Shine Upon Thy Work of Grace

Today our church began a series that is focused on the great themes of the Reformation: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone and Christ Alone.  Today, in worship we reminded ourselves of God’s amazing grace.  Our Prayer of Confession:

God of grace, we are reminded this morning that we are dust.  You know our “dustiness”-our character that is so fragile and easily disintegrates.  We bring our hearts and our souls to You this morning, trusting You to bring forgiveness and healing.  We confess that sometimes we simply don’t trust You with our lives and the lives of those we love.  We confess our unbelief of the promises in Your Word that Your grace really is sufficient for us.  We confess our sins, the times we have willingly gone against Your good will for our lives, choosing that which is wrong.  We confess that there are times we ignore the promptings of Your Spirit, and fail to do the good deeds You have prepared for us to do.  Forgive us, Lord, and continue to shape us by Your grace.  We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.

We confessed our faith answering the Heidelberg Catechism’s question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”   The answer is probably my favorite in that catechism:

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

This poem of John Newton,  shared by Tim Challies, expresses, as only poetry can, what that grace really means:

’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I His, or am I not?

If I love, why am I thus?
Why this dull and lifeless frame?
Hardly, sure, can they be worse,
Who have never heard His name!

Could my heart so hard remain,
Prayer a task and burden prove;
Every trifle give me pain,
If I knew a Savior’s love?

When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark, and vain, and wild;
Filled with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?

If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do;
You that love the Lord indeed,
Tell me: Is it thus with you?

Yet I mourn my stubborn will,
Find my sin a grief, and thrall;
Should I grieve for what I feel,
If I did not love at all?

Could I joy His saints to meet,
Choose the ways I once abhorred,
Find, at times, the promise sweet,
If I did not love the Lord?

Lord, decide the doubtful case!
Thou who art Thy people’s sun;
Shine upon Thy work of grace,
If it be indeed begun.

Let me love Thee more and more,
If I love at all, I pray;
If I have not loved before,
Help me to begin today.

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When You Have Nothing More to Say

More poetry from a blog I frequent:

The Peninsula

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks so you will not arrive
But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you’re in the dark again.  Now recall
The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog
And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this:  things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.
Seamus Heaney, Door into the Dark (Faber and Faber 1969).

Sure Provisions

Written by Isaac Watts in 1719, a paraphrase of Psalm 23, and the tune titled “Resignation” in Southern Harmony, and “Irwinton” in Sacred Harp.

My Shepherd will supply my need: Jehovah is His name:
In pastures fresh He makes me feed, Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back, When I forsake His ways;
And leads me, for His mercy’s sake, In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath Drives all my fears away.
Thy Hand, in sight of all my foes, Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows, Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode, And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest, But like a child at home.

From the 2017 Sacred Harp Convention in Germany:

 

Communication and Communion

“Even to imagine such words brings us into a new relation of wonder with the realities, wonder that has very little to do with communication, to use Allen Tate’s distinction, and everything to do with communion.”

This delightful sentence, found in an essay, sent me looking for Allen Tate, and I was not disappointed.  A southern American poet and writer of the 20th century, he was Poet Laureate from 1943-1944.  One of his more famous poems is “Ode to the Confederate Dead,”  here read by the author:

I found more about him in an archived “First Things” essay.

Early on [Tate] certainly showed signs of having been habituated to a racist culture, but the mature Tate repented, and confessed that as original sin was to humanity so was slavery for the South.

And especially this which endeared him to me:

In one of his most important essays, Tate argued that it was the task of “the man of letters in the modern world” to hold up to his own age “an image of man” that can be judged by a standard, that can “distinguish the false from the true.” Here his literary concern is with the power of words and “the vitality of language” to communicate, but the questions of true religion continue to percolate beneath the surface, for by mid-century his literary criticism had become Catholic.

The man of letters in the modern world “must discriminate and defend the difference between mass communication, for the control of men, and the knowledge of man which literature offers us for human participation.” Yet such discrimination requires a standard which in a secularized, egalitarian culture is constantly being refused. This he said stems from an “internal crisis” in the West, a crisis in “a society that multiples means without end.” Tate argues that secularized societies proliferate communication, but every act of communication, indeed every action, is orchestrated along the lines of a “plotless drama of withdrawal.”

…..What he fears is dehumanization through mechanized power, through a social machinery that substitutes means for ends, and thus multiplies communication (he could have predicted the Internet) in such a way as to deprive people of communion. As Tate put it, “Communication that is not also communion is incomplete.” In his view, communication is a means, not an end. And the problem with a secularized society is that it refuses “the end of social man” which is, as he puts it “communion in time through love, which is beyond time.” (emphasis added).
I plan to read his book on Stonewall Jackson soon.
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In Praise of Finding Common Ground

 

I had several conversations over the weekend with a young man who I had previously known only as an infant and child of friends.  It was so much fun, as soon as we both realized we had some common interests and ideas.  I was reminded of Lewis’s comment when talking with an acquaintance and realizing they enjoyed the same story and his response to that knowledge:  “What, you too?”

Not only years separated us, but knowledge and interest.  He came alive when talking about programs he had written, and his enthusiasm drew me in.  Writing code is a beautiful thing, I realized.  Then, in a conversation about conservatism and what it means, struggling for clarity, I mentioned “beauty” and he lit up.  What ensued was praise of his college English professor (“she was tough”) who required him to read Austen’s “Emma.”  The story, and the process of understanding it made a lasting impression on him.  So now I will read “Emma” for the first time.  Today, as he requested, I sent him a short list of suggestions to read from Lewis, Auden, Eliot and O’Connor.

The Gospel: How We Have Been Rescued From Peril

I am nearly finished reading Alistair E. McGrath’s book, Reformation Thought.  So much of it reminds me of ongoing debate and confusion in the Christian Church today.  When we forget the “Solos” of the Reformation we easily slide into all sorts of false gospels.

Monergism, a site dedicated to Reformation theology and thought explains why their main goal is to promote salvation by Christ alone:

That salvation is His [Christ’s] gift for guilty sinners, not a reward for the righteous. The Bible and the gospel itself continually draw us back to message of Christ alone as our redemption. We do not contribute, even partly, to our right standing before God, but Jesus provides everything we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe (Deut 29:4, 30:6; Ezek 36:26; John 6:63, 65, 37) . It is precisely here that is the focal point for which the church has battled throughout its history because the enemy would have us dilute the gospel with something other than, or in addition to, Jesus Christ.

 

One article answers the question “What do we mean by the ‘gospel’?”  (Excerpted from Timothy Keller’s book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

What do we mean by “the gospel”? Answering this question is a bit more complex than we often assume. Not everything the Bible teaches can be considered “the gospel” (although it can be argued that all biblical doctrine is necessary background for understanding the gospel). The gospel is a message about how we have been rescued from peril. The very word gospel has as its background a news report about some life-altering event that has already happened:

Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Luke 2:10, And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

 

….The gospel is “heraldic proclamation” before it is anything else (D.A. Carson, “What Is the Gospel? —Revisited,” in For the Fame of God’s Name, 158). It is news that creates a life of love, but the life of love is not itself the gospel. The gospel is not everything that we believe, do, or say. The gospel must primarily be understood as good news, and the news is not as much about what we must do as about what has been done. The gospel is preeminently a report about the work of Christ on our behalf — salvation accomplished for us. That’s how it is a gospel of grace.

 

And I find Keller’s note on a commonly heard aphorism instructive:

USE WORDS IF NECESSARY

The popular saying “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” is helpful but also misleading. If the gospel were primarily about what we must do to be saved, it could be communicated as well by actions (to be imitated) as by words. But it the gospel is primarily about what God has done to save us, and how we can receive it through faith, it can only be expressed through words. Faith cannot come without hearing. This is why we read in Galatians 2:5 that heresy endangers the truth of the gospel, and why Philippians 1:16 declares that a person’s mind must be persuaded of the truth of the gospel. Ephesians 1:13 also asserts that the gospel is the word of truth. Ephesians 6:19 and Colossians 1:23 teach that we advance the gospel through verbal communication, particular preaching.]