How Do the Sacraments Function in Worship? – Rev. C. Griess

StandardBearerIn the November 1, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer (just out), Rev. C. Griess (pastor of Calvary PRC in Hull, IA) returns to contributing to his series on worship for the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship.”

For this volume year (93) he will be writing on the place of the sacraments in Reformed and biblical worship. His first installment introduces this important subject under the title “The Sacraments in Worship.”

What follows are a few paragraphs from this article. In them pastor Griess reminds us of the proper place and function of the sacraments in the true worship of the church of Christ.

Since the sacraments are elements of worship, they are part of the holy dialogue between God and His people. This is the divine motivation for regulating worship in such a way that the sacraments take place in church worship. In these sacraments God speaks to us, all His people, and we, hearing and understanding and appropriating His speech, respond to Him in prayer and praise. The sacraments have their own dialogue, so that there is a “dialogue within the dialogue” when the sacraments are used. In fact, this is the primary purpose of the sacraments, and we are to use them this way, aware that a holy and special conversation with Jehovah is taking place through them. This makes the sacraments, too, part of the covenantal assembly, the assembly of fellowship with God.

If you recently had a baptism in your church God spoke to the congregation beautifully. He did not just speak to the parents or to the one being baptized. He had a declaration to give to the whole of His true people gathered before Him. The main point of that baptism was not that God was there acting in that sign itself. God is not as Roman Catholics and many Lutheran and Anglicans teach, actually regenerating the one baptized by the water. The sacrament itself, that is, the water on the person, though a visible thing, is not accomplishing a divine invisible action. It is accomplishing a divine invisible speech. Even the sealing aspect of the sacrament is accomplished by what is being declared. The sacraments are speech that give witness to divine acts, but they are not the acts themselves; they are declarations.

That is why the Catechism asks and answers, “Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself? Not at all…” (Q&A 72). Well, then, what is it? Lord’s Day 25, A. 66 states, “The sacraments are holy, visible signs and seals appointed by God for this end, that He may more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel” (emphasis added). Declare! Speak! And then, to answer this question, How do the sacraments speak to us? Lord’s Day 26, A.69 “Christ appointed this external washing with water adding thereto this promise… (emphasis added).Christ attached a promise to this sacrament, so that it is God speaking to us. In baptism God is speaking to His church.

For information on subscribing to this Reformed periodical, visit the RFPA link above.

Consecration and Worship – Valley of Vision

ValleyofVisionIn preparation for our Sunday worship (personal, family, and corporate) this prayer/meditation from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, c.1975) is fitting for us to consider.

It is titled “Consecration and Worship.” May it lead us to humble thoughts of ourselves and high thoughts of our glorious, blessed God.

MY GOD,

I feel it is heaven to please thee,
and to be what thou wouldst have me be.
O that I were holy as thou art holy,
pure as Christ is pure,
perfect as thy Spirit is perfect!

These, I feel, are the best commands in thy Book,
and shall I break them? must I break them?
am I under such a necessity as long as I live here?

Woe, woe is me that I am a sinner,
that I grieve this blessed God,
who is infinite in goodness and grace!

O, if he would punish me for my sins,
it would not wound my heart so deep
to offend him;
But though I sin continually,
he continually repeats his kindness to me.

At times I feel I could bear any suffering,
but how can I dishonour this glorious God?
What shall I do to glorify and worship
this best of beings?

O that I could consecrate my soul and body
to his service,
without restraint, for ever!
O that I could give myself up to him,
so as never more to attempt to be my own!
or have any will or affections
that are not perfectly conformed to his will
and his love!

But, alas, I cannot live and not sin.
O may angels glorify him incessantly,
and, if possible, prostrate themselves lower
before the blessed King of heaven!

I long to bear a part with them in ceaseless praise;
But when I have done all I can to eternity
I shall not be able to offer more than
a small fraction of the homage
that the glorious God deserves.
Give me a heart full of divine, heavenly love.

 

The Reformation and the Centrality of Worship – Jeffrey Jue

tt-oct-2016This past Sunday I read two more of the featured articles on the church in the 16th century, the theme of this month’s Tabletalk.

The first is “The Centrality of Worship” (linked below) by Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue (Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia), while the second is “Divinely Instituted Sacraments” by Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary, Escondido). Both are profitable explanations of how the Reformers led the 16th-century church back to the teaching of Scripture in the areas of worship and the sacraments. Not perfectly, for there were differences among the Reformers on these points, but, nevertheless, they returned the church to the basic teachings of the Word of God.

For today’s Reformation focus we quote the opening paragraph and a later paragraph in Dr. Jue’s article (follow the Ligonier link at the end for the complete article) We hope it reminds you of how important the matter of worship was to the Reformers, and, therefore, ought to be to us.

Martin Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone served as the theological foundation for the Protestant Reformation. He arrived at this orthodox position after a careful study of Scripture along with the conviction that Scripture alone is ultimately authoritative, not the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy (right doctrine) led to orthopraxy (right practice), including the proper biblical understanding of worship. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church. The Reformers, including Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and later John Calvin, insisted that worship in the church was vital for the Christian, yet they were troubled by a number of practices in the Roman Catholic Church. This motivated them to look to Scripture, the ultimate authority, to instruct the church on how biblical worship should be practiced.

…What are the specific prescriptions for worship found in Scripture? There are five key elements. First, the Bible is to be read (1 Tim. 4:13). Second, and very significantly for the Reformers, worship must include the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 10:14–15). In the medieval Roman Catholic Church, preaching was diminished as the Mass was elevated in priority in worship. The Reformers insisted that preaching is central and a means of grace to strengthen believers in their sanctification. Third, prayers are to be offered in worship (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24–30). Fourth, the sacraments are to be rightly administered (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11: 23–26). Remember, the Reformers determined that the Bible teaches only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, singing is also included as an element of worship (Eph. 5:19).

Source: The Centrality of Worship by Jeffrey Jue

The Prayers of J. Calvin (29)

JCalvin1On this third Sunday of Reformation month 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-eighth lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 7:12-19, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:15, “And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim”:

But we may hence learn this important truth, – that God had never bound Himself to any people or place, that He was not at liberty to inflict punishment on the impiety of those who had despised His favours, or profaned them by their ingratitude and their sins.

And this ought to be carefully noticed; for we see that it is an evil as it were innate in us, that we become elated and proud whenever God deals bountifully with us; for we so abuse His favours as to think that more liberty is given us, because God has bestowed on us more than on others. But there is nothing more groundless than this presumption; and yet we become thus insolent whenever God honours us with peculiar favours.

Let us therefore bear in mind what is taught here by the Prophet, – that God is ever at liberty to take vengeance on the ungodly and the ungrateful.

With that general comment, Calvin turns his attention to the Romish church:

Hence it also appears how foolish is the boasting of the Papists; for whenever they bring against us the name of the apostolic throne, they think that God’s mouth is closed; they think that all authority is to be taken away from His Word. In short, they harden themselves against God, as though they had a legitimate possession, because the gospel had been once preached at Rome, and because that place was the first seat of the Church in Italy as well as in Europe. But God never favoured Rome with such a privilege, nor has He said that His habitation was to be there.

…Now, since Shiloh and Jerusalem, and so many celebrated cities, where the gospel formerly flourished, have been taken away from us, it is not to be doubted but that a dreadful vengeance and destruction await all those who reject the doctrine of salvation and despise the treasure of the gospel.

Since then God has shewn by so many proofs and examples that He is not bound to any places, how stupid is their madness who seek, through the mere name of an apostolic seat, to subvert all truth and all fear of God, and whatever belongs to true religion (pp.382-383).

And so Calvin concludes this lecture with this prayer:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are inclined not only to superstitions, but also to many vices, we may be restrained by Thy Word, and as Thou art pleased daily to remind us of Thy benefits, that Thou mayest keep us in the practice of true religion, –

O grant, that we may not be led astray by the delusions of Satan and by our own vanity, but continue firm and steady in our obedience to Thee, and constantly proceed in the course of true piety, so that we may at length partake of its fruit in Thy celestial kingdom, which has been obtained for us by the blood of Thine only-begotten Son. Amen

Sunday Meditation: Divine Mercies

ValleyofVisionOur Sunday worship (personal, family, and corporate) thoughts for reflection come from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, c.1975).

We have been slowly working our way through the first section titled “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and this next one is taken from there too. It is simply titled Divine Mercies.”

May it help lead us into great thoughts of God and His mercies to us in His Son, even as we confess our manifold sins to Him in humble contrition.

Divine Mercies

 THOU ETERNAL GOD,
Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable
goodness, super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean’s ‘lip’
as number Thy favors towards me;
I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.
I thank Thee for personal mercies,
a measure of health, preservation of body,
comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food
and clothing,
continuance of mental powers,
my family, their mutual help and support,
the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
my country, church, Bible, faith.
But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
the days that add to my guilt,
the scenes that witness my offending tongue;
All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
condemn me—
the sun which sees my misdeeds,
the darkness which is light to thee,
the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
the good angels who have been provoked to leave
me,
Thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
Thy righteous law, Thy holy Word,
my sin-soiled conscience, my private and
public life,
my neighbors, myself—
all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
‘Father, I have sinned’;
Yet still I live, and fly repenting to Thy outstretched
arms;
Thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
Thou wilt not condemn me, for He died in
my stead,
Thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
for He leveled all,
and His beauty covers my deformities.
O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging
to His cross,
hiding in His wounds, and sheltering in His side.

Family Worship – Final Encouragement

family-worship-whitney-2016In the last few months we have been taking a look at a new publication of Crossway that I requested for review. The book is Donald S. Whitney’s Family Worship (2016, 80 pp.), and we have been drawing some good encouragement from it for being faithful in family devotions or worship.

In the last chapter (5) – “Isn’t This What You Really Want to Do?” – Whitney gives us final motivation for carrying out this calling, including a series of questions, the last of which is the title to the chapter.

But he also has a series of closing admonitions, starting with husbands/fathers and families, before addressing single persons too. For today, I quote from his words to fathers and family members.

First, to fathers Whitney says,

Husbands, fathers – if you have been negligent in this duty and great privilege, repent by starting family worship today. Again, you may feel awkward about what to say to your wife or your children about starting, but simply say that God has convicted you of your responsibility to lead in family worship and you want to start at a given time today or tonight. Almost certainly your wife will be thrilled more than you can imagine to hear you say that. Your children may or may not be as enthusiastic, but that does not really matter. The less interest they show, the more your family needs family worship.

The Lord will help you. He does not call his Spirit-begotten sons to this task without giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish it. The same Father who gave you the gospel and drew you to Christ will strengthen you by his Spirit to put on this badge of godly manhood (p.65).

Let that encourage us to begin anew or press on, men.

And then this there is this encouragement for the family:

Family members – have the willing spirit of Jacob’s household. After he called them to follow his leadership in the family worship of God, Genesis 35:4 tells us, ‘So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.’ Respond just as willingly to the call to family worship in your home. Encourage your husband or dad in his desire to bring the blessings of God upon you. Do not be a stumbling block in his efforts to obey God (p.65).

Shall we all strive in our covenant families to be more diligent and devoted to this holy activity? Is anything – other than our worship on the Lord’s day – more important? Isn’t this what you too really want to do?!

The Prayers of J. Calvin (28)

JCalvin1On this last Sunday of July 2016 we return to our series of posts on the prayers of John Calvin (see my previous Sunday posts in Nov./Dec., 2014, throughout 2015, and now in 2016), which follow his lectures on the OT prophecy of Jeremiah (Baker reprint, 1979).

Today we post a brief section from his twenty-seventh lecture and the prayer that concludes it (slightly edited). This lecture covers Jeremiah 7:5-11, which includes Calvin’s comments on 7:11, “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD”:

And he [God] adds, ‘In this house, which is called by my name,’ that is, which has been dedicated to Me; for to call God’s name on the Temple means nothing else but that the Temple was consecrated to Him, so that He was there worshiped.

When God is truly worshiped, they who seek Him find that He Himself is present by His grace and power. As then God commanded the Temple to be built for Him, that He might there be worshiped, He says His name was there called, that is, according to its first and sacred appointment.

Absurdly indeed did the Jews call on His name, for there was in them no religion, no piety: but according to God’s institution, His name was called upon the Temple, as He had consecrated it to Himself. Hence, God reminds them of the first institution, which was holy and ought to have continued inviolable: ‘Know ye not, that this place has been chosen by Me, that My name might there be invoked? Ye stand before Me in the holy place, and ye stand polluted; and though polluted, not with one kind of vices but My whole law has been violated by you and my Tables despised, yet yet stand!’

We hence see the design of the prophet: for he condemns the effrontery and frowardness of the Jews, because they thus dared to rush into God’s presence in all their pollutions (p.373).

And this is the prayer with which Calvin concludes this lecture:

Grant, Almighty God, that as Thou buildest not at this day a temple among us of wood and stones, and as the fullness of Thy Godhead dwells in Thine only-begotten Son, and as He by His power fills the whole world, and dwells in the midst of us, and even in us, – O grant, that we may not profane His sanctuary by our vices and sins, but so strive to consecrate ourselves to Thy service, that Thy name through His name may be continually glorified, until we shall at length be received into that eternal inheritance, where will appear to us openly, and face to face, that glory which we now see in the truth contained in Thy gospel. -Amen

Not Ready for Church – J. Thorn

The title above heads a weekend devotional written by pastor Joe Thorn and published in the June 2016 issue of Tabletalk.

churchatsunriseThe following is taken from this profitable article and contains Thorn’s counsel for those times when we do not feel ready to go to church and worship. His thoughts are based on Psalm 73:16-17:

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

Here are some of thoughts:

…There are those Sundays when we feel as though we are not ready for worship. Our hearts are cold, our week was fraught with failure, and the idea of ‘going to church’ seems to be an exercise in futility if not an act of hypocrisy. Somehow, we believe the lie that it is better to stay home and try again next week when our hearts will be right. But the troubled soul is meant for corporate worship, and that is exactly where we need to be [At this point Thorn quotes Ps.73:16-17).

…The person who is slow to draw near to God because of sin or doubt is the person who will not find hope. Such is the man whose faith only continues to wither and whose strength continues to weaken, for in pulling back from the Lord and the means of grace, we deny ourselves access to the primary way in which God speaks to our hearts and lives. Staying home and licking our wounds does not heal but callouses the soul, making us increasingly less sensitive to the truth we need to hear.

The local church assembled for worshiping our triune God is the place where God’s Word and Spirit are at work to move us to repentance, revive our hearts, instruct our minds, and reveal to us the plan and purpose of God in all things.

…When we are not ready for church, we must remember that the church is ready for us. Jesus is ready for us. And grace abounds for the sinner who is willing to come to Christ (p.57).

God’s Gracious Call to His Weak and Sinful Worshipers – C.Griess

In the most recent issue of The Standard Bearer (June 2016) Rev. Cory Griess has a concluding article on his series on the public worship of the church in the rubric “O Come, Let Us Worship.”

SB-June-2016-cover

In this final article Rev.Griess finishes an exposition of Psalm 50 under the title “God Judges the Church’s Worship.” As we prepare to enter God’s covenantal assembly today, we do well to read Psalm 50 with care and prayer, applying our God’s Word to our hearts and minds.

Here is part of what Rev.Griess has to say by way of explanation of this passage, especially verses 14-15, “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: and call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”:

…Worship is not thinking that God needs us; worship is recognizing how much we need Him. What glorious words are spoken in this verse! The Israelites were to see their own need for the sacrifice they were bringing, not to think that their sacrifice was a work to earn God’s favor. What the text is saying is that consciously and experientially realizing one’s need for God is worship!

Instead of coming to church because we think we are pacifying Him or earning something from Him by giving our worship, we come to tell Him, ‘Lord, I have come from a week of trying to obey Thy law, and I have in some points, and even then imperfectly; but I have also failed in so many points. And, Lord, I am struggling with the burdens in my life. I am not able to carry on alone. And because of it, I am in my day of trouble. Deliver me from my sins in the blood of Thy Son. Speak to me Thy gospel. And in this covenantal meeting, receive me on the basis of the One who died for me. Speak peace to me. Convict me, encourage me, that I might carry on.’ This, God, says, is worship (p.406).

The Great God – Valley of Vision

ValleyofVisionBookFor our meditation and reflection this Lord’s Day, we post another prayer from the book The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett (Banner of Truth, c1975). This is taken from the first section of the book, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

May it lead us into pure and powerful worship of our great God this day.

O FOUNTAIN OF ALL GOOD,

Destroy in me every lofty thought,
Break pride to pieces and scatter it
to the winds,Annihilate each clinging shred of
self-righteousness,
Implant in me true lowliness of spirit,
Abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence,
Open in me a fount of penitential tears,
Break me, then bind me up;

Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling
for my God;
Then can the Father take up his abode in me,
Then can the blessed Jesus come with healing
in his touch,
Then can the Holy Spirit descend in
sanctifying grace;

O Holy Trinity, three Persons and one God,
inhabit me, a temple consecrated to thy glory.
When thou art present, evil cannot abide;
In thy fellowship is fullness of joy,
Beneath thy smile is peace of conscience,
By thy side no fears disturb,
no apprehensions banish rest of mind,
With thee my heart shall bloom with fragrance;
Make me meet, through repentance,
for thine indwelling.

Nothing exceeds thy power,
Nothing is too great for thee to do,
Nothing too good for thee to give.
Infinite is thy might, boundless thy love,
limitless thy grace, glorious thy saving name.

Let angels sing for
sinners repenting,
prodigals restored,
backsliders reclaimed,
Satan’s captives released,
blind eyes opened,
broken hearts bound up,
the despondent cheered,
the self-righteous stripped,
the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,
the ignorant enlightened,
and saints built up in their holy faith.

I ask great things of a great God.

On the music side of things, it may interest you to know that this book has also become the basis of an album by Sovereign Grace Music under the same title. And this particular meditation is the basis of a song titled “O Great God.” The new album coming out soon by the Voices of Victory contains this song. It has quickly become a favorite.

Here is an early version of it that we did, when we were still learning it: