Entrusting Our Cares to Mary!?

Many of us have heard or even used the phrase “hail Mary.” It often refers to a long and risky throw in football, when the quarterback unleashes a monster toss hoping the receiver will catch it. This term, “hail Mary,” is how the “Ave Maria” prayer in the Roman Catholic traiditon starts: “Hail, Mary, full of grace…” In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a short commentary on the Ave Maria. Here are some parts of that commentary:

Full of grace, the Lord is with thee. …Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is “the dwelling of God … with men.” Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to him who has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give to the world.

Holy Mary, Mother of God. …Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother; we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself: “Let it be to me according to your word.” By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: “Thy will be done.”

Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the “Mother of Mercy,” the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender “the hour of our death” wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son’s death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.

 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 644.

To Protestant and and Reformed Christians today, this sounds terribly unbiblical (to put it mildly!). This view of Mary is not only unbiblical, it also detracts from the person and work of Christ, our one and only mediator and Savior. This is why we Reformed Christians say, confess, and believe the truth of the phrase “Solus Christus!” Here’s how Martin Luther responded to such Roman Catholic teaching mentioned above:

They [the Pope and his teachers] declared also to the people, in their sermons, that the only Mediator between God and man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was a severe and an angry Judge; that he neither could nor would be reconciled with us, except we had other advocates and intercessors besides him.

By this doctrine people were seduced, and carried away to Heathenish idolatry; and they took their refuge in dead Saints that should help and deliver them, and made them to be their gods: in whom they put more trust and confidence than in our blessed Saviour Christ Jesus; and especially, they placed the Virgin Mary (instead of her son Christ) for a Mediatrix on the throne of grace.

 Martin Luther and Antonius Lauterbach, The Familiar Discourses of Dr. Martin Luther, ed. Joseph Kerby, trans. Henry Bell, New Edition. (Lewes; London: Sussex Press; John Baxter; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; H. Mozley, 1818), 462.

Similarly, the Westminster Confession of Faith echoes the biblical teaching that we have only one mediator, Jesus Christ:

Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and to Him alone; (Matt. 4:10, John 5:23, 2 Cor. 13:14) not to angels, saints, or any other creature: (Col. 2:18, Rev. 19:10, Rom. 1:25) and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone. (WCF XXI.2)

Yes, the Reformation still matters! We can be thankful that the reformers had the courage and conviction to stick with and teach the truths of Scripture. This glorifies our one and only Savior, Jesus Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us as our one and only mediator.

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

On The Proper Use of Sickness (Pascal)

The Harvard Classics, vol. 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works In a written prayer called “To Ask God the Proper Use of Sickness,” Blaise Pascal (d. 1662) reflected on health and sickness in the Christian life.  More specifically, Pascal confessed that when he was healthy, he didn’t thank God for it and use his health to serve Him.  When he became ill, Pascal prayed that God would use the illness to help strengthen his faith.  While I don’t agree with every aspect of this prayer, parts of it are quite good and edifying.  Here are a few sections I appreciate:

Thou gavest me health to serve thee, and I made a profane use of it. Thou sendest me sickness now to correct me; suffer not that I use it to irritate thee by my impatience. I made a bad use of my health, and thou hast justly punished me for it. Suffer not that I make a bad use of my punishment.

To whom shall I cry, O Lord, to whom shall I have recourse, if not to thee? Nothing that is less than God can fulfil my expectation. It is God himself that I ask and seek; and it is to thee alone, my God, that I address myself to obtain thee, Open my heart, O Lord; enter into the rebellious place which has been occupied by vices. They hold it subject. Enter into it as into the strong man’s house; but first bind the strong and powerful enemy that has possession of it, and then take the treasures which are there. Lord, take my affections, which the world had stolen; take this treasure thyself, or rather retake it, since it belongs to thee as a tribute that I owe thee, since thy image is imprinted in it

…Grant me the favor, Lord, to join thy consolations to my sufferings, that I may suffer like a Christian. …But I ask, Lord, to feel at the same time both the sorrows of nature for my sins, and the consolations of thy spirit through thy grace; for this is the true condition of Christianity. Let me not feel sorrow without consolation; but let me feel sorrow and consolation together, that I may come at last to feel thy consolation without any sorrow.

…Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me: thou art the sovereign master, do what thou wilt. Give to me, take from me; but conform my will to thine; and grant that in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, I may be disposed to receive the orders of thy eternal providence, and that I may adore alike all that comes to me from thee.

Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 369-377.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Panic, Prayers, and Praise (Lloyd-Jones)

 In Philippians 4:6 Paul says “Do not be anxious about anything.  Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God” (NET).  D. M. Lloyd-Jones noted that Paul was being specific with his order of words in this verse: prayer – petition (both with thanksgiving) – give your requests to God.  Here’s Lloyd-Jones:

“[Paul] differentiates between prayer and supplication and thanksgiving.  What does he men by prayer? This is the most general term and it means worship and adoration.  If you have problems that seem insoluble, if you are liable to become anxious and overburdened, and somebody tells you to pray, do not rush to God with your petition.  That is not the way.  Before you make your requests known unto God, pray, worship, adore.  Come into the presence of God and for the time being forget your problems.  Do not start with them.  Just realize that you are face to face with God.  In this word ‘prayer’ the idea of being face to face is inherent in the very word itself.  You come into the presence of God and you realize the presence and you recollect the presences – that is the first step always.  Even before you make your requests known unto God you realize that you are face to face with God, that you are in His presence and you pour out your heart in adoration.  That is the beginning.

But following prayer comes supplication.  Now we are moving on.  Having worshipped God because God is God, having offered this general worship and adoration, we come now to the particular, and the apostle here encourages us to make our supplications….”

I think perhaps Lloyd-Jones may have overstated the case.  I don’t think that it’s always wrong to start a prayer with petition or request.  For example, many Psalms start out with requests to God (e.g. Ps. 17, 69, 70, 86, etc.).  And there are other places in Scripture where God’s people begin their cry to the Lord with a petition (Elijah on Mt. Carmel [1 Ki. 18:36]; see also Judges 6:6, Mt 15:25, etc.).

However, Lloyd-Jones’ point is a good and solid one to take to heart: when we are anxious, we should often start our prayers with praise and adoration.  When worried, we should begin our prayers with worship and praise to put things in perspective: God is on the throne and he hear us for Christ’s sake.  How can we be anxious if God (who loves us in Christ) is on his throne?

The above quote is found in Spiritual Depression, p 267.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

None Shall Seek Thy Face in Vain (Cowper)

 I just love the hymns and poems of William Cowper.  In fact, I’d recommend a book of his hymns and poems to use as a short daily devotional.  My wife and I have used this one: William Cowper’s Olney Hymns (Curiosmith, 2009). It’s not expensive but it is a great resource.  Here’s a great hymn I read today that I’d like to share:

LOOKING UPWARDS IN A STORM

God of my life, to thee I call,
Afflicted at thy feet I fall;
When the great water-floods prevail,
Leave not my trembling heart to fail!

Friend of the friendless, and the faint!
Where should I lodge my deep complaint?
Where but with thee, whose open door
Invites the helpless and the poor!

Did ever mourner plead with thee,
And thou refuse that mourner’s plea?
Does not the word still fix’d remain,
That none shall seek thy face in vain?

That were a grief I could not bear,
Didst thou not hear and answer prayer;
But a pray’r-hearing, answ’ring God,
Supports me under ev’ry load.

Fair is the lot that’s cast for me!
I have an advocate with thee;
They whom the world caresses most,
Have no such privilege to boast.

Poor tho’ I am, despis’d, forgot,
Yet God, my God, forgets me not;
And he is safe and must succeed,
For whom the Lord vouchsafes to plead.

-William Cowper-

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Prayer and Study, Study and Prayer (Shedd)

Homiletics and Pastoral Theology: With an Appendix (WGT Shedd)
Shedd, Pastoral Theology

Serious Christians are students of the Word.  We seek the truth in God’s Word, we find it there, and we learn more about it as we grow, study, and read.  We memorize verses, try to understand biblical concepts, and we desire to live as Scripture calls us to live.  We are students of the Word of truth.

However, as W. G. T. Shedd wrote about studying the Word, 

It is not sufficient to commune with the truth; for truth is impersonal. We must commune with the God of truth. It is not enough to study, and ponder, the contents of religious books, of even the Bible itself. We must actually address the author of the Bible, in entreaties and petitions.

There can, consequently, be no genuine religion without prayer. And the degree of religion, will depend upon the depth and heartiness of prayer. It does not depend so much upon the length, as the intensity of the mental activity. A few moments of real and absorbing address to God, will accomplish more for the Christian, in the way of arming him with spiritual power, than days or years of reflection, without it.

 Shedd then applies study and prayer to the pastor’s life:

Well, therefore, may we lay down, as the first rule for the promotion of piety in the clergyman, the great and standing rule for all Christians. Let him not be satisfied with studying, and pondering, the best treatises in theology, or with studying, and pondering, even the Bible itself. Besides all this, and as the crowning and completing act, in the religious life, let him actually, and really pray. Let him not be content with a theological mood, with a homiletic spirit, with a serious and elevated mental habitude. Besides all this, and as a yet higher and more enlivening mental process, let him truly, and personally address his Maker and Redeemer, in supplication. Let him not attempt to promote piety in the soul, by a merely negative effort,—by neglecting the cultivation of the mind, and undervaluing learning and study. If the clergyman is not spiritually-minded, and devotedly religious, with learning and studiousness, he certainly will not be so without it. Neglect of his intellectual and theological character, will not help his religious character. Let him constantly endeavor to advance the divine life in his soul, by a positive, and comprehensive method. Let him consecrate, and sanctify all his study, and all his meditativeness, and all his profound and serious knowledge, with prayer.

 William G. T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1872), 336–337.

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