Our Ultimate Allegiance

The story is told (although I have never seen other than anecdotal evidence that this event actually happened) that during the Revolutionary War a group of British soldiers entered a Long Island church on a Sunday morning and ordered the congregation to sing, God Save Our Gracious King which was the British national anthem. The congregation responded by singing a hymn which (at that time) was sung to the same tune:

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 power.

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.

I have never read what the supposed response of the British soldiers was to this declaration that there are higher allegiances in existence than just earthly political allegiances, but it does make for a good story. It also makes an important point: When we gather together as the church of God on His Day, we are there for the worship of the living God, not to espouse any political or national agenda.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love the country in which I live. I appreciate the sacrifice that has been made by those who have fought and died to protect her. I pray regularly for President Obama (although I didn’t vote for him), and for all those that God has placed in governmental authority over me. However, when we gather on the Lord’s Day, it is not to salute the flag, sing songs about our country, or recite the pledge of allegiance (although I have no problem doing that in other places); it is to worship the Triune God and to focus on Him. The first two paragraphs of Chapter Twenty-one of the Westminster Confession of Faith speak directly as to how God should be worshipped by His gathered church:

The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

So, if a group of soldiers were to ever enter our worship service and demand that we sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” I hope that we would respond as did that supposed Long Island Church, by singing of our primary allegiance to the Triune God.

Tuesday Hymns: “Jesus, My Great High Priest”

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote over 700 hymns and was called the “Father of English Hymnody.” His writings include Joy to the World, Jesus Shall Reign, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed, O God, Our Help in Ages Past (which, Lord willing, I desire to be sung at my funeral) and our Tuesday Hymn for this Week: Jesus, My Great High Priest.

Watts has packed so much solid theology into this poem: the Substitutionary atonement (v. 1), Christ’s active obedience (v. 2), Christ’s active intercession at the right hand of the Father (v. 3), and the Christian’s assurance of final victory in Christ (v.4). All of this, of course, comes to us because Christ was “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” (Heb. 7:25-26)

This hymn is sung to the tune, BEVAN.

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.
His pow’rful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the Throne.

To this dear Surety’s hand
Will I commit my cause;
He answers and fulfills
His Father’s broken laws.
Behold my soul at freedom set;
My Surety paid the dreadful debt.

My Advocate appears
For my defense on high;
The Father bows his ears
And lays his thunder by.
Not all that hell or sin can say
Shall turn his heart, his love, away.

Should all the hosts of death
And pow’rs of hell unknown
Put their most dreadful forms
Of rage and mischief on,
I shall be safe, for Christ displays
His conqu’ring pow’r and guardian grace.

Godly Contentment is Great Gain

Please don’t tell anyone that I read a “Mom’s Blog” because they (whoever “they” are) will take my “man card” away, but Amy Scott always has something significant to say (plus, she is really, really funny). This morning I came across this paragraph which every Christian should read:

We’re all reaching, trying to tweak that thing that if we could “just get right” will magically make our lives perfect, or at least….happy. When it’s late and quiet and dark, sometimes we are just thinking about how to hold our marriage together. I think about the perfect formula for happiness all the time, though I’m too theologically snooty to call it that. If I could just lose weight, if I could just control my temper, if I could just remember what I wore yesterday but forget about that thing someone said last month, if I could just be open and vulnerable to the people I love — then everything would be okay. Wouldn’t it?

We must all learn by God’s grace to live joyfully in the fallen world in which we live. Things will never be “perfect” this side of the new heavens and the new earth and we need to accept that. Our wives will never be perfect “Sarahs,” we husbands will never actually “love our wives as Christ loved the church,” our friends will sometimes misunderstand us, our fourteen year-olds will sometimes act like fourteen year-olds, and our churches will always be full of sinners in the process of being sanctified (which includes you and me). Live with it!

Oh yes, and also remember that God is at work. If my wife snaps at me (not that Dixie would ever do that) I need to remember that Jesus is Lord over that also, and is working to mold me into the image of His Son. Granted, it is not fun to be snapped at, and my feelings may not be wearing a Robert Schuller smile, but it is always good to remember that “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions,” (WSC #11) and that He has promised “to bring it [His good work in you] to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

While we are waiting for the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth, we need to be sure to enjoy this time between the “already” and the “not yet.” To read all of the article that I have quoted (and I would encourage you to do so if you would like to smile) go to Amy’s Humble Musings.

Remember, please don’t tell anyone that I read a “girl blog.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Shine Thou upon Us, Lord”

John Ellerton (1826-1893) was an Anglican pastor and educator who wrote or translated over 80 hymns. He is also the author of our Tuesday Hymn for this Week (Okay, I know it is Friday): Shine Thou upon Us, Lord. This is a wonderful hymn (which happened to be our offertory hymn last Sunday) which speaks of the church’s total dependence upon her Lord to do the work of the ministry. It is a reminder that the spiritual growth of the church is not dependent upon our programs, wit, or cultural relevance, but upon the Word and Spirit working as One to sanctify Christ’s church in order that “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” It is sung to the lovely Jewish melody, LEONI.

Shine thou upon us, Lord,
True Light of men, today,
And through the written Word
Thy very self display,
That so from hearts which burn
With gazing on thy face
Thy little ones may learn
The wonders of thy grace.

Breathe thou upon us, Lord,
Thy Spirit’s living flame,
That so with one accord
Our lips may tell thy name.
Give thou the hearing ear,
Fix thou the wandering thought,
That those we teach may hear
The great things thou hast wrought.

Speak thou for us, O Lord,
In all we say of thee;
According to thy Word
Let all our teaching be,
That so thy lambs may know
Their own true Shepherd’s voice,
Where’er he leads them go,
And in his love rejoice.

Live thou within us, Lord;
Thy mind and will be ours;
Be thou belov’d, adored,
And served with all our powers,
That so our lives may teach
Thy children what thou art,
And plead, by more than speech,
For thee with ev’ry heart.

“Old Days”

This morning I woke up thinking about the Burger Hut in Orange, Texas. It has been closed for years now, but my formative years were spent sitting around the back table with many of my friends, enjoying good food, Dr. Peppers, and hilarity. Of course, I inhaled enough second-hand smoke in that place to rival the Marlboro man, and it was not out of the ordinary for me to eat our modern day’s yearly intake of fat in a twenty-four hour period. (The “burro” was a huge burrito filled with meat [I never asked what kind], refries, Spanish rice, covered with copious amounts of chili, grease, cheese, and jalapeño peppers. And, since I weighed in at a sopping wet 155 pounds, I could eat two of them. Such activity today would require a visit to ICU.)

These memories remain (I can almost taste the “burro” to this day–in my mind, not because of heart burn) because those days were special to me. It was then that I was learning about life, relationships, and most importantly, about God. Although the church that I grew up in was definitely program driven (I have often wondered if it was a good thing that I kissed a girl for the first time on the church bus during youth choir tour—I still think fondly of red-headed Sally) and more stress was put on Flake’s Formula for Sunday School growth than on theology; it was there where I was confronted with the Gospel, was called to faith by God’s Spirit, and was given a love for God’s Word that has never waned in these last 40 years.

I did not deserve to experience God’s grace, but I will be forever grateful that God is not only holy, just, and a consuming fire, but that He is also a God of mercy and grace, who through Christ’s keeping of the Law, and sacrificial death, provided the means for my salvation for “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

Tuesday Hymns: “You Holy Angels Bright”

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was a Puritan pastor known for his dedicated pastoral ministry to the flock that God had placed in his charge. He consistently visited in the homes of God’s people, faithfully catechizing his people with the truth of Scripture. Although he was somewhat of a theological renegade (he had Amyraldian leanings), his practical works continue to touch the lives of those charged with shepherding the flock of God. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week is Baxter’s hymn, You Holy Angels Bright, which is based on the 148th Psalm.

This Psalm runs down a long list of those who should praise the Lord for His worthiness: the angels, the saints in heaven, all the nations of the earth, the saints on the earth, and most of all, his own soul gathered with God’s “triumphant flock.” It is sung to the familiar tune, DARWALL.

Ye holy angels bright,
Who wait at God’s right hand,
Or through the realms of light
Fly at your Lord’s command,
Assist our song,
For else the theme
Too high doth seem
For mortal tongue.

Ye blessed souls at rest,
Who ran this earthly race,
And now, from sin released,
Behold the Saviour’s face,
God’s praises sound,
As in his sight
With sweet delight
Ye do abound.

All nations of the earth,
Extol the world’s great King;
With melody and mirth
His glorious praises sing;
For he still reigns,
And will bring low
The proudest foe
That him disdains.

Sing forth Jehovah’s praise,
Ye saints, that on him call!
Him magnify always
His holy churches all!
In him rejoice,
And there proclaim
His holy name
With sounding voice.

My soul, bear thou thy part,
Triumph in God above;
With a well-tuned heart
Sing thou the songs of love;
Thou art his own,
Who precious blood
Shed for thy good
His love made known.

Away, distrustful care!
I have thy promise, Lord:
To banish all despair,
I have thine oath and word:
And therefore I
Shall see thy face
And there thy grace
Shall magnify.

With thy triumphant flock,
Then I shall numbered be;
Built on th’eternal rock,
His glory we shall see.
The heavens so high
With praise shall ring
And all shall sing
In harmony.