Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota, who will be installed as the new pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. Previous article in this series: June 2006, p. 405.
When we worship God, we consciously enter the presence of our Father who is in heaven. We humbly approach Him in order to praise and adore Him. Through this means we enjoy covenant fellowship with Him.
This is a most holy activity. And because it is, we must be sure that our worship is done “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
To worship God “in spirit” means our worship may not merely be outward and external, but must be spiritual and from the heart. The Lord does not look at and see what men do (the outward appearance and activities), but the Lord sees the heart (I Sam. 16:7). He therefore requires heart-worship from His people.
To worship God “in truth” means we worship Him, not as we wish or please, but as He Himself tells us in His Word. As the holy and majestic God, He alone determines how we may come before Him and what we may do in His presence. This means that He also determines the elements that are to be included in worship.
One of those elements that He requires is the blessing. The blessing occurs near the beginning of our worship service, in close con connection with the salutation and votum. It is a part of worship in which God speaks to His people. This is clear from the fact that the blessing comes to us “from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is God who says to His church, “Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you!”
It is not difficult to find biblical basis for the inclusion of this blessing in worship, for it appears in all of the New Testament epistles that were written to specific churches. In each of them, the blessing of God is pronounced upon His church. (See, for example, Romans 1:7, I Corinthians 1:3, II Corinthians 1:3, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2.)
This blessing is an important element of worship. It is not to be viewed as something insignificant, so that it matters little if someone comes late to church and misses it. It is necessary for the people of God to hear and to receive it. Receiving it by faith, the worshiper is spiritually blessed.
The blessing is first of all a promise from God. When God, through the minister of the Word, pronounces this blessing, He is promising to give His people His “grace, mercy, and peace.”
But this blessing is more than simply a promise. Through the blessing God also actually bestows these things upon His church. When He speaks, He speaks powerfully. He therefore causes those who are His to receive these blessings from Him. He speaks, and by the power of His speech we receive grace, mercy, and peace from our God.
God first promises to give, and then does give, grace. Grace is three things. It is first of all the unmerited favor of God. It is unmerited, for we deserve God’s wrath. However, Christ has earned for us the favor of God. For the sake of Christ, therefore, God always has an attitude of love and favor toward us. And when God, through the minister, pronounces “Grace to you,” we are assured of His favor. We do not have to be afraid of Him, but may approach Him with the confidence that He will receive us. In worship, we may come boldly to God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).
Grace, in the second place, refers to God’s beauty. That God is a God of grace means God is spiritually beautiful. He is glorious, majestic, holy, pure. When therefore He bestows grace on us, He makes us beautiful as He is. Through Christ He takes away the ugliness of our sin and guilt. He makes us saints, who are holy in His sight. Thus again we can enter His presence with confidence, for we are, by His bestowal of grace, pleasing in His sight.
Grace, in the third place, refers to the power of God’s Spirit in us. God’s grace (Spirit) makes us spiritually strong, so that we are able to fight against temptations and sins. God’s grace (Spirit) enables us to stand against the wiles of the devil. And God’s grace (Spirit) empowers us to live a life of thankful obedience to Him. When the minister pronounces the blessing, God’s Spirit works by that Word in our hearts to strengthen us against sin and to equip us to live as we ought.
What a blessing that when we come into God’s presence to worship Him, God not only promises, but also actually bestows His grace on His church and people. God speaks, and we receive.
God also promises to give, and does give, mercy.
God’s mercy is first of all His compassion. He is aware of our afflictions, and has pity upon us. He is not distant and disinterested, but knows all our distresses. He is aware not only of our physical troubles, but also and especially our spiritual. Seeing our misery on account of our sins, He pities us.
But God’s mercy is more than just pity. In His mercy He also reaches out to His people and delivers them. He does something to alleviate our suffering. He reaches down as the almighty God and lifts us out of our miseries and comforts our souls.
God in His mercy delivers us, through Christ and His Spirit, from all the terrible power and effects of sin. He rescues us from the guilt and shame of sin, as well as from the punishment of sin. He saves us from the powerful control of the devil. He comforts our souls by assuring us that we are forgiven through the cleansing blood of our Mediator, Jesus Christ.
When God’s blessing is pronounced upon us in worship, we receive and are assured of this mercy of God. And His mercy is great, for “the Lord is full of mercy and compassion for distress, slow to anger and abundant in His grace and tenderness” (Ps. 103:8, in Psalter #280).
What a blessing to come into the presence of a merciful God! How this inspires our hearts to worship and praise!
Finally, God promises to give, and also gives, peace.
The peace He gives is spiritual peace. We are not promised and given earthly peace, so that there is no hatred, no fighting, and no unrest in society and the world. We are promised and given peace within, a peace of the heart. This true peace of the heart can come only from the assurance that we are at peace with God Himself. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). We are given this peace by means of the Spirit’s work through the blessing.
Christ has earned this peace by removing our sins and reconciling us to God. Because of Him, all enmity between God and us is gone. Anything and everything that stood as a wall of separation has been removed. We have been reconciled to Him through His Son. For the sake of Christ, God has forgiven our sins and restored us again to His favor and love.
Receiving this peace, we are blessed indeed. For then we have the assurance that God is never against us, but always for us. We are therefore able to be calm and to remain undisturbed by the troubles that come our way. Being at peace with God means we are safe now and safe to all eternity as those who are the heirs of eternal life.
Through the blessing, God causes us to receive and thus to experience within our hearts that we are at peace with Him. What an invaluable gift that is!
It is important that we hear the blessing that is pronounced upon us by God in the right way. That right way is that we are very conscious of our need for God’s grace and mercy and peace. These gifts mean nothing for us if we are not deeply aware of our need of them—that is, if we are not deeply aware of our sin. They mean nothing for us if we love sin and are not troubled by it. They mean nothing for us if we think we are able to find and be at peace apart from God and Christ. However, when the child of God is, as he should be, greatly troubled and burdened by his sins, then God’s gifts of grace, mercy, and peace are valuable and rich.
The true child of God hears the blessing, therefore, in the awareness of the many spiritual struggles of his earthly life. He hears it in the context of the daily struggle with the ungodly among whom he lives. He hears it in the context of being constantly tempted to sin against God and the neighbor. He hears it in the context of the many afflictions and troubles he experiences every day of his earthly pilgrimage. He goes to church on Sunday longing to hear and to receive the blessing from God.
What a blessing, in light of our need for God’s grace and mercy and peace, to hear God say to us at the beginning of our worship service, “Grace, mercy, and peace be to you!” What a blessing to know that He speaks, and it is done—He pronounces grace, mercy, and peace upon us, and we receive them.
May we therefore pay close attention to this important element of worship and by means of faith consciously receive what God promises and gives. And may we do this, not only for our comfort, but also in order that God be properly praised and honored as we worship Him in spirit and in truth.