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The Rev. Roger Salter: “Amendment of Life”

September 26, 2008

From the Rev. Roger Salter of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church near Birmingham, here is a sermon on a much-used (yet perhaps not really thought about) phrase, “Amendment of Life”:

The Almighty and merciful Lord grant you Absolution and Remission of all your sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of his Holy Spirit. Communion of the Sick: BCP

Amendment of life is an essential development in the life of the regenerate. That is indeed the practical aspect and evidence of true salvation. Without the insistence on amendment of life our message is antinomian (against the moral law of God and the life of holiness). Salvation is the translation from sin to sanctity, not merely a convenient exemption from punishment and a ticket to heaven. It is a change of character that leads to a change of life. Amendment of life is the proof of sincere faith expressed in the fruit of the Spirit.

Amendment of life is not self-initiated nor self-wrought. It is incumbent upon us but impossible for us. As God’s rational creatures we are responsible to perform it. As fallen sinners we have forfeited the ability to effect it. The lack of capacity is self-inflicted so the blame is ours. Amendment of life is a gift from God, just as the repentance that precedes it is an enduement of grace. We must do it. We can’t do it. We are culpable. We are thrust upon grace.

Amendment of lfe is necessary. The new creature, the person who is born again, adheres to a new ethic. It is revealed in the law of God (divine wisdom and instruction) and written upon the heart (new understanding and inclination). The true believer actively and sincerely prefers the way of God, desires to please him, and longs to resemble him. Holiness does not emerge from legalism but love. Repentance, connected to faith, is the first move of the newborn soul. Amendment of life begins in the first stirrings of the new nature. The change is a duty (obedience), but also a delight (desire), and, furthermore, it is the fruit that proves that the tree is now good. Holiness is the sign of imparted divine energy, and it is evidential of grace received (Grant from this time forward we may serve and please you in newness of life: Holy Communion). Where mercy has been bestowed amendment of life will be inevitable — perhaps small, certainly gradual, but necessarily present.

Amendment of life is possible. The exhortation and opportunity is evidence of the boundless grace of God towards us. The call to amendment means that we are not abandoned. God is forbearing. He exercises patience. The reversal of the grip of sin, and deliverance from any form of bondage and accustomed behaviour is in prospect for the believer of the gospel. Amendment is available, not through human resolve and self-effort, but by the power of grace. The petition quoted above begins with the plea “God grant “. The admission is the recognition that what is sought is beyond human accomplishment. It must be prompted and sustained by divine enabling ([Almighty God] confirm and strengthen you in all goodness]. The obedience of the Christian is a matter of willing obligation met through grace and activated by the love of God, love for God, and love for all that is good.

In the face of our sins, selfish affections, and susceptibility to temptation the summons to amendment of life is daunting. If we do not hear that summons we must wonder at the presence of grace in our hearts and enquire as to whether it is there. When we hear the call and proffer our assent we must rejoice that God’s purpose is to transform our lives. Perhaps he will do so over a prolonged period of time and through many struggles, but in the true believer the possibility will be fulfilled. The drives and demons we deal with will be dealt with by God working through us and empowering our wills and efforts to war against the tendencies of the past and walk in the ways of the new obedience (Phil 2:13). The progress towards amendment of life is the experience of mercy. God enables that which he requires. He confers the desire for and then guides us in the direction of holiness (Jer 32:38-40). Our initial indisposition and helplessness is painful. Then when the process towards renewal begins we are conscious of the help of the Lord — not picking us up and propelling us from the point of attainment but lifting us out and carrying us on from our impotence. After all, repentance is a gift (we cannot generate it and we confess that to God), and amendment is the advance of grace at work within our lives. Everything in the matter of salvation is a divine bestowal at various stages of growth and development. We are born again at the divine decision. We believe/repent through his enabling. We change through his renovating power. We persevere because he preserves us. Looking back we can review our life of action but we realize that we have been activated by him and complicit through the resources he has given. Grace initiates our amendment of life, removes our inertia, and ensures our ongoing endeavour. Grace works sovereignly and is evidenced in our works. All is of God and the attitudes and actions of holiness are ours, yet wrought in us. It is miraculous and a source of hope for the impotent sinner. God can do in us what we cannot do for ourselves. The obligation and necessity of holiness, goodness, and obedience is fulfilled through a grant from heaven. God creates the new principle that causes us to concur with his will and working so that we perform what he desires. The pleasure and the power are ours because he donates them.

We need never lose heart. In the matters of repentance and change we feel our impotence and indisposition. But it is the Saviour’s prerogative and promise to give us what we lack and cannot produce. He is the Saviour of our souls and not simply the one who supplements our preliminary exertions. In all honesty we say, ‘Lord, I love my sin and hate your ways and wait upon him with urgent prayers and appeals, knowing that he pities our helplessness and promises a new heart. Salvation starts at the point where we are unable to start or do anything for ourselves. Any act of preparation is his. So our desperation is presented to him who accomplishes the impossible on our behalf:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature ‘s night: thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke — the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee. Charles Wesley (As John Duncan would ask, “What’s become of your Arminianism now, friend? ‘).

The oppression of sin and hardened habits is not cause for delay or efforts at reform. We come as we are to the giver of grace from new birth to faith and repentance, to amendment of life, to the crown of glory.

Whatever, in any person, happens to be the besetting sin, weakness, ailment, or plight, the ministry of the people of God begins with the plea, “The Lord grant you and then we go on to enumerate the requests in confidence that the God of infinite grace will mercifully hear. Amendment of life is one of these petitions.

May God grant us all the grace to amend our lives where such is needed, and to use this for His glory.

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