Category Archives: Church Fathers

“The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands” by Matthew Emerson

“The most important practical application of the descent, at least in my opinion, is that it means that Christ experienced death in the same way we do and also defeated it.

His human body went to the grave and His human soul went to the place of the (righteous) dead. This is not a natural state for humanity.

Death is an effect of the fall (Gen 3:17–19; Rom 6:23), and Jesus became fully human to the point that He experienced the fullness of death. He did not die one moment on the cross and rise the next moment but remained dead for three days.

This is a great comfort to those who are facing death or those who have lost loved ones. And those two categories encompass everyone on the planet.

When we, or those we love, face death, we can find assurance in the fact that Christ, too, has experienced death in all its fallen fullness. He really, truly died.

His soul was separated from His body for three days. This is just as we will remain dead and just as our souls will remain separated from our bodies until Christ returns.

Our Savior has gone before us.

Just as the Ark of the Covenant went before the people of Israel through the wilderness for three days to find a place for them to rest (Num 10:33), so Christ has gone before us through the wilderness of Hades to prepare a place for us to rest in Him.

But He has not only experienced the fullness of human death; He has also defeated it. Death does not have the last word.

Those of us who trust Christ do not have hope only because Christ experienced it as we do, but because in it experiencing it as the God-Man He defeated it.

And one day He will expel it fully and finally from His presence and from our experience.

We do not remain dead, just as Christ did not remain dead, because Christ has defeated death in His death, descent, and resurrection.

Because Christ rose, we long for the day when we will rise with Him and dwell, bodily, with Him forever on the new heavens and new earth.

This should also bring believers comfort here on earth as they experience evil, suffering, oppression, and all other effects of sin. Christ’s descent answers the problem of evil because in it (and His death and resurrection) He has defeated the principalities and powers (Col 2:15).

The descent, then, ought to be a great comfort to those facing death, whether their own or a loved one’s. It is part of the reason we grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thess 4:13).

When we cite Paul’s statement in funeral contexts, it is usually to point to the resurrection. And that is right and good, and the ultimate grounds of such hopeful grieving.

But in the meantime, while we think of our departed dead, while we walk in their graveyards and look at their ashes and remember their lives, while we ponder our own deaths, and while we consider how long it is, O Lord, until the Second Coming, we do so with hope.

We hope because Christ also remained buried in the grave, buried with us and for us. We hope because we have a High Priest who has experienced death as we all will, if the Lord tarries.

We hope because we have an advocate who has experienced the pain of death and yet has done so victoriously, rising from it and drawing us with Him on the last day.

We therefore dig our graves, facing toward the East, knowing that as our bodies decompose, our souls remain with Christ, awaiting the day when He will with loud trumpets return and reunite our bodies and souls so that we can live with Him forever by the power of His Spirit to the glory of the Father.

Charles Hill summarizes this hope well:

Christ descended into Hades so that you and I would not have to. Christ descended to Hades so that we might ascend to heaven. Christ entered the realm of death, the realm of the strong enemy, and came away with his keys.

The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands. And God His Father has exalted Him to His right hand, and given Him another key, the key of David, the key to the heavenly Jerusalem.

He opens and no one will shut, He shuts and no one will open (Rev. 3:7). And praise to Him, as the hymn says, “For He hath op’ed the heavenly door, and man is blessed forever more.”

All praise and honor and glory to the Lamb who has conquered! “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth” (Rev. 14:13).

And blessed are we here and now, who even now have this hope, and a fellowship with our Savior which is stronger than death! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.”

–Matthew Y. Emerson, “He Descended to the Dead”: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019), 219–221.

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“With Your Word You pierced my heart” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“With Your Word You pierced my heart, and I loved You.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Confessions trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 183. (10.6.8)

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“O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“Lord, I am Your servant, born of Your own handmaid. You have broken the chains that bound me; I will sacrifice in Your honour.

Let me praise You in my heart, let me praise You with my tongue. Let this be the cry of my whole being: Lord, there is none like You.

Let them say this and, in answer, I beg You to whisper in my heart, ‘I am here to save you.’

Who am I? What kind of man am I? What evil have I not done? Or if there is evil that I have not done, what evil is there that I have not spoken? If there is any that I have not spoken, what evil is there that I have not willed to do?

But You, O Lord, are good. You are merciful.

You saw how deep I was sunk in death, and it was Your power that drained dry the well of corruption in the depths of my heart.

And all that You asked of me was to deny my own will and accept yours. But, during all those years, where was my free will?

What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to Your easy yoke and take Your light burden on my shoulders, Christ Jesus, my Helper and my Redeemer?

How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose and was now glad to reject! You drove them from me, You who are the true, the sovereign joy.

You drove them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, You who outshine all light yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, You who surpass all honour though not in the eyes of men who see all honour in themselves.

At last my mind was free from the gnawing anxieties of ambition and gain, from wallowing in filth and scratching the itching sore of lust.

I began to talk to You freely, O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Confessions trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), 181. (9.1.1.)

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“A super-infinite plan” by Maximus the Confessor (A.D. 580–662)

“For it was fitting for the Creator of the universe, who by the economy of His incarnation became what by nature He was not, to preserve without change both what He himself was by nature and what He became in His incarnation.

For naturally we must not consider any change at all in God, nor conceive any movement in Him. Being changed properly pertains to movable creatures.

This is the great and hidden mystery, at once the blessed end for which all things are ordained. It is the divine purpose conceived before the beginning of created beings.

In defining it we would say that this mystery is the preconceived goal for which everything exists, but which itself exists on account of nothing.

With a clear view to this end, God created the essences of created beings, and such is, properly speaking, the terminus of His providence and of the things under His providential care.

Inasmuch as it leads to God, it is the recapitulation of the things He has created. It is the mystery which circumscribes all the ages, and which reveals the grand plan of God (Eph. 1:10–11), a super-infinite plan infinitely preexisting the ages.

The Logos, by essence God, became a messenger of this plan (Isa. 9:6) when He became a man and, if I may rightly say so, established Himself as the innermost depth of the Father’s goodness while also displaying in Himself the very goal for which His creatures manifestly received the beginning of their existence.”

–Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassium 60, in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: Selected Writings from St Maximus the Confessor, ed. John Behr, trans. Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken, vol. 25, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 124–125.

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“The Seed of Abraham who existed before Abraham” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“Hence, since the Virgin conceived and brought forth a Son, because of His manifest nature of servant, we read: ‘A child is born to us’ (Isaiah 9:6); but, because the Word of God, which remains forever, became flesh so that He might dwell with us, on account of His real, though hidden nature of God, we, using the words of the Angel Gabriel, call ‘his name Emmanuel.’ (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

Remaining God, He has become Man so that the Son of Man may rightly be called ‘God with us’ and so that in Him God is not one person and man another.

Let the world rejoice in those who believe, for whose salvation He came, by whom the world was made, the Creator of Mary born of Mary, the Son of David yet Lord of David, the Seed of Abraham who existed before Abraham, the Fashioner of this earth fashioned on this earth, the Creator of heaven created as Man under the light of heaven.

This is the day which the Lord has made and the Lord Himself is the bright Day of our heart.

Let us walk in His light; let us exult and be glad in Him.”

–Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 187: On the Birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons (ed. Hermigild Dressler; trans. Mary Sarah Muldowney; vol. 38; The Fathers of the Church; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1959), 38: 16-17.

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“Your God has become man” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“That day is called the birthday of the Lord on which the Wisdom of God manifested Himself as a speechless Child and the Word of God wordlessly uttered the sound of a human voice.

His divinity, although hidden, was revealed by heavenly witness to the Magi and was announced to the shepherds by angelic voices.

With yearly ceremony, therefore, we celebrate this day which saw the fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘Truth is sprung out of the earth: and justice hath looked down from heaven.’ (Psalm 84:12)

Truth, eternally existing in the bosom of the Father, has sprung from the earth so that He might exist also in the bosom of a mother.

Truth, holding the world in place, has sprung from the earth so that He might be carried in the hands of a woman.

Truth, incorruptibly nourishing the happiness of the angels, has sprung from the earth in order to be fed by human milk.

Truth, whom the heavens cannot contain, has sprung from the earth so that He might be placed in a manger.

For whose benefit did such unparalleled greatness come in such lowliness? Certainly for no personal advantage, but definitely for our great good, if only we believe.

Arouse yourself, O man; for your God has become man. ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from among the dead, and Christ will enlighten thee.’ (Eph. 5:14)

For you, I repeat, God has become man.

If He had not thus been born in time, you would have been dead for all eternity.

Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, if He had not taken upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh.

Everlasting misery would have engulfed you, if He had not taken this merciful form.

You would not have been restored to life, had He not submitted to your death; you would have fallen, had He not succored you; you would have perished, had He not come.

Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festal day on which the great and timeless One came from the great and timeless day to this brief span of our day.

He ‘has become for us righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:30-31)'”

–Augustine of Hippo, “Sermon 185: On the Birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons (ed. Hermigild Dressler; trans. Mary Sarah Muldowney; vol. 38; The Fathers of the Church; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1959), 38: 6-7.

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“He was wrapped in swaddling bands” by Gregory of Nazianzus (A.D. 330-390)

“He was begotten (Matt. 1:16)— yet He was already begotten (Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5, 5:5)— of a woman (Gal. 4:4).

And yet she was a virgin (Matt. 1:23; Isa 7:14; Luke 1:34–35; Matt. 1:20). That it was from a woman makes it human, that she was a virgin makes it divine.

On earth He has no father (Matt. 1:20), but in heaven no mother (Ps. 2:7). All this is part of His Godhead.

He was carried in the womb (Luke 1:31), but acknowledged by a prophet as yet unborn himself, who leaped for joy at the presence of the Word for whose sake he had been created (Luke 1:41).

He was wrapped in swaddling bands (Luke 2:7, 12), but at the Resurrection He unloosed the swaddling bands of the grave (John 20:6-7).

He was laid in a manger (Luke 2:7, 16), but was extolled by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by Magi (Matt. 2:2, 7, 9–11).

Why do you take offense at what you see, instead of attending to its spiritual significance?

He was exiled into Egypt (Matt. 2:13-14), but He banished the Egyptian idols (Jude 5).

He had ‘no form or beauty’ for the Jews (Isa. 53:2), but for David He was ‘fairer than the children of men’ (Psalm 45:2) and on the mount He shines forth, becoming more luminous than the Sun (Matt. 17:2), to reveal the future mystery.”

–Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, ed. John Behr, trans. Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 86–87.

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“The Word of God made flesh” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“Wherefore the Word of God, who is also the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father, the Power and the Wisdom of God, (1 Corinthians 1:24) mightily pervading and harmoniously ordering all things, from the highest limit of the intelligent to the lowest limit of the material creation, revealed and concealed, nowhere confined, nowhere divided, nowhere distended, but without dimensions, everywhere present in His entirety— this Word of God, I say, took to Himself, in a manner entirely different from that in which He is present to other creatures, the soul and body of a man, and made, by the union of Himself therewith, the one person Jesus Christ, Mediator between God and men, (1 Timothy 2:5) in His Deity equal with the Father, in His flesh, in His human nature, inferior to the Father— unchangeably immortal in respect of the divine nature, in which He is equal with the Father, and yet changeable and mortal in respect of the infirmity which was His through participation with our nature.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Letter 137 (A.D. 412), translated by J.G. Cunningham, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887), 1: 477-478.

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“There was no other way” by Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 370–444)

“There was no other way to shake off the gloomy dominion of death, only by the incarnation of the Only Begotten.

This was why He appeared as we are.”

–Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, ed. John Behr, trans. John Anthony McGuckin, vol. 13, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 13: 125.

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“The Saviour’s achievements that follow from His Incarnation” by Athanasius of Alexandria (A.D. 293-373)

“Such and so many are the Saviour’s achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves. One cannot see all the waves with one’s eyes, for when one tries to do so those that are following on baffle one’s senses.

Even so, when one wants to take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, one cannot do so, even by reckoning them up, for the things that transcend one’s thoughts are always more than those one thinks that one has grasped.

As we cannot speak adequately about even a part of His work, therefore, it will be better for us not to speak about it as a whole. So we will mention but one thing more, and then leave the whole for you to marvel at.

For, indeed everything about it is marvelous, and wherever a man turns his gaze he sees the Godhead of the Word and is smitten with awe.”

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation 8. 54. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 373/1993), 93.

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