The fruit of sanctification?

This morning I read a series of Wesley hymns from a section of the hymnal titled “For Believers Interceding for the World.”  Though I do not uniformly endorse everything in those hymns, I was startled to find how seamlessly the parts of three hymns (number 432, 433, and 434) flow together to convey a startling message for believers.

#432

Lord over all, if thou hast made,

Hast ransomed every soul of man,

Why is the grace so long delayed,

Why unfulfilled the saving plan?

The bliss for Adam’s race designed,

When will it reach to all mankind?

The first stanza of this hymn cries out with a lament at the present state of the world.  Why, oh God, when atonement has been made through Christ’s sacrifice, must the world still suffer under the burden of sin?  This question is, of course, rhetorical.  It is not as though the author is asking why all people were not instantly saved in the act of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Rather, he is asking how the world can remain blind to such a gracious gift.

Art thou the God of Jews alone,

And not eh God of Gentiles too?

To Gentiles make thy goodness known,

Thy judgment tot he nations show;

Awake them by the gospel call —

Light of the world, illumine all!

The lament continues with a petition.  The writer proclaims that surely God is God over all the nations as Scripture tells us and beseeches him to make his glory known throughout the world.  Yet the author recognizes that this awakening must come through the recognition that Christ (the light of the world) is Lord.

If we break off the hymn at this point and pick up at the beginning of the next hymn, we get a continuous thought in which the hymnist’s petition is repeated directly to the Son of God.

#433

O Come, though radiant Morning Star,

Again in human darkness shine!

Arise resplendent from afar!

Assert they royalty divine:

Thy sway o’er all the earth maintain,

And now begin thy glorious reign.

Thy kingdom, Lord, we long to see:

Thy sceptre o’er the nations shake;

T’erect that final monarchy,

Edom for thy possession take;

Take (for thou didst their ransom find)

The purchased souls of all mankind.

In these stanzas the petition has in some way turned into a battle cry, calling upon the Lord to take what is rightfully his and to establish his rule upon the earth. But here is where the tone and heart of the message takes a turn.  The writer has proclaimed that it is only God who can establish his righteous kingdom on earth, and has announced that the kingdom incursion has begun through the light of Christ.  Yet how do you suppose that light is to spread and “illumine all” as the writer begs in the first hymn?

Now let thy chosen ones appear,

And valiantly the truth maintain;

Dispread thy gracious kingdom here;

Fly on the rebel sons of men;

Seize them with faith divinely bold,

And force the world into thy fold!

#434

Jesu, the word of mery give;

And let it swiftly run;

And let the priests themselves believe,

And put salvation on.

The call here is for believers to rise up in the name and power of Christ to bring the kingdom of Heaven to earth, and to win the souls of the world for him.  Yet the writer acknowledges that this cannot be done without the grace of God, nor until even those who would call themselves his priests begin to truly believe in him.  When this begins to happen; when the children of God begin to live as though we are a part of His family, co-heirs with Christ, an amazing transformation takes place…

Clothed with the spirit of holiness,

May all thy people prove

The plentitude of gospel grace,

The joy of perfect love.

When the people of God remember the greatest commandments; to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Matt 22:37) and recognize that this can only be accomplished through his infinite grace, holiness – perfect love – is the result.  And this is the only means by which we can ever uphold the second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39)

Let us live into the call to sanctification.  Let us live lives that glorify God by submitting everything to his good will and loving him through the grace that he freely gives us.  And let us join the hymnist in his petition to Christ on behalf of God’s people that we would press on toward the goal, ever increasing in grace and love:

Jesus, let all thy lovers shine,

Illustrious as the sun;

And bright with borrowed rays divine

Their glorious circuit run.

Beyond the reach of mortals, spread

Their light where’er they go;

And heavenly influences shed

On all the world below,

As giants may they run their race,

Exulting in their might,

As burning luminaries chase

The gloom of hellish night.

As the great Sun of Righteousness

Their healing wings display,

And let their lustre still increase

Unto the perfect day.

*Hymns quoted from A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists, The Works of John Wesley, Volume 7. Edited by Franz Hildebrandt and Olover A. Beckerlegge.  Abingdon Press: 1983.

A Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists

I recently began a practice that I have considered for some time, but with which I have not previously followed through.  That is, the daily reading of hymns as part of my morning devotional time.  Since I am researching John Wesley’s theology for my doctoral thesis, it makes sense to begin with hymns that he, or more often his brother Charles, either wrote themselves or endorsed for the people under their care.  To that end, I have begun reading A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists, which is listed as volume seven of the Bicentennial Edition of Wesley’s Works.

These hymns are a treasure trove of theology and contain a beauty of language that is difficult (perhaps impossible) to capture outside of verse.  As I read these hymns I find myself completely drawn in to their descriptions of humanity, of God, of Christ’s sacrifice, of his glory, of our participation in the life of the Trinity, of our eschatological hope.  Sometimes I am refreshed.  Sometimes I am brought to conviction and repentance.  More often that I would like to admit, I am brought to tears (or nearly so).  Like ancient prayers, they offer me words to utter when I cannot find my own.

Though I make no claim to be a great interpreter of what lies within these pages, I find that I am changed in some small way as I read them, and so I would like to share just a bit of that experience with my readers.  Over the coming weeks and months, please keep your eye out for additions to this new series that will be categorized simply as ‘Hymns’.  I encourage you to find a copy for your own reading pleasure.  I believe you will find a free downloadable version over at the Christian Classics Library.  I will post portions of hymns here, but you will want to read them on your own for the full experience.  I welcome comments and suggestions on the posts.  Stay tuned…

Hymnology

Last night I attended a lecture on contemplative prayer at Asbury Theological Seminary. During the course of the lecture the speaker made some claims about the nature of God. In particular, she was emphasizing that God is invisible. I tend to be a little bit ADHD, so my mind often switches gears when someone makes a claim like this as I search my memory banks for other places I have encountered such claims. It is my systematic way of verifying or raising questions about what someone is saying.

As this natural process happened last night, I was struck by the initial source that my mind naturally searched. That source was the hymns of the church. As she uttered the phrase “God is invisible”, I immediately began to sing in my mind the great Hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise.”

Now I know that this is no exhaustive way to cross-reference someone’s claims with Christian tradition, but I think it shows the importance of hymns in the life of the Church. I have long acknowledged that there is a great deal of theology bound within the songs we sing, but I had not previously recognized just how much I have personally incorporated that theology into my being.

In a time where illiteracy was commonplace, the hymns were a way of communicating the gospel to the masses. They are an oral tradition by which we pass down knowledge from one generation to the next. The music that accompanies this knowledge acts as a memory aid, helping the singer / listener to appropriate it more easily. Even now, as I have just seen in myself, the hymns provide a fertile ground for teaching doctrine.

The current trends of Christianity have transformed the landscape of sacred music. Hymns have been largely replaced in many churches by contemporary praise music. I have no problem with such music. It is very effective for bringing people into worship. But I am concerned about the lack of theological depth found in these songs. With the loss of hymns, congregations have begun to lose touch with theological language and the basics of Christian belief.

I am not a worship leader, and I am not talented enough to become a writer of music, so I don’t know what the solution is. I am concerned with the loss of Christian education within our congregations. It is the new biblical “illiteracy” of of the masses. And we must find a way to reverse its impact on God’s people.