Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Conversing with Grace - In other Words
Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love.
Souls that converse much with sin and wrath, may be much terrified;
but souls that converse much with grace and mercy, will be much humbled.
Thomas Brooks (1608 - 1680)
My first thought, upon reading the above, was "what a contrast to the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards (1703 - 1756), 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God'."
And yet, isn't that the dual horns of the dilemma we often find our human frailties hanging upon? Whether to pay more attention to the reality of God's perfect justice, or to focus upon God's marvelous grace and mercy?
I grew up in an very legalistic church tradition. We often measured ourselves (and one another) more by what we didn't do than what we did do. One old cliche went:
"Don't smoke, don't chew,
don't run with those who do."
That put me in a tough position right from the get-go as my dad was a lifelong smoker, and I lived in the same house with him. My mother was the church-going role model in our family.
Mom generally represented "perfect justice" in an imperfect way, of course, since she was only human. But she always tried to be fair, did not play favorites between me and my sisters, and believed in making sure there were consequences for our behavior. Mom was a solitary person and had, sadly, practically no sense of humor.
Dad, on the other hand, was a free-wheeling, hard-drinking, raconteur, who seldom missed a chance to tell a good joke or story, and had more buddies than you could shake a stick at.
Late in life he joined AA and professed faith in Christ. But he always struggled with addictions and poor behavior.
Our hostess today used a phrase that rang true for me, when I considered the actions of some, like my dad, who want to do well, but fail miserably. "..useless, guilty, hateful...".
But however hard we may try to consistently be useful, there are times when we are all useless in a particular situation. However, much we determine to live a life of obedience, there are always times when we must acknowledge we are guilty of sin. And, however hard we may try to be kind, loving and generous, there will always be times when we recognise that "hateful" human weakness in ourselves that only the grace of God can redeem.
"...souls that converse much with grace and mercy will be much humbled..." - I read once that humility is one virtue you can never know whether you have it, because as soon as you think you do, you definitely do not.
We can know fairly well, whether we are being kind, or generous, or loyal. But humble? Not really.
So how do we "converse with grace and mercy"? Here the word "converse" does not mean to have a conversation with, but rather it comes from the middle English meaning "to be familiar with" or "to occupy oneself with".
Rarely in my life have I felt more familiar with grace and mercy than in these past difficult, trying weeks. And I am asking the Father to help me to occupy myself with His grace and mercy, rather than allow my thoughts to be occupied with fear, questionings, and futility.
Yes, God is a God of justice - perfect justice. And yes, He is also a God of complete mercy, love, and grace. Only He can balance them. & & &
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
James 2:12-13 (NIV)