Our Misery

79973_despond_lgReformed Anglican worship in Morning and Evening Prayer and in the Lord’s Supper keeps to the three-fold biblical pattern that was rediscovered in the Reformation: Guilt, where in preparation to receive Him, we realize and confess our need for salvation and a Savior. Grace, where we hear and understand from God’s gospel Word His provision to save us in Jesus Christ, accomplished by His grace alone that a sinner receives through faith alone. Gratitude, where in receiving His precious gift of Christ in preached Word and His sacraments, we give deep, heartfelt thanks and pledge our lives in humble thankful service for His glory alone.

Lent is the first part of our liturgy WRIT LARGE across the days before our Savior’s passion, cross and resurrection. The forty days before Easter employ Scripture readings and use scriptural hymns that focus on our need of Christ and the events leading up to the cross. Wilhelmus à Brakel in The Christian’s Reasonable Service writes in “A Reflection upon our Impotency”:

Your condition is that you are abominable, condemnable, and forsaken of God and all creatures. Come then, be a hero and save yourself if you can. This is, however, absolutely impossible, for your salvation requires the perfect satisfaction of God’s justice by the bearing of all temporal and eternal punishments, and a perfect holiness. This the justice of God requires, for God can only justify a just man and can by no means clear the guilty. He cannot grant the right to eternal life to a man unless the conditions of the covenant, upon which eternal felicity was promised, have been fulfilled. And now, oh miserable one, what will you do? What can you give as a ransom for your soul? You cannot bring that which is eternal to a conclusion, neither by suffering punishment can you make full satisfaction and be acquitted as one who has satisfied the requirements of justice. You are not able to deliver yourself from the pollution of your sinful state and adorn yourself with internal and external holiness which is both perfect and pure. Thus you cannot present yourself before God as pleasing in His sight, saying with boldness, “Here I am; enter into judgment with me and judge me according to Thy justice.” If only you may perceive this to some degree (I do not even metion the things which precede this), you must be convinced of your impotency and cry out, “Oh, wretch that I am! I cannot help myself, and I sink away in my misery. Where must I go? Woe to me!”

…If you are unconverted, it may be a means to stir you up to seek and to ask, “Is there yet help? Is there no hope? Is there yet a way whereby I may be saved?” If you are then directed to Jesus Christ as the way, He will become precious, and you will earnestly seek to become a partaker of Him by faith. If you are converted, the contemplation upon the state of sin, no matter what it may have been for you prior to your conversion, will make and keep you humble; it will teach you to esteem Christ highly and to make use of Him continually. It will motivate you to glorify God, this being an expression of gratitude for sending His Son to deliver poor sinners through Him and to lead them to eternal felicity [pp. 424-5].

We must take care that we do not drift into prescribed external or visible acts of penitence or denial in Lent, as some would have us do. To do such visible acts conflicts with the Scriptures. And knowing the tendency our our hearts, our “acts” will obscure our impotency, thus lessening our desperate yearning for the sufficiency and efficacy of our Savior’s unique saving work. Therefore the many points of preparation in the authorized Book of Common Prayer, such as the readings from the Scriptures, The Commination, The Litany in daily Morning and Evening Prayer or The Exhortation(s) in the Lord’s Supper, gives structure to our prayers and intercessions that drive home into our hearts the fact that we are impotent to save ourselves, and that we need God’s saving grace and the Savior’s glorious rescue.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

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