Live in Contrition and Faith
Thursday in Pentecost 21
2 November 2017
Christians ever live in contrition and faith. Contrition, strictly speaking, is the terror we feel when God confronts our sins with His holy and righteous law. The law of God often descends upon us at the most inconvenient times, as King David found out when Nathan thrust his accusing finger at him: "You are the man!" (2Sa 12). The law swoops down and does us to death. Although he is a mighty warrior and anointed King, David himself is terrified that the Lord would take his life by this speaking (2Sa 12:13). There are many preachers of the law that can lead to contrition.
Tom Brown is cut to the quick when a new boy at Rugby school kneels down before sleeping and delivers his prayers much to the sneering contempt of his dorm mates. Brown had years before promised his mother that he would never stop praying while he was away at school, but his prayer life had atrophied and become quite sporadic. As he lay in bed after lights out he considered his situation: "Then the thought of his own mother came across him, and the promise he made at her knee, years ago, never to forget to kneel by his bedside, and give himself up to his Father, before he laid his head on the pillow, from which it might never rise; and he lay down gently and cried as if his heart would break...He had lied to his mother, to his conscience, to his God. How could he bear it?" (Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days). Tom Brown felt the deep shame that is contrition. The law had flooded into Tom Brown's life through his experience of the quiet faith of the new boy at the school. He wept upon his bed. Apart from Christ he could not bear it.
A personal earthquake that is off the Richter scale is not required for the law to do its work. The skittering leaf beginning its wind driven flight to join the moldering death that fertilizes the forest floor can chase us into the law's waiting maw (Lv 26:36). The fall's rustling leaf reminds us that the fall of life also descends upon us as we age. Death is the ultimate preachment of the law. We too shall fade and become brittle like the leaf and our place will know us no more, blown away by the scudding winds of time. True contrition could be unbearable where there is no grace. Where God does not follow the crushing word of the law with the life-giving word of the gospel, despair is the only possibility. Apart from God's mercy the law will bring only death. Like Tom Brown we are left to cast ourselves upon the mercy of God. That is the only possibility for sinners.
Contrition through the law drives us to shelter in Christ. The alien work of God is the law. The proper work of God is to bring comfort to those who are troubled in their consciences because of their sin. God employs the law on us only for the sake of the gospel. The gospel is certainly the superior and superseding Word from God. This good news about Christ which pronounces us righteous in Him is what must follow upon the killing word of the law so that we might be raised from death to life. This dialogue must continue until we draw our last breath; from contrition to faith. Only those who are deaf to the real voice of the law can smugly go their way under the delusion that their own righteousness is sufficient before God. If that is true, Christ died for no purpose and why we live in contrition and faith.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Apology of the Augsburg Confession
"Wherever Paul describes conversion or renewal, he almost always names these two parts, mortifying and quickening. 'In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh' (Col 2:11). And later on, 'You were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God' (Col 2:12). There are two parts here. The one is putting off the body of sins, the other is being raised through faith. Mortifying, quickening, putting off the body of sins, being raised: we are not to understand these terms in a Platonic sense as counterfeit changes; but mortification means genuine terrors, like those of the dying, which nature could not bear without the support of faith. Thus what we usually call contrition Paul calls 'putting off the body of sins' because in these troubles our natural lust is purged away. And quickening should not be understood as a Platonic figment but as consolation truly sustaining a life that flees in contrition. There are therefore two parts here, contrition and faith. Because there is no peace for the conscience except by faith, therefore faith alone quickens, according to the word, 'The righteous shall live by his faith' (Hab 2:4).
"Paul says in Colossians 2(:14) that Christ cancels the bond which stood against us with its legal demands. Here, too, there are two parts, the bond and the cancellation of the bond. The bond is the conscience denouncing and condemning us. It is the voice that says with David, 'I have sinned against the Lord' (2Sa 12:13). Wicked and smug men do not say this seriously, for they neither see nor read the sentence of the law written in their hearts. This sentence is understood only amid genuine sorrows and terrors. The bond therefore is contrition itself, condemning us. The cancellation of the bond is the removal of the sentence which declares that we are condemned and the substitution of the sentence by which we know that we have been delivered from this condemnation. This new sentence is faith, abolishing the earlier sentence and restoring peace and life to the heart.
"But what need is there to cite passages since there are so many throughout Scripture? 'The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death' (Ps 118:18). 'My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word (Ps 119:28). Here the first part contains contrition, while the second describes how we are revived in contrition by the Word of God which offers us grace.This sustains and quickens the heart. 'The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up' (1Sa 2:6). In each of these sentences the first part means contrition, the second faith. 'The LORD...will be roused; to do his deed - strange is his deed! and to work his work - alien is his work' (Is 28:21)! Isaiah calls it God's alien work to terrify because God's own proper work is to quicken and console. But he terrifies, he says, to make room for consolation and quickening because hearts that do not feel God's wrath and in their smugness spurn consolation. In this way Scripture makes a practice of joining these two, terror and consolation, to teach that these are the chief parts of repentance, contrition and the faith that consoles and justifies. We cannot see how the nature of repentance could be presented more clearly and simply."

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 12.46-52
1 Samuel 2:1-10

And Hannah prayed and said, "My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. "There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world. "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed." (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, Your alien work slays me body and soul. Keep me from despair, that I might trust Your rescue from the death Your law works. Set before my eyes Your precious cross upon which You stretched my sins to be taken away. By Your Holy Spirit, show me that the bill of my death which is before me has been written blank by the ink of Your precious blood. Amen.

For doctors and nurses and other health professionals, that they may be upheld in their offices to help and not to hurt
For all Lutheran school teachers, that they may continue to confess Christ and support the mission of the holy church
For Christopher Atsinger, who is gravely ill, that he would receive strength from his God and Savior
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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