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Pastoral Letter - 20 Aug 17                                        

Dear Calvarians,        

Over the past week, we heard the preaching of the doctrines of grace - that Bible Alone is the standard for our faith and life; that Grace Alone is the means of our salvation; that Faith Alone is our justification for there is no other means by which a man may acquire righteousness; that Christ Alone is the mediator between a holy God and sinful men; and that the Glory of God Alone is the reason for our salvation. These doctrines of grace are encapsulated into the five solas of the Reformation - Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria.


But what do they mean? Sola means one, alone, with no one else. What is so theologically and practically significant about sola?


Sola is Exclusivity/Singularity

Sola has more than a numerical definition. It also has the meaning of exclusivity, of uniqueness; of singularity; a thing by itself, or a person by himself without another. In Exodus 22:20, we read, "He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed" (Exod. 22:20).


Moses was telling the children of Israel that if a person were to offer any sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD only - and the Latin Vulgate translated "only" as "soli" - that person will be utterly destroyed. Now Moses is not saying that the people can offer sacrifices to the LORD - Jehovah - and then also offer sacrifices to the rest of the gods. If that were the case, the worship of Jehovah would not be exclusive. If that were the case, there is the loss of exclusivity; God is no longer sola; He is not the exclusive God.


David writes, "All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name. For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone" (Ps. 86:9-10). The Hebrew literally reads as - You, God, only You. The Latin Vulgate renders the phrase "God alone" as Deus solus. Sola means singularity - the quality of being exclusive.


Sola is also Contradistinction

Sola also has the connotation of contradistinction. A contradistinction is a distinction that is made by showing the contrasts, the opposites, the different qualities of two things. Example: If "A" the only answer, then there cannot be another answer. If Scripture alone is God's truth, then something else - like church tradition - cannot be true as well.


In Psalm 86:8, David writes, "Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works" (Ps. 86:8). That is a sola of contradistinction. This idea runs through the Old Testament because the children of Israel has the tendency to be idolatrous.


When Pharaoh begged Moses to have the frog removed, Moses said, "that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the LORD our God. (Exod. 8:9-10). That is a contradistinction. The Egyptians have all sorts of gods. But there is none like unto Jehovah.


After the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and the armies of Pharaoh destroyed, Moses sang: "Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exod. 15:11). The answer is that there is none like unto the LORD our God.


Later when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminded them, "Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside Him.... Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else" (Deut. 4:35, 39).


Interestingly, while Moses was addressing the nation of Israel, he was addressing the individual, "Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine [singular] heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else" (Deut. 4:39). This implies that this universal truth requires a personal faith. The individual has to believe it. You have to come to this truth yourself.


The LORD, through Isaiah, also emphasised the sola of contradistinction - "I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me [contradistinction]: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else" (Isa. 45:5-6).


We see the same idea in the Gospels. The Pharisees whose forefathers suffered the judgment of God for their idolatry were very sensitive to the concept of the singularity of God, so that when our Lord Jesus Christ told the paralysed man - "thy sins are forgiven thee" (Luke 5:20). The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" (Luke 5:21).


Again, the Latin rendering is solus Deus. And throughout the New Testament, we find this idea of the God alone. Our Lord Jesus says, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only [solum] true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3) - solus Deus.


Our Lord Jesus rebuked the Tempter, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only [soli] shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10) - Exclusivity.


Paul writing to Timothy concerning Christ, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only [soli] wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1Tim. 1:17).


In the same letter, Paul says that our Lord Jesus Christ, "which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only [solus] Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1Tim. 6:15).


The Apostle John in the Book of Revelation writes, "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only [solus] art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest" (Rev. 15:4).


The concept of sola speaks of the exclusivity of divine truth as revealed in the Word of God; the exclusivity and uniqueness of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour; the exclusivity of grace as the only means by which we are saved. It also speaks of the exclusivity of our devotion to God. Our Lord Jesus reminds us, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10).


Lovingly in Christ,

Pastor Isaac


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