near my village. . . . Please pray for me as I have been forced to leave my village, my wife and my two children who I love dearly. I pray that I may soon be able to return back to them. I love them but I cannot do what they have asked me to do—curse my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, come back to Buddha and my family. May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my family and my fellow-villagers. And I was thinking the other day about one time when someone chuckled a little about my faith, and how well I had taken it.

Early Church Cessationists

Tuesday··2014·07·01
Once upon a time, I issued a challenge to charismatics to show historical proof that the gift of tongues did not pass away with the apostolic age. That challenge has yet to be met. On the other hand, John MacArthur provides several quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and notable theologians from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries supporting the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Most telling, of course, are the words of these two second century fathers: This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. —John Chrysostom, Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 252. In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away. —Augustine, Ibid., 252–253. For who expects in these days that those on whom hands are laid that they may receive the Holy Spirit should forthwith begin to speak with tongues? But it is understood that invisibly and imperceptibly, on account of the bond of peace, divine love is breathed into their hearts, so that they may be able to say, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” —Ibid., 253.

Monergist Father: Clement of Rome

Wednesday··2018·08·15
Clement of Rome (ca. a.d. 30–100) was among the first presbyters of the New Testament church. He was co-presbyter with Linus (mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21) and Cletus, both of whom most likely perished under Nero. He is thought to have been with Paul at Philippi around a.d. 57, and is generally believed to be the same Clement named by Paul in Philippians 4:3 among those “whose names are in the book of life.” His only extant writing is The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.* From this work, Steve Lawson draws out Clement’s understanding of sovereign grace. [T]he Apostolic Fathers did not engage in deep theology but primarily quoted Scripture to make their points. . . . Nevertheless, trace evidences of the doctrines of divine sovereignty, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, and preserving grace appear in embryonic form in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including First Clement. . . . the Early Church Fathers’ teachings regarding election and predestination were in complete harmony with the truths of Scripture but did not provide penetrating insights. Clement and the men who followed him affirmed individual truths but did not systematize these doctrines or address their cause-and-effect relationships. . . . Throughout his letter to the Corinthians, Clement asserts the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of this world: “The heavens move at His direction and peacefully obey Him. Day and night observe the course He has appointed them, without getting in each other’s way. . . . By His will and without dissension or altering anything He has decreed, the earth becomes fruitful at the proper seasons.” By divine direction, there is harmony in God’s creation. Clement states: “All these things the great Creator and Master of the universe ordained to exist in peace and harmony.” Here Clement, in a clear statement of divine sovereignty, declared that God directs whatsoever comes to pass. . . . Clement held that fallen man is so ruined in sin that he is incapable of saving himself. Having forfeited his moral ability to do good, man cannot present himself acceptable to God. Clement writes that we are “not justified of ourselves or by our wisdom or insight or religious devotion or the holy deeds we have done from the heart.” That is, no man has the innate ability to save himself. What is more, Clement teaches that all people come into this world spiritually dead in sin: “We must take to heart, brothers, from what stuff we were created, what kind of creatures we were when we entered the world, from what a dark grave he who fashioned and created us brought us into his world.” Fallen man must be raised to new life by God. . . . Given his belief in man’s inability to save himself, it is entirely consistent that Clement affirmed sovereign election. He wrote that the “elect” are “chosen of God,” using these biblical terms as synonyms for believers in Christ. In the opening sentence of his epistle, Clement states that believers are “those whom God has chosen.” He later adds that as the apostles preached the Word of God, “there was joined a great multitude of the elect.” He clearly believed the church to be the ingathering of God’s chosen ones. . . . Clement alluded to the truth that Christ’s death was intended for the elect, writing: “By love all God’s elect were made perfect. Without love nothing can please God. By love, the Master accepted us. Because of the love He had for us, and in accordance with God’s will, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us, His flesh for our flesh, and His life for ours.” With these words, Clement maintained that Christ sacrificially shed His blood for the elect. . . . Clement said that the sovereign will of God is ultimately the determinative factor in repentance. He states: “It is the will of God that all whom He loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent. He has established it by His almighty will.” With these words, Clement made a bold distinction between those whom God loves and the unbelieving. It is by God’s determinative will that those whom He loves come to repentance. The new birth is the result of His omnipotent will that cannot be resisted. . . . Finally, Clement asserted that the salvation God gives to His elect is an enduring work of grace, never to be reversed or undone. He says: “But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is His almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of His?” In other words, God holds His elect eternally secure by His omnipotent will. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 51–55. * Philip Schaff, The Anti-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 2012), 1:1–3.

Monergist Father: Irenaeus of Lyons

Friday··2018·08·17
Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130–200) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor. He was a student of Polycarp, who studied under the apostle John. His writings demonstrate well an orthodox, biblical understanding of original sin and its effects: depravity and inability. Irenaeus acknowledged that Adam’s sin had brought about the devastation of the entire human race. Recognizing Adam’s role as the representative of all his descendants, Irenaeus asserted that when the first man sinned, all mankind transgressed with him. He writes: “Indeed we had offended [God] in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. . . . We were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” This is to say, all human beings are guilty because of Adam’s fall. In this state of depravity, Irenaeus argued, all men are ignorant of God. Concerning man’s inherent inability to know God, he states: “Since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.’” No one can come to a saving knowledge of God apart from being taught by God Himself. Similarly, Irenaeus affirmed that all men give themselves to the world system and their carnal desires. He writes, “Man . . . shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts.” In short, the spirit of this evil age rules over the rebellious hearts of all unconverted men. Irenaeus held that the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the spiritual, physical, and emotional death of all mankind. He says, “Eve . . . having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race.” The wages of sin is death, rendering man morally unable to please God. Neither does man have the spiritual capacity to come to Him. What can a dead man do? Nothing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 97–98. Like many of the Fathers, Irenaeus was not without contradictions. Along with his orthodox statements on inability, he also made conflicting statements on free will. Lawson offers a likely explanation for these conflicting messages. He wrote of fallen man possessing a power to choose whether to obey or disobey God and expressed confidence in human ability and moral freedom. He writes, “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” Similarly, he maintained that “it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” This inconsistency may have stemmed partly from the context in which Irenaeus lived and ministered. Like Justin Martyr, he was constantly embattled by Gnostic attacks. Gnosticism inaccurately “asserted that the Christian faith denied moral responsibility.” To counter this idea, the Apologists stressed man’s obligation. In so doing, they unfortunately weakened their position concerning man’s depravity, as well as God’s exclusive role in salvation. —Ibid., 98–99.

Monergist Father: Athanasius of Alexandria

Monday··2018·08·27
Athanasius on election: This grace had been prepared even before we came into being, nay, before the foundation of the world, and the reason why is kindly and wonderful. It seemed not that God should counsel concerning us afterwards, lest He should appear ignorant of our fate. The God of all then, creating us by His own Word, and knowing our destinies better than we, and foreseeing that, being made “good,” we should in the event be transgressors of the commandment, and be thrust out of paradise for disobedience, being loving and kind, prepared beforehand in His own Word, by whom also He created us, the Economy of our salvation; that though by the serpent’s deceit we fell from Him, we might not remain quite dead, but having in the Word the redemption and salvation which was afore prepared for us, we might rise again and abide immortal. —cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 155. [source: Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians, II.22.75, cited in Schaff and Wace, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IV, 389.]

The Guest of God

Tuesday··2018·08·28
Basil of Caesarea (ca. 329–379) was one of three* fourth century theologians from the province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. They are known as the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil, like Athanasius, was compelled to counter the continuing influence of Arianism.† He also faced a new heretic, Eustathius, leader of the Pneumatomachians, who, in addition to his denial of the deity of Christ, claimed that the Holy Spirit was also a created being.‡ In those days, these conflicts were not merely debates among theologians; a faithful pastor might have to put his life on the line to stand for truth. Basil was willing. The reigning emperor in the East was Valens, who supported Arianism. When Valens announced that he would visit Caesarea, it was understood that the emperor would use this appearance to promote the heretical teachings of Arius. Imperial officers arrived beforehand to prepare for Valens’s visit by seeking to influence Basil through imperial promises and threats. But unlike other bishops, Basil could not be controlled by such tactics. A heated exchange ensued, with the praetorian prefect threatening Basil. But Basil replied: “Nothing more! Not one of these things touches me. His property cannot be forfeited, who has none; banishment I know not, for I am restricted to no place, and am the guest of God, to whom the whole earth belongs; for martyrdom I am unfit, but death is a benefactor to me, for it sends me more quickly to God, to whom I live and move; I am also in great part already dead, and have been for a long time hastening to the grave.” The prefect was taken aback. No one had ever spoken to him like this, he declared. Basil answered, “Perhaps that is because you have never met a true bishop.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 168. * Also Gregory of Nazianzus (330–389) and Gregory of Nyssa (Basil’s brother, ca. 336–after 394). † Find Phil Johnson’s lectures on Arianism (and other heresies) here. ‡ See The Book of St. Basil on the Holy Spirit in Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series II, 8:2.

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