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Psalm 51

 

Have mercy on me,O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a rightspirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One for All

Wednesday of Lent 3

26 March 2014

Imputation cuts two ways. We are counted guilty by God because of the fall of Adam. We suffer a collective or shared guilt in Adam. Collective guilt is hardly a popular concept today, except when it suits the political elites to charge disfavored groups with some collective crime. Uwe Siemon-Netto, a German national, felt the burden of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against the downtrodden peoples of Europe during the Second World War, even though he was a child at the time and certainly never sympathized with the Nazi eugenics program [see
Higher Things (Summer 2009), 21]. Siemon-Netto understands that there is a collective guilt accruing to the German people. How quick we are to reject this as hyper-sensitive moral nonsense. Of course, we say, no one could be guilty for the sins of another. Yet the Old Testament reminds us of our common guilt when God threatens that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him (Ex 20:5). Collective guilt is a bone chilling moral reality cemented in the nature of the Adamic fall. We are in Adam and share his fall.

 

 

We struggle not just with collective guilt, but collective anything! We are so radically individualistic that nothing ties us any longer to society, community, God, or any other person. The same sex "marriage" debate is partly radical individualism attacking a communitarian view of the institution of family. I am free to redefine sex, and the relations between two persons that are definitive of marriage, if I see fit. I have no responsibility to my family, community, future, past, children, God or moral value. I do as I please as a monad unrelated to others. I have no responsibilities to others, nor can what I do affect anyone else. This too is moral nonsense, but hyper-callous and solipsistic moral nonsense. All human relations have a moral dimension to them. What we do affects everyone else. What everyone else does affects us. Throw a pebble into a still pond and watch the ripples race from the epicenter. They may get smaller as they travel, but they shiver the surface a long way.

 

God, who is arbiter of a greater reality than what we can see or understand, created the world with its collective relations: Adam and Eve were not created for themselves, but for fellowship with their Creator and with each other and to govern and serve the creatures God placed in the world (Gn 1:26-28). They were responsible to God for the world God gave them. If there is no collective guilt and responsibility there could be no collective imputation of the divine righteousness in Christ (Rm 5:18-19). Collective blessings and collective penalties are equally collective. For example, I live in the economically vibrant city of Houston and I feel the benefits of so great a blessing in the midst of an economic downturn. Who says there are no collective benefits?

 

The greatest collective blessing which God showers on sinners is that He justifies us by sharing the gift of righteousness which is both earned by Christ and is Christ. If we cannot be counted guilty as part of a collective whole, we cannot be counted righteous or reputed to be just by God's verdict either. The apostle to the Gentiles considered this a truism in Rm 5:18-19:  "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." The obedience of the One becomes the righteousness of the many, just as the trespass of the one became the condemnation for all. 

 

Augustine of Hippo

 

"In the clause which concludes Romans 5:12, 'because all sinned,' how cautiously, rightly, and unambiguously the statement is expressed! For if you understand that sin to be meant which by one man entered into the world, 'In which [sin] all have sinned,' it is surely clear enough, that the sins which are peculiar to every person, which they themselves commit and which belong simply to them, mean one thing; and that the one sin, in and by which all have sinned, means another thing; since all persons were that one man. If, however, it is not sin, but that one man that is understood, 'In which [one man] all have sinned,' what again can be plainer than even this clear statement?

 

"We read, indeed, of those being justified in Christ who believe in Him, by reason of the secret communion and inspiration of that spiritual grace which makes everyone who clings to the Lord 'one spirit' with Him (1Co 6:17), although His saints also imitate His example; can I find, however, any similar statement made of those who have imitated His saints? Can any man be said to be justified in Paul or in Peter, or in any one whatever of those excellent men whose authority stands high among the people of God? We are no doubt said to be blessed in Abraham, according to the passage in which it was said to him, 'In thee shall all nations be blessed' (Gal 3:8) for Christ's sake, who is his seed according to the flesh; which is still more clearly expressed in the parallel passage: 'In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.' I do not believe that any one can find it anywhere stated in the Holy Scriptures, that a man has ever sinned or still sins 'in the devil,' although all wicked and impious men 'imitate' him. The apostle, however, has declared concerning the first man, that 'sin came into the world through one man' (Rm 5:12) and yet there is still a debate about the propagation of sin, and men oppose to it I know not what nebulous theory of 'imitation.'"

 

Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism of Infants, 1.11

 

Prayer

Lord Christ, You have placed all under sin, that we might flee to You alone for refuge. Give us Your righteousness that we might live at peace with You and in harmony with the world in which You have placed us and for which we are responsible. Amen.

 

For B.J. Hall who is undergoing therapy for cancer, that the holy angels would attend her

 

For Bud Obert, that the Lord would grant him strength and healing

 

For those who are suffering under the tyranny of addiction to pornography, that they might acknowledge their guilt and receive the gift of divine forgiveness for a renewal of strength

 

For all those who are seeking a church where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, that they might be brought at last to the peace of hearing God's Word in a faithful church

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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