True Religion Before God and the Father – H.Hanko

faithmadeperfect-hhanko-2015The Reformed Free Publishing Association has recently published a new commentary on the epistle of James by Prof. Herman Hanko (emeritus, PRC Seminary). It carries the title Faith Made Perfect: Commentary on James (RFPA, 2015).

Doing some reading in it this morning led me to these two quotes that are also fitting for us on this Lord’s Day when we are called to practice “true religion and undefiled before God and the Father” (1:27). And that is contrast to a religion that is “vain” because we do not bridle our tongues (1:26).

Here is some of what Prof.Hanko says about these verses in the end of James 1:

The word translated as ‘vain’ [1:26] is not kenos, which means empty, but mataios, which means aimless. It refers to a religion that is without purpose, without fruit, without any goal, when the goal of one’s life ought to be the glory of God and praise to him who is alone worthy of it. Everything he does in the practice of religion is purposeless. His singing in church, his giving alms, and his careful attention to religious practices – all are without purpose, for they are only outward. God is not praised; nothing that man does is of any benefit to himself or to God, all because he does not know how to bridle his tongue. That is a devastating indictment (pp.78-79).

And then on the next verse, v.27, Hanko has this to say:

The addition of ‘Father’ is remarkable. It immediately puts all worship in the context of a father-son relationship. Worship is family fellowship – fellowship between a Father and his children. It is a relationship of love and mutual joy. It is a confession, with all that is implied, that worship is conversation between our Father in heaven and his children. It is conversation between our Father in heaven and his children on earth. Thus true religion before the Father is also religion that preserves the proper ‘space’ between the almighty and eternal God and creatures who are very, very sinful children. True religion is praise to God for his love for us in Christ (pp.79-80)

Praying to a Hidden God – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoTonight our Sunday night discussion groups meet for this season’s final time (Faith PRC). As noted here before, this year we have been studying selected chapters out of Prof. Herman Hanko’s book on prayer, When You Pray (for the previous posts on this book, visit the Sunday posts beginning in January of this year; look at the calendar on the upper right-hand side of the homepage and run your mouse over the Sunday dates).

Tonight we are looking at the last two chapters, with the sixteenth chapter carrying the above title – “Praying to a Hidden God.” Also in these final chapters Hanko is treating “special problems” believers confront in their prayer lives. As this chapter title indicates, the problem of “praying to a hidden God” is a very real experience, borne out by the testimony of the psalmists in various places (cf. 30:7; 10:1; 44:24; 88:14; 27:9; 69:17; 102:2; 143:7 – as well as Job 23:8,9).

Hanko properly points out that this experience can be according to reality, when, for example, we walk in sin (cf. Is.64:7 and 54:8); and it can be according to feeling only, as for example, when we do not receive an answer to our prayers or are going through a severe trial of our faith and God’s face seems to be hidden from us. But, whatever the reason for this divine face-hiding, the experience often leaves the child of God in distress and doubt.

Concerning that, at the end of the chapter, Hanko has some comforting thoughts, which we share here today. These apply especially to the experience of God hiding His face when we are in great sufferings and afflictions.

…As far as our experience is concerned, we are abandoned by God when he is hidden.

Luther often spoke of this as the dreadful part of his anfechtungen. He insisted that in these experiences of life, we actually endure the sufferings of Christ. But there is a purpose. The sufferings that we are called to endure, because we are abandoned as Christ was, drive us more closely into Christ and make us more and more a part of him and his blessed body. When we submit to our sufferings as sent by God, when we refuse to rebel, and when we humbly receive these sufferings from God’s hand, then we enter into Christ’s sufferings and into the fellowship of his salvation.

Hence submission to God’s will in our sufferings is crucially important. When, therefore, God is hidden from us, we cry to him to return to us. God brings us into Christ’s fellowship and the fellowship of his sufferings, and he delivers us as he delivered his own dear Son. Suffering is for our salvation. It works our salvation because it drives us deeper into Christ and fellowship with him.

The hidden God becomes the God who is near, who smiles upon us with the glorious sunshine of his favor, and who fills us with the consciousness of his presence through Christ and for Christ’s sake. God delivers us, purified and strengthened, prepared more completely for everlasting fellowship with him in heaven (pp.150-51).

The “Problem” of Unanswered Prayer (2) – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoIn connection with our church’s (Faith PRC) Sunday night discussion groups, we have been considering some of the subjects covered in Prof. Herman Hanko’s book on prayer, When You Pray (for the previous posts on this book, visit the Sunday posts beginning in January of this year; look at the calendar on the upper right-hand side of the homepage and click on the Sunday dates).

As I pointed out last Sunday, in chapter 14 (“a problem connected with petitionary prayer”) Hanko treats something every believer has wrestled with – the problem of “unanswered” prayer, or perhaps better, “unfulfilled” prayer, since as Hanko points out, no prayer of the Christian is unanswered; God answers every single one.

Today I quote from the section where Hanko continues to give the“solution to the problem” of apparent unanswered prayer in the life of the Christian. May these thoughts also serve to provide us peace as well as direction as we pray.

…The solution lies in a close examination of Jesus’ words [His ‘seemingly unconditional promise to give us whatever we ask’, Matt.7:7-11]. These words will make clear to us that whatever we ask will be given us only when we ask according to God’s will or ask in Jesus’ name. This is important and a severely limiting qualification. The text makes clear that we will be given what is the will of God because it speaks of asking in Jesus’ name.

If we look at this qualification from the viewpoint of God himself, the meaning very obviously is that he will grant us only what he has willed to grant us. Never will he give anything contrary to his will. And he will grant us only that which Christ, who perfectly knows the will of God for us, asks the Father to give.

We may be thankful for this, for only what God has willed, and what Christ asks, will serve our salvation. Anything else would destroy forever the possibility of our being saved.

But if we look at this qualification from our viewpoint, the limiting factor means that we are to make our prayers with the humble petition that God’s will be done. We may ask whatever we desire from our Father, but we must always qualify our requests with the prayer ‘Thy will be done.’ This should not be a routine addition that we hope will, after all, be a magic formula to secure for us what we want, but it needs to be our humble confession that we want nothing else but God’s will.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are really praying for God’s will to be done. We ask in the full consciousness that all that the Father gives us comes only because of the meritorious work of our Savior. We deserve nothing, after all. …What have I deserved? What have I merited with God? Nothing, for all is forfeited by sin. What we do receive is given us according to the will of God through Jesus Christ.

Thus we pray, always in humble dependence upon the great wisdom of our God. The unconditional promises are made concerning true prayer; and true prayer is always made by one who lives in conscious dependence on God and prays in humble submission to his will (121-122).

The “Problem” of Unanswered Prayer – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoOur church (Faith PRC) discussion groups will be meeting tonight to discuss chapters 14 and 15 of Prof. Herman Hanko’s book on prayer, When You Pray (for the previous posts on this book, visit the Sunday posts beginning in January of this year).

Once again, this has made for good reading on the subject of prayer, specifically “a problem connected with petitionary prayer” (chap.14) and “perseverance in prayer” (chap.15), the two subjects of these chapters. We look forward to our treatment of these matters tonight in our group.

Today I lift a quote from chap.14 where Hanko begins to give the “solution to the problem” of apparent unanswered prayer in the life of the Christian.

I believe you will find his thoughts helpful and encouraging as you too face this “problem” (on our end) in your own prayer life.

We must first of all remind ourselves that prayer is always answered. Not one prayer that has ever been made in all the history of the world has gone unanswered by our heavenly Father. We may not speak of unanswered prayer, for it simply never happens.

But this does not mean that we are always given that for which we ask. We have no promise in Scripture that this will happen, and life is full of experiences that show us how true this is. Not to receive that for which we ask is also God’s answer. The answer is No.

Even when God cannot, according to his own eternal purpose, grant us what we seek, he still cares for us. He may not remove the burden, but he gives us strength to bear it. He may not take the problem away, but he gives wisdom that we may know what to do. He may not alleviate the suffering, but his grace is sufficient for every need. He may not heal, but when we die, he takes us to heaven. Above all, he gives us himself to be our companion and friend so that we need never walk alone (120-21).

Should We Pray Incessantly to Receive Answered Prayer? ~H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoFor our next Sunday night discussion group meeting we will be looking at two more chapters in Prof. (emeritus) Herman Hanko’s book on prayer, When You Pray.

I have been reading from the fourteenth chapter (“A Problem Connected with Petitionary Prayer”), where Hanko treats the tension between Jesus’ promise that whatever we ask the Father in His name He will grant (e.g. John 16:23-24) and the reality that the prayers of God’s people are not always answered as we seek and ask (as, e.g., Paul with regard to his thorn, 2 Cor.12:7-9).

In seeking to answer this “problem”, Hanko raises the question, “Is incessant prayer the solution?” And here he has some good things to say about the nature of our persistent prayers when God seems not to answer us.

Continuing our posts of selections from this fine work, we quote from this section today.

…Scripture calls us, in some instances, to be persistent in prayer when we do not immediately receive the things for which we ask.

However, some have a wrong notion of persistence. They hold to the idea that if only we will bombard heaven with prolonged and unceasing petitions, God will be prevailed upon to grant us these things. Or if only we come with enough people to storm heaven’s gates, God will, because of overwhelming numbers, give in to that which we seek. This seems often to be the idea behind prayer groups and prayer chains. It is not, of course, wrong for saints to come together for prayer. We are, in fact, urged to do this. But if our motive is to convince God of our requests by force of sheer numbers, we have a very carnal idea of prayer, which makes our prayers an abomination before God.

…The idea that incessant prayer and fervent prayer will guarantee our receiving that for which we ask – even if we want only material riches – seems to be the basic error behind the book The Prayer of Jabez. The author of this book considers the prayer of Jabez, which one can find in 1 Chronicles 4:10, a sort of magic incantation which, if prayed every day and frequently through the day, will guarantee success in obtaining from God what we desire. Although the book is a best seller, it is evil and leads God’s people into erroneous ideas concerning prayer. It is well to remember that no tricks on our part can manipulate God. He is too great for that (119-120).

Carefulness in Prayer – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoIn the chapter following that on prayer and chastisement in his book When You Pray (RFPA, 2006), Prof. (emeritus, PRC Seminary) Herman Hanko has a chapter on “Carefulness In Prayer”, where he gives instruction on yet another important aspect of our prayer life.

I quote today from the opening part of this chapter where Hanko is explaining why carefulness is important:

…Although we must always be careful in our prayers to pray according to the will of God, carefulness is especially necessary when the Lord chastises us. It is possible, when chastised, to be resentful and rebellious, unwilling to submit to God’s will, determined to escape his chastening hand in whatever way we are able. At least our first reaction to chastisement is almost always such rebellion. And it is a temptation against which we fight as long as God is not pleased to remove his chastening hand.

There are other reasons as well why we ought to be careful in our prayers. It is entirely possible that we ask the Lord for the wrong things. We may do this because we think that somehow God is making a mistake in his dealings with us. Or perhaps we are of the opinion that we ought to have something that he has not been pleased to give. And so we are insistent on our desires, and we clamor incessantly for what we want, much as a child continues to beg and cajole a reluctant parent for something he really ought not to have. We are even able to persuade ourselves, by some specious argumentation, that for God to give us what we seek from him would enable us to serve him better, to make great contributions to the cause of his kingdom, and to be more effective in the calling to witness to Christ in word and deed (93).

After showing the spiritual danger of praying for the satisfaction of such lusts from the biblical example of the Israelites in the wilderness (cf. Numbers 11 with Psalm 106:14-15), Hanko makes this application:

We have to be careful when we want something so very badly that we clamor almost without interruption for our desire to be satisfied. Be careful! It may very well be that God, in anger and disgust, finally says, ‘All right, I will give you what you want. But you will soon learn that what you want is not good for you and does harm to your spiritual life. What you want brings more troubles and sorrows than you can possibly imagine’ (94).

Good food for thought as often as we pray privately and publicly.

Boldness in Prayer – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoTonight for our discussion groups we will be treating two chapters from Herman Hanko’s book, When You Pray: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer (RFPA, 2006). The second of these chapters treats “Humility and Boldness” in prayer. And as Hanko shows, these two are not mutually exclusive but closely related. Both are rooted in the faith that gives us the right and the power to come into our heavenly Father’s presence and ask Him for the things we need.

Here are a few appropriate thoughts from this chapter:

Boldness does not forget the vast chasm between the great God and feeble, insignificant man. It is surely true that there are times, when, in the consciousness of our sin, we dare not lift our eyes to heaven. We can, and must, be like the prodigal son whose feet dragged more and more heavily the nearer he came to his father’s house.

The very texts in Hebrews that speak of boldness speak also of how this boldness is possible. Hebrews 4:14 tells us that we have a sympathetic High Priest who is touched with the feeling of all our infirmities because he was tempted in all respects as we are, though without sin. He understands our struggles with sin, our miserable falls, our waywardness. He knows how we feel, how frightened we can be when the consciousness of sin overwhelms us. He has great sympathy for us and will never rebuke us when we come to God through him. This is a great comfort.

…What I am saying now is that boldness requires that we come to God in the confidence and assurance of faith. Hesitancy, terror, and shrinking fear are all contrary to faith.

…Faith is also assurance. It is a personal assurance that Christ accomplished salvation for me.

…This assurance is necessary for boldness. We are confident that God will receive us no matter how undeserving we are, and that he will, according to his own promise, bless us in Christ.

…Boldness and humility come together, therefore, in thankfulness and praise to God for his mighty works of grace for us. We recognize our sins and the wonder of his grace to us. We humble ourselves before him, confessing that all we receive is by grace alone. In gratitude for such blessings, we confidently come to him, knowing that for Christ’s sake he will surely give us all things, 38-39.

Word Wednesday – “Semper Reformanda”

Last year for our “Word Wednesday” feature during Reformation week we focused on one Reformation motto in Latin: post tenebras lux.

semper reformandaThis year let’s consider another familiar one: semper reformanda. The meaning simply is: “always reforming”. We may know it more fully by the statement, “Reformed and always reforming.”

This important motto refers to the fact that every truly Reformed church will always be a reforming church, that is, a body of believers who are constantly striving to ensure that she remains faithful to the Word of God on which her faith, life, and worship are based. After all, that’s what the Re-formation was about – the re-forming of the church according to the Scriptures, as the church’s only authority (sola Scriptura!). And, after all, that’s what it means to be – and stay! – Reformed: always to be conforming to the Bible’s teachings with regard to doctrine, walk of life, and worship practices.

If you wish to explore this motto and subject further, I can point you to a couple of places:

  • This 2009 Tabletalk article by Michael Horton under the title “Semper Reformanda”.
  • This 1981 Standard Bearer article (actually, there are three of them) by Herman Hanko, which is the text of a Reformation Day lecture he gave in Hudsonville PRC on Oct.30, 1980. Here is part of what Prof.Hanko said that night at the beginning of his lecture:

When we give to our churches the name Reformed, we mean that we want our spiritual lineage to be traced back to that mighty event: We want to claim Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers as our spiritual fathers. Once a year on Reformation Day we look back to that event which happened over 450 years ago and point to it with thankfulness to God and say to others and to ourselves, “That event belongs to our history as Reformed churches.”

But there is surely more. When we call ourselves Reformed, we insist that we are re-formed. And we are not only re-formed because 450 years ago the church was re-formed by the hand of God, but we are re-formed and, therefore, Reformed because reformation is always, in every moment of the church’s life, the calling of the church of Jesus Christ. That is why a motto of the Reformed Churches for the last 450 years has been: “Reformed, yet always reforming.” By this motto our fathers meant to emphasize that it is the essential mark of being Reformed that the church is always reforming. The two go together and are inseparably connected. You cannot, says this motto, claim to be Reformed unless you are a church always reforming. The one mark, which clearly marks churches that belong to the Reformation is the mark of continuous reformation within her own ecclesiastical life.

That is the question, therefore, that faces us tonight. Are we as a church always reforming? This is a question which faces all of us.

And, I might add, still a question worth considering. This week of marking the great Reformation. And in all the days ahead. How “Reformed” are we, really?

Prayer is “lovers’ talk” – H.Hanko

When-You-Pray -HHankoFrom the first chapter (“The Idea of Prayer”) of Herman Hanko’s book When You Pray: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006), which our discussion groups at Faith PRC begin studying tonight:

Prayer is to the Christian what breathing is to a healthy person. Without breathing a person cannot live. Without prayer a Christian dies. Breathing is spontaneous; in many ways so is prayer.

Prayer is like a river that returns to its source, for prayer has its power in the Spirit of Christ working life in the heart of God’s child; that life returns again in prayer to God who gave it. It is the expression of the thirst for God that makes a stag panting after water brooks an apt simile (Ps.42:1).

Prayer is lovers’ talk, for it is a holy conversation between the living and eternal God and the redeemd child of God in which both speak to each other in the most intimate relationship of love.

Prayer is a child coming to his Father, knowing that his Father loves him and will provide for him in every need. We must begin our prayers, the Lord says, with ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ (p.1).

At the heading to this chapter Hanko also has this wonderful quotation from Charles H. Spurgeon:

Prayer is the lisping of the believing infant, the shout of the fighting believer, the requiem of the dying saint falling asleep in Jesus. It is the breath, the watchword, the comfort, the strength, the honour of a Christian. If thou be a child of God, thou wilt seek thy Father’s face, and live in thy Father’s love.