“He is risen!”

empty tomb

Easter (or Resurrection Sunday, if you prefer) is not the earth shattering holiday for Old School Presbyterians that it is for so many others. Why, you may ask? It is simply because we celebrate His resurrection fifty-two Sundays a year. Every Sunday we gather to worship Him, confess our sins, be reminded of His sacrifice, and hear His glorious Gospel preached directly from His inerrant Word. For us, contemplating the phrase, “He is risen,” is not a yearly occurrence, it is a weekly occurrence. Three hundred years ago Isaac Watts captured with pen and ink the hallowed good news of the cross/resurrection event when he wrote:

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain:

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burdens thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing his bleeding love.

So for the thirteenth time this year we will gather, worship, and praise our Risen Lord this coming Lord’s Day, and look forward to next Sunday when we can do it all over again!

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Tuesday Hymns: “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve”

philip doddridge

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

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.”

Doddridge was a prolific hymn writer and his “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve,” is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week. It is the call of the author to his own soul to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I would quibble a bit with his second verse as I would suggest the “witnesses” of the Book of Hebrews are witnesses to us, not of us, but it is still a great hymn made even greater by singing it to the tune of “Christmas” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=66)  (As Shepherds Watched Their Flock) by George Frederick Handel.

Awake, my soul, stretch ev’ry nerve,
And press with vigor on;
A heav’nly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way.

‘Tis God’s all-animating voice
That calls thee from on high;
‘Tis his own hand presents the prize
To thine aspiring eye.

That prize with peerless glories bright,
Which shall new lustre boast,
When victors’ wreaths and monarch’s gems
Shall blend in common dust.

Blest Saviour, introduced by thee,
Have I my race begun;
And, crowned with vict’ry, at thy feet
I’ll lay my honors down.

“There is nothing new under the sun…” or Where Has the Time Gone?

I have been retired now for almost three years. I was one of those guys who retired because he needed to, not because he wanted to, but there has been a silver lining to this cloud called retirement: I have more time to read. Granted, I read all the time when I was a pastor, but it was mostly a part of the process of preparing a Bible study, or a sermon, or studying to be able to protect the sheep from predators. Now, I read to learn, grow, and simply enjoy.

I am presently about three-quarters of the way through Theodore H. White’s, “The Making of a President: 1968,” which means that I was in the 7th and 8th grades when all of these events took place, and it has caused “my little gray cells” (Hercule Poirot reference) to come alive. Several thoughts have been bouncing around inside my head.

First of all, I am reminded of what the “Preacher” said in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” As I listen to the political vitriol of the left and the right, read about the protests (I don’t watch the news much anymore because my trust level is at a low ebb at the present moment), look at our precarious financial situation ($20 trillion in debt and counting), and hear the cries of “it has never been like this before,” I must snicker. 1968 was no different. The choice for President was between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. That’s a choice? In Viet Nam we had grabbed the ears of an angry dog and could neither keep holding on nor let go. That year we witnessed the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Lyndon Johnson could not leave the White House because the Secret Service was afraid that they could not protect him, plus, who wants to hear the chants of “_____ Johnson, _____ Johnson,” when one is trying to give a speech. Watts (the black neighborhood in Los Angeles) was burning as were other black neighborhoods in Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Miami, etc. and the Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by what Abraham Ribicoff called “Gestapo police tactics ” in the streets which were provoked by Tom Hayden’s SDS using college students as cannon fodder. Yeah, it was a mess then, also; but, by God’s grace we somehow survived, and if the Lord wills, we will survive the bitterness of the present day.

The thought which really put my mind into overdrive, however, was “that was fifty years ago? It can’t be.” But it was. Where has my life gone? It has gone the way of every man. As Isaac Watts’ hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” says:

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

I need to live. I do not know how many days that I will remain on this earth, but I need to live every day as full as I can for the glory of God. I must run with endurance the race that is set before [me], fixing [my] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)