On this Reformation Day, I’m thankful for the jars of clay God used to show me the all-surpassing greatness of His power, specifically as manifested in the Doctrines of Grace.
After laboring under the burden of man-centered theology for about 5 years, I was to the end of myself. I so desperately wanted release from the guilty conscience and fear of judgment that relentlessly plagued me. It was about this time, God in His providence, brought me to a red bound book by Martin Luther in the unlikely place of our small library in Cambridge, OH. I found a companion in misery as I read and related to Martin Luther’s efforts, trying to keep God’s commands and gain acceptance before Him. The more he labored, the more condemnation he felt heaped upon him. But what glorious freedom he discovered when God convinced him of the liberating truth that the righteousness He justly demands, He also justly provides! And so God used the great reformer himself to start a reformation, of sorts, in my heart.
In the fall of that same year, God also used Dr. Michael P. V. Barrett, to continue lifting my eyes from the despair of bad theology to the precious doctrines I now hold so dear. Dr. Barrett’s constant refrain, “Read your Bible, people!” still rings in my ears. It was in the pages of Scripture where I began to grasp the significance of divine sovereignty. I found a theology that puts God where He deserves to be, in control of all things, starting with the salvation of my soul. God used Dr. Barrett’s gospel-centeredness (before it was “in”) to tear down my self-reliance and pull up all the stakes I had driven. Burdens began to roll as I sat in his class hearing, “The strength of your faith isn’t in the amount of your faith, but the Object of your faith!” I saw my gracious God caring for my soul, leading me in the well-worn paths of His electing love for me where His goodness and mercy were literally chasing me down like a dog nipping at my heels. The more I knew of this God the more I loved Him, continuing still to this very day.
It is appropriate then, on the day the start of the Reformation is remembered, to reiterate my thankfulness for all God has done for me in Christ. My conscience is no longer captive to the word of man but to the Word of God. When Satan and my own heart parade all my guilt before me, I don’t try harder to muster more faith to believe or dig deeper for more will power to fight against it . I run to Christ, whose work on by behalf stills all my striving.
A hymn that became precious to me during those reforming years is, “Not What My Hands Have Done”, by Horatius Bonar.
Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.
Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.
I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.
I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.