Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Of Covenant Mercy

It would be difficult to say what was the best part of our trip to Europe for Sarah’s wedding – we enjoyed so many new and wonderful experiences, and received so much comfort and encouragement. But certainly one of the highlights was mealtime around this table where after we ate each meal we read from the Bible, sang and prayed.

2015-12-24 17.55.21

Another Toplady hymn to which we were introduced in this home was “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”, which like yesterday’s hymn can be sung to TREWEN.

1.  A debtor to mercy alone,

Of covenant mercy I sing;

Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,

My person and off’ring to bring.

The terrors of law and of God

With me can have nothing to do;

My Savior’s obedience and blood

Hide all my transgressions from view.

2. The work which His goodness began,

The arm of His strength will complete;

His promise is Yea and Amen,

And never was forfeited yet.

Things future, nor things that are now,

Nor all things below or above,

Can make Him His purpose forgo,

Or sever my soul from His love.

3. My name from the palms of His hands

Eternity will not erase;

Impressed on His heart it remains,

In marks of indelible grace.

Yes, I to the end shall endure,

As sure as the earnest is giv’n;

More happy, but not more secure,

The glorified spirits in Heav’n.  - sing to TREWEN

The wording may be a bit difficult to follow at first – especially for those unacquainted with old books – but these are lyrics well worth pondering out. I use the phrase ponder out because I think that the the concepts are perhaps just as unfamiliar as the wording.

The words struck me immediately and I wrote them in my Bible. And I pondered, “Does my Saviour’s obedience and blood really hide all my transgressions from view?”  “Whose view?” “When my colleagues and I tell seekers and troubled believers in our churches that Jesus died for our sins why don’t they respond the way we want them to respond?” “And what do we really believe about their sins anyway?” “We Christian workers use the word grace all the time, but what do we really think it looks like in real life? What does it feel like?”

2015-12-15 10.26.17

It is difficult to say whether I would have been drawn to this hymn in another time of life. But given where I stand now, it touched me more deeply than I can say.

Those of my readers who have followed me for a number of years will know of my interest in the history of Christianity in Japan during the Meiji period. At that time Christianity flourished to the extent that in the 1880s many thought Japan would soon be a Christian country. This blossoming of Christianity is often attributed to the desire for westernization.

Another blossoming took place in the years immediately after World War 2 and this likewise is explained as a consequence of the socio-economic influences of the times.

But as read I began to suspect something more was at work. I saw a frankness in earlier generations that I don’t often see now. An ability to look sin in the face and speak grace to it.

And as 2013 drew to a close I wrote in a little notebook I was keeping entitled “2015 – Who Will I Be?”:

When I’m 60 I want to be able to explain the gospel of grace to anyone anywhere without embarrassment – winsomely and in a way that connects with the listener.

…  (There followed here a description of how I planned to attain this ability.)

But mostly I want to “get it.” I want to be able to explain the gospel from any and every angle.

2015-09-15 22.10.45

Shortly after my 60th birthday

Now that I’m 60…  As I talked to one of my sons-in-law (a Christian) about this the other day I had the feeling that my powers of explanations could still use some work! But I think I “get it” now. However, I didn’t learn it in the nice safe way I had laid out in my notebook.

When I explained my prayers for 2014 and showed my notebook entry to a dear family member last year they responded, “What on earth did you pray that for?!”

What for, indeed?!

Its a question worth answering but its prayer meeting night and guests are arriving for supper.

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