Thursday, March 26, 2009

0 Ames on Lord's Day 4: Sin and the Recovery of God's Honor in the Face of It

Lord's Day 4 of the Heidelberg Catechism involves our duty before God despite our sinful condition, and God's wrath against all sin. In his treatment of this Lord's Day, I am particularly appreciative of Ames's method in his Sketch of the Christian's Catechism - namely, of his choice to exposit relevant Scripture passages on each Lord's day, and touch on the themes contained therein. The book is a wonderful addition to anyone's library, and a worthy accompaniment to more direct expositions of the Heidelberg such as Ursinus's Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, and George Bethune's Guilt, Grace and Gratitude.

In this day, Ames took up Paul's admonition to believers in Ephesians 5:6, "Let no one lead you astray with empty speech: for on account of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of contumacy." One of the more valuable parts of Ames's treatments comes in drawing exhortation for us who are believers against the sinful tendency we have to contumacious attitudes toward God in our sin. How readily we fall into this trap - particularly in those sins which the Puritans called "bosom sins" or which later authors referred to as "besetting". There can arise a stubbornness and a sinful arrogation of 'right' to pardon which accompanies sin in the believer's heart, and Ames hits this tendency head on with his remarks, giving this particular use:
"For [i]admonition,[/i] so that we may especially guard ourselves from this sin of contumacy, which ought to be known not only generally, since it concerns the sort of contumacy in which people entirely refuse to turn towards God, but also specifically, in every act of obedience. For if we perceive that God calls us to this or that duty, it is our duty to attend to it at once, so that we may show our hearts to God in the matter as flexible and persuasible - to which point we are especially encouraged." (p. 23, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
We are warned against contumacy - again, since that is our natural tendency - because it is that steadfastness of disobedience and that rebellious stance that those outside of Christ gladly remain in, and are carried off to Hell in.

Ames further goes on to give teeth to his warning against contumacy by reminding us of the hot and eternal wrath of God against sin. We so frequently forget this in our security - knowing that Christ died for us and was raised for our justification, we rarely want to think about the dishonor that God receives through our sin. Yet God's wrath is still, as Ames points out, "a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29), and this fact should move those of us who are His children. Perhaps one reason we do not often like to think about God's wrath against sin is that we who are redeemed sin nevertheless - and our guilt for our sinful actions and thoughts is not something we like to face.

A common objection to the duration of the punishment of sinners in Hell that shows how poorly people have been taught about the nature of sin is that it is unfair for God to punish finite and temporal sins with eternal wrath. There is a notion that sin which is finite in time and extent should be punished not with an eternity of Hell, but with some sort of "sentence" that is proportional.

God DOES punish sin in a proportionate manner... but the world (and often the church - witness the various "annihilationists", who argue that the only just punishment is annihilation, as opposed to an eternal venting of wrath) does not wish to face up to what is truly proportionate in this case. The tiniest of sins (if such can be said) deserves an eternity of punishment - as Ames notes,
"...the obligation that binds us to render the whole of obedience to God is inifinite. Consequently, the transgression in which sinners violate this obligation is in some manner inifinite...It follows that the wrath of God is infinite in duration, or eternal. It should not seem surprising to anyone that an eternal punishment is inflicted for one sin, which is done in a short space of time...

because he has disturbed a particular order, he cannot be freed from the just punishment that is owed, until God should restore His own honor at every point, which the impenitent sinner cannot accomplish in eternity." (p. 24, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
God's Honor is inifinite in value. One sin besmirches that honor. How can a finite being ever atone for that offense? One cannot. Hence, the sin is infinite.... and the punishment of sin in Hell is eternal. Only Christ's sacrifice, given for the elect sinner, can serve to expiate God's wrath, and to atone for any sin on behalf of the one for whom Christ died. Only Christ in His divinity and His perfect humanity can substitute and draw the sinful wretch with perfect acceptance into His Kingdom. This should serve to increase our appreciation for Christ's sacrifice, and, as the truth of sin's infinite ugliness sinks in, help us to hate and reject it as something we are willing to engage in. Our flesh is weak - but by God's grace we can and will come to a better and better appreciation for the evil of sin and gain, more and more, the means to reject it and strive for a Christlike holiness in all things - all for God's honor and glory.




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