“Wiser than God?”–Heidelberg Catechism

goldfish

We live in a culture that has been called a “visual culture.” People my age and younger grew up watching television and it is said that everyone’s attention span is shorter than it used to be. And, now with IPhones and such, one study has shown that a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human (yeah, I know; can such a study really be trusted?). Modern churchmen have latched on to that thought and have postulated that if we are going to teach people about God, we are going to need pictures. The problem with that kind of thinking is that the second of the Ten Commandments states very clearly that “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Any image that we would make to portray God could never capture His worth and glory, and thus pictures of the Godhead must be placed in the category of idolatry.

The idea of using pictures of God to teach is not exactly a new thing. The writer of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, felt that it was needful to discuss it several hundred years ago. I love the way he handled the subject:

Q. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.

Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as ‘books for the laity’?
A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants His people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of His Word.

Yesterday, as we were about to share the Lord’s Supper, our pastor said something that bears repeating. He mentioned that although we do not have “pictures” in the place where we worship God to be an aid to worship, God has declared that we, as the church, may use two images to our benefit: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each of them is a “sensible sign” that points us to the truth of the Gospel. They are reminders that Christ took on human flesh, kept God’s Law (something that we could never do) on our behalf, died as a sacrifice for our sins, and if we rest in Him, our sins will be cleansed through His sacrifice.

I think that I will meditate upon what Ursinus said and not try to be “wiser than God.” No matter how short my attention span  is.

 

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Tuesday Hymns: “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve”

philip doddridge

The “Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings” website posted this description of the rather inauspicious birth of non-conformist pastor, Philip Doddridge:

It was June 26, 1702. After thirty-six hours labor, Monica Doddridge gave birth to her twentieth child. It was obviously stillborn and Monica’s hopes were dashed. Eighteen of her children had already died in infancy and she had so wished to have a brother for her only surviving child Elizabeth. The midwife picked up the pale corpse to put it out of sight of the sorrowing mother. Suddenly her heart fluttered. Had she not seen a slight movement in the breast of the tiny boy? She began to slap the infant in an effort to wake him to life, and, sure enough, soon the tiny baby gave out a large cry as if he had the lungs of a robust healthy child.”

Doddridge was a prolific hymn writer and his “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve,” is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week. It is the call of the author to his own soul to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I would quibble a bit with his second verse as I would suggest the “witnesses” of the Book of Hebrews are witnesses to us, not of us, but it is still a great hymn made even greater by singing it to the tune of “Christmas” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=66)  (As Shepherds Watched Their Flock) by George Frederick Handel.

Awake, my soul, stretch ev’ry nerve,
And press with vigor on;
A heav’nly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way.

‘Tis God’s all-animating voice
That calls thee from on high;
‘Tis his own hand presents the prize
To thine aspiring eye.

That prize with peerless glories bright,
Which shall new lustre boast,
When victors’ wreaths and monarch’s gems
Shall blend in common dust.

Blest Saviour, introduced by thee,
Have I my race begun;
And, crowned with vict’ry, at thy feet
I’ll lay my honors down.

Tuesday Hymns: “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word”

luther6

Last Sunday we sang one of Martin Luther’s hymns which has an interesting history. In 1541 the Turks were laying siege to the city of Vienna and the German rulers called on the churches to pray for the safety of the Viennese. Luther responded by writing a hymn for a prayer service in Wittenberg asking for deliverance from the Turks and from another enemy which threatened the German Christians:

Lord, keep us in thy Word and work,
Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk,
Who fain would tear from off thy throne
Christ Jesus, thy beloved Son
.”

Once the crisis had passed, the first verse was altered to be a prayer for any enemy Christ’s church might have to face. It is sung to the tune, ERHALT UNS, HERR . The hymn we sang Sunday is our Tuesday Hymn for this week and was similar to this version (with a few minor differences):

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.
 

Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing your praise eternally.
 

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

Tuesday Hymns: “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord”

moravians

In the “Trinity Hymnal” one will find hymns written by Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Francis of Assisi, the Bonar brothers, Isaac Watts, Jack Hayford, Margaret Clarkson, and others representing the Body of Christ around the world and through the centuries. Today our Tuesday Hymn comes from the Moravian Collection of 1724, “Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord!” These spiritual descendants of John Hus have passed on to us a hymn of praise that begins with Christians singing praise to Lord who are then joined by angels, apostles, prophets, and martyrs who make up a congregation that will sing the Triune God’s praises throughout all eternity.

It is sung to Frederick M. A. Venua’s familiar tune, PARK STREET. I used to snicker when one of the prisoners at the Federal Prison would come up to me after one of our worship services and say, “I really like that NEW song that we sang today.”

Thee we adore, eternal Lord!
We praise thy name with one accord.
Thy saints, who here thy goodness see,
Through all the world do worship thee.

To thee aloud all angels cry,
The heavens and all the pow’rs on high:
Thee, holy, holy, holy king,
Lord God of hosts, they ever sing.

Apostles join the glorious throng,
And prophets swell th’immortal song;
Thy martyrs’ noble army raise
Eternal anthems to thy praise.

From day to day, O Lord, do we
Exalt and highly honor thee!
Thy name we worship and adore,
World without end, for evermore.

“Old Truth in Old Forms”

Givens Brown Strickler lived quite a life. He was born on April 25, 1840 in northern Virginia. While a student at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the South. Promptly, many in the student body formed themselves into “The Liberty Hall Volunteers,” and became a part of the Stonewall Brigade to protect their beloved Virginia against an invasion by their own countrymen. Strickler fought bravely until he was captured at the top of Cemetery Hill during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. While a prisoner of war he “prayed, conducted religious meetings, made religious addresses; and in every practicable way sought to exert the best moral and religious influence on his fellow sufferers in prison,” according to John Miller Wells.

After the war he returned to Washington College (where Robert E. Lee was president at the time) to finish his degree and then on to Union Seminary to prepare for the ministry. As a pastor and seminary professor he touched many lives for the Gospel of Christ. But, his friend and colleague, Thomas Cary Johnson, said something about him which spoke volumes to me about what a pastor should be:

Dr. Strickler was a pre-eminently great teacher of the Reformed Theology. He gave himself to inventing no new statement of any old truth; but accepting the old truth in its old forms he exhibited unrivalled skill in expounding, defending, and impressing this theology as set forth in the Westminster Standards—that rugged and massive system of Christian truth which so perfectly matched his own character, which had moulded his own character.”

Pastors don’t have to “cast visions,” be clever, entertain, come up with new and imaginative ideas, etc., they just need to “expound, defend, and impress” the truth of Scripture to their congregations. God’s flock needs to be fed with the green pastures of God’s Word, not the spirit of a shallow and callous culture. Thank you, Dr. Givens Strickler, for showing us a better way.

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day

patriotic worship

The story is told (although I have never seen other than anecdotal evidence that this event actually happened) that during the Revolutionary War a group of British soldiers entered a Long Island church on a Sunday morning and ordered the congregation to sing, God Save Our Gracious King which was the British national anthem (sort of, not officially until the 19th century). The congregation responded by singing a hymn which (at that time) was sung to the same tune:

Come, thou Almighty King,
Help us thy name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father, all glorious,
O’er all victorious,
Come, and reign over us,
Ancient of days.

Come, thou Incarnate Word,
Gird on thy mighty sword,
Our prayer attend:
Come and thy people bless,
And give thy Word success;
Spirit of holiness,
On us descend.

Come, Holy Comforter,
Thy sacred witness bear
In this glad hour:
Thou who almighty art,
Now rule in every heart,
And ne’er from us depart,
Spirit of power.

To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be,
Hence evermore.
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore.

I have never read what the supposed response of the British soldiers was to this declaration that there are higher allegiances in existence than just earthly political allegiances, but it does make for a good story. It also makes an important point: When we gather together as the church of God on His Day, we are there for the worship of the living God, not to espouse any political or national agenda.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love the country in which I live. I appreciate the sacrifice that has been made by those who have fought and died to protect her. I pray regularly for President Trump (although I didn’t vote for him), and for all those that God has placed in governmental authority over me. However, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, it is not to salute the flag, sing songs about our country, or recite the pledge of allegiance (although I have no problem doing that in other places); it is to worship the Triune God and to focus on Him. The first two paragraphs of Chapter Twenty-one of the Westminster Confession of Faith speak directly as to how God should be worshipped by His gathered church:

The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

So, if a group of soldiers were to ever enter our worship service and demand that we sing “The Star Spangled Banner” (or any other anthem), I hope that we would respond as did that supposed Long Island Church, by singing of our primary allegiance to the Triune God.

 

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea”

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) was an Anglican pastor who is probably best known for his beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He has been accused of being an “extreme Calvinist” (probably because of his strong-worded criticism of the Wesley brothers), yet, his hymns often present the twin doctrines of the unfathomable glory of God, and His inexhaustible mercy to sinners. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea,” is a description of God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness meet[ing],” and His “righteousness and peace kiss[ing] each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

The first and second verses speak of God’s sovereign authority over all of creation, and His wrath upon all who oppose Him, yet, the third and fourth verses speak of God as the “Prince of Peace” and of His universal “reign of love.” If an “extreme Calvinist” is one who calls upon all people to look to Christ alone, and to rest totally on His mercy and grace for the hope of their salvation, I wouldn’t mind being placed in that category. The hymn is sung to the tune, Mendon.

Great God, whom Heaven, and earth, and sea,
With all their countless hosts, obey;
Upheld by whom the nations stand,
And empires fall at Thy command.
 

Beneath Thy long suspended ire,
Let every antichrist expire;
Thy knowledge spread from sea to sea,
And distant nations bow to Thee.
 

Then show Thyself the Prince of Peace,
Command the din of war to cease;
With sacred love the world inspire,
And burn its chariots in the fire.
 

Let earth beneath Thy reign of love
A universal Sabbath prove:
Jesus her peaceful king adore,
And learn the act of war no more.

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”

When Johann Heermann (1585-1647) was a little boy he contracted a serious illness and his mother promised God that if He spared the boy’s life, she would educate him to become a pastor. She was true to her word, and after his ordination he taught at the university, then became a deacon, and eventually a Lutheran pastor in Silesia. His ministry was hampered by poor health and the Thirty Years’ War, but he faithfully ministered, and found time to write numerous hymns, including our Tuesday Hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

The hymn pictures for us the holiness and innocence of Christ, and the depth of our sin. It reminds us that our salvation comes to us entirely through the grace of God. It is not something that we can earn or repay, but it is a merciful gift that becomes ours by what Christ did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. It is sung to several tunes, but the haunting “Iste Confessor” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=11) is my favorite.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Happy Reformation Day

499 years ago today Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, unknowingly becoming the catalyst for the Reformation. Robert Gebel has written this song to commemorate that pivotal event in history.

The Reformation Polka
by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
“You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
“Are these your books? Do you recant?” King Charles did demand,
“I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting “George” as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Tuesday Hymns: “Poor Sinner, Dejected with Fear”

William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Baptist pastor who spent most of his days ministering in Manchester, England, and was, also, a prolific hymn writer (The CyberHymnal website lists 284 hymns attributed to Gadsby). He has once again gained popularity because of our Tuesday Hymn of the week, “Poor Sinner, Dejected with Fear.” Indelible Grace has taken a theologically solid old hymn, and released it to a new tune. Not all of Indelible Grace’s tunes are conducive for congregational singing but this one is simple and very singable. I have searched for other tunes connected to this hymn and have been unable to find any.

The hymn paints a picture of the grace that has been poured out upon sinners through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ who “knows and is known by His sheep; They’re His, and He will hold them fast.”

Poor sinner, dejected with fear,
Unbosom thy mind to the Lamb;
No wrath on His brow He does wear,
Nor will He poor mourners condemn;
His arm of omnipotent grace
Is able and willing to save;
A sweet and a permanent peace
He’ll free- ly- and faith- fully give.

Come just as thou art, with thy woe,
Fall down at the feet of the Lamb;
He will not, He cannot say, “Go”,
But surely will take out thy stain
A fountain is opened for sin,
And thousands its virtues have proved
He’ll take thee, and plunge thee therein,
And wash- thee- from filth- in His blood.

The soul that on Jesus relies,
He’ll never, no never deceive;
He freely and faithfully gives
More blessings than we can conceive;
Yea, down to old age He will keep,
Nor will He forsake us at last;
He knows and is known by His sheep;
They’re His- , and He will hold- them fast.

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