Tuesday Hymns: “The Law of God is Good and Wise”

During our Sunday night worship service the members of the RPC congregation make the hymn selections, and last Sunday night a young man (I would guess about seven or eight) wanted to sing hymn # 150 in The Trinity Hymnal, “The Law of God is Good and Wise,” which is our Tuesday Hymn for this week (Thank you, Jonathan, you made a great selection).

It was written by Matthias Loy, a 19th century American Lutheran pastor and reminds us of important truths about God’s Law. First of all, he states very clearly that God’s Law “is good and wise and sets His will before our eyes.” God’s Law is very adept at showing us what is right and wrong, and what is sin and righteousness. However, Loy also reminds us of another very important truth: While God’s Law shows us the holiness of God and our own sin, “its holiness condemns us all; it dooms us for our sin to die and has no power to justify.”

Our only hope is to flee to Christ “who from the curse has set us free, and humbly worship at His throne, saved by His grace through faith alone.” Christ has kept the Law on our behalf, and experienced the wrath of God for our sins, that we might have life in His name.

The hymn is sung to the tune, ERHALT UNS, HERR, which is unfamiliar to most of us, but after a verse or two it is picked up easily.

The law of God is good and wise,
And sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

Its light of holiness imparts
The knowledge of our sinful hearts,
That we may see our lost estate
And seek deliverance ere too late.

To those who help in Christ have found
And would in works of love abound
It shows what deeds are His delight
And should be done as good and right.

When men the offered help disdain
And willfully in sin remain,
Its terror in their ear resounds
And keeps their wickedness in bounds.

The law is good, but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us for our sin to die
And has no power to justify.

To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at His throne,
Saved by His grace through faith alone.

“It is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ.”

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) once wrote: “It is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ.” That is the message of the Book of Galatians (and the rest of the Bible for that matter): We are made right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. How serious was Paul about that thought? Galatians 1:8-9 tells us: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

What was the Gospel that Paul preached? Again, Paul spells it out for us in Galatians 2:16: “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Three times in one verse we are told that we are not made right with God by the things we do (the law), but by faith in what Christ has done.

Why is that so? Isaiah tells us that “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Or as the old King James says, “like filthy rags.”) We must trust in the one who never sinned in deed, in word, or even in thought. We must trust in Jesus Christ alone because “it is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ.”

Concerning God’s Law and Royal Weddings

When I clicked on the computer yesterday morning I should not have been surprised with all of the Facebook traffic concerning the “royal wedding.” The giddiness and gaiety from the fairer sex could only be compared to the excitement that many men feel when their favorite college football team finally makes the BCS National Championship Game (of course, as a fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks, I have absolutely no idea how that might feel).

All of that being said, what crossed my mind was this simple question, “Doesn’t the fact that William and Kate have been living together for months take some of the luster off of the grand event?” In November of last year MSNBC ran an article entitled, “Royal shack-up: Kate and William moved in months ago.” The most telling sentence about the present level of cultural morality (or better yet, cultural immorality) is to be found near the end of the article where it states simply, “If Her Majesty’s royal subjects are aghast at the disclosure that William and Kate have been cohabiting, they haven’t shown it. But then again, it is 2010.”

I realize that I may be a “lone voice crying in the wilderness,” but God’s Law is the same today (in 2011) as it was when Moses brought the tablets down from Mt. Sinai. Whether it involves pre-marital infidelity, adultery, homosexuality, pornography, polygamy, or some other form of sexual deviancy, sexual sin is still sexual sin. Granted, I know that I should not expect non-Christians to live like Christians, but if it’s all right with you, I will be “aghast at the disclosure that William and Kate have been cohabiting.” Better yet, I will be “aghast” at the sin that I see in my own life.

Let me openly confess that the sin in my life is as dark and as deep as anyone’s; and apart from the grace of God poured out through the life and death of His only Son, I would have no hope either in this world or in the world to come. So what should the Christian’s attitude be toward sin in general and especially the sin in his own life? I close with these words from the Book of Romans to those who have been justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self1 was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free1 from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,1 you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:1-23)

“Hipness” and “Hell”: Like Oil and Water

Liam Goligher has posted an interesting article on Reformation 21 about how difficult it is to be a “culturally cool” pastor and talk about hell. His final paragraph sums up this dilemma for the “hip” 21st century pastor:

Ever since that pesky Jonathan Edwards preached that sermon in Northampton Mass. we’ve been feeling uncomfortable about the subject. After all, how does one make hell sound cool? What ubitquitous joke could possibly introduce a sermon on the subject? How does one write lyrics about eternal flames that fits the genre of soft rock (Eternal Flame by the Bangles doesn’t count)? So what have we done? We have simply muted it. Hell has become noted for its absence. We don’t tell people there is a hell to shun. Hence our people struggle to understand the ‘penal’ in penal substitution; they fail to grasp why God would need to be propitiated; the idea that we might be able to pass the final judgment on the basis of the whole life lived suddenly becomes a possibility, and consequently sin becomes less serious, less horrific, less something to be abhorred and avoided.

The Intolerance of the Gospel

I just finished reading D. G. Hart’s essay entitled, “Make War No More? The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of J. Gresham Machen’s Warrior Children,” in the Festschrift honoring W. Robert Godfrey, Always Reformed. Machen was always a spiritual hero of mine so this essay was of particular interest (I opened the book and read that essay first), and I came across this quote of Machen that explains well why the Gospel as a whole is rejected by the world:

To pray for tolerance without careful definition of that of which you are to be tolerant, is just to pray for the breakdown of the Christian religion; for the Christian religion is intolerant to the core. There lies the whole offense of the Cross—and also the whole power of it. Always the gospel would have been received with favor by the world if it had been presented merely as one way of salvation; the offense came because it was presented as the only way, and because it made relentless war upon all other ways.” (Always Reformed, page 42)

This present world will tolerate the vilest of thoughts, words, and deeds among its philosophers. The only thing that it will not tolerate is…the intolerance of the Gospel:

5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

Tuesday Hymns: “The Law of God is Good and Wise”

Matthias Loy was a pastor, theologian, editor, and university president in the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Ohio during the last half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. He is the author of our Tuesday Hymn of the Week (although it is Thursday): The Law of God is Good and Wise.

To be perfectly honest (am I ever anything else?), I do not remember ever singing this hymn during corporate worship, however, I was amazed with the theological content about God’s Law present in the text. The first verse begins with a general statement about the goodness of God’s Moral Law as it clearly delineates what is righteousness and what is sin in this world in which we live. In the next three verses, Loy presents what have been called the Three Uses of the Law. Verse two speaks of the “evangelical use of the Law” which shows us our sin, our inability to keep God’s Law, and then drives us to Christ and His Gospel as our only hope of salvation.

Verse three explains a second use of God’s Moral Law as a guide to one who has been justified “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” that he might know what thoughts, words, and deeds bring glory to our Lord. Verse four speaks of a third use of the Law as a curb to the wickedness of men even in their unredeemed state. The last two verses consist of a concluding thought about the goodness of the Law of God in its proper sphere, but reminds us that it “has no pow’r to justify,” and calls upon all “to Jesus…for refuge flee.” It is sung to the tune, ERHALT UNS, HERR.

The law of God is good and wise,
And sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

Its light of holiness imparts
The knowledge of our sinful hearts,
That we may see our lost estate
And seek deliverance ere too late.

To those who help in Christ have found
And would in works of love abound
It shows what deeds are His delight
And should be done as good and right.

When men the offered help disdain
And willfully in sin remain,
Its terror in their ear resounds
And keeps their wickedness in bounds.

The law is good, but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us for our sin to die
And has no power to justify.

To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at His throne,
Saved by His grace through faith alone.

The Third Use of the Law

In the June, 2006, edition of the Australian Presbyterian, I found an article discussing holiness by Dr. Joel Beeke entitled, “God’s First Priority.” The first thing that struck me was the sheer amount of knowledge that Dr. Beeke possesses. In the article he quoted everyone from Anselm, Augustine, Stephen Charnock, Luther, Melancthon, to present day scholars like John Murray. (When was the last time you quoted Anselm?) But, what struck me particularly, was a paragraph about the Law of God:

“I know that when Calvin came along and promoted the law as a guide to holiness (what we call the “third use of the law”), scholars have said ever since that that was contrary to Luther. But in my studies of Luther, I have found that while Luther believed that the primary use of the Law was to convict us of sin, he nevertheless taught the law was also meant to guide us into holiness. We see this in his catechism and other writings. He taught that the law’s like a stick; God first uses it to beat us to Christ, and then He puts it in our hand so that we can use it as a cane to walk onward in our Christian journey. This is all Calvin meant by it. In fact the Protestant who first referred to the “third use” of the Law was Philip Melanchthon –Luther’s right-hand man. Calvin simply picked up Melanchthon’s terminology and then developed it.”

Leaving aside all the controversy about Luther and the “third use of the law,” Luther certainly had his theological ducks in a row when he discussed the Law as a stick (to drive us to Christ) and as a cane (to aid us in our sanctification after we have been redeemed by His grace). It was God’s Law that shone its light on my life so that I could see my sin in all its immensity, and, along with God’s Spirit, convinced me that my only hope was in Christ. Now, God’s Law is so helpful in my daily life as I seek to live for my Lord, for it shows me what is righteousness and what is sin. It is truly a “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

To read the entirety of Dr. Beeke’s article (its lengthy, but rich), click here.

The Law: God’s True Standard of Evaluation

In an excellent article on the dangers of monocovenantalism, Wes White, PCA pastor in South Dakota, wrote two sentences which jumped off the page at me: “The natural man tends to measure God’s requirement by his own actions. God gives the law to show us the true standard of God’s evaluation.” (To read all of the article, go to the Johannes Weslianus Blog).

I thought to myself, “How true. How true.” Man always has a good reason for his sin. The present Governor of South Carolina can commit adultery with a woman in Argentina because he has convinced himself that she is his soul mate. A businessman can lie about the details in a deal he is trying to close because that is just the way business is conducted in the good old USA. A man can convince himself that he does not need to worship God with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, because he can worship just as well at home or on the lake (and that “Sunday stuff” is just legalism, anyway). And the list goes on and on and on…

However, if one compares his thoughts, words, and deeds to God’s Law, he discovers very quickly that he is a vile sinner at the very core of his being, and desperately needs God’s amazing grace in his life. The Law is actually his friend. It can be used by God’s Spirit to drive him to the cross, in order that he can rest his hope in what Christ has done for him through His perfect life and sacrificial death.

Our hope is not to be found in our own righteousness (for the Bible says that they are nothing but “filthy rags”), but in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. His is the only righteousness that is sufficient, so I say a hearty, “Amen,” to the words of J. Gresham Machen, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: Question Two.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Question Two of the catechism tells the Christian where he can find direction in glorifying and enjoying God. This direction is not to be found within in one’s inner feelings or desires, but within the Scriptures themselves. God, in His Word (The Bible), has given to us everything that we need that pertains to “life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

God has given man His Law to show him what is righteousness and what is sin; what is right and what is wrong; what one should do and what one should refrain from doing. This moral law has been summarized in the ten statements that are called “The Ten Commandments.” The first four of these commands speak of the way in which people should relate to God, and the last six speak of the way in which people should relate to each other. These commands are unchanging. It was sin to commit adultery during the time of Moses, and it is sin today, and it will be sin tomorrow, no matter what the culture in which one lives believes. It was sin not to remember the Sabbath Day in the time of Moses, it is sin today, and it will be sin tomorrow, no matter what the culture in which one lives believes. This is true of every one of those ten commands given in Exodus 20.

Man, however, can not keep God’s Law. He was born “dead in trespasses and sins” and is by nature “a child of wrath.” (Ephesians 2) Therefore, he is not able to glorify nor enjoy God as he was created to do. That is why God has not just given man His Law, but He has also given him His Gospel:

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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-10)

It is only through God’s grace that man is able to glorify and enjoy Him. Christ has kept God’s Law on His elect’s behalf, and it is through faith in Him, that His righteousness is accredited to man’s account. As Paul says in Romans 5:17, “If, because of one man’s [Adam’s] trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” The Scriptures tells us that it is through resting in what Christ has done for man that he is finally able to do what he was created to do, “glorify and enjoy God.”

By the way, there is at least one other truth that one can glean from this catechism question: it is both the Old and New Testaments that are God’s Word. Don’t ignore the Old Testament. It consists of thirty-nine books that all point to Christ as the only way of salvation. Remember what Jesus did for the two men traveling the road to Emmaus on the day of His Resurrection:

25 And he [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Don’t rob yourself of the blessing that comes from discovering the truth of God’s grace through Christ found in the Old Testament.

“Thou Must Save, and Thou Alone”

As I was preparing to preach at the Federal Prison today, my mind turned to a verse of Augustus Toplady’s hymn, Rock of Ages. It says a great deal about the purpose of God in our salvation:

“Not the labors of my hands, Can fulfill Thy Law’s commands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

No matter how diligently we work, we will never work hard enough. No matter how much we try to keep God’s Law, we will always break His commands. No matter how sincere we may be, we will always have a deceitful heart. No matter how many times we weep over our sins, we will never be sorrowful enough for them. Jeremiah said it correctly, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23) No, we can’t do good, because we are so accustomed to doing evil.

I am so grateful for Christ who did on our behalf, what we could never do for ourselves: “For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Yes, “Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

« Older entries