Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine On the Love of God the Father

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I think one of the hardest things for people to get about Christianity is the love of God the Father. The images throughout history of a wrathful, angry, miserly, simply pissed off God the Father, are frequent enough that he ends up as a trope in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was perhaps wise of the Eastern Church to refuse to paint him, and the Reformation Church to cast aside all depiction to avoid misunderstanding (at the very least). This angry Zeus image is often countered by a placid, loving grampa or cosmic jolly Santa Claus.

I’ve struggled with seeing God the Father as loving; his love always felt conditional. The possibility of him blowing up at the slightest misstep always kept me on my toes, my knees, as I resented him for being so angry.

I tried to self-medicate the broken image of The Father by imagining him as my “Abba” my Dad, but it only worked in starts and fits. It always felt like that angry God was lurking behind ‘Abba.’ After a long time, however, I’ve slowly come to see God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ: The eternal Loving Father who love me, and the world, enough to deal with my sin and my shame.

My journey through this will take too long to account in this post, but I think that this quote from Augustine summarizes how I’ve come to see my eternal, loving, heavenly Father.

The love, therefore, wherewith God loveth, is incomprehensible and immutable. For it was not from the time that we were reconciled unto Him by the blood of His Son that He began to love us; but He did so before the foundation of the world, that we also might be His sons along with His Only-begotten, before as yet we had any existence of our own.

Let not the fact, then, of our having been reconciled unto God through the death of His Son be so listened to or so understood, as if the Son reconciled us to Him in this respect, that He now began to love those whom He formerly hated, in the same way as enemy is reconciled to enemy, so that thereafter they become friends, and mutual love takes the place of their mutual hatred, but we were reconciled unto Him who already loved us, but with whom we were at enmity because of our sin. Whether I say the truth on this, let the apostle testify, when he says: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

He, therefore, had love toward us even when we were practicing enmity against Him and working iniquity; and yet to Him it is said with perfect truth, “Thou hatest, O Lord, all workers of iniquity.” Accordingly, in a wonderful and divine manner, even when He hated us, He loved us; for He hated us, in so far as we were not what He Himself had made; and because our own iniquity had not in every part consumed His work, He knew at once both how, in each of us, to hate what we had done, and to love what He had done. Tractates on John cx.6. 

 

There are a few things that this passage hits just right on the head:

  1. The Father’s love is not dependent on the Son’s work of reconciliation. He loved us from before the creation of the world. In fact, his love, as Augustine says is ‘immutable’ unchanging. That is indeed good news.
  2. The Son’s work of reconciliation was not because the Father hated us. Instead, it is because the Father loved us in our sin and estrangement. We were dead in our iniquity, and in his love, God the Faher sent his only beloved Son to rescue us. We were created good, and God the Father with his Son and Spirit, saved us from the deformity of sin, not to make us loveable but because he loved us, and wanted to make us lovely once more.
  3. Because God is our creator and Savior, because he knows what we were created for, he can hate the sin in us, while loving the one he created to be with him and without sin. He hates the deformity in us, with the goal of saving and healing it, and he loves us who have been deformed, again in order to make us new.

While Augustine does not hit on wrath in this quote, I think it is worth saying something about that in conclusion. There are a few misconceptions about wrath, first that it is somehow a particular feature of the Father – that caricature again. It is more appropriate to attribute wrath to the Father, Son, and Spirit together. The Triune God is wrathful against sin, not just the Father. Further, Wrath is perhaps better understood as a sub-attribute of God’s love, rather than an eternal attribute. God is eternally existing in the abundance and plentitude of his Triune life. God freely creates out of this life, and in that creation, sin comes about in creaturely rebellion against God. God’s eternal attitude towards his creation is love and grace, presented in the fact that he sustains creatures existence. Wrath is God’s love turned against the rebellion and destruction of his good creation. Thus, wrath is an attribute of his love that arises in the external works of God in his creation. God hates the sin, has wrath against it, while loving the creature he created – to the point of destroying sin in us. Finally, the triune God’s wrath against sin is poured out in Jesus Christ on the cross against our sin and death. The work of Christ death was a Triune action to deal with sin and death in the context of the Trinity’s own eternal and abundant life.

(I submit these thoughts without an expectation that I am right in all cases. I share these thoughts in submission to the Lord of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to his Scriptures, and for the edification of the Church).

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Richard Hooker on Christ our Righteousness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Corinthians 1:30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

In church, we can through around a lot of big words. And sometimes how they relate to Jesus and our life can be confusing. I find it easy to forget how justification, sanctification, and glorification relate to one another, to my life, and especially to Jesus Christ. In my studies, I’ve found that seeing how all of these relate to being united to Christ helps align the words to the reality of salvation.

Richard Hooker, in his sermon, A Learned Discourse on Justification, offers a helpful summary of how justification, sanctification, and glorification all relate to Christ and our union to him. Hooker argues that all of humanity stands before God as unrighteous and enslaved sinners. But Christ, in his death and resurrection is made the “righteousness of men.” Following Paul in Romans 5, Hooker argues that just as all of humanity were captive in death because of Adam, so all were made righteous in Christ. In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he saved humanity from sin through his atoning and substitutionary death on the cross. 

In other words, those who are in Christ are united to his work of salvation, are made right with God and humanity. Christ’s being our righteousness – a reality that comes from outside of unrighteous humanity, i.e., we do not earn nor do we deserve it; it is a total gift. It is one work of salvation in the one person of Christ, but it is distinguishable in three different ways.

“There is a glorifying righteousness of men in the World to come: and there is a justifying and a sanctifying righteousness here. The righteousness, wherewith we shall be clothed in the Lord to come is both perfect and inherent. That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified is inherent, but not perfect.” (Sermon II, sec. 3).

Hooker’s language is Old English and can be a little confusing, so let me parse out a bit what he is saying.

First, the glorifying, justifying, and sanctifying righteousness is Jesus Christ’s life and work applied to us. There are not three different righteousness, but one right person, Jesus Christ. Imagine one beam of light refracting out of a prism. Jesus is the righteous one who works his righteousness for humanity in three distinct but united ways.

The first refracted beam is glorifying righteousness. Hooker begins with glorifying righteousness to establish the end goal of human salvation:  communion with the triune God perfectly and inherently. Perfectly meaning that we are as we were created to be, and inherently, it is an internal condition – we are made entirely holy inside and out. This is the goal end to which God created and redeemed us to draw us into union with God in Christ. But we do not yet have this righteousness.

The second bean is the justifying righteousness. In the death of Christ, we are justified by his perfect righteousness,  but it is outside of us.  We are declared sinless and united to Christ’s death. It is important that the death of Christ justifies us from the outside and is perfect because it establishes the security and reality of salvation. We are made right with God because of Christ’s perfect obedient righteousness, and it has nothing to do with our ability to be right with God. Christ the righteous one dies for the unrighteous. The perfect righteousness of Christ becomes ours as a gift without works. The reality of justification is sometimes scoffed at as a mere judicial fiction. It is not fictitious because it is a perfect gift given and established in the infinite Triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing can change the justifying work of Christ, it is done and accomplished it is perfect, and it is given to those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. Which brings us to the third beam of refracted light.

Jesus’s righteousness, his life, death, and resurrection, is infused into us through the Holy Spirit, making his righteousness ours internally but not perfectly. This is the processes of sanctification. Jesus is our righteous and gives us his Holy Spirit who infuses us with Christ’s virtues, habits, and life. It is not perfect, that comes in glorification, but it is a real infusion and process of growth and maturing. This righteousness is no less a gift, while at the same time it is internal and real because it is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, uniting us to Christ, who gives us his eternal life and love with the Father.

In his magnum opus, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker puts what we’ve been saying differently.

“Thus we participate Christ partly by imputation, as when those things which he did and suffered for us are impulsed unto us for righteousness; partly by habitual and real infusion, as when grace is inwardly bestowed while we are on earth, and afterwards more fully both our souls and bodies made like unto his in glory. The first thing of his so infused into our hearts in this life is the Spirit of Christ…” V.56.11.

Here we see that we are perfectly justified by the imputation of Christ’s work on the Cross for us, and sanctified internally by the infusion of grace in our lives through the Holy Spirit which eventually leads us to be glorified perfectly and inherently.

In the end, what Richard Hooker helps us see is that Jesus Christ is our righteousness at all points in the Triune God’s economy of Salvation. When we struggle to believe we are loved, known and forgiven, Christ our justifying savior is there to tell us that he has completely saved us. When we struggle with Sin and the desire to know and love God Christ our sanctifying savior is with us and in us through the Holy Spirit drawing us further up and further in. When we look to the future, Jesus our glory is there calling us home and cheering us on to the full communion that awaits us in the new heavens and new earth. This is the light of the Christian, and because it is all Jesus Christ, we have nothing to boast about, and that is good for us because Christ is our Righteousness.

This compact summary of Christ as our Righteousness helps me think clearly and worship more faithfully the fantastic and beautiful Triune God. I hope it blesses you and leads you to worship God the Father, Son, and Spirit in heart, mind, and action.

 

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Athanasius

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In this series, I will share significant quotes from pastors and theologians throughout church history in an attempt to present the riches of The Christian tradition for the Church today.

In his famous book, On The Incarnation, St. Athanasius – an important pastor and theologian from the fourth century who defended the full divinity of Jesus Christ –  presents a moving picture of the Triune God’s work of salvation. Specifically, Athanasius shows us the care and love of God the Father and Son for their wayward creation.  Athanasius argues that God created humanity for communion with him, but when he fell into sin, humankind lost their knowledge of God and their life with God. God in his goodness could not allow the corruption of his creatures. So in order to save humans and restore communion Jesus had to overcome death in humanity. This is how St. Athanasius describes this work of Salvation:

“For this purpose then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes into our realm, although he was not formerly distant. For no part of creation is left void of him; while abiding with his own Father, he had filled all things in every place. But now he comes condescending towards us in his love for human beings and his manifestation. For seeing the rational race perishing, and death reigning over them through corruption, and seeing also the threat of transgression giving firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was absurd for the law to be dissolved before being fulfilled, and seeing the impropriety in what had happened, that the very things of which he himself was the Creator were disappearing, and seeing the excessive wickedness of human beings, that they gradually increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves, and seeing the liability of all human beings to death – having mercy upon our race, and having pity upon our weakness, and condescending to our corruption, and not enduring the dominion of death, lest what had been created should perish and the work of the Father himself for human beings should be in vain, he takes for himself a body and that not foreign to our own… He takes that which is ours… And thus taking from our that which is like, since all were liable to the corruption of death, delivering it over to death on behalf of all, he offered it to the Father, doing this in his love for human beings so that, on the one hand, with all dying in him the law concerning corruption in human beings might be undone (its power being fully expended in the lordly body and no longer have any ground against similar human beings), and, on the other hand that as human beings had turned toward corruption he might turn them again to incorruptibility and give them life from death, by making the body his own and by the grace of the resurrection banishing death from them as straw from fire. (On the Incarnation, sec. 8). 

There is so much in this passage, and it is only the tip of the iceberg of Athanasius’s genius. Let us note a few things:

First, Athanasius is basically telling the story of the Gospel: God created and loved humanity, they fell into death and chaos through sin, and God in his great love sent God the Son to save humanity by becoming human and dying and rising for us so that we can have the life we were created to have.

Second, notice how Athanasius articulates God’s love for humanity. God pities and has mercy on humanity for their plight. He emphasizes that God wants to save humanity, it isn’t like he begrudges them. This reminds me of Psalm 103:13: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Athanasius sees the love of God most vividly expressed when the Son of God became human. Really, this passage is an extended meditation on John 1:1-18 and John 3:16.

Third, notice that in expressing the entirely free and holy love of God, he does not shy away from calling humanity what it is: “Excessively wicked.” The love of God reveals the depths of human depravity, not to condemn us to death, though we condemn ourselves in rejecting him, but to show us our need for the Savior.

Finally, notice the manner of salvation: God the Son becomes who we are, fully human, in order to die for us and destroy the death and alienation that our excessive wickedness brought into the world. At the same time, Jesus must be fully God, God the creator, through whom all things were made, in order to bring such a magnificent salvation to completion. If Jesus is not the Creator God, one with God the Father, then his death has no power to save and recreate humanity and the world. Jesus is God and human, and he unites humanity to God the Father through his death and resurrection. Note that the Father accepts the Son’s death because he loves humanity and wants to see them freed from death and slavery to sin.

In this passage, Athanasius presents a summary of the order and economy of salvation. But what is the end goal of Salvation, according to Athanasius? Towards the end of his book, he gives a short and famous summary of why the Son became incarnate, died, and was rose again for humanity.

“For he was incarnate that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body that we might receive an idea of the invisible Father; and he endured the insults of human beings, that we might inherit incorruptibility” (On the Incarnation, sec 54).

God became human that we might be made God; not identical with God, but that we might be united to God in Christ Jesus. The end goal of salvation is Communion with God. The content of this communion is knowing God and receiving eternal life. Or as Jesus said in John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus saved humanity from death and ignorance give them what they were created for: Life with God.

When it comes to sharing and living the gospel in the 21st century, not many people feel the guilt of sin; but we all feel the weight of death and meaninglessness. Athanasius’s emphasis on the infinite love of the triune God, salvation from death in Christ, and the revelation of who God is, who we are, and what we were made for, answers this weight by showing us that we are saved from death for a loving relationship with our creator and savior. We were created for intimate friendship with the God of the universe, and this God made the way for us to have that friendship: Jesus Christ.