Posted by: Billy Marsh | January 7, 2008

I’m No Atlas

This post ought to be read in conjunction with my previous installment of reflections on Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality. That particular chapter, “Substantial Healing of the Total Person,” meant a lot to me. Schaeffer used several brilliant word pictures in chapter 11 to vividly illustrate his points. By the time I came to the end of the chapter, I found myself refiguring my perspective concerning just how moving and powerful the truth is that Jesus Christ relieved his people of their burden of sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt the weight of sin bearing down heavily upon my shoulders all too often. I am by no means ignorant of the inability of my flesh to satisfy God apart from faith and the agency of the Holy Spirit. I feel the weakness in my being, the fragility of my bones, the inadequacy of my will, and the erosion of my character due to the lust of the flesh. Sometimes I sense that I’ve tried to carry the weight of the world, and by the end of the day, I watch it roll off my back as I lay flattened on the ground waiting for the Lord to peel me off the floor and to breathe new life into me again.

Right now, in my sidebar I have a quote from Charles H. Spurgeon which says, “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness that remains in him.” Though I do not pose to be far along in my path to holiness, I would like to think that I am growing forwards in holiness to some degree and do believe that I can empathize with Spurgeon on this point. As I reflect on the unholiness in my life, there are times when the weight of sin and failure seem too great to bear. How could I possibly ever please the Lord, the Holy One? How can filthy rags ever be a fragrant aroma pleasing to him? But, joyfully, I do not despair, though I do lament. However, the answer is simple: Jesus Christ.

Christian at the Cross

On the day that we discussed this chapter in The Francis Schaeffer Book Club, I was designated to lead the session. It was obviously an ordained event, especially in light of the Psalm that I had read earlier that morning in my quiet time. So, for the rest of this post, I want to give you what I shared with the group in terms of pieces of Psalm 38 and a passage from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. These exerpts speak for themselves so I will limit my commentary.

In Psalm 38, I was blown away by the similarities it shared with Schaeffer’s thoughts in chapter 11. Here’s some beginning words from David’s psalm:

There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart (Ps 38:3-8).

Without a doubt, David feels the wicked weight of his sin before a holy God. The burden is just too much for a finite human to bear. In the style and words of Schaeffer, man is a finite and fallible being and thus is in need of an infinite-perfect reference point in order to reconcile this need. If we try to carry the weight of our sin on our own, we will be like David manifested in his words, “I am utterly bowed down and prostrated; all the day I go about mourning. . . . my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.”  Listen to parts of the remaining lines of this psalm:

For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. . . . Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation (Ps 38:18, 21-22).

But here’s the key! The Lord knows that we are unable to sufficiently bear that burden, and he has provided a triumphant remedy in the finished work of Jesus Christ. David desires to repent of his sin and clearly recognizes that it is God who is able to remove this heavy weight and that it is in God alone that salvation from his wickedness can be found. Rightly, he cries out to God for immediate rescue.

As I continued to dwell upon this matter, I was also reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, so naturally, this classic text in Bunyan’s masterpiece quickly came to mind. I will record you these words from the book. I know it’s lengthy, but please take time to read the whole thing at some point. The scene that follows occurs as Christian makes his way to the Cross:

So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death.” Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold, three Shining Ones came to him, and saluted him with “Peace be to Thee”. So the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee;” the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark in his forehead; and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it at the celestial gate: so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing,

Thus far I did come laden with my sin;
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither: what a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blessed cross! blessed sepulchre! blessed rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!
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