If I could summarise the conference thus far in one song lyric, it would be hard to find a more suitable line than this: How sweet the sound of saving grace — Christ died for me!
The line is from the bridge of Now Why This Fear, one of the songs which we sang to open the morning session. Indeed, it has been so so sweet to hear the sound of saving grace resounding throughout this conference — in the sound of the saints singing and admonishing each other with songs of God’s great salvation, and in the sound of the gospel message of God’s goodness and grace being preached.
Gathering around the Word
There were two sessions of teaching in the morning. First, Kevin DeYoung encouraged us from Psalm 119 to treasure and delight in the word of God. Kevin started by reading verses 129-136 of the psalm, and noted 131 and 136 in particular:
I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.
When we read these verses, do we feel embarrassed at the unadulterated exuberance with which the psalmist displays his seemingly heady love for God’s word? Do we feel cynical — maybe he’s just engaging in hyperbole?
No, this should be the ideal to which we strive. Indeed, if the Bible, if the Scriptures are the very words of God, then how can we not delight in them; how can we not feel indignant at their rejection?
Gathering to Rehearse the Gospel
The second morning session was a brilliant, soul-stirring exposition of Isaiah 6 by Jeff Purswell. Isa 6 is one of those passages that churchgoing Christians tend to be (overly) familiar with. But this usually means that said Christians — myself included — don’t really understand it all that well! So I was very grateful for Jeff, who by the illuminating power of the Spirit, helped us to see more clearly what Isaiah saw in that glorious vision of God.
I was particularly struck by Jeff’s observation in verse 1: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Isaiah sees the thone of God, but immediately afterwards he notes this interesting detail — the train of his robe filled the temple. Did Isaiah not notice anything else? No; rather, our God is so big that when we catch a glimpse of Him we can only see the train of his robe. (cf Exodus 24:9f where Moses and the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel” — the sapphire pavement under his feet!)
Jeff helpfully pointed out that:
- All Christians at some point have a vision or glimpse of God;
- When we see his utter holiness, we realise that it can only be an act of mercy that can bring us into His awesome, terrible presence. For Isaiah, it was the burning coal which touched his lips, and the pronouncement that his guilt and sin were atoned for. For us on this side of the cross, it is the loving sacrifice of God’s own son which atones for our sins.
- We then respond to God’s grace. “When we are captivated by God, we are then unleashed into worship, and into His service.”
True worship is a response to the grace of God, with adoration for God, and service to God.
When we gather in our churches, do we gather to rehearse this great gospel? That we have a great God who forgives great sinners? That we have a God who cannot tolerate our sinful rebellion; that in His great wisdom He sent His Son to take our rightful place on that cross of Calvary; that because of his death and glorious resurrection three days later we can have been reconciled to Christ?
If we don’t rehearse the gospel in our “worship” services, we are really worshiping ourselves or the world. If we do not magnify the gospel, we will inadvertently either magnify ourselves (and our self-righteousness) or belittle our great God.
After lunch we broke into smaller groups for seminars. I attended “Cultivating Godliness in Musicians” run by Bob Kauflin and “Encountering God’s Presence” by Nathan Smith (of Grace Church Bristol). Both sessions were really practical and helpful. However given that this post is getting quite lengthy so I might share what was taught some other time. I shall instead post a photo which I am quite happy about:
Gathering to Sing
The final teaching session of today was entitled Gathering to Sing. Bob Kauflin posed the following question: “Why do we worship God in song at all?” Now, given that we were at a worship conference, I thought this an important question worthy of extended meditation. Why do churches all over the world gather together on Sundays to sing praises corporately to God?
From Colossians 3:12-17 (especially vv16 and 17), Bob explained that the imperative “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” was to be accomplished by these two means:
- By teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom
- By singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs
Singing impresses the gospel of Christ on our minds. Somehow, humans are wired to remember truths better when combined with music — singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another is a form of teaching and admonishing one another.
Singing impresses the gospel of Christ on our hearts. Bob quoted Jonathan Edwards, who said: “The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections.” What a great gift God has given us, that through singing we might fan the flame in our hearts which burns for Christ.
Singing engages our minds and our hearts; doctrine combines with devotion, intellect with emotion. The best songs, therefore, contain both truth and tunes.
Finally, we ended the night just how we started in the morning — singing praises to our glorious King. To quote Calvin (who was in turn quoted by Bob in the afternoon):
We should consider it the great end of our existence to be found numbered among the worshipers of God.
How true indeed! Lord, we long for the day when we finally unite with the saints throughout all generations, in the glorious new city of our God, where we will finally see you face to face.