Tuesday Hymns: “Almighty God, Thy Lofty Throne”

Our Tuesday Hymn for this week comes out of The Psalter, 1912 and is a loose versification of Psalm 89:14-18. Although this hymn, entitled in our modern hymnbooks, Almighty God, Thy Lofty Throne, did not make it into what we Presbyterians often call, the “Red Trinity Hymnal,” it is found in the “Blue Trinity Hymnal” of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Its theme is the glory of God. The hymn speaks of God’s holiness, justice, truth, righteousness, and power, yet, it also declares that in the midst of that majesty, His love and boundless grace are present for all who are His. Or, as Psalm 85:10 says, “steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

It is sung to the familiar tune, New Winchester, and is a reminder to us that just a few verses of a hymn can be packed with much truth about our holy God.

Almighty God, Thy lofty throne
Has justice for its cornerstone,
And shining bright before Thy face
Are truth and love and boundless grace.

 With blessing is the nation crowned
Whose people know the joyful sound;
They in the light, O Lord, shall live,
The light Thy face and favor give.

 Thy Name with gladness they confess,
Exalted in Thy righteousness;
Their fame and might to Thee belong,
For in Thy favor they are strong.

 All glory unto God we yield,
Jehovah is our help and shield;
All praise and honor we will bring
To Israel’s Holy One, our King.

Tuesday Hymns: “God is Our Refuge and Our Strength”

[I posted this back in 2010, and after singing it Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to post it again. The 46th Psalm has often been a refuge for me during times of deep struggle.]

The message of the Forty-sixth Psalm is such that it has become the foundation of multiple hymns. By far, the most well-known of these hymns is Martin Luther’s, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. However, The Psalter of 1912 also has a rendition that is a favorite of mine entitled God is Our Refuge and Our Strength which is our Tuesday Hymn for this week.

In The Psalter of 1912 it was originally sung to the tune Materna (America the Beautiful). In the Trinity Hymnal, however, it is sung to the tune of Bethlehem, which gives it a sense of majesty and strength appropriate to this metrical version of the Psalm.

God is our Refuge and our Strength,
Our ever present Aid,
And, therefore, though the earth remove,
We will not be afraid;
Though hills amidst the sea be cast,
Though foaming waters roar,
Yes, though the mighty billows shake
The mountains on the shore.

A river flows whose streams make glad
The city of our God,
The holy place wherein the Lord
Most High has His abode;
Since God is in the midst of her,
Unmoved her walls shall stand,
For God will be her early help,
When trouble is at hand.

The nations raged, the kingdoms moved,
But when His voice was heard
The troubled earth was stilled to peace
Before His mighty Word.
The Lord of Hosts is on our side,
Our safety is secure;
The God of Jacob is for us
A refuge strong and sure.

O come, behold what wondrous works
Jehovah’s hand has wrought;
Come, see what desolation great
He on the earth has brought.
To utmost ends of all the earth
He causes war to cease;
The weapons of the strong destroyed,
He makes abiding peace.

Be still and know that I am God,
O’er all exalted high;
The subject nations of the earth
My Name shall magnify.
The Lord of Hosts is on our side,
Our safety is secure;
The God of Jacob is for us
A refuge strong and sure.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 10

Q. 10. How did God create man?

A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

Question 10 moves beyond creation in general and speaks specifically of God’s creation of man. Man is not an accident emerging out of some naturalistic cosmic soup after billions of years of cause and effect, but a direct creation of God. The catechism lists the characteristics of Mankind in his pre-Fall condition: (1) Mankind is made up of male and female, equal in worth, yet different and complementary to one another, (2) Mankind was made in God’s image and thus his knowledge was not deceitful, his righteousness was not as filthy rags, and his holiness was without blemish, and (3) Mankind was the pinnacle of creation with dominion over everything else.

The Scriptural assessment of man’s condition before sin entered the world is very succinct and direct, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14)

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 9

Q. 9. What is the work of creation?

A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.

Question 8 has spoken of God fulfilling His purposes through the works of creation and providence, and Question 9 gives us a definition of the work of creation. In the 21st century there are theologians who do back flips trying to squeeze Genesis 1 and 2 into a paradigm whereby there is room for some form of evolutionary process. The Westminster divines saw no need to do so (granted, they lived 200 years before Charles Darwin took his little trip on the H. M. S. Beagle).

They speak of four characteristics which describe God’s work of creation: (1) He made all things of nothing. (2) He did it by simply “speaking” the heavens and earth into existence. (3) He did it in the space of six days. (4) Creation in its original form (before the fall of man) was “very good.”

On my ordination exam I was asked what view the Westminster Standards had of creation and I responded by quoting this catechism answer. I was informed by the chairman of the committee (a man I like and respect very much, by the way) that the PCA allowed for four different views of creation to which I responded, “That wasn’t the question that was asked.” I have no problem accepting the Biblical record in its most straightforward sense and would shout a hearty “Amen!” to the Standards’ particular view of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth.

“Lord, I thank You that You created everything “ex nihilo” and that You saw fit that I too might have life (physical and spiritual) and have it more abundantly.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Mighty God, While Angels Bless You”

Robert Robinson (September 27, 1735 – June 9, 1790) was a Congregationalist pastor of the Baptist persuasion (although he considered himself an evangelical Methodist for a short period of time after hearing George Whitfield preach in the 1750s) who ministered at the Stone-Yard Baptist Chapel, in Cambridge for the last thirty years of his life. There are those who believe he became a Unitarian late in his life although the evidence of such a fall is inconclusive.

He is recognized today as the author of two popular hymns; first, the very well-known, “Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing,” and our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Mighty God, While Angels Bless You,” which consists of six verses spelling out some of the countless reasons why our glorious Lord is deserving of praise. It is sung to the tune, ALLELUIA, by Albert Lowe.

Mighty God, while angels bless thee,
May a mortal sing thy name?
Lord of men as well as angels,
Thou art every creature’s theme.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Lord of every land and nation,
Ancient of eternal days,
Sounded through the wide creation
Be thy just and lawful praise.

For the grandeur of thy nature,
Grand beyond the seraph’s thought;
For created works of power,
Works with skill and kindness wrought.

But thy rich, thy free redemption,
Dark through brightness all along,
Thought is poor, and poor expression,
Who dare sing that awful song?

Brightness of the Father’s glory,
Shall thy praise unuttered lie?
Fly, my tongue, such guilty silence,
Sing the Lord who came to die:

From the highest throne in glory,
To the cross of deepest woe,
All to ransom guilty captives,
Flow my praise, for ever flow
.”

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 8

Q. 8. How does God execute his decrees?

A. God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence.

Question 7 of the catechism has stated that nothing can happen outside of the perfect will of God; as Isaiah 46:9-10says: “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” Question 8 explains exactly how God works out his eternal purposes: “God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence.”

Questions 9-11 will explain more in detail what God’s works of creation and providence are.

“Lord, thank you that there are no such things as ‘accidents.’ Help us to rely on the truth that you are at work in everything that comes into our lives.”

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 7

Q. 7. What are the decrees of God?

A. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

The heart of this question in my humble opinion is: “Is God really God?” If God is not sovereign over everything that happens, then He is really not God. As Dr. R. C. Sproul has said, “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”

I have heard people say that God is sovereign over the big things, but not sovereign over the little things, but are not the “big” things made up of the “little” things? As the children rhyme states so well:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail
.”

While God is never the author of sin, even sin is under His control. As Joseph said to his brothers after they had sold him into slavery, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:19-20) And, of course, the ultimate example is found in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost when he clearly states that men crucified Jesus with their evil hands but it was done within the predetermined plan of God, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)

“Lord, thank You, that You ‘cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those called according to His purpose.’”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 5 and 6

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?

A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q. 6. How many persons are there in the godhead?

A. There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

I believe these two questions should be looked at together since they present two very important aspects of “what man is to believe concerning God.” At the heart of the Biblical doctrine of God is the fact that He is one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 clearly states: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Bible makes no effort to prove the existence of God; it simply begins with the assumption that He exists, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Moses drove this fact home to the children of Israel when he proclaimed, “know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39)

Although the oneness of God is proclaimed throughout Scripture we clearly see that the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God. We are told to pray to “Our Father who art in heaven.” When John began his Gospel describing Jesus he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In Titus 2:13 Jesus is called “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

As for the Holy Spirit, in Acts 5:3-4 we read: “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’” In verse 3 it speaks of Ananias lying to the Holy Spirit and in verse 4, He is called God.

So, how can God be both one, and, yet, exist in three Persons? I can’t explain it, but it is the clear testimony of Scripture, and the Catechism states it well that “these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” As I have stated earlier, our God is an infinite God and is bigger than we can ever understand, but He is One in whom we can put our trust.

“Lord, we thank You that You have chosen to reveal Yourself to us, even though You are far too great for us to ever comprehend.”

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4

Q. 4. What is God?

A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

One of the beauties of the Catechism is that each question builds on the question before. We were just told that the Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and now the Westminster divines provide a summary of the attributes of God. Of course, the Bible cannot tell us everything about God; first of all, because He is infinite, and secondly, because as creatures we could never comprehend it. He reveals Himself to us at a level that we can understand. To use John Calvin’s word, He “prattles” to us as a parent does to a young child.

I am not one to quote Karl Barth in an approving way often, but when he said that God was “wholly other,” I concur completely. He is not an elevated man as the Greeks and Romans viewed their gods, but He is the eternal, sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, just and holy Creator of the universe. However, I am so glad that the catechism includes the attribute “good” in that list. It reminded me of Mr. Beaver’s description of Aslan to the children in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe:”

“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”

“Lord, even as we look in wonder at Your glory, may we rest in the truth of Your goodness.”

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 3

Q. 3. 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.

The Bible has several purposes as we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work,” but the Catechism speaks of two primary ones.

First of all, it teaches us what we are “to believe about God.” It is important to remember that the Bible is not man’s ideas about God, but God’s self-revelation of Himself to man. These words are as the above Scripture says, “God-breathed.” If we desire to know what God is like we need to look no further than His written Word.

Secondly, it tells us of “what duty God requires of man.” In other words, it tells us of God’s Law. It tells how we are to live as God’s creation. God has given us a summary of this Law in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6. This summary has historically been called The Ten Commandments. Jesus, then, gave us a further summary of The Ten Commandments in Matthew 22:37-40 when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

“Lord, thank you for the fact that when we could not keep your Law, you sent your only begotten Son to keep it on our behalf. Thank you for the righteousness of Christ.”

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