Faith, grace, merit

Whenever we speak of justifying faith, we must keep in mind that these three objects belong together: the promise, grace, and Christ’s merits as the price and atonement. The promise is received through faith. Grace excludes our merits and means that the benefit is offered only through mercy. Christ’s merits are the price, because there must be a certain atonement for our sins. Scripture frequently cries out for mercy; the Holy Fathers often say that we are saved by mercy. Therefore, whenever mercy is mentioned, we must keep in mind that faith, which receives the promise of mercy, is required there. Again, whenever we speak about faith, we want an object of faith to be understood, namely, the promised mercy. For faith justifies and saves, not because it is a worthy work in itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy.

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain, 89 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).

Playing God

Craig VenterThe TV, radio and newspapers in the UK (and no doubt elsewhere) gave a lot of attention to the news from a nondescript little place in Maryland that scientist have “created an artificial life form”. While it appears that this headline is somewhat generous to the actual achievement—though there seems to be no doubt that the creation of a functioning sequence of DNA is a genuinely ground-breaking achievement—I have been more interested in the reactions to the news.

Predictably, the negative reaction was pretty quickly summarised in the accusation that Dr Craig Venter and his team are ‘playing God’. As far as I can tell, that’s supposed to be the indisputable no-no: if you are playing God, you’re being very, very naughty. End of argument/ [Not that different from a Christian being called a bigot: the label is designed to end all argument there and then.]

Now, I don’t tend to have much sympathy for the activities to which this label is normally attached: attempts to create life ex nihilo, or to end life without just cause (such as through euthanasia).

However, I would like to suggest that playing God is not such a bad thing as it’s made out to be.  In fact, all people are called to play God on a daily basis, and Christians in particular. Farmers, butchers, bakers and merchants play God when they give people their daily bread—something we ask our heavenly Father to do. Doctors and nurses play God when they heal people of diseases that would otherwise kill them, and midwives when they assist mothers in giving birth—thus giving people the gift of life. Fathers and mothers certainly play God when they create life. In many countries today, executioners also play God, when they punish the wicked by taking their lives. Not to mention judges and juries in such cases. The list could go on for a long time.

Within the Christian Church, playing God is taken to a higher level still. According to the Small Catechism, the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives us our sins and the sins of all people. How does He do this? By appointing men to be pastors, to play God in His stead and by His command. All Christians are called to play God as they live as royal priests with one another and in the world, as His hands, feet, mouth and ears in daily service and witness.

If people stopped playing God, society would break down and the Church would dissolve. In other words, life would become hell on earth, followed by an eternity of hell for all. Because God would be absent.

Playing God, then, is not a bad thing. When things go wrong is when people play God in ways that they haven’t been called to. When doctors no longer save lives but take them, when pastors no longer forgive sins but withhold forgiveness. Worse still, when people no longer play God but make themselves God, for example by offering forgiveness by some other means than the one appointed by God, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So go on, play God, cheerfully and diligently. Thank God that others do so too, for the sake of your life and your salvation. Just remember that you are only playing Him, in His stead and by His command, as directed by His word.

Prayer before the study of the Word


I thank You, my God, that You have prepared for me, a poor sinner, a treasure house full of all kinds of spiritual goodness and nourishment. This treasure house is Your holy and precious Word, which You have given me in the blessed Scriptures. Guide me, therefore, dear Father, and take me into this treasury. Let Your Holy Spirit lead me so that I find everything my soul needs. My needs are so many, and You know them best yourself; meet them by Your grace. You see how poor my soul is, and how hungry, sick and naked; so give out from the storehouse of Your Word riches to the poor, food to the hungry, riches to the poor and clothes to the naked. And since these endless riches of Your grace are held in Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, my Saviour who is highly to be praised, I pray for the grace of Your Holy Spirit that I may hear, read and study Your Word in such a way that I always find Jesus therein. Grant that, as I again study Your Word at this time, the fruit I gain is that I clothe myself more and more with the Lord Jesus Christ, both as my righteousness and as my example, and thereby grow in grace and in the knowledge of my Saviour who is highly to be praised. Hear my prayer, O God, for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

A hasty and rough translation from Johannes Bäck (1850-1901), Muukalaisen kotielämä [The Sojourner’s Home Life], a wonderful book of prayers. I hope to post more of these.

(Please feel to re-distribute, but with proper attribution, please.)

God is gone up!

Anthem for the Ascension of our Lord.

Music by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). The words are by Edward Taylor (1642-1729), drawing on Ps. 47. Performed by the finest of all English boys’ choirs, the Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge.

The Finzi anthem is the second on this clip and it starts at 3:20.

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.

Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev’ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.

Proclaiming and bringing

Saint Luke iconWhile reading Luke 8 with my wife last night, I noticed something that had passed me by before:

Soon afterward he [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:1)

Proclaiming and bringing. That’s a lovely summary of how the Gospel works: Jesus proclaims and brings the good news, all in one. The proclamation brings what it proclaims.

Or looked another way: preaching is at its heart spiritual care, because preaching is a public exercise of the office of the keys. The preaching of the Law brings about guilt, because it proclaims the condemnation of God on sin. And the preaching of the Gospel brings about absolution, because it proclaims the forgiveness of sins.

All in one neat pair of verbs: proclaiming and bringing.