Posted by: rcottrill | April 17, 2010

Today in 1521 – Martin Luther Called to Account

Martin Luther was the great theologian and hymn writer of the Protestant Reformation. He had opposed the errors of the Church of Rome for a number of years, and now was summoned before the Diet of Worms (Vorms) and commanded to renounce his views. Pope Leo X had condemned him the year before, and now Johann von Eck presented Luther with a table filled with copies of his writings and demanded to know whether he still believed what was taught in them. The next day Luther gave his now famous declaration:

Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures, or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

(2) Today in 1879 – Nathaniel Carlson Born
Nathaniel Carlson was educated at the Free Church Bible School, in Chicago Illinois, and at Northwest Bible College, in Iowa. He served as a pastor in the Evangelical Free Church, and was the author of many hymns and translations. Around 1935, he produced He the Pearly Gates Will Open, an English translation of Frederick Blom’s Swedish hymn. It reminds us that our only hope of heaven is through faith in the finished work of Christ. He is the one who is able to open heaven’s gate to us.

Love divine, so great and wondrous,
Deep and mighty, pure, sublime!
Coming from the heart of Jesus,
Just the same through tests of time.

He the pearly gates will open,
So that I may enter in;
For He purchased my redemption
And forgave me all my sin.

Love divine so great and wondrous!
All my sins He then forgave!
I will sing His praise forever,
For His blood, His pow’r to save.

(3) Lonesome Valley (Data Missing)
Though we know little about the origin of this traditional spiritual, it carries an important and powerful message. There are some burdens that can be shared, but there are others that we must take personal responsibility for on our own. That is the explanation for a seeming contradiction between Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens,” and Galatians 6:5, “Each one shall bear his own load.”

By way of a practical example, a husband may be able to help and encourage his pregnant wife, but she is the one carrying that little life, and she alone is the one who will give birth. Another example that is particularly relevant to the history of the song is the misery and abuse suffered by African Americans because of slavery and racial prejudice. We may be able to sympathize to some extent, but that is a tragedy that was unique to them.

When we suffer opposition for the cause of righteousness, we know that the Lord Jesus faced a similar thing (Jn. 15:18-20). However, when the Lord bore the weight of the world’s sin upon Himself on the cross, that is an aspect of His suffering that was unique. He did something no other person was able to do. In that sense, the pathway to Calvary was a lonely one.

Likewise it’s true that there are burdens each of us bear that no one else can fully appreciate or understand. No one except the Lord Himself, who during his life faced the same kinds of struggles we do (Heb. 4:15-16). Because He did, He is able to help and encourage us in our lonely walk (cf. II Tim. 4:16-18).

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.
He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk it by Himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.

You must go and stand your trial,
You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you,
You have to stand it by yourself.


Responses

  1. I take issue with “Lonesome Valley” in that Christ promises to be with us, so we are not alone even when it feels like we are. Also, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we too come alongside each other and share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear. But in those times when my fellow family of Christ cannot comfort me, there is still the assurance that Christ understands and He is with me to carry me through. He gives His comfort, His peace, His forgiveness, which outlasts all trials and temptations. Just a few thoughts…

    • I certainly agree with what you’re saying. But the key is there in your first sentence: “…even when it feels like we are. One of the dictionary definitions of loneliness is “dejected by feeling alone.” And to put the song in its racial context for a moment. Think of Jackie Robinson on the baseball field, in the early days. Yes, Branch Rickey was behind him, and he had his wife’s support. As I recall, he was also a professing Christian, so would have prayed about what he was doing. But out there on the baseball field, with vile abuse being hurled at him by other players, and from the stands, that was a “lonesome valley.”

  2. The hymn offers no comfort to the Christian. When a person is struggling, in depression, hurting, mourning, etc., I don’t see where this hymn would help.

    Contrast that with, say, “Let My People Go,” which details God’s deliverance of His people. Deliverance gives hope! Loneliness only yields more loneliness.

    I write here as a person who has battled depression, although not as severe as many. Mine comes and goes and doesn’t happen all that often. But when it does, I look more to Abide With Me than the Lonesome Valley.

    • Well, let me address your thoughful comments. The comfort found in “Lonesome Valley” lies in the realization that the Lord Jesus has walked the path of suffering before us. When we suffer, especially for the cause of Christ, we experience what Paul calls “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). That awareness, in turn, gives great reassurance in our prayers (Heb. 4:15-16). That in itself gives hope, long before deliverance comes.

      But it is important to keep in mind that “Lonesome Valley” does not stand alone. It is only one song in our rich heritage of hymnody. I believe it expresses feelings that are a legitimate part of the human experience. But the song is not for everyone or every situation. We see precisely the same thing in the Psalms. They represent an incredibly wide spectrum of human experience and emotion. There are songs of joy and of sorrow, of fear, and rage, as well as triumph and peace. For example, Ps. 137 voices the sorrow of the Jews in captivity, and their cry for bloody vengeance on their captors. There may be days when I can identify with some of what is there, but other days when Ps. 136 is more in tune with where I’m at in my pilgrimage.

      Thanks for sharing about your experience with depression. My wife has suffered from chronic depression for the over 40 years I have known her. And in times of deep depression “Abide with Me,” beautiful though it is, offers no solace at all. That is not to say it ceases to be biblically true. But that the soul is not able to appropriate what is there.

      I do greatly appreciate your comments. You speak with knowledge and insight that is refreshing, even when I’m not fully in agreement. (Hey! I’ve still got a lot to learn! 🙂 )

  3. Hey, friend! It was “lonesome valley” or wax on about Luther and the Sacraments 🙂

    Have a blessed weekend!

  4. […] This 1917 Swedish hymn was translated into English by Nathaniel Carlson (1879-1957) around 1935. The original melody was written by Alfred Olsen Duhlin (1894-c.1960), a […]

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