Hymn: Of A Rebel Made A Son (Newton)

The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set)  Although this hymn by John Newton might have a few titles, one line in it would be my choice for a title: “…Of a rebel made a son.”  Whatever it is called, here’s Newton’s wonderful hymn that exalts the grace and love of Christ.  Say it out loud!

Saved by blood, I live to tell
What the love of Christ hath done;
He redeemed my soul from hell,
Of a rebel made a son:
Oh I tremble still to think
How secure I lived in sin,
Sporting on destruction’s brink
Yet preserved from falling in.

In his own appointed hour,
To my heart the Savior spoke;
Touched me by his Spirit’s power;
And my dangerous slumber broke.
Then I saw and owned my guilt:
Soon my gracious Lord replied,
‘Fear not, I my blood have spilt,
Twas for such as thee I died.’

Shame and wonder, joy and love;
All at once possessed my heart,
Can I hope thy grace to prove
After acting such a part?
‘Thou hast greatly sinned,’ said he,
‘But I freely all forgive,
I myself thy debt have paid,
Now I bid thee rise and live!’

Come my fellow sinners try;
Jesus’ heart is full of love
Oh that you, as well as I,
May his wonderous mercy prove!
He has sent me to declare,
All is ready, all is free:
Why should any soul despair,
When he saved a wretch like me?

John Newton, “Hear What He Has Done For My Soul”, Book III, Hymn 54.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“…Mid All Harms” (Luther)

 Here’s a great Reformation hymn with an excellent structure: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It’s by Martin Luther and it’s called “We All Believe in One True God.”

We all believe in one true God,
Maker of the earth and heaven,
The Father who to us the power
To become his sons have given.
Soul and body guard us, guide us,
‘Mid all harms will keep and cherish,
That no ill shall ever betide us.
He watches o’er us day and night,
All things are governed by His might.

And we believe in Jesus Christ
Lord and Son of God confessed
From everlasting days with God
In like power and glory blessed.
By the Holy Ghost conceived,
Born of Mary, virgin mother,
That to lost men who believed
He should Savior be and Brother;
Was crucified and from the grave,
Through God, is risen,
Strong to save!

We in the Holy Ghost believe,
Who with Son and Father reigneth,
One true God; He the Comforter,
Feeble souls with gifts sustaineth,
All his saints, in every nation,
With one heart this faith receiving,
From all sin obtain salvation,
From the dust of death reviving;
These sorrows past, there waits in store
For us, the life forevermore!

Martin Luther, from “We All Believe in One True God” found in The Hymns of Martin Luther.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


American Revivalist Hymns (Marsden)

(This is a repost from February, 2012).

Many aspects of today’s shallow American hymnody are rooted in the 19th-century revivals.   This is a huge topic, of course, but to get a little glimpse I like how George Marsden writes about it in Fundamentalism and American Culture.

“The surge of revivalism associated with the rise of Charles Finney in the 1820s which developed in the ‘New School’ tradition certainly did not forsake intellect, but it did create new channels for emphasis on emotion throughout American evangelicalism.  Sandra Sizer in her analysis of the rise of the gospel song in nineteenth-century America has suggested that Finney’s revivals marked the beginning of the attempt to build a new Christian community united by intense feeling.  The focal point for the emphasis was the ‘social religious meeting,’ small groups gathered for prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and song.  Witnessing, or testifying to one another about how God had transformed their lives, was an important way in which these communities built themselves up and provided emotional support.”

“Finney added emphasis on such meetings to his more-or-less conventional mass-preaching services, but by the time of the remarkable businessmen’s revival of 1857-1858 the awakening itself originated in noon hour prayer meetings which were just such ‘social religious meetings.’  Every new evangelical movement of this entire area, through the rise of fundamentalism and including the holiness, pentecostal, and premillennial movements, had a base in some form of ‘social religious’ gathering.”

“The revivals of Moody and Sanky, Sizer argues persuasively, in a sense applied to the principles of the smaller group meetings on a massive scale.  The use of a song leader, which Sankey made a lasting part of evangelicalism, was a conspicuous means of building emotional ties.  The most common theme was the distress of sin, to be relieved by a passionate surrender to the incredible love of Jesus.  Hymns that told stories of prodigals reclaimed and the like made the song itself a kind of witnessing.”

“In contrast to eighteenth-century hymns like those in the influential collection of Isaac Watts, the focus of revivalist songs shifted from praise of the awful majesty of God and the magnitude of his grace revealed in Christ’s atoning work, to the emotions of those who encounter the Gospel.  Similarly, Moody’s sermons virtually abandoned all pretense of following conventional forms of explicating a text, and were closer to ‘layman’s exhortation’ filled with touching anecdotes with an emotional impact comparable to that of personal testimony.”

There is more to it, but these are some of the theological, historical, and practical reasons why confessional Reformed churches typically do not sing these songs.  In other words, we avoid these songs and worship techniques for several different reasons and not just to be “traditional” or “conservative.”  I recommend Marsden’s book Fundamentalism and American Culture if you want to dig deeper into hymnody and other aspects of American Christianity.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Not For Works Which We Have Done (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.) I always like reading the original words of the solid hymns we know and love.  As I was looking through Augustus Toplady’s hymns in volume 6 of his Works I recently came across “How Vast the Benefits Divine.”  Here are the original words, which are based on 2 Timothy 1:9 – He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time… (NIV).

  1      HOW vast the benefits divine,
Which we in Christ possess,
Sav’d from the guilt of sin we are,
And call’d to holiness.
   2      But not for works which we have done,
Or shall hereafter do;
Hath God decreed on sinful worms,
Salvation to bestow.
      3      The glory, Lord, from first to last,
Is due to thee alone;
Aught to ourselves, we dare not take,
Or rob thee of thy crown.
     4      Our glorious surety undertook
To satisfy for man,
And grace was given us in him,
Before the world began.
        5      This is thy will, that in thy love
We ever should abide,
And lo, we earth and hell defy,
To make thy counsel void.
    6      Not one of all the chosen race,
But shall to heav’n attain;
Partake on earth the purpos’d grace,
And then with Jesus reign.
        7      Of Father, Son, and Spirit, we
Extol the threefold care,
Whose love, whose merit, and whose pow’r,
Unite to lift us there.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 415.

Shane Lems

The Tender Mercy of God

One of the great old hymns we use here for worship is “Your Mercy” by Isaac Watts.  The first part goes like this:

“Your mercy my God is the theme of my song;
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue!”

I love the old theological Latin for mercy, misericordia Dei, which means something like the affectionate compassion of God towards sinners.  In the words of Thomas Watson, “It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful.”  Scripture teaches that raindrops are like showers of God’s mercy, he mercifully feeds all creatures, and his tender mercies are over all his works like the touch of a painter’s hand  (Ps. 145.9, Matt. 5.45, Acts 14.17, etc.).  Watson’s other words describing God’s mercy (which I’ve summarized) are worth contemplating as we make God’s mercy the theme of our song.

 God’s mercy is “a lodestone [magnet] to draw sinners to him.”  “God is more inclinable to mercy than wrath (cf. Ex 34.6-7).  Mercy is his darling attribute, which he most delights in (Mic. 7.18).  Mercy pleases him.”  “Mercy is not the fruit of our goodness, but the fruit of God’s goodness.  Mercy is an alms that God bestows.” 

“Mercy stays [restrains] the speedy execution of God’s justice.  Mercy gets a reprieve for the sinner, and stops the speedy process of justice.  God would, by his goodness, lead sinners to repentance.”

“God’s mercy is free.  To set up merit is to destroy mercy.  Nothing can deserve mercy, because we are polluted in our blood.  We may force God to punish us, but not to love us.”  His mercy is overflowing, plentiful, and abundant.  His mercies over all are new every morning.

God is “desirous that sinners should touch the golden scepter of his mercy and live.”  He calls “sinners to come and lay hold on his mercy” (Rev. 22.17).  “Mercy woos sinners, it even kneels down to them.  God says, Poor sinner, suffer [allow] me to love thee, be willing to let me save thee.”

Why don’t you believe in God’s mercy?  Do your sins discourage you?  “God’s mercy can pardon great sins” (Ps 25.11). 

“Go to God for mercy.  Oh pray for mercy!  God has treasures of mercy; prayer is the key that opens these treasures; and in prayer, be sure to carry Christ in your arms, for all the mercy comes through Christ.”  “Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name, yet he will not when we come in Christ’s name.”

Once we realize the tenderness of God’s abundant and free mercy, another verse of the hymn makes perfect sense.

“Your mercy is more than a match for my heart;
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart!
Dissolved by your goodness I fall to the ground;
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found!”

[The above comments by Thomas Watson can be found in Part II, chapter 9 of his Body of Divinity.  UPDATE/EDIT: I also just found an entire section on “Mercy” in Watson’s treatment of the beatitudes.]

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Don’t Come to the Garden Alone!

I’m sure many of you have heard the hymn “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles (d. 1946).  The song has always given me the creeps.  Here are a few lyrics.

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…he speaks, the sound of his voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing…  and the melody that he gave to me within my heart is ringing.  …and the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”

That gives me the creeps – roses, sweet voices, intimacy like “none other has ever known”  – these just scream to me the notes of enlightenment deism, rationalism, and mysticism, not to mention the fact that a Mormon could sing this song with a clear conscience.  Here’s another solid reason why the hymn just plain scares me: Miles’ account of how he penned the hymn.  I have to summarize it a bit, but I’ll include a few quotes, so pay attention to those.

In April, 1912, Miles was sitting in his dark room – a photography room with his organ inside it.  He was reading John 20 there, the text where the risen Christ meets the weeping Mary.  Miles wrote, “I seemed to be part of the scene.  I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life….  My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall.  As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches.”  Miles then recounts the scene unfold as he saw it, somewhat similar to John 20.

Miles continues: Mary’s word “Rabboni!” ends the vision.  “I awakened in sun light, gripping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating.  Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote, as quickly as the words could be formed, the poem exactly as it has since appeared.  That same evening I wrote the music.”

There are 100 things I could say about this, but I’ll have to save it for later posts on a closed canon, the regulative principle of worship, mysticism, rationalism, deism, revivalism, and so on.

Almost forgot: I got the above quote from Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 365 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 113.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Prose and Poetry or Narrative Prologues and Poetic Epilogues

Some OT scholars make hay with the seeming discrepancies between Exodus 14 (the exodus narrative proper) and Exodus 15 (the poetic or hymnic reflection on the exodus).  For example, they discuss the history, authorship, and date of the two chapters.  It is true: on close reading of the two texts, one can see some differences such as how the Egyptians drowned, how the Lord did his work, and how the people passed through on dry land.  These “oddities” are what caused the older critics to snip the text up into different pieces.  Some older critics say that Ex 15 is a late poem which has features of both “J” and “P;” this accounts for some of the oddities.

An alternative way to answer these “oddities” is by utilizing the basic point that Richard D. Patterson made in his article, “Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14-15” (Bibliotheca Sacra 161, Jan-Mar 2004).  Patterson first shows several older Egyptian texts that are very similar to Ex 14-15 in this way: there is prose about a battle by a great Pharaoh, then there is a poem about the Pharaoh’s prowess on the battle field.  Patterson then notes several places in the Pentateuch that follow this pattern.  His main emphasis is relationship between the narrative in Ex 14 and the poetic response (a sort of victory psalm) in Ex 15.  There are similarities (theme and vocab) and differences (cf. above) between the two, but this type of relationship between prose and poetry in ANE/OT texts is not abnormal.

How then do we deal with those differences?  “One must deal with the final form of the full story…including the use of poetry set within the flow of the narrative” (p. 50).  Furthermore, “the literary constraints attendant to the genres of prose and poetry inevitably require that each should be evaluated on its own terms.  The victory song of 15:1-18 should not be pressed with a literalistic hermeneutic and the prose narrative should not be expected to contain all the sensational features of the poem” (p. 52).  Though Patterson says more, notice these two. 1) We have to deal with the text as is, despite what one may think about history and author (cf. Childs in Exodus, p. 248).  2) Since they are different genres,  they need to be interpreted (evaluated) on their own terms.  In other words, of course poetry is going to be different than narrative!

Let me use Enns’ similar comments in his Exodus commentary to bolster what Patterson said.

“If we go through this song, as many have done, with a fine-toothed comb, looking for possible discrepancies with the narrative of chapter 14, we will find them; but in doing so we will have misread the song.  It is a modern Western penchant to require complete ‘consistency’ between accounts, but the biblical authors are not so concerned.  We must resist the temptation to impose our modern expectations on a text, which ancient texts are not always prepared [or meant to – spl] to shoulder” (p. 297).

The “oddities” are not insuperable or contradictory, but Ex 14 and Ex 15 give us different perspectives on the same event.  Ex 15 is “a poetic expression of what we have seen in narrative form in 14:14: ‘the LORD will fight for you.’  The battle is God’s; hence, from his vantage point, there is no struggle” (Enns, 305).  In other words, Ex 15 is different in genre (it is a poem with poetic features) and perspective (it is from heaven’s point of view) than Ex 14.  This accounts for the differences, not an amalgamation of textual snippets.

shane lems

sunnyside wa