“God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

I came across this beautiful explanation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in John H. Gerstner’s, Primitive Theology, and thought that I would share it with you before I go to attend a Session Meeting in Beaumont.

And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  “The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’  “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The publican of whom Christ spoke could only cry out for mercy, but he “went down to his house justified.” Suppose he was 30 when he went down to his house justified, and lived, after returning all that he had stolen, another 50 years of exemplary Christian service. Suppose he went up to that temple and prayed again. It would be the same prayer: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Primitive Theology, pages 289)

SOLA GRATIA!

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The Valley of Vision: “Grace in Trials”

All of us who are Christians (and honest) would admit that the words penned by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Romans describe our daily lives to a “T”:

15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

The remaining sin in our lives is very real and a constant reminder of our need for the Lord Jesus Christ to work His sanctifying work in our daily lives. The following Puritan prayer from The Valley of Vision is a perfect description of a justified sinner’s daily prayer to the Father of Mercies to experience his grace anew:

FATHER OF MERCIES,

Hear me for Jesus’ sake.
I am sinful even in my closest walk
with thee; it is of thy mercy I died not long ago;

Thy grace has given me faith in the cross
by which thou hast reconciled thyself to me
and me to thee,
drawing me by thy great love,
reckoning me as innocent in Christ though
guilty in myself.

Giver of all graces,
I look to thee for strength to maintain them in me,
for it is hard to practice what I believe.

Strengthen me against temptations.
My heart is an unexhausted fountain of sin,
a river of corruption since childhood days,
flowing on in every pattern of behaviour;

Thou hast disarmed me of the means
in which I trusted,
and I have no strength but in thee.
Thou alone canst hold back my evil ways,
but without thy grace to sustain me I fall.

Satan’s darts quickly inflame me,
and the shield that should quench them
easily drops from my hand:
Empower me against his wiles and assaults.

Keep me sensible of my weakness,
and of my dependence upon thy strength.
Let every trial teach me more of thy peace,
more of thy love.

Thy Holy Spirit is given to increase thy graces,
and I cannot preserve or improve them
unless he works continually in me.
May he confirm my trust in thy promised help,
and let me walk humbly in dependence upon thee,
for Jesus ’sake.

Happy Birthday, Dixie!

Probably most of you who read my blog have at least a general knowledge of my story. I have posted about my theological quest here, but today I wanted to be a little more personal. I was raised by godly Christian parents and through the means of their witness at home and the preaching of the Gospel at our church, by God’s grace, I was, to use the Apostle Paul’s words, “made alive in Christ” at an early age.

During my Senior year at West Orange High School I met Lydia Franks, a sophomore at Orangefield High School, and three years later we were married (Yes, I know we were young but it worked). The next thirteen years were filled with many ups and downs as I finished my education, and began my life as a pastor, first at the Morgan Mill Baptist Church, and then, at the First Baptist Church in Mauriceville (both in Texas). We (Lydia and I) easily grew together as husband and wife, and then as Christian parents to a boy and a girl until our world was shaken when we discovered that our daughter, Leah, had cystic fibrosis when she was eighteen months old.

The next six and half years were filled with breathing treatments, extended hospital stays, IV meds both at home and in the hospital, all added to the normal challenges of being a busy pastor. Thankfully, God’s grace was sufficient, as we saw Leah grow in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” God, in His mercy, had placed me in churches with loving, supporting people, and most importantly, had given me a loving wife who was able, by God’s grace, to care for Leah, love me, and somehow make family life as normal as possible under such circumstances. However, on Mother’s Day, 1989, my world was shaken again when both Lydia and Leah were killed in an automobile accident.

Overnight, I was a single pastor with an eleven year old son (Josh) and my primary supporter, prayer partner, confidante, and friend was no longer with me. Thankfully, the Lord upheld me through those dark days, and friends did all that they could to support me, but in many ways I felt totally alone. My thirteen years with Lydia had taught me how good marriage could be, and I realized the truth of our Lord’s words in the garden, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

It was then that the Lord brought Dixie Gomez into my life. She faced many challenges that others who were entering into new relationships didn’t have to face. For starters, in many ways I was still in the midst of the grieving process (as was Josh), and she had to sail through those uncharted waters. Secondly, it seemed as if we could go nowhere without running into someone that we knew, and soon the phone lines would be burning up with the latest news of the pastor and his “date.” (It gave a whole new meaning to me of what it meant to live one’s life “in a fishbowl.”) Yet, through it all, she stayed the course and I am so glad that she did.

Now, we have been married for over twenty years, and it seems in many ways that all of those things took place yesterday. Our marriage has survived the horrors of infertility issues (Don’t wish that on your worst enemies), the adoption of two special needs children (for whom we are so grateful, although they are not without their challenges), and a change in our religious denomination (from Southern Baptist to the Presbyterian Church in America) along with my place of ministry. Again, Dixie has been a true helpmeet (to use the old King James Version word) through all of the joys and the dark providences of our lives and I am so grateful to the Lord for her love and support for me. Tomorrow is her [I am whispering now] 46th birthday and I am praying that the Lord will bless her deeply as she continues to live out her life to the glory of God.

Thank you, Lord, for the grace that is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Tuesday Hymns: “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night”

At the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America which convened in Orlando back in 2009, I met another teaching elder (at that time ministering in Mississippi, and currently is the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Wheat Ridge, Colorado) named Kevin Carroll. His blog is one of those that I read religiously, and today I am directing you there for this week’s Tuesday Hymn: All Praise to Thee, my God, this Night.

Kevin shares the fascinating story of this hymn and focuses on one particular verse with which everyone will be familiar. (To find out what it is you must go to his blog, Reformed and Loving It. While you are there I would encourage you to look over his blog and enjoy his unique perspective on life in the PCA.)

“Follow your heart.”

You just need to follow your heart” is the worst advice that anyone could ever tender to another. Countless lives have been ruined by people “following their heart.” Men have left their wives for their secretaries (excuse me, administrative assistants), others have abandoned their children, while some have abandoned the truth of the Gospel to chase after false teachers who have promised them what Francis Schaeffer considered the idol of our present age: “personal peace and affluence.”

Why is “following your own heart” such a bad idea? Because of what the prophet Jeremiah said some 2500 years ago, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our hearts will lie to us. Our hearts will not allow us to think about the future consequences of our present actions. Our hearts will always convince us that we have a “good” reason to do a “sinful” thing. Our hearts will shout loud and long that we “deserve” happiness, contentment, peace, etc., while hiding the irreparable harm our self-centered actions might bring to others.

If following our heart is not the answer then to whom do we turn? I would offer the words of the Christ of the Scriptures as a consideration, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) In resting in Christ one can find the forgiveness of not only our outward sins, but also our inward “heart sins” (remember, it is deceitful and desperately wicked), and His Word provides us with the guidance we need as we live out our lives to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It is only by His grace that we can be victorious over our deceitful and desperately wicked hearts.

The Valley of Vision: Divine Mercies

The Biblical truth that “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,” (James 1:17) makes our sins more heinous than we could ever understand, yet makes God’s mercy and grace more glorious still! The following Puritan prayer from The Valley of Vision is a reminder to us of God’s blessing, our sin, and the wonderful truth that “His beauty covers my deformities.”

THOU ETERNAL GOD,

Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable
goodness, super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean’s ‘lip’
as number thy favours towards me; I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.
I thank thee for personal mercies,
a measure of health, preservation of body,
comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food
and clothing,
continuance of mental powers,
my family, their mutual help and support,
the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
my country, church, Bible, faith.

But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
the days that add to my guilt,
the scenes that witness my offending tongue;

All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
condemn me—
the sun which sees my misdeeds,
the darkness which is light to thee,
the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
the good angels who have been provoked to leave me,
thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
thy righteous law, thy holy Word,
my sin-soiled conscience, my private and public life,
my neighbours, myself—
all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
‘Father, I have sinned’;

Yet still I live, and fly repenting to thy outstretched arms;
thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
thou wilt not condemn me, for he died in my stead,
thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
for he leveled all,
and his beauty covers my deformities.

O my God, I bid farewell to sin
by clinging to his cross,
hiding in his wounds,
and sheltering in his side.

John Piper on “Calvinism”

I realize that there are many who are vehemently opposed to the Biblical doctrines normally labeled, “Calvinism.” However, I do believe that many are opposed not so much to Calvinism itself, but to a caricature of Calvinism. They have this idea that Calvinism teaches that there are those who desperately desire to come to Christ and be forgiven, but God says, “Nope, I haven’t chosen you. Tough Taco.” Or, that there are those who hate God with all their hearts, but He says, “Hey, no sweat! Come on to heaven, I have chosen you.” No, Calvinism teaches that we are born “dead in our trespasses and sins” and that we would never come to Christ unless He first replaces our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, in order that we can repent and believe the Gospel. In the simplest terms, we are justified (made right with God) “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”

John Piper has an excellent description of Calvinistic beliefs on his Desiring God website. I would encourage you to click here to gain a better understanding of these beliefs.

HT: The Aquila Report

Happy Belated Birthday to the Heidelberg Catechism!

Yesterday (January 19th) was the 448th anniversary of the adoption of the Heidelberg Catechism by the Synod of Heidelberg. It was authored by Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus at the request of Elector Frederick III. It is one of the Three Forms of Unity, along with the Canons of Dordt, and the Belgic Confession, which are the Confessional Standards of many Reformed denominations of the past and present. It is probably best known for the first question and answer which has brought comfort and assurance to many believers over the last 448 years:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

May we all rest in the Sovereign grace of our loving Lord as we “live unto him.”

Tuesday Hymns: “My Hope Is in the Lord”

Norman J. Clayton was an organist, prolific 20th century hymn writer, and author of our Tuesday Hymn of the Week, My Hope Is in the Lord. He is also the author of the more well-known, Now I Belong to Jesus. My Hope Is in the Lord describes the grace of God that is ours in Christ through His obedient life and sacrificial death, our total inability to merit salvation apart from Christ, and His on-going intercession for His elect. Clayton is also the composer of the tune to which the hymn is sung which he entitled, WAKEFIELD. (I’m sorry but I was not able to find audio for this tune anywhere on the internet.)

My hope is in the Lord Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin at Calvary.

Refrain:
For me He died, For me He lives,
And everlasting life and light He freely gives.
For me He died, For me He lives,

No merit of my own His anger to suppress.
My only hope is found in Jesus’ righteousness.

And now for me He stands Before the Father’s throne.
He shows His wounded hands and names me as His own.

His grace has planned it all, ‘Tis mine but to believe,
And recognize His work of love and Christ receive.

History Repeats Itself

I came across another quote from D. G. Hart’s essay about J. Gresham Machen that made me think that history is repeating itself in 2011:

Not only did Machen combat liberalism, he also defended the value and importance of such militancy. When Machen wrote that liberalism was un-Christian he did so within the context of a church, the PCUSA, which functioned very much like a [sic] old boys’ club where accusations of infidelity were not only in bad taste but also constituted a breach of the ninth commandment.” (Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey, pages 40-41)

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