The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘God the Father

The invisible congregation

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Yesterday evening, I sent out a brief and innocent tweet: “Preaching to an invisible congregation is more exhausting than I thought.” I was surprised by the tide of earnest response that it garnered from tired pastor-preachers.

Why should that be? What can we—pastors and preachers, and congregations—do about it? Answering that question will tell us a lot about our theology of preaching and our theology of the church, for better or for worse.

We must first take account of the limitations of pre-recorded or even livestreamed preaching. Perhaps the best way to communicate this is to give a précis of what I said at the beginning of our video recordings yesterday. It went something like this:

We are grateful to all who are joining us (from our own congregation and others) but we need to issue a necessary reminder.

While some means are better than others, because they have more dimensions of communication, recorded videos, livestreams, and the like are not a substitution for the gathering of the church, but reflect an interruption of it.

Genuine biblical preaching is a living man among living men before the living God: it involves a supernatural reality along appointed channels—both preacher and congregation subject to the immediate operations of the Holy Spirit and both communicating with each another under his influence.

In the absence of a congregation, those dimensions of real preaching are stripped away; the livestream or recording further diminishes that reality because of the extra distancing involved.

We are not, therefore, trying to accomplish what cannot be done. We are not setting out to replicate, by electronic means, the vital spiritual reality of the gathered people of God in the presence of our God under the Word of God.

These efforts are not a replacement for the gathered church but a supplement for the scattered church.

The situation we face keeps us spiritually hungry; this temporary and limited provision stops us spiritually starving.

These scraps will, with the blessing of God, keep you going, but they should also make us long for the restoration of the weekly feast and the laying of the eternal banquet.

That gives something of the backdrop to the challenges we face. Without denying the care of our Heavenly Father, or the goodness of the Good Shepherd, or the might and mercy of the Holy Spirit, the simple fact is that this situation robs us of the normal means and channels by which this act of preaching is normally conducted. That dynamic preaching triangle—in which the Holy Spirit is operating along three planes, involving God and the preacher, God and the congregation, and the preacher and the congregation, each operating upon each other with or under the Spirit’s superintendence—is missing one of its corners.

For the congregation, the mentality of ‘going to worship’ is reduced. Under these lock-down and shut-in circumstances, we are being encouraged to maintain a routine for home-working, to get into the groove of labour despite being not in the normal place of labour. In a similar fashion, getting up, getting ready, and getting out for worship, going to a particular place for that particular activity, helps to put us in mind of what we are about.

Add to that the fact that the congregation is now typically in a different and potentially distracting environment. One of the advantages of Dissenting chapel architecture is its deliberately clean minimalism, removing many of the elements which might otherwise take our hearts off the preaching and hearing of the Word of God. Now, the inventive or unfocused mind will find and have a hundred ways still to do that … the animal outside the window … the number of panels in the ceiling or wall … the play of the sunlight … the preacher’s verbal tic … the agitation of the family with the young children … the reflection of light from a watch face. Been there, done all that! But, the fact remains that many church buildings are uncluttered spaces designed to focus the attention on the preaching. Our homes are not the same. There are all the things that we are accustomed to do, all the things that we would not have to worry or think about if at home. We lack the gracious pressure of a whole congregation helping to establish a reverent and attentive atmosphere. We can get up and brew up, we can pause the preacher, we can relax in our comfortable chair and drift away. There is also the novelty factor, especially for those who have children. The fact that it isn’t ‘church’ can make it harder for our children to adapt.

And then, the preacher himself is not there to engage with them, to pick up on the ebbs and flows of a congregation and its listening. This is no longer a mutually responsive environment. Perhaps they are tuning in to someone else who is not even their pastor and usual preacher, so he is not even preaching with them in mind. The reality of this particular under-shepherd feeding this particular flock which he knows and for which he is, under God, responsible, is gone.

The preacher is, perhaps, aware of much of this. It may be that he has some very similar challenges for himself, for many were attempting broadcasts from a study or living room or kitchen. He is not in his typical environment for preaching. Perhaps he is sitting when usually he is standing, behind a desk when usually behind a pulpit. Distractions which are usually absent (barring those of the congregation!) are now painfully present.

Or perhaps he is preaching from a church building, and he has only before him rows of empty seats (perhaps a few family members), or just a camera (perhaps not even an operator). (Our recording involves a quick jog to press a button and back to the pulpit.) Now he is missing all the cues which, under God, normally stir his soul. The regular rhythms of gathered worship which so often generate spiritual momentum are absent. Worse, there are no people, no faces, no responses. And he is, or should be, conscious that—whether livestreamed or recorded—he has to overcome, under God, some of the congregation’s disadvantages, wherever they may be and under whatever circumstances they might be listening. And so he begins to preach … except it’s barely preaching. His normal thinking and feeling are all undermined by the absence of that natural and spiritual give-and-take which characterises real public ministry. He never was a mere automaton, spouting religious words. He struggles to concentrate, to maintain intensity, he has no external cues for the ebb and flow of the sermon, no external prompts for getting, keeping, or recovering the attention of a body of people. He is not so much leading the flock to the green pastures as pinging vitamin pellets at them with a catapult. Perhaps he is not sure where to look—at the camera, at the seats, out the windows. He does not want merely to read, but he struggles to do more than speak. Everything feels flat, and there is a possibility that he will over-compensate, and try to do what—under the circumstances—is nigh-on impossible to be done, and end up not with a flat mess but with a hot one.

And, then, perhaps worst of all for him, he may have an opportunity down the line to watch or hear a recording of himself, which—as most preachers know—leaves us ready to crawl into a deep dark hole of mourning and regret (or maybe just a real deep, dark hole), taking perpetual vows never to preach again, let alone in front of a camera, for his own sake, and the sake of all whom he loves and whose sanity he cherishes.

And that leaves us with the last point of that dynamic triangle: God. This is a good place to be left! If it were not for our Lord’s blessing upon regular ministry, it would be at least as bad as that usually, if not worse. It is he who, by his Spirit, establishes all those connections and makes them lively with heavenly forcefulness. The usual means he has appointed are no longer in place. The usual channels of blessing are dry or blocked. But, as a well-established Confession of Faith puts it, “God in his ordinary providence makes use of means, but he is free to work without, above, and against them as he pleases.” Praise God that it is so! What we are doing is just not church, and it is not quite preaching, but that does not stop the Lord blessing the usual means under unusual circumstances, using unusual means to usual ends, or even using unusual means to unusual ends. After all, there are many saints in many churches who are genuinely unable to attend regular services, and the Lord in his mercy makes what would normally be limited means sufficient not just to survive but even to thrive. Why should be not be able to do the same, even under these circumstances, for all of us?

With all that in mind, let me offer some practical suggestions. Members of congregations might plan to meet at a regular time (if livestreaming, this may be already in place). Whether individually, or as a family, prepare to be in a certain place at the appointed time, with everything set up and, if possible, tested. Do not go full slob: wash and dress as you would for church. Minimise distractions where possible—no food or drink, silence your phones, do not be preparing a meal or worrying about other responsibilities. Pray before you press play. Focus on the preaching of God’s Word. You may not be worshipping with the church, but you are and still can be worshipping God. Some technologies allow for commenting and interacting. Perhaps it is worth leaving that alone, and focusing on the listening? Pray afterward, alone or with others, for a blessing on what you have heard. Use what technology is available to interact with others afterward: pick up the preaching with family or friends, maybe send the preacher a message of encouragement to remind him that someone human was engaged and engaging. Be thankful to God for the wonderful means that are available for you to obtain something. And do pray for your pastor. He is trying to feed your soul from a distance. He is like a shepherd looking out over distant fields, seeing his sheep from afar, chained up and only able to lob something good in their general direction.

Pastors, too, should perhaps seek to maintain, as much as possible, their usual routines, even if their sermons are necessarily adapted to the present crisis and its particular circumstances. It is no bad thing to wash and dress as if you were ‘going to church.’ If you can, sing and pray, even if alone, so that your soul is stimulated and enlivened by those spiritual exercises. Whether at home or in a church building, it may help not so much to imagine as to visualise the congregation. Remember the faces to which and the lives into which you are normally preaching. In the same way as you normally preach to the people who are or who you wish be be in front of you, and not the people who might listen later, on this occasion speak as if to the people who are normally in front of you, regardless of who might hear it otherwise.Do not so much speak to a camera as through it. You may need to speak more briefly and pointedly, both to help you stay engaged and focused, and to help those hearing or watching to do the same. And then, when you have finished, do what you usually do—go to God with all your failings and feebleness, and ask him to bless what will lie dry and dusty on the surface of the soul without his gracious ploughing to carry it home and his refreshing mercies to cause it to spring up into life. Expect to be drained, perhaps in different ways or in different aspects of your humanity to the usual. Make sure you rest, and think about your labours, and learn how better to communicate truth under these circumstances, for as long as they may last. How thankful we should be that, though we may be physically far from the flock of Christ, we can still bear them up in our hearts, knowing that the Good Shepherd has promised that he will be with them always, even to the end of the age!

When all is said and done, do not expect it to be real church and do not expect it to be real preaching. Even with the blessing of the triune God, it cannot and will not be that. And so, let preacher and hearer alike be stirred up to eager anticipation for the day when we can once again see each other face to face, so that your joy may be full (2Jn 12), and when we—together in the presence of God—hear the word of life once more.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 March 2020 at 16:34

“Every precious blessing”

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North Coates 6 5. 6 5

Every precious blessing
Comes from God above;
Everything we have is
From his heart of love.

Jesus is the best gift,
Coming down to save:
Dying for his people,
Rising from the grave.

Gracious Spirit, give us
Hearts to trust the Son,
Souls that overflow with
Praise for all he’s done.

©JRW

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(Note: this hymn was written with children particularly in mind.)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 March 2012 at 19:16

In my Father’s arms

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It was a few months ago that one of my sons had an accident. He was playing outside the house and he caught his finger in the gate of one of our neighbours. I was out at the time, but when I got home my wife asked me to take a look at it (I am usually the applier of plasters and anointer with Germolene [a sort of universal palliative, for those who don’t know it] in our household). One glance told me that something was amiss – more accurately, askew. The nail just didn’t look right. The brave little guy, who deals well with pain, was pretty robust, but we decided to head down to the local casualty/walk-in centre. Being a child (barely turned three years old), William was seen quite quickly, and the nurse also took one look at the finger and informed me that he would be seen tomorrow. Being dull of wit, I asked what she meant.

“He will be admitted to hospital tomorrow for an operation to re-attach the nail to the nail bed in the hopes that it will grow properly,” she said.

“Oh,” I said, “thanks.”

So, with Will’s finger well bandaged and a fairly cheerful grin still on his face, we headed home as I tried to explain what would happen. Will is not familiar with hospitals, and the place with the specialist plastic surgery stuff was one that I have rarely visited. We spent a few hours trying to prepare him for what was coming, and tried to take the edge off by making a song and dance of the packing, and making sure he had a good meal (nothing to eat in the morning before the operation).

It was cold but fairly dry in the morning. Will was pretty pale and dopey as we loaded him into the car complete with the books and toys that we had selected to make the whole process as palatable as possible. He looked . . . small. The ride to the hospital went well, and we even discovered that there was no parking charge on Sundays, which was a pleasant bonus. The nurses were great, and the doctors proficient as they checked things over. A couple of hours ticked past as we waited for more urgent surgeries to be completed.

Then it was Will’s turn. He got to ride his bed through the hospital as I walked alongside, holding his hand, turning through corridors first erected to provide shelter for RAF pilots suffering from burns and other wounds inflicted while fighting in the skies over Britain and elsewhere. We were ushered into a fairly clinical room in which the anaesthetic was to be administered, and they inserted a cannula into his small, pale arm. They asked me to hold him, and told him that this might hurt a bit. Like I said, he’s a fairly tough little kid, and barely flinched when the cannula went in. The lower lip of this proud father trembled a bit at his bravery.

Then the anaesthetic. You need to talk to him, they said. Distract him. William wanted me to sing. His favourite CD at the time was a collection of Christmas folk songs, so I sang an ancient version of “Hark! The herald angels sing.” They told me to hold him because once the drug went in he would go very floppy. He sat on my lap and smiled at me. They inserted the syringe in the cannula. “Hold on,” they said. “Hold on, son,” I said. “Cradle his head,” they said, and began to inject.

My vulnerable, pale little boy looked up at me as he lay in my arms, listening to me sing. I was very conscious that there was very little that I could do for him; I was weak and helpless myself, and here he was trusting in me. He flinched as the cold fluid began to pour in – “It’s OK, Will” – glanced over, and then looked back. His gaze barely wavered. They could have been doing anything to him, putting anything into his body. It did not seem to matter to him, because Daddy was holding him. He was in his father’s arms. I felt the effects of the anaesthetic, and there was a horrible moment – a sort of choke – when his breath seemed to catch in his throat, and the song died in mine. He went utterly limp. I don’t know if I will ever forget laying him back on his bed.

I prayed quite a lot over the next hour or so, waiting for the surgery to be completed and to be allowed back to see William, and I could not help but see certain parallels between his experience and mine, lessons which I need to relearn in my life as a son.

They could have done anything to William, but he was content, because he knew I was holding him. With a sort of perfection of childlike trust, he knew that I would not allow anything bad to happen to him. Is this the disposition our Lord commends when he points to the example of children in the Gospels? If my son can be at peace in my weak arms, under my limited gaze, how much more ought we to be able to rest safe in the everlasting arms of our heavenly Father? And do I not have an even better example than William? I know another son. He had more insight than William, more awareness and understanding, and far greater suffering. He was dying, and in the hour of death he wrestled with unfathomable agony of spirit. But he trusted, and when he died, he bowed his head and said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23.46, quoting Psalm 31.5).

And so, there may be great threats about me. There may be dangers of which I am entirely unaware. There may be enemies surrounding me. Sufferings may be my portion. Pains may wrack my body and soul. Death itself may be upon me. But I need to look up with eyes and faith unflinching, and I need to trust. After all, I too am in my Father’s arms.

If you appreciated this, you might also find this hymn profitable.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 February 2012 at 15:30

God’s family on earth

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How glorious is the thought that there is a family even upon earth of which the Son of God holds Himself a part; a family, the loving bond and reigning principle of which is subjection to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so embracing high and low, rude and refined, bond and free, of every kindred and every age that have tasted that the Lord is gracious; a family whose members can at once understand each other and take sweetest counsel together, though meeting for the first time from the ends of the earth – while with their nearest relatives, who are but the children of this world, they have no sympathy in such things; a family which death cannot break up, but only transfer to their Father’s house! Did Christians but habitually realize and act upon this, as did their blessed Master, what would be the effect upon the Church and upon the world?

David Brown, The Four Gospels (Banner of Truth), 76.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 May 2011 at 11:17

“A child I come, my God, and ask”

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C.M.

A child I come, my God, and ask:
Let me in Jesus hide,
Lest grief possess, or doubt invade,
Or bitterness reside.

Give me to view with eyes of faith
This one and temporal cross,
Since countless of your smiling acts
Prepared me for the loss.

Eternal blessings ever shine
And cannot be removed,
And in the dark of this day’s trials,
Eternal love is proved.

You brought me here, Lord, keep me here
Till I your lessons learn,
And sweet submission find a home,
And love within me burn.

Give me to feel my Father’s hands,
And know my Father’s smile;
Wrapped in the everlasting arms,
I’ll rest here for a while.

©JRW

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 February 2011 at 17:36

Posted in Hymns & psalms

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God’s gospel gift

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Cast your mind back into the depths of the allegedly-festive season. For many, it would be a time for the giving of gifts. Typically, with the person in mind for whom you desire a gift, you set out to find something that fits the template. Indeed, sitting in the Christmas carnage and tracing back from the gift to the perceived needs, desires or expectations of the intended recipient can be a little disconcerting. The socks and chutney imply a frozen-toed cheese eater; the DIY [home improvement] manual and the alarm clock hint at someone both incompetent and lazy; the sweater and make up suggest someone cold and ugly to boot. There is a lot to get wrong in such mind games: our foolishness, sensitivity (or utter lack of it) and ignorance might leave us muddled and misguided. Furthermore, if there is no appropriate and appreciated match between what is given and the one to whom it is given, those gifts lie quickly forgotten and largely neglected, unworn, uneaten, unused.

But what if a gifted, wise and insightful physician who knew us accurately and intimately sent to us a box of pills with instructions to begin a life-saving course of medication immediately? Might you not be entitled to presume that he had correctly diagnosed a deadly condition and has kindly provided the cure? In such an instance, you might accurately match the recipient and the gift, connecting the condition and circumstances of the former with the nature of the latter. And would you not be relying on it still? Would not that gift remain unspeakably precious to you?

So it is with God’s gospel gift: an unbreakable, inexhaustible, unforgettable, incalculably precious saving gift. The eternal God was neither ignorant nor whimsical, was not foolish or misguided, in sending his Son to save men. Here we have a gift precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, circumstances and condition of fallen mankind, calling forth perpetual reliance and overwhelming thankfulness. In Romans 5.6-11 the apostle Paul makes some of the connections between the recipients and the gift, describing sinful men in the light of the saving Christ:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Firstly, Paul says that we are powerless. We are utterly without strength (Rom 5.6). The word Paul employs here is used in Matthew 25.31-46, Luke 10.9 and Acts 5.15-16 of those helplessly sick; in Acts 4.9 it describes the impotence of a man who was lame; in 1 Corinthians 12.22 it speaks of weakness and feebleness. It is a word describing comprehensive helplessness, and in Romans 5.6 it is used of our natural state, having no power in ourselves to do good, able neither to resist sin nor to pursue righteousness. We had no strength to restore our relationship with God nor to maintain one if it could be restored. Paul pictures a man utterly lacking in spiritual vitality, without any of the functions of life: it is a sketch of entire, ongoing, sinful incapacity, of a man beyond human help.

It was to men in such a state as this that Christ was given. We need someone who is truly strong, able not only to act on his own behalf but on behalf of others also, not only to secure good for himself but for others too. According to Isaiah, Jesus is just such a mighty Deliverer: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength” (Is 40.29).

Secondly, we are by nature ungodly. Paul uses the same word in Romans 4.5. He means one who is thoroughly lost, wicked, having nothing to offer God. To be such a person means that we can never take God’s favour for granted because we positively fail to deserve any good; we have no entitlement to blessing. Romans 5.6 tells us that ungodly people needed someone to die for them: we required a ransom to be paid, someone to come at the proper time, the appointed hour, to take our place. The seventh verse makes plain that this is, by any account, the rarest of gifts. How much more when it is to men considered not as good and righteous but as ungodly that God sent the Son of his love? It was to men lost entirely and wicked throughout that Jesus came to do nothing less than die: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).

Again, we are sinners. We are those who miss the mark at which we aim, who fall short of our target. It is the tragedy of fallen men that we not only fall short of the target which we truly desire and earnestly pursue – our own happiness – but that we also fall short of that at which we should aim: the glory and honour of God, which we rarely consider and usually despise. In short, we are both personally wretched and morally polluted. As such, there is nothing in us to evoke blessing but much to demand cursing. It is a condition that leaves us entirely exposed to the divine displeasure and righteous judgment.

Paul would have us understand that to secure the life of sinners by any gift would be unspeakable love, the very pinnacle of grace, and such love and grace are displayed in a God who gives nothing less than his beloved Son for us, and in a Christ who willingly lays down his life to secure blessing for such men.

Fourthly, we are guilty. This is the clear implication of the language of sin and of justification (Rom 5.8-9). We need to be justified, to be declared righteous in the sight of a holy God. As sinners, we have deserved nothing but condemnation, and we abide under wrath. We have no righteousness of our own to plead, no goodness to parade. Justice demands vengeance, and what can provide satisfaction apart from fearful and just judgments falling upon the head of the guilty sinner? Where can such a sinner find a putting away of sin and a grant of righteousness, so propitiating the wrath of an offended God? How can we come to have that happy testimony, “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people; you have covered all their sin. You have taken away all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger” (Ps 85.2-3)?

It requires blood. We are justified by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who gave his life, so paying the debt, removing the guilt, providing a credit that was acceptable in saving transaction with a holy God.

Furthermore, we are enemies. Sin becomes habitual, habitual rebellion produces a deepening aversion to the Righteous One, that aversion develops into a settled enmity, and enmity breaks out into open hostility. Every sinner is on that way of rooted adversity to God in some form and degree, and is therefore subject to his wrath. We were rebelliously opposed to God and God was fearfully opposed to us. We were both antagonistic toward him and alienated from him, being without God and without hope in the world. Our relationship to God by nature is not one of neutrality, but of war. Men rage impotently against God and God sets himself implacably against all iniquity. Where, then, can a man find peace with God? Where is God reconciled, enmity removed, harmony established, justice vindicated, and holiness honoured?

God himself supplies the means. The offended God is himself the one who addresses the grounds of separation and provides for reconciliation. It is and must be a fruit of astonishing love, profound pity, and incalculable grace to design and execute such a plan, but what again almost beggars belief is that this reconciliation required nothing less than the giving of God’s own beloved Son. It was not accomplished at any lesser price.

But there is more still. For supposing that all this is carried out on our behalf – the powerless find a champion, the ungodly find a sacrifice, sinners find a saving life, the guilty find a righteousness, enemies find a reconciliation.  It leaves us still and always utterly dependent. Saved men need saving. This does not for one instant mean that there is something lacking in the life and death of Jesus that yet remains to be made up, but rather speaks of our continual need for his grace and strength, our perpetual reliance upon him, finding all our security for the present and future in him alone. Paul speaks of our being saved from wrath through him, by his life (Rom 5.9-10). Our abiding union with our crucified but risen Redeemer ensures that we remain protected to the end and into eternity. We are reconciled by his death and saved by his life, having nothing to fear in the day of wrath, for he both secures our standing by his acceptance with God and is living to intercede for us. He is our Good Shepherd, guiding his sheep safely to the eternal fold; our Great Priest who stands before God on our behalf; he is securing and will secure our final happiness.

Thus we have in these verses two portraits, intimately connected to each other, reflective of each other in the way that a negative reflects the original. Here is the light of Christ and the corresponding distorted shadow cast by sinful man. The portrait of ourselves is unflatteringly honest, depicting us ruined and lost. The portrait of the Lord Jesus shows him as the gift of God, piercingly beautiful, precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, condition and circumstances of those he came to save. He is displayed as One mighty to deliver, by his life, death and resurrection supplying the reconciling righteousness and the cleansing blood that we could never obtain for ourselves, and this he provided by taking our place and dying on our behalf.

Do we accept the testimony of the gospel gift of Jesus Christ about our character, condition and circumstances? It may not be flattering, but it is painfully accurate. Look at the portrait: do you not see your own face staring back at you? Do you find your own wretchedness and neediness written in these things? God was not ignorant or whimsical, not foolish or mistaken when he sent his Son for sinners. The gift was given because the state of the intended recipients demanded nothing less.

Do you accept the gift? It is one thing to acknowledge the need, but another to accept the gift? Salvation is entirely from without. Martin Luther used to speak of the natural man as turned in upon himself. Grace shows the emptiness within, and makes us lift our eyes outward and upward to where we find our only help. Let us be honest: if the portrait of sinful man is a portrait of my own soul, where will I find salvation in myself? If I am powerless, ungodly, sinning, guilty and opposed to God, what will I offer to secure my salvation? There is nothing else left but to look elsewhere. Helpless sinners need a mighty Helper if they are to be delivered from sin and death and hell. God offers the priceless gift of his incarnate Son, and nothing more is required than to cast one’s soul for time and for eternity upon him, to accept the gospel gift as the one and sole answer to the damnable misery of separation from God.

Let us note here – especially those of us who preach – that any message that offers hope but fails to take account of these particular needs and the gift given to address them is a false gospel. To paint the soul of sinners in brighter colours than these does not shut people up to the only remedy, but gives man a falsely elevated view of his own capacity and a correspondingly low view of the saving excellence of the Lord Christ. To offer any alternative remedy is to offer a placebo that, at best, will float men gently and peacefully into the Pit. However, God’s gospel gift of his gracious and glorious Son delivers men from sin and death and hell when it is received with repentant faith.

Should we not, then, humbly receive, gratefully remember and ardently rejoice in such a gift? Only love and mercy would offer such an unparallelable kindness to people such as us; only a fool would reject him; only a gross ingrate could possibly forget the greatest of all possible gifts; only a hard heart would fail to rejoice in the Giver and his glorious Gift. This is where Paul brings us and leaves us: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). The focus is not on ourselves, not even so much on what we receive in Christ, but on the Christ whom we receive by faith, and the God who sent him to be received. Paul leaves us exulting in God in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, but in the saving God through whom the utterly unworthy receive reconciliation, made secure for life and in death and through eternity by his Son – Jesus the Ransomer, God’s gospel gift.

This article first appeared at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 12:11

Knowing God in Christ

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From a sermon by David Clarkson on Philippians 3.8, concerning the excellent knowledge of Christ:

In knowing Christ we know the glorious excellencies of God, John xiv. 7.  The Father and Christ are so like, as he that knows the one knows the other also, sees the Son, sees the Father.  This is so apparent, as Christ seems to wonder that Philip, who had seen him, should speak as though he had not seen the Father, ver. 8, 9.  He is known in the knowing of Christ, and seen in the seeing of Christ.  Hence he is called ‘the image,’ Col. i. 15, – that which represents, and in a lively manner holds forth to us, the infinite perfections of God; therefore styled, Heb. i. 3, ‘the character,’ – not a shadow of him, not a dead, superficial representation of him, such as pictures and portraitures are, but a living, express, subsisting, perfect representation.  The similitude seems to be borrowed from a signet’s impression, which represents all the sculptures and lineaments of the seal.  But no similitude can reach this mystery; only this we learn by this expression, that as Christ is perfectly distinct from, so is he a full and perfect resemblance of the Father, of the same nature and essence with him, so that there is no perfection in the Father but the same is substantially in the Son, so that in knowing Christ we apprehend (as weakness will suffer) the excellencies of God; hence the glory of God is said to shine in the face of Christ, 2 Cor. iv. 6, so that those who know Christ, thereby see the glory of God in the face of Christ.  That knowledge, that light which discovers Christ, discovers the glorious excellencies of God, the brightness whereof appears in the face of Christ.  Nor is this only true of Christ as he is the Son of God, of the same nature with the Father, but also as he is Mediator.  In the great work of redemption, the Lord caused his glory to pass before the sons of men.  Never was there such a full, such a clear, discovery of God’s glorious perfections, as was made to the world in Christ.  In him we may see infinite power, wisdom, justice, mercy, holiness; glorious truth, faithfulness, unchangeabless [sic]; the glory of love, of free grace, of goodness; he even caused all his goodness to pass visibly before us in Christ, so that he who knows Christ knows all these glorious excellencies; ergo, &c.

“The Excellent Knowledge of Christ” in The Works of David Clarkson (1864, reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 1:255.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 October 2010 at 12:07

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