Posted by: rcottrill | April 11, 2016

Beauty for Ashes

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Words: John Grant Crabbe (b. Nov. 29, 1865; d. Feb. 13, 1924)
Music: John Grant Crabbe

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John. Crabbe, an esteemed American educator, was also a dedicated Christian. He wrote a song about his Christian faith, describing it as gaining “beauty for ashes.”

Perhaps it’s a little mean, but there’s a lesson in it. A small child will show an adult a dime she has been given, at which he will offer her a nickel in exchange. The dime, of course, is worth twice as much, but it’s a lot smaller. And sometimes a child will take the offer, on the basis of how the two coins look. But looks can be deceiving.

Adults are not immune to making misguided exchanges. There is a five hundred-year-old German legend about a man named Faust, whose story has been retold and adapted many times. In the tale, Faust makes a pact with the devil to exchange his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. But in the end he is damned, and loses everything.

It’s only a story, but it is reproduced every day, in real life. A stressed and despairing individual will try to find comfort in a bottle or a pill, later discovering that such things only compound his problems, bringing personal ruin. A workaholic will put all his energy into climbing the corporate ladder and making money, only to find that he’s lost even more than he gained in the process.

The Lord Jesus talked about that.

“What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul [his very life]?” (Matt. 16:26).

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life? What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?” (J. B. Philips paraphrase). These are sobering questions. Even the wealth of all the world–if it were possible to possess it all–would not be a worthy exchange for a man’s very life.

What, then, is a fair exchange? One that provides lasting benefits? In response, there is a prophetic passage in Isaiah, fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ, in part during the days of His earthly ministry (Isa. 61:1-2a; cf. Lk. 4:16-21), then finally fulfilled when He returns to set up His earthly kingdom (Isa. 61:2b-3). To describe the transforming power of Christ’s coming, Isaiah uses some colourful imagery, saying:

The Lord “will give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3).

Though the words have a prophetic significance relating to a yet future time, they also seem to describe well what the transforming power of the gospel of grace can do in individual lives, here and now.

A life without God is ultimately one of eternal bankruptcy, and the fleeting pleasures of sin can only bring mourning and a spirit of heaviness (or despair). A life that may glow with earthly delights for a time will leave only gray ashes behind. But the gospel describes an astonishing exchange that took place at Calvary.

There “He [God the Father] made Him who knew no sin [the Lord Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). The Lord Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon Himself, that we, through faith in Him, might be saved (Jn. 3:16) and experience another great exchange, “beauty for ashes.”

CH-1) I sing the love of God, my Father,
Whose Spirit abides within,
Who changes all my grief to gladness,
And pardons me all my sin.
Though clouds may lower, dark and dreary,
Yet He has promised to be near;
He gives me sunshine for my shadow,
And beauty for ashes here.

He gives me joy in place of sorrow;
He gives me love that casts out fear;
He gives me sunshine for my shadow,
And beauty for ashes here.

CH-2) I sing the love of God, my Saviour,
Who suffered upon the tree,
That, in the secret of His presence,
My bondage might freedom be.
He comes to bind the brokenhearted;
He comes the fainting soul to cheer;
He gives me oil of joy for mourning,
And beauty for ashes here.

1) What beauty have you received from the Lord, and from what ashes in your former life?

2) What have you been doing with what you received from Him?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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