Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Blessed is the Man Whose Iniquities are Forgiven

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.[i]

The text says: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven”; that is to say: Blessed are they who by grace are freed from the burden of iniquity, namely of the actual sins which they have committed.  That, however, is not sufficient, unless also their “sins are covered,” that is, unless the radical evil which is in them, (original sin), is not charged to them as sin.  That is, covered when, though still existing, it is not regarded, considered and imputed by God; as we read” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”[ii]

Take this text to heart!  There is a difference between believing in God and believing God.  Luther tells us that, “To believe in God means to trust Him always and everywhere.” There are those who think that everyone else is always to blame and not themselves, and those who feel that when things go wrong they themselves are probably the cause.  The former want you to live in guilt for their own relief; the latter spend too much time poking their own guilt with the stick of self-accusation.  Of course many sway between these two opposite poles.

The awakened Christian soul increasingly spends less and less time in projecting blame and guilt on others, but runs the danger of proceeding from necessary self-condemnation and legitimate guilt to a morbid state of unrelieved guilt.  Martin Luther, prior to his discovery of justification by faith had that problem.  Luther attempted to confess to Von Staupitz every sinful thing he may have done.  It took six hours. Von Staupitz is reported to have written later, "I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him.” As I remember it his confessor Staupitz finally said something like “For Pete’s sake, Martin, grow a thick skin!”[iii] 

Now, that may be apocryphal, but the point isn’t.  It isn’t possible to confess all your sins, real and imagined, because the human soul, trapped in original sin, is a bottomless pit of iniquity. Confession is both necessary and helpful as John says:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [iv]

Making a good confession is a response to saving grace, not a means of salvation, and you can’t save your “self” by making a perfect confession very simply because you are not perfect, and it is necessary for that old sinful self to die to itself in order that it might be reborn.  That is why it is both spiritually and psychologically necessary for us to be saved by grace through faith.  There is no other way that will either work or satisfy the soul.
With all of that said, it is necessary once more to go back to the source of forgiveness.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.[v]

We must always go back there and look on Christ crucified.  The wise advice of one of my fellow Scots was this, “"For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ."[vi]

[i] Psalm 32:1-2 ESV
[ii] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1976), p.83
[iii] Quoted from my tricky memory of a lecture long, long, ago.
[iv] 1 John 1:8-10 
[v] Isaiah 53:4-7  
[vi] The Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne.

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