Posted by: rcottrill | February 5, 2012

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me? I don’t think so. Granted that what follows includes some personal opinions. But they are views that have grown out of nearly fifty years of studying the Word of God, and the music of the church. On February 1st I published some thoughts on Charles Wesley’s great hymn Arise, My Soul, Arise. One individual who posted a comment offered me a version of the song made by a group called Indelible Grace.

As you can hear, they begin by having their audience stand, and making some mild jokes about safely exiting the building and finding their cars afterward. Not a word is spoken to focus minds and hearts on the glorious truths expressed in Wesley’s hymn. My soul was grieved as I listened to their rowdy, raucous, rock, “accompanying” and more often almost drowning out a tuneless tune they substituted for the more common and singable one.

What kind of music suits this hymn? To determine that, we need to examine the lyrics. What is happening here? We have a man (Wesley himself? Possibly.) who is struggling with “guilty fears.” He is clearly a believer, as his later declarations show, but he is not enjoying the peace of soul that he should. The devil, “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:9-10), has hit him with fiery darts of guilt and blame. His faith is shaken. “Am I truly forgiven?” he may be thinking. “I don’t feel forgiven. How can I be sure?”

The answer to this need comes in the description of the Christian’s armour in Ephesians 6. We are told to protect ourselves, “above all [over all the other armour]” with “the shield of [the] faith, with which [we] will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:16).

The word “the” does appear before “faith” in the Greek original. (Young’s Literal Translation has, “Above all, having taken up the shield of the faith.”) And it is significant. It’s not our weak subjective faith that protects us. As the hymn writer’s experience shows, Satan can easily penetrate that. But “the faith” is something quite different. It is objective truth, the truth of God’s Word, all the great doctrines of the Christian faith. (Note a number of places where translators have left the word “the” in, to see the difference: e.g. I Tim. 4:1; II Tim. 4:7; Tit. 1:13; Jude 1:3.) Thus, the Bible appears twice in the armour: as a sword for offense, and a shield for defense.

Now, let’s get more specific. When we raise up the shield of the faith to protect ourselves from a persistent sense of guilt over past sins, what particular doctrine are we to focus on. The hymn writer isn’t long in telling us. “The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears” (CH-1). He is referring to the present, priestly ministry of Christ in heaven–a subject, incidentally, that I don’t think preachers deal with enough.

“Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34; cf. Heb. 1:3).

The crucified, risen Lord ascended to glory (Lk. 24:50-52) and is seated at the Father’s right hand. (Though, in defense of Wesley’s lyric, there are circumstances where He also stands, Acts 7:56; Rev. 5:6.) And as the believer’s great High Priest in heaven, He serves as our “Surety.” It severely tries my patience when I see modern hymn writers dispose of that word! “Before the throne my Saviour stands?” Yes, true enough. But He’s there as my Surety. If you don’t know what it means, look it up! And explain it to your congregation when you sing the hymn.

The dictionary will tell you that a “surety” is a person who assumes legal responsibility for the fulfilment of another’s debt or obligation. Oh, what a precious truth that is! Christ has paid our debt of sin on the cross, and His presence in heaven guarantees the efficacy of that payment. His is our Guarantor and heavenly Advocate (I Jn. 2:1-2). As we see in CH-2, Christ “always [forever] lives to make intercession for [us]. That’s why He is able to save us “to the uttermost [completely and forever]” (Heb. 7:25).

In CH-3, with powerful poetic imagery that has often moved me to tears, Wesley pictures the very wounds of Christ pleading for us before His Father’s throne:

“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

Then in the final, triumphant and joyous stanza, we see the speaker’s doubts and fears dissolve in a soul-stirring testimony of renewed faith:

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

Christians have “received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:15-17). My oh my! If I weren’t a such a timid, reserved Canadian, I’d want to shout, “Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” after singing that!

To return briefly to my original question as to what tune suits this hymn, surely it has to be a robust, and joyfully triumphant one. To paraphrase the beginning of the song, the author is giving himself a good talking to. “Get up! Get up! Don’t sit there moping over what a miserable sinner you are! Look at what Christ has done for you!” I believe the tune Lenox, by Lewis Edson, suits the requirement well. The tune Darwall works too. (In the latter case, there is no repeat of a line required).

Equally important is how the tune is rendered. Not softly and slowly. No breathy sentimental mush here. This fellow needs waking up! Granted the earlier rock version would wake him up! But it doesn’t present the answer to his guilty fears with sufficient clarity or reverence. The hymn should be sung firmly and confidently, brightly and joyfully. See an example here.


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