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GAFCON IV - Renewing the Power of Love: The Heart of Historic Anglicanism

GAFCON IV - Renewing the Power of Love: The Heart of Historic Anglicanism

By Dr. Ashley Null
April 26, 2023

KIGALI, Rwanda: There is a wonderfully sobering story about John Stott. A young American came up to him and just gushed with praise. "Dr. Stott, your books have meant so much to me. I can't tell you how important you work has been to my walk with Christ. If the prayer of a righteous man availeth much." And before the young man could finish his compliment, Uncle John cut him off with a very brisk, British reality check: "If you could see my heart as Jesus does, you would spit in my face." John Stott was one of the most spirit-mortified Christians I have ever known. At a time when American prosperity preachers were begging for donations from the faithful so they could live a luxurious lifestyle, Uncle John was earning a $1,000,000 a year in book royalties, but living in a spartan, two-room apartment above a garage, while he gave away $950,000 so pastors in majority-world countries could have Bible commentaries to aid their preaching. John Stott was one of those rare Christian leaders the more you knew him, the more you respected him. Yet, he freely admitted, that we would spit in his face, if we knew his heart. If that was true of Uncle John, God help the rest of us!

In times of lawlessness, the church faces a triple temptation. First, in a time of lawlessness, the church is tempted to preach law, without the Gospel. But Paul warns us that preaching law alone just stirs up more rebellion in human hearts. Secondly, in a time of lawlessness, Christians leaders are tempted to fight over who has the best solution to the present darkness. After all, it is so much easier to agree on what the problem is, rather than how and who shall fix it. Finally, in a time of lawlessness, Christians are tempted to see the sins of others, but not our own. John Stott's brutally British self-assessment of his sin is a reminder and warning to us all. That's why we have begun each day at this GAFCON conference with a fresh call of repentance to ourselves, even as we have called on others in our denomination to repent as well.

Yet, what could be more Anglican than understanding Christian discipleship as nothing other than an on-going, life-long commitment to regular repentance? After all, repentance lies at the heart of our liturgical life. Thomas Cranmer's final, founding liturgy has daily Morning and Evening Prayer beginning with repentance. His final service for Holy Communion has confession, absolution and the Comfortable Words in the very center, right before the ancient call to lift up our hearts. Why is repentance so important in our historic liturgy? Because, like John Stott, Thomas Cranmer had a very clear-eyed understanding of human beings. The human heart is the heart of the human problem. What word runs like a red thread throughout Cranmer's Communion Service? 'Unto whom all hearts be open' 'cleanse the thoughts of our hearts', 'incline our hearts', 'write all these thy laws in our hearts', 'that with meek heart and due reverence they may hear and receive thy holy word', 'with hearty repentance', 'lift up your hearts', 'feed on him in thy heart', and finally 'keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.' Why? Because the human heart is also the heart of all hope for human beings.

According to early Protestant teaching, human nature is ruled by whatever rules the human heart. What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies. On its own, the human heart naturally loves itself more than God and other people. The will chooses those things which make it feel good, and the mind would rationalizes what has been done. In fact, the heart can and often does deceive the mind. People's insecurities commonly lead them to act in selfish, self-centered and sinful ways, often without them even realizing it.? The only way out of this closed circle of sin and selfishness is to discover a new, stronger, ruling love--a love for God instead of a love for self. But where does this stronger love for God come from? Guilt, fear, shame, duty, pride? That was the answer from the medieval Catholic church, but it did really work, not in the long run. As Cranmer read the Scriptures afresh while in Germany in 1532, he realized that the Protestants were right, that only knowing the unconditional love of God made known in free salvation, only that promise of unmerited forgiveness and grace, could ever enable human beings to begin to love God more than sin. What does repentance have to do with love? As Jesus told us in Luke 7:47, who is forgiven little, loves little.

Love does fulfil such a deep-seated need in our very souls that it has the power to move us in often deeply unexpected ways, altering our priorities, sometimes even reorientating our world completely. This power of love to change us even as it completes us is at the very heart of the meaning of human life and the hope of the Christian faith. And it is at the bull's eye target for the Enemy's attack on our minds and hearts.

The Enemy's Game Plan

From the very beginning, humanity's enemy has sought to separate us from God. And what is his game-plan? To make us doubt that God really loves us, so that we have to go out and find love on our own. That way, we always feel like we have to constantly prove that we are worthy of being loved. The force of destruction at work in this world constantly whispers that we can only rely on ourselves to make us feel good about who we are. It constantly whispers, "Show everybody what you got!" But not matter what we do, it is never enough to satisfy that negative, nagging inner voice. No matter how much we use our talents to achieve, it's never enough to make us feel fulfilled. As a result, we always feel that we have something more we must do, something more we must prove. When we come to accept this treadmill as the nature of life, the devil's plan has worked.

We see his strategy in Genesis 3:1-7. Let's take a fresh look at this story by focusing not so much on what Eve and Adam do, but what the Serpent does.

Step One. He tries to plant a negative attitude in us. His method is to get us to concentrate on what we don't have rather than on what we do. With Eve, the serpent overstated the restriction that God had put on humanity. "Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?" Eve set the serpent straight. It was the fruit of only one tree they could not eat, and only because it would cause them to die. But the serpent had managed to switch Eve's focus from all the good things God had given her to the one thing he had withheld. Isn't that what he still does today? The force of destruction tries to get us to focus on the things we don't like about your life. Like how unfair it is that you have to suffer for Christ, but other Christians you know don't. Or maybe it's failing to get that promotion for which you've worked so hard, for so many years, because you won't give in to the demands of current culture. Or the force of destruction may simply try to get you to fixate on your personal frustrations, e.g., like having a less-than-ideal family, not having the good things other people have or maybe not having someone special who really cares for you. Whatever the reason, feeling like you're missing out--that's the seed of a negative attitude.

Step Two. The force of destruction makes you doubt that God loves you. You don't look for love from someone who mistreats you, so the enemy of humanity tries to make God look unfair in not giving you all that you want. See what the serpent said to Eve. He accused God of denying her the forbidden fruit out of fear of competition. "You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be open and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." The serpent wanted Eve to feel cheated so she would decide God really didn't love her after all. The force of destruction uses the same tactic with people today. Having pointed out all the problems in your life, he says, "If there really were a God who loves you, he would have given you a better deal."

Step Three. The force of destruction undermines your self-esteem for who you are now. Once he's got you to doubt God's love for you, he's able to get you to doubt yourself. How does he do it? He just compares you to others. Now we said yesterday that God uses comparisons to help us understand who we are and how we can grow more like him. But our worth and value has been permanently established by our relationship with him, being a member of the body of Christ. But there is no good thing that the Enemy of humanity has not found a way to distort for our destruction. It is true of comparison. When that nagging, negative voice compares us, to others, it says, "prove you are better, then you will have real value; prove you have more, then you will be more important," a comparison that we inevitably lose, because in this life, no one has it all. No matter how much talent, ability, and success we have, there's always someone out there who has something we don't. And the force of destruction is always there trying to make us feel inferior by pointing that fact out. God had made Eve along with Adam ruler over all the creatures he had made. But the serpent made her feel inadequate because she wasn't as wise as God. With people today, the enemy is always pointing out the strengths of others and saying, "You aren't smart enough, or athletic enough, or good-looking enough, or rich enough, or popular enough, or witty enough, or enough of all those enoughs, to feel good enough about yourself, to like yourself as you are." Without confidence in God's unconditional love for you, it's hard not secretly to agree.

Step Four. The force of destruction convinces us to work for our self-worth. With God out of the picture, it's up to us to find a way to feel good enough about ourself. We may not measure up right now, but we can someday. If we just use our abilities to make ourselves a success, then we'll really be somebody special. Then we'll be just as good, if not even better, than all those people who seem to be better than us right now. That's what the enemy told Eve. God might have been wiser than her at that moment, but if she would use her common sense and eat the fruit, she could become somebody really important. She could become God's equal, not needing to depend on anyone for anything. Then she would never feel inferior again. With people today, the force of destruction simply says, "Your talent is the ticket to being somebody. When you're number one, then you'll feel good about who you are. Then you'll be in control of your life. Then people will look up to you as their role model."

Step Five. The force lies to us that success brings lasting satisfaction. Doubting her own self-worth, but dreaming of how wonderful life was going to be, Eve bit, and so did Adam, and so do so many people today. Unsure of themselves unless they're winning, many folks dream of how wonderful it's going to be when they're finally the best, the very best. They pin all their hopes for happiness on becoming a success. They get through each day hoping that being on top one day will make up for all they're missing out on today. But what do they discover in the end? That the force of destruction has lied. Look at Adam and Eve. Doubting God's love for them led them to doubt their own self-worth. And when they tried to better themselves without God, they just made things worse. Their disobedience cut them off from God, and they felt naked as a result. Without His unconditional love in their hearts, they discovered what it was really like to feel inadequate. Yet they had turned their backs on God. All they could do now was to turn once again to their own abilities. So they made themselves clothes to try to cover up what was lacking on the inside.

Finally, Step Six. The force of destruction makes us his slave. That constant search for satisfaction through accomplishment is futile. That's the whole point behind the classic musical Little Shop of Horrors. In the story, a plant with magical powers invades the life of a loser named Seymour. He brought Seymour more success than he ever dreamed was possible. Fame, fortune, and even a beautiful girlfriend. But the plant demanded a price, human blood, and no matter how much blood Seymour provided for the plant, it only grew larger, requiring more blood and singing in a deeper, fuller, more demanding voice, "Feed me, Seymour. Feed me." When we live to satisfy a hunger for achievement, we become a slave to trying to feed it, just as the Bible warns us. Romans 6:16: "Do you not know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey?" When you base your self-worth on your performance, you become a slave to always having to perform. When you start living by the lies of the force of destruction, you soon find yourself forced to keep following him.

This performance instinct is now so wired into our fallen human nature, that we even turn the Gospel into just another opportunity to prove our worth. And it all begins with our understanding of repentance.

As some of you may recall, I grew up in Western Kansas, amidst horizon-wide fields of wheat and countless clusters of grazing cattle. And in all my years in rural America, I never saw a horse pushing a cart. As God is my witness, I never saw that happen. After all, a horse's head is not really designed to efficiently push a cart, is it. But when it comes to Christianity, it seems to happen all the time, horses attempting to push a cart. One of the most basic principles in the Christian faith is to get straight which comes first, the cart or the horse, do we initiate and God's responds? Or does God initiate and we respond? Do we take a step towards God and, therefore, he takes a step towards us? Or does God come to us, embrace us, hugging us tight with his love and we find ourselves instinctively drawn to put our arms around him in return, receiving the fullness of that love which he is imparting to us. Do our actions earn God's further blessings? Or are actions the fruit of God's at work in us, so that we will desire and do according to his good pleasure? Do we long for God to lead us, or do we expect, or at least hope, that he will get behind what we are already doing and push.

Consider repentance. Is repentance something we do to please God, or is it something God is pleased to do in us? Is repentance the basis on which God accepts us, or is it the inevitable consequence of knowing God's acceptance? What is the root of repentance? Fear and fatigue from the consequences of our actions or joy and gratitude as consequence of God's actions? What is the root of the repentance? Our own strength to choose to turn to God, or God's unceasing work by the Holy Spirit to allure us to choose him? These questions lie at the heart of the Protestant Reformation's revolution in Christian thinking that Thomas Cranmer bequeathed to the Anglican Communion.

Medieval Motivations

For the Medieval Church, repentance was something a sinner did to get right with God. Its theologians taught that Christians had to suffer as much pain as they had previously had pleasure from their sinning. When Christians chose to punish themselves first, God would demand nothing further, since God would not punish someone twice for the same offence. As a result, penitence (the medieval name for repentance) was considered to be voluntary self-punishment required by God's justice for sin. At its most basic, this self-punishment was a deeply painful mental grief at having broken God's laws. This regret for sin was to be consistent and lifelong. Whenever the thought of a past sin came to mind, Christians were to grieve that they had committed such a deed. Of course, such sorrow included the intention to forsake such sins in the future. This godly sorrow had two chief sources: the fear of punishment and the hope of forgiveness. Here was the medieval root of repentance: human effort motivated by an ever-present threat of going to Hell combined with an on-going possibility that one might get to go the heaven. Faithful Catholics were to use this constant uncertainty to drive themselves to give their all for God. Thus, at its very heart, medieval piety intertwined self-condemnation, shame and fear with the hope of future grace and glory in order to stir up a love for God which would lead to a changed life. Thomas Cranmer and his fellow Reformers accepted that only love for God led to amendment of life. However, they radically disagreed with the medieval approach as to how such love was birthed in the heart of a sinner.

Grace and Gratitude

Where does love for God come? From fear, condemnation and shame? Let's think about this. Anybody interested in fishing? When you go fishing, what do you do? Do you put a naked hook in the water? Of course not. Why not? Well, because the fish have the good sense not to want to commit suicide, right? There must be bait. There must be a lure. You realize that every sin has bait, because nobody consciously thinks, "I'm going to do something incredibly destructive to mess up my life." There is some kind of short-term gratification involved. In the end, every sin basically says, "If you do this, you will feel good, if only for a short time." What feels good differs from person to person. But that sin will make you feel good, that's its allure. That's its bait.

So if that's what's going on, let us think about shaming our way to righteousness. If you have failed as an athlete, how are you supposed to respond? You are supposed to be dissatisfied with yourself. Deeply dissatisfied, so dissatisfied as to loathe yourself as a loser--that's only way a loser can show that she or he still has that championship spirit, to punish themselves emotionally when they lose. And if athletes haven't learned to shame themselves when they lose, what has the world of sport given them to help? A coach to tell you what a loser you are. Why? Because if he can make losing feel so bad, you will do everything you can so as not to lose again. All too often that's just how we respond to our sins, to show our true commitment to Jesus by hating ourselves when we let him done. But is that really a sound strategy for success. "I'm going to make myself feel bad in order to not to want to feel good." No, that just makes sinner even more alluring, condemning you to a downwards spiral of sin, shame and more sin to cope with the shame you have already had, but what just then produces even more shame until finally you burn out.

Yet, that was the answer from the medieval Catholic church. Such pricks to the conscience cannot sustain repentance in the long run, since fear, condemnation and shame can never produce love. Only love can produce love. That, of course, is the message of the Bible. We love God because he first loved us, and his perfect love drives all fear of rejection far from us. (I John 4:18-19). Therefore, according to Protestant teaching, that's exactly what justification by faith makes clear. First, the Holy Spirit working through the Law opens the eyes of people to the depths of their sin and their imminent danger of God's justice sending them to hell. Yet their terrified consciences also find comfort in the Gospel which assures believers that his promise of free salvation in Christ is true for them personally. This assurance, in turn, engenders in them saving faith which drives out all fear of rejection, calming their turbulent hearts. Then, as believers begin to appreciate the unconditional love of God that will never leave them, their hearts are inflamed with grateful love in return. This new love for God will continually have to fight to restrain human nature's on-going hidden tendency to self-gratification. Nevertheless, because of the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, believers now have the necessary desire and ability to do so. Of course, believers will continue to fear to offend God, but this fear is different. It is not the terror of ever-present possible rejection, but the reluctance to hurt the one who loves them so much. Empowered by the overfilling joy that came from a heart made grateful by assurance, believers can at last begin to say no to the deceitful devices and desires of their own self-centredness.

Thomas Cranmer realized that the medieval teaching of conditional salvation based on human performance actually promoted self-righteous pride or self-damning despair, but neither inspired true love for God. Now in his early forties, he finally accepted that the key to a godly life was the assurance of salvation made possible by grace alone through faith alone. For only knowing God loves us, as we are, a mixed bag of good and bad impulses and intentions, only being assured of salvation despite our on­going shortcomings because of his incomprehensible love shown on the cross, only that kind of divine gracious love can ever enable the human heart to begin to love God more than sin. At last Cranmer believed he had found the new reform that would actually bring about a Christian society. But the key wasn't, as he had first thought, an old-fashioned emphasis on persuading people to try harder. Cranmer decided that only led to 'desperation'. Rather the true key was helping people to finally truly appreciate what God had already done for them. Only getting the horse before the cart would produce any real movement. Only an emphasis on salvation by grace would produce gratitude in believers. Only gratitude would inspire love. Only love would lead to true repentance. Only true repentance would bring forth good works. And only good works would build towards a better society on earth, even as Christians waited for Jesus to return to make all things new again.

In 1538 Thomas Cranmer wrote Henry VIII to try to convince him that the renewal of the human heart made possible by assurance leads directly to better lives:

But, if the profession of our faith of the remission of our own sins enter within us into the deepness of our hearts, then it must kindle a warm fire of love in our hearts towards God, and towards all other for the love of God,--a fervent mind to seek and procure God's honour, will, and pleasure in all things, --a good will and mind to help every man and to do good unto them, so far as our might, wisdom, learning, counsel, health, strength, and all other gifts which we have received of God, will extend, --and, in summa, a firm intent and purpose to do all that is good, and leave all that is evil.

Since truly justifying faith inevitably led to loving good works, Cranmer preferred to refer to it as lively (i.e., living) faith:

This is the very right, pure, perfect, lively, christian, hearty, and justifying "faith, which worketh by love," as St Paul saith, and suffereth no venom or poison of sin to remain within the heart, for by faith God purifies hearts (Acts 15:9), but gendereth in the heart an hatred to sin, and maketh a sinner clean a new man.

Henry, however, never accepted his archbishop's teaching on the human heart. Cranmer had to wait until the reign of his son, Edward VI. Then the archbishop made this grace and gratitude understanding of the Christian life the standard teaching for Anglicans by writing sermons on salvation, faith and good works and including them in the Book of Homilies. According to Cranmer's sermons, only the certainty of being eternally knit to God by his love can empower human beings to love him and one another in return: 'For the right and true christian faith is ... to have sure trust and confidence in God's merciful promises, to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ: whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey his commandments.' For assurance births gratitude, and gratitude alone births the love which leads to good works: 'Such is the true faith that the scripture doth so much commend; the which, when it seeth and considereth what God hath done for us, is also moved, through continual assistance of the Spirit of God, to serve and please him, to keep his favour, to fear his displeasure, to continue his obedient children, [showing] thankfulness again by observing his commandments, and that freely, for true love chiefly, and not for dread of punishment or love of temporal reward; considering how clearly, without our deservings, we have received his mercy and pardon freely.' When the benefits of God's merciful grace are considered, unless they are 'desperate persons' with 'hearts harder than stones', people will be moved to give themselves wholly unto God and the service of their neighbours. Naturally, Cranmer's homilies insist that this Christian love be extended to foes as well as friends, for 'they be his creation and image, and redeemed by Christ as ye are'.

Katherine Parr

Although Henry VIII did not accept Cranmer's teaching on assurance, his sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr (1512-1548), did. Katherine's account of her conversion published a few months after The Book of Homilies reads like a textbook case of the kind of transformation Cranmer wanted his sermons to produce in the English people. According to the Queen Dowager, justifying faith first opened her eyes to the truth that her salvation was totally dependent on 'Christ crucified'. 'Then I began (and not before) to perceive and see mine own ignorance and blindness.' Realizing how stubborn and ungrateful she had been to refuse to rely on Christ alone earlier, 'all pleasures, vanities, honour, riches, wealth, and aides of the world began to wear bitter unto me'. This transformation of her affections was the turning point for Katherine: 'Then I knew it was no illusion of the devil, nor false, [nor] human doctrine I had received: when such success came thereof, that I had in detestation and horror, that which I [formerly] so much loved and esteemed.'

By the light of justifying faith Katherine now recognized that her 'sins in the consideration of them to be so grievous and in the number so exceeding' that she deserved eternal damnation. Yet she saw that her prior penitential works had only been a 'hindrance'--the more she had sought 'means and ways to wind' herself out of her sinful state, the more she had in fact become 'wrapped and tangled therein'. Consequently, she now put all her hope in one thing only--the promise of full, free and immediate pardon in God's 'own Word'. 'Saint Paul saith, we be justified by the faith in Christ, and not by the deeds of the law.' Therefore, 'by this faith I am assured: and by this assurance, I feel the remission of my sins'. Experiencing assurance brought the 'inward consolation' of having imputed right standing with God: 'I feel myself to come, as it were in a new garment, before God, and now by his mercy, to be taken just, and rightwise.' Hence, 'all fear of damnation' was gone for those who with justifying faith 'put their whole hope of salvation in his hands that will and can perform it'. Katherine admitted that true believers would still fall into sin because of their human 'frailty'. Yet they needed only to humble themselves and return to God by trusting in his goodness. Now freed from all fear because of the love of God in bringing her to salvation, Katherine began to love and serve him in gratitude. Thus, from justifying faith 'sprang this excellent charity' in her heart.

Katherine's account of her conversion makes clear that, as Cranmer intended, she adopted justification by faith because she found its grace and gratitude theology much more effective than traditional medieval piety in moving her affections to truly love God and her neighbour. This powerful, deeply personal faith of Katherine's was the greatest influence on her step-daughter Elizabeth's religious formation. Thus, at the heart of Anglicanism is a Protestant confidence in the power of God's unfailing love to fulfil the catholic vision of making all things new, including the way­ward human heart.

Comfortable Words

In the Comfortable Words of his final Communion Service, Cranmer embedded this divine allurement to a life of repentance at the heart of our liturgical life.

Come unto me all that travail, and be heavy laden, and I shall refresh you.

Human misery caused by captivity to the destructive power of sin was a favorite theme of the English Reformers. They wholeheartedly agreed with Luther's teaching that the human heart cannot, of itself, free itself from slavery to sin and selfishness. Listen to what the second sermon from the Book of Homilies says. Entitled 'The Misery of All Mankind', it concisely sums up sin's effect on human nature: 'We are sheep that run astray, but we cannot of our own power come again to the sheepfold, so great is our imperfection and weakness.' Cranmer gave an enduring voice to the spiritual anxieties of the sin-sick soul in his confession for Communion.

Almighty GOD, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men, we [ac]knowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness . . . the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.

Slavery to act out in selfishness and the innate sense of guilt which resulted--here were the two fundamental sources for human misery. What could be done about them? For the English Reformers, the answer lay in divine action alone. We can see this in the absolution which followed the confession. The minister asked God to 'pardon and deliver' the congregation. Why two verbs instead of merely one? Because Cranmer was making clear that humanity needed to turn God as the only antidote for both sources of human misery. Only God could heal a conscience wounded by selfish acts. Only God could draw to his purposes a will chained to self-centeredness.

In the 1552 prayer book, Cranmer reinforced these themes by adding a new opening for the Daily Office which once again compared sin-sodden humanity to helpless sheep:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways, like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devises and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.

Now both Morning and Evening Prayer began with a confession of humanity's profound spiritual neediness in the face of its on-going struggle with self-centered waywardness. As a result, Cranmer made turning to God because of sin so as to be turned by God from it the essence of Anglican worship.

So God loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him, should not perish, but have life everlasting.

Having used Jesus' own words to acknowledge the depth of human longing for good news, Cranmer's second Comfortable Word now turns again to Jesus to establish the depth of God's own longing to respond. The divine desire and initiative to save his people is at the very heart of the English Reformers' theology. John 3:16 makes clear that God the Father, moved by the love which is his very being, sent God the Son into this world to become the visible embodiment of the divine Good Shepherd. Jesus came to seek out the lost, gently freeing lambs caught in the thicket of sin. He laid down his own life so that in the end he could bear his wandering creatures safely back to the flock on his own wounded shoulders. In the face of such alluring love, the Reformers were convinced that humanity could not but be drawn out of their deeply entrenched soul-sickness back to their Creator by the stirring up of their own inner longings.

Here is the truly revolutionary nature of the Gospel the English Reformers found in Scripture. The red thread that runs throughout Cranmer's writings is this simple truth: The glory of God is to love the unworthy. By faith sinners were adopted into God's family forever. They no longer had to fear that they were merely foster children who had to live under the constant threat of being disowned as the Devil's in the face of every fresh case of disobedience.

Hear also what Saint Paul saith. This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

Having laid out the two sides--the longing of humanity for relief and the longing of God to rescue--Cranmer's third Comfortable Word circles back like a hawk to the human condition, but now at a higher level. On the one hand, humanity's situation is no longer described in subjective terms of felt needs but rather as the objective consequences of violating divine law. Humanity suffers from spiritual fatigue because that is merely the most readily apparent fruit of human sinfulness. As rebels against divine order, they are cut off from God's peace now and stand under the threat of the divine wrath to come. Humanity's refreshment can only come by addressing humanity's sin. On the other hand, to do so is also clearly beyond human beings. Having been so weakened by sin's power, humanity cannot co-operate with grace to achieve their salvation. As we have seen, for Cranmer, that would be the 'ready way unto desperation'. I Tim. 1:15 makes plain that here is the reason Jesus came into this world.

Hear also what Saint John saith. If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins.

With the fourth Comfortable Word we have come full circle. In I Tim 1:15, the Gospel truth about the human condition was seen from the human point of view, i.e., 'How can I be saved?'. Now we turn to the Gospel truth about the human condition from God's perspective, i.e., 'How can God be true to both his righteous nature and his enduring love for an unrighteous humanity?'. I John 2:1-2 concisely states that problem from heaven's point-of-view. God's justice requires 'propitiation', i.e., the fulfilling of his determination to destroy the force of destruction at work in the world because of all the hurt and harm sin causes. Of course, Cranmer's confession for Communion explicitly acknowledged the need for such propitiation, saying that the congregation had sinned 'by thought, word and deed, against thy divine majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us'. That's why the only answer to human misery was utter divine graciousness, God's taking humanity's sin upon himself, so he can destroy sin on the cross without having to destroy humanity as well. Cranmer's Eucharistic prayer clearly affirmed the complete effectiveness of Christ's death to take away God's wrath. The cross was 'a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world'. As a result, according to the 'Homily on Salvation', 'the justice of God and his mercy did embrace together, and fulfilled the mystery of our redemption'. What good news! As I John 2:1-2 reminds us, because Christ has made the sacrifice which has removed God's wrath from us, he now is our advocate. Jesus himself is the one who stands by our side. He is the one who answers for us when we are accused of being sinners! Here is the heart of the revolution in understanding of Jesus that the English Reformers wanted to proclaim. For believers, Jesus is not our judge. He is our defense lawyer. He will present the cross as the answer to the charges that we are not good enough for God. Then God the Father will accept Jesus' righteousness as the best possible and indeed the only possible defense on our behalf. As Cranmer's confession for Holy Communion expressed it: 'for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past.' Because of Jesus, God the Father declares us 'not guilty' of any sin which would separate us from him. Thus, Cranmer concluded his four promises of the Gospel as he had begun, with utter reliance on Christ's saving activity both to meet human needs and fulfill divine desires. Now when the priest says, 'Lift up your hearts', how can our hearts, freshly renewed with love for him, not respond whole heartily?

The Power of Divine Love Today

The contemporary church would do well to recover an appreciation for this all-important Gospel teaching recovered in the Reformation. Without the on-going renewal of the heart, Christianity slips and slides towards ever-increasing legalism and self-defeating self-effort for greater holiness. The snare of legalism is easy to stumble into. Fallen human nature always feels more secure when it believes it has earned something. Legalism admits that we are saved by grace. But then it adds a crucial qualification. We must earn any further blessing from God by our own effort to be obedient. Although we weren't good enough to become right with God before we were saved, if we don't prove ourselves good enough afterwards, we won't stay right with God. We may first come into God's presence by his free gift, but we can only stay in his presence by our own sweat. Once we buy into this lie, we have stepped back on that treadmill of equating our worth with our performance. In our hearts we believe that God loves us only when we are being good. Consequently, in our hearts we love ourselves only we think we are being good.

Legalism is so persuasive because its lie is so close to the truth. Of course, blessing accompanies obedience, and disobedience brings discipline. The question is what brings about obedience. Our willpower? That is always the answer of legalism. After all, it's the right use of our willpower that legalism says earns a reward. Such was the thinking of the Medieval Church. Such is the thinking of those who try to shame people into righteousness. But that was not the answer of Paul the Christian:

it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)

According to Paul, our willpower to do right isn't 'ours'--even after we are born-again. Our power to do right is actually God himself graciously working in us. He is doing for us and in us what we cannot do ourselves--supernaturally redirecting our hearts towards serving God instead of sin. As Cranmer put it in the 42 Articles of Religion: 'The grace of Christ, or the Holy Ghost by him given, doth take away the stony heart, and giveth a heart of flesh. And although those that have no will to good things, he maketh them to will, and those that would evil things, he maketh them not to will the same.' And if obedience is itself God's gift, then the blessings which accompany it must be his gifts as well. In short, God remains the horse. We are the cart.

Naturally, Paul still insists that we are to strive to be obedient. But he wants to be clear that our striving should be directed towards relying on God to fulfil his promise to make us different, rather than trying to be different so God will fulfil his promise. And how does Paul think God makes us different? How does Paul think God redirects our will? As the Reformers pointed out, by pouring a supernatural love for him in our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). As their doctrine of the heart points out, the more we look for, know and experience the unconditional love of God for us, the more we find the willpower to love God more than sin. In the end, holiness is ever-increasing dependence on God's love to change us. That's why Paul prays for the Ephesians that they 'may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ' (Ephesians 3:18).

Legalism, however, turns obedience away from being about what God has promised to do for us and into what we have promised to do for God. By stressing that blessings are ultimately dependent on our trying hard enough to be good enough, they encourage Christians to see God as some extremely demanding supernatural sports coach. The Almighty is ever standing over them, examining their hearts and lives to discern whether they are putting in enough effort to measure up to his exacting standards. Those who have made good spiritual choices this week can expect to be on God's winning team and be blessed. Those who have made bad choices will be left off the roster and cut out of any reward, until, that is, they can prove themselves to be better. Clearly such a conditional relationship with God is fully in keeping with the traditional Roman understanding of salvation. However, it is alien to the insights of the Reformers' grace and gratitude theology. Christians cannot come to know the unconditional love of God where the ever-present fear of rejection threatens. And without the power of God's love to redirect the human heart, all legalism has to offer are those ancient, destructive motivators--self-condemnation and shame.

In the end, such a strategy for spiritual improvement makes as much sense as leaving meat and milk on the door stoop and then expecting to make lunch from them a week later. Naturally, by that time the meat would be rotten and the milk spoilt. Who in his right mind would dream of yelling at the food: 'How dare you do this to me. I have been counting on you all week to help me out.'? Everybody knows that meat and milk aren't designed to stay fresh on their own. And the same is true of human beings. God made us to need him in our lives, and only by relying on him do we find the willpower to fight sin. Without the preservative of his loving presence in our hearts, we go sour and rotten from the inside out. Therefore, the more we pull away from God out of self-condemnation and shame, the more we lose touch with his unconditional love for us. The more we lose touch with his love, the more we stumble. And, of course, the more we stumble, the more we suffer from self-condemnation and shame. This downward tailspin of failure only leads to ever-deepening despair.

Legalism is so brutal. It twists our sincere desire to serve God into a noose that misdirects our best efforts to please God so it can slowly choke out our joy. In the end, it leaves us hurting, helpless and hopeless. Consider the insightful cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin races in the front door of the house, wild with panic: 'MOM! MOM! A big dog knocked me down and stole Hobbes!' As the little boy clutches his mother's legs, he cries: 'I tried to catch him, but I couldn't, and now I've lost my best friend!' His mother kneels beside him and looks him straight in the eye: 'Well, Calvin, if you wouldn't drag that [stuffed] tiger everywhere, things like this wouldn't happen.' With a tear falling down his face, Calvin all alone looks directly at the reader and says: 'There's no problem so awful that you can't add some guilt to it and make it even worse!' No wonder many former born-again Christians choose to change their beliefs because they can't change their behaviour on their own.

But legalism isn't the Gospel. The Gospel relies on God and not us. The Gospel remembers his faithful promise to be at work in us, slowly but surely, transforming us from the inside out, first our desires, then our actions. The Gospel remembers that God's love won't abandon us, even when we have abandoned him. As Lorainne Hansberry expressed it in A Raisin in the Sun, her landmark civil rights drama from the 1950s:

[W]hen do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well, then, you ain't through learning--because that ain't the time at all.

When we find ourselves in the depths of a mess of our own making, God does not leave us to our own devices and desires. His grace is sufficient even in the face of our greatest failures. Consequently, when we need God the most, the power of his love is still there for us. Experiencing his love afresh, we can find a renewed power at work in us to turn back to him and carry on.

A major contributing factor to the current debates over sexuality is the sad fact that the conservative answer to sexual sin has all too often been trying to shame people into righteousness. But shame doesn't help people change, it only destroys their soul; consequently, progressives have offered the healing power of acceptance instead. But acceptance of sin doesn't free people from its destructive power. Acceptance of sin doesn't enable people to dwell within the Godhead, to experience the Spirit at work them, enabling them to fulfil God's plan for their lives and to experience his fulfilment in their souls. If GAFCON is going to stand for biblical truth, it needs to embody as well this Gospel teaching recovered in the Reformation: Only God's love for sinners inspires sinners to love God more than sin. Please write this down: Only God's love for sinners inspires sinners to love God more than sin. Through Jesus Christ, may God make it and us so. Amen.

Dr. Ashley Null is the author of Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love (Oxford 2000), the Rev'd Canon Dr Ashley Null is an internationally respected scholar on the grace and gratitude theology of the English Reformation. Holding research degrees from Yale and the University of Cambridge

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