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Exhortations from Antiquity? Can We Obey Jesus' Commands?
October 28, 2013
One of the more challenging passages in the early Christian writings is the following. Hermas is speaking to "the angel of repentance."
I say to him, "Sir, these commandments are great, and good, and glorious, and fitted to gladden the heart of the man who can perform them. But I do not know if these commandments can be kept by man, because they are exceeding hard."
He answered and said to me, "If you lay it down as certain that they can be kept, then you will easily keep them, and they will not be hard. But if you come to imagine that they cannot be kept by man, then you will not keep them. Now I say to you, If you do not keep them, but neglect them, you will not be saved, nor your children, nor your house, since you have already determined for yourself that these commandments cannot be kept by man.”
Whatever your theology might be, for or against eternal security, there is no doubt the early Christians knew nothing of the doctrine. However, I share this passage not because of its application to eternal security, but because of its call to confidence in the grace of God that is in us.
Jesus said that his yoke is comfortable and his burden is light. We can imagine his commandments as difficult, but John tells us they are "not grievous."
Hermas goes on to give us the sort of encouragement that Psalm 119 gives us:
"To those who have the Lord only on their lips, but their hearts hardened, and who are far from the Lord, the commandments are hard and difficult. Put, therefore, ye who are empty and fickle in your faith, the Lord in your heart, and ye will know that there is nothing easier or sweeter, or more manageable, than these commandments."
You will find these things in The Shepherd of Hermas (sometimes Pastor of Hermas), book II, commandment 12th. The Shepherd of Hermas was probably not written until around AD 160, but Clement of Alexandria treats it as Scripture just 30 years later. A copy of it is included after the apostles' writings at the back of the mid-fourth century Bible known as Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the Scriptures that we still have.
I encourage you to make good use of http://www.ccel.org/fathers, where you can find all ten volumes of The Ante-Nicene Fathers free. The Shepherd of Hermas is in volume II.
Also, I had a discussion a couple nights ago with two brothers that are familiar with the history of the church. It was a very pleasant discussion, and I found out how useful updated versions of these ancient writings can be. I have a good number on the Christian-history.org site at https://www.christian-history.org/early-christian-writings.html
Grace and mercy be with you!
Little added bonus:
Defining grace from the Scriptures:
Rom. 6:14; Tit. 2:11-14; Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 4:10-11
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