Posts Tagged 'Gratitude'

Lord’s Day 44: Only a Small Beginning

Catechism and Psalter

The Heidelberg Catechism expounds upon the Ten Commandments uniquely by demonstrating how they encompass every area of moral living.  Even the tenth commandment, which we’ll study today, relates to the whole law by stating “that not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Such an interpretation is devastating because it condemns every one of us.  But Lord’s Day 44 digs deeper than the mere prohibition of this commandment by asking and answering a difficult question: Why do the Ten Commandments still matter if we can’t obey them perfectly?  As always, the answer points to the glory of our gracious God.

113 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the tenth commandment?

A.  That not even the slightest thought or desire
contrary to any one of God’s commandments
should ever arise in my heart.

Rather, with all my heart
I should always hate sin
and take pleasure in whatever is right.

114 Q.  But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A.  No.
In this life even the holiest
have only a small beginning of this obedience.

Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose,
they do begin to live
according to all, not only some,
of God’s commandments.

115 Q.  No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

A.  First, so that the longer we live
the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ
for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that,
while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may never stop striving
to be renewed more and more after God’s image,
until after this lie we reach our goal:

Suggested Songs

237, “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way” (Psalm 119)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON, and by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in my heart.”  Like the apostle Paul, we realize that the law condemns us without exception.  “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18 ESV).  But like Paul, we as Christians also “delight in the law of God” in our inner being (v. 23), and attest that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).  We gladly echo the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:9-16, as versified in the blue Psalter Hymnal:

O blessed Lord, teach me Thy law,
Thy righteous judgments I declare;
Thy testimonies make me glad,
For they are wealth beyond compare.
Upon Thy precepts and Thy ways
My heart will meditate with awe;
Thy Word shall be my chief delight,
And I will not forget Thy law.

248, “How I Love Thy Law, O Lord” (Psalm 119)

“With all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.”  Psalm 119:97-104 expresses the joy of those who make God’s law their delight:

While my heart Thy Word obeys,
I am kept from evil ways;
From Thy law, with Thee to guide,
I have never turned aside.
Sweeter are Thy words to me
Than all other good can be;
Safe I walk, Thy truth my light,
Hating falsehood, loving right.

152, “Remember Not, O God” (Psalm 79)

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

“In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.”  Let’s be honest: the Catechism’s analysis of the Ten Commandments can be profoundly disturbing.  Can anyone fulfill the expectations of God’s law?  Even as we understand that we are saved by grace, not by works, what kind of obedience does Christ expect of us?

Thankfully, the answer the Catechism provides rests in God, not in us.  The Ten Commandments, it says, are to be preached so pointedly “so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.”  And, as the end of Psalm 79 reminds us, God will not remember those sins against us.

Remember not, O God,
The sins of long ago;
In tender mercy visit us,
Distressed and humbled low.

O Lord, our Savior, help,
And glorify Thy Name;
Deliver us from all our sins
And take away our shame.

Then, safe within Thy fold,
We will exalt Thy Name;
Our thankful hearts with songs of joy
Thy goodness will proclaim.

272, “Out of the Depths of Sadness” (Psalm 130)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

The Ten Commandments bring us face-to-face with the spiritual battle each of us must fight.  Our sinful natures have been conquered, but they have not yet been annihilated.  The Christian life is a constant struggle against vicious enemies on every side, including our own fallen flesh.  But we serve a gracious Savior who “will redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” as Psalm 130 teaches.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:56, 57).

Out of the depths of sadness,
O LORD, I cried to Thee;
Thou who canst fill with gladness,
Lend now Thine ear to me.
O Fount of consolation,
Attend unto my cry,
Hear Thou my supplication
And to my help draw nigh.

If Thou shouldst mark transgression,
O Lord, who then could stand?
For evil and oppression
Are found on every hand.
But Thou dost pardon fully
All our iniquity,
That we may serve Thee truly
And fear Thy majesty.

I wait for God to hide me;
My soul, with longing stirred,
Shall hope, whate’er betide me,
In His unfailing word.
My soul waits for Jehovah
With more intense desire
Than watchers for the morning
To dawn of day aspire.

Hope in the Lord, O nation!
For with Him there is grace
And plenteous salvation
For all who seek His face.
He shall redeem His people,
His chosen Israel,
From all their sin and evil,
And all their gloom dispel.


Lord’s Day 43: I Should Love the Truth

Catechism and Psalter

Once again we turn to the Ten Commandments and their treatment in the Heidelberg Catechism for the next installment in our nearly-complete URC Psalmody series.  Today’s focus is the ninth commandment (via Lord’s Day 43), which concerns false testimony against our neighbors.

112 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the ninth commandment?

A.  God’s will is that I
never give false testimony against anyone,
twist no one’s words,
not gossip or slander,
nor join in condemning anyone
without a hearing or without a just cause.

Rather, in court and everywhere else,
I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind;
these are devices the devil himself uses,
and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.
I should love the truth,
speak it candidly,
and openly acknowledge it.
And I should do what I can
to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

Suggested Songs

17, “Help, Lord, for Those Who Love Thee Fail” (Psalm 12)

“God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause.”  Although the imprecatory psalms do call for God’s judgment on the wicked, often their primary motive is to emphasize the danger of sin itself.  Psalm 12 concerns itself, as the Psalter Hymnal puts it, with “flattering lips” and “boasting mouths” that spew forth lies.  In contrast to these rebellious liars, the psalmist praises the Lord for his “pure words” (v. 6, ESV), and reassures himself that “you will guard us from this generation forever” (v. 7).

Help, Lord, for those who love Thee fail,
Thy faithful ones fall from the ranks,
And leave the liars to their tale,
False gratitude and treacherous thanks.

Lord, may those flattering lips be lashed,
The boasting mouths stripped of their pride,
Those tongues that murmur unabashed,
Who is this God? We shall abide!

And what He saith is purified
Like silver, sevenfold assayed.
Though by this evil age defied,
His word of truth shall be obeyed.

His promises shall stand secure,
His saints are safe, though ill betide;
He will protect His humble poor,
Though rogues are honored far and wide.

60, “Be Thou My Helper in the Strife” (Psalm 35)

(Sung by West Sayville URC on Long Island, New York)

“Lying and deceit of every kind…are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger.”  In Psalm 35 David laments the affliction he has undergone from those who bear false witness against him, but he looks expectantly to the Lord for justice and salvation.

Unrighteous witnesses have stood
And told of crimes beyond belief;
Returning evil for my good,
They overwhelm my soul with grief.
When in affliction they were sad,
I wept and made their grief my own;
But in my trouble they are glad
And strive that I may be o’erthrown.

O Lord, how long wilt Thou delay?
My soul for Thy salvation waits;
My thankfulness I will display
Amid the crowds that throng Thy gates.
Let not my enemies rejoice
And wrongfully exult o’er me;
They speak not peace, but lift their voice
To trouble those that peaceful be.

97, “O Mighty Man, Why Wilt Thou Boast” (Psalm 52)

“I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it.”  Grave judgment lies in store for those who love “evil more than good,” according to the Psalter Hymnal’s versification of Psalm 52.  In Christ’s words, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matt. 12:34, 35).

O mighty man, why wilt thou boast
Thyself in hateful cruelty,
When God Almighty is most kind,
And ever merciful is He?

Thy tongue deviseth wickedness,
A weapon treacherous and keen;
Thou lovest evil more than good,
And falsehood in thy sight is clean.

Since, O thou false, deceitful tongue,
In deadly words thou findest joy,
The Lord shall pluck thee from thy place
And all thy wickedness destroy.

63, “Fret Not Thyself, Nor Envious Be” (Psalm 37)

“I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”  Once again we conclude our study of this commandment with a call to wisdom from Psalm 37.  Envying the wicked for the prosperity they gain through fraud and deceit will only drag the Christian into depression and despair.  Rather, we ought to “Trust in the Lord and still do well,” in confidence that to the Lord our way is known.  “And to thy heart He will accord/The good it would possess.”

Fret not thyself, nor envious be,
When wicked workers thou shalt see,
Who prosper in their way;
For like the grass they perish soon,
And, like the herb cut down at noon,
They wither in a day.

Trust in the Lord and still do well,
Within the land securely dwell,
Feed on His faithfulness;
Delight thee also in the Lord,
And to thy heart He will accord
The good it would possess.

Yea, to the Lord thy way is known;
Confide in Him who on the throne
Abides in power divine;
Thy righteousness He shall display;
Resplendent as the light of day,
It shall unclouded shine.


Lord’s Day 42: He Forbids All Greed

Catechism and Psalter

As Lord’s Day 42 of the Heidelberg Catechism shows, the eighth commandment has to do with so much more than just the crime of stealing.  The concepts of selflessness, generosity, and good stewardship are all present in the exposition of this command.  Today in URC Psalmody’s continuing series we consider the words of this Lord’s Day.

110 Q.  What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

A.  He forbids not only outright theft and robbery,
punishable by law.

But in God’s sight theft also includes
cheating and swindling our neighbor
by schemes made to appear legitimate,
such as:
inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume;
fraudulent merchandising;
counterfeit money;
excessive interest;
or any means forbidden by God.

In addition he forbids all greed
and pointless squandering of his gifts.

111 Q.  What does God require of you in this commandment?

A.  That I do whatever I can
for my neighbor’s good,
that I treat him
as I would like others to treat me,
and that I work faithfully
so that I may share with those in need.

Suggested Songs

136, “God Loveth the Righteous, His Goodness is Sure” (Psalm 73)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“But in God’s sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate.”  Although theft is the most obvious violation of the eighth commandment, the Catechism probes deeper to reveal that the subtlest deceit or fraud on our part is equally condemnable.  As Asaph laments in Psalm 73, these “schemes made to appear legitimate” often garner great prosperity for the wicked in this life.  However, he also realizes that God’s wrath will certainly fall upon those who practice such sins.  Here are selected stanzas from the Psalter Hymnal:

The wicked are prospered and firm in their strength,
No pangs do they suffer, though death come at length;
They are not in trouble as other men are,
The plagues of their fellows they view from afar.

In garments of boasting and violence decked,
With wealth more abundant than heart could expect,
They scoff, and the helpless they proudly oppress,
The heavens and the earth they assume to possess.

The wicked, grown wealthy, have comfort and peace,
While I, daily chastened, see troubles increase,
And, wronging God’s children, I cried in my pain,
That clean hands are worthless and pure hearts are vain.

I went to God’s temple: my doubts were dispelled,
The end of life’s journey I clearly beheld;
I saw in what peril ungodly men stand,
With sudden destruction and ruin at hand.

157, “There Where the Judges Gather” (Psalm 82)

(Sung by Bethel URC in Jenison, MI)

“In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.”  Psalm 82 is a bold declaration of God’s wrath against men who use their power for selfish gain rather than benevolence.  God owns the very peoples themselves (stanza 3); how much more their puny stashes of wealth!

There where the judges gather
A Greater takes His seat;
How long, He asks the judges,
Will ye pronounce deceit?
How long respect the persons
Of them of ill repute?
How long neglect the orphaned,
The poor and destitute?

Deal justly with the needy,
Protect the fatherless,
Deliver the afflicted
From those who would distress.
But you are wholly blinded,
You do not understand;
Therefore foundations totter,
Injustice rocks the land.

He speaks: I named you rulers,
Sons of the Most High God;
But you shall die as mortals,
And perish by My rod.
Arise, Thou God of judgment,
Thy sovereignty make known;
For Thine shall be the nations,
The peoples Thou shalt own.

11, “Jehovah, My God, on Thy Help I Depend” (Psalm 7)

“That I do whatever I can for my neighbor’s good.”  In Psalm 7 David applies this principle even to his enemies, but laments that even these attempts at kindness have been returned with continued hatred.  However, he remains confident that the Lord will judge “all nations of men” and reward those who are “faithful and righteous in life.”  With New Testament eyes, we can add that God counts us among his faithful ones because of the work of Christ, even though all of us have broken the eighth commandment in some way.

When wronged without cause I have kindness returned;
But if I my neighbor maltreated and spurned,
My soul let the enemy seize for his prey,
My life and mine honor in dust let him lay.

All nations of men shall be judged by the Lord;
To me, O Jehovah, just judgment accord,
As faithful and righteous in life I have been,
And ever integrity cherished within.

Establish the righteous, let evil depart,
For God, who is just, tries the thoughts of the heart.
In God for defense I have placed all my trust;
The upright He saves and He judges the just.

64, “A Little That the Righteous Hold” (Psalm 37)

“[T]hat I work faithfully so that I may share with those in need.”  Psalm 37, a poem of wisdom, has much to say about the difference between the righteous and the wicked as it relates to the eighth commandment.  Even though earthly minds balk at the thought of using one’s wealth for the benefit of the poor, the Christian, recognizing that all of his riches are a gift from God, is ready and willing to share with those in need.  “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).

A little that the righteous hold
Is better than the wealth untold
Of many wicked men;
Destroyed shall be their arm of pride,
But they who in the Lord confide
Shall be upholden then.

He knows the days the perfect live,
To them a heritage will give
Which ever shall abide;
In evil times no shame they know,
And in the days of famine’s woe
They shall be satisfied.

Although the wicked prospered seem,
At last they vanish like a dream
And perish in a day;
Jehovah’s foes shall soon appear
Like fields once fair, now brown and sere;
Like smoke they fade away.

They borrow oft and pay not back;
But righteous men do nothing lack,
And give with gracious hand;
Those cursed by Him shall be destroyed,
But such as have His grace enjoyed,
They shall possess the land.


Lord’s Day 41: Temples of the Holy Spirit

Catechism and Psalter

Lord’s Day 41, the subject of today’s post in URC Psalmody’s Heidelberg Catechism series, reveals God’s will for the Christian’s life as it relates to the seventh commandment.

108 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the seventh commandment?

A.  God condemns all unchastity.
We should therefore thoroughly detest it
and, married or single,
live decent and chaste lives.

109 Q.  Does God, in this commandment, forbid only such scandalous sins as adultery?

A.  We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul,
and God wants both to be kept clean and holy.
That is why he forbids everything which incites unchastity,
whether it be actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires.

Suggested Songs

98, “Fools in Their Heart Have Said” (Psalm 53)

“God condemns all unchastity.”  The apostle James wrote that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10 ESV).  Indeed, in a broader sense Scripture teaches that we are the bride of Christ (cf. Eph. 5).  Thus, by disobeying him in any way and following the allures of the world, we are spiritually “unchaste.”  The psalmist recognized that this condition of spiritual adultery is the natural tendency of all mankind.  In the blue Psalter Hymnal’s terms:

God looked from heaven above
On all the human race,
To see if any understood,
If any sought His face.

They all are gone aside,
Corruption doth abound;
There is not one that doeth good,
Not even one is found.

Yea, God will put to shame
And make them flee away,
For He will cast them off in wrath
And fill them with dismay.

15, “O Why So Far Removed, O Lord” (Psalm 10)

“We should therefore thoroughly detest it.”  The negative example for the believer to heed and avoid is that of the hardened sinner.  Psalm 10 describes the actions and attitude of the wicked man, who has set himself so firmly against God that his laws are “too high for him to see.”  In a culture where unchastity and promiscuity are becoming less and less scandalous, the Christian’s first step must be to align himself with the eternal truth of God’s law.

O why so far removed, O Lord,
And why so distant be;
Why hidest Thou Thy face from us
In our anxiety?

The wicked in his arrogance
Refuses God to fear,
Nor is it in his thoughts at all
The sovereign God to hear.

His ways are grievous and Thy laws
Too high for him to see;
He therefore his defiance bids,
And taunts his enemy.

82, “A Goodly Theme Is Mine” (Psalm 45)

(Recorded on YouTube)

“We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, and God wants both to be kept clean and holy.”  The Christian, realizing that both his body and soul are set apart for God’s service, ought joyfully to resist any adulterous defilements of the world, clinging instead to his faithful Savior and Lord.  The battle against sin may not be easy, but our victory in Christ is sure.  Psalm 45 emphasizes the intimacy between Jesus and the people he has bought with his own blood—a story of redemption that is indeed “a goodly theme,” a joyful song.

A goodly theme is mine,
And eagerly I sing;
For bounteous words flow from my lips
As I salute the King.
Supremely fair He is,
In beauty peerless He;
For Him the favor of the Lord
Doth grace eternally.

O royal bride, give heed,
This King is now thy lord;
Forsake thy former loyalties,
Full fealty accord.
Thy beauty and thy grace
Will then delight the King;
And they to thee, since thou art His,
Their precious gifts will bring.

Enthroned in royal state
All glorious thou shalt dwell,
With garments fair, inwrought with gold,
His bride He loveth well.
And they who honor thee
Shall in thy train attend,
And to the palace of the King
Shall joyfully ascend.

Then in thy father’s place,
The sons of royal birth
Thou wilt endow with regal gifts
As princes of the earth.
Thy name shall be proclaimed
Through all succeeding days,
And all the peoples everywhere
Shall give Thee endless praise.


Lord’s Day 40: All Such Are Murder

Catechism and Psalter

Lord’s Day 40, our focus today in URC Psalmody’s ongoing Heidelberg Catechism series, addresses the Christian response to the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder.”

105 Q.  What is God’s will for us in the sixth commandment?

A.  I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor—
not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture,
and certainly not by actual deeds—
and I am not to be party to this in others;
rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.

I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.

Prevention of murder is also why
government is armed with the sword.

106 Q.  Does this commandment refer only to killing?

A.  By forbidding murder God teaches us
that he hates the root of murder:
envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness.

In God’s sight all such are murder.

107 Q.  Is it enough then that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way?

A.  No.
By condemning envy, hatred, and anger
God tells us
to love our neighbor as ourselves,
to be patient, peace-loving, gentle,
merciful, and friendly to him,
to protect him from harm as much as we can,
and to do good even to our enemies.

Suggested Songs

158, “O God, No Longer Hold Thy Peace” (Psalm 83)

(Sung by Grace URC in Dunnville, ON)

“I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds.”  Although the psalmist Asaph in Psalm 83 focuses on the evil intent of Israel’s enemies, he understands the true nature of their murderous plans.  In the words of the Psalter Hymnal’s adaptation, “And they who with Thy people strive/Make war, O God, with Thee.”  However, Asaph does not take revenge into his own hands, even in the words of this imprecatory psalm.  Rather, he pleads with God to “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD” (Psalm 83:16 ESV).  Asaph’s eyes are looking in the right direction: not with rage at his enemies, but with reverence at his God.

Thine ancient foes, conspiring still,
With one consent agree,
And they who with Thy people strive
Make war, O God, with Thee.
O God, who in our fathers’ time
Didst smite our foes and Thine,
So smite Thine enemies today
Who in their pride combine.

Make them like dust and stubble blown
Before the whirlwind dire,
In terror driven before the storm
Of Thy consuming fire.
Confound them in their sin till they
To Thee for pardon fly,
Till in dismay they, trembling, own
That Thou art God Most High.

258, “I Cried to God in My Distress” (Psalm 120)

“I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.”  The author of Psalm 120 clearly applied the sixth commandment to his own life, but it grieved him to see it so forcibly opposed by his companions.

Alas for me, whose lot is cast
With those who find their joy in strife!
With those who hate the paths of peace
I long have dwelt and spent my life.

In thought and act I am for peace,
Peace I pursue and ever seek;
But those about me are for strife,
Though I in love and kindness speak.

220, “O God, Whom I Delight to Praise” (Psalm 109)

“God tells us . . . to do good even to our enemies.”  Like Asaph and the author of Psalm 120, David in Psalm 109 approaches his enemies with love, even as he anticipates God’s judgment on them.  Although the Psalter Hymnal’s setting of Psalm 109 tends to embellish, its elaboration on vv. 3-5 is a helpful application of the sixth commandment.

Against me slanderous words are flung
From many a false and lying tongue;
Without a cause men hurl at me
The shafts of deadly enmity.

My good with evil they repay,
My love turns not their hate away;
The part of vengeance, Lord, is Thine;
To pray, and only pray, is mine.

101, “On God Alone My Soul Relies” (Psalm 55)

The keystone of Psalm 55 is its beloved exhortation, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (v. 22).  Indeed, vengeance belongs to God; prayer, love, and the selfless fruits of the Spirit are what belong to us.

On God alone my soul relies,
And He will soon relieve;
The Lord will hear my plaintive cries
At morning, noon, and eve.

He has redeemed my soul in peace,
From conflict set me free;
My many foes are made to cease,
And strive no more with me.

The living God in righteousness
Will recompense with shame
The men who, hardened by success,
Forget to fear His Name.

All treacherous friends who overreach
And break their plighted troth,
Who hide their hate with honeyed speech,
With such the Lord is wroth.

Upon the Lord thy burden cast,
To Him bring all thy care;
He will sustain and hold thee fast,
And give thee strength to bear.

God will not let His saints be moved;
Protected, they shall see
Their foes cut off and sin reproved;
O God, I trust in Thee.


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