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Psalm 82

 

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince." Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!  (ESV)

Faith Alone

Tuesday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity

17 June 2014

One of the great complaints against Martin Luther was his use of the word "alone" to describe the faith that saves in the presence of God by receiving the righteousness of Christ. The word "alone" is an exclusive particle, in that it excludes any hint of human merit as the basis for our right standing with God through Christ. Faith is only a hand that receives all that God has done through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ to work for us forgiveness of sins in His sight. Thus faith alone could receive all that God alone has accomplished. Any other way of salvation implies that we offer some act, work, thought, intention, contrition, etc., that either wholly or partially merits God's changed attitude to us sinners. Human wisdom certainly concurs that we are at least partially responsible for our own salvation. This is why the New Testament universally mocks human wisdom as foolish.

 

Before Christ came as a little Child Lord, the people of Israel in their wisdom anticipated a coming in glory when the Messiah came. They expected this Lord to rule in power and lead them to wipe their enemies off the face of the earth, slaughtering them in glorious battle. So often in Old Testament the Kings of Judah sought political solutions to their spiritual problems by defying God's demand that they should trust Him as the true Shepherd of Israel and spurn the "help" offered by other nations. Human wisdom didn't work out too well in the long run, as the mute witness of overthrown and destroyed Jerusalem testified. Now, after the Lord Christ came among us under the sign of the cross and hid Himself from human wisdom, our "wisdom" leads us to conclude that the Lord Jesus will not ever return in the glory of His power to judge the living and the dead (2Pt 3:4). Human wisdom has not had a good track record!

 

It must be wisdom of man or foolishness of God. Those are the alternatives. There is no other way to look at it. There is no third option. There is no mélange of divine foolishness and human wisdom that will do anything but destroy the divine foolishness of the gospel. This is why for Luther faith must always alone save. If it does not alone save, then there is an element of human wisdom that must arrive to help, prop up, or save God from his foolishness, "Yes, yes, the cross is just fine. It is a great, if dour, message. But there must be more too it than that. There must be that crucial (if you will excuse the pun) element of human wisdom and choice." This is the smoothly paved road to the hell created by good intentions.

 

Luther was severely criticized for his faith alone teaching by the very opponents who lionized the church fathers as an authority in the church, even to the detriment of Scripture authority. Remarkably, these same church fathers also spoke of faith alone as the way of receiving the foolish salvation of the cross, indeed the only way. Several times in his sublime fourth homily on 1 Corinthians, John Chrysostom makes this point in express terms. He even used the exclusive particle. If Luther is wrong about faith alone, so are the church fathers.

 

John Chrysostom

 

"How did God 'destroy the wisdom of the wise' (1Co 1:19)? Through being made known to us by Paul and others like him, He showed it to be unprofitable. For in receiving the gospel proclamation, neither is the wise profited at all by wisdom, nor the unlearned hurt at all by ignorance. For the shepherd and country folk will more quickly receive this, once for all both repressing all doubting thoughts and delivering themselves to human wisdom as ever after useful for nothing. Thus when wisdom ought to have displayed her proper powers, and by the works of creation to have seen the Lord, she would not. Therefore, though she would now willingly introduce herself to God, she is not able. For the matter is not of that kind. This way of knowing God through the cross being far greater than the other. You see then, faith and simplicity are needed, and this we should seek everywhere, and prefer it above external wisdom. For Paul said, 'God made foolish the wisdom of the world' (1Co 1:20).

 

"But what has God made foolish? He has shown human wisdom foolish in regard of receiving the faith. For since humans prided themselves on their wisdom, He lost no time in exposing it. For what sort of wisdom is it, when it cannot discover the chief good things? He caused wisdom therefore to appear foolish, after she had first convicted herself. For if when discoveries might have been made by reasoning, she proved nothing, now when things proceed on a larger scale, how will she be able to accomplish anything? Now what can wisdom do when there is need of faith alone, and not of mental acuity? You see then, God has shown wisdom to be foolish.

 

"It was His good pleasure, too, by the foolishness of the Gospel to save. This foolishness, I say, was not real, but only appeared to be. For that which is more wonderful yet is His having prevailed by bringing in, not another such wisdom more excellent than the first, but what seemed to be foolishness. He cast out Plato for example, not by means of another philosopher of more skill, but by an unlearned fisherman. Thus the defeat became greater, and the victory more splendid."

 John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 4.4
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, send Your Holy Spirit that I might trust Your foolishness rather than my own wisdom. Set before me Your cross and its powerful weakness through the preaching of the gospel. Rescue me from pride and unbelief and lead me through faith alone to the cross where Your wisdom shines. Amen.

 

For those who are suffering from unemployment or underemployment, that the Lord God would bring them work in keeping with their calling from Him

 

For the members of the LCMS, that they would confess Christ as Lord of the church

 

For all those who are struggling to maintain faithfulness in holy marriage, that they may be upheld in this divine gift
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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