In the recent magazine of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, my friend, the Rev Ian Hamilton of Cambridge reflects on the nature of sin. Fundamentally, sin turns us in on ourselves. it is congenitally incurvatus in se. It makes self and not God the ultimate referent in life, he says. This lies at the heart of many problems in the Christian life.
He quotes John Owen’s commentary on I John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins.” Owen, in a typically pastoral way, anticipated a query arising from a listener to his exposition: “I cannot find my heart making returns of love unto God. Could I find my soul set upon him, I could then believe that his soul delighted in me.” Owen responds:
“This is the most preposterous course that possibly thy thoughts can pitch upon…”Herein is love”, saith the Holy Ghost, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first. Now thou wouldst invert this order and say “herein is love, not that god loved me, but that I loved him first”… This is a course of flesh’s finding out that will never bring glory to God, nor peace to thy own soul. Lay down then thy reasonings; take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love.”
Ian says, “Too easily and often we look within ourselves for crumbs of spiritual comfort. There is a place for healthy, gospel self-examination, but only when it is done in the light of the foundational truth that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….Looking away to Jesus is the principal movement of a spiritually healthy soul. Sin turns us in upon ourselves; the gospel turns us out to Christ.” Well said, Ian.
Everything seemed to be fine with the message from the church leaders about wearing purple ribbons or clothing. But clearly they didn’t anticipate the quizzical response from the people of Ulster! And so the follow-up explanation was issued….
“The Leaders thought it a good idea that people would have some tangible sign of their opposition to what has happened over the last days. Many ideas were considered but in order that something could be done quickly the idea of wearing purple was proposed with the thinking that people could do this for themselves. They could source some purple ribbon or a purple item of clothing, perhaps a tie or a scarf, without the need for it to be purchased and supplied centrally with all the time and expense that would be incurred.We would encourage people or congregations to make their own ribbons. The ones the Church Leaders were wearing yesterday were simply a piece of 1cm wide ribbon, 12-15 cm long, made into a loop and secured with a small safety pin. Even a straight piece of ribbon simply pinned at the top would do. As such there is no ‘wear purple’ day but simply an encouragement for it to be worn for as long as people feel they want to.”
Everything in this part of the world has significance. And particularly colours! If purple is “a Lenten colour” then us reformed, non-liturgical types need to be educated. It seems like the simple proposal has fallen at the first hurdle. It is Cheltenham week after all.
There is much wisdom from Jerry (Bridges, that is, not Springer). I read this recently as I was preparing for a sermon on “How Can a Loving God send people to Hell?”
“What are we to expect when we stand before God’s bar of judgment? Most people think God will somehow relax His inflexible justice and pardon all of us by mere sovereign prerogative. But God, by the perfection of his nature, cannot do that. He cannot exalt one of his glorious attributes (such as mercy) at the expense of another. Justice must be satisfied.
Through his death on the cross Jesus fully satisfied the justice of God on our behalf. Therefore everyone who has trusted in Christ as Savior can say “God’s justice toward me is satisfied”. As believers we must steadily keep this in mind. Never again should we fear the retributive justice of God.”
(From The Gospel for Real Life)
It seems to me that can so easily slip into a performance-based mentality with regard to our relationship with God and forget that we are “in Christ”. Some days we can feel good about ourselves because we have performed well. We have read our Bibles and spent time in prayer and helped our neighbour. Other days when we don’t perform so well we can feel not so good. The truth is that our relationship with God does not vary and fluctuate like that. He loves us in Christ in spite of our performance, and that ultimately our hope of acceptance before God is entirely based on what Jesus has done.