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sin

One area where I fear I can reduce the complexity of Scripture into soundbites is in the definition of sin. Certainly there is some value in teaching children some memorable soundbites – e.g. that sin is a three letter word with ‘I’ in the middle. But I’ve been struck recently by how multifaceted the sin problem is in the Bible and how important it is to see something of that complexity.

To go back to basics, look at Genesis 3 and ask the question (as we did with the iServe Africa ministry apprentices a couple of weeks ago) what exactly is this sin; what is at the heart of what is going on here and why is it so bad? And you get a lot of different answers, which are all true:

  • It is disobedience. Transgression of a clear command.
  • It is rebellion against God’s kingly rule and authority.
  • It is unbelief in God’s word, goodness and judgment.
  • It is wrong belief – in the words of the devil and in a false view of God.
  • It is being deceived by the devil and coming under his power.
  • It is (culpable) foolishness.
  • It is turning from the Creator to the created for pleasure, wisdom, truth.
  • It is discontent.
  • It is coveting.
  • It is an ungrateful spit in God’s face, trampling on his grace as a cheap thing.
  • It is abdicating from the responsibility of being vice regent, steward and high priest, allowing a snake into the garden tabernacle.
  • It is grasping at self-rule, self-sufficiency and denial of creaturely dependence.

Go on a chapter into Genesis 4 and there we find sin pictured as a kind of wild animal, crouching at the door, ready to spring and overpower a person.

Similarly, look at a passage like Isaiah 1 and you find a complex description of the sinful state of the nation, using a range of different words and metaphors:

  • Rebellion – especially grateful rebellion against a parent
  • (Culpable) ignorance
  • Forsaking, spurning the LORD
  • Sickness and degradation
  • Hypocritical religiosity
  • Dirt, defilement
  • Evil deeds, bloodshed, injustice
  • Omission – especially of justice
  • Scarlet
  • Resistance against the LORD
  • Prostitution
  • Pollution
  • Loving and chasing after evil and idols

Why is it important that we take account of this complexity?

  1. It stops us getting stuck on a single dimension of sin and stops us getting into needless controversies. Throughout church history and in different schools and traditions up to the present time there has been a tendency to reduce the complexity down to one particular aspect of sin. So for example, some parts of the Reformed tradition tended to emphasise sin as transgression of the law (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q14 (I know that other streams of the tradition were far broader)). In conservative evangelical circles we have tended to focus on rebellion (2 Ways 2 Live, part 2). In recent years many have rediscovered the importance of the categories of worship and idolatry and what is going on with the affections of the heart and how these themes can connect well in a post-modern culture. There has also been a huge renewed interest in defining sin in heavily relational terms – spurning God’s love. Others have returned to Augustine’s idea of sin as man curved in on himself or evil as negation/absence or to Luther’s emphasis on our condition as helplessly under the power of the devil. The problem is that these emphases often get set off against each other. The Reformed tradition (rightly) fears that sin as legal transgression and disobedience is in danger of being lost in what is sometimes rather mushy and man-centred talk of relationship and worship. Others assert (rightly) that the Bible’s strong themes of sin as spiritual adultery are in danger of being frozen out by a rather sterile presentation of sin as law breaking. Perhaps a way forward is to see that (almost) all these definitions have a biblical basis. Sin is pride. Sin is unbelief. Sin is idolatry. Sin is pushing away the grace of God in Christ. Sin is rebellion. Sin is slavery. Sin is a disease. Sin is straightforward law breaking. It’s complex. But let’s try to keep that complexity together and not just get fixed on one narrow definition.
  2. It addresses the whole person and the whole range of the human condition. Looking at all these different aspects of sin helps us to see how the Bible describes the totalness of our depravity – that every part of me is fallen: my affections are disordered and loving the wrong things; my will is unsubmissive; my behaviour is rotten and evil; my thinking is foolish and darkened. Also, seeing (and preaching) the whole range of descriptions of sin makes it more likely that some will stick on the hearers. We are all rebels but some of us know we are rebels more than others. We are all chasing the wrong things but some know that more than others. We are all law breakers. We are all idolators. We are all proud. We are all dirty. We are all deceived. But because of our different personalities and cultures and life histories it may well be that one or two of those descriptions will hit home harder than others. Ultimately, however, we need to know that all of those things describe the natural man and as we build up that biblical picture of who we are outside of Christ we get a true, 3D picture of our true state.
  3. It means being more faithful to the Bible. This is a key one if we want to be expository preachers. Instead of just seeing something about sin in the Bible and pouring in our favourite bit of systematic theology on sin, we need to stop and hear what this particular passage is telling us about sin. It may well be saying a few things (like Isaiah 1). We want to let the Bible speak – let God speak – and tell us what we don’t know and what we have forgotten about the darkness and depravity of sin in all its horrible colours and textures and tendencies and tragedies.
  4. It allows us to see the sinfulness of sin and the greatness of the atonement. Perhaps most importantly, seeing the complexity of sin allows me to see it for all its sinfulness. Each of these aspects of sin is immeasurably weighty – just ponder any one of them in relation to a holy God – but combined they are overwhelming and devastating. I am guilty. And foul. And a fool. I have offended my creator. And my king. And the fountain of life. But, wonderfully, this also makes me appreciate what Christ did on the cross all the more. As Jonathan Edwards and many others have noted, if we have small thoughts of our sin (we might say simple thoughts) we will have small thoughts of our saviour. He dealt with all of this multifaceted sin. He took the guilt and punishment. He cured the incurable. He washed us clean. He overcame the devil. He won back the prostitute and paid her dowry. He smashed our idols and pride and took us for himself. Which makes me think – maybe the atonement is complex too…
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I vividly remember hearing the following warning 13 years ago:

If there is one mnemonic which irritates me more than any other it is the K.I.S.S. mnemonic – Keep It Simple Stupid. I want to say that I think that it is profoundly unhelpful. It has deeply penetrated many churches and their expectation of preaching. What it comes to mean is that everything has to be reduced to soundbite level: a few mantras that can be reassuringly reiterated and chanted in our songs and in our teaching. They tend to reduce the inexhaustible riches of Scripture… There is a cult of simplicity.

Now people will say at this point, “The simple gospel is all we want to hear. We don’t want any complicated stuff. We don’t want doctrine. We don’t want to be stretched in our thinking.” All the teaching has to be kept easy and reassuring so we come out with our egos massaged… And so many of us pastors are tempted to go in that direction to ‘buy customer loyalty’ and keep everyone happy…

Now please don’t mishear me. I’m not asking for complexity and confusion. That is a very easy thing to produce. Lack of preparation won’t produce simplicity of the right sort it will produce complexity and confusion. It’s very easy to be long, confusing and perplexing. Nor am I advocating what people are pleased to call barren intellectualism. You know the adjectives: abstract, cerebral, impersonal. No I’m not advocating that because the Bible is never like that.

But brothers we do have to tackle, graciously, prayerfully but persistently the refusal to mature that is endemic in the evangelical church and characterises so many congregations and parts of our congregations… I wonder if sometimes it begins in the approach to evangelism which focuses on the ‘basic minimum’ idea. How little do you need to believe to be saved?

…But the Bible writers and their inspired manuscripts are not simple in the sense of superficial. They are not grasped without effort… Of course we want to be understandable. We want to be clear and lucid… but there is a cult of simplicity that is actually fatal to the growth and development of the church. (David Jackman, speaking on ‘The Enduring Word’ at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, London, 2004)

Peter Mead talks similarly of the need for preachers to aim for a simplicity on the far side of complexity. So instead of staying with a quick superficial simplicity on the near side (which will be very thin soup to offer God’s people), we need to head into the forests of complexity and explore the depths of Scripture and wrestle with (or rather be wrestled by) that complexity, before hopefully emerging out the other side with something clear and presentable but much more rich and deep and satisfying (like a good Thai dish – fresh, healthy, colourful, arresting, integrated, complex).

No short cut. We need to face up to the complexity and enter the forest.

Over the last few months I’ve been very struck by a theme in the New Testament that I don’t think I’ve properly recognised before:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me (John 8:42)

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23 cf. 14:15)

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 cf. v16, v17)

…what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9)

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Cor. 16:22)

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Eph. 6:23)

Though you have not seen him, you love him (1 Peter 1:8)

I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first (Rev. 2:4)

The most wonderful gospel truth is not that we loved God but that God the Father loved us and gave his Son to be burnt up instead of us (1 John 4:10). And wonderfully, not only the Father, but Jesus himself loved us to death (Gal. 2:20) and loves us still (Rev. 1:5). Jesus loves me this I know…

But there is another, secondary truth which I fear I have downplayed in my concern to lift up the great gospel blessing of God’s love for us. That truth is that there must be a love for the Lord Jesus. Not a love for theology or a love for gospel ministry or a love for what Jesus brings with him, but a love for Jesus himself. This love is not mere emotion – there is an extremely common and tight connection drawn in Scripture between love and obedience – but neither can it be evacuated of feeling and affection. There is in love a desire for the presence of the other and a delight in the presence of the other (SoS 2:3,14; 3:1-2; 5:6-8; Psalm 27:4; 42:1-2). When my love has gone cold then there’s a big problem.

So I’m thinking this year…

How can I increase my love for Christ?

 

  1. Consider how far you have fallen (Rev. 2:5) – This will involve first looking through the spiritual wedding album, remembering the “devotion of your youth” (Jer. 2:2) and then acknowledging the slide – “followed worthless idols and became worthless” (Jer. 2:5) – the stupid double sin – “forsaken the spring of living water, and have dug cisterns, broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13) – and the disgusting spiritual adultery of forgetting the Bridegroom, giving lip service and pretend-repentance while really loving and running after others (Jer. 2:20-3:10). I need to recognise the tragedy and outrage of this fallen and debased state. As Richard Sibbes puts it, I need”to be first sensible of spiritual wants and misery. The passover lamb was eaten with sour herbs; so Christ crucified, relisheth best to a soul affected with the bitterness of sin.” (Third Sermon on the Song of Songs).
  2. Repent (Rev. 2:5) – As Peter Mead has shown, repentance is a relational thing – it is a turn from God-hating and, crucially, a turn to God himself. In Jeremiah, amazingly, after horrific spiritual adultery, the LORD Bridegroom says:

    “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will frown on you no longer,
    for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will not be angry forever.
    Only acknowledge your guilt—
        you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
    you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
        under every spreading tree,
        and have not obeyed me,’” declares the Lord.

    “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. (Jer. 3:12-14).
    So repentance will mean acknowledging/confessing my guilt and idolatry and adultery and returning to the incredibly forgiving, faithful-to-his-covenant Bridegroom.

  3. Behold Christ in the Word – “Do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). What are those first things? Well it could include a lot (probably most of the points below) but the very first thing we did was to look to Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God!” To put it another way, the first thing we did was to hear the word of Christ (Eph. 1:13; 4:22; 5:14 Col. 1:6). To hear is to see (Gal. 3:1). “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (SoS 2:14). I need to search the Scriptures to see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:6). I need to have that heart burning experience of the Emmaus road disciples as they saw Jesus not physically but in the (OT) Scriptures he opened to them (Luke 24). I need to dwell on awesome portraits of Christ like those in the Book of Revelation. I need to be dazzled by the Scripture pictures of Christ as creator, king, warrior, Holy One, radiance of the glory of God.  Before even considering God’s love towards us, God’s people “first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections).
  4. Savour his love – “your love is more delightful than wine.” (SoS 1:2). As Sibbes puts it, “love draws love” (First Sermon on the Song of Songs). This unconditional love which embraces the prodigal and the prostitute and the leper. This covenant love which unites me with the Son of God so that “My beloved is mine and I am his” (SoS 2:16). This sacrificial love with sweated in the garden and endured the searing pain of Godforsakenness. This love which actually, amazingly, genuinely desires and delights in the object of salvation (SoS 1:15; 4:1-14; 5:2; 7:1,10); which sees us as ‘lovely,’ ‘flawless,’ ‘overwhelming,’ ‘captivating’ (4:7; 5:2; 6:5; 7:5; 8:10) and actually wants to be with us for eternity (John 17:24). To the extent that we experience this extravagantly loving forgiving embrace, to that extent we love Christ (Luke 7:47). And we best come to experience this love corporately – “together with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18).
  5. Savour his name – “Your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you!” (SoS 1:3) Notice the logic. The reason for the love is the fragrance of the Name. You know how you feel when the name of your best friend comes up in conversation. “The very naming of a good man casts a sweet savour” (Sibbes, First Sermon). How much more so of Christ. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds… As John Newton, that hymn’s author, explains, the ‘name’ stands for the whole person (Rev. 3:4,5). “The name of Christ includes the whole revelation concerning him, who he is, what he has done – all that we read of his love, his power and his offices make a part of his great and glorious name. The soul that is taught by the Word and Spirit of God to understand a little of these things receives such a sense of love and joy that the very sound of his name is sweeter than music to the ears, sweeter than honey to the taste.” (Newton, Sermon on SoS 1:3) So I would do well to return regularly, as many Scripture authors do, to the great declaration of the Name in Exodus 34:6-7. I would do well to delight in this character of our God as it is unfolded in the stories of Scripture. I would do well to meditate on the great ‘names’ of Christ in the Scriptures – The One Who Sees Me, The Shepherd, The Bridegroom, The Friend of Sinners, The Banquet, The Light of the World, The Life. And I would do well to listen most to the supreme declaration of the Name at the Cross. Newton again: “The precious vessel that contained this precious ointment was broken upon the Cross – the savour of his name, his love, his blood, poured out from every wound [in] his sacred body. See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingling down… When we desire a new savour of this ointment, let us turn our eyes, our thoughts to Golgotha. To behold him by faith as he hung bleeding and dying, with outstretched arms inviting our regards and saying, ‘See if any sorrow was like to my sorrow.'”
  6. Sit under Christ-ful preaching – “Everything that bears the name of preaching – if it does not diffuse the knowledge of this good ointment [the fragrance of the name of Christ] – is dry and tedious, unsavoury and unprofitable.” (Newton, Sermon of SoS 1:3). As Sibbes’ says, preachers, as the friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:28), are to “woo for Christ, and open the riches, beauty, honour and all that is lovely in him” (Sibbes, Second Sermon). Often I can’t, on my own, get my heart excited about Christ, but, in the company of God’s people, with a preacher opening the Scriptures and wooing for Christ, jabbing his finger in the Bible and saying “Look at this thing about Jesus; isn’t he amazing?!” – then I get excited about Jesus. And that seems to be the way God wants it to be.
  7. Partake in the Lord’s Supper – This is the other main, regular means of grace alongside the ministry of the Word, whereby I feed on Christ in my heart by faith with thanksgiving. This is where I’m reassured (as I recently read in a reformed confession I think) that as surely as the bread is pressed into my hand, so Christ has been given to me; as surely as I am receiving the wine, so surely Christ’s blood was shed for me and atones for all my sins. As Carl Trueman (if I remember rightly) describes it, just as in our marriage we live together and have a continual love relationship with our spouse but we still make special ‘dates’ where we can meet together and express our love for one another and grow in our love for one another and be reassured of our love for one another, so the Lord’s Supper is the time and place Christ has ordained as our ‘date’ where he promises to specially meet with us and reassure us of his love and inflame our love.
  8. Sing of Christ – As many have noticed through the ages, music and song have a special ability to express and inflame the affections. It is notable that the Song of Songs is… well a song! One of the best things for my soul is to be in the congregation of God’s people as we sing to one another and sing to God true words about Jesus. Let’s make the most of the songs that have been written down the ages and more recently that do what the Song of Songs does – address either ‘the friends’ or the Bridegroom and tell of His goodness. How sweet the name, When I survey, I stand amazed, There’s not a friend, Soon and very soon, Sovereign Grace, Emu
  9. Praise Christ – “We rejoice and delight in you; we praise your love more than wine.” (SoS 1:4) As C.S. Lewis would say, the latter (the praising) completes and increases the former (the rejoicing and delighting). As the beloved enumerates the specific, superlative, wonderful attributes of the Bridegroom (SoS 5:10-16) – her joy and love is increased. This works not only in prayer-praise and in song-praise but also in witnessing-praise to unbelievers. Have you ever had that joy of sharing with someone how wonderful Jesus is and as you do that you start thinking, Yes – this really is true – Jesus really is wonderful! Even if the other person wasn’t helped, I go away with a deeper appreciation of the good things I have in Christ (Philemon 6).
  10. Accept suffering as a means of refining love for Christ – God is sovereignly working to perfect us and the older authors (like Cranmer, Sibbes and Newton) recognise that much of that will be through the painful pruning of difficult circumstances. Through suffering he will work to loosen our grip on and weaken our affections for the passing things of this world that we might reach more for and rejoice more in Christ. What is required of us is an acceptance – a patient endurance (2 Cor. 1:6; Heb. 12:7) rather than an impatient rejection; a trust that this is a means of God inflaming my love for Christ.
  11. Be around people who love Jesus – I find this one of the most helpful ones. You’ll have noticed how the corporate, churchly dimension intersects almost all of the points so far. We grow in love for Christ among others who love Christ. As in the old illustration of a coal placed in the fire with glowing coals – the warmth and burning of others stirs me up to glow. To change the metaphor, the Proverbs speak of one man sharpening another. Often we think of this in terms of critical thinking but it is also true of love for Christ. Sibbes talks of “that which hinders the sharpness of the [spiritual appetite], that dull and flat the edge of it… and take away the savour and desire of heavenly things.” The evil and cold banality of the world and the company of those who have no interest in Christ dampens our love for Christ like a wet blanket. On the other hand the “company… of such as ‘labour for that blessed food that endures to life eternal’ provokes” us to a sharper appetite and greater feasting on Christ. I need this every day (Heb. 3:13) and especially need to make use of the Sabbath pattern to meet with God’s people and delight in him together.
  12. Pray – Perhaps this should be the first point. We need the Spirit of Conviction that we would see how far we have fallen. We need God himself to grant us repentance (Acts 3:26; 11:18). Otherwise, like the people in Jeremiah’s day we will not repent, we cannot repent (Jer. 13:23). We need the Spirit to remove the veil and open our eyes to the glory of God in the face of Christ in the pages of Scripture (2 Cor. 3-4). We need to pray that God would enlarge our hearts, give us new desires and new taste buds to crave and enjoy Christ. Sibbes notes from SoS 4:16 that unless the Spirit of God blows on us we do not even want to pray for more of Christ. So let us pray desperate prayers for greater love for Christ – come to his Word and come to church praying for our love to be inflames – knowing that even that desire to pray is a gracious gift and token of his love.

“I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse” (Song of Songs 5:1)

Christ is our brother, and the church, and every particular true member thereof, is his sister… He became our brother by incarnation, for all our union is from the first union of two natures in one person. Christ became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, to make us spiritually bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

Therefore let us labour to be like to him, who for that purpose became like to us, Immanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14 ); that we might be like him, and “partake of the divine nature,” (2 Pet. 1:4). Whom should we rather desire to be like than one so great, so gracious, so loving?

Again, “Christ was not ashamed to call us brethren,” (Heb. 2:11) nor abhorred the virgin’s womb,” to be shut up in those dark cells and straits; but took our base nature, when it was at the worst, and not only our nature, but our miserable condition and curse due unto us. Was he not ashamed of us? And shall we be ashamed to own him and his cause?

…Again, it is a point of comfort to know that we have a brother who is a favourite in heaven; who, though he abased himself for us, is yet Lord over all. Unless he had been our brother, he could not have been our husband; for husband and wife should be of one nature. That he might marry us, therefore, he came and took our nature, so to be fitted to fulfil the work of our redemption. But now he is in heaven, set down at the right hand of God: the true Joseph, the high steward of heaven; he hath all power committed unto him; he rules all. What a comfort is this to a poor soul that hath no friends in the world, that yet he hath a friend in heaven that will own him for his brother, in and through whom he may go to the throne of grace boldly and pour out his soul (Heb. 4:15-16).

[Richard Sibbes, Second Sermon on the Song of Songs]

Litanynoun / a tedious recital or repetitive series

Who would want a litany? But the Greek root of the word points to prayer. And hidden away in the Book of Common Prayer service for the ordination of deacons is this wonderful series of supplications to our Father.

Five reasons I love it:

  1. The posture – again and again we call ourselves ‘miserable sinners’ and again and again we call out for mercy and deliverance – i.e. divine pity on our wretched and helpless state, divine help, divine withholding of the wrath we deserve, divine salvation to carry us through this life into the heavenly kingdom. It’s the posture of pathetic, dirty, desperate creatures before a holy, awesome creator saviour God. It’s not politically correct but it fits reality.
  2. The plurality – it’s not just the pastor praying it’s all of us praying.
  3. The perceptiveness – that it is not just enemies outside us we need saving from – the real dangers are in our hearts.
  4. The public spiritedness – there is an outward-looking concern for all of life – civil as well as church, unbelievers as well as believers, natural disasters as well as spiritual disasters. There is no sacred and secular. God is Lord of all.
  5. The pleasures of God – in the second half, where we move from calling for deliverance from dangers to calling for God to positively give grace to his people, there is a repeated invocation ‘that it may please thee… hear us, good Lord.’ We are asking the ‘good Lord’ – the happy God, the loving 3, the fountain of life, the servant God, utterly good and delighting in good – to do what brings him pleasure, what is in accordance with ‘the dictates of his delights’ (Piper).

Here it is (basically the 1559 text with updated spellings). Spot the nice Christmas prayer about a quarter of the way through:

 

O GOD the Father, of heaven : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O God the Father, of heaven : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

 O God the Son, Redeemer of the world : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O God the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O God the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

 O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God : have mercy upon us miserable sinners.

Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers ; neither take thou vengeance of our sins : spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.

Spare us, good Lord.

Form all evil and mischief ; from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil ; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation.

Good Lord, deliver us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From fornication, and all other deadly sin; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,

Good Lord, deliver us.

From all sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and Commandment,

Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,

Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,

Good Lord, deliver us.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,

Good Lord, deliver us.

We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church universal in the right way;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to keep and strengthen in the true worshipping of thee, in righteousness and holiness of life, thy Servant, our most gracious Sovereign and Governor;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to rule his heart in thy faith, fear, and love, and that he may evermore have affiance in thee, and ever seek thy honour and glory;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to be his defender and keeper, giving her the victory over all his enemies;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless and preserve all the Royal Family;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth, and show it accordingly;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless these thy servants, now to be admitted to the Order of Deacons, [or Presbyters,] and to pour thy grace upon them; that they may duly execute their Office, to the edifying of thy Church, and the glory of thy holy Name;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to endue the Lords of the Council, and all the Nobility, with grace, wisdom, and understanding;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless and keep the Magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice, and to maintain truth;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us an heart to love and dread thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; and to comfort and help the weak-hearted; and to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to succour, help, and comfort, all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve all who travel by land, by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons, and young children; and to show thy pity upon all prisoners and captives;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to defend, and provide for, the fatherless children, and widows, and all who are desolate and oppressed;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to have mercy upon all men;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, so that in due time we may enjoy them;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to thy holy Word;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God : we beseech thee to hear us.

Son of God : we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God : that takest away the sins of the world;

Grant us thy peace.

O Lamb of God : that takest away the sins of the world;

Have mercy upon us.

O Christ, hear us.

O Christ, hear us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Christ, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

For this Reformation Day I’ve been enjoying reading through the Belgic Confession – one of the early reformed confessions (1561). I love it for its clarity and straightforwardness but also there is a lovely warmth that comes through. Surely this is what our church needs today – lovely truth, doctrine with devotion, a passionate creed. I think this is my favourite section – on the intercession of Christ:

We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor, “Jesus Christ the righteous,” (1 John 2:1).
But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.

Although he was “in the form of God,” Christ nevertheless “emptied himself,” taking “human form” and “the form of a slave” for us; (Phil. 2:6-8) and he made himself “like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” (Heb. 2:17).

Suppose we had to find another intercessor. Who would love us more than he who gave his life for us, even though “we were enemies”? (Rom. 5:10)
And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated at the right hand of the Father, (Rom. 8:34) and who has “all authority in heaven and on earth”? (Matt. 28:18).
And who will be heard more readily than God’s own dearly beloved Son?

So, the practice of honoring the saints as intercessors in fact dishonors them because of its misplaced faith. That was something the saints never did nor asked for, but which in keeping with their duty, as appears from their writings, they consistently refused.

We should not plead here that we are unworthy— for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.

Since the apostle for good reason wants us to get rid of this foolish fear—or rather, this unbelief—he says to us that Jesus Christ was made like “his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” to purify the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:17) For since he suffered, being tempted, he is also able to help those who are tempted. (Heb. 2:18)

And further, to encourage us more to approach him he says, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:14-16)

The same apostle says that we “have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus… Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith….” (Heb. 10:19, 22)

Likewise, Christ “holds his priesthood permanently…. Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:24-25)

What more do we need?
For Christ himself declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Why should we seek another intercessor?

Since it has pleased God to give us the Son as our Intercessor, let us not leave him for another— or rather seek, without ever finding.
For, when giving Christ to us, God knew well that we were sinners.

Therefore, in following the command of Christ we call on the heavenly Father through Christ,our only Mediator, as we are taught by the Lord’s prayer, being assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in his name.

Been preparing on Revelation 22:17 but this hymn says it all better than I can. So true…

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.