We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (ESV)
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Friday of Christmas 1
3 January 2014
Today, no one retracts their errors; no one repents their faulty speech; no on ever recants what he has written and published. Certainly, the politicians and the chattering class that follows them and their antics never truly retract anything they have said. Instead, what they have said is spun, parsed, spindled, and twisted, until it is unrecognizable. At the risk of being obvious, President Bill Clinton's rather humorous verbal contortion comes to mind: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." It is no wonder we have trouble with the biblical teaching of the real presence in the Lord's Supper! Public repentance for morally incompetent acts or retraction of morally reprehensible words is not part of our political culture.
We are in similar straits in the church's way of dealing with the false teaching of leaders. At most, Christians can expect a false teacher to "apologize for misleading the church." Certainly, no one stands up before God and man to apologize because what he said was incorrect (and for that reason has misled the faithful). Seldom do we hear of those who have retracted former teaching that did not square with the divine revelation of God in the Son of Mary, the Word made flesh. When we do, it is arresting because of its rarity. I remember hearing the confession of a colleague, some years after he had left a parish neighboring my own, who lamented that he would never have done, nor permitted to be done, many things in that parish if he had known then what he knew now. He had become wise only too late. Years after the fact, he recognized the mischief he had perpetrated and permitted. His confession was memorable mostly because of its uniqueness.
I am not sure why, but the early church seems to have had many more public cases of confession of false teaching and the retraction of it. One of those retractions was written by a Leporius, who, following the Pelagian doctrine, taught that by his own free will and unaided effort he could become right in the presence of God instead of depending on the help of God. But after admonition he wrote a retraction, in which he both acknowledges his error and gives thanks for his correction. At the same time, in correction of his false view of the incarnation of Christ, he presented the catholic doctrine, acknowledging the single person of the Son of God, and the two natures united in one person. He was well remembered by posterity and honored for his retraction, which faithfully confessed the doctrine of the incarnation. Although it must have been embarrassing at the time, he still faithfully confessed the truth of salvation in the Word made flesh in his retraction, quoted by John Cassian. To be wrong is not bad, as long as it is the precursor to understanding, confession, and an affirmation of the truth.
"We confess that our Lord and God, Jesus Christ the only Son of God, who for His own sake was begotten of the Father before all worlds, when in time He was for our sakes made man of the Holy Spirit and the ever-virgin Mary, was God at His birth. While we confess the two substances of the flesh and the Word, we always acknowledge with pious belief and faith one and the same person to be indivisibly God and man; and we say that from the time when He took upon Him flesh, all that belonged to God was given to man, as all that belonged to man was joined to God. In this sense 'the Word was made flesh' (Jn 1:14) not that He began by any conversion or change to be what He was not, but that by the divine 'economy' the Word of the Father never left the Father, and yet gave Himself to become truly man, and the Only-begotten was incarnate through that hidden mystery which He alone understands (for it is ours to believe and His to understand).
"While God the Word Himself receives everything that belongs to man, is made man, and the manhood that is assumed, receiving everything that belongs to God cannot but be God, yet He is said to be incarnate and unmixed, we must not hold that there is any diminution of His substance. For God knows how to communicate Himself without suffering any corruption, and yet truly to communicate Himself. He knows how to receive into Himself without Himself being increased thereby, just as He knows how to impart Himself in such a way as Himself to suffer no loss. We should not then in our feeble minds make guesses, in accordance with visible proofs and experiments, from the case of creatures which are equal, and which mutually enter into each other, nor think that God and man are mixed together, and that out of such a fusion of flesh and the Word (i.e., the Godhead and manhood) some sort of body is produced. God forbid that we should imagine that the two natures being in a way molded together should become one substance. For a mixture of this sort is destructive of both parts. For God, who contains and is not Himself contained, who enters into things and is not Himself entered into, who fills things and is not Himself filled, who is everywhere at once in His completeness and is diffused everywhere, communicates Himself graciously to human nature by the infusion of His power."
John Cassian, "The Confession of Leporius," Seven Books on the Incarnation of the Lord, 1.5
Lord Jesus, You for whom it is to understand as it is for us to believe, send us Your Holy Spirit that we might retract our unbelief and hardheartedness, and confess Your full divinity in Your incarnation of the Virgin Mary. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
For the family and friends of Lee Burrows, who will receive Christian funeral rites tomorrow, that the Lord of life would be with them giving them a right faith and the courage to confess it
For Wayne Galler, that the Lord Jesus would be with him providing strength and the peace that surpasses human understanding
For husbands and wives, that they would find strength to serve one another in the love which is a gift from Christ, the bridegroom of the His bride, the church
For all those who are lonely and shut in, that their family and friends would visit them to provide cheering contact and the glad tidings of the season of the incarnation
Art: CORREGGIO Nativity Holy Night (1528-30)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014