REFORMATION 500: Gratitude for Grace

O Lord, we are not worthy to have a glimpse of heaven, and unable with works to redeem ourselves from sin, death, the devil, and hell. For this we rejoice, praise and thank you, O God, that without price and out of pure grace You have granted us this boundless blessing in your dear Son through whom You take sin, death, and hell from us, and give to us all that belongs to Him.

—Martin Luther

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REFORMATION 500: The Continuing Need for Reformation

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin has commented that when the average Christian in Europe or North America hears the name of God, he or she does not think of the Trinity. After many years of missionary work among Eastern religions, he returned to find that much of the worship in the West is in practice, if not in theory, unitarian. The “religion” of so many people today is moulded by concepts of God which obscure the joyful witness of the Bible to the triune God of grace. God is conceived of too often as the remote sovereign Individual Monad “out there,” the law-giver, the contract-God who needs to be, or can be, conditioned into being gracious by devout religious behavior or by this or that religious act, be it even repentance or prayer. The Reformers were concerned to sweep away these views of God, but in spite of the Reformation, such concepts are alive and highly influential in our day.

—James B. Torrance, “Contemplating the Trinitarian Mystery of Christ,” Chapter 12 in Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality, 141

Why We’re Here

God has not created the world out of a sense of his own interior need, or to bolster a failing ego. As Irenaeus said long ago, “in the beginning…God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of any man, but that He might have [some one] upon whom to confer His benefit… For this is the glory of man, to continue and remain permanently in God’s service.”

—Noel Due, Created For Worship:  From Genesis to Revelation to You, 38

No fan of hymns…BUT

When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; . . . I disliked very much their hymns which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

—C.S. Lewis, “Answers to Questions on Christianity” in God in the Dock:
Essays on Theology and Ethics, 61-62

Love bade me welcome

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

—George Herbert (1593-1633), “Love (III)”

Grace for the New Year

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Newton’s most famous hymn “Amazing Grace” . . . was first unveiled in his church on New Year’s Day (1773), and it’s a reflection on the new year: a look back on his past deliverances, a look around on his present deliverances, and a look forward to his future deliverances in Christ.

The hymn opens with a reminder of God’s past grace:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Now note the transition to God’s present grace:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Finally, Newton concludes with confidence in God’s future grace:

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures:
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

—Tony Reinke, “God Has Brought Me Safe Thus Far: Amazing Grace for a New Year” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/grace-has-brought-me-safe-thus-far

Defining Worship 40

For the reformed, worship is a lifestyle of humble service that culminates corporately at least once a week, where God’s chosen people join with the heavenly chorus to praise Him for His vast attributes, confess our inabilities, affirm His grace, yield to His instruction, celebrate His mercies and respond to His covenantal call.

—Bryan Chappell, “Worship as Gospel Representation”