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Words: John Newton (b. July 24, 1725; d. Dec. 21, 1807)
Music: St. Agnes, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)
Note: This hymn was published in 1779, in Newton and Cowper’s historically significant Olney Hymns.
The hymns in our English hymn books cover the alphabet from beginning to end. Overall, there are titles representing every letter except “X.” Hymns beginning with “K,” “Q” and “Z” are rare, but not unknown.
Checking the indices of evangelical hymnals from the past sixty years, you’ll likely find A Charge to Keep I Have, by Charles Wesley (1707-1788) is often the first on the list. For one beginning with the last letter of the alphabet we have to go further afield. The Cyber Hymnal currently lists over 11,000 hymns. Included on the growing list are ten beginning with the letter “Z.”
While it’s not vitally important that our hymn books contain songs starting with every letter from “A” to “Z,” there’s a sense in which that provides a significant illustration of a Bible truth. Just as the alphabet contains all the letters needed to make up all the words we use, the sixty-six books contained in our Bibles, from Genesis to Revelation, are God’s complete and infallible written word to humanity. There are no new Bible books still being written. In fact, the Lord condemns anyone for trying add to the revealed Scriptures (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18).
Then, there is the person of Christ Himself. Four times, the Lord Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13). Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the language in which the New Testament was originally written. The Lord Jesus is declaring that in Himself He embodies all the fullness of the perfections of the Godhead (Col. 2:9). He is “the first and the last,” and “the beginning and the end of all things” (Rev. 1:17-18; 2:8)–and preeminent over all from “A” to”Z” (Col. 1:18).
In the scope of our hymn books we have, then, a picture of the completeness of God’s Word, and a picture of the completeness of Christ, both in His perfect character, His work of eternal salvation, and more.
To date in this blog, I’ve have covered well over a thousand hymns, representing most of the letters of the English alphabet, but not “Z.” Recently I remedied that, adding this article beginning with that letter. It was written by John Newton, the man who also gave us Amazing Grace. In his hymn called Zeal Is That Pure and Heavenly Flame, Pastor Newton gives us an insightful lesson on the meaning of Christian zeal.
Zeal, of course, isn’t exclusively Christian. A zealous person is passionate and enthusiastic about something–maybe a political party, or a sports team, or winning a lottery. But Newton points out that zeal can sometimes be simply prideful self expression, and selfish ambition, in disguise. Such a self-serving quality contrasts with Spirit-inspired zeal in other ways too.
A proper and godly kind of zeal can be seen many times in the Scriptures.
¤ God the Father has a zeal to see His Son reigning on His rightful throne (Isa. 9:6-7).
¤ The prophet Elijah zealously opposed apostasy (I Kgs. 19:10).
¤ The Lord Jesus acted with holy zeal when He saw the temple being used as “a house of merchandise” (Jn. 2:13-17).
¤ And when the Lord saves sinners, through faith in Christ, He wants them to be “zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14).
CH-1) Zeal is that pure and heav’nly flame,
The fire of love supplies;
While that which often bears the name,
Is self in a disguise.
CH-2) True zeal is merciful and mild,
Can pity and forbear;
The false is headstrong, fierce and wild,
And breathes revenge and war.
CH-4) Zeal has attained its highest aim,
Its end is satisfied;
If sinners love the Saviour’s name,
Nor seeks it ought betide.
CH-5) But self, however well employed,
Has its own ends in view;
And says, as boasting Jehu cried,
“Come, see what I can do.”
CH-6) Self may its poor reward obtain,
And be applauded here;
But zeal the best applause will gain,
When Jesus shall appear.
1) What are some of the things people are zealous for today, good and bad?
2) What are the things you are most zealous for in your own life?