(Post by Ray Pennings)
Once again we gathered in the cathedral at 7 for a time of worship which included singing, a communal confession of sin, pastoral prayer, and the reading of the creed from John Calvin’s 1545 Catechism of the Church of Geneva. We also listened to three sermons. The first was by Dr. Stephen Lawson on Galatians 1:6-10 entitled “Guarding the Gospel.” He expounded the text with four points: Paul’s amazement, Paul’s adversaries, Paul’s anathemas, and Paul’s anger. The final sermon was by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan on Philippians 2:13-14 which he expounded under three points: A Challenge for the Indolent; A cure for pride; and a Comfort for the discouraged.
The middle sermon way by Dr. Ian Campbell on Romans 8:26,27, and 34 and was entitled “Three Great Intercessions.” In his first point “The Intercession within the veil”, Rev. Campbell used the two altars in the Old Testament as illustrative of Christ’s work of intercession. There was the altar of sacrafice and the altar of incense, the first which pointed to Christ’s work of atonement and the second which pointed to His intercession. Paul can ask rhetorically “Who is he that condemns?”, speaking of the security of the believer, not only because of what Christ has done in the atonement but what He is doing in intercession. The two are closely linked. “The atonement is real because in its very nature, it is an intercession. the intercession is real because in its very nature it is an atonement.” Christ’s very presence in heaven is an intercession — a reminder of the work he finished on earth. But although His work on earth was finished, His work itself is not finished. Although the sacrafice on the cross no longer needs to be offered, it is being continually presented.
In his second point, “The intercession within the church”, Rev. Campbell quoted Calvin noting that Christ’s interceding for us does not prevent us from interceding for each other within the church. In fact, Christ’s intercession provides every reason for believers to be bold in their prayers for each other as “the intercession of Christ has changed the throne of dread for glory into a throne of grace.” He challenged the audience with the question not did you pray, but who did you intercede for?
In his final point, “The intercession within our hearts”, Rev. Campbell focused on the words “groanings which cannot be uttered.” He used the illustration of a personal care health worker who needs to take care of our most intimate needs, and some do it with a grace and respect that we hardly realize what has happened. So the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, turning our incoherence whose meaning is lost even to ourselves into something that is perfectly heard as eloquence in heaven. He notes the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is coordinated with the work of the Son in heaven, and so “heaven is brought to earth before the believer is ever brought to heaven.” He urged his hearers to be active in using “the inconceivable preciousness of the throne of grace.”
The lighting in the cathedral was sombre as a thunderstorm brought down rain and the stained glass looked very different with the backdrop of a darkened sky. Yet, I was not alone in sensing a particular power in the worship, having been given by the preaching a chance as it were, to stand on our tippy-toes and see something of the glories of the redemption wrought by God in His people. Dr. Duncan concluded his sermon noting that the reason Jesus named Lazarus when he called him from the grave — “Lazarus, come forth” — was that His word is so powerful that had he not named Lazarus but just said “Come forth”, every person would have come from the grave. Such is the power that is at work in the lives of believers! After three verses of build-up with the assistance of the majestic organ, the final verse of the final song was sang acapella with a particular fervour:
To the Lord most tender
Ye who know and love the Saviour.
Hallelujahs sing ye,
Ye redeemed, oh bring ye
Hearts that yield hiim glad behaviour.
Blest are ye
Sinless there forever,
Ye shall laud him ever.
(from Wondrous King All Glorious, Joachim Neander, 1680)