"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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Don't Tarry Till You're Better

In church yesterday, as part of our corporate confession of sin, we sang a song by Joseph Hart. Below are the lyrics and some commentary. My hope is that this post sheds some light on our sin nature and the good news of the full assurance of pardon we can have in Christ.

Come, You Sinners, Poor and Needy

Come, you sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love, and power.

Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all that he requires as fitness
is to know your need of him.

Come, you weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you're better,
you will never come at all.

Come, arise and go to Jesus,
he will take you in his arms;
in the love of your dear Savior
you are safe from all alarms.

As Christians still plagued by our old sin natures, we frequently struggle with our own consciences. Because of this, often when we sin we "tarry," and don't come immediately to God in repentance to ask for his mercy. We feel we should wait a while, until we feel better about ourselves. We sense that we ought to clean ourselves up, ought to make ourselves presentable to God, before we approach him to ask for mercy. We "fondly dream" about our "fitness."

Some of us fear his anger, not being able to hope that he would have mercy on people like us without us first making some effort to change. Others of us think we can somehow become more deserving of his mercy if we can show or prove our good intentions of changing. Both are the same error at root: the belief that God will have mercy on us based on something within us.

The problem with all of this is that we can't clean ourselves up or make ourselves presentable to God. God will never be satisfied with any changes we make in our lives in an attempt to curry his favor. And I think we won't be truly satisfied, either, in our heart of hearts. This is what it means in the song—"if you tarry till you're better, you will never come at all." If your conscience is at all sensitive to your own sin, you know that you will never be—or feel—fit to come to God deserving anything but his wrath.

The good news is that, even though you'll never be fit to approach God and ask for mercy, he took the initiative and extended his mercy to you in his Son Jesus Christ. "All that he requires as fitness is to know your need of him." If you know your total need for his great mercy, and hope only in what Christ has certainly accomplished for his people, then even though your conscience accuses you of not being able to approach God for mercy, he grants you full pardon and refuge from his anger.

Isaiah 44:23

Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
and will be glorified in Israel.

His mercy toward you doesn't depend on you—that's why it's called mercy! So when your conscience accuses you, and you feel like God is unapproachable because of what you have done, don't tarry till you're better, or you'll never come at all.

Posted by Eric Costa on January 23, 2006 11:04 PM


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