Tuesday Hymns: “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee”

In the early Autumn of 1641, George Neumark was walking across country to begin his studies at the University of Koningsberg, when he was waylaid by criminals who took everything he owned. Without money for food or schooling he began to search for work. He had yet to find employment when December arrived, and life was beginning to look very bleak for the young man. His life took a turn for the better when, providentially, the tutor of a prominent family fell into disgrace and Neumark was offered the vacant teaching position.

Neumark’s response to God’s blessing was the writing of our Tuesday Hymn for this week, If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee. The lyrics remind us that God is sovereign and when life is difficult it is always best to trust in Him, knowing that He is working all things for our good, and not to allow bitterness to take refuge in our hearts. Neumark composed both the words and the tune
of this marvelous hymn.

If Thou but suffer God to guide thee, and hope in Him through all thy ways, He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee, and bear thee through the evil days: Who trusts in God’s unchanging love builds on the Rock that naught can move.

What can these anxious cares avail thee, these never ceasing moans and sighs? What can it help, if thou bewail thee o’er each dark moment as it flies? Our cross and trials do but press the heavier for our bitterness.

Only be still, and wait His leisure in cheerful hope, with heart content to take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure and all discerning love hath sent; nor doubt our inmost wants are known to Him who chose us for His own.

All are alike before the Highest; ’tis easy to our God, we know, to raise thee up though low thou liest, to make the rich man poor and low; true wonders still by Him are wrought who setteth up and brings to naught.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving, so do thine own part faithfully, and trust His Word–though undeserving, thou yet shalt find it true for thee; God never yet fosook at need the soul that trusted Him indeed.

Where to worship?

Last week we took one of our weeks of vacation (thus, no Rankin File) and because we were going to be in town on the Lord’s Day, we spent some time discussing where we would worship. It is always a little awkward to worship at Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC) when I am on vacation because normally I am helping in the leading of worship, and it just feels weird to be sitting out in the congregation. So, we went down our list of options.

We (mainly I) considered going back to the church where I grew up to worship, but we decided going to see old friends is not necessarily a good reason to choose to worship in a particular place. We thought of worshipping in a couple of churches close to our house, but knew that we had differing views on the content of worship, and that we would be required to explain to our boys why these churches did certain things that would not be done at RPC. Through all of this Dixie kept saying, “Why don’t we just go to RPC?”

Finally, it dawned on me (I am a little slow sometimes) to think about why we chose to worship at RPC in the first place five years ago. First, we knew that the worship would be God-centered and reverent; filled with the reading of the Word, the preaching of the Word, and the singing full of the truth from the Word. Second, we knew that we would hear a message from God’s Word (yesterday from the Book of Daniel chapter six) that would point us to Christ as our only hope in a fallen world. And, last of all, as icing on the cake, we would be with people who we love, and who love us because of the fact that we are all united to Christ by the work of His Spirit.

I did not write this to cast aspersions on other churches, or to claim that RPC is the only true church in the area, for it is not, but to show thanks to the Lord for placing us in a Body where Christ is exalted, and His Word is treasured. (For information about RPC click here.)

A Christ of Our Own Inventions

Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1680) was the widow of Colonel John Hutchinson, who was the Parliamentary Governor of Nottingham Castle during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. He was actually one of the judges who signed the death warrant for Charles I, but left public life when he became distrustful of Cromwell’s desire for power. After the restoration of the monarchy, he spent time in the Tower of London and later died in Sandown Castle still under arrest for regicide.

Mrs. Hutchinson, after the death of her husband, wrote a book entitled On the Principles of the Christian Religion, primarily to ground her daughter in the fundamentals of the Christian religion during that time of great political and spiritual unrest. One sentence particularly caught my attention, “Christ is, in the Gospel, held forth to men to be received as their life and salvation, and they that seek a Christ anywhere but where God exhibits Him, that is, His own authorized Word, may find Christ of their own inventions, but shall never find the Christ of God, the alone Saviour of men.

How very true! Many follow a Christ, but it is not the Christ of Scripture. It may be the Christ of a Thomas Jefferson (nothing more than a great philosopher devoid of deity), or the Christ of a civil religionist (a generic Christ to whom all religions can draw near in a National Cathedral), or a therapeutic Christ who wants everyone to “just get along.” Mrs. Hutchinson reminded us that  the Christ of Scripture is the “alone Saviour of men.”

Who is the Christ of Scripture? He is fully God, since Peter calls Him “our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1) He is fully man, since the Bible tells us that He ate, drank, slept, was tempted, and was eventually crucified on a cruel Roman cross (and raised to life again). He is the one who lived His life according to the Law of God and provides His righteousness as a gift for all of those who believe, as Paul says in Romans 5:17: “For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], death reigned athrough the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” He is the one who died as a sacrifice for the elect of God, taking the wrath of God upon Himself that should have fallen on them since “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) He is also the one who will one day judge the living and the dead:

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

Therefore, I, along with Lucy Hutchinson, would encourage everyone reading my words not to look to the “Christ of [your] own inventions” but to the Christ of the Scriptures as your only hope in life and death.

Tuesday Hymns: “God, Be Merciful to Me”

By the end of the nineteenth century the congregational singing of the Psalms in corporate worship was in a state of decline in American churches. The United Presbyterians attempted to reverse that trend in 1871 by publishing its Book of Psalms. According to Terry Johnson, “It [The Book of Psalms] provided the foundation for The Psalter of 1912, largely the 1871 book, but a collaborative work of nine churches of the Presbyterian-Reformed family in the United States and Canada, who after 50 years of decline were beginning again to see the value of singing Psalms.” (For an excellent short history of the singing of Psalms click here.)

Our Tuesday Hymn is a collation of the 51st Psalm from The Psalter, 1912, entitled, God, Be Merciful to Me. In a world which wallows in “I’m okay, you’re okay” thought, this hymn presents a Biblical understanding of man’s sin, and our need for the manifold mercy of God in our lives. It is sung to the tune READHEAD 76 (no, not Lucille Ball, but Richard Redhead, an organist and writer of hymn tunes in the nineteenth century).

God, be merciful to me, on Thy grace I rest my plea; plenteous in compassion Thou, blot out my transgressions now; wash me, make me pure within, cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

My transgressions I confess, grief and guilt my soul oppress; I have sinned against Thy grace and provoked Thee to Thy face; I confess Thy judgment just, speechless, I Thy mercy trust.

I am evil, born in sin; Thou desirest truth within. Thou alone my Savior art, teach Thy wisdom to my heart; make me pure, Thy grace bestow, wash me whiter than the snow.

Broken, humbled to the dust by Thy wrath and judgment just, let my contrite heart rejoice and in gladness hear Thy voice; from my sins O hide Thy face, blot them out in boundless grace.

Gracious God, my heart renew, make my spirit right and true; cast me not away from Thee, let Thy Spirit dwell in me; Thy salvation’s joy impart, steadfast make my willing heart.

Sinners then shall learn from me and return O God, to Thee; Savior, all my guilt remove, and my tongue shall sing Thy love; touch my silent lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall praise accord.

Tuesday Hymns: “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”

William Kethe was a Scottish pastor (at least most believe he was a Scot) who fled the persecution of Queen Mary I (daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon) of England during the 1550s. He was involved in the translation of the Geneva Bible in 1560 and contributed twenty-five psalms to the 1561 Genevan Psalter, one of which is our Tuesday Hymn, All People That on Earth Do Dwell. Loys “Louis” Bourgeois, a French music teacher, who was responsible for many of the tunes in that early Psalter, wrote this tune which has become one of the most well known tunes in all of Christendom: Old Hundredth. This hymn is a paraphrase of the 100th Psalm, calling upon everyone on the earth to offer the worship due their Creator, Sustainer, and, for His elect, their Redeemer.

All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. Him serve with mirth; His praise forth tell; Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed; Without our aid He did us make. We are His folk; He doth us feed, and for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise; Within His courts your thanks proclaim; With grateful hearts your voices raise to bless and magnify His name.

Because the Lord our God is good, His mercy is forever sure; His truth at all times firmly stood and shall from age to age endure.

Never Give In!

In my preparation to preach at the Federal Prison this week, I came across Winston Churchill’s speech to the Harrow School in 1941 during some of the darkest days that Great Britain had faced in her long and storied history. One phrase from that speech has been quoted (and misquoted) often during the last seventy years:

Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

While Churchill’s call to duty and sacrifice helped rally that nation to victory during the Second World War, we as Christians are called to duty and sacrifice because of the grace that has been given to us through Christ. Paul commands us to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12) No matter what devices the world, the flesh, and the devil may use to tempt us to give up the “fight of faith,” we must not turn our hand away from the plow. God is building His kingdom and will succeed with a high hand, even though from our perspective all may seem lost.

Make the words of the prophet Habakkuk your theme during any dark days that may come your way and trust that God will be faithful to all of His promises:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,  18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

The Danger of Following One’s Heart

In conservative Christendom, many know the answer to the first query of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” However, it is sad to realize that most do not know the second question and answer of the catechism, because it tells us how to accomplish the first: “What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”

Where do we find direction in glorifying and enjoying God? We find that direction in the Word of God. We do not find it in subjective holy hunches, or in asking “What would Jesus do?” or in quivers in our livers; we can only discover God’s will in His Holy Word. We live in a world which puts much stock in “following one’s heart” yet the Bible tells us that a man’s “heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)

Don’t follow your heart! It may advise you to leave your wife (or husband) and run off with your “soul mate.” It may tell you that no harm comes from gazing at seductive images on the internet. It may tell you that going to worship with God’s people is not really important since you are “spiritual” but not “religious.” Or, it may tell you that if you try really hard, and are sincere, that you can attain eternal life.

God’s Word tells us not to follow our heart, but to look to Christ. The crowds asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” And Jesus answered them by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29) We are able to glorify God and enjoy Him only by resting in what Christ has done on our behalf. Now is the time to stop trusting in your heart, and start trusting in His grace. He is the One who has made provision for our justification, and He has given us His Word and Spirit in order to make possible our sanctification. Therefore, find the guidance for your life in the only place you can trust, in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, [for it] is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Come, Thou Almighty King”

We Presbyterians are often chided because we like to sing all the verses of the hymns during corporate worship. Growing up as a Baptist it was not unusual to leave out a verse of a hymn, usually the third, prompting comedian Grady Nutt to once remark, “I am as lonely as the third verse in a Baptist hymnbook.”

Our Tuesday Hymn is a prime example of why leaving out a verse is not necessarily a good idea. Come, Thou Almighty King is a great hymn of praise to the Triune God. Verse one praises the “Father, all glorious,” verse two praises “Thou Incarnate Word,” verse three praises the “Holy Comforter,” and the last verse praises the “Great One in Three.” How many times in our churches has the Holy Spirit been left out of this great hymn of praise to save an extra 30 seconds?

We do not know who wrote this hymn (no, it was probably not Charles Wesley) but I will be forever grateful for his succinct and direct hymn praising the Triune God. It is sung to the tune, TRINITY.

Come, Thou Almighty King, help us Thy name to sing, help us to praise. Father, all glorious, o’er all victorious, come and reign over us, Ancient of Days.

Come, Thou Incarnate Word, gird on Thy mighty sword, our prayer attend. Come, and Thy people bless, and give Thy Word success; Spirit of holiness, on us descend.

Come, Holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear in this glad hour. Thou who almighty art, now rule in every heart, and ne’er from us depart, Spirit of pow’r.

To the great One in Three eternal praises be, hence evermore. His sovereign majesty may we in glory see, and to eternity love and adore.