Going to Church (9)
Rev. P. Van Ruitenburg, Chilliwack, BC
Grace Be unto You
“Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come” (Revelations 1:4a).
After the congregation has been greeted with the impressive confession that our help is only from the Lord, there comes, in a manner of speaking, an answer from God. Now the spokesman is no longer the representative of the congregation but of God when we hear, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:4&5). Or, as Paul frequently began his epistles, “Grace be unto thee, and peace, from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord, through the Holy Ghost.” It is very fitting that immediately at the beginning of the service we hear from God that He promises to be present with us as a Triune God.
Grace and peace
We need both grace and peace which we cannot grant ourselves. What a blessing it is, then, that the eternal God and Father grants grace and peace to His Church. Naturally, such grace and peace become reality only when we have been reconciled to God and truly believe in Him. Yet, the Lord comes to His covenant congregation as a gracious God who has our welfare in mind. Immediately, at the beginning of the service, to paraphrase John Bunyan, a white flag is raised. El Shaddai is not looking for our destruction but for our salvation. Grace be unto you and peace! This means that lost sinners may take refuge in God, and when the ears are opened, they may hear, “Grace be unto you and peace.” The Lord receives sinners and eats with them. He is not a harsh God but gladly forgives.
“For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee” (Psalm 86:5).
“Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed” (Matthew 25:24).
“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:9).
Which is, which was, and which is to come
Such an address is not insignificant. At the beginning of the service, God directs us to look on high and to expect our salvation from that God which is, and which was, and which is to come. He is the eternal and unchangeable One, the high and majestic One. Of whom else can this be said that He is from eternity to eternity? We are people who have been created for eternity, and we will always remain who we are. We will never become another person, but we do have a beginning. We are creatures, fallen creatures; let us not forget that. Grace and peace be unto you from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come. We shall meet Him. Hopefully, that will first be by Word and Spirit, but in any event we will meet Him in the great Judgment Day. We will appear before Him which is, and which was, and which is to come. What will be the results of that meeting?
There are seven Spirits before God’s throne. This, of course, does not mean that there are seven Holy Spirits. These words express the completeness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is pictured in the seven lamps of the candlestick, and He blesses the seven congregations, which symbolizes the Church of Christ, spread over the whole earth. It is sometimes supposed here that the seven Spirits means the seven archangels, but that is impossible because grace and peace cannot come from angels.
The faithful Witness
Of Christ it is said that He is the faithful Witness. He is not a witness as is required in a court of law. He testifies of the truth as the highest Prophet and Teacher, and He Himself is the Word of God. He knows the truth, and as the One who has all might in His hands, He comes to testify of it. In a perfect way He testifies of God and His grace, of sin and curse, of the necessity of conversion, and of faith and thankfulness. In this blessing is also spoken of the comfort of the resurrection. Because Christ is risen from the dead, there is hope and expectation that He will bless the church service. Moreover, Christ is the Prince of the kings of the earth. They all rule by His hand. He inclines the hearts of kings, and nothing can stand in the way of God’s Son. The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. We do not always pay much attention to what we hear at the beginning of the service. We have heard it so often that we are quite “used to it.” Let us try to pay closer attention to the Christian confession and greeting and the subsequent rich message which the Lord proclaims in the blessing. Grace be unto you and peace! Should we not want to seek this God? Should we not want to be reconciled with Him?
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:19&20).
“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief; when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10).