Advent Reflections, part 1

Advent Season is characterized by waiting and yearning. A sometimes patient, other times impatient, desire to see God’s chosen one. He will deliver all God’s people from oppression and establish justice forever. Just as God’s people in the Old Testament looked forward to Jesus, the promised offspring who will rule with compassion and vanquish all evil, so also does the church today.

In this series this Advent season I will be reflecting on passages exclusively from the Old Testament that foreshadow and anticipate the arrival of Jesus Christ.


Genesis 3:14-15 (ESV)

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
    and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”


In the beginning, Adam and Eve were given authority to rule over all creation on behalf of God. But they were in a trial period to show their faithfulness to God, in the garden, to cultivate it and slowly make the city of God. The serpent knew that they were on probation he tempted them in the garden. Despite God’s faithfulness to them, Adam and Eve did not reciprocate but failed the test. They immediately knew that they had broken trust with their creator, and decided to hide. But God summoned them, interrogated them, and as a perfectly just judge, began to pronounce the verdict and sentence.

The passage here is God’s third verdict pronounced as judge: God addresses the subversive serpent, in order to officially declare holy war. He will bring vengeance and strike back against the rebels. There will be a struggle between their offspring. Though Satan may battle, he will lose the war, and any who follow after the serpent –the offspring of the serpent—will be crushed. The families of humanity will belong either to the serpent or to the woman.

The word ‘offspring’ has two senses. First, the sense of any born in that lineage, a family line of faithful people and a family line of unfaithful people. Those who are unfaithful can say that in some sense, Satan is their father. But second, the offspring is singular. There will be one offspring who will bring the war to a climactic end. There is one specific person who will put his enemies under his feet.

This is a summary of the gospel. While there is a widespread rebellion and oppression, God has promised deliverance to those who return to him. This pronouncement of curse upon the serpent is the good news of the gospel, since it announces a righteous deliverer will show compassion on the oppressed and bring justice.

Adam and Eve received grace that day, because they trusted that simple gospel God preached to them. Despite the limitations of their understanding, they responded by putting their hope in the fact that someday someone would come, who, unlike them, will successfully pass the test of faithfulness and will save them completely from sin and sorrow. They are considered saints because they looked forward to Jesus Christ, in faith.


And so we, the church, wait for our Savior to return to us.

Revelation 22:20-21: He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

A Healthy Tree

November 21, 2021 – Christ Central Buffalo (www.christcentralbuffalo.com)


Sermon Text: Matthew 7:15-23

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Walking, Growing, and Building with Christ

October 17, 2021 – Colonial Village Presbyterian Church (www.cvpchurch.org)


Sermon Text: Matthew 7:13-29 (ESV)

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Death and New life in Union with Christ

Aug 22, 2021 – Colonial Village Presbyterian Church (www.cvpchurch.org)


Sermon Text: Romans 6:1-14 (ESV)

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Saving Faith Has Works

May 23, 2021 – Christ Central Buffalo (www.christcentralbuffalo.com)

Sermon Text: James 2:14-26 (ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

God’s Purposes in Trials and Temptations

May 16, 2021, Colonial Village Presbyterian Church (www.cvpchurch.org)


Sermon Text: James 1:1-18 (ESV)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

God’s Purposes in Trials and Temptations


Sermon text: James 1:1-18 (ESV)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Sept 20, 2020 – Christ Central Buffalo (www.christcentralbuffalo.com)

The Method to Science, Book 1 now available

I have now made the entire text The Method to Science, Book I, available online! Rather than continue to make each less available piecemeal, which I can do later (it is rather tedious to reformat and tailor everything to HTML), the entire text is now available as a PDF. It can be downloaded here: https://jonathanvajda.com/the-method-to-science/

I intend to create the next layer (updating spelling, such as ‘meerly’ -> ‘merely’, ‘compleat’ -> ‘complete’) after I finish the remaining books. There is so much to say by way of commentary. Much of what he offers is a fairly clear and straightforward case for Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic Christian metaphysics. I’ll be brief for now, but here are a few tidbits of some odd or interesting contours of the text:

  • Addresses puzzles of non-entities and negations, and our meanings of such terms if they are truly nothing
  • Argues that nature abhors a vacuum, contra the Epicureans
  • Justifies his use of the 10 Categories (of Aristotle), clarifying along the way common misunderstandings and arguing against competing views (e.g., about absolute place, relative place, etc.)
  • Distinguishes between habits and dispositions
  • Clarifies why God is said to be eternal if there is no ‘before’ the Creation of the universe
  • Explains how many angels can fit on the head of a pin (sort of), and why
  • Warns against common misunderstandings of words and getting caught up in logomachy (arguments over meanings of words)

And that’s not all!

Method to Science, Lessons 2 and 3

I have posted the two most recent lessons from Sergeant’s Method to Science. First, some editing notes, and then some philosophical insights from Lessons II and III worth mentioning.

Editing notes. I have changed some conventions a little bit. First off, I am including both Sergeant’s marginal notes and mine in-text with a set-bracket, e.g. “{Sect. 7.}” and “{Latin: ‘secondary substance’}”, respectively. I use these because the normal brackets “[ ]” are used by Sergeant extensively to clarify his own speech or highlight a technical term, so I want to preserve a distinction between Sergeant’s voice and my own, to an extent that is more obvious to the reader. Yet one might worry but you’re still using brackets for your voice and his! To which I respond, yes, but that in my editing software it is more obvious, and this is what I consider canonical in my project. Second, when Sergeant uses margin notes he is fairly consistent in using them to refer to other passages in his same work, and thus when he does so I provide a link to that referent, if the page exists.

This brings me to the other new addition (thus far often frustrated by WordPress’s UI), that now every section has an anchor to which one may provide a direct link. E.g., to go to Lesson 2, Section 16, Note 2 -> the URL is currently “https://jonathanvajda.com/lesson-ii-of-the-distinction-of-natural-notions/#2.16note2“. I hope in the near future to make it easy to cite sections with a citation generator. I am currently intending a citation scheme like those for Locke and Hume to refer to a text, book number, chapter number, section number. E.g., “Essay IV.i.2.”

Philosophical comments. Lesson II highlights his Aristotelian system in adopting the 10 categories famously presented in Aristotle’s De Interpretatione. He defends his use and gives examples. One such example Sergeant offers is a sentence that contains predication from every category. “Peter1, tho’ but a yard2 and half high, yet a Valiant3 Subject4, fought5 and was wounded6 yesterday7, in8 the Field, standing9 upon his guard, armed10.” Not all philosophers in this period (or prior eras) have this pedagogical flair.

Later in Lesson II, he gives an argument against Ideism, the view that we have ideas in our intellect that stand for the objects outside the intellect, by which we know those objects, though ideas are fundamentally different from the objects themselves. While he affirms the axiom ‘Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver’ (Latin: “Quicquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis“), he raises the objection that the new Ideists are misapplying this axiom in a way that produces skepticism. He emphasizes that when we speak of these ten categories of predicates, they are not properly just ideas in the mind nor just the excitations of motions unlike the objects. Instead, what Ideists call an idea is much more like a “corporeal resemblance” (“phantasm”), which does not involve the definition or nature of the object so depicted. He worries that Ideists are collapsing the meaningful distinction between two different mental contents about objects of sense, say, of a tree, the definition of a tree vs the picture of a tree.

In Lesson III, Sergeant offers a rich exposition on individuality and essences. Not only does he give conditions for continued existence, he defines a thing (Ens) is something which is capable to exist, whereas something common (Man, Horse, Tree, etc.) are incapable to exist. He admits that there are essential differences among individual humans, and not just accidental differences. These offer a preview of a major point to be made in Sergeant’s work, insofar as having an answer to the problem of universals and of individuation.

However in this same passage there is a complicated and potentially unfortunate discussion of what it means to be a human. First, he is sticking to the traditional definition of rational animal, but he also talks about how some individuals are more human than others in that they have greater or lesser rationality, greater and lesser ability to respond in myriad ways to sensation, etc. Perhaps more work needs to be done to avoid the worry that some individuals who fit the definition rational animal might not have the same moral status.

Lastly, in Lesson III, Sergeant attempts to resolve a problem concerning substance dualism. He affirms that we have a corporeal nature and a spiritual nature; does this mean that we are two beings, and not just one? In his response he offers that we are not both body and spirit formally. Instead, a human is “formally a body, tho’ his Soul be of a spiritual Nature, which makes him virtually a Spirit.” This formal vs virtual distinction is curious, in that in modern terms this sounds like his account tends toward Functionalism. I need, of course, to read this more fully how the virtual distinction doesn’t commit himself to such.

Works of John Sergeant, electronic

I began a project in my spare time of editing and cleaning up extant electronic versions of the works of the early modern philosopher and theologian, John Sergeant (1623-1707). The most famous and most easily available are his Method to Science (1696), Solid Philosophy (1697), and Transnatural Philosophy (1700).

You can go to the “John Sergeant” link in the menu to see what chapters and sections are available thus far.

One of my concerns has been to perform this project with the rigor of text criticism in mind. First it means that any changes I make, I document them or have some other way to verify that I made a change. Second that texts are available as they were printed. This means that archaic and irregular spellings are preserved (e.g., “compleat” instead of “complete”, “metaphysicks” instead of “metaphysics”, etc.). Third, it means that if and when I make an official, complete edited version, I can justify every revision or textual variant I am introducing into the stream of textual transmission.

I may post every now and then when I reach important milestones.