The August Theologian: The Good

Accordingly, we say that there is no unchangeable good but the one, true, blessed God; that the things which He made are indeed good because from Him, yet mutable because made not out of Him, but out of nothing. Although, therefore, they are not the supreme good, for God is a greater good, yet those mutable things which can adhere to the immutable good, and so be blessed, are very good; for so completely is He their good, that without Him they cannot but be wretched. —Augustine, The City of God

Fighting to Say ‘Grace and Peace’ (Galatians 1:1–5)

“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” —Galatians 1:1-5

In his letter to the Galatians Paul gives his typically untypical greeting untypically. Still with me?

“Grace and peace” are the standard fare of verbal appetizers to Pauline entrées. But Paul’s typical greeting is untypical. The normal Roman way of expressing epistolatory salutations was the word chairō, meaning “rejoice,” often limply “trans-interpretated” into English as “greetings.” It is used in two letters mentioned in Acts (Acts 15:23, 23:26), and James uses it in his (James 1:1). Paul, however, uses the related but distinct word, charis, and always marries it with “peace.” 

This is a distinctly Christian greeting that draws deeply on the Old Testament. John Stott writes, 

“Paul sends the Galatians a message of grace and peace, as in all his Epistles. But these are no formal and meaningless terms. Although ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are common monosyllables, they are pregnant with theological substance. In fact, they summarize Paul’s gospel of salvation. The nature of salvation is peace, or reconciliation—peace with God, peace with men, peace within. The source of salvation is grace. God’s free favour, irrespective of any human merit or works, His loving-kindness to the undeserving. And this grace and peace flow from the Father and the Son together.”

Paul didn’t say “grace and peace” the way we say “Hello!” For Paul to say these words, Jesus had to give Himself for our sins.

The saints need rich ways to greet, bless, and speak to one another. There is nothing wrong with using the customary greetings of our day, James did, but we have the opportunity to communicate so much more. I’m afraid greetings and ways of addressing and speaking to one another like this have largely disappeared because in our childhood experience they were either a rote formality where the gospel depths underneath them were not celebrated and/or because the church didn’t want to look weird. We were told not to load our seeker services with language foreign to unbelievers. I’m glad Paul didn’t have these concerns.

When we fail to call one another saints, it’s just yet another way we fail to be the saints—those set apart by the gospel. When we fail to greet one another with “grace and peace,” we fail to enjoy God’s grace and peace as deeply and communally as we should.

But how is it that Paul gives this typically untypical greeting untypically? By all of the modifying phrases he attaches to it. Only in Romans do we see Paul elaborate so, but whereas in Romans he appears enraptured, in Galatians he is enraged. Why? Because the gospel that is the source of this grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ is being threatened in a most severe way. 

Paul viciously defends this grace and peace for there is no other. If you don’t have peace with God, you do not have peace. You may have a delusion, but you do not have peace. What peace can one have when they abide under the wrath of God Almighty (John 3:36)? The only place you can find refuge from God is in God. If you would have peace with God, you must find grace from God; and there is grace from God only as it is grace from the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins.

May we not only greet one another with these precious blood bought words, may we fight to do so.

Who not How (Psalm 24)

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

The God of Israel is the God of all, and His majesty exceeds His domain, for His domain is finite, but His glory infinite. And thus the question,

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).

Does the answer of the psalmist distress you?

“He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 23:4).

What of grace and justification by faith alone? Note that the question is not how, but who—same three letters, very different meanings. The grounds upon which the saints come before the Holy One ever remains Christ and Christ alone. But here we do not have an explanation of how we come before God, but of who comes before God.

The hill of Yahweh is Jerusalem and His holy place is the Tabernacle. God dwelt in the midst of His covenant people who He had redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Before bringing them into the promised land He brought them to Sinai to receive His law so that they might be holy as He is holy. The people of God are a holy people because the God of their salvation is a holy God. The saved are saints. We are not fit for His presence, but He is making us so.

Make no mistake about this, if you would see God, you must be holy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:3). Elsewhere we are instructed to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). J.C. Ryle warns,

“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”

He continues,

“The favorite idea of many, that dying men need nothing except absolution and forgiveness of sins to fit them for their great change, is a profound delusion. We need the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the work of Christ; we need renewal of the heart as well as the atoning blood; we need to be sanctified as well as to be justified. …What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by any chance he got there? Let that question be fairly looked in the face, and fairly answered. No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in the water, when an owl is happy in the blaze of noonday sun, when a fish is happy on the dry land—then, and not till then, will I admit that the unsanctified man could be happy in heaven.”

God saves none but sinners, but every sinner saved is a saint being sanctified. Sinners who come with open hands, claiming no righteousness of their own, will find those hands cleansed by the God they come to in the blood of the Lamb who is their righteousness.

The August Theologian: A Way for Man to Man’s God through a God-man

“For since man is most properly understood (or, if that cannot be, then, at least, believed) to be made in God’s image, no doubt it is that part of him by which he rises above those lower parts he has in common with the beasts, which brings him nearer to the Supreme. But since the mind, itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence, is disabled by besetting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed, and renewed, and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the first place, to be impregnated with faith, and so purified. And that in this faith it might advance the more confidently towards the truth, the truth itself, God, God’s Son, assuming humanity without destroying His divinity, established and founded this faith, that there might be a way for man to man’s God through a God-man.” —Augustine, The City of God

The Full Range of the Psalms (Psalm​ 22)

“O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!” —Psalm 21:1 (ESV)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” —Psalm 22:1 (ESV)

What a contrast between the opening of the 21st and 22nd psalms! In the 21st Psalm we see the king rejoicing in his salvation; a salvation that came in answer to his prayers for deliverance from his enemies. In the 22nd Psalm we step back in time to hear the king’s prayer for salvation as his enemies encircle him.

In David these two psalms very could have been written of two separate attacks and two separate prayers, but for the Son of David, David’s Lord, these two psalms speak of the same prayers, the same enemies, and the same salvation.

The 22nd is a most solemn psalm. Spurgeon comments, “This is above all others the Psalm of the Cross.” We should come to all of Scripture with the highest reverence, but do we not sense that especially here it is as though we should take off our shoes for we approach holy ground?

Upon hearing some songs, sublime in their sorrow, if one doesn’t cry, you might wonder if they are human. One is tempted to say, that if one can hear this song and shed no tear, you might wonder if they are Christ’s. Sure, just because your eyes are wet doesn’t mean your soul is cleansed. Tears themselves are no proof of regeneration, but surely the saints understand.

And yet, our tears of sorrow are turned to tears of joy as this cry of dereliction gives way to a swelling chorus of praise led by the delivered King (22:22–31). This song takes us as high as it begins low, and it cannot begin any lower. The 22nd Psalm ends preparing the choir of God to sing the 21st.

“The rejoicing of our risen Lord must, like his agony, be unutterable. If the mountains of his joy rise in proportion to the depth of the valleys of his grief, then his sacred bliss is high as the seventh heaven.” —C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

The August Theologian: Grace Graciously Commended

The grace of God could not have been more graciously commended to us than thus, that the only Son of God, remaining unchangeable in Himself, should assume humanity, and should give us the hope of His love, by means of the mediation of a human nature, through which we, from the condition of men, might come to Him who was so far off—the immortal from the mortal; the unchangeable from the changeable; the just from the unjust; the blessed from the wretched. —Augustine, The City of God