Category Archives: sin

A dark, unwelcome guest

I came across ‘The Cross Still Stands‘ as I’d been reading several other things that meshed with its message. The song seemed to draw them all together.

These hands that should embrace You, Lord
Instead have drawn a rebel’s sword.
My wayward will has dealt the blow
That pierced Your son so long ago.

My actions, Lord, should build Your name,
Instead they labor for my fame.
While outwardly I bless the Son,
I seek man’s praise for what I’ve done.

Lord, this glory-seeking hunger tries
To pull my heart from You:
Such a dark, unwelcome guest who hides
In everything I do.
But Your grace remains and pleads for me:
“Destroy this enemy!”
For the cross still stands
And meets my deepest need.

This heart should worship You alone;
Instead to trifles it is prone.
My tears are drawn by earthly things
But flee when with the saints I sing.

My words should tell of all the grace
You’ve shown in saving me by faith;
Instead I use my tongue to spin
A web to minimize my sin.

David Ward’s haunting melody is well-suited to the equally disturbing words he has drawn from ‘The Dark Guest’ (in The Valley of Vision). It is a song that any congregation should be able to learn to sing easily. And it is a song with which every Christian can easily identify, since the dark, unwelcome guest is no stranger to any of us. (David’s site has an mp3 recording, a lead sheet, the words of the original poem, and an introductory comment.)

I’ve been pondering the raging opposition to God portrayed in Psalm 2. And though, as Christians, we belong to those who have kissed the Son, yet how often we still find the rebel’s sword in our hands. We toy with it at our peril. And all the while we have a greater, finer sword at our disposal, the Spirit’s sword.

The chorus well captures the essence of total depravity as we contemplate the dark, unwelcome guest who hides in everything we do. But despite the realism of the problem of continuing sin, the song finishes on a high note that cuts away all reliance on self. The focus is the cross, the remedy for all spiritual ailments.

The third verse is a great encouragement not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Carl Trueman makes a similar point about prayer, less poetically, but no less powerfully, in his latest Minority Report article, “A Lesson From Peter the Barber”  in Themelios (April 2009, 34:1, pp. 3-5). “Church is not somewhere where Peter should go once he has sorted out the problem of this lack of enthusiasm;” writes Trueman, “it is the best place to go precisely to sort that problem out.”

The final verse is a vivid portrayal of self-justification. We’re familiar with the wages of spin, but again, the high note of grace in the chorus lifts the tangled heart from despair.

I found the song’s realism refreshing and thoroughly biblical. The carefully crafted phrases fire the imagination, and yet are not fanciful. They describe reality with an intensity sadly missing in so many modern songs of worship. I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to see this song as standing in the tradition of the Psalms. I recognized myself in every line. I find that true of the Psalms. The triumphant “destroy this enemy!” was stirring. The note of grace left me in a hopeful and sober reflective mood.

“For the cross still stands and meets my deepest need.”

Reflections on immorality

Recent local news reports have prompted me to think about the increasing prominence of immorality in our society. It’s not that I haven’t noticed it, but recent events have brought a number of disparate accounts of it together.

First, there was the casual reference to a man, his partner and their children. That many people in modern society live together without a marriage covenant and procreate out of wedlock is no surprise. Our neighbours, friends, and even family members live this kind of immoral style of life. What saddens me is the casualness with which such shameful relationships are mentioned in public.

That worldly-minded people should live such lifestyles is, in some ways, understandable, but a recent conversation with a Christian colleague showed me how prevalent this lifestyle is among Christians. His wife had occasion to talk to a Christian friend she had not met for some time. It transpired that this friend, who was widowed, had been living with a man as husband and wife, yet unmarried. The reason was purely financial. Neither had any moral impediment to marriage, both being widowed. However, were she to remarry, her late husband’s employer would cease to pay her a widow’s pension. So to facilitate the continued receipt of the pension she had decided to live in an immoral relationship, and saw no contradiction with her Christian faith. The couple were content to disobey God’s clear commands forbidding  adultery and fornication, and to faithlessly misrepresent the nature of Christ’s relationship with his Bride by their immoral relationship.

It is a worrying trend that professing Christians should treat the honourable estate of God-ordained marriage with such casualness. Sexual sin is no more heinous than any other sin, in the sight of God. What is of greater concern is the casualness with which professing Christians engage in any form of sin. In the situation mentioned, it is clear that there is more than one sin involved, such is the tangled web that sin inevitably involves.

A further worrying trend is that churches seem unwilling to confront such situations of immorality and sinfulness with the loving, restorative discipline that Scripture commands. It seems the contemporary church is in need of Paul’s sharp words of rebuke from 1 Corinthians about such lax discipline.

Such casualness about sin surely extends to our own “private” lives. We are practised rationalisers, able to sin without concern or conscience. Confession is unnecessary — what have we done to require it? Sin in others, however, is easier to diagnose, just as planks are easier to spot than specks. Would that we all were practised speck spotters.

Why has such a situation arisen among Christian people?

Is it, in part, that we have bought into the value system of this world? Or, rather, that like this world. we have abandoned God’s values. And having abandoned the standards of God’s temporal instruction — his Law and his Word — we have abandoned our eternal hope. The thought of Christ’s return, if we ever have it, has been relegated to the realm of the tooth fairy, such is its relevance to contemporary life. And yet, it is that very hope that should be purifying us, so that Christ may present us unblemished and unwrinkled by sin, when he presents his Bride to himself.

This is the antidote to casual Christian sin. May we be purified as that hope grips our souls in its loving and tender embrace.