The Corporate Confession of Sin

 

A regular part of our worship each Lord’s Day is the Corporate Confession of Sin. We join together as God’s people, confess that we are sinners, and that we would have no hope apart from God’s pardoning grace. It is always a meaningful part of our worship, but today’s confession of sin really hit home for me. Our family has been going through some challenging times lately, and it has been particularly difficult for us to rest in God’s sovereignty. Thus, when we began to confess these words today my heart was laid open before God:

Most merciful God, we admit that we have transgressed Your law in many ways. Particularly, we have been people of little faith; worrying about what we shall eat, what we shall wear, what we shall do with tomorrow’s problems. We have not sought Your kingdom and righteousness as You have commanded. O Lord, forgive Your people! O Lord, deliver us from evil worry! O Lord, lead us to see You as our portion and our inheritance. O Lord, increase our faith, that we may rest in Your care and providence and thereby show to the world that You are our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.”

It was so good to know that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) And, furthermore, the beautiful words of God’s assurance of pardon from Psalm 103 that we heard read, gave me great hope to face whatever the future holds:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

I am so grateful for the ordinary means of grace that God has given us for our spiritual health Sunday in and Sunday out.

 

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Look Away!

 

In our 21st century world, Christians seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking inward. Now, granted, there are times when we should look inward. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (1 Cor. 13:5) Who am I to argue with the Apostle Paul? And, then, Paul gives a command to those who are preparing to take the Lord’s Supper, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28) So, yes, we should from time to time look inward, and take stock as we strive to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) However, if we are not careful, we will be tempted to make the Christian life all about us. We will find ourselves constantly asking if we have done enough studying, praying, giving, caring, sacrificing, etc., and, of course, the answer will always be, “No!” It could very well lead us to despair.

That is why it is also important to look away from ourselves, and see Christ. Look at who He is and what He has done. Look to the one who left the glories of heaven to take upon Himself human flesh. Look to the one who as our representative succeeded in every area that our first representative (Adam) failed. Look to the one who willingly became the sacrifice for our sin as He gave Himself for us on the cross. Look to the one who was raised, and has ascended on high to “ever make intercession for [us].” (Heb.7:25) Look to the One of whom it can never be said, “He didn’t do enough.” It is only in looking to Christ that we can ever really find peace and rest, even as we “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Remember His invitation that is a light in our very dark world, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Affair of the Sausages

Christoph Froschauer was a printer living in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1522. It was during the Lenten season (March 9) when he finished printing a new edition of The Epistles of St. Paul. His employees were exhausted; so to thank them and to celebrate the finishing of the project, he served them a meal which included some smoked sausages. He invited some other townspeople to attend and because these events took place during Lent (when the eating of meat was prohibited) it cause a great outcry which led to the arrest of Froschauer.

Although the parish priest, Ulrich Zwingli, didn’t eat any of the sausages, he was present and supported the printer by preaching a message two weeks later entitled, Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods. In the message he proclaimed the Biblical truth that fasting is a voluntary choice, and that those present did not sin in eating the meat. By the next year, fasting had been abolished in Zurich, and the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone had a foothold in the Swiss cantons.

The Reformation in Germany began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church; the Reformation in Zurich began with a few smoked sausages. (And I am glad it did.)

 

“He is risen!”

empty tomb

Easter (or Resurrection Sunday, if you prefer) is not the earth shattering holiday for Old School Presbyterians that it is for so many others. Why, you may ask? It is simply because we celebrate His resurrection fifty-two Sundays a year. Every Sunday we gather to worship Him, confess our sins, be reminded of His sacrifice, and hear His glorious Gospel preached directly from His inerrant Word. For us, contemplating the phrase, “He is risen,” is not a yearly occurrence, it is a weekly occurrence. Three hundred years ago Isaac Watts captured with pen and ink the hallowed good news of the cross/resurrection event when he wrote:

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain:

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burdens thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing his bleeding love.

So for the thirteenth time this year we will gather, worship, and praise our Risen Lord this coming Lord’s Day, and look forward to next Sunday when we can do it all over again!

“La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon”

archibald-campbell-tait-1811-1882-archbishop-of-canterbury-CP3R26

In A. N. Wilson’s, “Victoria: A Life,” he describes the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archibald Campbell Tait: “He looked like a man who had been battered by life—a huge, fleshy face, pitted with line and scarred with grief.” Why might he look this way? During one year, five of his seven children (all daughters), ranging from the age of two to ten years, contracted scarlet fever and died. We think today, “How horrible!” (and it was), but such an ordeal was not that uncommon during the nineteenth century. It was just another reminder that we indeed live in a fallen world.

In our present day, although we may not usually see such loss in one family (at least in the United States), we still “know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Our world is filled with heartache, trouble, trial, sickness, sin, and death; and, as I sit here on this rainy Saturday night pondering my own problems, I am so grateful that tomorrow (Deo Volente) I can go and gather with God’s people and be reminded of God and His grace for me.

As the old French saying goes, “La vie est dure, mais Dieu est bon” (Life is hard, but God is good). And, because of that truth, I need to be with God’s people; I need to confess my sins; I need to join my brothers and sisters in prayer; I need to sing songs of praise to God; and I need to hear God’s Law, and the Gospel of His grace preached in my hearing. And, even if my face is “pitted with line and scarred with grief,” God’s grace is sufficient for me.

 

The Winter of Life

dotage

Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian composer of the Baroque Period (1699-1750) who wrote over 500 concertos during his lifetime. Granted, some say he wrote one concerto 500 times but I digress (I also disagree). One morning this week as I was getting dressed I was listening to his most famous work, “The Four Seasons,” and I began to think about my life. The average male lifespan in the United States is 78.74 years as of 2015, and if that, in God’s providence, works out for me than I am officially in the “winter” of my life. I entered it when I turned fifty-nine.

The Bible speaks in general of the length of a man’s life in the old King James language as being “threescore and ten” years and “if by strength, fourscore” years. (Psalms 90) On my next birthday I will be sixty-four so the shadows are beginning to lengthen for me. So how should I face these wintry years?

First of all, I should be grateful to God for the years that I have already experienced. Every day is a gift from God that I didn’t earn and didn’t deserve; yet, He, in His grace, has chosen to bless me with almost sixty-four years of these “days of grace.” As I look back I see all the joy and love that I have experienced and I have much for which to be thankful.

Secondly, I need to live my life now to the fullest for the glory of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” and that is true whether I am in my thirty-third year or my sixty-third. Yes, “my back is a little stiff and there are some lines around my eyes” as Randy Stonehill sang, but I can still love, pray, worship, grow, serve, etc., maybe not at the same level as I once was able, but I can do what I can in the Lord’s strength.

Last of all, I need to look with joy toward the future. It is true that my body cannot do what it once did, and I sometimes have to struggle to remember a name, or a word, or a…what was I talking about? Anyway, I need to remember that God is in control, and that I can trust Him to guide me through the possible difficult days of what President John Adams would call my “dotage” just as He did the difficult days of my youth; and that He is also the one in charge of bringing me from this “present evil age” into the “age to come.

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth”

Teach me o lord your way of truth

Ray Lanning, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, had this to say about The Psalter of 1912:

The year was 1912, and the place was Pittsburgh. In the heart of the city famous for steel and beer, a small group of Psalm-singing United Presbyterians held a last committee meeting. They sat to put the final touches on the labor of nearly twenty years, as they wrote a preface to a new metrical version of the Psalms with music. It was published that year, and has come to be known as The Psalter, 1912, or simply, The Psalter. This book of praise has been in use ever since in North America, and its influence has spread to many denominations and many other books of Psalms and hymns. It is likely no exaggeration to say that The Psalter, 1912 has been used longer and more widely than any other book like it in American church history.”

Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth,” comes to us from that Psalter. It is a metrical paraphrase of Psa. 119:33-40 and reminds us that not only is our justification by grace, but so is our sanctification. The Psalmist asks for the Lord to “teach us” His way of truth, to “give us” an understanding heart, to “make us” walk in His commandments, to “give us” a heart that loves to obey, to “turn our eyes” from vanity, to “cause us” to walk in His ways, to “turn away” our reproach and fear, and to “revive us” in His righteousness.

As we sang this hymn last Sunday morning, I thought back on how my preaching has changed over the years. It went from “come on guys, we can do this,” to “look at what Christ has done for us.” Our obedient Christian life is a result of the “love of Christ that compels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14) This Psalm is sung to the Joseph Holbrook’s tune, Bishop.

Teach me, O Lord, Your way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may steadfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In your commandments make me walk,
For in your law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves your will,
From discontent and envy free.

Turn now my eyes from vanity,
And cause me in Your ways to tread;
O let Your servant prove Your Word
And thus to Godly fear be led.

Turn away my reproach and fear;
Your righteous judgments I confess;
To know Your precepts I desire;
Revive me in Your righteousness.

“As was His [Jesus] custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath.”

Sunday

Oh, that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all!

Immediately before the Benediction during this morning’s worship we sang Edward Perronet’s 1779 hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” The last verse in the Red Trinity Hymnal was written nine years later by John Rippon and added to Perronet’s version, and it is printed above. As we sang that verse I was almost moved to tears. There was nothing “miraculous” about it. It was just God’s Hand of Providence at work.

We had sung praise to God. We had confessed our sin. We had heard God’s Word read. We had given God’s Tithe and our Offerings. We had heard a message from God’s Written Word, and now as we were about to leave, we were singing of the joys of eternity that will be ours all because of the manifold grace of our Jesus Christ.

I suppose the emotion came because the preceding week had been trying. We had faced challenges and struggles; many of which were those continuing kind of struggles that may not disappear until the new heavens and the new earth. Yet, in gathering with God’s people and focusing on and worshiping the One who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I found a hope that was at best feeble before I arrived at 4220 Crow Road this morning.

It reminded me of a verse from a hymn by Christopher Wordsworth that speaks of this weekly opportunity to grow in God’s grace:

New graces ever gaining
from this our day of rest,
we reach the rest remaining
to spirits of the blest.
We sing to You our praises,
O Father, Spirit, Son;
the church its voice upraises
to You, blest Three in One
.”

What about the Poor?

what about the poor
It was over a decade ago. After being a Southern Baptist pastor for approximately twenty-five years, I was becoming a Presbyterian; not a mainline, liberal Presbyterian, but a conservative, Bible-believing, Westminster Standards confessing Presbyterian. For my ordination to be accepted I had to pass written tests over the English Bible, Church history, the Sacraments, Theology, and the Book of Church Order. I then went before the Candidates and Credential Committee to be examined and was eventually questioned before the entire Presbytery.

There were several things that to me were interesting through that process. The first surprise came when I said that I had no exceptions to the Westminster Standards; the chairmen looked at me with some surprise and said, “None?” I responded by saying, “None.” He, with a funny look on his face said, “Oh.” The second surprise came when I answered the question, “What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of the Creation?” I responded by saying, “six, twenty-four hour days.” The chairman smiled and patiently explained that there were several views of Creation that were acceptable in the Presbyterian Church in America, and I smiled back and said, “But the question was, ‘What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of Creation?’” And, yes, I happened to agree with them.

There was a question that caught me off guard when I stood before the entire Presbytery, also. Someone called out, “What about the poor?” I said, “Pardon?” “What about the poor?” I think I responded with a rather long comment about how we should always be ready to care for the physical needs of the poor, etc. While I believe that there was some truth in what I said; looking back, I believe I would have answered differently.

What do the poor need from the church? They need the same thing that the rich, the middle class, and every other strata of society needs from the church: The Gospel. The church’s primary responsibility is, as Paul said, to proclaim that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) We are to call upon people to turn from trusting in themselves, and to put their trust in what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf; no matter the size of their bank account. Jesus told the messengers that John the Baptist had sent to him that one of the evidences that He was the Messiah was that the “poor have the good news preached to them.” (Matt. 11:5)

So, while it is important to remember Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” (Gal. 6:10) the most important thing we can do, as Christ’s Church, is to point men to Christ through Word, prayer, and sacraments, that they might discover the abundant grace that God has poured out upon all who believe the Gospel.

What about the poor? The poor need the Gospel.

 

Tuesday Hymns: “As When The Hebrew Prophet Raised”

as when the hebrew prophet

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote a gazillion hymns in his lifetime (over 750 hymns anyway) and our Tuesday Hymn of the Week concerns Watts’ look at an Old Testament passage that points forward to Christ. If I may jog your memory the Old Testament consists of the first thirty-nine books of the Bible that so often has been ignored by my much of twenty-first century evangelicalism. “As When the Hebrew Prophet Raised” mentions the bronze serpent that God told Moses to raise up in the wilderness to provide healing for the Hebrew people who had been bitten by the snakes as a judgment for their complaints against Moses and the God he represented. The passage reads:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.”  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:8-9)

Watts’ first verse succinctly tells the story:

As when the Hebrew prophet raised
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded looked, and straight were cured,
The people ceased to die
;”

The rest of the hymn speaks of the truth that just as those who looked on the serpent were healed of their snake bites; those who look to Christ may be delivered from the wrath of God. Just as John tells us in his Gospel:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

It is normally sung to Lowell Mason’s tune, DOWNS.

As when the Hebrew prophet raised
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded looked, and straight were cured,
The people ceased to die;

So from the Saviour on the cross
A healing virtue flows;
Who looks to him with lively faith
Is saved from endless woes.

For God gave up his Son to death,
So gen’rous was his love,
That all the faithful might enjoy
Eternal life above.

Not to condemn the sons of men
The Son of God appeared;
No weapons in his hand are seen,
Nor voice of terror heard:

He came to raise our fallen state,
And our lost hopes restore;
Faith leads us to the mercy seat,
And bids us fear no more.

 

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