Posts Tagged 'Grace'

Psalm 25: The College of Grace

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To you, O LORD, I lift my soul.
O my God, in you I trust.

–Psalm 25:1,2 (ESV)

The new school year brings with it a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Students of all ages worry whether they will make new friends in a new school, whether their coursework will be manageable, or whether their teachers or professors will be gentle or tyrannical. College freshmen wonder how they will survive living away from the comforts of home and school. Eagerness and dread blend together in a classic combination so unique to this time of year.

Poised to enter my senior year of college, I sympathize with all students who have an intimidating course of study to return to next month, but I think particularly of the incoming college freshmen. Three short years ago I was in their shoes, losing sleep over hundreds of questions (both important and totally unimportant) about what my life would look like. If I could travel back those three years, I often wonder what words of wisdom I might have for my freshman self. I think it would be a relatively short list: avoid the fish tacos, take more communication classes, and don’t expect hot water on the third floor of the dorm at 6 a.m. But above all these practical tips, there would certainly be one piece of advice in bold print: Study Psalm 25.

In Hebrew Psalm 25 is an acrostic. In other words, each verse begins with the successive letters of the alphabet. As it turns out, Psalm 25 presents not just a literal alphabet but also a spiritual alphabet, a set of principles for wise living in a foolish world. The more of college I experience, the more I recognize the stores of wisdom this psalm offers to all of us who are students in the lifelong course of the Christian walk.

“Let me not be put to shame.” I can definitely recall times in my college experience when I felt ashamed: maybe it was the disappointing grade I got on a paper, or the conflict I handled poorly, or the times when I failed to meet my own expectations. “Let not my enemies exult over me.” There are enemies in college too—perhaps not actual bullies, most of the time, but the triple evils that attack Christians in their walk: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Whether or not you attend a Christian school, you will feel these pressures at some point, and there will be times when you feel that they have triumphed over you.

The world tries to paper over the shame and disappointment we experience with pep talks about success and self-definition. Be your own person! Rise above your circumstances! Take control of your destiny! Surprisingly, this is the very opposite of the psalmist’s solution. His answer sounds passive, even paralyzing: “None who wait for you shall be put to shame.” Far from blazing his own trail, the psalmist seeks directions to a pre-existing path: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” He describes waiting on God “all the day long,” a discipline that seems thankless and fruitless. Yet it is here, according to this psalm, that the believer will find true success.

In The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon pictures Psalm 25 as the request of a little child: “Father, first tell me which is the way, and then teach my little trembling feet to walk in it.” If there is one thing college has taught me, it is that I often do not know the way. As a freshman, I loved to picture myself excelling in all my classes, surrounded by groups of great friends, and pressing forward to exciting prospects after graduation. God has provided many of these blessings, and they are blessings indeed. But it is impossible to really enjoy such gifts without a kind of wisdom that no college can impart, a wisdom gained from the humbling experience of waiting upon God through times of doubt and hardship as well as ease and assurance.

While the path may often seem steep or overgrown, Psalm 25 promises that those who wait upon the Lord will receive this heavenly wisdom. “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” If you can take one verse with you through your college education—and through the rest of life’s difficult decisions as well—let this be it. Do you need to confess nagging sin? Do you doubt your strength to follow Jesus all the way to the end? Do you feel lonely and homesick? Psalm 25 offers you a spiritual alphabet to remind you of the wisdom that comes from above. It is a syllabus that will guide you successfully through all the halls and corridors of what Spurgeon called “the college of grace.”

–MRK

Lord’s Day 24: A Gift of Grace

Catechism and Psalter

“How are you right with God?  Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.”  Through its sixty-one questions and answers thus far, the Heidelberg Catechism has been unequivocally clear: Mankind is sinful beyond hope and deserving of God’s wrath, and our salvation comes only from the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  We can never hope to be saved by our good works.

However, in Lord’s Day 24 (today’s focus in our URC Psalmody series), the Catechism pauses to probe this possibility one last time: Do good works help us not at all, not even a tiny little bit?  These are common challenges from opponents of Calvinism, but the Catechism’s answers are wonderfully sound.

62 Q.  Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?

A.  Because the righteousness
which can pass God’s scrutiny
must be entirely perfect
and must in every way measure up to the divine law.
Even the very best we do in this life
is imperfect
and stained with sin.

63 Q.  How can you say that the good we do doesn’t earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next?

A.  This reward is not earned;
it is a gift of grace.

64 Q.  But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A.  No.
It is impossible
for those grafted into Christ by true faith
not to produce fruits of gratitude.

Suggested Songs

20, “Who, O Lord, with Thee Abiding” (Psalm 15)

“The righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect.”  Psalm 15 opens by asking, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?  Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (ESV)  Indeed, who can measure up to the perfect standard of God’s law?  If viewed apart from the saving grace of Christ, this psalm leaves us feeling empty and despairing.  The Psalter Hymnal versifies it thus:

He that slanders not his brother,
Does no evil to a friend;
To reproaches of another
He refuses to attend.
Wicked men win not his favor,
But the good who fear the Lord;
From his vow he will not waver,
Though it bring him sad reward.

Freely to the needy lending,
No excess he asks again;
And the innocent befriending,
He desires not praise of men.
Doing this, and evil spurning,
He shall nevermore be moved;
This the man with Thee sojourning,
This the man by Thee approved.

2, “Blest is He Who Loves God’s Precepts” (Psalm 1)

(Sung on YouTube)

“Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.”  Such a bleak truth clashes horribly with the beautiful descriptions of the “righteous man” in Psalm 1.  But how comforting it is to know that these requirements have been fulfilled by the truly righteous God-man, Jesus Christ—and that we are saved through faith in him:

Blest is he who makes the statutes
Of the Lord his chief delight,
In the law of God rejoicing,
Meditating day and night.

Well the Lord will guard the righteous,
For their way to Him is known;
But the way of evildoers
Shall by Him be overthrown.

303, “O Sing Ye Hallelujah” (Psalm 147)

“This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.”  Psalm 147 extols God for his goodness and abundant blessings to those who deserve nothing from him:

O sing ye Hallelujah!
‘Tis good our God to praise;
‘Tis pleasant and becoming
To Him our songs to raise;
He builds the walls of Zion,
He seeks her wandering sons;
He binds their wounds
The brokenhearted ones.

No human power delights Him,
No earthly pomp or pride;
He loves the meek who fear Him
And in His love confide;
Then praise thy God, O Zion,
His gracious aid confess;
He gives thee peace and plenty,
His gifts thy children bless.

His statutes and His judgments
He makes His people know;
To them as to no others
His grace He loves to show;
For matchless grace and mercy
Your grateful praises bring;
To Him give thanks forever,
And Hallelujah sing.

240, “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, by Trinity URC in St. Catharines, ON, and at Synod 2012)

“It is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.”  With an understanding of God’s grace and true faith, passages like Psalms 15 and 1 suddenly make sense.  We do good not so that we can be saved, but because we have been saved.  This is set forth in beautiful terms in “Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth,” a Psalter Hymnal favorite from Psalm 119:33-40.

Teach me, O Lord, Thy way of truth,
And from it I will not depart;
That I may stedfastly obey,
Give me an understanding heart.

In Thy commandments make me walk,
For in Thy law my joy shall be;
Give me a heart that loves Thy will,
From discontent and envy free.

Turn Thou mine eyes from vanity,
And cause me in Thy ways to tread;
O let Thy servant prove Thy Word
And thus to godly fear be led.

Turn Thou away reproach and fear;
Thy righteous judgments I confess;
To know Thy precepts I desire;
Revive me in Thy righteousness.

–MRK


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