Posted by: rcottrill | May 14, 2018

Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me

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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: Thomas Toke Lynch (b. July 5, 1818; d. May 9, 1871)
Music: Redhead, by Richard Redhead (b. Mar. 1, 1820; d. Apr. 27, 1901)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Thomas Lynch)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Pastor Lynch also gave us the hymn A Thousand Years Have Come and Gone. (See the Wordwise Hymns link above for comments on this hymn.)

If a soldier doesn’t follow orders, he can find himself in big trouble. Insubordination is not only an offense against a commanding officer, it may put other soldiers in danger. Conviction for disobeying a command can result in a court-martial, a dishonorable discharge, and even imprisonment.

However, it’s not absolute. A soldier is not obligated to follow an illegal order. This was the crux of the argument made against the Nazis in the Nuremberg Trials (1945-1946). Accused of complicity in the slaughter of millions of Jews, those before the bar of justice were not excused by saying, “We were simply following orders.”

And a more recent example: When Donald Trump said he thought America’s armed forces should use torture on enemies to get information, he seemed not to realize that torture has been declared illegal. The military would rightly refuse to follow an order from their Commander-in-Chief to engage in it.

But overall, laws place helpful boundaries on members of society, with the purpose of protecting them, and others around them. The same can be said for the laws of God. In the Old Testament, the Law given to Israel was made up of 613 commands covering every aspect of life. Christians are not bound by the Jewish Law, but God’s moral standard has not changed today.

“Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:15). It’s still wrong to lie, and to steal (Eph. 4:25, 28), and much more. In fact, the standard is even higher on this side of the cross. Though I can’t vouch for the number, someone has counted 1,050 commands in the New Testament. And we now have, with the New Testament, God’s completed written revelation, and have the perfect example of the Lord Jesus to follow.

This raises a question: Who on earth could ever follow all those commands? The answer is no one. Not perfectly. We even fall short of keeping a summary of the Law. The Lord Jesus said the most important commandments of the Old Testament Law were to love God and love others (Matt. 23:36-40; cf. Rom. 13:9), and we’re told “love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). But who can say they love God perfectly, or love others perfectly? We all fall short.

This in itself is a function of God’s holy standard. Not only to tell us how to live, but to remind us of how weak and fallible we are (Rom. 3:23). If we’re to begin to walk God’s way, we need help. And God has provided it through His Holy Spirit. This brings us to a hymn written by English pastor Thomas Lynch. It uses the first line as a title: Gracious Spirit, Dwell with Me.

There’s much to commend this hymn, but I must take issue with the phrase, “dwell with me,” repeated in each of the song’s five stanzas. He’s asking the Holy Spirit to dwell with him. But perhaps a better wording would be “strengthen me.”

Here’s why. The Lord promised the Spirit (after Pentecost) would not only be with us but in us (Jn. 7:37-39; 14:17). The Christian does not need to ask for Him. The moment an individual trusts Christ as Saviour, he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; I Cor. 2:12; 6:19-20). Not to have the Spirit within means the person is not yet saved (Rom. 8:9).

It’s the work of the indwelling Spirit to give us the power we need to live a life pleasing to God. He helps us to understand and apply God’s truth, and produces in us the character of Christ, including love, joy, peace, and more (Gal. 5:22-23). And “if we live in the Spirit [through the new birth], let us also walk in the Spirit [empowered and guided by Him, step by step]” (Gal. 5:25).

I believe Pastor Lynch’s hymn works better with the change suggested above, “strengthen me.” Here it is, with that amendment.

CH-1) Gracious Spirit, strengthen me!
I myself would gracious be;
And with words that help and heal
Would Thy life in mine reveal;
And with actions bold and meek
Would for Christ my Saviour speak.

CH-2) Truthful Spirit, strengthen me!
I myself would truthful be;
And with wisdom kind and clear
Let Thy life in mine appear;
And with actions brotherly
Speak my Lord’s sincerity.

CH-3) Tender Spirit, strengthen me!
I myself would tender be;
Shut my heart up like a flower
In temptation’s darksome hour,
Open it when shines the sun,
And his love by fragrance own.

CH-4) Mighty Spirit, strengthen me!
I myself would mighty be;
Mighty so as to prevail,
Where unaided man must fail;
Ever, by a mighty hope,
Pressing on and bearing up.

CH-5) Holy Spirit, strengthen me!
I myself would holy be;
Separate from sin, I would
Choose and cherish all things good,
And whatever I can be
Give to Him who gave me Thee!

Questions:
1) What is it about “walking” that beautifully illustrates how we are to live the Christian life?

2) How is this process explained in John Sammis’s hymn Trust and Obey?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Thomas Lynch)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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