HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the right-hand column, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find those for many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More are being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
Words: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11, 1895; d. Jan. 14, 1985)
Music: Lance Brenton Latham (b. Mar. 21, 1894; d. Jan. 15, 1985)
Note: This gospel song was written in 1921. It combines the gifts of two outstanding servants of God, Avis Christiansen and Lance Latham. There are good biographical notes for each on the Cyber Hymnal, and the Wordwise Hymns link has cross-links to even more information.
The two lived near each other, in the Chicago area, and their lifespans are almost identical. (They died only a day apart.) Mrs. Christiansen’s output of gospel songs is significant. She began writing them around 1916 and continued doing so for over sixty years. Lance Latham’s ministry as a pastor and youth leader, as well as a musician, is well documented in the book, Lance: A Testament of Grace, by Dave Breeze (published by the Awana Youth Association, 1978).
Today, we are unable to look at the physical site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Possible locations for Calvary (also called Golgotha) have been proposed, but so far not with any certainty. We know it was outside the walls of Jerusalem (Heb. 13:12), but in various reconstructions since, those walls have moved. Tour groups are taken to a possible spot, but that is all.
And, of course, we are unable to view the fearful events taking place there nearly two millennia ago, in AD 30. Even the Scriptures don’t help us much, if we’re looking for a graphic picture of what happened. Crucifixion was an all too familiar horror. The writers of the New Testament did not need to go into detail. We are simply told:
“When they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left” (Lk. 23:33).
Details such as Christ’s burning thirst, the soldiers gambling over His clothing, and His occasional spoken words, these are given mainly to show the complete fulfilment of prophecy in His death, and to underline the nature of that death.
On the latter point, it is stressed that the Lord was not killed by the Romans, but rather surrendered up His life willingly to God the Father. He told His disciples, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (Jn. 10:17-18). Thus, of Calvary, we read:
“When Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last” (Lk. 23:46).
The focus of the Bible is not on a grisly elaboration of what happened, but rather on the reason for Christ’s death, and what it means to us today. That is also the focus of this gospel song.
CH-1) I look at the cross upon Calvary,
And oh, what a wonder divine,
To think of the wealth it holds for me—
The riches of heaven are mine.
Blessèd Calvary! Precious Calvary!
’Neath thy shadow I’ll ever abide.
Blessèd Calvary! Precious Calvary!
’Twas there Jesus suffered and died.
In and through Christ, “the riches of heaven are mine” (CH-1). “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32; cf. II Cor. 8:8; Phil. 4:19; Eph. 1:3). We are able to enjoy many of these blessings now, but many more are reserved for our enjoyment in heaven (I Pet. 1:3-4).
God’s saving work was motivated by His deep love for us (CH-2; Jn. 3:16), and it was all of grace, His undeserved, unmerited favour (Eph. 2:8-9). “No merit have I of my own” (CH-3). Instead, “the shed blood of Christ [is] my only plea” (CH-3; Eph. 1:7; I Pet. 1:18-19). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified [declared righteous] freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24).
The song reminds us that we have, in Christ, present victory. There is “blessed victory, and grace for each step of the way” (CH-2). Here, the author is thinking of the other aspect of grace. It is undeserved favour, and also divine enablement. It’s what the writer of Hebrews speaks of when he says we are able to before God’s throne “that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Finally “The cross is my hope for eternity” as well (CH-3). The “It is finished” of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 19:30) assures us that our debt of sin has been paid. Christians will not be faced with any unpaid bills, when we stand before God.
CH-2) I find at the cross blessèd victory,
And grace for each step of my way.
The fount of God’s love is flowing free,
And sweeter it grows day by day.
CH-3) The cross is my hope for eternity,
No merit have I of my own;
The shed blood of Christ my only plea–
My trust is in Jesus alone.
1) Do you ever wear a cross, perhaps on a necklace or pin? (Why? Or why not?)
2) What other hymns about the cross are special favourites of you or your church?