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.

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“Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” by Thomas Brooks III

The Puritan pastor, Thomas Brooks, in his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, lists several of the “devices” or strategies that Satan uses to destroy the souls of men. He describes the third device in the following paragraph:

DEVICE 3. By extenuating and lessening of sin. Ah! saith Satan, it is but a little pride, a little worldliness, a little uncleanness, a little drunkenness, etc. As Lot said of Zoar, “It is but a little one, and my soul shall live” (Gen. 19.20). Alas! saith Satan, it is but a very little sin that you stick so at. You may commit it without any danger to your soul. It is but a little one; you may commit it, and yet your soul shall live.

Am I the only one who considers the sins of others as “serious” sins, but look upon my own as merely peccadilloes? I need to remember what I taught my boys when they were young and memorizing the Children’s Catechism:

Question: What does every sin deserve?
Answer: The wrath and curse of God.

May we flee to Christ, readily confessing our sins, and, seeking His sanctifying grace to enable us to “press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

“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.

“Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” by Thomas Brooks

The Puritan pastor, Thomas Brooks, in his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, lists several of the “devices” or strategies that Satan uses to destroy the souls of men. He describes the first device in the following paragraph:

Device I: To present the bait and hide the hook; to present the golden cup, and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin, and by hiding from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin. By this device he took our first parents: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know, that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3. 4-5) Your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods! Here is the bait, the sweet, the pleasure, the profit. Oh, but he hides the hook,–the shame, the wrath, and the loss that would certainly follow!

Satan is so adept at hiding the consequences of sin from those being tempted. We do not see the ruin that will come into our lives or the lives of the people we love because of our thoughts, words, or actions! As Vance Havner once said (at least I have seen this quote attributed to him), “Sin will always take you further than you ever planned to go, keep you longer than you ever planned to stay, and cost you more than you ever planned to pay.”

May we, as the people of God, say along with the Apostle Paul, “We are not ignorant of his [Satan’s] designs.” (2 Cor. 2:11)

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.

“Sin, sin, go away, come again some other day.”

As a young person I looked forward to the day in which I would finally have victory over sin in my daily life. To my deep chagrin, the older I got, the clearer my sin became to me. Instead of moving beyond temptation, it seemed as if temptation not only didn’t go away, but it grew in magnitude, and visited me more often.

However, I thankfully discovered that I was not the only one who had faced this problem. Paul wrote so many years ago, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) He went so far as to cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)

Even my favorite Frenchman, John Calvin, wrote of why pastors should be especially caring to those caught up in sin:

Men who truly fear God and sincerely and firmly endeavor to train disciples for his service, because they are more severe on themselves than on others, are not such exacting masters; because they know their own infirmity, they forgive the weak more readily.”

Yes, our sin is real. Yes, our sin frustrates us to no end. But, that is not the end of the story because Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote something else:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Sexual Obesity

There is an interesting article on the First Things website that warns of the perniciousness of pornography, and the long term effect it could have on our culture. It was penned by Mary Eberstadt who is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and consulting editor to Policy Review, the Hoover Institution’s bimonthly journal of essays and reviews on American politics and society. She writes:

The data about the immersion of young Americans in pornography are startling and disturbing. One 2008 study focused on undergraduate and graduate students ages 18 to 26 across the country found that more than two-thirds of men—and one out of every ten women in the sample—viewed pornography more than once a month. Another study showed that first-year college students using sexually explicit material exhibited these troubling features: increased tolerance, resulting in a turn toward more bizarre and esoteric material; increased risk of body-image problems, especially among girls; and erroneous and exaggerated conceptions of how prevalent certain sexual behaviors, including risky and even dangerous behaviors, actually are.

I would encourage you to read the entire eye-opening, yet disturbing, article at First Things.

HT: http://www.challies.com

The Deceitfulness of Sin

John Owen, (1616-1683) was a Puritan academic, pastor, one-time chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and prolific author in England during the crisis-filled seventeenth century. He was acquainted with sorrow (of his eleven children, ten died in infancy), persecution (was a victim of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 which drove him from London), and had an astute understanding of the destructive nature of sin in people’s lives. In The Mortification of Sin he wrote:

Every time sin rises to tempt or entice, it always seeks to express itself in the extreme. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression; and every unbelieving thought would be atheism. It is like the grave that is never satisfied.

In this we see the deceitfulness of sin. It gradually prevails to harden man’s heart to his ruin (Heb. 3:13). Sin’s expression is modest in the beginning but, once it has gained a foothold, it continues to take further ground and presses on to greater heights. This advance of sin keeps the soul from seeing that it is drifting from God. The soul becomes indifferent to the seed of sin as it continues to grow. This growth has no boundaries but utter denial of God and opposition to Him. Sin precedes higher by degrees; it hardens the heart as it advances. This enables the deceitfulness of sin to drive the soul deeper and deeper into sin. Nothing can prevent this but mortification. Mortification withers the root and strikes at the head of sin every hour. The best saints in the world are in danger of a fall if found negligent in this important duty!” (The Mortification of Sin, Banner of Truth abridged version)

The utter deceitfulness of sin reminds us once again of our need to flee to Christ, to trust in Christ, and to rest in what Christ has done of our behalf, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)