Imperatives and Indicatives

I hated grammar during my elementary school days, and dreamed of the day when I would no longer have to diagram sentences, mark subjects and predicates, and make sure that all my “whos” and whoms” were correct. However, when I entered Lamar University during the Presidency of Richard Nixon (yes, I am that old), and found that fourteen hours of a foreign language was required to graduate with a degree in history, I once again entered the world of infinitives, tenses, and moods in order to pass Dr. Urbano’s Spanish Class. To be perfectly honest with you, I have never really escaped from that world. Grammar has become a part of my life as I have sought to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” over the last twenty-eight years as a pastor.

 

Grammar, particularly the understanding of mood, has been used in describing important portions of God’s Word. For example, much of God’s Word is written in the imperative mood (the mood of command). We are commanded not to have any other gods before the true and living God, not to worship the true God using images, and not to take God’s name in vain. We are also commanded to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, to honor our father and mother, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bear false witness, and not to covet our neighbor’s possessions. We also see imperatives in the New Testament such as “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church,” and “wives, be submissive unto your husbands as unto the Lord,” etc. We call all of these commands, “Law.” The Law is very important because it shows us the character of God, teaches us the definition of sin and righteousness, and, maybe, most importantly (from our perspective anyway) drives us to the cross of Christ, because it is clear to see that we can not keep God’s Law.

 

Although God’s Law is vital in the living of our Christian lives, if we are not careful, our Christian lives can become totally absorbed in Law. Our lives become filled with “do this” and “don’t do that” and we forget about the indicatives in Scripture. The indicative mood (according to Webster’s) is the mood of the verb used in ordinary objective statements. This is the portion of Scripture that we call, “Gospel.” What is the Gospel? Paul described it for us in 1 Corinthians 15:

 

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain.  3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.

 

The indicatives of Scripture remind us that we have not been justified by the Law, but by the Gospel. We have not been redeemed through anything that we have done; but our eternal life rests entirely upon what Christ has done on our behalf, for “it was not by the works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, we should always “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” but as we do, always remember to rest in His marvelous grace.

“They Die Well”

 

 Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish pastor, professor of theology at St. Andrews, and one of the five Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly in 1643 (which gave us the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Directory of the Public Worship of God).  His most famous work, with the possible exception of The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, was Lex Rex, which means “The Law, The King.”

When Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, Rutherford knew it was just a matter of time before he would be accused of treason. When he received the summons to appear before the court on a particular day, he responded from his deathbed, “I must answer my first summons; and before your day arrives, I will be where few kings and great folks come.” He died a few days later, on March 30, 1661 (from A Brief Life and Times of Samuel Rutherford by William Carson).

Someone once said of Christians, “They die well.” Could it be because they are looking for a city “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God?” May that be true in our generation, also.

Friends

Last night at our men’s bible study we took some time to look at a few of the different relationships described in the book of Proverbs. We saw how important it is to choose friends with good character because, “He that walks with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20) We also talked about the difficulty of knowing when one should overlook an offense with a friend (“He who covers a transgression seeks love” Proverbs 17:9) and when one should confront (“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6). I hope that in our study we began to understand more fully the importance of the Christian friends that God puts in our lives.

 

Over the last few days I have come face to face with the importance of friends as I became a member of the Facebook family. For those of you who are not computer geeks, Facebook is a “social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them” or formerly worked, studied, and lived around them. Suddenly I came across friends on the internet that I have not seen in years (some I haven’t seen in 25 years). As I reconnected with some of these folks I began to remember the impact that they have had on my life. God used these men, women, and children as instruments in my growth in grace. Although my theological views have grown even more conservative (and, I pray, more Biblical) through the years, I remember these folks as people with whom I laughed, cried, prayed, and studied the Bible. I will be forever grateful for the love that they showed to me in Christ as we journeyed together on the path called life.

 

I am reminded, also, of those that God is using today in my sanctification. In the last four years I have treasured Pastor Mark’s consistent preaching of God’s Law and Gospel, and how God has used it in both my spiritual growth, and in the spiritual growth of my family. I have also enjoyed immensely serving with the men on the session of RPC as we seek to “shepherd the flock of God…, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have [us]; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” Furthermore, the saints of God that make up Reformed Presbyterian Church encourage me daily to look to Christ alone “to find mercy and grace to help in time of need.” Finally, Dixie and the boys are a constant reminder to me of how gracious that God has been to me, and are a constant source of joy as I live out my life in this present age, and look forward to that glorious age to come.

The Lord’s Day

I don’t remember the young girl’s name that worked at the McDonalds on the north end of Shreveport, Louisiana, but I will be forever grateful to her. She was the individual that the Lord used to open my eyes once again to the importance of the Lord’s Day. I had been raised to respect the Lord’s Day by my Christian parents, and each Sunday found us in church, both on Sunday morning and Sunday night. I was not even allowed to play outside on Sunday afternoon as a child (I must admit that there were some inconsistencies since I was allowed to watch my hero, Mickey Mantle, play baseball on TV), although when I entered high school the strictures were loosened. By the time I had entered adulthood, eating out at a restaurant on Sunday (if Bonanza could be considered a restaurant) had become commonplace, even though I was a youth minister at a local church. After graduating from seminary and pastoring churches in Texas and Louisiana, my habits changed little; until 6:00AM on that fateful Sunday in 1997, that is.

 

I had left from home early that morning to go over my sermon notes and was going through the drive through to pick up an Egg McMuffin. The girl at the window looked at me and asked, “Are you a preacher?” “Is it that obvious?” I retorted. Then she said what changed my life forever, “Would you pray for me? I have had to work for the last three Sundays and haven’t been able to go to church. It is really starting to get me down.” I took her hand through the window and prayed with her, but left with more than an Egg McMuffin. I left with the burden of knowing that I was part of the reason why this Christian young lady was not able to worship God on His day with His people.

 

At my office I opened my Bible to Exodus 20:8-11: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

 

There it was, inserted right between “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,” and, “Honor your father and mother.” How could I have missed it all those years? Did I fall asleep in class (that was known to happen from time to time) the day they covered the part about, “On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates?” God used that young lady to remind me that the same Law which said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

 

I realize that I will never be justified by the keeping of God’s Law because that is impossible. I can only be made right with God by His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. However, as I rest in Christ’s finished work, I am reminded of the importance of all of God’s Moral Law in my daily life since Jesus so clearly said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18) Thank you, young lady, wherever you are, and thank you, Lord, for opening my eyes to the truth of Your Word.

 

May we rejoice tomorrow in that “Day of Rest and Gladness” that God so wisely gave us to gather with His covenant people and worship Him.

Thoughts on Blogging

While one of my goals in life is to be more consistent in updating this blog, I must admit that I am amazed at the sheer volume of some blogger’s productivity. Do they not sleep? Do they not eat? Do they not have jobs? Do they not have families? Do they never have to go to the restroom? How do they manage to post, not just weekly, not just daily, but several times a day? Moreover, my thoughts do not even attempt to take into consideration those who manage several blogs. Their yield truly is an output that “passes all understanding.”

 

Although it is probably true that my time management skills could use some tweaking, my focus will remain on striving for simplicity. I think it will be best if I just continue to focus on loving my wife, raising my boys in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, spending time in the Word and prayer, remembering that one day in seven is uniquely the Lord’s, and seeking to minister to the wonderful folks at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas. Oh, yeah, and if I have some time left in the day, I will update my blog (but I promise that I will never miss a meal to do it).

Prayer

Since I have written about the first two ordinary means of grace: The Word and the Sacraments; I thought it would be prudent for me to spend a little time pondering the third: Prayer. Every Christian knows how important it is to pray, but many struggle to find the time to pray. There are many reasons why this is true: sloth, selfishness, and remaining sin to name a few, but from my perspective, one of the greatest motivations to pray is found in Hebrews chapter 4: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

 

While it is true that prayer is a great responsibility (I would never deny that!), we must never forget the fact that it is also a great privilege. The writer of Hebrews accentuates God’s invitation for us to draw near to Him and find the mercy and grace we so desperately need to live our lives in this fallen world. Whether we are in need of wisdom, struggling with a particular sin, or have been deeply hurt by someone in whom we placed our trust, the place to flee is to Christ and to the throne of grace. We have the Spirit interceding on our behalf on earth (Rom. 8:26-27), Christ interceding on our behalf in heaven (Rom. 8:34), and the Father inviting us to call out to Him with the phrase, “Abba, Father,” (Rom. 8:15), how can we not draw near to our Lord with confidence.

 

May prayer always be our first recourse, not our last resort, as we live our lives to the glory of the Triune God.

The Sacraments

In my last post I wrote about the importance of the Word of God as one of the means by which the Lord sanctifies his covenant people. Today I would like us to turn our thoughts to the second of the ordinary means of grace: the sacraments. The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives an excellent definition in its answer to the question, What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.

 

First of all, we are told it is an holy ordinance that has been instituted by Christ. In other words, some pastor didn’t say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t we give out bread and wine during the worship service? It will be a really neat way to remind people of what Christ did for us on the cross!” Man does not have the authority to determine how to worship the living God, only God can decide that (Ask Nadab and Abihu how their novel idea for worship worked out in Leviticus 10:1-3). Christ himself instituted Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as legitimate ways for His people to worship Him in Spirit and truth.

 

Secondly, sensible signs are used in this means of grace. Not sensible in terms of rational, but sensible in terms of our five senses. While images are expressly forbidden in the worship of God, God has condescended to us in these two ordinances alone, to use the signs of bread and wine (in the Lord’s Supper), and water (in Baptism) to aid us in our worship of God. It would be good to mention that even here; the Word of God is of utmost importance in explaining to us the meaning of these sensible signs as God is worshipped by His people.

 

Thirdly, it is Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, [that] are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. We see portrayed (represented) in the sacraments, Christ’s sacrificial death (in the Lord’s Supper), and the cleansing of sin that was the result of His death (in Baptism). Along with that we are given His promise (seal) that he will redeem all who believe, and sanctify (apply) those who are truly His children.

 

Last of all, we see that the sacraments are not justifying ordinances, but sanctifying ordinances. The sacraments are used by God for the benefit of those who have already been justified, or in the case of the children of believers, those who will one day be justified if they believe the Gospel. May the Lord continue to grow us in His grace for our good and for His glory.