Macrina the Younger – The Fourth Cappadocian

by Simonetta Carr

The Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus) are well known for their theological contributions to the doctrines of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. Basil’s and Gregory of Nyssa’s sister Macrina is less known, in spite of the powerful influence she exercised on her whole family.

 

Turning the Family in a New Direction

            Macrina was born in Caesarea, Cappadocia (in today’s Turkey), around 327 AD. Her family had a reputation for piety. She is called “the younger” because her grandmother – a survivor of the persecutions by emperors Decius and Diocletian – bore the same name. Both of Macrina’s grandfathers had died as martyrs.

            When she turned twelve, her parents, Basil the Elder and Emmelia, arranged for her to marry a young man who was planning to become a lawyer. Macrina agreed to the marriage, but her prospective husband died suddenly before the wedding could take place. Apparently, Macrina had no problem finding other suitors, but refused to consider another marriage.

            Initially, her decision might have been dictated by her respect for her fiancée’s memory. Eventually, it became a religious choice. Celibacy and ascetism had become increasingly valued as ways of devoting more time to God in a busy world where Christians, no longer persecuted, were easily caught up in the materialistic and prideful ambitions of their age.

            At home, Macrina helped her mother in her household duties, which increased in 340 after her father’s death. There were other children in the family (possibly a total of nine), but only four are remembered besides Macrina: Basil, Gregory, Naucratius, and Peter, who was born just before his father’s death. Peter was basically raised by Macrina, who was to him (in Gregory’s words) “father, teacher, tutor, mother, giver of all good advice.”[1] Eventually, Basil, Gregory, and Peter became bishops, while Naucratius became a famous jurist.

            Macrina’s enthusiasm for an ascetic life was contagious. When her mother transferred the family to their estate in Annisa, Pontus (on the southern coast of the Black Sea), Macrina persuaded her to turn the place into a religious community. There, the family and some like-minded people lived together, devoting their time to prayer, service to others, and “endless hymnody.”[2] Eventually, Emmelia freed all her slaves, so that everyone in the community could live on equal terms.

            Over time, the community became well-known for its radical generosity. For example, in 369, during one of the worst droughts in the region, Macrina did more than feed those who knocked at her doors. Together with her brother Peter, she searched the area for children who were abandoned by their starving parents and adopted them into her community.

 

Macrina and Basil

            By the time her brother Basil returned from Athens, where he had gained a reputation as rhetorician after a long course of classical and forensic studies, his home was a far cry from the original, wealthy Roman domus of his youth. According to Gregory, Basil’s success had made him rather smug and arrogant, and Macrina had no hesitation in pointing it out, while encouraging him to pursue a humble, monastic life.

            Basil had already been attracted by the new ideal of monastic life, particularly through the writings of the monk Eustathius of Sabaste, but Gregory mentions only Macrina’s intervention, which had probably a deeper and more personal impact on Basil’s life.

            Eventually, after spending some time visiting newly-founded monastic centers in Egypt and Syria, Basil concluded that the model of monasticism Macrina had founded at home – an ordinary life of housework, prayer, and service to others – was more congenial to a true Christian life. “How will [a Christian] give evidence of his compassion,” he asked, “if he has cut himself off from association with other persons? And how will he exercise long-suffering, if no one contradicts his wishes?”[3]

            With this new vision, Basil founded or reformed several monasteries, compiling two Scripture-based books of instructions (Shorter Rules and Longer Rules) for their members. After becoming bishop of Caesarea, he continued his charitable activities. Through a persistent program of fund-raising, he was able to build a large complex of facilities which included a hospital and convalescent home, a home for the orphans and elderly, and the first hospital for lepers, all staffed by physicians and nurses.

            Macrina’s influence became manifest not only in her brother’ life decisions, but also in his understanding of Christian compassion in a selfish culture where land-owners cherished their goods to the point of turning calamities into opportunities for profit.

           

Macrina and Gregory

            Gregory has no qualms in recognizing Macrina’s positive influence on his life. In 377, when Emperor Valens banished him from his position as bishop of Nyssa, it was Macrina who snapped her brother out of his whining by reminding him to count his blessings and recognize God as the sole reason for any of his achievements. “You are renowned in cities and peoples and nations. Churches summon you as an ally and director, and do you not see the grace of God in it all? Do you fail to recognize the cause of such great blessings, that it is your parents’ prayers that are lifting you up on high, you that have little or no equipment within yourself for such success?”[4]

            Macrina died in 379 of an illness after a long life of service. Gregory wrote two works about her: The Life of Macrina, a short biographical description, and On the Soul and Resurrection, an account of the Socratic-style dialogue he held with her while she laid on her deathbed. The hagiographic nature of the first work has led some to doubt its historical accuracy, while others have reduced the second to a literary device used by Gregory to express his thoughts. By presenting himself as the questioning disciple and Macrina as the steadfast teacher, in fact, Gregory was able to explore his natural, contradictory feelings in the face of death, while providing a balance in her rational answers.

            In any case, this is the Macrina Gregory wants us to know: a strong, resolute woman who was firmly committed to the welfare of others and the glory of God, and an active participant in the ongoing exchange of ideas which characterized the lives of Basil, Gregory, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus. If so, she fully deserves the designation of “fourth Cappadocian.”

 


[1] Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of St. Macrina, Richard Clay & Sons, 1916, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/gregory_macrina_1_life.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Basil of Caesarea, Longer Rules 7, as quoted in Michael Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2011, p. 110

[4] Gregory, The Life of St. Macrina.

 



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The Apostle’s Creed: An Introduction

by Jeffrey Stivason

Many have known the Apostle’s Creed from youth. Likely, it is the most popular creed in Christendom. The Anglican Prayer Book simply calls it, The Creed, like Thomas simply called Aristotle, the Philosopher. It has primacy of place.

And Christians have treated it that way. Universally, it seems to have been thought of as an expression which summarizes basic beliefs. For instance, you can find a number of simple books on the Apostle’s Creed, which are meant to explain the faith.  Not to mention that throughout church history theologians have used it as a template to divide the heads of theology.

What is more, the Creed is often seen as something that unites Christians because it has that sense of taking one to the lowest common denominator, doctrinally speaking. But this prompts a question. Was the Apostle’s Creed written to occupy this sort of place in the church?  Was it written as a universal summation of the Christian faith?

Before we can answer that question there may be another question lurking in the background with which we must deal. What reason or reasons were there for developing a creed in the early church? Foundationally, drawing up boundaries, transmitting truth and protesting error are the big three.

For instance, the Nicean Creed was formed to fence off Arianism. The Council of Constantinople in 381 dealt with the Decetism of Apollinarius. The council of Ephesus in 431 dealt with Nestorius. Boundaries, the passing on of truth and protest were uppermost in the thinking of these councils.  And that is true of the creed known as the Apostle’s Creed.

It had its beginnings in Roman. In fact, it was originally called the Roman Symbol and appeared on the scene around 150 to 175 AD. So, perhaps the logical question is what was happening in Rome about that time? The answer is not hard to discover.

About 140 AD there was a man by the name of Marcion in Rome and his teachings were nothing short of heretical. For instance, he taught that the God of the OT was different from the God of the New.  Thus, the God of the Christian was not the creator God of the OT.  Marcion taught that the God of the OT was angry and stern whereas the God of the NT is a God of love.

According to Marcion, not only was the God of the OT angry, he also created all material. And if the God who created material was a mean old god, then the material he created must not be far behind in terms of badness! Now, think of the implication. If Jesus was different from that mean OT God, then Jesus couldn’t really have had a material body. Therefore, Marcion taught that Jesus only seemed to have a body. This, in particular is the heresy is docetism. 

Dokew (transliteration) is Greek for “to seem.” Thus, Jesus only seemed to have a body. But Marcion wasn’t the only docetist around. There were others. For instance, the Gospel of Peter, another heretical document, began to circulate in the church after 150. And notice the docetism in it.  It says of Christ, “And they brought two wrongdoers and crucified the Lord in the middle of them, but He was silent as having no pain.”

Do you see the docetism? Since Christ only appeared to have flesh he didn’t suffer pain. Furthermore, there was another docetic pastor in the church of Rome named Valentinus.  He too was popularizing his heresy. And so naturally the church responded by formulating a creed.

And we have evidence that the Roman Symbol was developed at this time because we have two faithful pastors in Rome using it; Ireneaus, a student of Polycarp who was a disciple of John, and Turtullian. Both of these men mention and use the creed to combat the heresy of docetism that was beginning to emerge in Rome.

But if we think that simply introducing a creed brings an end to the heresy then we are more optimistic than theological. With the introduction of the creed the heretics sharpened their heretical teachings. And as the heretics refined their false theology the church was forced to further define orthodoxy. And so, the creed was gradually amended to answer the heretics.

For example, “Maker of heaven and earth” was a later addition to the creed, obviously in response to Marcion, who said that God the creator was separate from the God of the NT. The word “suffered” was also added. Why?  Because the docetists claimed that Christ did not have a body and therefore did not suffer.  And even though the resurrection was in the original form of the creed the word “body” was added for the sake of emphasis. We could also comment on the phrase “descended into hell” but since we are going to take that up later we won’t deal with it here.

Clearly, the Apostle’s Creed was an expression of truth meant to combat a particular heresy.  But like all good creeds it unites the church in any generation around Biblical truth. So, in this series we are going to look at a valuable and enriching statement of the Christian Faith and we will do it line by line.

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

 

 



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The Role of the Holy Spirit Podcast

by Jonathan Master

Conrad Mbewe, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia is on the podcast today. He will also be with us at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology speaking on the topic of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Mbewe speaks today on the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. He gets right to the point by giving clear, simple, and yet powerful presentation of the Gospel. He anchors the work of the Spirit in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Scripture shows the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It’s of regeneration, conviction, reconciliation, and all the fruit that is produced in the life of the believer. Pastor Mbewe is excited to share with all that hear the power of the Spirit. Particularly that work  that he’s witnessed in the life of many around him!

Join in on this encouraging and joyful interview!

 

Get a FREE audio set out of PCRT on the work of the Spirit! Sign up and use the coupon code HS326 to download!

 

 

Show notes

Check what the Lord is doing in Zambia – Pastor Conrad Mbewe’s blog

Kabwata Baptist Church

Come hear Pastor Mbewe next month in Philadelphia

The Nicene Creed

The role of the Spirit in John 16:8; 1 Thes. 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:1ff.

The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson

The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power by John Owen

Visit our Reformed Resources for more on the Holy Spirit

 

Coming up next!

How important is for a believer to distinguish justification from sanctification? And what are some dangers in confusing the two? Jon and James talk to Michael Allen about what led him to write his latest book titled Sanctification.

 



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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Being a Pentecost Christian: Monergism

by Stephen Unthank

            It is in that well worn and wonderful passage of John chapter 3 where the apostle tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. But previously in that very same chapter Jesus tells us that God must also give His Spirit, and that without the blowing of God’s Spirit, there will be no believing and no eternal life.

            In Jesus’ late night conversation with Nicodemus, we become privy to some foundational truths concerning the doctrine of regeneration. And what becomes clear is that regeneration is accomplished by the Holy Spirit and it is done so monergistically. What is monergism? It’s simply the word which describes the biblical doctrine that the work (ergos) of salvation is accomplished by God alone (mono). And when it comes to a person’s regeneration, or what Jesus calls being born again, it is something only the Holy Spirit brings about.[1]

            But doesn’t a person have to believe in order to be saved? God doesn’t do the believing for a person, does he? No, but without regeneration, no man can believe, and so God’s Spirit must bring new life to those who are dead in their sins and trespasses. Indeed, as Paul convincingly argues in Romans 3, “No one seeks for God, all have turned aside” and until the Spirit of God brings about a spiritual resurrection, unbelievers are dead in their sins, following the course of this world and enslaved to the leading of Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3).

            So the big question is this? How is anyone born again? Answer: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Jesus means that a person’s regeneration is not up to them. It’s not their work. This is why theologians refer to the work of the Spirit as monergistic. It’s His work!

            Let’s let the Gospel of John lead us. When the Son of God, the true light who enlightens everyone, came into the world, did people immediately believe in him? No, “the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, that is, who believed in his name, he gave them the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13). Did you see that last line? It wasn’t their family line or upbringing that allowed them to believe in Jesus. Nor was it their self-exulted “free-will”. No, they were born again by the will of God.

            This is exactly why later in Jesus‘ ministry he explicitly states that “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail… this is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:63-65). That’s right! Jesus is talking about the monergistic work of the Spirit. Man in his fallen flesh can avail nothing towards gaining new life. Could Lazarus raise himself from the dead? No, a divine work of God was needed. Could Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones walk again and regenerate new flesh and life? No, the Spirit of God was the sole agent in bringing about such a miracle.  “And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

            So how does the Spirit regenerate me; how does He give me new life? Well again, it’s done monergistically; there’s nothing we can do to secure it. As Paul so poignantly put it in Titus 3:5, “God saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

            This isn’t a reference to physical Baptism, but a reference to our Spiritual baptism. Remember what Jesus told Nicodemus back in John chapter 3? “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus is referencing the words of the prophet Ezekiel where God promised to one day cleanse his people from sin and place his Spirit within them, transforming them from a spiritually dead and desolate people into a living and holy people.[2] That transformation comes only through an immersion of God’s Spirit.[3]

            It is God who pours out his Spirit to make those who are blind, deaf, and dead to now miraculously see, hear, and live. And what the apostle Peter points out is that God does this through the hearing of the Spirit-inspired Scriptures. In other words, the extraordinary work of regeneration comes through the ordinary act of hearing God’s word, and all of it accomplished by God’s Spirit.

            “To those who are elect exiles [i.e., believers]… according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ….According to his great mercy, God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… [and] you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:1,3, 23).

            Do you see the robust monergism in this passage? Our being born again is caused by God, but it comes through hearing the Spirit-inspired word of God and is accomplished by the sanctification of the Spirit of God. What is the effect this truth should have on us? Listen to what the Spirit says in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31:

            “Let no human being boast in the presence of God. [It is] because of him that 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.”

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.


[1] The phrase γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν could mean either born again, as many modern translations take it, or it could mean born from above. Context may demand the latter as the same word is used later in verse 31 where the meaning is clearly above. As has also been mentioned, Jesus’ only other use of kingdom language in John 18:36 suggests that Jesus is thinking about the kingdom of God from above when he states twice that “my kingdom is not of this world”(18:36). But because Nicodemus seemingly understood the meaning to be again when he responds as he does in verse 4, and because Jesus didn’t correct him, some have argued that γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν must mean again.  As D.A. Carson notes, it is not unordinary for John to be using double-entendre, and so the phrase may carry both meanings just as well. Carson, John. 189.

[2] Belleville, Linda L. “Born of Water and Spirit: John 3:5.” Trinity Journal 1, no. 2 (Fall 1980): 125-41.

[3] This same idea is proclaimed by the prophet Joel, especially Joel 2:18-29 and 3:18. After a description is given of Israel being made desolate, a veritable “Garden of Eden” which becomes “a desolate wilderness” (2:3), God promises to send life-giving waters (2:23) which he later describes as pouring out His Spirit (2:28-29). Joel continues, in alluding directly from Isaiah 2, to describe that latter day when all the world will gather in peace around God’s new Temple out of which “a spring will go out from the house of the Lord” (3:18). The climax of the whole scene being perhaps 2:27 where Joel declares that “you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God.” Here again is described God’s dwelling with his people in terms of a future temple which pours forth life-giving water, water which is said to be God’s Spirit. Jesus identifies himself as that new Temple and as the giver of life-giving Water, namely the Holy Spirit (John 7), all of which has bearing on how one reads John chapter 3.

 



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Joy that seeks us through our Pain

by Mark Johnston

The French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) said, ‘Joy is not the absence of pain’. Others have made the same observation repeatedly, either quoting de Chardin, or else expressing the same thought from their own perspective. It is a vital aspect of the joy we discover in the Bible and something we very much need to grasp if we are to experience this joy ourselves.

It is hardly surprising that people are shocked by this definition of joy. It jars with the prevailing notion that joy is found only in the good things of life. But, no matter how much we may try to fill our life with good things, we cannot exclude the bad and ultimately we cannot escape the dark shadow of death that casts its pall over life itself.

The Scottish minister, George Matheson, captured the richness of this distinctively biblical understanding of joy in the hymn, ‘O love that wilt not let me go’. At first sight it may seem to focus on the theme of love; but, as the verses unfold, it homes in on the joy bound up with the love of God.

Matheson goes on to speak about a ‘richer, fuller’ life and a ‘flickering torch’ whose ‘borrowed ray’ is ultimately restored. But then comes what is arguably the most arresting verse of the entire hymn:

O joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

and feel the promise is not vain

that morn shall tearless be.

The author gives the context for the hymn in his own words, explaining that it was “written in the Manse of my former parish (Innellan, Argyleshire) one summer evening in 1882. It was composed with extreme rapidity; it seemed to me that its construction occupied only a few minutes, and I felt myself rather in the position of one who was being dictated to than of an original artist I was suffering from extreme mental distress, and the hymn was the fruit of pain.”

As with all good hymns, this one was born, not out of a moment of inspired emotion, but out of rich and deep truths of Scripture. As we have noted in the previous articles on joy, the Bible presents us with a joy that is not found naturally in this world. A joy that is richer and deeper than the superficial alternatives people cling to, only to be left feeling let down and empty.

We find many striking examples of this joy throughout the Bible. In Psalm 31 David cries out to God in the midst of deep distress; but declares, ‘I will be glad and rejoice in your love’. At the end of his prophecy, at a time when Israel was facing major catastrophe, Habakkuk declares, ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour’ (Ha 3.17-18).

The most striking expression of this kind of joy is found in Romans, where Paul shows how the experience of deep joy is bound up with the great truths of the gospel. Having just explained how justification through faith, by grace is the basis of our new standing before God, he says, ‘And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ (Ro 5.2); but he goes on to say, ‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…’ (5.3). The unusual juxtaposition of these two dimensions of joy actually takes us to the very heart of the joy of our salvation. That is, the joy of being restored to God in Christ. This joy – bound up with the ‘Love that wilt not let me go’ – follows us to the darkest of places in our earthly experience.

The final stanza of Matheson’s hymn enables us to grasp this more fully when it takes us to the darkest place of all: the cross of Christ. With poetic irony, in the midst of the kind of mental torment that caused the hymn writer to look inward and downward, the dark sufferings of Christ lifts his head to look, not merely at the anguish of his Saviour, but to what those sufferings have secured for all who believe: ‘life that shall endless be’.

Christian joy is more than just a perspective on life; it is the experience of that new life which is found only in Christ. The life that flows from being united with him, that is the key to our being reunited with God and knowing that we can never again be separated from him.

So it is not without significance that Teilhard de Chardin’s definition of joy was not just that it is ‘not the absence of pain’; but is also ‘…the presence of God.’

The ‘joy that seeks us through our pain’ is neither faceless, nor heartless; it is the joy of knowing the Saviour God, whom to know is life eternal.



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Being a Pentecost Christian: Sanctification

by John Hartley

The third person of the Holy Trinity is no less zealous in applying redemption to us than was the second person in accomplishing it for us.

Like our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit is perfectly ambitious toward the children of God.

Once the Spirit applies the redemption of Christ – effectually calling us, regenerating us, giving new hearts to us – he then zealously continues to sanctify us in true and personal holiness. He will always be more ambitious in this gracious work than we. He will always be more effective as well.

The Lord says through his prophet: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

In those few words three brilliant truths burst forth concerning the Spirit’s ambitious work of sanctification in the redeemed.

First, without the Spirit man is incapable of walking in personal holiness. God must give us what we once did not have – his own Spirit. New life in holiness only begins by the gift of the Spirit.

Second, God gives his Spirit to dwell within his children. The Spirit is not just nearby, available to us if and when we are so inclined to reach for him. No. The Spirit is within us. He rules those inclinations of ours (Gal 5:17). The heart, mind and will are all made new. The dominion of sin in the whole man is destroyed. Remnants of corruption abide, but the graces of a new divine rule increase more and more, from the inside out, over the whole man.

Third, the Spirit of holiness creates agreement within us toward his own holy interests. It is not perfect, but it is new and increasing. The Spirit causes you to walk according to God’s standards. He presses you along and up a narrow path you have not designed, straightening and strengthening your gait more and more until the end of the age.

These truths of Ezekiel 36 are beautifully echoed in the New Testament: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

This passage is about sanctification. It is a call to respond to the ambitions of the Spirit as he graciously works holiness into our lives. The Spirit gives and then summons the believer to sow what he has given. The Spirit is this ambitious about our personal holiness.

The more we understand the Spirit’s gracious ambitions the less likely we are to suffer from two dulling mindsets about holiness.

The first is that of frustrated paralysis.

In this mindset the believer is so frustrated by what they perceive as the crushing weight of obligation toward personal holiness that the task is largely neglected. Holiness looks too big. It looks too long. It looks too hard. But none of these limitations are true of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in the grace and glory of Christ’s death and resurrection, then the Spirit is already at work within you. He has lifted you from death into life. He is even now pressing you out of sin-laden paralysis. He is pressing you into prayer. He is pressing you to hear preaching. He is pressing you to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He is pressing you to believe in Christ’s deep and abiding love. The Spirit is pressing with a careful and unrelenting ambition to bring to you the very things by which He straightens and strengthens you.

The second dulling mindset the ambitious Spirit overcomes is that of managerial conceit.

In this mindset the believer comes to think he can manage personal holiness as he sees fit. Sanctification is regarded as all his own work. Holiness will happen on his schedule: “I’ll put away that pet sin later.” “I’ll get serious about the charity I now neglect later, after I complete one more selfish pursuit.”

The holy ambitions of the Spirit challenge the whole calculus of managerial conceit. The Spirit is on the move, so should we be. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit knows we are frail children of dust. He will not break us by some inhumane pace. But neither will he let us break him, like some domesticated pet. He is the Lord after all.

John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.

 

 

 



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John Newton as Father – Through Joys and Pains

by Simonetta Carr

The first part of John Newton’s life is well known. Born in 1725 in Wapping, London, he lived a turbulent youth, dominated, from age 17, by compelling feelings of love for Mary Catlett, known as Polly. The impulsiveness of these feelings conflicted with his father’s plans to set him up for a profitable career.

            Press-ganged by the Royal Navy into military service in the eve of France’s declaration of war against England, Newton embarked in a series of misadventures (mostly caused by his misbehavior), which brought him floggings, starvation, exposure to the elements, and ridicule. At one point, he felt like jumping into the ocean. “The secret hand of God restrained me,”[1] he wrote.

            Some respite came when a slave trader employed him first as assistant and then business partner. John loved this new, comfortable life, and had no qualms about the nature of his work. The only way a friend of his father, who had come to rescue him, could persuade him to leave was by lying about a huge inheritance waiting for him at home – the equivalent of two million dollars.

            Newton’s carefree and disrespectful attitude continued on the way home, until the ship, the Greyhound, was caught in a terrible storm. For the first time in many years, he instinctively prayed for God’s mercy. Eventually, after almost a month of battling the waters and fighting for survival, the crew sighted land. On April 8, 1748, Newton stepped on firm land a changed man.

 

Slow Progress

            Some accounts of Newton’s life stop at this point, or when he married the girl of his dreams. After this, these reports say, he became a pastor, understood the evils of slavery, and wrote many hymns – a short appendix, focused on his transformation. In reality, this second and longest part of his life is somewhat more exciting and relatable than the first. The truth is, while we love hearing of dramatic conversions, we usually progress at an annoyingly sluggish pace.

            Newton spoke often about this frustratingly slow progress in his Christian life. Even after his awakening on the Greyhound, it took him years of study and many conversations with other Christians to come to a clear understanding of God’s grace.

            As 21st-century readers, we find his seemingly unperturbed continuation in the slave trade particularly puzzling. And yet, this trade was so widely accepted in his day that Wilberforce’s first motion to end it was crushed in Parliament by 163 votes to 88.

            At the same time, it was partially this slow and gradual progress that taught Newton how to act with patience in the toughest circumstances and the most discouraging cases. He showed, for example, enduring patience to his friend William Cowper, even when the poet’s state of mind gave no indication to improve, and patiently encouraged the recipients of his many letters. He also expressed great patience in his care for his adopted daughters.

 

Papa Newton

            Newton’s experience as a father is one of the lesser-known aspects of his life. It all began in 1774, when he and Polly took in a daughter of Polly’s brother, five-year old Elizabeth Catlett, known as Betsy, who had lost both of her parents. The Newtons loved her as their own. John measured her growth by marks on the wall, by the fireplace, and Polly baked her favorite cakes. Betsy called Newton Papa and Polly Mamma.        

            As Betsy grew, Newton sent her to a boarding school, where girls her age could receive the best education, but kept in close contact with frequent visits and letters.

            These letters express typical parental apprehensions, especially when she didn’t reply, didn’t return home for a scheduled visit, or didn’t seem to speak freely from her heart. He was troubled by this lack of communication, which deprived him of the opportunity “of attempting to relieve, encourage, or direct”[2] the young girl. To facilitate free expression, he asked Betsy’s governess to bend the school’s rules and refrain from reading her letters before she mailed them.

            He tried not to sound overbearing in his concern for her soul. “I would not overdo you upon this subject,” he once wrote, “though the truth is, this is my chief desire for you, that you may know the Lord and love him. … I know that I cannot make you truly pious, nor can you make yourself so. It is the Lord’s work, and I am daily praying him to bless you indeed.”[3]

 

Stormy Seas

            As every parent, he feared Betsy’s unknown future. Given his sailing background, he compared it to a stormy sea. “You are now, as it were, in a safe harbor; but by and by you must launch out into the world, which may well be compared to a tempestuous sea. I could even now almost weep at the resemblance. But I take courage, as my hopes are greater than my fears. I know there is an infallible Pilot, who has the winds and the waves at his command. There is hardly a day passes, in which I do not entreat him to take charge of you. Under his care I know you will be safe.”[4]

            In 1783, the Newtons took in another orphaned niece, 12-year old Elizabeth Cunningham, known as Eliza, daughter of Polly’s sister. Eliza’s father, brother, and sister had all died of tuberculosis, and both Eliza and her mother had contracted the disease. The Newtons invited both to their house, but only Eliza survived long enough to move in.

            In spite of Newton’s diligent care, which included frequent trips to the coast, Eliza’s condition worsened until she died at age 14. Newton, who had spent much time preparing her for this moment through prayer and Bible reading, was greatly comforted by her eagerness to meet her Savior. The text she chose for her funeral was Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

            Eventually, Betsy finished school and became a great source of support for Newton, especially after Polly died of cancer in 1790. Ten years later, however, the stormy waters he had dreaded became a reality. A long illness affected her mind so much that she began to have uncontrollable fears. “She is always under the immediate apprehension of death,” Newton wrote, “which is very terrible in her state of despondency. I seldom leave her but she says I shall find her a corpse on my return.”[5]

            Betsy’s thoughts were so irrational and uncontainable that Newton took her to a doctor who was also his friend. “I am willing to use the means,”[6] he said. Eventually, she was admitted to Bethlehem Hospital, where she was not allowed visitors, but Newton walked to the building at a certain time every morning and waved in the direction of her window. Since by that time his eyesight was very poor, he would ask a friend or servant to tell him if Betsy waved back. “Do you see a white handkerchief being waved to and fro?” he would say. If his friend said yes, he would go home happy.

            Betsy’s illness caused Newton so much pain that his friend William Bull wrote, “He is almost overwhelmed with this most awful affliction. I never saw a man so cut up. He is almost broken-hearted.”[7] After all, he had just walked through the dark valley of mental illness with his friend Cowper and couldn’t imagine a similar path for Betsy.

            He was honest about his contrasting feelings. “I feel too often the workings of unbelief and self-will,” he said. What gave him strength was the memory of who God was and what he had done both in history and in his own life. “I believe only the help of him who made heaven and earth, and who raises the dead, can effectually relieve us,” he said. “I aim to commit her into his faithful hands, and I trust he will help me to abide by the surrender I have made, of myself and my all, to him.”[8]

 

A Peaceful End

            Thankfully, Betsy recovered. In 1805, she married an optician named Joseph Smith, and the couple remained with Newton, who by that time needed much assistance.

            Newton died peacefully on 21 December 1807. He lived long enough to hear that Wilberforce’s bill to abolish the slave trade had finally passed, with the overwhelming majority of 283 votes to 16, an amazing turn of events in a short period of time. It might not have surprised Newton, however, who knew fully well how quickly and forcibly God can turn hearts with the same grace he liked to call “invincible.”[9]

 


[1] The Works of Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 12

[2] John Newton, Works, Vol. 4, Nathan Whiting, New Haven, 1824, p. 397.

[3] Ibid, p. 390.

[4] Ibid, p. 397.

[5] John Newton, Letters, ed. Josiah Bull, Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Coffin, The Religious Tract Society, London, p. 396

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, p. 398

[8] Ibid, p. 396

[9] Ibid, p. 264

 



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Being a Pentecost Christian: The Gifts and the Gift

by Steven McCarthy

People love lists, from the Billboard Top 20, to 9-things-you-should-know-about-this, to 16-reasons-you-should-never-do-that. Perhaps this is why churches sometimes seem to obsess over lists of “spiritual gifts” (abilities the Spirit works in people),[1] even to the apparent neglect at the Giver, the Spirit, who is himself the Gift above all gifts, and the fruits of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace,” etc. (Gal 5:16-26) – which his “spiritual gifts” are meant to promote. Yet there are such lists to be found in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. And, as with all the Spirit teaches in the Bible, they are for our benefit (2Ti 3:16), if properly employed. Without repeating what others will write about who the Spirit is and what he does, I will seek to treat “spiritual gifts” in the context of the gift of the Spirit and the Spirit’s fruits.

Comparing lists, 1 Corinthians 12 presents markedly miraculous powers. These range from speaking abilities, such as prophecy (most likely in the sense of uttering direct, often predictive communications from God) and a supernaturally acquired capacity to speak other languages (“tongues”), to action-abilities, such as “faith” to work miracles or to convey healing to others beyond doctors or medicine. Many have held that these so-called “sign-gifts” faded with the close of the church’s foundational era.[2] The apostle Paul confronts the divisive abuse of these gifts and of other current practices in the church at Corinth, and stresses that even such powerful abilities, which he calls “manifestations of the Spirit”, were Divinely intended “for the common good” (1Cor 12:7).[3]

Ephesians 4 actually describes official positions, roles, or functions in the church community, rather than various abilities. Many have held that some of these are unique to the foundational era of the church (e.g., apostles), while others are generally recognized as continuing (e.g., pastor-teachers). Certain abilities would of course be necessary for these various roles.

Romans 12, in contrast to 1 Corinthians, can be seen as detailing abilities of a less pronouncedly supernatural character. However, these too are attributed personally to the Spirit of God as “the Lord and Giver of Life,” and not merely to natural causes. After all, the Spirit of God is even responsible for animal and vegetable life (Psalm 104:29-30). The gifts again range from action-abilities, such as serving, to speaking-abilities, such as teaching, but this time of a kind that is generally recognized as remaining in the church (though there are debates about the precise nature of such items as “prophecy”).

By all means, examine these lists, particularly that in Romans 12 which is generally acknowledged as being in active, global currency, and consider what abilities the Spirit may have proportioned to you (1Cor 12:11). But do so with the following firmly in mind.

First, God the Spirit himself is the indescribable Gift from God the Father and God the Son (John 14:16). The Spirit’s chief work is to illumine our minds so that we understand the truth about Jesus Christ that he also first inspired to be proclaimed (John 14:26; 16:13), to renew our hearts so that we embrace this saving truth (John 3:5; Matt 3:11), and to powerfully join us to Christ and each other as we partake of him together as Savior and Lord (1Cor 6:9-11; 12:3,13).

Second, the gifts of the Spirit are for the edifying of the body of the church, which the surrounding contexts of the three lists emphasize. In 1 Corinthians, for example, a discussion of “spiritual gifts” (12:1) gives way to the emphatic urging of “faith, hope, and love” (13:13) as “the still more excellent way” (12:31) the Spirit works. “The greatest of these is love,” which Paul says, “never ends,” though prophecies, knowledge, and tongues “pass away.” (13:8,13) This is because the gifts – both those of a more decidedly extraordinary character, and those of a seemingly more mundane nature – were all given to promote the Spirit’s overarching project of producing faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ, hope for the future completion of his work in us, and love for him, the Father, and, indeed, the Holy Spirit.

Steven McCarthy is pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Walton, NY, a graduate of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA, and a Th.M. student in Reformation and Post-Reformation Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI. He lives with his wife and three children in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York.


[1] Perhaps “spiritual” should have a capital “S”.

[2] E.g., Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 235-243.

[3] Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016).

 



The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Being a Pentecost Christian: Revival!

Generally speaking, to revive something is to bring it back to health or strength. Something is in some weak state and when it is revived it regains new health and vibrancy. Typically, when we hear the word “revival” in a Christian setting we think of a series of meeting that involve the preaching of the gospel in the hope and expectation that God will bring renewed spiritual health in individuals as well as the conversion of unbelievers.

Since the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity whom God sends to bring life to those dead in sins, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring revival. Moving from death to life in the “new birth” or being “born again” is a work of the Holy Spirit. He must impart life to that which is in spiritual deadness.

John 3:7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

John 3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Spirit of God comes like a wind, according to his will, and imparts life. Without the work of the Spirit imparting new life, we cannot understand the gospel:

1Cor. 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

1Cor. 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

A common understand of a “revival” is that it centers around a special event. Typically, what happens in a revival style meeting is a preacher or evangelist is brought in for the week to preach a series of salvation messages. In past generations, revivals were often called “tent meetings” because congregants would pitch large tents and preach outdoor to large crowds.

There are good historical roots to revivals. During the First Great Awakening in America, men like George Whitefield, John Wesley, and even Jonathan Edwards experienced numerous conversions as sinners were moved by the power and might of God to repent, confess sins, and turn to Christ. Sometimes these revivals caused people to stir with great displays emotion. While some rejected such displays outright and others automatically assumed this must be what the Spirit’s work looks like, Jonathan Edwards was careful to say that if it is indeed the Holy Spirit he will also cultivate lasting fruit and permanent changes in people’s life.

There are also some bad roots to the modern conception of revival. The Second Great Awakening, in Charles Finney and a few others, we have the use of methods to work up fervor so they would respond to the message. Finney actually argued if the minister applied the music and emotions, working the person up into an excited state, they were more likely to respond. Music, the altar call, and the “anxious bench” became the methods of manipulation. But the reality is no amount of human means can revive those dead in sins. Sadly, the idea persists today that if we can just work the person into a more heightened state of emotions, then they will be able to experience the work of God.

Let’s make some applications:

  1. Revivals are only the product of the work of God by the Holy Spirit. We should be utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit to do his work. No amount of effort on our part can cause a revival. I cannot work on the hearts of individuals, only God can. Therefore, we should pray regularly and consistently for the Holy Spirit to bring conversion.
  1. Revivals can be “big” and “small.” Sometimes we think and look for revivals as big extraordinary events. Sometimes they are this. Most times, God is at work reviving sinners in slow incremental processes of conversion and growth. The point is that while God at times may pour out the Spirit in abundance to overwhelm and convert a large number of people, this is no greater a miracle than the conversion of a single sinner. In large or small numbers, whenever sinners are moved from death to life the Holy Spirit is bringing revival. Therefore, we should ask the Holy Spirit to bring the lasting fruit that comes from conversion, rather than measuring revival by human standards of size and success.
  1. Revivals can happen to Christians. Consider in the book of Revelation, when John writes to the Seven Churches, several of them need revival. They need renewed strength, repentance, and a returning to their “first love.” There are times that the Christian needs to Holy Spirit to return them to a renewed fervor for the Lord. Therefore, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in us and draw us closer into communion with God.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.

Being a Pentecost Christian: The Spirit & Inspiration

What do we mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God? We mean that while it was written by men, it was not the product of their independent and fallible thoughts. It was inspired by God Himself, and specifically one Person of the Godhead: the Holy Spirit. In this book, the eternal God of the universe has spoken authoritatively, thoroughly, and finally.

Many religious texts have been written throughout human history, all claiming to be inspired by a deity or spiritual force. What separates the Bible from these other books? Namely, that its inspiration is of a different character. The legitimacy of the Bible is underscored by the fact that it was revealed not to one individual at a single point in history, but to multiple individuals over the course of thousands of years. It reveals a God who does not merely show up once or twice and then disappear from the scene, but is an active force in history.

The inspiration of scripture has been one of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit in redemptive history. However, it is not a task He undertakes without regard to the rest of the Trinity. We confess the classic formula that the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit proceeds. The Son is eternally the Word through which all things came into being (John 1:1-3), but what then is the Spirit? He is the very breath of God sent out into the world. The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit (ruach and pneuma) both carry a connotation of wind or breath. Even as the Word creates, so the breath of God gives life, seen symbolically in the creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7) and Job’s words, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)

The Spirit has worked throughout history to take the Word of God and breathe it into the lives of the saints. He has accomplished this in several ways, the first being the revelation of scripture and prophecies. This is vividly portrayed in the Old Testament, where we see the Spirit entering people and allowing them to prophesy. The prophetic calls of Jeremiah and Ezekiel depict the Lord placing His words in their mouths. (Jeremiah 1:9-10; Ezekiel 2:1-2, 9-10) The New Testament confirms that these prophecies were indeed the very Word of God. As the Apostle Paul said, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers…” (Acts 28:25b)

Then we have the two great New Testament texts about the inspiration of scripture. The first tells us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The Greek word translated as “inspired” actually means “breathed out” and refers to the essential role of the Spirit in the creation of scripture. Second, the Apostle Peter confirmed that prophecy came directly from the Spirit. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:16-21) Therefore, the Bible does not simply claim that it contains musings about God, but that it actually is the Word of God, and every bit of it is therefore authoritative.

While the inspiration of scripture occurred at particular points in history, we must also understand the ongoing nature of the Spirit’s work. The Apostle Paul spoke of scripture having a will of its own. (Galatians 3:8, 22) By this, he did not mean the physical pages, but the Spirit who inspired them. The Spirit continues to work in the hearts of believers to illuminate the scriptures. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

It is the Spirit who allows individuals to comprehend the truths of God’s Word and confess them. “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) It is the very Spirit who inspired the scriptures who continues to work through them, not only preserving them but also bringing promises to fruition. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 13:4)

We must acknowledge the Spirit’s special role in the inspiration of scripture while also acknowledging that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to reveal the Word of God. As Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me…” (John 15:26) This is a precious truth for us to remember: that the Bible we cherish is not a mere book, but a living and active Word that reveals to us the triune God.

Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.