Severus, Vincent, Cassian

Product Details

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol. 11: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian
by Philip Schaff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I began reading this series about two months ago. There is an online schedule that has you read 7 pages a day for 7 years to get through them all! I started where the schedule was, instead of with volume 1, page 1.

I picked a doozie to start with, apparently. Severus and Vincent and Cassian wrote in the 400s, A.D., mostly about how monks should order their lives, food, prayers, thoughts, clothes, etc. They catalogue virtues and vices, praise specific saints and monks for their asceticism, and decry monks that give it up and go back to their wives (!).

The huge star that shines in this comparative darkness is the last entry: Cassian's seven books on the Incarnation of the Lord, against Nestorius. A brilliant polemic against Arianism, Cassian makes many Scriptural and rational arguments for the full deity of Christ, rebuffing every possible and subtle heresy that would assert Jesus was less than God from all eternity.  THAT was worth reading!

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Shakespeare's SonnetsShakespeare's Sonnets by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At times soaring, at times indecipherable, Shakespeare’s sonnets are great literature indeed.

They aren’t your typical love poems, though. Many are about how time is eating away at his lover’s appearance, or how she is too low for him, or that he shouldn’t love her. In spite of these and other negative descriptions, he loves her anyway.

Not very romantic, on the surface. But they do get you thinking deeply about love, especially for those who have experienced it for a decade or three.

Here’s a sample exploration of lust from number 129:
“Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action….
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad….
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.”

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Two Noble Kinsmen

The Two Noble KinsmenThe Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Noble cousins Arcite and Palamon see and love the same woman and fight over her. They duel, but are caught by the king. They each refuse to yield to the other, so King Theseus sets a wrestling contest – the winner will get the girl. Arcite appeals to Mars, the god of war, so wins the fight. But Palamon appeals to Venus, the god of love. Arcite dies in a horse riding accident after the fight, and Palamon gets the girl.

Love makes you do crazy things, or go crazy.

Much of the play is taken with the girl they fight over – her agony over it all. And with the jailer’s daughter, who literally goes crazy, loving Palamon.

This is a retelling of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, and Shakespeare was a co-author.

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Henry VIII

Henry VIIIHenry VIII by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Henry VIII

Shakespeare retells the history of Henry putting away his noble first wife Catherine and marrying Anne Boleyn. The Cardinal falls, but not before putting a lot of innocent people to death for his own agenda. Anne gives birth to Elizabeth at the end, and much is made of how great she will be. She, of course, is reigning as Shakespeare writes!

The prologue was amusing: this isn’t going to be a happy play. It’s hard to face your country’s own ugly history.

Comparatively for Shakespeare, the writing was flat and seemed hastily done. He moves the plot along quickly with gentlemen talking in the street about what has happened, which seemed clunky and artificial. It’s still good literature, though, and worth the read for the history, too.

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CymbelineCymbeline by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cymbeline the king of Britain has a daughter Imogen. He wants to marry her to her stepson Cloten, son from his second wife, but he is a boor. She marries Leonatus, and Cymbeline banishes him. He finds a “friend” in Rome, Iachimo, who bets he can seduce Imogen. He sneaks in her room at night but doesn’t do anything, convincing Leonatus he did it. Leonatus in rage sends to have Imogen killed. She is headed for him, and meets with the king’s long-lost sons, her brothers.

Two important themes are slander, and how nobility can shine even in humble settings. Iachimo slanders Imogen, and Leonatus believes it enough to foolishly take up the bet to seduce her. Imogen blames her servant wrongly for thinking Leonatus dead. The sons are living rustically, but are noble-minded. They are drawn to Imogen, though she is a road-worn traveler.

This one has a happy ending, and it was a delight to see the king rescued from his enemies, foreign and domestic, and to see the slanderer get his due.

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King Lear

King LearKing Lear by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

King Lear’s 2 older daughters flatter him, but the youngest refuses to do so. He disowns her, but the king of France marries her. Then Lear goes mad when, after giving up power to the daughters and their husbands, his oldest 2 daughters reject and abuse him. The youngest invades and conquers, while receiving Lear mercifully. He comes to himself and repents, but they lose the battle. The 2 older daughters quarrel and betray each other, leading one of the husbands, and an illegitimate son who has risen to power, to reveal all their treachery.

As a tragedy in the vein of Hamlet, most of the main characters die in the end, either as justice for their own wickedness or as innocent “collateral damage” from others. The play rings home how betrayal and self-seeking will lay waste to your life.

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Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Annotated)Pericles, Prince of Tyre by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is all about distancing yourself from dishonor and wickedness. At the beginning he woos a princess, but finds out she is in an incestuous relationship with her father. He flees quickly. Part of the point is that if you flee hard enough and forsake worldly gain, you can escape evil and its consequences.

But you may suffer, still. Pericles marries, but his wife dies in childbirth at sea during a storm. The daughter is nearly killed and put in a brothel as a prostitute. But she resists, stays pure, and gets a decent job. Again, the theme of distancing yourself from dishonor. The happy family reunion at the end reinforces the theme that if you work hard enough at shunning evil, reward will come.

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Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? by Mark Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the hardest things for Christians, and Christian theologians, to balance is our justification by God’s free grace alone, and our duty to obey God’s Word. If we are more eager to defend faith alone, we might skip too lightly over our duty to God’s law. If we get excited about applying the law to every aspect of our lives, we might lead others to think wrongly that the law justifies us.

Mark Jones aims to guard against the first danger. Interacting mainly with Tullian Tchividjian’s recent writings, and also with the Sonship movement, our author takes up the old debate over the law between the Lutheran and Reformed, ably defending the Reformed view.

The Lutheran view opposes law and gospel, even into the Christian life, while the Reformed see them as friends, in Christ. “The antithesis between the law and the gospel ends the moment someone becomes a Christian” (Ch. 4, “Sweetly Comply” section, para. 2). “With the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend” (same). Notice that outside of Christ all agree that law and gospel are at odds: law condemns; gospel holds out rescue. But “As Richard Muller notes, ‘The law, for Lutheranism, can never become the ultimate norm for Christian living but, instead, must always lead to Christ who alone is righteous” (Ch. 4, “Sweetly Comply” section, para. 3).

This works out in our “street level” piety in this way: to avoid giving any glory to ourselves, average-Joe Reformed-guy will say that everything he does, even the most obedient, is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:4). We cannot keep the law and never will, so we turn away from it, to the Gospel and accept grace, never to look back to the law. But this is misguided.

“It is actually an affront to God to suggest that Spirit-wrought works in believers are ‘filthy rags,’ for these are works that God has prepared in advance for us to do in order to magnify his grace and glorify the name of Christ (1 Cor. 15:10; John 15:5)” (Ch. 5, “Good or Filthy” section, para. 3).

See the problem? Do we have to turn away from the law to accept grace? Yes, in the sense that we have to give up trying to keep it for ourselves. No, in the sense that we should still strive to obey God. But it is so easy to turn back to the law, once we have become believers, and fall back into legalism, trying to earn or keep our status with God. So easy, that many believers resist it at all. Any talk of duty or obedience must lead to legalism. No! No! Jones shines at this point, showing all the Scriptures that take us back to obedience, with nary a hint of legalism.

When we say God is pleased with us in Christ, is there no sense in which His pleasure changes based on our obedience? The antinomian, eager to defend God’s electing and unchanging love, will quickly say no, there is no aspect of God’s love toward us that changes, whether we sin or not, if we are in Christ. But the Bible speaks of our pleasing God or not, as Christians (2 Sam. 11:27; Col 1:10). This does not mean our obedience determines our salvation, but our obedience (or lack thereof) does affect our relationship with God. The antinomian, on the other hand, will oppose preachers who “warn their people that they can displease God and Christ or that God can be angry with his people, as he often has been (Ezra 9; 2 Kings 17:18)” (Ch. 6, “Displeasing God and Christ” section, para. 4).

Much of this debate revolves around our view of sanctification. The antinomian is prone to say that sanctification is little more than getting used to and living out our justification. The better view is to exhort us as Peter did to work out our salvation. “The sanctification of the church is an important part of Christ’s glory. It would be incorrect to affirm that we can add to or diminish God’s essential glory. But, again, we may or may not bring glory to the God-man, depending on our obedience or sin” (Ch. 6, “Pleasing God and Christ” section, para. 3).

May we look to our sanctification at all for assurance that we are in Christ? The antinomian would say no, that will lead to works-righteousness. But the classic Reformer said yes, our obedience is a secondary source of assurance (Ch. 7). The antinomian sees himself as a Christian as still totally depraved, ignoring the work of the Spirit moving him to obedience which pleases God. He assumes he isn’t much different from unbelievers as far as his heart goes. Looking within will only result in despair. The authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith saw it differently when they wrote that assurance is founded in part upon “the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises [of salvation] are made” (WCF 18:2). In other words, God is working something new in you, that will be evident in some ways. This doesn’t mean we are justified in thinking ourselves better morally than unbelievers, generally. But God is doing a work of sanctification in us that He is not doing in unbelievers.

Jones has a difficult PR battle with his thesis. No one who wants to be known as a defender of Reformed doctrines of grace and the five solas wants to imply what sound like caveats to our justification by faith alone. Who wants to appear to demote the importance of justification, the hallmark of the Reformation? And yet, if we are to do justice to all of Scripture, we must be careful not to wave our pet doctrine so loudly that it drowns out other important truths in the Bible. “The antinomians gave a priority to justification that went far beyond what Scripture teaches” (Ch 7. “Antinomian Assurance” section, para. 6). This is an audacious statement when writing to a Reformed audience! But I believe it to be an important caution. We have not exhaustively described the Gospel when we have explained justification. While justification is the capstone of Reformed theology, it is not all of it. It is the hinge on which our salvation turns, but it is not the whole door.

Where you stand in this debate as a pastor will dramatically shape your preaching. Jones critiques the antinomian: “The same repetitive mantras are preached week after week, to the point that if you have heard one sermon, you have heard them all. These are not overstatements. It is very difficult for some preachers to deliver messages each week when they have a sort of ‘systematic theology’ that they need to declare every Lord’s Day” (Ch. 8, “Different Types” section, para. 10).

Jones’ main point is that if we understand the person and work of Christ in His fullness, the apparent tension between law and gospel will resolve itself. Jesus justifies and sanctifies us for His glory.

This book may be especially useful for “cage stage” Calvinists who have just discovered the doctrines of grace, and for elders and pastors considering how to preach (and evaluate preaching on) the whole counsel of God. It isn’t an “entry-level” theology book – you ought to know a little about the Reformed doctrinal landscape before diving in. And he quotes old-language Puritans frequently. But I highly commend this work to you.

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The Tempest

The TempestThe Tempest by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tempest is one of those stories filled with magic and spirits and gods, but yet very much shaped by the Christian gospel.

Prospero has been exiled by his usurping brother, but he is a sorcerer who brings storms, wrecks ships, blinds and moves men as he wills, with the help of the fairy Ariel. He overcame the evil witch on the island to which he was exiled, keeping her son Caliban as his servant.

Prospero prevents a plot to kill another prince, and confronts his usurper, while also offering him forgiveness. It seemed to me that Prospero represents God, who sovereignly moves events, whom we have kicked out of His own kingdom/world, who offers us forgiveness, and who works in our hearts like Ariel to move us to repentance.

Shakespeare contrasts the faithful servant Ariel who gains his freedom at the end, with the treacherous Caliban (and others) who are self-serving and willing to betray their masters to get ahead.

Once you’ve read this, go get Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt, which is a Junior High meditation on various Shakespeare plays. He plays with Caliban’s many curses to great amusement.

“Toads, beetles, bats, light on you!”

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Liturgical worship // Goodwill toward Men? // Pious Sorrow Tempers Ferocious Attack

This is a great look at the benefits of liturgical worship.

Did the angels sing, "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men"
Or "peace among men with whom He is pleased"?
Andreas Kostenberger gives the right answer, I think.

"The bitterness indeed and blasphemy of your words might drive us to a furious and ferocious attack in answer; but we must somewhat curb the reins of our pious sorrow."
John Cassian (ca. 500AD), Seven Books on the Incarnation of the Lord, book 6, chpt 9.


The Winter's Tale

The Winter's TaleThe Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sad tale turned happy shows us how jealousy destroys, how God’s providential mercy restores, and how hard it can be to forgive.

The kings of Sicily and Bohemia are friends, but Sicily suspects Bohemia of adultery with his wife. It isn’t true, but he won’t listen to reason. His family is destroyed as a result. The source of the jealousy is his friend heeding her words after he wouldn’t heed his. This is a potent headwater of envy: to not be listened to easily brings resentment. Ironically, the king does not believe his wife’s pleadings of innocence, but he does believe the oracle of Delphi! He does to her the very thing that made him jealous.

Divine Providence restores. After 16 years, a faithful and observant servant brings his daughter back home. The wife isn’t really dead, and she comes back at the end.

But to forgive? A nobleman’s wife plays a key role in constantly, bluntly, reminding the king of the awful thing he did to his wife. She does not forgive him, reinforcing his own difficulty in forgiving himself. Turns out, she had the queen cloistered for 16 years, withholding her from the king! This is despicable. Shakespeare is a genius at making us feel revolted by this evil of withholding forgiveness. And then the king freely forgives her when she could not forgive herself. She swears she will never marry again (her husband died), but the king gives her a husband.

The cycle of offense has to stop with mercy and free forgiveness, or it won’t stop. Jesus Christ did this at the cross for the world, and “A Winter’s Tale” is a beautifully crafted, Gospel-shaped story.

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CoriolanusCoriolanus by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coriolanus, as retold by Shakespeare, was a successful general but a poor politician. The nobility wanted him to serve as consul, but he could not flatter the people at all, or even speak diplomatically. So they reject and banish him when the disagreement gets intense. He finds his way to his military enemy and offers to help attack Rome. Only his wife nad mother dissuade him from this, and he goes back with his enemy, who betrays and kills him. A tragic end – so unnecessary - for a war hero.

Recurring themes:
1 - the changing tide of the people. Several times the people change their minds about whether they like Coriolanus. They are easily led with flattery, the right words and charisma.

2 - pride can get in the way of the ambitious attaining their goals. While much of it was personality temperament, Coriolanus was just a stubborn jerk sometimes. He was more interested in standing on his honor than in overlooking provocations and pursuing peace.

3 - selfish political agendas can wreak terrible injustice for those who deserve better. There was no need to oppose Coriolanus as consul, except to grab the people’s support for themselves instead, which is what Brutus and Sicinius do. Coriolanus’ enemy, Aufidius, also does this at the end, deciding to assassinate Coriolanus to maintain his own position. There are shades and echoes here of the Sadducees and Caiaphas betraying Jesus: better one die to preserve our place and the nation.

While there were a few good insights into character or statecraft, this wasn’t one of Shakespeare’s best, literarily. It seemed like work to move the plot along. Perhaps this was due to the total absence of romance or marriage prospects – rare in a Shakespeare work.

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Sunday Christmas // Parenting Law or Grace?

Kevin DeYoung nails how to handle Christmas on a Sunday.

Paul Tripp puts the essential third use of the law to work in parenting.
Too often we think it has to be law OR grace, when in a sense, law IS grace.
(Yes, I know there is an important other sense in which law is opposed to grace.)
Law needs to be applied in a gracious way.


All's Well that Ends Well

All's Well That Ends WellAll's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All’s Well that Ends Well is a play about testing honor and seeing through dishonorable lies and selfishness. People often see the dishonorable for what they are, before the dishonorable know it about themselves. The mercy extended at the end shines all the stronger for the despicable behavior seen up until then. It is very easy to question the sincerity of one’s repentance when you aren’t sure, instead of simply receiving them in mercy.

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Alcohol as Badge? // Grace Motivates // Sabbath

Tim Challies makes an important regarding Christians and alcohol.

David Murray points us to grace as the primary motivator for all we do.  Grace destroys legalism, burnout, and a host of other problems.

Here's a look at making the Sabbath a delight.  Some helpful and concrete ideas, here.

Christians Get Depressed, Too

Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed PeopleChristians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David P. Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent, balanced and short.
Murray knows the difference between depression that is physically or chemically caused, and depression that irresponsibly mishandles feelings or difficulties. Sometimes the two are intertwined. Medication can be wrongly prescribed when the cause is spiritual. Rebuke can be wrongly administered when the cause is medical.

Murray’s main point in writing is in the title. Christians should not load themselves with false guilt simply for noticing they are depressed. Christians can and do suffer from all forms of depression. This doesn’t mean it is always a sickness for which they bear no responsibility, but sometimes it is. His main point leads Murray to argue against assuming as a default starting point that depression has a sinful cause. That may be where you wind up, but when the counselor starts his investigation from that viewpoint, it can harm the one suffering.

Being diagnosed with depression doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. One of the best parts of the book is the way Murray applies a Reformed view of God’s sovereignty to depression. God afflicts us with diseases and difficulties for a reason – a holy reason that is for our good, though we cannot see it.

The church does not handle afflictions like this well. How do you raise and face deeply personal problems publicly, and live with them for years, when they have no simple solution? The church needs to extend and show much patience and love through this.

Murray offers lots of practical help in a short space, for the sufferer and their caregivers both. Highly recommended.

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Repenting of Besetting Sins

How do you repent, again and again, when you can't shake that sinful habit?
Here are some thoughts.

True repentance looks like honesty without trying to put a positive spin on your fault.  Just be brutally honest about the sinful desires and thoughts you still see in yourself.  Repentance takes this to God in prayer, first and foremost - see Psalm 51 and Romans 7:14-25.

True repentance doesn't make promises you convince yourself you can keep.  Tying resolutions for perfect behavior in the future, to your present repentance, is a recipe for discouragement. Repentance is present and past oriented first.  It does "strive for a new obedience" as WSC 87 says.  But WCF 15:3 is really important: don't rely on your repenting to "fix" you.  If I just think or say the right words or feel the right thing, then I'll be better, or God will fix me, we think.

True repentance trusts Jesus' atonement.  Repentance admits your fault without excuse, and without trying to make it up in a way that minimizes the wrongdoing.  Sometimes after losing the battle, we can do the post-mortem discussion as a way to convince ourselves we didn't really lose, or that it wasn't that bad, or that since we'll win the next game we can set this one aside.  But only the blood of Jesus at the cross can atone for it.  Trust that, and reject every way you try to atone for your sin yourself.  2 Cor. 7:9-11.

True repentance anchors in the Word.  Satan will continue to try to get you to believe the lie that you're missing out on "the good life" by not giving in to this temptation.  It's good to pour out your heart to God about this, admitting that your feelings, or some part of you, believe this lie.  Then renounce it, fight it mentally, by using the Word.  Many times what we know is right we will fight against in our sinful nature - Roman 7:14-25!  Gotta fight back.  We will often fail, but that doesn't mean the fight is over.  Prov 24:16; Psalm 37:24; Micah 7:8.  The fight is wearying and humbling, by God's design.

True repentance surrenders to His grace.  It doesn't negotiate with God.  If we aren't trusting His grace, we will either give up or convince ourselves by mental tricks and casuistry that we are succeeding on our own.  But you have no righteousness to offer Him, to get Him to help you.

True repentance uses methods without relying on them.  When you fall back into sin, it doesn't mean your method failed, necessarily.  Your heart left the Lord for a time, but there may be much good to continue using/doing in past advice you've received from various folks.  Jacob walked with a limp his whole life after wrestling with the angel.  Keep wrestling - asking God to bless you in this area - and expect to walk with a limp.  Which means, you'll need crutches - to compensate somehow.  What does that look like, exactly?  The heart is critical, of course, and everything flows from what it desires.  But we also need outward structure to stay on the right track, because we are so prone to wander.  Don't throw the crutches away because you fell.

True repentance knows, as a child of God in Christ, that He never accuses you to condemnation for your sinful failings.  John 8:10-11.  Sometimes for men it feels masculine in a good way to condemn yourself strongly, or have others condemn you, and use that as a brief and strong push to STOP IT!  I think Col. 2:23 applies to that tactic: it's self-imposed will worship that doesn't really help fight sin.  Instead, more truly and effectively, God accepts you where you are, right now.  But He loves you enough to not want you to stay there.  Your motivation isn't fear that He'll stop loving you, but wanting to honor the one who died to get you out of the gutter and clean you up.