“Why the Lord Jesus Christ freed the human race through harsh suffering, not through power.” A Translation of Caesarius of Arles by Ben Wheaton

This holy week I am pleased to present this sermon translation of Bishop Caesarius of Arles’ sermon, “Why Christ Redeemed Man Not through Power, But Through Suffering,” by Dr. Ben Wheaton. Dr. Wheaton has recently completed a Ph.D. in Medieval studies at University of Toronto, and I’m very grateful he has allowed me to share the fruit of some of his work. Besides being a perfect meditation for the time, it’s also an excellent example of finding atonement as penal substitution wonderfully synthesized with Christ’s victory in the Fathers.

caesariusBio: One of the more remarkable figures in Late Antique Christianity, Caesarius of Arles was born in 470 in the city of Chalons in southern Gaul (modern France). He was appointed as bishop of Arles in 502. Arles was at this time the administrative and ecclesiastical capital of southern Gaul, making Caesarius immediately the leading figure in the southern Gallic church. He remained there as bishop until his death in 542, leading his congregants and ecclesiastical subordinates through the politically tumultuous times that followed the dissolution of Roman power in Gaul.

 

Sermon XI 

Why the Lord Jesus Christ freed the human race through harsh suffering, not through power.

This question, dearly beloved brothers, occurs to many; the thought of this matter sends many men of little understanding into anxiety.  For they say: “Why did the Lord Jesus Christ, the Power and Wisdom of the Father, work the salvation of man not by his divine power and sole authority but rather by his bodily humility and human struggle?  For without a doubt he would have been able by the heavenly power and majesty to overthrow the Devil and to free man from his tyranny.”  Certain others ponder: “Why did he who is proclaimed to have given life in the beginning by his word not destroy death by his word?  What reason was there that lost men should not be brought back by the same majesty which was able to create things not yet existing?  Why was it necessary for our Lord Christ to receive so harsh a period of suffering when he was able to free the human race through his power?  Why his incarnation?  Why his infancy?  Why the course of his life?  Why the insults?  Why the cross?  Why his death?  Why his burial?  Why?  Why did he take up all these things for the sake of man’s restoration?”

This is what men of little understanding say.  Without a doubt our Lord would have been able to triumph over the Devil by his divine authority and to free man from his rule.  He would have been able, yes; but reason resisted, justice did not give its permission: and these are more important to God than all power and might.  These two attributes are praised even among men; how much more are they praiseworthy to God, who is the Creator and Judge of reason and justice!  Now it was in the mind of God to restore man, who had been deceived by the Devil, to eternal life.  This then had to be kept in mind: compassion must not destroy justice, love must not destroy equity.  For if He had finished off the Devil and rescued man from his jaws by His majesty and power, there would indeed have been power, but there would not have been justice.  For the Enemy of the human race would have been able to say: “O Lord, you are just and true; you made man in your goodness, you who created me as well as a good not an evil angel.  You gave to me as much as to man the free power of the will; you gave the law with this threat of judgment: if we touched something forbidden, we would die the death.  I ruined myself at the very beginning by a voluntary envy; then I persuaded man to do a wicked deed.  I persuaded, I did not force; for I was not able to force one having the freedom of his own will.  I was listened to more than your word was preserved.  We received by your judgment sentences befitting our merits: I the eternal word sent into evil, man was sent with me to death and terrible punishment.  Man joined himself to me by his own will; he separated from you not unwillingly but by the same will: he is mine.  Together we are destined for punishment; if he is torn away from me, it is not justice but violence, it is not grace but an injury, it is not compassion but plunder.  Why should man, who did not wish to live when he had the ability, be made alive unwillingly?  I presume to say this, O Just Judge: it is not fitting for there to be unequal sentences in the same case.  Ultimately, if it pleases you that man be saved against all justice and reason, we ought both to be saved—both he who perished and I who was ruined.”

Should that speech of the Devil not have seemed to God to be just and reasonable, since He did work and still works all things justly and reasonably?  And so in order that this criminal voice should not have any place and that all the deeds of God should be consistent with justice and reason that very Strength came from heaven; it came not to tear man away from the Devil through power, but rather only after it had preserved equity in all things.  This is just as the Lord Himself reminded John the Baptist at the time of his baptism—when John wished to decline—saying: “Without delay; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all justice.”  Therefore for this reason our Lord and Saviour came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” as the apostle teaches and endured all things without sin; so that thus with justice having been fulfilled he might condemn sin in his flesh, since his flesh was taken up without sin from a sinful substance.  That encounter in the desert orchestrated by the Spirit proves this, when the Devil was conquered not by divine majesty but by the memory of a command, by fasting and by a lawful response.  The many different tests of the Pharisees also prove this, by whom the Lord was often challenged.  When He benefits the ungrateful, when he does not resist an injury, when by his patience he overcomes an insult, by his goodness conquers ill-will, all justice is necessarily fulfilled and every sin is condemned.  Because of this the same Lord preached: “The Prince of this world comes, and he possesses nothing in me.”  This is the first victory: that the flesh, assumed from a sinful race, stands forth as having no part in a misdeed; and so in that same flesh sin was condemned, in which it had believed itself able to reign; the same flesh, which at one time sin had conquered, conquered sin.  For if divinity alone had conquered, the Devil would not have been in great confusion, and it would not have inspired confidence in bodily men that it would conquer.

Let us see what the cross might want from itself, how the sin of the world is remitted upon it, how death is destroyed and the Devil triumphed over.  The cross is certainly not deserved, insofar as it pertains to the form of justice, unless by sinners; for both the law of God and of the world is recognized to have decreed the cross for guilty men and criminals alone.  Therefore with the Devil hurrying about working through Judas, through the kings of the earth and through the princes of the Jews, who “came together as one” to Pilate “against the Lord and against his Christ,” Christ was condemned to death; an innocent man was condemned just as the prophet says in the Psalm: “But the righteous man, what has he done?”  And again, “They will seek against the spirit of the righteous and will condemn innocent blood;” the man guilty of not even a trivial sin is condemned, since the serpent was able to leave no trace in this rock.  He patiently endured both insults and blows, the thorny crown and scarlet robe, and the other mockeries which are contained in the Gospel.  He endured this without any guilt, so that filled with patience, as “a sheep to the sacrifice,” he might come to the cross.  He received this in a dignified manner who would have been able to inflict injury upon his enemies.  He endured very powerful forces, as David sings, “as a man without help,” who would have been able to avenge himself by his divine majesty.  For he who withered the fig tree to its roots by his word would much more easily have immediately withered all flesh, which was reckoned as grass, if he had wished to resist.  For if even those who had come to capture him retreated backwards when they were questioned with a gentle speech, that is, “Whom do you seek?” and they were made like dead men, what would he have done if he had wished to resist?  But he fulfills the mystery of the cross, for which purpose he also came into this world; so that by means of the cross, by means of a salvific justice and reason, the note of our indebtedness to sin might be cancelled, the enemy power be captured after being enticed by the bait of the cross and the Devil lose the prey he used to hold.

Now, it is necessary for this to be believed to have been done in this way.  Christ the Lord without any guilt, without any blame, underwent a penal sentence; the innocent man is crucified without sin.  The Devil is made guilty by the death of an innocent man; the Devil is made guilty by bringing the cross upon a righteous man who owed nothing.  The death of Christ benefitted man: what Adam owed to God Christ paid by undergoing death, having been made without any doubt a sacrifice for the sin of men and for their race, just as the blessed Paul taught: “Christ,” he says, “loved us and handed himself over for us as an offering and sacrificial victim to God in a pleasing aroma.”  For that original sin was not easily able to be dismissed unless a sacrificial victim had been offered for the fault, unless that holy blood of propitiation had been poured out.  For the saying of the Lord at the time of the Exodus remains in force now: “I will see the blood, and I will protect you.”  For that figure of the lamb points to this Passion of the Lord Christ.  When blood is paid out for blood, death for death and a sacrificial victim for a fault, even so did the Devil lose what he was holding.  It is now rightly said to him: “O enemy, you do not have that on account of which you had a legal case.  The first Adam sinned but I the last Adam did not receive the stain of sin; let my righteousness benefit the sinner, let my death, imposed upon me unowed, benefit the debtor.  You are no longer able to hold man in endless death, for he conquered, overcame and crushed you through me.  You were not truly conquered through power, but by justice; not by domination, by rather by equity.”  Thus the Enemy vomited up what he had gulped down and justly there was taken away from him what he used to hold, since unjustly he dared to infringe upon that which under no arrangement was his concern.

Behold, dearly beloved brothers, how much I deem that a reason has been given for why our Lord and Saviour freed the human race from the power of the Devil not through power but through humility, not through violence but through justice.  For this reason let us, to whom the divine compassion gave so many benefits with no preceding merits of our own, labour as much as we are able with the help of that same divine compassion so that the grace of so great a love should not produce a judgment for us but a reward.

Soli Deo Gloria

“In Some Personal News…”: Heading to California for a Job

The story of the Bible is one of sojourns, exiles, homecomings. Adam and Eve leave the Garden. Abraham is called out of Ur. Moses leaves Egypt, returns, and leads his people back out again in a might Exodus that culminates in the Israelites arrival in the Promised Land, many years later.

McKenna and I have been on something of a sojourn ourselves for the last few years, in the land of Illinois for my graduate studies. Thankfully, though the weather has been a trial, it has not been an exile. We missed home dearly, but the Lord has blessed us richly out here. He has blessed our marriage, our friendships, and our faith as we have seen him be faithful provide for us in so many ways, not least of which was giving us the wonderful church community at Grace Presbyterian.

It appears, though, that the time of our sojourn in Chicagoland is coming to an end. And while we will be sad to leave, it’s for a very good reason.

I am pleased to share with you that I have been offered and taken a job with Reformed University fellowship (RUF) to be the new campus minister at the University of California, Irvine. I start this summer and my first quarter with the students will be this Fall 2019. My full-time to job will be to share the gospel with, disciple, and pastor students at my alma mater, UCI (go Anteaters!). And we’re both very excited about this opportunity.

RUFRUF and UCI

For those of you who don’t know what RUF is, it’s the college campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America (sort of like Intervarsity or Cru). Some of what distinguishes it as a campus ministry is its commitment to partnering closely with the local church as it ministers the gospel to college kids directly on campuses. It’s also warmly Christ-centered and distinctly Reformed. Beyond that, every campus ministry is led by a seminary-trained, ordained pastor, who is a member of the local presbytery. It’s really an amazing organization and family that we’re very happy to be partnering with.

Now, the specific ministry at UCI is only a few years old (Chad Brewer, the current campus minister started it in 2015), but it’s already a lively one. They have several Bible studies going (5 or 6), a large group meeting, a student leadership team in development, they’ve gone on their first mission trip, and even started a unique gospel outreach ministry to the previously under-served Greek community. Things are popping. RUF has also managed to become a pretty diverse cross-section of folks on campus with a good mix of students who live on campus and commuters, different economic groups, races, backgrounds (churched and otherwise), gathering together to learn about Jesus. It’s going to be an immense privilege to join in and be a part of what God has already been doing on campus at UCI.

UsSome Prayer Requests

With all this said, we’re going to need prayer, as there are a number of steps we have to take before we get there. I’ll just go ahead a list a few things for which we need that support. (Actually, if you’re interested in being a prayer supporter of our ministry in the future, I’ll share how to receive a regular newsletter with updates and prayer requests in a later post.)

The Ministry. As I’ve already mentioned, the ministry is growing and thriving. Pray that God would be preparing us even now so that we can just jump in on the work. Pray that we get to know our students and build relationships quickly. We are already praying for them and have begun to develop a love in our hearts for them. But pray that God would increase that love, as well as give us particular wisdom about how to serve these students well. Also, pray that they would come to know and love us too. Pray that God would just continue to bless and grow the ministry in depth, maturity, and love for Christ.

As I said, the ministry is already doing well. But UCI has something like 30,000 students and is one of the largest research universities in the state (if not the country). There are students from every nation and walk of life there. The field is wide and ripe with harvest. But we need divine help if we’re going to be of any use in it. Pray that God would give us grace, wisdom, and boldness in the gospel so that more people would come to hear and love his name.

The Move. We actually move back to California in mid-July. There’s a lot involved with that, just in terms of preparation, transitions, leases, logistics, etc. We have moved across country once before and so we know what that looks like, so that’s good. But also, we know that it is very tiring and a bit overwhelming. Also, we’d love to find a good, affordable spot near UCI’s campus so we can be available for ministry and open our home to hospitality. Please pray for us on this matter.

The Dissertation. I’m not done with it, which is pretty typical at this stage in my program. Still, it means that I need to be hard at work on the dissertation even as we prepare to move and get ready to enter into a new ministry. I’ll realistically be working on the dissertation part time for the first year of my time at UCI on top of my full time ministry. Pray that God gives me focus, clarity, and speed as I think and write about his holiness.

Ordination. As I mentioned, one of the great things about RUF is that campus ministers are ordained pastors. This is important for so many reasons and I’m deeply grateful for the honor of getting to be a part of this company of ministers. That said, it also means I have to get ordained, which is not simple or light thing. Besides the move, the dissertation, and so forth, I also have been and will continue to be preparing for my ordination exams. Please pray that the Spirit gives me energy to give this weighty process the diligence and care that it deserves. Also, that God gives me grace in the eyes of the local Presbytery, and that I be able to enter, learn from, and form good relationships with my future brothers in the pastorate.

A Job. While I have a job lined up, McKenna will be looking for employment as we head back home. God came through in a huge way here in Illinois by providing a spot at Grace Pres. It’s been a wonderful environment for her and us both. We would love it if you would pray that God provide another good job where McKenna can serve and use her many gifts in a way that is meaningful to her and a blessing for others.

Church Transitions. We are leaving an awesome church that we love to death. We want to do that well, saying bye to folks properly, handing off ministries we have been a part of, etc. We also want to be able to transition into our next church well. We already know it’s a good church; a solid community with a healthy set of elders and pastor. But it’s a still a new church to us. Please pray that we’re able to plug in well.

Fundraising. RUF is essentially a mission organization. I will be commissioned as an evangelist/missionary to the community at UC Irvine. And so, the ministry is supported just like many other missionaries—the tithes, contributions, and gifts of those whom the Lord has led to support his work in the lives of these college students by giving of their resources. We need prayer that the Lord will provide, that he will give me boldness in inviting folks to participate in the ministry this way, as well move in people’s hearts to respond. (Speaking of which, if you’d like learn more about the ministry, feel free to email me. If you’d like to give, you can click here (https://www.givetoruf.org/), type in my name, and donate.)

For all these things, we would ask your prayer. We ask in faith, though, because we have seen the Lord’ hand at work in this in so many ways.

Honestly, it’s wild to think about the way the Lord brought all this together. When we came out here, we really didn’t know what the next step was going to look like. I’d told my advisor, Dr. Vanhoozer, that I was really ready go back into church ministry or the academy on the other side of the program. (As a side-note, he was supportive of this, which is really nice to have from your advisor.) We had hoped to make it back to California, but that wasn’t a guarantee.

But here we are, four years later, about to head into a ministry that has us working with college kids again, at my old alma mater, in our old home county, near our families, with an organization that focuses on maintaining a solid relationship with the local church, that just happened to open up when we were going to start looking for the place where God was calling us to serve together. God is threading a very fine needle with this job. Looking back with hindsight, there have been so many different providential relationships and events leading us to this point, which have given us confidence this is his hand at work.

He is always doing more than we could ever ask or imagine. And we’re excited to see what he does next.

Soli Deo Gloria