“Old Truth in Old Forms”

Givens Brown Strickler lived quite a life. He was born on April 25, 1840 in northern Virginia. While a student at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the South. Promptly, many in the student body formed themselves into “The Liberty Hall Volunteers,” and became a part of the Stonewall Brigade to protect their beloved Virginia against an invasion by their own countrymen. Strickler fought bravely until he was captured at the top of Cemetery Hill during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. While a prisoner of war he “prayed, conducted religious meetings, made religious addresses; and in every practicable way sought to exert the best moral and religious influence on his fellow sufferers in prison,” according to John Miller Wells.

After the war he returned to Washington College (where Robert E. Lee was president at the time) to finish his degree and then on to Union Seminary to prepare for the ministry. As a pastor and seminary professor he touched many lives for the Gospel of Christ. But, his friend and colleague, Thomas Cary Johnson, said something about him which spoke volumes to me about what a pastor should be:

Dr. Strickler was a pre-eminently great teacher of the Reformed Theology. He gave himself to inventing no new statement of any old truth; but accepting the old truth in its old forms he exhibited unrivalled skill in expounding, defending, and impressing this theology as set forth in the Westminster Standards—that rugged and massive system of Christian truth which so perfectly matched his own character, which had moulded his own character.”

Pastors don’t have to “cast visions,” be clever, entertain, come up with new and imaginative ideas, etc., they just need to “expound, defend, and impress” the truth of Scripture to their congregations. God’s flock needs to be fed with the green pastures of God’s Word, not the spirit of a shallow and callous culture. Thank you, Dr. Givens Strickler, for showing us a better way.

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Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day

patriotic worship

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 (sort of, not officially until the 19th century). 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 Trump (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” (or any other anthem), 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: “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea”

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778) was an Anglican pastor who is probably best known for his beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He has been accused of being an “extreme Calvinist” (probably because of his strong-worded criticism of the Wesley brothers), yet, his hymns often present the twin doctrines of the unfathomable glory of God, and His inexhaustible mercy to sinners. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Great God, Whom Heaven, and Earth, and Sea,” is a description of God’s “steadfast love and faithfulness meet[ing],” and His “righteousness and peace kiss[ing] each other.” (Psalm 85:10)

The first and second verses speak of God’s sovereign authority over all of creation, and His wrath upon all who oppose Him, yet, the third and fourth verses speak of God as the “Prince of Peace” and of His universal “reign of love.” If an “extreme Calvinist” is one who calls upon all people to look to Christ alone, and to rest totally on His mercy and grace for the hope of their salvation, I wouldn’t mind being placed in that category. The hymn is sung to the tune, Mendon.

Great God, whom Heaven, and earth, and sea,
With all their countless hosts, obey;
Upheld by whom the nations stand,
And empires fall at Thy command.
 

Beneath Thy long suspended ire,
Let every antichrist expire;
Thy knowledge spread from sea to sea,
And distant nations bow to Thee.
 

Then show Thyself the Prince of Peace,
Command the din of war to cease;
With sacred love the world inspire,
And burn its chariots in the fire.
 

Let earth beneath Thy reign of love
A universal Sabbath prove:
Jesus her peaceful king adore,
And learn the act of war no more.

 

Tuesday Hymns: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”

When Johann Heermann (1585-1647) was a little boy he contracted a serious illness and his mother promised God that if He spared the boy’s life, she would educate him to become a pastor. She was true to her word, and after his ordination he taught at the university, then became a deacon, and eventually a Lutheran pastor in Silesia. His ministry was hampered by poor health and the Thirty Years’ War, but he faithfully ministered, and found time to write numerous hymns, including our Tuesday Hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

The hymn pictures for us the holiness and innocence of Christ, and the depth of our sin. It reminds us that our salvation comes to us entirely through the grace of God. It is not something that we can earn or repay, but it is a merciful gift that becomes ours by what Christ did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. It is sung to several tunes, but the haunting “Iste Confessor” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=11) is my favorite.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Happy Reformation Day

499 years ago today Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, unknowingly becoming the catalyst for the Reformation. Robert Gebel has written this song to commemorate that pivotal event in history.

The Reformation Polka
by Robert Gebel

[Sung to the tune of “Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”]

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;
While Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.
Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne,
I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter’s profits soared,
I wrote a little notice for the All Saints’ Bull’tin board:
“You cannot purchase merits, for we’re justified by grace!
Here’s 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror;
The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.
“Are these your books? Do you recant?” King Charles did demand,
“I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!” Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words,
By knighting “George” as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.
Use Brother Martin’s model if the languages you seek,
Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Let’s raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place,
And spread the word that ‘catholic’ is spelled with lower case;
The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance,
So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance! Oh…

Chorus:
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation –
Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!
Nail your theses to the door, let’s start a Reformation!
Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation!

Tuesday Hymns: “Poor Sinner, Dejected with Fear”

William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Baptist pastor who spent most of his days ministering in Manchester, England, and was, also, a prolific hymn writer (The CyberHymnal website lists 284 hymns attributed to Gadsby). He has once again gained popularity because of our Tuesday Hymn of the week, “Poor Sinner, Dejected with Fear.” Indelible Grace has taken a theologically solid old hymn, and released it to a new tune. Not all of Indelible Grace’s tunes are conducive for congregational singing but this one is simple and very singable. I have searched for other tunes connected to this hymn and have been unable to find any.

The hymn paints a picture of the grace that has been poured out upon sinners through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ who “knows and is known by His sheep; They’re His, and He will hold them fast.”

Poor sinner, dejected with fear,
Unbosom thy mind to the Lamb;
No wrath on His brow He does wear,
Nor will He poor mourners condemn;
His arm of omnipotent grace
Is able and willing to save;
A sweet and a permanent peace
He’ll free- ly- and faith- fully give.

Come just as thou art, with thy woe,
Fall down at the feet of the Lamb;
He will not, He cannot say, “Go”,
But surely will take out thy stain
A fountain is opened for sin,
And thousands its virtues have proved
He’ll take thee, and plunge thee therein,
And wash- thee- from filth- in His blood.

The soul that on Jesus relies,
He’ll never, no never deceive;
He freely and faithfully gives
More blessings than we can conceive;
Yea, down to old age He will keep,
Nor will He forsake us at last;
He knows and is known by His sheep;
They’re His- , and He will hold- them fast.

Tuesday Hymns: “A Man There is, a Real Man”

Joseph Hart was born in London in 1712 and at an early age resisted the truths of Christianity, going so far as to write a pamphlet entitled, “The Unreasonableness of Religion, Being Remarks and Animadversions on the Rev. John Wesley Sermon on Romans 8:32.” He was converted at a Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane, London, after hearing a sermon on Revelation 3:10, and eventually became a Non-Conformist pastor and hymn writer. One of his best known hymns is “Come, Ye Sinners,” but I came across a hymn that I don’t ever remember singing, but it is a marvelous testimony of God’s grace to sinners, “A Man There Is, a Real Man.”

The hymn is written in common meter which means it can be sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace” or “How Sweet and Awesome is This Place” (or “The House of Rising Sun,” but I wouldn’t recommend that [snicker]). I am curious, has anyone ever sung this hymn in corporate worship, and if so, to what hymn tune was it sung?

A Man there is, a real Man,
With wounds still gaping wide,
From which rich streams of blood once ran,
In hands, and feet, and side.

‘Tis no wild fancy of our brains,
No metaphor we speak;
The same dear Man in heaven now reigns,
That suffered for our sake.

This wondrous Man of whom we tell,
Is true Almighty God;
He bought our souls from death and hell;
The price, His own heart’s blood.

That human heart He still retains,
Though throned in highest bliss;
And feels each tempted member’s pains;
For our affliction’s His.

Come, then, repenting sinner, come;
Approach with humble faith;
Owe what thou wilt, the total sum
Is canceled by His death!

His blood can cleanse the blackest soul,
And wash our guilt away;
He will present us sound and whole
In that tremendous day.

Tuesday Hymns: “Come, Ye Sinners”

Joseph Hart was born in London in 1712 and at an early age resisted the truths of Christianity, going so far as to write a pamphlet entitled, “The Unreasonableness of Religion, Being Remarks and Animadversions on the Rev. John Wesley Sermon on Romans 8:32.” He was converted at a Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane, London, after hearing a sermon on Revelation 3:10, and eventually became a Non-Conformist pastor and hymn writer. One of his best known hymns is our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Come, Ye Sinners.” It is a glorious reminder to us of the grace of Christ and of the fact that Jesus did not “come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)

Sunday night at Reformed Presbyterian Church we had a great discussion on the different tunes that were connected to Hart’s lyrics. The tune that I grew up hearing was a tune by an anonymous author entitled, RESTORATION. It has also been sung to Benjamin F. White’s, BEACH SPRING; Robert Edwards.’ CAERSALEM; William Owen’s BRYN CALFARIA; and now made popular to many college students by Matthew Smith’s Indelible Grace version.

The powerful message of Hart’s lyrics seems to be able to rise above whatever tune may be connected to it.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

Refrain

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Refrain

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Refrain

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

Refrain

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Refrain

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

Refrain

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

Refrain

Tuesday Hymns: “Though Troubles Assail Us”

When people say the name, John Newton, our thoughts usually go to “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound,” yet, that was just one of the numerous hymns that he authored. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week is one of Newton’s hymns which we sang together at Reformed Presbyterian Church last Sunday: Though Troubles Assail Us.”

It is a hymn describing the faithfulness of God in the life of His people as “troubles assail us and dangers affright.” Newton reminds us that we are secure in Christ, even in a fallen world filled with troubles, temptations, hunger, and persecution. Our hope is to be found in the Biblical promise: “The Lord will provide.” Newton’s experience of God’s grace in Christ is a great encouragement to believers everywhere and his epitaph (which he wrote himself) reminds us of what God can do in the life of a sinner:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
JESUS CHRIST,
restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.
He ministered,
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty-eight years in this Church
.”

Now, “Though Troubles Assail Us.”

Though troubles assail us and dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail us and foes all unite,
Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide,
The promise assures us, “The Lord will provide.”

The birds, without garner or storehouse, are fed;
From them let us learn to trust God for our bread.
His saints what is fitting shall ne’er be denied
So long as ’tis written, “The Lord will provide.”

When Satan assails us to stop up our path,
And courage all fails us, we triumph by faith.
He cannot take from us, though oft he has tried,
This heart cheering promise, “The Lord will provide.”

He tells us we’re weak, our hope is in vain,
The good that we seek we never shall obtain,
But when such suggestions, our graces have tried,
This answers all questions, “The Lord will provide.”

No strength of our own and no goodness we claim;
Yet, since we have known of the Savior’s great Name,
In this our strong tower for safety we hide:
The Lord is our power, “The Lord will provide.”

When life sinks apace, and death is in view,
The word of His grace shall comfort us through,
Not fearing or doubting, with Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting, “The Lord will provide.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word”

Tobias Clausnitzer was a German Lutheran pastor who was chosen to preach the Thanksgiving sermon to the soldiers in the field after the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1848. Early in the following year he became the pastor at Weiden where he remained until he died thirty-five years later. His “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word,” is our Tuesday Hymn of the Week.

This hymn, translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1858, has much to say about the worship of the Triune God by His people. It begins with the Word of God (Blessed Jesus, at your word) and ends with the Word of God (Grant that we your Word may trust); reminding us that all true worship should be guided by His written Word.

Thus, our worship should be centered on what God wants (and where better to find what God wants then in His written Word), and not about the perceived needs of the worshipper. In this hymn we see the worship of the one true God, but we see that worship being expressed to each of the members of the Trinity. It flows from words of praise to the Son, to the Father, to the Spirit, back to the Son, back to the Spirit, and finally ending with a crescendo to the Triune God: “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Praise to you and adoration!

It is sung to the tune, Liebster Jesu.

Blessed Jesus, at your word
We are gathered all to hear you;
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
Now to seek and love and fear you,
By your teachings, sweet and holy,
Drawn from earth to love you solely.

All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded
Till your Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
You alone to God can win us;
You must work all good within us.

Glorious Lord, yourself impart,
Light of Light, from God proceeding;
Open thou our ears and heart,
Help us by your Spirit’s pleading;
Hear the cry your people raises,
Hear and bless our prayers and praises.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Praise to you and adoration!
Grant that we your Word may trust
And obtain true consolation
While we here below must wander,
Till we sing your praises yonder.

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