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Words: John Newton (b. July 24, 1725; d. Dec. 21, 1807)
Music: St. Peter (Reinagle) by, Alexander Robert Reinagle (b. Aug. 21, 1799; d. Apr. 6, 1877)
Note: In 1779 Newton, who also wrote Amazing Grace, published the present hymn in a now classic work called Olney Hymns, created by him and William Cowper. (Olney was the town, in England, where John Newton served as pastor for many years.)
The sixth stanza puzzled me for awhile, because it didn’t seem to fit the metre. But it does when the word “tossed” is divided into two syllables as “toss-ed.” (Poets can do that sort of thing!)
CH-6 “Poor tempest-tossèd soul be still,
My promised grace receive;”
‘Tis Jesus speaks, I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.
Locks and keys have been around for a long time. The oldest found so far came from the ruins of the city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. A dating of 704 BC makes the hardware contemporary with the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (I Kgs. 16:20).
But such devices are spoken of in Scripture, about five centuries earlier still (around 1200 BC). When Israel’s God-appointed judge, Ehud, assassinated the king of Moab, to help free his people from Moabite oppression, he locked the door of the king’s private chamber, in order to delay the discovery of the body, giving him time to escape (Jud. 3:15, 20-26).
Locks provide a means of securing people or things from intruders and thieves, Having access to keys that others do not have gives a means of entry restricted to those qualified to do so. It is in this sense that we can apply the lock and key imagery to our spiritual need.
At the beginning of his visions of future things, the Apostle John meets the glorified Christ, who speaks to him of His power over death and the grave, a victory won for us through His own death and resurrection. He says:
“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades [the abode of the dead] and of Death [itself]” (Rev. 1:18).
“Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him” (Rom. 6:9). God’s plan of salvation rests upon that (Heb. 7:25).
When we put our faith in Christ as our Saviour, His death is credited to us, and our debt of sin is paid through Him. God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
There was a wonderful foreshadowing of that in a priestly ritual under the Old Testament Law. In Israel’s early worship centre, the tabernacle, there was an inner room called the “Most Holy” place. Separated from a larger outer room by a heavy curtain, the only thing in the Most Holy was the ark of the covenant (Exod. 26:33-34). We need some basics about that object to understand the symbolism.
The ark contained the stone tables inscribed with the Ten Commandments, representing God’s holy Law. On the lid of the ark, called the mercy seat, were two golden angels (cherubim) facing inward. It was between them that Jehovah God revealed His presence in the form of a glorious light (Ps. 80:1).
Imagine God gazing down from between the cherubim upon His holy Law in the ark, with the realization that His sinful people had disobeyed His commandments again and again. The punishment of sin is death (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23a). God’s people were thus in danger of divine judgment.
But into the Most Holy, on the Day of Atonement, came Israel’s high priest. There he applied the blood of an animal sacrifice to the mercy seat. In symbol, the shed blood of a substitute came between a holy God and His broken Law. The ceremony pointed forward to Christ, and His sacrifice for sin on the cross (I Cor. 15:3).
Though the throne of God in heaven is called “the throne of grace” for Christians (Heb. 4:14), it’s appropriate to think of it also as a “mercy seat,” as some hymn writers do, including John Newton. We can come to God with confidence, because Christ has paid out debt of sin. The blood of our Substitute has come between a holy God and the Word we have disobeyed.
CH-1) Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.
CH-2) Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.
CH-3) Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.
CH-5) O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious name.
1) What is the “key” that admits a person to the throne of God in prayer?
2) What is your favourite hymn about prayer?