Wrights, Rites and Rights
“Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in Thee.” Augustine's familiar prayer makes it clear: the image of God within man shapes his spirit just as the outline of his bones shapes his frame. Knowledge of God is innate;
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Romans 1:20, 21
And yet, while every human being – though he might deny it vehemently – knows God exists, this natural knowledge of God is insufficient, and so our restless hearts search desperately for saving knowledge.
The word “Wright” refers to the craftsman, the builder, the worker; we might think, for instance, of the millwright, the wheelwright or even the playwright, each of whom applies his skill toward some end. John Calvin refers to the human heart as “a perpetual forge (factory) of idols,” the craft-shop where the natural man ceaselessly exercises his skill in building images, both in thought and in substance, of his conception of God. The labors of this tireless “wright” rest not only on the hills of Easter Island or in the huts of jungle tribes, but on the shelves of almost every bookstore and even in some of our favorite hymns. The gods of our own imaginings cannot save us, but “our heart is restless,” and restless hearts, even more than idle hands, are the Devil's playthings.
While it did not replace idolatry, organized but false worship is quickly added to the forge of idols. Private idolatry is bad enough, but soon idolaters find others to share in their delusion and develop ceremonies and rites to honor the false images. History overflows with accounts of these often solemn – though useless – rites, from the religious customs of ancient Egypt to the ceremonial rituals of Eastern, Middle Eastern and New Age religions to this day. Scripture records how God's people can fall from proper worship into empty rites, even while telling themselves they are worshipping God. When Israel had turned their worship into superstitious rites, God told them:
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.Amos 5:21, 22
This tendency did not cease with the New Testament Church; in 1 Corinthians Paul devotes considerable time to that church's misuse of the Sacraments. We recall that the two Sacraments instituted by Christ are signs and seals given to clarify the promise of the Gospel and have no meaning or power apart from the Word, yet already in Paul's time and even to this day there are some who treat them, especially the Lord's Supper, as though they had some magical power of their own.
But more insidious even than salvation by works (by wright) or by ceremony (by rite) is the common idea that salvation is an inalienable right which God will not, or even cannot, withhold. In the history of the Church this error has appeared often. Many in Israel thought salvation was hereditary, guaranteed by genealogy. Paul corrects this misconception;
For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called.'Romans 9:6b, 7
Yet the delusion persists, many supposing that because their parents sent them to Sunday School or because they attend church, their salvation is assured. This is just a variation on the errors of wrights and rites, for salvation is not earned by what we, and certainly not by what our ancestors, have done. Near the fringes of the Church and outside it, others argue that the right to salvation is ensured because God would do no other. Those who hold this view often raise the old and unsupportable assertion of the liberals that “If Hell exists, it's empty” Some Universalists accept the existence of Hell but only as a temporary measure intended to “cure” sin; most just deny the possibility that God would create or permit such a place. These worship a god of their own fancy, another gospel or no gospel at all.
Salvation comes not by the work of the wright, not by the ceremonial rite, nor by hereditary right.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.Ephesians 2:8, 9
There is a right involved, but it is in no way a reward for or result of our own actions or ancestry; it is a gift.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.John 1:12, 13
This was not God's response to us, but His Grace toward us,
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.Ephesians 1:4, 5
Our salvation depends not on wright, rite or right, but on what has been written.
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.Luke 10:20