By Stan Key
Reading recently through an old book of sermons that I “stole” from my father’s bookshelf last fall, I stumbled on a short passage that literally jumped off the page. I know nothing about the preacher (Douglas Horton) and actually found the rest of his sermon somewhat boring and rather liberal to my tastes. But this particular paragraph penetrated my mind and ever since has been trickling down into my heart.
Always the church is in danger of slipping into the imperative mood in its teaching: do this or do that, and you shall be saved. It is a mood which puts the emphasis on the work of men – a tragic mood, therefore, since no man can save himself without God…. What the Reformers did was to restore to the church her ancient and thrilling indicative: this has been willed and that has been done by the Almighty and you are saved. Sola gratia – by grace alone the world is overcome. ¹(p. 207).
I had to read and reread those words to get what Rev. Horton was saying. I even had to go to my grammar book and refresh my memory on the meaning of the indicative mood (used to state objective facts) and the imperative mood (used to state commands). But after several days of cogitation, rumination and meditation, the blessing began to come!
As Katy and I were talking about this after dinner tonight, she said: “It’s time for one of us to write a blog. It’s your turn so I think you should write about the glorious indicative!” So in humble obedience to my wife, I’m sharing these thoughts with you.
This is what the Spirit is teaching us. Our tendency is to understand salvation and the victorious life that is promised us in terms of commands, obligations and responsibilities (the imperative mood): Do this, Don’t do that, Try harder, Pray more, Give more, Worship more, etc. This is how I have often preached the Gospel and this is how I have often lived it. During the past six months, Katy and I have often felt that if we could only pray more, try harder, believe with greater intensity, and work more diligently, we could live in the victory that Christ has promised us. To be honest, the end result of living under the weight of such imperatives only leaves us tired and defeated. We never seem able to do enough.
But Horton’s paragraph reminds us of a truth that is anchored in God’s word from Genesis to Revelation. It is not what we do that matters but what he has already done! Grace alone. Sola gratia. The preaching in the book of Acts is not a list of duties and commands. No! The apostles preached the glorious indicative: Jesus came, Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus reigns… Jesus is Lord! Oh eventually they would get around to using the imperative: Do this, Don’t do that, etc. But those were corollaries of the Gospel and not the Gospel itself. So at this time in our lives when Katy can do absolutely nothing it is freedom to realize that the One who is Lord is not dependent on our performance.
The glorious indicative is working like a soothing balm to our souls. Jesus is Lord. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (II Tim. 2:13). Oh, there is still much that we need to work on and many areas where we need to grow. But our hope, our confidence and our song is in the glorious objective fact of Jesus’ victory over sin, death and hell. Yes, the “ancient and thrilling indicative” makes an amazing difference in the way we face our battles today. So when disease, stroke or any life circumstance keep us from ‘doing’ we can rest in what He has done and in the knowledge that we belong to Him.
Can I get an Amen?
¹The Protestant Pulpit: An Anthology of Master Sermons from the Reformation to Our Own Day. Compiled by Andrew W. Blackwood. Abingdon Press. New York. 1947.