But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6, 7)
We have been reminded recently by Pastor Englestad through our study of the book of James that we are to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord—that we are to lament, mourn and weep over our sins (James 4:7-10). There is no better place to heed such counsel than when we prepare ourselves to come to the Lord’s Table as we will do this coming Sunday morning. It is right for us to consider ourselves before God as we come to the Table of His presence and are reminded of the great cost necessary so that our sins would be forgiven. In the passage above, the prophet acknowledges his own sin and the sin of God’s people. He speaks of being consumed because of their iniquities and the face of God being hidden from His people because of their sins. Even their best acts (“righteousnesses”) are filthy rags in His holy presence, and their sins carry them away. Perhaps the greatest indictment against the people was that no one was calling upon the Lord, no one who stirred himself up to take hold of the Lord. So heavy had their sins become and so darkened the way that they no longer desired Him nor sought Him.
The Lord’s Supper is a time of great renewal for God’s people as they come with humble hearts acknowledging their sins and stirring themselves up to take hold of God and all His mercies promised to them in Christ. The great 17th century Puritan minister John Flavel wrote a series of sacramental meditations (Volume 6 of the Works of John Flavel) in order to stir up the hearts of God’s people to take hold of Christ and all that is offered to us in the Lord’s Supper. In his introduction to these meditations, Flavel notes that “even a believer does not eat or drink worthily, unless the grace that is in him be excited and exercised at this ordinance.” It is not merely that the believer possess faith or a disposition to humility or even a love for Christ, but that these graces be stirred up and excited. He writes: “It is not faith being present, but faith realizing, applying and powerfully working. It is not a disposition to humiliation for sin, but the actual thawing and melting of the heart for sin; ‘while you look on Him Whom you have pierced, and mourn for Him as one that mourns for his only son, his first-born:’ nor is it a disposition or principle of love to Christ that is only required, but the stirring up of that fire of love, the exciting of it into a vehement flame.”
The very fact that these things are difficult for us as believers is itself an indication that such affections and graces need to be stirred up and excited within us. Flavel notes this reality for all true believers when he writes the following to his readers: “Oh! It is hard, it is hard indeed, reader, even after God has taken the heart of stone out of you, and given you a heart of flesh, to mourn actually for sin, even when so great an occasion and call is given you to that work at the Lord’s Table; for the same power is required to excite the act that was required to plant the habit. However, the duty is yours, though the power be God’s.” Here we have a wonderful reminder that while God commands His people to stir up every grace and affection, He promises with the command to grant the grace necessary to do so. We see this truth in the words of the prophet Isaiah immediately after acknowledging the sins of the people and their woeful condition. The prophet recalls God as a covenant making and keeping God, who has entered into relationship with His people and has given them promises and sworn on oath that He would deliver them from their sins which separate them from Him. His hope is not in the people’s ability to change themselves, but in their God Who is ever changing His people. In the language of James 4, it is the call to “submit to God and… to draw near to Him.” The duty is ours; the power is God’s. So, Isaiah claims the covenant mercies of God when he writes: “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. Do not be furious, O Lord, nor remember iniquity forever; indeed, please look—we all are Your people!” As we come to the Table this Lord’s Day, we come remembering that we are His people and in remembering this our hearts are stirred and we come in faith to take hold of Christ and all His mercies.
Let me encourage you to rightly prepare yourself to come to the Lord’s Table with the words of John Flavel who wonderfully captures this balance as he reminds his readers of the following: “Prepare with all diligence for your duty. Take pains with your dull heart; cleanse your polluted heart; compose your vain heart; remember how great a presence you are approaching. If Augustus thus reproved one, that entertained him without suitable preparation, saying ‘I did not think we had been so familiar;’ much more may your God reprove you for your careless neglect of due preparation for Him. But yet take heed, on the other side, that you not rely upon your best preparation. It is an ingenious, and true note of Luther, speaking of the preparation for the sacrament, ‘Never are men more unfit, then when they think themselves most fit, and best prepared for their duty; never more fit, then when most humbled and ashamed, in a sense of their own unfitness.” In the end we rejoice that all our fitness and all our worthiness and all our acceptance before the presence of God is found in our union with Jesus Christ, His Son. Rejoice in Him, even as you prepare to come to His Table.
In the Name of Jesus, Who is all our Joy and Satisfaction,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar