Posted by: rcottrill | December 19, 2011

What a Wonderful Saviour

Words: Elisha Albright Hoffman (b. May 7, 1839; d. Nov. 25, 1929)
Music: Elisha Albright Hoffman

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Elisha Hoffman’s father was a minister of the gospel in the Evangelical Association, and his son took up Christian ministry in his own time. He was both a poet and a musician as well, so provided both words and music for many of his songs. Eventually he produced more than two thousand of them, some translated into many languages.

Several of Pastor Hoffman’s songs that are still in common use are somewhat repetitious–as is the present one. They’re often dismissed on that account by the hymnological elite. Granted these songs will never make a list of the greatest hymns in English hymnody. But it seems to me they have a place, in part because of their very repetitiousness. In another of his songs the repeated “I must tell Jesus” hammers home the need for prayer, when so many of us neglect it. In this one, we are reminded twenty or so times “What a wonderful Saviour!” we have–with twenty exclamation marks following.

Is that too much? Maybe. Or maybe not–given the nature of the Subject. An exclamation mark (!) indicates the expression of a strong emotion, and grammarians caution writers against overusing it. However, when we are referring to One who is infinitely wonderful, it’s difficult to see how we can overstate the case.

I grew up, and ministered in churches, and now attend a church, where there’s little outward expression of emotion in the worship services. Perhaps, in part, it’s because we’re Canadians–whom others describe as being somewhat reserved. Also, for some, it’s a result of fearing that the opposite might take hold. What if congregants go on an emotional binge, with shouts of “Hallelujah!” or weeping and wailing all over the place?

Well, what if it did happen? Is there anything heretical about that? (No. The Word of God contains many examples of God’s people weeping before Him, or shouting for joy.) Further, we need to make a clear distinction between the legitimate expression of feelings on the one hand, and emotionalism on the other. The latter describes an excessive emotion or sentimentalism stirred up for its own sake. When emotion rules, rather than a legitimate reason for emotion, that should be a concern.

It is also appropriate to call for a subduing of emotion when it is inappropriate to the moment. Nehemiah gives us an example (Neh. 8:8-12). The people had listened to the Scriptures read and explained, and they grieved at how they had offended God. But the Feast of Tabernacles which they were celebrating was a time for rejoicing. Time enough afterward to deal with confession and repentance–as they did (Neh. 9:1-3). During the feast, Nehemiah counseled, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

Freedom and flexibility in the Spirit need to coexist with moderation and spiritual discipline. The end result will no doubt vary somewhat with culture and custom, but surely there are limits in both directions. We may decry a formal liturgy that leaves no room at all for spontaneous expression. But, it’s possible to become rigid about have no structure too. Even in free-wheeling evangelical circles, there can be a kind of unspoken rigidity when “Amens!” and “Praise the Lords!” dominate the entire service and seem close to becoming automatic and unthinking.

It is something worth monitoring. Encourage freedom, but avoid an implied license to do or say whatever the individual’s whim motivates. For myself, I sometimes remind a congregation that there are two wonderful sounds a preacher likes to hear when he is proclaiming God’s Word. One is the turning of pages, as folks check out what he’s saying with what the Bible says (cf. Acts 17:11). The other is a hearty and sincere “Amen!” or “Praise the Lord!” when a significant point is made. Surely we should encourage both!

CH-1) Christ has for sin atonement made
What a wonderful Saviour!
We are redeemed, the price is paid
What a wonderful Saviour!

What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Jesus!
What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Lord!

CH-2) I praise Him for the cleansing blood
What a wonderful Saviour!
That reconciled my soul to God
What a wonderful Saviour!

1) How would you describe the level of spontaneous expression in your own church? (Too little? Too much? Or just about right?)

2) If this area of worship isn’t what you believe it should be, how could you encourage change?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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