Posted by: rcottrill | April 28, 2017

We Love the Place, O God

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Words: William Bullock (b. Jan. 12, 1797; d. Mar. 7, 1874)
Music: Quam Dilecta, by Henry Lascelles Jenner (b. June 6, 1820; d. Sept. 18, 1898)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Bullock was a clergyman from England who served Anglican churches in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. How he was led to come to Canada is of interest to us. When he was a young officer in the British navy, he was ordered to survey the coast of Newfoundland. As he did so, he was greatly distressed that the people there lacked anyone to preach the Word of God to them, and had no spiritual leader to shepherd them.

Back home, he resigned his naval post, and after preparation William Bullock returned to Newfoundland as a missionary. In Trinity Bay he built a small mission church, and it was for the dedication of the new building that he wrote this hymn. (A later rebuilt structure is pictured here.) A couple of stanzas, which I would not use, speak of the baptismal font and the altar. But the version of it used by the Cyber Hymnal currently lacks a stanza I think should be there. It speaks of the love of the people for their pastor and spiritual leaders:

We love Thy saints, who come
Thy mercy to proclaim,
To call the wanderers home,
And magnify Thy name.

Would you describe yourself as a patriot, or as being patriotic? That term has been around since Elizabethan times. You can see its roots in the Greek word for father (pater), thus indicating a love of one’s fatherland, or birthplace. But individuals can be patriotic about their adopted countries too.

A patriot is one who loves, supports and defends his country. There is, of course, the possibility of a blind fanaticism that says, to quote a phrase from the nineteenth century, “My country, right or wrong.” This kind of zealotry can be complicated by religion, especially when there’s an officially recognized state religion involved. The individual then feels he is being disloyal to God if he doesn’t fully support his government in everything.

In addition, “patriotism” can sometimes be used as an excuse for unethical behaviour, or as a coverup for corruption. We saw that in the Watergate crimes in Washington, in the early 1970’s. Some who were convinced that Richard Nixon’s re-election was necessary for the good for the country, adopted scandalous and illegal means to accomplish it. For them, Samuel Johnson’s words fit like a glove: “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

Balance is needed in the love of country. For example, Canadians can appreciate the greatness of Canada in many areas. There is much for us to celebrate and support. However, we must not be blind to immoral policies, injustice, or inequities. The ballot box is one way responsible citizens can deal with such things. Letters to the editor, and petitions to government can help too. If we see something wrong, we need to speak out about it.

But let’s turn our attention to another dimension of loyalty: the Christian’s love for the church. Are you a regular church-goer? If so, why? The Bible says “Christ also loved the church” (Eph. 5:25), and who would not want to love what Christ loves? A hymn exalting various things to admire about the church was published by William Bullock in 1854. His hymn begins:

We love the place, O God,
Wherein Thine honour dwells;
The joy of Thine abode
All earthly joy excels.

I see what he’s saying, and I appreciate the sentiment, but there’s a problem there. Strictly speaking, the church is not a “place.” It’s not a building where God lives, and where we go to visit Him on Sundays. New Testament Christians didn’t even have buildings. Facilities dedicated to the work of the church didn’t come along for a couple of centuries after their time.

The church is actually people, the spiritual body of Christ, bound together by a work of the Holy Spirit. God the Father “gave Him [Christ] to be head over all things to the church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:22-23). “You are the body of Christ, and members individually” (I Cor. 12:27). Whether we gather in our own building, or in a home, or in a rented hall, we are the church.

Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, calling them corporately God’s building (I Cor. 3:9), and individually God’s temple (I Cor. 6:19). Peter writes similarly: “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house” (I Pet. 2:5). So, loving the church means loving the people of God (Eph. 1:15).

Pastor Bullock, however, is right in other things his hymn says. It speaks of a love for songs of faith, for pastors (as noted earlier), and for the Word of God. The last stanza of the hymn says:

Lord Jesus, give us grace
On earth to love Thee more,
In heav’n to see Thy face,
And with Thy saints adore.

One of his parishioners asked why the song didn’t say something about the pulpit. So, on the spot, Bullock made up a humorous verse:

We love Thy pulpit, Lord,
For there the word of man
Lulls the worshiper to sleep
As only sermons can.

The pastor’s wit not withstanding, there may be a sad truth there. Many sermons are words from man, rather than being an exposition of the Word of God, and they lack spiritual power as a result.

1) What are some things you especially appreciate about the local church congregation of which you’re a part?

2) What are some ways you contribute to the life and ministry of that local congregation?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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