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The Rev. Roger Salter: “Teach Me, Turn Me! (The Psalmist’s Appeal to the Divine Initiative)”

July 25, 2008

As nearly always is the case, this sermon by the Rev. Roger Salter of St Matthew’s Anglican Church near Birmingham is beautifully worded, making one really think about the condition of our hearts:

The core concern of the spiritual life is the inclination of the heart. Desire determines the character of our moral nature and also our relationship to God. Desire creates decision and decision dictates direction and deed. Desire is the essential expression of the self and an accurate indication of our moral condition. Speech and action can conceal the leaning and motivation of the heart, deceiving others and ourselves, but the desires disclose the full truth of what and who we are and the Spirit of God plumbs the depths of our natures to discern and decide our actual state and real worth as persons assessed by the standards of his holiness. The Lord searches the deeps of the human personality that we can neither know nor understand (Jeremiah 17: 9,10). What is unfathomable to us is exposed to God and none of our pretence, cunning. and concealment can hide our nakedness before Him (Genesis 2:25- 3:10). We are found out before his scrutiny and our moral nakedness betokens our interior wretchedness, an emptiness, unsoundness, and defilement that necessitate the worthlessness, wantonness, and wilfulness of our sinful proclivities. A true work of divine conviction within the human heart persuades us that we are incapable of right desire, good affection, and holy aspiration. Such is the drift of Holy Scripture when it describes human nature in its fallen state or becomes the vehicle of godly confession and yearning. There is the sense of complete helplessness in self and total and urgent dependence upon the merciful power of God to rescue the soul and rectify the predicament.

This is the merit of our Anglican liturgy in its original and classical form. It will not allow us to forget or deny our fundamental and insoluble problem as evil and lost creatures, and at the same time it exhorts and encourages us to call in confidence upon a compassionate God. All of its assertions and each of its prayers declare our impotence and spiritual/moral destitution and with deep pastoral compassion and wisdom our Prayer Book directs us to a wholehearted and happy reliance upon the grace of the Lord. We need such a basis and discipline to our life of prayer, devotion, and communion with God – so apt are we to drift into mistaken notions about ourselves and about Him. The historic liturgy compiled from many sources grounded in the faith of Holy Scripture and the experience of the true saints of God is an invaluable, some of us would say necessary. compass and corrective in our daily walk before and with our heavenly Father.

It is the condition of our nature, the complexity of the heart, and the connectedness and inter-relatedness of our all our faculties in the consequences of our sad defection from God that makes so much of discussion about the freedom of the will in relation to sin and salvation so puerile, glib, unsatisfactory, and ultimately pointless. The will is simply the inclination of our sinful nature and its perverse desires. It is not a separate and sovereign faculty capable of determining or reversing the bent of our basic and inborn affections. It is simply the human person or soul in self-expression, mental motion, and pursuit of preferred aims, and these aims cannot include God, the things pertaining to Him, or holiness, humility, and obedience until complete, radical, and miraculous renewal or regeneration of that person has occurred through the almighty power of God. This recognition is vital to a true estimate of the plight and peril of human kind and the application of the remedy wrought through the Lord Jesus Christ in His gracious role as our Redeemer. Anything less than the absolute admission of our guilty, hostile helplessness (Rornans 8:6-8), and the glad acceptance of the necessity and effectualness of sovereign grace is a diminution of the purpose and achievement of God in delivering us, and a reduction of our gratitude towards Him and praise of 1-Jim. We are past self-help, true desire for God, and willingness for salvation. Our case is closed and favourable prospects nil. We are declared dead and done for by the Word of God. Our helplessness concludes in our felt hopelessness and yields to self-despair. Biblically, this is the point at which we must arrive if we are to trust in Christ alone — his undeserved kindness, the cure of the cross, and His coming to our hearts with compelling call and God-given capacity to confide in Him. All is of pure, free grace from outset to consummation. Any attribution of worth, work, or natural willingness to man is to be strictly avoided if we are to appraise the saving work of God on our behalf aright and benefit from it. No other strength or righteousness apart from God’s can avail. He is the sole author and achiever of salvation and it comes to us in the divine work of new birth on the basis of election and Christ’s procurement of our deliverance on the cross, and our consequent consciousness of such favour evidences itself in the exercise of faith. We commence at the point of helplessness, we hear the word of hope in the gospel, we look up to, and wait upon, the goodness of God, and rest in the comfort of his truthfulness and reliability, leaving the happy outcome to His sworn faithfulness to the promises He has spoken.

Thus the psalmist shows the way to all who yearn for God, forsake self, and cast themselves upon Him (119; 33-48). He must kindle, create, initiate, cause what I do not have, cannot produce, and will forever lack if He does not act mercifully and generously. Convicted, tenderized hearts are inevitably in concert and concurrence with the sentiments and requests of Israel’s poet. Teach me. Inherently, I have neither truth nor understanding. These great things must be gifts, sovereignly, undeservedly bestowed. Direct me. I am out of the way and lost. Retrieve me and reroute me so that I will be back on the track from which I so foolishly, wilfully, recklessly, and deliberately wandered. Turn my heart (cf Jeremiah 31:1 8). Left to myself I will rush headlong down the slope that takes me far and fatally from you. My worthless heart pants for worthless things that cannot endure nor satisfy. And so the psalm, and all the Scriptures, and all the petitions of the liturgy cry out in unison, “If there is anything good, true, holy, saving — then, Lord, put it in our hearts. It can only come from you. I should desire, value, harbour and hold such things that bless my soul and secure my peace and wellbeing for eternity. But I am barren through my own fault and have forfeited every blessing. But my hope is in your goodness, forbearance, and forgiveness. And you invite me to call on your Name. Your Word is the warrant for such bold requests that would be audacious otherwise. You yourself stir up the desire that seeks you (0 God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed — Collect for Peace, Evening Prayer) and then you undertake to fulfill the desires you have implanted (Pss 21:2, 37:4, 145:19). There is sweetness in the sense of utter dependence upon God and beauty in the words that induce that dependence and actuate fervent cries to Him.

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