Memorial Moment — Betrayers
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Monday of Advent 2
10 December 2012
Often the church fathers are taken to be betrayers of the biblical gospel. They are rejected by many modern Christians as legalistic preachers who did not know of the substitution of Christ in the place of the sinner on the cross. This is a lie and a calumny against the ancient teachers of the church; a church to which we belong by confession. While we should not idolize the church fathers as though they were incapable of being legalistic in their preaching and teaching, we need to read them to see how truly Christ and gospel-centered their writings were. They are the steel framing around which the later church erected her theology. The foundation was none other than the apostles with Christ Jesus as the head of the corner. So they are secondary in importance to Christ and the holy apostles and when their teaching is not square with the head of the corner, they ought to be disregarded as men who built with stubble rather than steel studs. Every human teacher must be subject to this criticism, if God is God.
I hope that our generation’s theological output is not judged as harshly as that of the church fathers has been by this generation, otherwise far less of our theological literature will survive the test of time than survived from the first five centuries of church life. We know-it-alls easily stomp on the pearls that are cast before us by the giants of the ancient church. We are Lilliputians lampooning giants for being too big. We are like high school physics students mocking Albert Einstein for his funny hair.
Upon reading the work of these saints, bishops, presbyters, and theologians, I have often prayed for leaders like them who, conversant with Scripture as their meat and drink, wrote sublimely gospel-centered sermons, letters, and courageous defenses of the holy faith of the church. Upon reading them, I repent of my arrogant modernism that presumes that what was written before I was born to be unimportant, frowsy and faded. Upon studying them, I grieve for my lack of immediacy in expression and my inability to paint Christ crucified with sufficiently compelling colors. Their speech is full of the gospel. They are clear that salvation comes not from us, but from God. John Chrysostom, the greater preacher and bishop, testified that “Nothing is from ourselves.” Everything comes from God for the forgiveness of our sins. If there is a betrayal, it is ours.
“‘All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ (2Co 5:18). Nothing is of ourselves, for remission of sins and adoption and unspeakable glory are given to us by Him. Paul no longer exhorts the Corinthians from the things to come only (2Co 5:1-10), but even from those things now present. Consider that we shall be raised again, and go on to imperishability, and have an eternal house. But since present things have more force to persuade than things to come with those who do not believe in these as they ought, he shows how great are the things they have already received. What was received by them? They are all dead (he said, ‘all died’ and ‘He died for all,’ and so He loved all alike) hardened, and grown old in their vices.
“But behold God gives a new soul (for it was cleansed), and a new body, a new worship, promises new, and testament, life, table, dress, and all things new absolutely. For instead of the Jerusalem below we have received that mother city which is above (Gal 4:26). Instead of a material temple we have seen a spiritual temple (2Co 5:1). Instead of tables of stone, fleshly ones (2Co 3:3); instead of circumcision, baptism (Col 2:11-12); instead of the manna, the Lord’s body; instead of water from a rock, blood from His side (Jn 19:34); instead of Moses’ or Aaron’s rod, the Cross; instead of the promised land, the kingdom of heaven; instead of a thousand priests, one High Priest; instead of an unreasoning lamb, a spiritual Lamb. With these and such things in his thought he said, ‘all things are new’ (2Co 5:17). But ‘all’ these ‘things are from God,’ by Christ, and His free gift.”
John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 11.4