John Calvin on Forgiveness

“Lastly, it is to be observed that the condition of being forgiven as we forgive our debtors, is not added because by forgiving others we deserve forgiveness, as if the cause of forgiveness were expressed; but by the use of this expression the Lord has been pleased partly to solace the weakness of our faith, using it as a sign to assure us that our sins are as certainly forgiven as we are certainly conscious of having forgiven others, when our mind is completely purged from all envy, hatred, and malice; and partly using as a badge by which he excludes from the number of his children all who, prone to revenge and reluctant to forgive, obstinately keep up their enmity, cherishing against others that indignation which they deprecate from themselves; so that they should not venture to invoke him as a Father. In the Gospel of Luke, we have this distinctly stated in the words of Christ.”

John Calvin, Institutes, III.XX.45

Calvin on the definition of faith

“Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin, Institutes, III.II.7

“Thus we shall behold the person of a sinner and evildoer represented in Christ, yet from his shining innocence it will at the same time be obvious that he was burdened with another’s sin rather than his own. He therefore suffered under Pontius Pilate, and by the governor’s official sentence was reckoned among criminals. Yet not so– for he was declared righteous by his judge at the same time, when Pilate affirmed that he “found no cause for complaint in him.” This is our acquittal: the guilt that held us liable for punishment has been transferred to the head of the Son of God. We must, above all, remember this substitution, lest we tremble and remain anxious throughout life– as if God’s righteous vengeance, which the Son of God has taken upon himself, still hung over us.”

–John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.5

“The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has ever plagued the mind of man was the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.”

—Martin Luther

Elder Installation

We are grateful to God for the leadership He provides for His church.  After being re-elected to another three-year term, Elder Greg Hager was installed to his office, with the assistance of Elder Daniel Mettler of Menno, SD and Elder Greg Van Holland of Vermillion, SD.

 

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Reformation 500

Rev. David Fagrey is writing a series of articles about the history surrounding the Protestant Reformation in celebration of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary.  They are being collected and posted here.

This week’s is on the conversion of Martin Luther, one of the most important historical figures of the last two thousand years, whose life makes fascinating reading.

Tearing the Veil: Worship Notes, 12/25/2016

Tearing the Veil

When one studies the Old Testament forms of worship that God gave to Israel, one is struck with the very mediated nature of it. God is presented as very holy, and given the sinfulness of the people, a very dangerous presence. The people insist that Moses put a veil over his face, for even the reflected glory of God is too much for them. They say, “Who can stand before this God?” and turn instead to the worship of the golden calf, a worship they can control. But the presence of God in their midst requires the constant offering of sacrifices, the observance of a great many rituals of purification and cleansing, and the utmost care over all the details. Only certain people were permitted to enter into the temple, and only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was most manifest.

This is one major reason to be so thankful for the incarnation of Christ. In His person He joins together God and man, and through His work of redemption, His death on the cross, the relationship between God and man is reconciled. The book of Matthew tells us that the veil in the temple was torn when Christ died. That was the heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Hebrews tells us in chapter 10 that His ministry opens the way between us and God, making an analogy between the tearing of the veil and the tearing of His flesh. Because of the death of Christ and the covering of our sin with His blood, the presence of God is no longer a terrifying threat, but a great joy and comfort. This is not because He is less holy, but because our sins are taken away and covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness.

This was of course true in the Old Testament as well. God’s saints in the Old Testament also talk about the joy of fellowship with God. But this was not seen or experienced to anywhere near the same degree as the New Testament believer experiences it, and this is because of the coming of Christ into the world.

The Old Testament believer’s worship had a strong emphasis on guilt and condemnation, and looking forward to the promised Messiah. Our worship today focuses much more strongly on the grace and forgiveness of God, and the accomplishment of our salvation by Christ, and for that we have much cause to be thankful! To the Judaizers insisting on a return to the Old Testament ceremonies, Peter said, “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Sometimes Old Testament worship will seem very dramatic and powerful to the New Testament believer, but Peter here describes it as an intolerable burden.

Because Christ came, the veil is torn, and God’s presence can be a comforting joy in worship instead of a fearful thing. But how much more fearful our judgment will be then if we neglect this great mercy and grace! The way is clear to God, and all who come to Him through faith in His Son are received in forgiveness of sins. And all of this is true because Christ came, because He who was God was born as a man, uniting and reconciling God and man in His own flesh.

Worship Notes: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

1 Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
set your minds on things eternal,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended,
come our homage to command.

2 King of kings, yet born of Mary,
once upon the earth he stood;
Lord of lords we now perceive him
in the body and the blood.
He has given to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

3 Rank on rank, the host of heaven
stream before him on the way,
as the Light of Light, descending
from the realms of endless day,
comes, the powers of hell to vanquish,
clears the gloom of hell away.

4 At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to his presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
“Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

Hymn #193, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, is a hymn from the Liturgy of St. James. Dating back to the fifth century, this liturgy is one of the oldest surviving complete liturgies of the Eastern church. The hymn celebrates the coming of Christ, especially focused on His glory and majesty.

This time of year we often focus on the humility and meekness of Christ, and that certainly is a crucial aspect of understanding Him. But too often it seems like people want to stop there, and not consider the other half of His advent, the glorious king coming to throw down all His enemies. People prefer Christmas to Easter for just this reason; they’d rather deal with the child that came for some vaguely positive reason than the risen King who came to establish a kingdom. But the First Advent makes no sense without the Second. The forgiveness of sins is only understood against the backdrop of impending judgment.

So our hymn from the beginning focuses on the awe and majesty of Christ as the conquering King and eternal Lord. All mortal flesh should be silent before Him, in respect for His great power and majesty. The hymn in particular is calling us to this spirit and attitude when we come before Him in worship.

The last line of the first verse is especially powerful- He comes to Earth to demand our homage. We owe Him our worship. Jesus is so often portrayed in the artwork of the modern church as effeminate and passive. He is shown quietly and passively knocking at the door, as if He is merely pleading to be invited in. But this is the Lord who slays all His enemies with a sword, His robe dipped in blood. This is the meaning of the offer of forgiveness—one last chance for amnesty before all the rebels are killed before Him. He has a right to be worshiped and obeyed, and He is not shy about insisting on it.

Given this great majesty and glory, what a wonder that this great king descends to help us with His grace! He is incarnate as a man, and a humble man, a servant. He dies the death of the cross so that He can feed us with Himself. His life, by the power of the Spirit of God, feeds and nourishes those who believe in Him just as our physical bodies are fed with bread. This is the message we read in verse 2.

We therefore ought to worship Him. It is only right, as the heavenly host well know. If angels and saints in heaven worship Christ, and they are far greater than us, ought we not also worship Him? His presence drives away all the powers of hell, freeing earth to be what God created it to be, as John says in Revelation 11:18— when He comes, He will destroy all those “who destroy the earth.”

This final vision, drawn from Revelation, fully impresses on us His great transcendence. The great angels, these magnificent powerful creatures described in the prophets and in Revelation, sit at Jesus’ feet, almost like pets ready to follow His command. One commenter remarked that if we did not know God, we would surely worship angels, and many have. Yet they do His will, and are nothing before Him. What awe and trembling it fills us with to know that one day we will stand before His glorious presence. He will come back to earth in great power and glory, bringing vengeance with Him. On that day we will surely know Him. May we pray to know Him in His grace and kindness before that terrible day comes.

Repost: Worship as an Act of Faith

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

Economists describe the cost of any choice we make as “opportunity cost”, or the loss of an opportunity to do something different with whatever time or resources we committed to a particular choice. If I spend a dollar on a candy bar, the cost of the candy bar is whatever else I could have spent the dollar on. If I spend an hour watching television, even if it is free there is still a cost- namely, whatever else I could have spent the hour on.

Coming to worship always incurs a cost- the cost of sleeping in on Sunday or going to the park with your kids or whatever else might bring you short-term enjoyment. Worship itself might bring you short-term enjoyment as well- seeing friends, enjoying good music and a hopefully engaging sermon. But there are always pressing needs or more immediately enjoyable activities. That’s why God made it a commandment to observe the Sabbath. Left to ourselves, people will always allow other things to crowd out the worship of God. We do not observe a day in the same ceremonial fashion as the Jews under the Mosaic Law did, but the principle has not changed. We must make time for the worship of God.

When we gather together on Sunday for worship, we are committing an act of faith. Faith means trust, believing in God’s word and promises that He is who He says He is and will do what He promises to do. Worship is a means of grace, the way God works great benefits in His people through the power of His Spirit, but those benefits are subtle and long-term. Often they are not clearly visible in the short term.

The short term benefits of worship mentioned above, while real, should not be our main motivators for being in worship. If short term benefit is our motive, our sinful flesh will always find other things to tempt us. Our real motive should be faith, trust that God will work His work in us over time. We should “desire the pure milk of the word, that we may grow thereby.” (1 Peter 2:2). We should desire to be taught and exhorted by the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16). We should desire to “stir up love and good works” in each other (Hebrews 10:24). When we are motivated by trust in God’s promises, then we will be faithful in church even when we don’t feel like it, even if we’re not getting along with others, even if there are other things we’d rather do. Motivated by faith, walking not by what we can see but what we can and must believe, we will learn to attend consistently to the means of grace and have confidence that we will grow in grace as a result.