Melito of Sardis on the Passion of Christ

In the second century, Melito, bishop of Sardis, preached a message known today as “Homily on the Passion” or “Homily on the Pascha/Passover.” It deserves to be read in its entirety (see here). For a sample read the section below:

94. Pay attention, all families of the nations, and observe! An extraordinary murder has taken place in the center of Jerusalem, in the city devoted to God’s law, in the city of the Hebrews, in the city of the prophets, in the city thought of as just. And who has been murdered? And who is the murderer? I am ashamed to give the answer, but give it I must. For if this murder had taken place at night, or if he had been slain in a desert place, it would be well to keep silent; but it was in the middle of the main street, even in the center of the city, while all were looking on, that the unjust murder of this just person took place.

95. And thus he was lifted up upon the tree, and an inscription was affixed identifying the one who had been murdered. Who was he? It is painful to tell, but it is more dreadful not to tell. Therefore, hear and tremble because of him for whom the earth trembled.

96. The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.

97. O frightful murder! O unheard of injustice! The Lord is disfigured and he is not deemed worthy of a cloak for his naked body, so that he might not be seen exposed. For this reason the stars turned and fled, and the day grew quite dark, in order to hide the naked person hanging on the tree, darkening not the body of the Lord, but the eyes of men.

98. Yes, even though the people did not tremble, the earth trembled instead; although the people were not afraid, the heavens grew frightened; although the people did not tear their garments, the angels tore theirs; although the people did not lament, the Lord thundered from heaven, and the most high uttered his voice.

99. Why was it like this, O Israel? You did not tremble for the Lord. You did not fear for the Lord. You did not lament for the Lord, yet you lamented for your firstborn. You did not tear your garments at the crucifixion of the Lord, yet you tore your garments for your own who were murdered. You forsook the Lord; you were not found by him. You dashed the Lord to the ground; you, too, were dashed to the ground, and lie quite dead.

100. But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried,

101. he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed.

102. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.

Melito of Sardis, Homily On the Passover, 94-106.

I encourage you to read this ancient sermon as part of your preparation for observing Good Friday and Easter this week.

God’s Sovereignty, Foreknowledge, and Human Responsibility in the Death of Christ

Mountains of Brass Cover

Click to enlarge.

One of the most persistent questions that pastors must address is one regarding the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. I addressed this issue several years ago as an M.Div. student from a philosophical/theological/biblical perspective in a paper titled “If God is Sovereign, Can Man Be Free?” (PDF). More recently I’ve discovered the way in which the 17th-century English Particular Baptist Hercules Collins answered this question. In his discourse on the decrees of God titled Mountains of Brass, Collins addressed the question of how humans could be free and responsible in their murder of Jesus, if God infallibly foreknew what would take place.

God’s determination that Christ should die to save man, laid none under a necessity of sinning, but God foreknew what the malice of the Devil, Jews and Gentiles would be against this person to put him to death. And God did determine not to prevent it, but suffer[1] it, because he knew how to bring glory to himself out of it. It was necessary Christ should suffer. God could not be mistaken in his foreknowledge, or come short of his determinate decree. But this neither took away the liberty of Christ’s suffering, neither did it take away the liberty of the Jews, and their voluntariness in putting Christ to death. God’s decree, Christ should suffer, did infallibly secure the event, but did not annihilate and destroy the liberty of the act, neither in Christ as aforesaid, who freely suffered himself, nor the Jews, who as freely and voluntary put him to death, as if there had been no decree of God at all about his death.[2] The gardener’s foreknowledge that such seeds and roots will in the Spring produce such leaves and flowers, is no cause of their rise and appearance in Spring; but knowing the virtue of such roots, so concludes. So God’s foreknowledge what wicked words would proceed from the root of a wicked heart concerning Christ’s death, is no more cause of those evil acts, than the gardener is the cause of the rise of such flowers in Spring from such roots, because he foreknew the nature of them. God’s foreknowledge that Adam would fall, put him under no necessity of it, but ‘twas done voluntarily and freely. Yet God foresaw infallibly he would fall, and God determined not to prevent it, knowing how to glorify himself by it. So God’s foreknowledge of the Jews putting Christ to death, did not necessitate them to it, but done as freely as if it had not been foreknown, nor any determination of God about it. Thus we have proved those acts of divine providence in time in the world, are the product of God’s eternal purposes.

Hercules Collins, Mountains of Brass: Or, A Discourse Upon the Decrees of God (London: 1689), 6-8.

[1] i.e., allow, let

[2] Mr. Charnock, on the Attributes. This is a reference to Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) whose lectures at Crosby Hall in London on the attributes of God were transcribed after his death and are presently in print as The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996). Collins is most likely referring to Charnock’s discussion of the relationship between God’s foreknowledge of man’s voluntary actions and man’s liberty of the will on pages 446-451 of the above volume.

Research Tips for Unfamiliar Topics

From time to time, students are called upon to write upon topics upon which they have little knowledge of the primary and/or secondary literature.  The following are some suggestions on how to begin researching unfamiliar topics.

  1. Search the online databases of the closest research library (associated with a university or seminary, mine is Boyce Library at SBTS)  for key words or terms related to your topic.  If you don’t know where the closest research library is or you want to search multiple libraries at the same time, try A search on this database will bring up a list of books, when you click on a title you will have the option of inputing your zip code and libraries containing the book will be listed in order of their proximity to your location.
  2. Look at the books generated from your search above.  Look at their footnotes/endnotes and/or bibliographies to find more books on the topic. Track their sources (going back to if necessary) to find their sources, to find their sources, ad infinitum.
  3. Another source for bibliographies listing works related to your topic can be general resources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and survey works (such as Church Histories and Systematic theologies in my field).  These will sometimes contain specific articles related to your topics written by specialists in the field.  Their bibliographies can be a goldmine for finding the most recent and best resources on a topic.  The general survey works, though probably not useful as a source themselves, will provide listing of more specialized works that will be useful for your research.  Again, track down their sources (going back to if necessary) to find their sources, to find their sources, ad infinitum.
  4. Search for articles on the topic or related topics using keywords in library databases or online at databases such as Google Scholar. Check their footnotes/bibliography. Then, track down their sources (going back to if necessary) to find their sources, to find their sources, ad infinitum.
  5. Another good source for bibliographies for further research are scholarly dissertations (which can be found at University/Seminary or through online databases, usually only accessible at research libraries) which have huge bibliographies. In dissertations, as well as the other resources mentioned above, the newer a resource is the better chance that its author has consulted the most resources and therefore would have the most up-to-date bibliography (this is not always the case with shoddy scholarship, so be careful here).

Tolle lege!

Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day

Patrick Cover

New biography of Patrick by Michael Haykin

We are blessed in our society today to have holidays such as Easter, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day which are filled with Christian significance. Unfortunately, almost all of the Christian meaning for these important markers on the Christian calendar has been forgotten. As much as we Christians like to blame the nebulous society around us, I don’t think it is the “world’s” fault that these holidays have not retained their Christian meaning. Instead, I fault Christians who are either unaware of their heritage or just plain derelict in their duty to educate their children. We shouldn’t expect unbelievers to celebrate Christianity, but we should expect Christians to seek to pass their heritage on to the next generation.

Hopefully you do use the holidays of Christmas and Easter as opportunities to talk to your children about the birth and resurrection of Christ respectively. However, days like St. Valentine’s Day and especially St. Patrick’s Day are often missed opportunities in evangelical homes. Perhaps we’re frightened away by the fact that these individuals are often associated with the Roman Catholic Church. But there is no need to fear Patrick for in him evangelicals have not a foe but a friend.

Patrick was a courageous Christian missionary to Ireland in the 5th century. His story of being kidnapped as a boy in Britain to become a slave in Ireland, his escape back to Britain, and his call as a missionary to return is a fascinating tale of God’s providence and grace. His dedication to the doctrine of the Trinity is both admirable and worthy of emulation. Talking to your children about how Patrick taught the Trinity to the pagans of his day provides a tremendous opportunity to explain this difficult biblical teaching to them. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Likewise, Patrick’s commitment to take the gospel to unreached peoples (Ireland at the time would have been considered the “end of the world.”) is another important teachable aspect of this remarkable life for our children. Read, in Patrick’s own words, his commitment to take the gospel to Ireland:

I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me. (Confession 37)

In short, St. Patrick should be introduced to our children as a courageous missionary hero who believed and taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Many legends are attached to the story of Patrick and though I believe most are grounded in some true events, the discerning reader must be aware of the mixture of legend and history on this early Christian figure. However, we are not dependent merely on legends to know about the life of Patrick. His autobiographical Confession has survived the centuries and is a fascinating recounting of his life.

For those interested in learning more, there is a helpful modern biography of Patrick by Philip Freeman. For parents wanting a good introduction that can be ready by or to their children, I highly recommend Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham. In addition, a new biography of Patrick has been penned by Michael Haykin, which is already available in the UK and is available for pre-order in the USThe Andrew Fuller Center is giving away a free copy of this book today. Click here to enter the contest!

A few short, but very helpful articles about Patrick’s modern-day relevance are available online.

This post originally appeared on March 17, 2012. It has been lightly edited and reposted today in honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2014.

Seven Podcasts for a Pastor-Historian

128px-Podcast-icon.svgOne of the challenges of the task of the Pastor-Historian is remaining sharp mentally and up-to-date with current discussions. One aid to this difficulty are the abundance of podcasts that can helpfully stimulate the mind of the Pastor-Historian. Below are some of the podcasts related to historical themes that I listen to regularly.

  • Great Speeches in History A podcast devoted to the great thinkers, statesman and other public orators that have graced us throughout history with their words. Complete audio of great speeches in history with original audio, if available. If original audio not available the speeches are narrated by a reader.
  • U. S. Presidents Podcast   Each episode will provide a brief biographical portrait of each president, explore the eras in which they led the country, and access the historical significance they hold for us today. This is a podcast for those that wish to gain a complete knowledge of the commander in chief.
  • 5 Minutes in Church History This podcast is hosted by Dr. Stephen Nichols and is a weekly podcast that provides an informal and informative look at church history.
  • Thinking in Public An interview forum, hosted by Albert Mohler, for intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues.
  • The Confessing Baptist Podcast This podcast includes interviews and discussion of all things that might be of interest to confessional Baptists, thus a heavy weight toward 17th & 18th century Baptist life and theology.
  • The Philosophy Podcast Features audio renditions of classic philosophy from such greats as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Nietzsche and much more.
  • NPR Books Podcast  NPR book reviews, news and author interviews — for people who love to read.

That’s my list. What would you add? Remember this is not a list of sermon podcasts, but of resources to help pastors think historically.

C. H. Spurgeon on Eschatological Excesses

In a sermon titled “The Ascension and the Second Advent Practically Considered,” preached on December 28, 1884, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Charles Haddon Spurgeon warned against eschatalogical excesses. This warning, first delivered over 125 years ago, still needs to be heard today.

In certain cases this uneasiness has drawn to itself a wrong expectation of immediate wonders, and an intense desire for sign-seeing. Ah me, what fanaticisms come of this! In America years ago, one came forward who declared that on such a day the Lord would come, and he led a great company to believe his crazy predictions. Many took their horses and fodder for two or three days, and went out into the woods, expecting to be all the more likely to see all that was to be seen when once away from the crowded city. All over the States there were people who had made ascension-dresses in which to soar into the air in proper costume. They waited, and they waited, and I am sure that no text could have been more appropriate for them than this, “Ye men of America, why stand ye here gazing up into heaven?” Nothing came of it; and yet there are thousands in England and America who only need a fanatical leader, and they would run into the like folly. The desire to know the times and seasons is a craze with many poor bodies whose insanity runs in that particular groove. Every occurrence is a “sign of the times”: a sign, I may add, which they do not understand. An earthquake is a special favourite with them. “Now,” they cry, “the Lord is coming”; as if there had not been earthquakes of the sort we have heard of lately hundreds of times since our Lord went up into heaven. When the prophetic earthquakes occur in divers places, we shall know of it without the warnings of these brethren. What a number of persons have been infatuated by the number of the beast, and have been ready to leap for joy because they have found the number 666 in some great one’s name. Why, everybody’s name will yield that number if you treat it judiciously, and use the numerals of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, or Timbuctoo. I feel weary with the silly way in which some people make toys out of Scripture, and play with texts as with a pack of cards. Whenever you meet with a man who sets up to be a prophet, keep out of his way in the future; and when you hear of signs and wonders, turn you to your Lord, and in patience possess your souls. “The just shall live by his faith.” There is no other way of living among wild enthusiasts. Believe in God, and ask not for miracles and marvels, or the knowledge of times and seasons. To know when the Lord will restore the kingdom is not in your power. Remember that verse which I read just now in your hearing,—”It is not for you to know the times or the seasons.” If I were introduced into a room where a large number of parcels were stored up, and I was told that there was something good for me, I should begin to look for that which had my name upon it, and when I came upon a parcel and I saw in pretty big letters, “It is not for you,” I should leave it alone. Here, then, is a casket of knowledge marked, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” Cease to meddle with matters which are concealed, and be satisfied to know the things which are clearly revealed.

Is Participation an Endorsement?: Infant Baptism, Church Discipline, and the Consciences of Believers

Given the strong views on baptism held by the first three pastors of the Wapping church (John Spilsbury, John Norcott and Hercules Collins) and these early Baptists’ commitment to holding members accountable to the teaching of Scripture, it should come as no surprise that church members were often disciplined for having their infants sprinkled. On October 2, 1677, Charles Cheney was excommunicated for (among other things) “the grand Error of the Baptisme of Infants.”[1] The next month, the Wapping Church Book records that Elizabeth Durbon “was sharply Reproved for the Sin of Sprinkling her Infant Contrary to the Rules of Christ and the Gospel.”[2] Durbon was not excommunicated because when confronted with her “evill” act, she repented of it and “fell under it before them for doing that which was Contrary to the Command of Christ and the practice of the Apostles and the Constitution of this Church and her own Covenant.” Likewise, in September of 1685, a Brother Hemings was brought before the church where he “did there acknowledge his Evele” in the sprinkling of his child.[3]

It was even considered a serious matter merely to attend an infant’s sprinkling. This was apparently considered an endorsement of an unbiblical and disobedient practice. In March of 1685, a Sister Leader was “sharply Reproved” by the church for being present at an infant’s sprinkling. No further action was taken against Sister Leader since “she did Acknowledg her falt therin.”[4] This was apparently an ongoing issue, as nearly a decade later a word of “Advice” was given by the church to midwives who were church members and might be asked to assist in the sprinkling of an infant.

At the same time this Advice was given to the Midwifes in our congregation that they be not concerned Nither in the holding the Child at Sprinekling nor at prayers Nor doe not promote nor Incurrige Godfathers nor Godmothers as so Called but that they beare such a testemony for the truthes they ownes against the contrary practise as that they may not defile ther Conscience and as may be an honor to the profession of Christ that they makes of him.[5]

This entry helps to explain why the church would discipline members who attended an infant sprinkling. These Baptist midwives were instructed not to participate in the ceremony, nor in any way to encourage the process. Their presence would be a condoning of the practice. By not participating, these women would be able to bear witness to their own beliefs as to the proper nature of baptism. In so doing, they would both guarantee a clear conscience and live up to their own profession of faith in Christ.

[1]Wapping Church Book, 2 October 1677. The other charges against Cheney were “neglect of his Duty in the Church” and “breaking his word.”

[2]WCB, 13 November 1677.

[3]WCB, 22 September 1685.

[4]WCB, 17 March 1685.

[5]WCB, 18 September 1694.