Posts Tagged 'Sin'

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.


Lord’s Day 31: The Keys of the Kingdom

Catechism and Psalter

At first glance, Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism doesn’t seem nearly as appealing as some of the other sections of our confession.  Frankly, it may even come across as pretty harsh.  Do three questions and answers of this Catechism of comfort really need to be devoted to the difficult subject of church discipline?

Actually, the integrity of our faith and practice cannot be upheld without a clear understanding of this very topic.  How else can we distinguish the wheat from the tares and protect the church from being infiltrated by wolves in sheep’s clothing?  To be sure, unbelievers should feel welcome to visit a congregation, to “come as they are,” but unless they turn to Christ they have no right to identify themselves with his people and commune at his table.  Lord’s Day 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism, then, sets forth the true biblical teaching concerning the “keys of the kingdom.”  It’s to this section that we turn today in our continuing series here on URC Psalmody.

83 Q.  What are the keys of the kingdom?

A.  The preaching of the holy gospel
and Christian discipline toward repentance.
Both preaching and discipline
open the kingdom of heaven to believers
and close it to unbelievers.

84 Q.  How does preaching the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?

A.  According to the command of Christ:

The kingdom of heaven is opened
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to each and every believer that,
as often as he accepts the gospel promise in true faith,
God, because of what Christ has done,
truly forgives all his sins.

The kingdom of heaven is closed, however,
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to unbelievers and hypocrites that,
as long as they do not repent,
the anger of God and eternal condemnation
rest on them.

God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come,
is based on this gospel testimony.

85 Q.  How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?

A.  According to the command of Christ:

If anyone, though called a Christian,
professes unchristian teachings or lives an unchristian life,
if after repeated brotherly counsel,
he refuses to abandon his errors and wickedness, and,
if after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers,
he fails to respond also to their admonition—
such a one the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship
by withholding the sacraments from him,
and God himself excludes him from the kingdom of Christ.

Such a person,
when he promises and demonstrates genuine reform,
is received again
as a member of Christ
and of his church.

Suggested Songs

214, “Men Who Walk in Folly’s Way” (Psalm 107)

“Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.”  This section of Psalm 107 points clearly to God’s Word as “wisdom’s laws,” which only fools can deny—and suffer the consequences for their unbelief.  But for those who heed the gospel message and “cry/In their trouble” to Jehovah who saves, Christ offers grace and salvation.

Men who walk in folly’s way,
And to evil turn aside,
Find that sorrow will repay
Those who wisdom’s laws defied;
Down to death’s dark portals led,
They abhor their daily bread.

To Jehovah then they cry
In their trouble and He saves,
Sends compassionate reply,
Gives the health their spirit craves,
Rescues them with gracious aid
From the snares their folly laid.

Sons of men, awake to praise
God the Lord who reigns above,
Gracious in His works and ways,
Wondrous in redeeming love;
Let them all thank-offerings bring,
Celebrate His deeds, and sing.

271, “Through All the Years, May Israel Say” (Psalm 129)

Psalm 129 reflects both the positive and the negative aspect of question and answer 85.  In it Israel, the Old Testament church, reflects on God’s faithfulness to it even as it considers the punishment of “the foes of Zion,” those who make it their aim to break down the walls of God’s city.

Through all the years, may Israel say,
My bitter foes have oft assailed,
Have sought my hurt in fierce array,
Yet over me have not prevailed.

Though scars of conflict and distress
Remain to tell of trials past,
Jehovah in His righteousness
Has safely brought us through at last.

The foes of Zion shall be brought
To hopeless flight and put to shame;
Their wicked plans shall come to nought
And all mankind forget their name.

71, “I Waited for the Lord Most High” (Psalm 40)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Such a person, when he promises and demonstrates genuine reform, is received again as a member of Christ and of his church.”  A discussion of church discipline in the form of excommunication could easily take the form of a harsh judgment, but this attitude is in no way biblical.  The ultimate goal of discipline is to bring the wayward sinner back to Christ and his fold, not to devote him to hell’s destruction.  Even the form for excommunication in the back of our blue Psalter Hymnal contains this prayer:

And since Thou desirest not the death of the sinner, but that he ay repent and live, and since the bosom of Thy Church is always open for those who return, kindle Thou, therefore, in our hearts a godly zeal, that we, with good Christian admonitions and example, may seek to bring back this excommunicated person, together with all those who through unbelief and recklessness of life go astray.  Add Thy blessing to our admonitions, that we thereby may have reason to rejoice again in them for whom we must now mourn, and that thus Thy holy name may be praised, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 40 is the song of a sinner freshly rescued “from destruction’s pit/And from the miry clay,” words which all of the redeemed would do well to bear in mind.  Realizing the punishment from which every one of us has been saved, how can we view the discipline of our fellow humans with anything but deep compassion?  O how thankful we must be that the Lord exhibits an abundance of grace even to the most wayward of sinners.

I waited for the Lord Most High,
And He inclined to hear my cry;
He took me from destruction’s pit
And from the miry clay;
Upon a rock He set my feet,
And stedfast made my way.

A new and joyful song of praise
He taught my thankful heart to raise;
And many, seeing me restored,
Shall fear the Lord and trust;
And blest are they that trust the Lord,
The humble and the just.


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.


Psalm 143: I Am Your Servant

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!

–Psalm 143:1 (ESV)

URC Psalmody’s journey through the Psalter began with the beginning of URC Psalmody itself, back on December 31, 2011.  To avoid getting “bogged down” in one area of the psalms, I decided to split the series into two different trails: one beginning with Psalm 103, the other beginning with Psalm 48. While this journey is still far from complete (with Psalms 1-47, 68-102, and 144-150 awaiting their own posts), it’s a bit surprising nonetheless to come to Psalm 143 and realize that it is the last lament of the Psalter.

Even from the cross-references provided in the ESV Study Bible, we can see the clear connection of Psalm 143 with earlier laments: Psalm 140:6, 31:1, 130:3, and 88:3-6, just to name a few.  Perhaps its closest cousin is Psalm 77, which includes both a desolate cry for help and a call to remember the Lord’s mighty deeds in the past.  But one unique aspect of Psalm 143 is its beautiful confession of guilt in v. 2: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”  This psalm also contains a direct appeal to the guiding work of the Holy Spirit in v. 10, and ends on a note of confidence that is both an unusual conclusion to the psalms of lament, and a wonderful transition to the final seven songs in the Psalter:

For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

–vv. 11, 12

As is our custom, today we’ll briefly consider the blue Psalter Hymnal’s two versifications of Psalm 143.

294, “Lord, Hear Me in Distress”

When it comes to psalms of lament and imprecation, the 1912 Psalter and, by extension, the Psalter Hymnal have a nasty habit of dialing down the weight and power of the inspired text.  Thankfully, for Psalm 143 that is not the case.  In fact, the text of number 294 is one of the best I’ve seen throughout the Psalter Hymnal.  Despite the challenge of setting the words to a short and rather unusual meter (, the creators of this versification managed to preserve the nuances of the psalm exceptionally well.  The poetry is conducive, too, especially in stanzas like the fourth:

My failing spirit see,
O Lord, to me make haste;
Hide not Thy face from me,
Lest bitter death I taste.
O let the morn return,
Let mercy light my day;
For Thee in faith I yearn,
O guide me in the way.

DENBY is a fairly unique tune composed by Charles J. Dale in 1904.  A number of tunes have been implemented for this psalm setting in its various incarnations, but I tend to like the flow and mood of the melody included here.  Just let the musician be careful not to speed through these powerful words of desolation and hope!

295, “When Morning Lights the Eastern Skies”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

In some United Reformed congregations, this excerpt from Psalm 143 has traditionally served as a response to the silent prayer at the opening of morning worship.  Basically it is a setting of Psalm 143:8-11, less literal than number 294 but no less accurate to the inspired text.  The tune, also composed in 1904, is sufficiently meditative for these solemn yet hopeful words.  “When Morning Lights the Eastern Skies” would serve well as a response to the reading of God’s law, or in many other places in the worship service.

Perhaps it is particularly fitting that Psalm 143 should wrap up the genre of laments within the Psalter.  It starts with the realization that the Lord owes us nothing but punishment—“for no one living is righteous before you”—yet it rests in the assurance of his unmerited grace.  It acknowledges the terrible threats posed to us by our mortal enemies, but declares God to be our everlasting refuge.  It looks back on his mighty deeds of old as proof that his mercies are new every morning.  And it ends with this intensely personal confession:

And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

Remove mine enemy,
My cruel foe reward;
In mercy rescue me
Who am Thy servant, Lord.


Lord’s Day 15: He Shouldered the Curse

Catechism and Psalter

When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, it’s all too easy to rattle off each clause without devoting our full attention to the words.  “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell…”  The Heidelberg Catechism, however, reminds us that the Creed is a careful and thorough summary of the tenets of Christianity by carefully and thoroughly examining its contents.  Today in our URC Psalmody series on the Heidelberg Catechism we turn to Lord’s Day 15.

37 Q.  What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

A.  That during his whole life on earth,
but especially at the end,
Christ sustained
in body and soul
the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.

This he did in order that,
by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice,
he might set us free, body and soul,
from eternal condemnation,
and gain for us
God’s grace,
and eternal life.

38 Q.  Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

A.  So that he,
though innocent,
might be condemned by a civil judge,
and so free us from the severe judgment of God
that was to fall on us.

39 Q.  Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?

A.  Yes.
This death convinces me
that he shouldered the curse
which lay on me,
since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.

Suggested Songs

126, “Save Me, O God” (Psalm 69)

“During his whole life on earth, but especially at the end…”  It can be easy to forget that Jesus’ suffering did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; his entire life on earth, from his lowly birth in a stable to the moment he cried, “It is finished,” was a life of affliction and pain, both physical and spiritual.  As Psalm 69 says, it was Christ’s zeal for his Father’s house and its worshippers that caused this suffering.

Save me, O God, because the floods
Come in upon my soul,
I sink in depths where none can stand,
Deep waters o’er me roll.

It is for Thee I am reproached,
For Thee I suffer shame,
Until my brethren know me not,
And hated is my name.

It is my zeal for Thine abode
That has consumed my life;
Reproached by those reproaching Thee,
I suffer in the strife.

147, “I Thought upon the Days of Old” (Psalm 77)

“Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.”  Psalm 77 gives us just a glimpse of the wrath of God which Christ endured for our sakes.

My heart inquired with anxious care,
Will God forever spurn?
Shall we no more His favor see?
Will mercy ne’er return?

Forever shall His promise fail?
Has God forgotten grace?
Has He withdrawn His tender love,
In anger hid His face?

O God, most holy is Thy way,
Most perfect, good, and right;
Thou art the only living God,
The God of wondrous might.

34, “My God, My God, I Cry to Thee” (Psalm 22)

“This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.”  Psalm 22 sets forth for us the agony of Christ on the cross, but it does not stop there; it also goes on to show the glories of salvation.

My God, My God, I cry to Thee;
O why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Afar from Me, Thou dost not heed,
Though day and night for help I plead.

My words a cause for scorn they make,
The lip they curl, the head they shake,
And, mocking, bid Me trust the Lord
Till He salvation shall afford.

Down unto death Thou leadest Me,
Consumed by thirst and agony;
With cruel hate and anger fierce
My helpless hands and feet they pierce.

O Lord, afar no longer stay;
O Thou My Helper, haste, I pray;
From death and evil set Me free;
I live, for Thou didst answer Me.

213, “Rebels, Who Had Dared to Show” (Psalm 107)

“This death convinces me that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.”  The previous three psalms reflect Christ’s experience, but what of ours?  What was the penalty we deserved, and how was it paid?  This section of Psalm 107 beautifully illustrates our plight and the deliverance wrought by God.

Rebels, who had dared to show
Proud contempt of God Most High,
Bound in iron and in woe,
Shades of death and darkness nigh,
Humbled low with toil and pain,
Fell, and looked for help in vain.

To Jehovah then they cried
In their trouble, and He saved,
Threw the prison open wide
Where they lay to death enslaved,
Bade the gloomy shadows flee,
Broke their bonds and set them free.

Sons of men, awake to praise
God the Lord who reigns above,
Gracious in His works and ways,
Wondrous in redeeming love;
Iron bars He breaks like clay,
And the brazen gates give way.

With these words in mind, we ought to find ourselves paying more attention next time we recite the part of the Apostles’ Creed that says Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell.”  This confession should motivate us to turn in disgust from our sins and cling rejoicing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered and died that we might live.


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