And from my stricken heart with tears
Two wonders I confess
The wonders of redeeming love
And my unworthiness.
"Beneath the Cross of Jesus" Elizabeth C. Clephane
(1830-1869) (at www.igracemusic.com click on "RUF Hymnbook)
One of the most prevalent spiritual issues I deal with in shepherding is the experience of overwhelming unworthiness. Granted, we do lay it on pretty heavy in characteristic Puritan/Reformed fashion. Why? Until our misery is truly is felt, our joy in Christ will never be true, lasting, or even partially enjoyed. Of course the only person working harder than the Puritan-tinged pastor (and may I dare say the Holy Spirit) at having people be duly mindful of their unworthiness is the Accuser of the Brethren.
I've been rereading Jonathan Edwards' A Narrative of Suprising Conversions, which outlines the revival that took place in his Northhampton congregation in the 1740's. He outlines how people were radically affected by a vision of their true state before God and the true beauty of God displayed in his just condemnation of their sin, the gracious condemnation of Christ for their sin, and his just and gracious justification and adoption of them as sinners. For many, this three legged approach was memorized, as it was certainly catechized into them. But these truths, as Edward's himself testified about his own appreciation of election, soon under the burden of Spirit-fired preaching caught fire in their hearts bringing a humble exuberance and wonder at God's goodness in himself, and his goodness towards them in grace.
As I seek to apply these same truths and pray that the same fire catches us up in joyful wonder, I've drafted a few questions that I might use in applying the Gospel.
1. In terms of feelings of unworthiness, what would the Devil gain in having you think and feel this way?
2. What would God gain in terms of praise and glory by having you think and feel this way?
2a. How might the Spirit use these feelings for Christ's glory and your satisfaction in him?
2b. Are there any particular threatenings and any particular blessings/promises that call you to look 1) inward at your own sinful heart condition and to look 2) outward to your Saviour's glorious strength to save you in such a condition?
I think the asking and answering of such questions would take us a long way in "renewing the mind" and thus prove by moving upward and outward from a paralyzing introspection and Devilish condemnation to proving how good, acceptable, and perfect his will is in the "obedience of faith." The Gospel would then prove to be in us like a prairie fire, inflaming our affections, activating our wills and mobilizing our feet shod with the Gospel of peace!
This is the aim of my preaching, teaching, counseling, and "spiritual conferences" over fish and chips and occasionally over a pint.
Pray for me as I bring these questions home to my own heart and to the sheep in the flock I tend under Christ the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.