This Week's Focus Passage

‘None can by any means redeem his brother.’

Focus Passage: Psalm 49:7

‘None can by any means redeem his brother.’

Psalm 49 is attested through the inspired heading—actually the first verse—to be For the chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. In the passage which includes the seventh verse, after the psalmist claims to open a dark saying and to incline his heart to a parable, we may read the following words:

Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when iniquity at my heels compasseth me about? They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (for the redemption of their life is costly, and it faileth for ever;) that he should still live always, that he should not see corruption. —Psalm 49:5-9

Furthermore, by the Council of Trent the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning purgatory has been thus defined:

“There is a purgatory, and souls there detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar” (Session XXV).

Note well the highlighted and underlined portion of the above; “especially by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar.” And with that, note that this ‘Sacrifice of the Altar’ is none other than the saying of the mass by a priest of Rome. The Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory includes yet more elements. For instance, their assertion that purgatory is the place where souls of (almost all) deceased believers suffer anguish, and are thereby gradually purified. Thus their souls pay off the remainder of their debt. The duration of their suffering depends, to some extent, on how they lived their lives, and to some extent, on what their friends on earth are doing for them. These things include prayers which these friends offer for them, indulgences which they may obtain for them, and especially—there’s that word again—on the masses which they cause to be said for them; which incidentally they must pay the priest for.

It must be inquired; does any such teaching as this comport at all with what the psalmist has been led by the Spirit of God to write in our focus passage? What does he intend by those words, None can by any means redeem his brother? None, of course, means no one; it means nada; it means zero. There is not one on earth that can do this of which he speaks. Not by any means; he has nothing at his disposal by which to accomplish this. Yes, peradventure he has a great many means, yet again we are told by the psalmist that there are no means, not any whatever, by which his brother might be redeemed. Even if he were to possess every possible means available, not by any of these means could he redeem another. He could give all of his property; he could give every cent from his bank account; he could surrender his well-being; he could even lay down his life; none of these would suffice. Scripture declares not by any means. There are no means, even if he were to possess them, by which to redeem his brother. The Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine flies in the face of this passage; none can by any means redeem his brother. And this is, in no way, the only scripture that denies this false teaching of Rome.

We are hard pressed to omit the graphic illustration contained in the gospel according to Luke, chapter 16, we have the account of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had all the things he could want in this life, while the beggar, Lazarus, had only the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Yet, when they both died, we are told that Lazarus was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man, being in Hades, lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeing Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, cried to Abraham, begging him to send Lazarus to him that he might succor him with just a drop of water to cool his tongue, for he was in the anguish of this flame. Abraham responded clearly to Dives—many believe that to be the name of this rich man—that such was impossible, for there was a great gulf fixed between us and you; between where Abraham and Lazarus were and where Dives was; there was no passing between the two; no crossing over. Dives had five brothers who might be exhorted to say many prayers for him. They would be induced to seek to obtain a great number of indulgences for him. They would be encouraged to pay the priests frequently to offer masses for Dives that he might be extricated from this place of torment as swiftly as possible. We can almost imagine Abraham saying to Dives, ‘I’m sorry, you are mistaken about where you are. It is not purgatory; it is not a temporary torment; it is Hell; it is eternal torment.’

Johann Tetzel (1465-1519) was a Roman Catholic friar of the Dominican order who became the Grand Commissioner for the sale of indulgences in Germany in the days of the renowned reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546). It is a great understatement to say that Tetzel and Luther were on a collision course. In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” The idea that a person could pay to receive remission of sin is diametrically opposed to the biblical truth of free grace through the merits of the satisfaction of Christ that Luther had been led to embrace. Whether myth or urban legend, the story persists that Tetzel came through the region around Wittenburg, Germany, offering indulgences for money, making the claim: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” It amounts to the grace of God being for sale. The grace of God cannot be purchased nor earned through penance or any other way. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone.

That anyone could redeem his brother, or himself, or any other person, manifests an absolute failure to grasp anything whatever of the magnitude of the work of Jesus Christ and all that is involved in the accomplishment of redemption. Much more importantly is the infinite misunderstanding of the absolute holiness of God and His hatred of sin. Anselm spoke well when he said, ‘You have not yet considered what a heavy weight sin is.’ If we knew more of the majesty of God’s holiness, we might then grasp the hideousness of the smallest sin against Him.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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