Posted by: rcottrill | December 25, 2013

Complete in Thee

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, 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 many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Words: Aaron Robarts Wolfe (b. Sept. 6, 1821; d. Oct. 6, 1902)
Music: Hesperus (or Quebec), by Henry Baker (b. June 6, 1835; d. Feb. 1, 1910)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Cyber Hymnal suggests three fine tunes for this hymn. Hesperus is also used with Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. The tune Duke Street is commonly used with Jesus Shall Reign, and Hamburg is used with When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Also check out the Cyber Hymnal note on Aaron Wolfe for a life-changing incident in his life.

Seventy years after the hymn text was written, James M. Gray, added a refrain that is rich in doctrinal detail. Dr. Gray was president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, at the time. A music teacher in the school, Talmadge J. Bittikofer, wrote a tune that included the refrain. The song in this format was published in the excellent Worship and Service Hymnal (1957).

I have included a discussion of James Gray’s refrain in this article, though it does not appear in the Cyber Hymnal. Bittikofer’s tune, however, does appear in the Cyber Hymnal with another hymn, called We Worship Thee.

This hymn was inspired by Colossians 2:9-10, which says:

“In Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”

“In Him,” or “in Christ” is Paul’s familiar way of describing positional truth. That is, when we are saved, we are placed into Christ, in a legal or positional sense. When God looks at us, He sees His dear Son, because we have been, in effect, clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:26-27).

The balancing truth, which we won’t go into here, is our condition in daily experience. While our position is constant, depending as it does on a work of God and the Person of Christ, our experience is different. We are only able to grow spiritually and consistently live to please God as we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25).

It would be impossible, in a short article, to treat all of the texts that use the phrases “in Christ,” or “in Him,” in the way described, but here are a few of them.

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Of Him [God the Father] you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (I Cor. 1:30).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new…. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:17, 21).

“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ….In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:3, 7).

“We, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Rom. 12:5). “To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints [or simply “called saints”–God’s set-apart ones]” (I Cor. 1:2). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

What a wealth of blessings! All ours because of our position in Christ. We are justified (pronounced righteous by a holy God) because of Christ’s righteousness being credited to us. We are sanctified positionally, set apart for God forever. Further, we are united to the body of Christ and become one with other believers, in Christ. And what is begun in Christ for us as individuals is guaranteed to be brought to completion in future glory (Rom. 8:29-30; Phil. 1:6).

CH-1) Complete in Thee! No work of mine
May take, dear Lord, the place of Thine;
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And I am now complete in Thee.

Yea, justified! O blessed thought!
And sanctified! Salvation wrought!
Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,
And glorified, I too shall be!

CH-4) Dear Saviour, when before Thy bar
All tribes and tongues assembled are,
Among Thy chosen will I be,
At Thy right hand, complete in Thee.

Questions:
1) What to you is the greatest blessing of being viewed by God as “in Christ”?

2) Do you believe this is a truth that needs greater emphasis in our churches?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 23, 2013

Good King Wenceslas

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)BOOK ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS!
Do you have favourite carols or Christmas hymns? Then you’ll love this book. In Discovering the Songs of Christmas, I discuss the history and meaning of 63 songs, taking us on a journey that reveals the wonder of God’s love. (The book might make a great gift for someone too!) Order from Amazon

Words:
John Mason Neale (b. Jan. 24, 1818; d. Aug. 6, 1886)
Music: Tempus Adest Floridum (The Time Is Near for Flowering), a 13th century spring carol called The Flower Carol, first published in 1582.

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John Mason Neale is best known as a translator of Greek and Latin hymns into English. (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and Good Christian Men Rejoice are two of these, both Christmas carols.) But in this case, Neale took a story about real-life Wenceslas of Bohemia (circa AD 907 to Sept. 28, 935) and used the excellent melody of The Flower Carol for it. In English translation, the latter song begins:

Spring has now unwrapped the flowers,
Day is fast reviving,
Life in all her growing powers
Towards the light is striving:
Gone the iron touch of cold,
Winter time and frost time,
Seedlings, working through the mould,
Now make up for lost time.

Since Neale’s 1853 carol does tell a story, it’s best not to drop any of the stanzas when it is used. (Though I have managed with CH-1, 3 and 5.) To vary this, one or more stanzas might be read, or sung by a soloist. It might make a worthwhile number for a Christmas program or pageant. Check the Cyber Hymnal link to see all five stanzas.

This carol has been savaged by the critics over the years. In a footnote, The Oxford Book of Carols (p. 271) calls it a “rather confused narrative,” and quotes others referring to it as “doggerel” (which the dictionary defines as rude and crude), and “poor and commonplace to the last degree.”

In defense of Dr. Neale, I see nothing particularly confusing about the narrative. The story is told in a simple, straightforward fashion. And if it’s not a factual account of a specific incident, it does fit what we know of this Christian duke from long ago. Whether it is rude and crude, is a subjective assessment with which I don’t agree. (These pedants are likely the same ones that criticize many gospel songs that have blessed the people of God for many years.)

In a sense, this is a Boxing Day song. “The feast of Stephen–St. Stephen’s Day–falls the day after Christmas. It was the practice in ancient times, after the Christmas feasting, to give the left-overs and other gifts to servants (who had worked especially hard during the season) and to the poor as well. How different from our modern, materialistic buying-bonanza on Boxing Day!

Granted that there is almost nothing of Christian doctrine here. But, just as the Lord Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:30-37) which encourages love for one’s neighbour, a similar message is presented in this carol. In that sense, this song is something of a parable. The message comes in the last lines of the fifth stanza (and yes, it applies to both “men” and women):

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

If we are in a position to help those less fortunate, or those in a crisis of need, we should do so. And when we do, we’ll find that we ourselves are enriched in special ways. This is certainly a biblical message. The Lord Jesus promised:

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Lk. 6:38). And the book of Acts adds, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

Reminders to care for the poor are scattered through the Old Testament (e.g. Deut. 15:9-10; Prov. 19:17; 22:9; Ecc. 11:1). And as Christians we are assured:

“Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (II Cor. 9:7-8).

CH-1) Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

CH-2) “Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

CH-3) “Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

Questions:
1) Would you ever make use of this carol? (In what situations?)

2) What could you do, in the coming week, to aid someone in need?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 20, 2013

Walk in the Light

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)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: Bernard Barton (b. Jan. 31, 1784; d. Feb. 19, 1849)
Music: Manoah, published by Henry Wellington Greatorex (b. Dec. 24, 1813; d. Sept. 10, 1858)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Bernard Barton)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The hymn was written in 1826. In most versions now CH-2 (which seems to imply the achievement of sinless perfection in this life) is omitted. It says:

CH-2) Walk in the light: and sin abhorred
Shall ne’er defile again;
The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Lord,
Shall cleanse from every stain.

The tune Manoah was published in Greatorex’s Collection of Church Music, in 1851. It’s origin is debated. Some suggest it is based on a theme from classical composers Rossini or Haydn, but no certain source has been identified as yet. (Manoah was the father of Samson.)

Bernard Barton also gave us the beautiful hymn about the Word of God, Lamp of Our Feet. He was a friend of many of the literary luminaries of his time, Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and Sir John Bowring. His style was critiqued in a periodical of the time as follows:

Mr. Barton’s style is well suited to devotional poetry. It has great sweetness and pathos, accompanied with no small degree of power, which well qualify it for the experience of the higher and purer feelings of the heart.

Mr. Barton was a Quaker, and evangelicals would disagree with him on the Quaker notion of “the inner light.” They teach that in every human being God has implanted an element of His own “spirit” or energy, and that God is in everyone. Quakers do not believe that the natural man is separated from God by sin, calling the concept of the sin nature in man “an invented and unscriptural barbarism.”

The inner light teaching is based on a misinterpretation of John 1:9, in which Christ is described as “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” That statement does not mean that everyone has received knowledge of Christ, or has had some spiritually illuminating experience. Rather, “everyone” means all without distinction. John is saying that the Light is provided for all, regardless of national or ethnic background, gender or social standing.

Even so, “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him” (vs. 11). “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). And those evil deeds arise out of sin-darkened hearts (Mk. 7:21-23). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Rom. 3:10-18). In that fallen condition, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

All human beings (apart from the incarnate Son of God) are sinners (Rom. 3:23) and, as such, are “without strength” (Rom. 5:6), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10),“dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). There is no inner light, only darkness for unregenerate men and women. This is not “invented and unscriptural barbarism.” It is the clear teaching of the Word of God that our sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). The sinner is “without Christ,” “without God,” and “without hope” (Eph. 2:12).

However, having said this, the hymn is still found in orthodox Christian hymnals. The reason is that the “light” spoken of need not be thought of as coming from within the sin-darkened heart. It can legitimately refer to the born again believer. When an individual trusts Christ as Saviour, the Spirit of God comes to live within. The indwelling Holy Spirit becomes the believer’s Teacher and Guide, illuminating his understanding of the Word of God (Jn. 16:13; Rom. 8:14; I Cor. 2:9-10; I Jn. 3:24). The Spirit is also his source of power to apply and obey that Word to life (II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23).

In Bible a verse that provides Barton’s opening line, we read, “ if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us [continues to cleanse us] from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7). Walking in the light involves born again believers living in daily obedience to God’s Word (cf. Ps. 119:105). When we sin, we step away from the Lord into darkness. Not that we lose our salvation, but we are out of fellowship with Him, and need to confess our sin and claim His forgiveness (I Jn. 1:9).

CH-1) Walk in the light: so shalt thou know
That fellowship of love
His Spirit only can bestow
Who reigns in light above.

CH-6) Walk in the light: and thine shall be
A path, though thorny, bright;
For God, by grace, shall dwell in thee,
And God Himself is light.

Questions:
1) The symbolism of light is applied to several different things in the Bible. Can you name a few?

2) What does Mr. Barton mean by saying that the believer’s path may be thorny, though bright?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Bernard Barton)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 18, 2013

Blessed Calvary

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)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)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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.

Questions:
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?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 16, 2013

What Child Is This?

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)BOOK ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS!
Do you have favourite carols or Christmas hymns? Then you’ll love this book. In Discovering the Songs of Christmas, I discuss the history and meaning of 63 songs, taking us on a journey that reveals the wonder of God’s love. (The book might make a great gift for someone too!) Order from Amazon

Words: William Chatterton Dix (b. June 14, 1837; d. Sept. 9, 1898)
Music: Greensleeves, a 16th century English melody

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Mr. Dix wrote a poem called “The Manger Throne” around 1865. For some time it was claimed that the three stanzas of the carol were taken from it. But this seems to be a mistake. The carol is nothing like the poem, which says, in part:

Never fell melodies half so sweet
As those which are filling the skies,
And never a palace shone half so fair
As the manger-bed where our Saviour lies;
No night in the year is half so dear
As this which has ended our sighs.

More likely the Christmas hymn is an independent work, written specifically to suit the tune Greensleeves. Greensleeves is mentioned in Shakespeare’s comic play, The Merry Wives of Windsor (published in 1602), where it is called “a new northern dittye.” Some versions of the hymn use the last four lines of CH-1 as a repeated refrain. But notice what is lost by doing this, particularly the last four lines of CH-2.

This lovely carol, enhanced by a haunting tune in a minor key, presents us with the supreme paradox of the lowly birth of Jesus as contrasted with who He actually is. He is “Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing” (CH-1), and He is “the Word made flesh” (CH-2; cf. Jn. 1:1, 14). Yet He lies in “such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding” (CH-2; cf. Lk. 2:7). Not only that, but He is destined for a painful death. In a real sense, Jesus was born to die. “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through” (CH-2).

Two questions naturally arise from this strange juxtaposition of facts. First, why has this happened? And second, what should be our response to these things?

As to the first issue, William Dix says His cross is “borne for me, for you” (CH-2), and “the King of kings salvation brings” (CH-3). That is the message of the gospel. That Christ came to die as our Substitute, as the Sin-bearer, enduring the wrath of God in our place, so that we might be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life (Mk. 10:45; Jn. 3:16; I Cor. 15:1, 3; Phil. 2:8; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18). “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich “ (II Cor. 8:9).

As to the second question, the author urges us to bring Him gifts and tributes, and “let loving hearts enthrone Him” (CH-3). The wise men brought their “incense, gold and myrrh” (CH-3). Christians today can put their time, talents, and treasures at the disposal of the Lord, to be used for His glory. This is the practical outcome of enthroning Him as Lord of our lives.

Dozens of times in the New Testament Christ is declared to be our “Lord.” The Greek word is kurios, which speaks of Christ’s supremacy as our Master. However, a study of the many texts where the word refers to the Son of God will show that it is also an appellation of deity. In many places where “Lord” is used, there is a strong implication that He is, Himself, God (e.g. Matt. 3:3; 12:8; Lk. 1:43; Jn. 14:10; 20:28).

Christ is proclaimed to be both Lord and Saviour (Phil. 3:20; II Pet. 3:18). He is “Jesus our Lord” II Pet. 1:2). James calls Him “the Lord of glory,” which can be translated “our glorious Lord” (Jas. 2:1, NIV, NASB). A similar translation option is appropriate with the phrase “Jesus the Lord,” which may be rendered “Jesus as Lord” (Rom. 10:9; II Cor. 4:5, NIV, NASB). Indeed “every tongue should confess Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).

CH-1) What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

CH-2) Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Questions:
1) What other Christmas carols do you use that strongly present the deity of Christ?

2) What is the importance of the deity of Christ in the incarnation and the work of redemption? (I.e. Could we be saved if Christ wasn’t God in human flesh? And if not, why not?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 13, 2013

Safely Through Another Week

Words: John Newton (b. July 24, 1725; d. Dec. 21, 1807)
Music: Sabbath, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Newton born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn first appeared in Psalms and Hymns, in 1774. Then, in 1779, it was published in Olney Hymns, the famous book by John Newton and William Cowper. In the latter, stanza CH-4 was omitted. Today, CH-1, 3, 4 and 6 are commonly used.

As Newton designed the hymn to be sung on Saturday evening, several word changes were later made in an attempt to fit it for Sunday worship. (More of that in a moment.) For example, in CH-1, “Let us now a blessing seek, on th’approaching Sabbath day,” was changed to, “Let us now a blessing seek, waiting in His courts today.”

This is not a hymn that I would use, personally. I believe it’s based on a false assumption, that Sunday is the Christian’s Sabbath Day. There is not a shred of scriptural evidence for the claim that the Jewish Sabbath laws have somehow been transferred to Sunday. In fact, Sabbath keeping is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament.

The notion of a “Christian Sabbath” is based, in part, on amillennialism’s failure to distinguish between Israel and the church, seeing the nation of Israel merely as the Old Testament church. When this position is taken, all kinds of mischief results. Israel is a nation, with an earthly origin (Abraham) and an earthly land given them by the Lord (Canaan) (Gen. 12:1, 7). The church is not a nation, but a spiritual body–of those born of the Spirit–made up of all nations (I Cor. 12:12-13). Our citizenship is not on earth, but in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

The Sabbath of Israel was imposed as a complete day of rest, in the Law God gave to them through Moses (Exod. 20:8-10). The New Testament Lord’s Day is not prescribed by any divine law. It seems to have been arrived at as a day for God’s people to meet by the consensus of early Christians. Appropriate, since it was the day of Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:1), and of the birthday of the church. But Sunday is nowhere in God’s Word called the “emblem of eternal rest” (CH-1). It’s an emblem not of rest, but of resurrection.

Even the placement of the two days seems significant. The Jewish Sabbath falls on Saturday, the last day of the week. The Christian Lord’s Day falls on Sunday, the first day of the week. The Sabbath thus illustrates the law principle–works first, then an enjoyment of resulting blessings afterward. The Lord’s Day illustrates the grace principle–a celebration of God’s blessings first (freely given), then going forth to serve Him as a loving response to grace.

The laws regarding Sabbath keeping were strict, and the death penalty was imposed for breaking them. One man was executed for gathering sticks to build a fire on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36). In contrast, there are no laws regarding how we are to keep the Christian Lord’s Day. That being said, it is important for Christians to have times when they meet together (Heb. 10:23-25), and we all need regular rest and recreation as part of our busy weeks. Whether these things fall on Sunday or some other day is a matter of choice or tradition.

Christians are not now under the Law of Israel. It was in force from Mount Sinai to Mount Calvary, where it was fulfilled in Christ. To call Sunday the Christian Sabbath is to confuse Israel and the church, and to confuse Law and Grace. For a fuller discussion of this, see the article entitled Sunday Sabbath.

CH-1) Safely through another week God has brought us on our way;
Let us now a blessing seek, on th’approaching Sabbath day;
Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest,
Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.

CH-6) May Thy gospel’s joyful sound conquer sinners, comfort saints;
Make the fruits of grace abound, bring relief for all complaints;
Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above,
Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above!

Questions:
1) What are the similarities and the differences between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day?

2) What traditional activities or restrictions of activity do you customarily follow on the Lord’s Day?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Newton born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 11, 2013

Rejoice, the Lord Is King

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Darwall, by John Darwall (b. Jan. 13, 1731; d. Dec. 18, 1789)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Published two years before simply as a poem, the hymn we know was published in Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection, in 1746. Most hymnals use CH-1, 2, 3 and 6 of Wesley’s original. None that I know of have us singing about our bosoms swelling with seraphic joy (CH-5)! And for simplicity’s sake Wesley’s ending for the last stanza (“We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice; / The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!”) is dropped by most editors, and the ending common to the other stanzas is used.

Though, in my experience, the tune Darwall is used for this hymn, the tune Gopsal by the great composer George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) is common in Britain. The latter name may look like a corruption of the word “gospel,” but it’s not. Gopsal Hall was the home of Charles Jennings, who arranged the texts for Handel’s superb oratorio, Messiah. Handel apparently named the tune in honour of his friend.

This fine hymn contains a multitude of scriptural allusions, and also seems to reference the part of the Apostles’ Creed that states of Christ:

“He ascended into heaven, and sittest at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Most prominent of the biblical references in the song is Philippians 4:4, with the call to “rejoice [be glad],” a summons with which each stanza begins and ends. It’s a word Wesley uses fifteen times. And some form of the word “rejoice” is found over 260 times in our English Bibles. Those who are the recipients of God’s grace, who have been brought into fellowship with Him, and who look forward to Christ’s coming reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, have much to rejoice about! “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

The first stanza of the hymn calls upon us to rejoice that the Lord is King. He was born to be King, and rules now in the hearts of those who own Him as Lord, yet awaiting the full realization of His messianic kingship at His return.

“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isa. 9:6-7; cf. Lk. 1:31-33).

CH-1) Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

CH-2 reminds us that “when He [Christ] had purged our stains, He took His seat above.” The Lord Jesus is seated on His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21), at His right hand (Heb. 1:3). His ascension to that place of honour and authority assures us that His saving work is complete and is fully accepted by God the Father. It is also in that place that Christ ministers as Head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23).

CH-3, “His kingdom cannot fail.” If a prominent theme of Wesley’s hymn is rejoicing, it is also about the Lord’s coming rule over the earth at His return. John Lawson, in his fine book The Wesley Hymns, says that “this message of divine hope is the gospel of the Kingdom,” and he lists over sixty texts that relate directly to what the hymn says, line by line (pp. 72-73). For example:

“Behold, a king will reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1). “Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah [Think of that!]” (Ps. 24:10). “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law” (Isa. 42:4). “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be–‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one” (Zech. 14:9).

CH-3) His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

As noted, there is a sense in which Christ rules now. He rules in every heart that recognizes Him as Lord (Rom. 10:9, NIV), and He has been declared the Head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23). But in the closing age of this world’s history, the Agent of God’s rule on earth will be the Messiah, at His second coming, made clear in many passages.

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (Rev. 1:7). “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (I Cor. 15:25-26).

CH-6) Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Questions:
1) What is there in the message of this hymn that should be reassuring and encouraging today, giving the conditions in the world?

2) How should the reign of Christ be reflected in our lives day by day?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 9, 2013

There’s a Song in the Air

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)BOOK ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS!
Do you have favourite carols or Christmas hymns? Then you’ll love this book. In Discovering the Songs of Christmas, I discuss the history and meaning of 63 songs, taking us on a journey that reveals the wonder of God’s love. (The book might make a great gift for someone too!) Order from Amazon

Words:
Josiah Gilbert Holland (b. July 24, 1819; d. Oct. 12, 1881)
Music: Christmas Song, by Karl Pomeroy Harrington (b. June 13, 1861; d. Nov. 14, 1953)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Though the poem was written a couple of years before, Holland’s words first appeared in print as a Christmas hymn in 1874. There were several musical settings of it, until Harrington wrote Christmas Song in 1904. That has become the traditional tune.

Now there were in the same country [near Bethlehem] shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger….Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Lk. 2:8-16, 20)

Skillful writers, using sanctified imagination, have sometimes caught the atmosphere of these scenes in ways that help us to feel what it was like. One of these is Josiah Holland. Dr. Holland trained as a physician, and practised medicine for awhile. But he soon moved on to what was to be the calling best suiting his abilities. He became an author and editor. Gilbert Holland wrote a humorous newspaper column, as well as novels, and poetry. It is one of his poems, written in 1874 for a Sunday School journal, that captures something of the wonder of the first Christmas.

Thirty years later, Karl Harrington, read Holland’s poem in an idle moment while vacationing at his summer cottage. He was moved by the simple yet descriptive words. And Harrington wrote the fine tune we now use to sing the beautiful carol.

CH-1) There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a Baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!

What of that night in the fields of Bethlehem, when an angel appeared to some shepherds tending their sheep? Have you ever seen an angel, and had “the glory of the Lord [shine] around [you]”? We are told the men were “greatly afraid,” and likely we would be too! And what was in their minds and hearts when they found the angelic announcement to be true, when they shared the good news with others, praising God for what had happened (vs. 17, 20)?

CH-2) There’s a tumult of joy o’er the wonderful birth,
For the virgin’s sweet Boy is the Lord of the earth.
Ay! the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!

The author describes the result in the hearts of those who welcomed the birth of Jesus as a “tumult of joy.” And the dictionary tells us that the word “tumult” describes both an emotional disturbance and a noisy commotion. An inward and outward agitation. No wonder. Something amazing and unprecedented had happened.

¤ Though it was known to only a few at the time, the Lord Jesus was virgin-born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21-23). The incarnation was a unique supernatural work of the Spirit of God (Lk. 1:35).

¤ Also, both the Old Testament and the New assure us that this One was born to be King, born to rule (Isa. 9:6-7; Matt. 2:1-2; Lk. 1:31-33; I Tim. 6:14-15).

¤ To the latter point must be added the fact that Christ was not born with the luxurious surroundings and pageantry usually accompanying a royal birth. His cradle was a humble manger (Lk. 2:7; cf. II Cor. 8:9).

¤ The mission of Christ was spelled out before His birth. He would “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The Lord Himself reiterated that, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

“The Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world” (I Jn. 4:14). No wonder His birth was accompanied by an angelic announcement and exclamations of praise from the heavenly host (called “the beautiful” and “the heavenly throng” in the carol). Josiah Holland follows the traditional belief that the angels sang their praises. That is quite possible, though the Bible doesn’t make it clear.

Of the third stanza, Carlton Young writes in Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (p. 648):

“Stanza 3 reflects the optimism of early social gospel hymns that heralded the emerging twentieth century as the Christian century and the fulfilment of Jesus’ great commission.”

If that is what Holland had in mind, it certainly has not turned out that way. We’ve had a century of almost continual conflict, and “evil men and imposters [or deceivers] grow worse and worse” (II Tim. 3:13). Nevertheless, God is still on the throne, and the work of proclaiming the gospel of grace continues to bear fruit “in the homes of the nations.”

CH- 3) In the light of that star lie the ages impearled;
And that song from afar has swept over the world.
Every hearth is aflame, and the beautiful sing
In the homes of the nations that Jesus is King!

Questions:
1) The Christmas season certainly brings a “tumult” of carnal revelry. But what can we do to encourage a tumult of joy over the birth of Christ, in our homes and in our churches?

2) What in your view are the most joyous of our Christmas carols?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 6, 2013

Pentecostal Power

Words: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Aug. 18, 1856; d. Sept. 15, 1932)
Music: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Gabriel born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn was first published in 1912. Some books credit the authorship of the words to Charlotte G. Homer, but this was simply a pen name for Gabriel.

I debated with myself about whether to include this hymn on the blog. My goal is to provide articles on the traditional hymns and gospel songs found in the main non-denominational hymn books over the last sixty years or so. This one is certainly found in a few of them. But the title itself is so sectarian-sounding, it seemed outside the range of what I wanted to discuss.

It would be one thing if it were merely saying that the church needs an ongoing ministry of the same Holy Spirit who did a special work on the Day of Pentecost. Needs it in order that we today may be able to live for Christ and serve Him. But the word Pentecostal is more clearly associated with Pentecostalism than with Pentecost. And a number of specifically Pentecostal doctrines can be identified in the song–teaching with which I disagree, and which I don’t believe is biblical.

Pentecost (Acts 2) was a historical event, not to be repeated. It marked the birthday of the church. And the apostolic era that followed involved a transition between Law and Grace, between Judaism and Christianity. This means that the nature of the period was unique in a number of ways.

1) A cleansing, purifying flame. First, a debatable point regarding the “tongues as of fire” that came to rest on each one present in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 2:2). They were symbolic of something, but what? Charles Gabriel says they were for “cleansing and purifying” (CH-1). That certainly is one purpose of fire that has its use in spiritual imagery. Paul speaks of a burning away of the dross of our works at the judgment seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:11-15), but that is in the Christian’s future.

There is another intriguing possibility that fits the situation in Acts. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had one central place where God revealed Himself. As a manifestation of His presence, the glory light of God (called the shekinah) shone forth from the holy of holies, first in the portable tabernacle, and later in the temple in Jerusalem (Exod. 40:34; II Chron. 7:1). But with the birth of the church there was no longer one single central place where the Lord revealed His presence and power. Now, we are each called temples of the Holy Spirit and the glory of God is to be revealed in our conduct (I Cor. 6:19-20).

Further, the cleansing of the believer occurs not with the Holy Spirit descending upon us, since He is already indwelling each and every believer. Cleansing comes with our confession of sin (I Jn. 1:9), whenever that becomes necessary.

2) Take possession of Thine own. The hymn invites the Spirit of God to “take possession of Thine own, and nevermore depart” (CH-2). Again I part company with the author. The Word of God tells us, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9). Or as the Amplified Bible puts it: “If anyone does not possess the [Holy] Spirit of Christ, he is none of His [he does not belong to Christ, is not truly a child of God].”

The indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s seal of ownership upon us, the guarantee that He will complete in us what has been begun (Eph. 1:13-14). If we are Christians, we are already “His inheritance” (vs. 18). That is surely “possession” enough!

3) All self consume all sin destroy. The prayer to consume self and destroy all sin (CH-3) represents the holiness teaching of perfectionism that I have dealt with before in this blog. The idea is that we can ask God for a second experience after salvation, in which the sin nature is eradicated and we are empowered to live sinless lives. I once met a man who boasted that he had not committed a single sin in seventeen years. My immediate thought was, “I think you just did!”

When we’re saved God implants a new nature within us, born of the Spirit. But He does not eradicate the old nature. That won’t happen until we’re promoted to heaven. Meantime, we are to daily walk in the Spirit (trusting in and yielded to Him). When we do that, we will be able to live in victory over the old nature (Gal. 5:16, 25). When we stumble, we are to confess our sins and take up our spiritual walk again (I Jn. 1:9).

4) Before Thy throne we wait. In the context of Pentecostal doctrine, this waiting likely represents their practice of “tarrying.” Those who teach it say believers must tarry or wait for the second blessing, the gift of the Holy Spirit (sometimes called the baptism of the Spirit)–which they will know they’ve received by gaining the miraculous ability to speak in another tongue.

This teaching represents a triple error of Pentecostalism. First, waiting for the Holy Spirit’s special work is mentioned in Luke 24:49, but that is a unique, historical, one-time situation. There was a ten-day period between the ascension of Christ, and the birth of the church at Pentecost. The Lord Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for that. But He was not saying that all Christians, for all time, would be required to do this in order to get the Holy Spirit.

Second, a distinction must be made between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His filling. (Both apparently occurred at Pentecost.) Now, post-Pentecost, the Spirit’s baptizing work happens once at conversion. It is the placing of the person into Christ, and uniting him with the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:26-28). The Spirit’s filling (and fulfilling) work is His enablement for life and service (Eph. 5:18-21; cf. Exod. 31:1-5), and it can be repeated as often as necessary (Acts 2:4; cf. 4:31).

Third, the gift of tongues at Pentecost (now so controversial) was a special sign of God’s judgment on the nation of Israel (I Cor. 14:20-22; cf. Isa. 28:11-12). Because the nation rejected her Messiah-King, the Lord opened the door for those of all nations to trust in Christ and become a part of a new body, the church of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2:5-8). Tongues speaking was not a gift intended for every Christian (I Cor. 12:4, 11, 18, 30), therefore it cannot be a sign of the baptism, which is.

CH-1) Lord, as of old, at Pentecost,
Thou didst Thy power display,
With cleansing, purifying flame,
Descend on us today.

Lord, send the old-time power, the Pentecostal power!
Thy floodgates of blessing, on us throw open wide!
Lord, send the old-time power, the Pentecostal power!
That sinners be converted and Thy name glorified!

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Gabriel born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | December 4, 2013

O Breath of Life

Words: Elisabeth Ann Porter Head (b. Jan. 1, 1850; d. June 28, 1936)
Music: Spiritus Vitae, by Mary Jane Hammond (b. _____, 1878; d. Jan. 23, 1964)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: “Bessie” Head (as she was known) was an English hymn writer and a member of the Anglican Church. Her husband, Albert Alfred Head was an insurance broker with the Henry Head Company, and he was chairman of the Keswick Convention (a holiness group) for a number of years. Mrs. Head’s hymn was written around 1914, and first appeared in a hymnal in 1920.

This hymn is a penetrating and powerful prayer that God would equip and use His church in the world of today, by His Spirit. It’s a prayer for revival and renewal, a prayer for cleansing and equipping, in light of the words of the Lord Jesus:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (Jn. 4:35).

“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).

CH-1) O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
Revive Thy church with life and power;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
And fit Thy church to meet this hour.

But instead of the missionary zeal of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we see, by and large, a weakened and compromised church. There is doctrinal compromise, a setting aside of the fundamentals of the faith with the plea, “Let’s just get together and love one another.” Forgotten by many is the exhortation that we are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

There is also moral compromise in the church. Things are permitted and even endorsed by Christians that violate the holy separation God expects (II Cor. 6:17). Indeed, too often, the world has made more of an impact on the church than the church has on the world. Paul faced that in the Corinthian church (I Cor. 5:1-8), and it is still around.

“The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Pet. 4:17).

The church in North America is relatively free of concerted and organized persecution–at least in comparison to many other parts of the world. But the Bible teaches that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). And the Lord may permit it, in the days ahead, as part of His loving chastening.

“You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’…Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-6, 11).

CH-2) O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
Till humbly we confess our need;
Then in Thy tenderness remake us,
Revive, restore, for this we plead.

CH-3) O Breath of love, come breathe within us,
Renewing thought and will and heart;
Come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us,
Revive Thy church in every part.

Christ is our example, as One who demonstrated holy love (Jn. 13:34-35), and brooked no compromise with error (Jn. 8:44; 17:17; cf. I Jn. 1:6). He is also our source of strength, and the One in whose authority we can seek mercy, and grace to help in time of need (Phil. 4:13, 19; Heb. 4:14-16).

CH-4) O Heart of Christ, once broken for us,
’Tis there we find our strength and rest;
Our broken, contrite hearts now solace,
And let Thy waiting church be blest.

CH-5) Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating
While harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive, us Lord, the world is waiting,
Equip Thy church to spread the light.

Questions:
1) What is the major hindrance to this kind of renewal and sacrificial Christian service in our day?

2) What can be done to stir the church to renewed action?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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