Monthly Archives: December 2016

A Worship Catechism (10)

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60. What is the Spirit’s work in this cycle also known as?

Grace: He grants the grace of conviction, the grace of cleansing, the grace of conformity, and the grace of illumination (Phil 2:13)

61. How is this grace received and the cycle maintained?

Grace is always received through faith (Eph 2:8) – the faith of beholding Him and blessing Him in communion, the faith of becoming like Christ in confession and consecration.

62. Of what is faith composed?

Faith is composed of a simultaneous humble submission to God’s supreme authority (Jas 4:6-7, 10) a brokenness over our sin (vv 8-9), and drawing near to God for all He is (v8).

63. How is our faith to be humbly submitted?

Faith forsakes beholding and glorifying self (Ps 115:1; 2 Cor 5:14-15) for a life wholly given to God’s glory (Rom 11:36; Eccl 12:13), and yields to loving God’s loves supremely (2 Cor 5:9).

64. How is our faith to be broken in spirit?

Faith confesses the ugliness of sin – hating what God hates – and counts itself dead to sin and alive to Christ’s righteousness (Rom 6:3-14)

65. How is our faith to be drawing near to God?

Faith seeks God’s beauty as its chief desire (Ps 27:4, 63:1-2; Ex 33:18-19), wholeheartedly (Jer 29:13), intentionally (Prov 2:1-6), persistently (Lk 11:5-13) and teachably (Ps 50:21; Job 42:5).

66. In what way does this cycle resemble the Gospel?

The cycle is initiated and maintained by God’s grace, and responded to with faith, wherein there is both the “deaths” of humble submission, brokenness, confession and consecration, and the “resurrections” of delighted beholding, becoming and blessing of God’s beauty (Col 2:6)

Adoration of the Shepherds

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Take some time to consider Caravaggio’s Adoration of the Shepherds. Don’t scan and speed-read, but if you have the time, stop and stare.

First, where is the focal point of this painting? Where does our gaze go first, and where does it seem to land? Is there more than one focal point? Are we above, below, or eye-level with this scene? It seems the lines, the gaze of the shepherds, the direction of the hands points us to Mary and her Child. But a secondary focal point is the faces of the shepherds. Caravaggio wants us to look where they are looking. But once there, Mary’s face is in shadow, and the Christ-child is faced away from us, so we go back to the shepherds, who can see His face. Our eyes go back and forth from the Child to the Shepherds, and that is as the artist would have it. We are almost eye-level with this scene, which suggests Caravaggio wants us to come in as the shepherds, seeing, absorbing the scene, and beginning to crouch to see and adore more clearly.

Second, consider the colours used. What colour dominates? What colours have been used? Of the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow), which has been used? On a colour wheel, has Caravaggio used colours complementary to one another (i.e. opposite each other on the colour wheel), or analogous to one another (next to each other on the colour wheel)?colourwheel

Why?  Caravaggio has chosen a warm red for Mary’s clothes, and given the shepherd closest to her exactly the same colour for his robe, with nearly parallel lines directing our gaze to that section of the painting. The colours of the other robes, the skin tones of all, the colours in the stable, are all browns, yellows, beiges, and golden tones. The scene exudes warmth, and joy.  Caravaggio is avoiding contrasts at all costs, trying to evoke a very natural and life-like manger scene. And yet — the golden light is enough to alert us that something is not as natural as it normally would be. Some divine intervention is here, too.

Third, what sort of lines has the artist used? Are they sharp and geometrical? Are they curvilinear? Are they bold outlines? Using oil, Caravaggio avoids dark outlines, and creates very natural, biomorphic, curvilinear shapes. The lines are smooth and calming, but they flow towards the focal point. The painting is not symmetrical, but it nevertheless has a convergence point. Even the sharp bits of straw direct our eyes to Mary and the Child. The artist wants the scene to be as natural as possible, because it is in its very naturalness that we will absorb the supernaturalness of it.

Fourth, where is the light coming from? What does this suggest? What is illuminated and what is in shadow? The scene seems to be a night-time scene, and the light seems too bright for a candle, so the light seems to be a heavenly source. It is shining in from above. But, whether it is the Star of Bethlehem, the glory of angels, moonlight, we do not know. We can merely tell the light is beautiful, and illuminating a humble scene. Supernature and nature are combining in one scene of mystery.

Fifth, consider the symbols. Almost invisible, behind Mary are two figures with a long history in Christian portrayals of the Nativity – the ox and the ass, traditionally made to represent Jew and Gentile (Is 1:3), both rebellious, but now adoring Christ. In Caravaggio’s work, they are present, but not as icons of devotion. They are simply animals in the background. Caravaggio wants to stand in the tradition of Nativity scenes, but he is determined to portray this scene in all its humble realism. Two people have halos, Mary and Joseph (the man third from Mary’s right). But the halos are so thin as to be almost invisible. Carpenter’s tools and some dry bread in the front show us that this is a scene of realistic poverty. Caravaggio is not abandoning the symbols, but he is adapting them for his purposes.

Sixth, notice the physical gestures. Look at the hands – Mary’s, and the shepherds. What do they tell us of how to feel about this Child? Notice the postures – Mary’s draped and exhausted posture, the shepherds’ awkward stoop and crouch. Notice how Caravaggio has created a subtle divide between Mary and the shepherds through the parallel red cloaks, and the black cloth (the darkest thing in the painting) draped over her. She is everything normal, natural, and homely, but there is a Divine presence here, and the shepherds (and even Joseph) stop short of irreverently reaching past this divide with their hands.

Seventh, notice the men, and their expressions. They are dirty, scraggly, unkempt. The sun has aged them. Their clothes are almost rags, in one case. But what do these hardened, simple, poor men say with their eyes? Mary’s face is in shadow, for Caravaggio wants us to focus on the expressions of the shepherds: awe, gratitude, amazement. These are hard faces softening in the glow of what they are seeing.

Caravaggio is blending the supernatural and the natural, the divine and the human, the presence of grace within a fallen world. But his realism never becomes the gritty despair so common in the post-modern imagination: the grim and dark meaninglessness glorified in the anti-heroes of today’s movies. No, his deep realism is intended to provide a contrast: glory in the midst of humility. He wishes us to feel the awe of knowing that the glory of heaven was present in the dirt of a manger scene. This birth was normal, in every way, but it was glorious. This scene was humble – forgettable even, by the standards of the world. But it was simultaneously the most important birth ever. Caravaggio has masterfully imagined the truths of the Incarnation.

A Worship Catechism (9)

52. What is meant by consecration?

Consecration is dedicating something to the holy glory of God.

53. What are we to consecrate to God?

Whatever cannot be loved for God’s sake should not be loved at all; whatever can be loved for God’s sake should be consecrated to Him (Phil 4:8).

54. How are we to consecrate all lawful things to God?

We are to present our entire lives as a sacrificial offering (Rom 12:1), doing all deeds for Christ’s sake (Col 3:17, 23), doing all for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31) and doing all that we do in love (1 Cor 16:14), while depending on His enabling grace to do so (Col 1:29; 2 Cor 9:8; Deut 33:25; 1 Cor 15:10).

55. What will confession and consecration lead to?

Our confession and consecration leads to God’s cleansing of us (1 Jo 1:9).

56. What is meant by cleansing?

The continual cleansing of the Christian is not the cleansing of his judicial guilt, but the sanctifying work of practically imparting Christ’s righteousness to his soul (John 13:9-10).

57. What is cleansed in the Christian?

First, his conscience is cleansed from accusation and the sense of the Father’s displeasure (Ps 51:12-15) and is re-sensitized to holiness. Second, he is cleansed from moral defilement (2 Cor 7:1), as he flees from sin (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Tim 2:22), mortifying its power (Col 3:5), making no provision for it (Ro 13:14), and puts off the old man. This leads him to more conformity to Christ.

58. What is meant by conformity to Christ?

Conformity is the progressive likeness to Christ in affection, mind, and action that is imparted to the believer who gazes on Christ (2 Cor 3:18), seeks to put off the old and be renewed in his mind (Eph 4:22-24), and walks submissively by the power of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-24).

59. To what does conformity to Christ lead?

Likeness brings nearness: God communicates Himself most to the soul that has progressed farthest in Christlikeness (Jas 4:8; Jo 14:21, 15:9-10; Eph 3:16-19). With more conformity to Christ, communion is increased, and the cycle of deepening love for God continues.

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A Worship Catechism (8)

46. What is meant by confession?

Confession is the agreement of the mind and heart with God’s conviction (1 John 1:9). The mind agrees with the sinfulness of the sin, and accepts the guilt of it (Ps 51:3-4). The heart agrees it has loved what God hates and hated what God loves, and sorrowfully revolts against such inordinate love (2 Cor 7:10), forsaking it for the cleansing blood of Christ and the truths of justification (Prov 28:13; Micah 7:8-9).

47. What will result from our refusing to confess?

When we refuse to confess, we experience leanness of soul and spiritual drought (Ps 106:15, 32:3-4), and harden our hearts to worshipping God (Ps 95:6-8), while losing boldness to approach God in communion (Heb 10:19-22).

48. Why is refusing to confess foolishness?

Refusing to confess is attempting to flee from the omnipresent One (Ps 139:1-16), hoping to cover our sins (Prov 28:13) by avoiding the Light (Jo 3:20) that lights every man (Jo 1:9) and hardening our hearts to the Almighty Spirit’s relentless conviction (Ps 139:7; Jo 16:8).

49. How will God respond to our refusals to confess?

God will lovingly chasten us, bringing to bear upon our souls the pain of withdrawn fellowship, evil consequences for sin, or purifying trials to purge us of our love of sin, and urge us toward confession and consecration (Heb 12:5-11).

50. What habits will encourage confession?

We should confess sin the moment we are aware of it, see no sin as too small to confess to Christ, refuse any reluctance to go to Christ, and be clothed with Christ’s obedience.

51. How will God receive our confession?

God receives it as the loving father ran to meet his prodigal son (Lk 15:20), for He is slow to anger and abundant in compassion (Ps 103:8-10), He delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18), and He is faithful and just to keep cleansing us because of our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2).

A Worship Catechism (7)

39. What is meant by imagination?

Imagination is that faculty which interprets and construes reality, and enables us to understand both what is seen and unseen.

40. How are we to behold God in His revealed and reflected presence?

We are to gaze persistently (Lk 11:5-13, 18:1-8) and deliberately upon His Word and works, diligently seeking His Person (Prov 2:1-5), as our ultimate delight and dependence.

41. What are the responses of a new nature to illumination?

Beholding the glory of God leads to blessing and beautifying God in admiring adoration (Ex 33:13-18; Ps 27:4) and desiring a deeper union and conformity to such beauty (1 John 3:2).

42. What is meant by conviction?

Conviction is the work of the Spirit upon our renewed consciences, alerting us to ways we fall short of the glory of God (Jo 16:8-11, Heb 4:12)

43. How does conviction take place?

First, the conscience, being stirred by the Spirit’s work, warns us before we sin, and accuses us after we sin (Jo 8:9; Ro 2:15). Second, the sheer contrast felt between God and ourselves, when we encounter Him, convicts us of change that is necessary (Is 6:5; Job 42:5-6; Lk 5:8).

44. Of what does the Spirit convict us?

The Spirit convicts us of sin and needed change to a degree appropriate to our relative maturity in Christ (1 Cor 2:11, Prov 20:27, Heb 5:14).

45. How should we respond to conviction?

Regular acts of confession and consecration are truthful and loving responses to the Spirit’s conviction (1 Jo 1:9, Ro 12:1).