Posted by: rcottrill | October 1, 2018

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

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Words: Elizabeth Cecelia Douglas Clephane (b. June 18, 1830; d. Feb. 19, 1869)
Music: St. Christopher, by Frederick Charles Maker (b. Aug. 6, 1844; d. Jan. 1, 1927)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Elizabeth Clephane only lived to the age of 39, but she has given us two fine songs. The other is The Ninety and Nine, based on the parable of the lost sheep (Lk. 15:3-7). Published posthumously, in 1872, in The Family Treasury, a Presbyterian magazine, the lines of poetry which became the present hymn were headed “Breathings on the Border,” with this explanation by the editor.

“These lines express the experiences, the hopes and the longings of a young Christian lately released [i.e. gone to heaven]. Written on the very edge of life, with the better land fully in view of faith, they seem to us footsteps printed on the sands of time, where these sands touch the ocean of Eternity.”

Sometimes notable men or women, or significant events, cast a long shadow, influencing attitudes and actions for many years to follow. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in America are like that. “Nine-eleven,” though but a single day, has affected our lives ever since. There is the feeling that nothing will ever be the same again. (One writer actually calls it “the beginning of World War III.”) We live in the shadow of that day.

The same can be said, far more significantly, of the crucifixion of Christ. Though it took place nearly two millennia ago, it continues to cast its shadow over us. And it’s not surprising that so monumental an event should be preceded by history and a divine revelation that anticipated and pointed forward to it. The entire Old Testament (three quarters of the Bible) does that.

Early in Genesis we’re told of the terrible sin of our first parents in Eden, when they were seduced by Satan in the guise of a serpent. This is followed by God’s great promise that one day the Seed (or Descendant) of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

Later, when the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, the Lord punished the Egyptians with a series of plagues, the last being the death of the firstborn all through the land. But His people were protected by the blood of the Passover lamb, which pointed forward to “Christ our Passover…sacrificed for us” (Exod. 12:21-24; cf. I Cor. 5:7).

The entire Old Testament sacrificial system did the same. Though the death of an animal could not pay finally for human sin, it foreshadowed what was to come (Lev. 1:3-4; cf. Heb. 10:4). And Isaiah’s prophecy foretells the purpose of the death of Christ.

“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6).

Then the Gospels describe the event (Jn. 19:17-18), followed by the glorious resurrection of the Saviour (Matt. 28:5-7). The crucifixion itself is presented with few of the gruesome details. This is because they were well known in Jesus’ day, but also because that’s not the focus of the New Testament, which speaks most about the meaning of the cross (e.g. Jn. 3:16; I Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 1:7).

And finally, we should note that the crucifixion casts an eternal shadow. It will be the subject of the worship of the saints in the heavenly kingdom (Rev. 5:8-10).

It’s no surprise then that today Calvary love saturates the songs of the church. And Scottish hymn writer Elizabeth Clephane has given us a lovely one, the hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus. In a real sense, we live in the shadow of the cross. And this is a song that speaks of the cross as “the shadow of a mighty rock,” and has the lines (in stanza 5):

I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place.

(Note: the word “fain,” in stanza one, means gladly. And the original fourth stanza likely ended with the word “worthlessness.” I think the change editors made to “unworthiness” is much better. We are not worthless to God.)

CH-1) Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat,
And the burden of the day.

CH-4) Upon that cross of Jesus
Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears
Two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love
And my unworthiness.

1) There seem to be crosses everywhere today. But not all are an expression of personal faith in Christ. Why else would people display or wear a cross?

2) What does the cross of Jesus Christ mean to you personally?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


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