He Will Not Send You To Purgatory (Ryken)

Philip Ryken’s When You Pray is a very helpful resource for studying the Lord’s Prayer and for learning more about prayer and praying.  When I recently studied the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our debts...”), I found the following paragraphs helpful:

“As soon as we start trying to figure out how to pay God what we owe for our sins, we realize how much trouble we are really in.  Obviously, we cannot pay off our debts by ourselves.  How could we ever make up for all the sins we have committed?  Yet this is precisely the error most religions make, including false versions of Christianity.  They all operate on the basis that human beings can do something to make things right with God.  Their reasoning goes something like this: ‘Lord, I know I keep messing up, but I’m trying really, really hard to be good.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have a list here of some of the good things I’ve done – charitable work, and that sort of thing.  Yes, I know my list isn’t as long as it could be, but why don’t we just call it even?’  This kind of approach is based on the principle of works righteousness, the idea that doing good works can make someone good enough for God.”

“The truth is, however, that forgiveness is not something we can work for, it is only something we can ask for.  Even if we worked for all eternity, laboring in the very pit of hell, we could never work off the debt we owe to God.  What could we ever pay to God?  Jesus posed the question this way: ‘What can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mt. 16:26b NIV).  The answer, of course, is nothing.  Our souls are the most valuable thing we have.  When, because of our sin and guilt, we owe God our very souls, there is nothing left for us to pay.”

Later Ryken notes that “we owe God far more than we or anyone else could ever pay.”  So what can we do about our massive debt to God?  The only thing we can do is beg God for forgiveness: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! (Lk. 18:13).

“This is precisely what we do in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We ask our Father to forgive us our debts.  With these words we declare our moral bankruptcy, freely admitting that we owe God more than everything we have.  Then we do the only thing we can, which is to ask him to forgive us outright.  Because he is our loving Father, God does what we ask.  ‘He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Ps. 103:10, 13 NIV).  God the Father offers forgiveness as a free gift of his grace.  When you go to him, weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin, he will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan.  He will not scheme to charge you more interest.  He will not send you to Purgatory or anywhere else to work off your debts.  On the contrary, God is a loving Father who offers forgiveness full and free.”

Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 125-6.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Prayer: Often, Short, Strong (Luther)

  Martin Luther was quick to point out the spiritual abuses and unbiblical practices in many monasteries of his day.  In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 6:7-13, Luther noted how many monks thought of prayer as a work:

Therefore they have themselves said that there is no harder work than to pray; and that is in fact true, if you aim to make a work or labor out of your praying, imposing upon your body to read or sing so many hours continuously, so that any day laborer would rather choose to thresh for a whole day, than only to move his mouth for two or three hours one after another, or look straight into a book. In short their prayer was not a sighing or desire of the heart, but a mere force-work of the mouth or tongue: so that if a monk has been reading or muttering his Horas for forty years, he has not prayed from his heart for an hour during all that time. For they never think of presenting their wants before God in their prayers, but they think only that they must do it, and God must regard this trouble and toil.

So Luther was pointing out that the medieval monastic view of prayer was wrong since it viewed prayer as a work to gain favor with God.  Many thought that long prayers would get God’s attention and impress him.  Luther, however, would have none of that:

But the Christian’s prayer, which is offered in faith upon the promise of God, and presents before him from the heart its need, that is easy, and occasions no labor. For faith soon tells what it wants, yes, with a sigh that the heart utters and that cannot be reached or uttered in words, as Paul says. The Christian prays, and because he knows that God hears him, he does not need to prate everlastingly. Thus the saints in the Scriptures prayed, as Elijah, Elisha, David and others, with short, but strong and powerful words; as we see in the Psalms, in which there is hardly one that has a prayer of more than five or six verses. Therefore the old fathers have very properly said, there is no use in many long prayers, but they praise the short ejaculatory prayers, in which one lifts a sigh heavenward with a word or two; which one can do very often when he is reading, writing, or doing some other work.

…In short, one should pray short, but often and strongly; for God does not ask how much and long one has prayed, but how good it is and how it comes from the heart.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017), p. 166.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

A Prayer for Reading Scripture (Geneva)

For around 75 years (1536-1609) Geneva had a sort of Bible study group called the Congregation.  It was something like an in-depth public Bible study where pastors, professors, and students would take turns explaining, interpreting, and applying Scripture and also answering questions.  (The Reformers understood well that Scripture needs to be interpreted and explained in a corporate setting “to avoid the rash conclusions of private imaginations,” as Manetsch wrote.  But that’s the topic of a different blog post.)

Before they read and explained Scripture, the men would pray the following prayer:

“We pray to you, our good God and Father, asking that you might forgive all our faults and offenses, and illuminate us by your Holy Spirit to have the true understanding of your holy Word.  Give us the grace that we need to handle it purely and faithfully to the glory of your holy name, for the edification of the Church, and for our salvation.  We ask these things in the name of the only and blessed Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

This is an excellent example of the kind of prayers we should pray as we approach Scripture.  We pray for forgiveness, illumination, and for grace to understand and interpret it rightly – for God’s glory, the good of the church, and the salvation of his people.

The above quotes are found in Scott Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p. 134-5.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Lord, Save Me From Myself (Augustine)

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Here’s a prayer worth reading (and praying!) a few times!

Oh Lord, this mercy I humbly beg: that whatever you give me up to, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.  If you will give me up to be afflicted, tempted, or reproached, I will patiently sit down and say, ‘It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes.’  Do anything with me, Lord, lay what burden you will upon me, but please, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.

Or, in Augustine’s terse words: A me, me salva Domine! (which means something like “Lord, save me from myself!)

The above quote is rephrased from Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997) 50.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Keeping Your Assurance

A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election If you’re assured of your salvation in Christ; if you know you’re a child of God by grace, how can you stay strong in that assurance and knowledge? Or how can you grow in assurance?  Christopher Love (d. 1651) gave some biblical answers to these questions in a sermon on 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (NIV).  I’ve edited some of them and posted them below:

  1. Keep close to God in the duty of prayer.  Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (John 16:24).  Jesus’ words imply that if you keep close to God in the duty of prayer, your spirits shall be complete and full.
  2. Keep close to God in the duty of reading the Word often.  By often reading the Word, you will often meet with promises and supports for your comforts.  That is the reason men lessen in comforts, because they  do not frequently read the Word; you cannot read a Chapter, but you will find there a prop for faith, and a prop for assurance. Keeping constant to the Word, that is the way to keep your assurance.  “These things have I written to you that believe, that you might know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). These things have I written, not only that you have life, but that you might know it. By reading the writings of John, John tells them they might better know they shall live for ever, and everlastingly be saved. Keep close to God in reading his written Word, and this will be of great use because there are promises scattered throughout the veins of Scripture. There is almost no Scripture you can read where there isn’t a promise or support for your faith one way or other.
  3. Keep close to God in constant and conscientious hearing of his Word.  This is a great means to get assurance. …Live under the ministry of the Word, and that ministry will give much assurance of your salvation!

In summary, if you want to grow in assurance of salvation, pray for it, read the Word often, and regularly listen to it preached!

The above (edited) quotes are found on pages 191-193 of Christopher Love, A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election, (Morgan, PA:  Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Church Devoted to Prayer (Green)

The Message of the Church (The Bible Speaks Today  Bible Themes Series) by [Green, Christopher] In preparation for a sermon series on the church I’ve been reading Christopher Green’s “The Message of the Church.  So far I’m very much enjoying it.  I just finished reading the part where he comments on Acts 2:42 (They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer NIV).  Here’s Green’s helpful summary explaining the early church’s devotion to prayer (using Acts as a portrait):

“They met ‘constantly’ (1:14), but also when a special need arose (1:24-25).  They took part in the temple prayers (3:1), but also informally at home (4:24-31).  They prayed spontaneously (3:1), but also define it as one of the two principle responsibilities of the apostles (6:4-6).”

“The rest of Acts fills out this pattern, and shows how inescapable prayer was in the early church. They prayed in prison (16:25), and for those in prison (12:5, 12).  They prayed on their own (11:5) and together (12:5).  They prayed indoors (12:12), outdoors (10:9), at midday (10:9) and midnight (16:25), in the Jerusalem temple (22:17) and in a Roman palace (26:29), at sea (27:29) and on a beach (20:36).

They prayed for non-Christians to be converted (26:29), and confused Christians to be filled with the Spirit (8:15).  They prayed when they ate (2:46-47) and when they fasted (14:23).  They prayed for the sick to be healed (28:8) and the dead to be raised (9:40).  They prayed when their leaders were initially commissioned (14:23) and when they were given final responsibility (20:36).  They prayed when they had just become Christians (9:11) and when they were seconds from death (7:60).  They early church ‘devoted themselves to prayer.’

Christopher Green, The Message of the Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), p. 101.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI 54015

“Calling on the Name of the Lord” – A Review

Calling on the Name of the Lord, Vol. 38 (New Studies in Biblical Theology) I typically enjoy the books found in the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series.  Recently I finished Gary Millar’s Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).  Like the other books in this series that I’ve read, this one is a good example of summarizing a certain theme of Scripture.  Beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation, Millar explains what calling on the name of the Lord means.  As I’ve mentioned before, “Biblical Theology” in this context simply means the study of a certain theme in Scripture, from beginning to end.

The book has nine main sections: 1) Prayer in the Pentateuch, 2) Prayer in the Former Prophets (Joshua-Kings), 3) Prayer in the Latter Prophets, 4) Prayer in the Writings, 5) Prayer in the Psalms, 6) Prayer in the Gospels, 7) Prayer in Acts, 8) Prayer in Paul’s Letters, and 9) Prayer in the rest of the New Testament.  There is an afterword of around five pages that gives brief application on prayer.  As you can see, the structure of the book is pretty straightforward and easy to follow.

I appreciated this book because it was well written, it stuck to explaining Scripture, and it highlighted the gospel throughout.  The main phrase Millar emphasizes is found in Genesis 4:26: At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD (NIV).  The point Millar makes from this phrase is that it means “asking God to intervene specifically to do one thing – to come through on his promises” (p. 22).  When you find this phrase (or similar ones) in Scripture, Millar says, it is a prayer asking God to fulfill his covenant promises.  This is the main point Millar makes in the book.

There are two minor weaknesses of the book.  First, since Millar made his point up front (that calling on God’s name means asking him to keep his promises), he sort of gave a spoiler.  After reading just a little of the book, I knew that every prayer he was examining would be summarized as asking God to keep his promises.  I don’t necessarily disagree, but the book was less exciting to read since I knew exactly how it would unfold.  Second, I didn’t like how Millar constantly quoted very large portions of Scripture.  I know that sounds odd, but his frequent and long Scripture quotes were sometimes overwhelming and I wasn’t sure which verses he was really talking about.  Again, these are minor weaknesses that came to mind as I finished the book.

So now you have a resource if you want to study prayer from Genesis to Revelation.  It doesn’t give all the nuances and aspects of prayer, and it’s not a manual of how to pray better, but it does trace the theme – from Genesis to Revelation – of calling upon the name of the Lord.

Gary Millar, Calling on the Name of the Lord (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).

Shane Lems