Monday, 14 January 2019

Prayers from this past Advent, and for the next one...

Our family prayed and read our way through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany this season (just past) with booklets provided by our church and based on the Book of Common Prayer.  It was a wonderful way of "practicing Advent" (which was the title of the booklet).  Along with the various corporate worship services throughout the season, as a family (and with whatever guests we had into our home) we worked through both morning and evening prayers, weekly collects, daily Scripture readings, and Advent and Christmas carols.  At the back of the booklet was included this beautiful prayer for Advent by St. Ambrose.  It both looks back in faith and gratitude to Christ's first Advent, and forward in hope and supplication for his second Advent.
O God, who looked on us when we had fallen down into death, and resolved to redeem us by the Advent of your only begotten Son; we beg you, that those who confess his glorious Incarnation may also be admitted to the fellowship of their Redeemer, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
                                                           -  St. Ambrose (339-397), Bishop of Milan

This prayer fits so well with some more familiar sentiments from songs we are used to singing for Advent and Christmas.
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
                                                           -  Charles Wesley, 1744

          O holy Child of Bethlehem
          Descend to us, we pray 
          Cast out our sin and enter in
          Be born to us today
          We hear the Christmas angels
          The great glad tidings tell
          O come to us, abide with us
          Our Lord Emmanuel.

                                               -  Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

At first glance these prayers - for that is also what the song lyrics are - appear to be asking for something that, if you are a Christian, has already happened.  And yet surely salvation is not something we pray for once, as believers, and then simply thank God for from that point on, assuming it to be finished.  Salvation certainly is something we repeatedly thank God for, in faith, as we continually look backward in history to Christ's incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension for us.  There is a definite sense in which our salvation is accomplished and finished.  Yet it is also something we continually look to God for now, today, as Christ reigns and brings all things into submission to God.  And we pray and ask God for future salvation as well, a future final consummation of all things, a completion of the reconciling work of Christ, the final redemption and restoration of all things that have been marred by sin, death and the curse.  Salvation has yet to work out into every corner of the world.  Indeed, salvation has yet to work itself out into every corner of our hearts and lives. 

Salvation is in God's plan as it has unfolded in history past; in his working now, in the present, in us and in through the church in the world; and in the future completion of Christ's saving work with the consummation of the new heavens and new earth, for which we hope and pray.  Salvation is past, present and future.

As the church fathers sometimes said, there are three advents of Christ.  His first advent was his birth by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary to announce the gospel and atone for sin.  His future coming again to judge the living and the dead and to bring his kingdom in fullness is the second advent we look forward to in faith and pray for in hope.  But between those two advents, there is a third advent for every believer, by which Christ comes to dwell in those who look to him and who, in faith, trust him for salvation.  This happens on a personal level when the gospel is heard and Christ is received in loving faith.

It is possible to reject this advent, however.  Often when the gospel announcement of Christ comes to people whose lives are too full of other things, too full of stuff, too full of self, he gets rejected and the doors of people's hearts are closed to him.  Like the inn at Bethlehem, it still happens that many turn Christ away and give the excuse that there is just no room for him.  When the opportunity of this personal advent is rejected, neither Christ's first or second advent will be of any lasting or saving benefit for the one who turns him away at the door.

It was good for our family to ponder these things in our hearts this past Advent and Christmas season.

Monday, 5 November 2018

C.S. Lewis: created humans and Incarnation of God the Son

One must be careful not to put this in a way which would blur the distinction between the creation of a man and the Incarnation of God.  Could one, as a mere model, put it thus?  In creation God makes--invents--a person and "utters"--injects--him into the realm of Nature.  In the Incarnation, God the Son takes the body and human soul of Jesus, and, through that, the whole environment of Nature, all the creaturely predicament, into His own being.  So that "He came down from Heaven" can almost be transposed into "Heaven drew earth up into it," and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death, are, from before all worlds, known by God from within.  The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up.  Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?

                               - C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, 70-71

Monday, 15 October 2018

Justification in Thomas Cranmer & Richard Hooker

"Our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God, and of so great and free mercy that, whereas all the world was not able of themselves to pay any part towards their ransom, it pleased our heavenly Father of his infinite mercy, without any our desert or deserving, to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ's body and blood, whereby our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and his justice fully satisfied.  So that Christ is now the righteousness of all that truly do believe in him."
                                                                           - Thomas Cranmer

"The righteousness wherewith we shall be clothed in the world to come is both perfect and inherent.  That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent.  That whereby we are sanctified, inherent, but not perfect."

"The best things we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned.  How then can we do anything meritorious and worthy to be rewarded?"

"Faith is the only hand which putteth on Christ unto justification, and Christ the only garment which, being so put on, covereth the shame of our defiled natures."

"God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief, but for his worthiness who is believed; God rewardeth abundantly everyone who worketh, yet not for any meritorious dignity which is, or can be, in the work, but through his mere mercy, by whose commandment he worketh."

                                                                            - Richard Hooker

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Incarnation, Justification & Sanctification

“In the humanity of Jesus Christ, God has lowered himself to us in order to raise us to himself.” 

“The God who in His humiliation justifies us is also the man who in His exaltation sanctifies us.” 

                                                                                                     - Karl Barth

Friday, 14 September 2018

Augustine's little prayer...

“My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid it of these things? There is no one but you.”

                                                                      Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Richard Hooker on Justification

"Let men count it folly, or frenzy, for fury, or whatsoever, it is our wisdom and our comfort, we care for no learning, no knowledge in the world but this, that man has sinned and God has suffered, that God is made the sin of man, and man is made the righteousness of God."

                                                            - Richard Hooker, Treatise on Justification

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Assurance: What is your only comfort...?

Regarding assurance of salvation, the famous first question of the Heidelberg Catechism says it well:
Q:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A:  That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death--to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.  Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
This sweet assurance comes not from conjuring up confidence from within one's self, or from repeating a mantra, but from repeatedly looking to and trusting God's promises in Christ to his people in the gospel.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 
                                                                              - John 10:27-29 (ESV)

Our assurance of salvation is not based on how tightly we can hang on to faith in God, but in how strongly God holds on to us in Christ.  Eternal life is a gift from Christ, and believers are given to Christ by the Father, and we are held both in Christ's hand and in the Father's hand together.  That is ultimate security.  No one can force those hands open to snatch God's children, Christ's sheep, out. 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.     
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.      
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.      
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.       
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, 
     “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
       we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
                                                                                    - Romans 8 (ESV)

Not only are we held by both Father and Son, but God dwells in us by the Spirit of adoption.  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who resonates with our own spirits as adopted daughters and sons of God by which we can cry out to the Father of Christ and call him, our Father.

Brad Littlejohn points out in his little primer on Richard Hooker (Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work, p. 107), speaking of those who trust in Jesus Christ, Richard Hooker says that "their faith when it is at the strongest is but weak, yet even then when it is at the weakest so strong that utterly it never faileth, it never perisheth altogether no not in them who think it extinguished in themselves."  This is because even when we falter in our walk or fail in our faith, God never falters in his love or fails in his care. 
...for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
                                                                                     - John 3:20