Conflicting Absolutes Revisited (Part III)

Erich clearly pointed out, “we can do NOTHING without sinning.” Hard to be more clear than that (although one could jest, “Ok, I’ll just do nothing and I should be fine – after all, I can do nothing without sinning! :) )

Anyway, Erich’s point raises a question I need help answering. What do we make out of the promises Scripture gives to reward Christians for our good works?

Let me try to explain:

I agree with Chemnitz, “God loves the regenerate not because their nature is in every part perfectly pure, unspotted, and harmless but on account of the Son, the Mediator, whom we have put on in Baptism. (Examination of the Council of Trent I, 356)

Later he says, “the good works in the reconciled, since they are acceptable through faith for the sake of the Mediator, have spiritual and bodily rewards in this life and after this life; they have these rewards through the gratuitous divine promise; not that God owes this because of the perfection and worthiness of our works, but because He, out of fatherly mercy and liberality, for the sake of Christ, has promised that He would honor with rewards the obedience of His children in this life, even though it is only begun and is weak, imperfect, and unclean.” (Examination of the Council of Trent I, 653)

Apology IV states, “Works are meritorious for other bodily and spiritual rewards, which are bestowed both in this life and in the life to come. For God defers most rewards until He glorifies saints after this life, because He wishes them in this life to be strengthened through mortifying the old creature. The gospel feely gives the promise that a person is justified and made alive on account of Christ. However, in the law rewards are not free; they are offered for works and owed to works. Since therefore works constitute a kind of fulfillment of the law, they are rightly said to be meritorious, and it is rightly said that a reward is owed them. And these rewards produce degrees of return, according to that passage in Paul [I Cor. 3:8], “Each will receive wages according to the labor of each.” These degrees are rewards for works and afflictions.” (Apology, Article IV, paragraph 366ff)

And Solid Declaration IV states, “It is God’s will and express command that believers should do good works which the Holy Spirit works in them, and God is willing to be pleased with them for Christ’s sake and He promises to reward them gloriously in this and in the future life. (Formula of Concord; Solid Declaration, Article IV, paragraph 38)

Okay, God promises to reward the works of those regenerate in Christ. Yes, our works are only begun, imperfect, and unclean, which we could call sin. And yes, the rewards aren’t offered because we are so good in and of ourselves. The rewards are offered to those redeemed by Christ – Christ makes works good. Having said that, I think “we can do nothing without sin” might be going a bit far (even if it is technically right). No offense to Erich.

Good works done by those redeemed by Christ are good because of Christ and will be rewarded. Yes, I am a wretched man who needs to be saved from this body of death, but I have been redeemed from the law of sin and death and have been given the Spirit. Certainly those controlled by the sinful mind cannot please God, but Paul says those baptized into Christ are “controlled not by the sinful nature.” We are controlled by the Spirit. And the Spirit works good works in us which fulfill the law. As Paul later says, “he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Yes, the good works are only begun, imperfect, and unclean (even sin), but in Christ our works are indeed good and will be rewarded. In fact, Jesus says anyone who has faith in Him will do “even greater things” than He did!

So, if in Christ our good works will be rewarded, aren’t they in some sense free from sin? If not, is God rewarding sin?

So, I guess I’m just trying to complement Erich’s picture. Yes, we’re hopelessly wretched, but we’re redeemed wretches with the Spirit of God who will be rewarded for the good works we do in Christ.

Your thoughts?

Conflicting Absolutes Revisited (Part II)

Given that conflicting moral absolutes exist, they often rear their ugly head in the hard case. Say a married woman has a debilitating disease which requires a potentially abortifacient drug.

What to do?

Here are the options on the table (saying nothing about their relative morality at this point):

1) don’t take the drug and do no family planning

2) take the drug and do no family planning

3) take the drug and do family planning

a. Use NFP or NAAC

b. Render reproduction surgically impossible

c. Take a contraceptive pill

What to do? Pretend you are counseling a couple in this. Give reasons why/why not for each number and letter.


Which is the lesser evil?

Which is the graver evil?

BTW, this isn’t just for my amusement. I want to be prepared for real life situations.

Conflicting Absolutes Revisited (Part I)

Thanks to Erich and Greg for their thoughtful conversation on conflicting absolutes. I missed the original conversation, so I hope you don’t mind if I reopen the bag of worms. (I’ll do it in three separate posts to try to keep the discussions organized and brief.)

As do most people, I struggle with the law of conflicting absolutes. I agree they are real. We are left at times with the choice between the lesser of two evils (both of which would be sin – no passes on God’s law).

Having said that, isn’t Greg’s point about mercy tempering the law similar to Erich’s point about relying on Christ? I know Greg was saying mercy provided a way out from sinning whereas Erich was saying Christ forgives sin (and I genuinely appreciate what Greg is saying). But Christ’s mercy provides the ultimate tempering of the law – it forgives the transgression of the law. So, when faced with a conflicting moral absolute, choose the lesser of two evils (i.e. sin) and rely on Christ for absolution and not a pass. Have I summarized this correctly?

More vexing to me is the fact Jesus never encountered a conflicting moral absolute. In my mind, this produces some potentially sticky problems. If Jesus became man and was “tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin” as Greg pointed out, how is it possible we all encounter conflicting moral absolutes and Jesus didn’t?

I know Erich discussed temptation as being given the OPTION to sin whereas conflicting absolutes isn’t temptation because no option exists, but aren’t conflicting moral absolutes a reality in a fallen world? As Erich wrote, “moral conflicts arise out of the fact that this is a fallen world.” If Jesus became flesh in a fallen world, wouldn’t he encounter this fact just like us or did God miraculously protect him and how does this influence our understanding of conflicting moral absolutes? I have no answers.


Chemnitz on Marriage and Procreation

This is from the Examination of the Council of Trent by Chemnitz:


If anyone says that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelical law instituted by Christ the Lord, but that it has been brought into the Church by men and that it does not confer grace, let him be anathema.


1 The chief question in this decree is whether matrimony is a sacrament of the New Testament. Now the simplest and most correct way to explain a matter is to speak first of the thing itself. For after that it will be easy to agree about the name. But it is strange that the papalists want to appear to honor the conjugal estate more than we, on account of the appellation “sacrament,” which they contend should be given to matrimony just as to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, although their complaints and accusations are public over the fact that matrimony is extolled with too great praise by men on our side. They on their part do not hesitate to apply these statements to wedlock: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Therefore they imagine that the Holy Spirit cannot bear an honorable marriage in ministers of the Word and sacraments, namely, because it is written: “You shall be holy, because I am holy.” Likewise: “Cleanse yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the Lord.” And yet they argue valiantly that matrimony is one of the seven sacraments. Such protectors of its dignity has matrimony been allotted who would rather, as a man at Cologne says, grant their priests 100 prostitutes, although successively, than one lawful spouse!

2 Because they allege that they number matrimony among the sacraments of the church for the purpose of asserting and illustrating its dignity and sanctity, I will briefly recite the chief points concerning its dignity and sanctity which our churches both learn and teach from the Word of God.

[1.] Wedlock existed also among the Gentiles, just as there is true marriage also today among unbelievers, but they think it is only a civil arrangement, although the law of nature, demonstrating that promiscuous copulation, lewdness, and adultery are against nature, shows, although very obscurely, that it is something greater than a human invention. The church, however, learns and understands from the Word of God that God Himself is the Author of wedlock, because He instituted it in paradise before the fall, when human nature was still without sin and troubles, whole and happy. He repeated this institution and its blessing immediately after the fall, and again after the flood, and established it also for fallen nature (Gen. 4:1, 25–26; 9:7). Moreover, in the New Testament the Son of God does not abrogate or change this first institution, but repeats and confirms it, not in words only (Matt. 19:5–6) but also by His presence and first miracle at a wedding, as told in John 2:1–11. The apostles explained this teaching in many statements and discourses.

3 2. God not only instituted matrimony in order that men might of their own accord join themselves in this conjugal union, but even as God was the first bridesman, who brought Eve to Adam, and Himself joined the first spouses together (Gen. 2:22), so Christ affirms that today also it is God who joins spouses together in lawful matrimony and unites them when they come together according to His Word. He says: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” He uses a word which is properly spoken about the joining of spouses. Thus in Tobit 7 Raguel, in giving his daughter to Tobias, says: “May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob join you together and fulfill His blessing in you.” And in Gen. 24:7, when Abraham sent his servant that he might fetch a wife for Isaac, he says most charmingly: “The Lord of heaven and earth, who spoke to me, etc., will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.” Later the servant prays: “Lord God of my master Abraham, come, I pray, to meet me today; be merciful, and show whom Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac,” etc.

These things must be set forth in the church in order that marriages may be contracted in the fear of God, with faith and prayer to Him, because God is not only the author but also the promoter of matrimony. Thus Prov. 19:14 says: “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.” And Sirach 26:3: “A good wife is a good fortune; she falls to the lot of those who fear the Lord.” V. 14: “A good wife is a gift of God,” etc. Eccl. 7:26: “I have found a woman more bitter than death … he who pleases God shall escape her, but the sinner is taken by her.” In Mal. 2:13 ff. He admonishes spouses most earnestly on this basis about the duty they owe: “I will not receive any peace offering at your hands. Why does He not? Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and your wife, your companion, and the wife of your covenant.” Now 'ud2 means to confirm and establish something by witnessing to it. Therefore not any and every union is lawful and pleasing to God, but one which does not militate against the Word of God. Thus in Lev. 18:6 ff.; Gen. 6:2 ff.; Ezra 10:2 ff.; Neh. 13:23 ff.; Luke 17:26–27; and Mark 6:17–18 conjugal unions which are not lawful are disapproved.

4 3. Because of this divine joining together, marriage is not like other civil associations, which, just as they are entered into by mutual consent, are also dissolved by mutual consent; but it is an indivisible connection and an indissoluble union. For what God has joined together man must not put asunder. Indeed, Scripture asserts that it is a much closer union than that of parents and children, for it says: “A man will leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, so that those who are two become one flesh.” The word dabaq signifies an adhering or joining which comes about through an embrace with the most ardent emotion of love, as is said in Gen. 34:3 of Sichem’s love for Dinah, in 1 Kings 11:2 of the love of Solomon, in Ps. 63:8: “My soul clings to Thee.” This word is properly used of the union of the skin, flesh, and bones. Job 19:20: “My bones cleave to my skin and to my flesh.” Job 29:10: “Their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth.” Ps. 102:5: “My bones cleave to my flesh.” From this meaning of the word it is possible to understand what God asserts such cleaving to be, namely, that the two become one flesh. And Paul says: “No one hates his own flesh” [Eph. 5:29]. The Lord says (Jer. 13:11): “As the waistcloth clings to the loins of a man, so I shall make the whole house of Israel … cling to Me.” But God did not form the woman from Adam’s girdle but from his side, in order that the closest possible union might be indicated. Solomon says (Prov. 16)3 that a friend often “sticks closer than a brother.” But in wedlock there is a closer connection than that of parents and children. For “a man shall leave father and mother,” etc. The Septuagint renders this word with proskollasthai (to fasten on to), which is used when two things are joined together by glue in such a way that they are, as it were, one thing. So it is used in Is. 41:7. Therefore Paul teaches that neither spouse has power over his own body (1 Cor. 7:4). Likewise: “He who loves his wife loves himself.” [Eph. 5:28]

5 4. Scripture also explains for what causes God instituted this conjugal union. For while He founded the angel hosts all at one and the same time, He willed according to His sure counsel that the preservation and multiplication of the human race should take place through propagation by generation, that in it we might perceive His presence, wisdom, and goodness. He willed also that the first nursery of the church should be in the pious rearing of children, wherefore churches are in Paul called households. He willed that the exercise of faith, prayer, love, patience, and all godliness should in their beginnings be practiced in the family circle, and be from there propagated more widely. “For if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). Likewise: “If any one does not provide for his … own family … he is worse than an unbeliever.” [1 Tim. 5:8]

By the institution of wedlock God shows that He is a pure Spirit and that He hates roving passions. Therefore He gave and prescribed certain laws about wedlock for those who do not have the gift of continence. Then God Himself, in the most beautiful words, sets forth another reason for the institution of wedlock (Gen. 2:18): “It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make for him a helper who shall be, as it were, before him and around him.” All the animals had indeed been created for the service of man; but there was not found a helper who might be before him. Therefore God instituted wedlock for mutual indulgence and help, in order that all things might be shared, whether joyous or sad.

Eph. 4:4 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil …. Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” Eccl. 9:9: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life … because that is your portion in life and in your toil which you toil under the sun.” Sirach 26:13: “The grace of a wife delights her husband, and her knowledge fattens his bones.” Gen. 3:16: The desire of the wife is for her husband. Eph. 5:33: The husband loves and cherishes his wife, and the wife respects her husband.

Finally, God also willed that wedlock should be used in our fallen state as a remedy against incontinence. 1 Cor. 7:2 ff.: “Because of the temptation to immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Likewise: “Lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control.” … “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” This is what the ancients mean when they say that matrimony was instituted before the fall to be a service to man; that it was given after the fall as a remedy. Augustine says: “What is for a service to those who are well is for a remedy to those who are sick.”

6 5. This also is certain, and known from Scripture, that in a chaste and godly marriage God is present with His blessing and with various gifts of grace, as Paul speaks of grace in Rom. 12:6 ff. For whom God joins together, them He blesses (Gen. 1.28). For the blessing was not promised to marriage only when nature was whole, but it was repeated and confirmed also to fallen nature (Gen. 9:1 ff.) This blessing embraces first fruitfulness and generating, according to the word: “Be fruitful and multiply,” and secondly the happy state of wife and children. Ps. 128:3–6: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine … your children like olive shoots …. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord …. May you see your children’s children.” Also Ps. 127:3–5: “Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord …. Happy is the man who has fulfilled his desire5 by means of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” Thirdly, the blessing includes success in home and community. Ps. 128:2–6: “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you …. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord …. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life …. Peace be upon Israel.” Ps. 127:5: “He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate.” This is what the first blessing (Gen. 1:28) means: “Subdue the earth, and have dominion … over every thing that moves upon the earth.” In the fourth place, admixed with this blessing on account of the fall there is some difficulty and pain of the cross (Gen. 3:16–19), even as in remedies, such as wedlock has become after the fall, certain troublesome and painful things are generally mixed in. But for those who fear God this pain is mitigated by patience, comfort, aid, and divine liberation, even as the presence of Christ at the wedding (John 2:1–11) shows both the cross and the comfort.

Marriage has besides, from its divine institution, also this privilege, or this grace, that it is a holy kind of life and pleasing to God. And although copulation outside of marriage is abominable in the sight of God (for the Lord will judge whoremongers and adulterers), in wedlock intercourse is honorable among all, and the marriage bed undefiled (Heb. 13:4). “If you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries, she does not sin” (1 Cor. 7:28). Rather, in a marriage of the godly this is called sanctification and honor (1 Thess. 4:4). Thus in 1 Tim. 2:15 sanctification and chastity are ascribed to women who bear children. And in Titus 2:4–5 women who love their children are called chaste. In 1 Peter 3:5 women who are submissive to their husbands are pronounced holy and hoping in God. In 1 Cor. 7:13–14 cohabitation of a believing woman with an unbelieving husband is pronounced holy, and there [Paul] says that begetting of children, which would under other circumstances be something unclean, is holy in wedlock, especially in the case of believers. In 1 Tim. 2:15 he asserts that a woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith.

This also is a grace of God in marriage, that God joins the minds of spouses so that they both will and are able to cultivate this indivisible partnership of life, to preserve conjugal faithfulness, and to remain in this indissoluble union, so that the loving embrace between spouses becomes closer and more fervent than between parents and children, according to the saying: “He will leave father and mother, and will cleave to his wife so that they are, as it were, one flesh …. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” [Matt. 19:5–6; Mark 10:7–9]

God also bestows this grace on spouses who fear God and walk in His ways, that the man loves, cares for, cherishes, and gives honor to his wife as to the weaker vessel (Eph. 5:25 ff.; 1 Cor. 3),6 that the desire of the wife is for her husband (Gen. 3:16), that she is respectfully subject to her husband (Eph. 5:21 ff.), is a helper to her husband (Gen. 2:18), and gladdens the heart of her husband (Sirach 26:2, 13; Prov. 31:28–29). In short, there is need for the guidance of the Spirit of God for a godly marriage, in order that both may perform their proper duties, bear one another’s infirmities, sustain one another in their common difficulties, train their children in a godly manner, govern the household, perform domestic tasks, patiently bear the cross, and that their dwelling together may be with consideration (1 Peter 3:7) and in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). For these things godly spouses pray God, and there is no doubt that God abundantly bestows this grace on those who ask for it.

[Chemnitz, M., & Kramer, F. (1999, c1971). Examination of the Council of Trent. Translation of Examen Concilii Tridentini. (electronic ed.) (2:717). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.]