Tuesday Hymns: “Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne”

Language is a funny thing (As Paula Moye would say, “Funny, strange; not, funny, ha-ha”) Today we use the word, “awful,” to describe things that are horribly bad. That haggis was awful. I put my fingers in my ears, and I could still hear her awful singing. The movie was so awful that we left half-way through. However, just a few hundred years ago, the word “awful” was used to describe really great things that were “awe-inspiring.” Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne,” uses that latter definition to cause us to look upward to God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and His creational, redemptive, and sustaining power in our lives.

Our God is not a fretful, anxious, helpless being; but the Sovereign Lord over the universe and everything in it. We owe Him our all. Apart from Him, none of us would exist. Apart from Him, all of us would still be lost in our sins. Apart from Him, we would not have a Shepherd to watch over us and care for us. Apart from Him, we could not look forward to joining with the redeemed of all the ages to “crowd [His] gates with thankful songs, high as the heavens our voices raise.”

As Watts reminds us, it is not just the fact, “Wide as the world is [His] command,” but also, “Vast as eternity [is His] love.” It is in His love and grace that we find our rest. We rest in what Jesus Christ did for us through His life, and through His death. Yes, we will gladly “bow with sacred joy” before Him and His “awful throne.”

Psalm 100 was the foundation of his hymn, and it is usually sung to Frédéric Venua’s tune, PARK STREET.

Before Jehovah’s awful throne,
Ye nations, bow with sacred joy:
Know that the Lord is God alone,
He can create, and he destroy.

His sovereign pow’r, without our aid,
Made us of dust, and formed us men;
And when like wandering sheep we strayed,
He brought us to his fold again.

We are his people, we his care,
Our souls, and all our mortal frame;
What lasting honors shall we rear,
Almighty Maker, to thy name?

We’ll crowd thy gates with thankful songs,
High as the heavens our voices raise;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues,
Shall fill thy courts with sounding praise.

Wide as the world is thy command,
Vast as eternity thy love;
Firm as a rock thy truth must stand,
When rolling years shall cease to move.

Hope in God

john flavel

I am about two thirds of the way through John Flavel’s, “The Mystery of Providence,” and my mind has been in a bit of a kerfluffle. It has been a challenge to remember that God really is in control of all that is going on around me lately. Is God really “wisely and powerfully preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions” through “His most holy, wise, and powerful works of providence?” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 11) My mind and heart know the answer is yes because “the Bible tells me so,” but my emotions are nearer to putting into action Walter Bradford Cannon’s “fight-or-flight response.”

Flavel’s book was published in 1678 which means that it was written after he had spent the last sixteen years of his life being persecuted by the officers of Charles II’s administration. He had been cast out of his pulpit with 1800 other pastors in 1662 and had lived somewhat of a transient life out of necessity ever since. Yet, he repeatedly reminded his readers that God was in control, and that God was doing and allowing all that He was doing and allowing for our good and His glory. (As a side note, that persecution would continue for another eleven years before the Glorious Revolution brought some relief.)

As Charles Spurgeon said about his own sufferings, “It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity.”

Maybe God is just “preserving and governing” me through “His most holy, wise, and powerful works,” and telling me to “Stop whining!” People (such as John Flavel, Charles Spurgeon, and countless others) have gone through so much more than I have, and recognized that God was still at work in their lives. Maybe it is time that, like David, I said to myself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God!” (Psalm 42)

 

 

 

Sunday Evening Musings: Of Voltaire, Luby’s Cafeteria, and Oral Roberts

 

voltairelubysoral

Rumor has it that Voltaire once said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Now, I would never to look to Voltaire for theological advice, but in this case he at least has his finger on the pulse of how man thinks. I’m not sure that my six hours of Psychology classes at Lamar University qualify me as an expert, but my sixty-five years of life and ministry should count for something.

Our (mankind’s in general) views of God are typically what we want Him to be. We see that “God is love” in the Scriptures, and we like that, but then we read, “For the Lord God, He is most Terrible, He is the great king over all the earth…” and we say, “No, thank you.” We tend to put our God together in our minds like a trip through the cafeteria line at Luby’s, “No salad for me today, but I would like that chicken fried steak with lots of gravy, and no vegetables; I’ll have macaroni and cheese instead. Oh, and a piece of that chocolate cake, too.” Our view of God may make us comfortable, but it is not reality.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says it well in question number three:

Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

It is in God’s Word where we see “what we are to believe about God.” It may not make us comfortable, but I have learned that reality is a much better road to travel down. What do the Scriptures teach us about God? The Larger Catechism gives us a pretty good summary from the Scriptures, “God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Probing the depths of that description should keep us busy until the ushering in of “the new heavens and the new earth.

Oral Roberts once claimed that he had had a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus, but one pastor allegedly responded, and I think, correctly, “Not big enough, brother. Not nearly big enough.

I said all of that, to say this: Just make sure that your idea of God is the same as the God of the Scriptures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord’s Day Interposed

william_wilberforce_signature

Willliam Wilberforce once said, “O what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business like the divine path of the Israelites through the sea! There is nothing in which I would advise you to be more strictly conscientious than in keeping the Sabbath day holy. I can truly declare that to me the Sabbath has been invaluable.” I believe that he had discovered one of the reasons why Sunday is so important to the Christian. As he put it, it is “interposed between the waves of worldly business.”

On the one hand it is a good time to gather with God’s people to look back on the last week. It is a time to confess your sins, be thankful for your successes in Christ, and to be grateful to God for all of the blessings that He has brought into your life: spiritual, physical, and emotional. It is a time for resting in the fact that Christ is your Mediator, and that He is a merciful and gracious Savior.

On the other hand it is a good time to gather with God’s people and look forward. It is a time to believe that whatever you face in the next week: blessing, trial, or temptation; you will face it in the arms of the one who promised that He would “cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” There is peace in knowing that nothing that can come into your life that has not first passed through the loving and omnipotent hand of God.

It is a day to remember. It is a day to keep holy. It is a day to rest in Christ.

 

 

Tuesday (at least, late Monday) Hymns: “When All Your Mercies, O My God”

addison

 

We all know that the true knowledge of who God is is beyond our grasp. As theologians and philosophers have said, “the finite cannot comprehend the infinite.” We know that the Biblical God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite, holy, immutable, etc., but it is important to remember that He is also a caring, compassionate “Father of mercies” and a “God of all comfort.” Years ago I posted this as a Tuesday Hymn but I thought as we stumble through these fragile times it would be good to take another look at this wonderful hymn.

The Rankin File

(Yesterday morning this was our offertory, and we sang it last night at evening worship. It is a hymn of praise for the mercy and grace of God that we experience from the womb forward to eternity. This was our Tuesday hymn back in 2010 and I just wanted to share it again.)

Joseph Addison was an early 18th century English playwright, political statesman, essayist, and writer of hymns. His play, Cato: A Tragedy, was popular among British Whigs such as John Trenchard, Thomas Gordon, and Edmund Burke, along with early Americans, George Washington and Patrick Henry. Furthermore, his hymn, When All Your Mercies, O My God, is our Tuesday Hymn for this week.

The hymn speaks of God’s shepherding care for all of His sheep during the sunshine and shadow of their lives on earth, and throughout eternity; and is a wonderful testimony to the…

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Things May Change, But the Gospel Stays the Same

Jordan tombstone

There is an old saying that to the British 500 miles is a long way, and to the Americans 500 years is a long time. I can’t vouch for that statement from the British perspective, but it sure seems to be true on “this side of the pond.” To us, the nineteenth century seems like it took place light years ago. Yet, yesterday as I was on my walk, I glanced at my grandfather’s tombstone, and I noticed that he was born in 1881. This was someone that I personally knew (granted he died when I was six, but I have personal memories of him) and he was an adult when Teddy Roosevelt became President. Wow!

When I returned to the house I glanced at my Ancestry program and saw that his Dad, George Boardman Jordan, was born in 1848 (that’s before the Civil War for those of you who slept during history class). There have been many changes between the time of my great grandfather and the 65th year of my life. In the year before George Boardman Jordan was born, information could only travel as fast as the fastest horse, train, or ship. Then, in 1844 the telegraph came along, and, what Tom Standage called the “Victorian Internet” was born. Now, with the computer, we know information about current events happening on the other side of the world as they happen.

Travel has progressed from a horse and wagon, to a train, to an automobile, to a jet airliner, and who knows, “The Jetsons’” flying cars may arrive before our Lord ushers in the “new heavens and the new earth.” Medicine has been revolutionized by the discovery of antibiotics, the heart-lung machine, gene therapy, high tech surgeries, and the list goes on and on. The world has changed immeasurably in those four generations of Jordans, but there is one thing that hasn’t changed; and that is the Gospel.

We are still sinners (and, honestly, with the tools at our disposal we are even more efficient in our sinning); we are still incapable of changing ourselves (“can a leopard change his spots?”); and, because of this, we need a Savior. That is why, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, we don’t need to hear a pep talk, therapeutic advice, or have our ears tickled with clever words; we need to hear how Jesus came to earth, took on human flesh, kept God’s Law, died for sinners, and how if we rest in His grace, and not in our own selves, we can have eternal life; totally by His grace. That is truly Gospel (Good News). As Jesus said, “I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (and his Gospel is, too).

P.S.—I am grateful that I have a pastor that keeps the Gospel front and center.

 

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus Shall Reign”

watts

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was an English non-conformist pastor who wrote a gazillion hymns in his lifetime (over 750 hymns anyway) and came to be known as “the Father of English Hymnody.” Our Tuesday Hymn of the Week is his paraphrase of the second half of the 72nd Psalm. It is interesting to me that he begins his paraphrase of this Old Testament passage with the phrase, “Jesus shall reign…” To Watts, this was more than just a prayer of David for his son, Solomon; but a text that pointed to Christ as the “Eternal Son of David.” It speaks of His eternality, His worthiness to be worshiped, His love, His blessings, His power over death, and His sovereignty. It was published in Watt’s “The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament,” in the year 1719.

It is a hymn that can put one’s feet on solid ground when all that he knows is being shaken. It is a reminder to us that “in Him the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost.” In our world presidents come and go, nations rise and fall, but Christ will reign “til moons shall wax and wane no more.” It is normally sung to the tune, “DUKE STREET”.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His Kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made.
And princes throng to crown His head,
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.
Blessings abound where’er He reigns:
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains,
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.
Where He displays His healing power
Death and the curse are known no more;
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud Amen.

 

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Lord of the Sabbath, Hear Us Pray”

The “Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings” website posted this description of the rather inauspicious beginning of non-conformist pastor Philip Doddridge’s life:

It was June 26, 1702. After thirty-six hours labor, Monica Doddridge gave birth to her twentieth child. It was obviously stillborn and Monica’s hopes were dashed. Eighteen of her children had already died in infancy and she had so wished to have a brother for her only surviving child Elizabeth. The midwife picked up the pale corpse to put it out of sight of the sorrowing mother. Suddenly her heart fluttered. Had she not seen a slight movement in the breast of the tiny boy? She began to slap the infant in an effort to wake him to life, and, sure enough, soon the tiny baby gave out a large cry as if he had the lungs of a robust healthy child.”

Although Doddridge’s childhood was marred by the death of both his parents and his own poor health, his intellectual abilities were such that a benefactress offered to pay his way to go to Cambridge; but because he could not adhere to Anglican doctrine, he attended a non-conformist seminary instead. At twenty-seven he became the pastor of the Castle Hill congregational chapel in Northampton, England, where he remained for the remaining twenty-two years of his life. Besides his pastoral duties he also offered training in Hebrew, Greek, math, philosophy, Bible, and theology to over 200 men.

He was a prolific author of theological works and hymns (he wrote over 400 of the latter). Today’s Tuesday Hymn is his “Lord of the Sabbath, Hear Us Pray.” It is a hymn about the benefits of congregational worship on the Lord’s Day, while looking forward to that Eternal Sabbath were “no sighs shall mingle with the songs resounding from immortal tongues.” It is sung to the tune, Germany L. M., from William Gardiner’s “Sacred Melodies.”

Lord of the Sabbath, hear us pray,
in this your house, on this your day;
and own, as grateful sacrifice,
the songs which from your temple rise.

Now met to pray and bless your name,
whose mercies flow each day the same,
whose kind compassions never cease,
we seek instruction, pardon, peace.

Your earthly Sabbaths, Lord, we love,
but there’s a nobler rest above;
to that our lab’ring souls aspire
with ardent hope and strong desire.

In your blest kingdom we shall be
from ev’ry mortal trouble free:
no sighs shall mingle with the songs
resounding from immortal tongues.

No rude alarms of raging foes,
no cares to break the long repose,
no midnight shade, no waning moon,
but sacred, high, eternal noon.

O long-expected day, begin,
dawn on these realms of woe and sin!
Break, morn of God, upon our eyes;
and let the world’s true Sun arise!

Black and White

 

three dog night

The year was 1972. The band was Three Dog Night. The song said a great deal about what we, as a society, were learning during those maddening times:

♫♫ ♫♫ The ink is black
The page is white
Together we learn to read and write
The child is black
The child is white
The whole world looks upon the sight
The beautiful sight…♫♫ ♫♫

We were just ten years removed from African Americans waiting in separate waiting rooms, using different water fountains, and living a “separate but equal” existence (heavy on the separate, very light on the equal). I was a Senior in high school and we were beginning our second year of sharing the classroom with a significant number of Black kids. Oh, there were some rough spots, but all in all we got along pretty well. We weren’t exactly “Remember the Titans” but our sports teams helped us push beyond our comfort level. We learned to live together on the field, in the classroom, and in the world.

Now fifty years down the road we seemed to have hit a bump in the road. I scan the internet (I don’t turn on the TV anymore) and I see angry, angry people (white and black) sniping at each other like there will be no tomorrow. I readily admit that there are racists out there of all varieties, but I am convinced that there are fewer numbers of those individuals now than I have ever seen in our country, and I am sixty-five years old. I’m old enough to remember African-Americans waiting on Dr. Pearce’s back porch while we waited up front. I remember never seeing mixed race couples. I remember Adams Bayou being a definite boundary line between where we lived, and where people of color lived. And, I am glad those days are simply a chapter in a history book now.

I know that things are not perfect yet, and they never will be until we hear the twenty-four elders saying, “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10) But, I believe that most of us who do not reside in Washington, D.C. have figured it out. We are Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian (I’m sure that I left someone out), but we are all in this together. We come from somewhat different cultures, but that is all right. We still are, at our core, just people. Don’t let the crazies on the left or on the right, drive a wedge between us. Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to Jewish and Gentile Christians so many years ago; for it still has healing qualities today:

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:17-21)

 

John Hus: May His Tribe Increase

John Hus was born to a poor family in Husinec (Goosetown), Boehmia, in 1369. To escape from poverty he decided to become a priest. As he put it, “I had thought to become a priest quickly in order to secure a good livelihood and dress and to be held in esteem by men.” He earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and a doctoral degree; and was ordained to the priesthood in 1401.

He became the preacher at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, and somewhere along the way he came across the writings of John Wycliffe which revolutionized his ministry. He committed himself “to hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them [the Scriptures] as long as I have breath in me.”

Primarily because of his opposition to indulgences and the authority of the Pope he was called to come to the Council of Constance under promise of safe conduct to explain his beliefs. Instead, he was arrested and not allowed to speak unless he was willing to recant his views. He finally said, “I appeal to Jesus Christ, the only judge who is almighty and completely just. In his hands I plead my cause, not on the basis of false witnesses and erring councils, but on truth and justice.” He was sentenced to be burned as a heretic on July 6, 1415.

As he was being tied to the stake he cried out in prayer, “Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies.” He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames did their evil work. His written works inspired Martin Luther a hundred years later to stand fast for the Gospel. Luther said, “I was overwhelmed with astonishment. I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man, who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.”

Our calling as pastors is “to hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in [the Scriptures] as long as [we] have breath in [us].”

 

 

 

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