Worship Notes- O God Your Judgments Give the King

1 O God, your judgments give the King,
his son your righteousness;
with right he shall your people judge,
your poor with uprightness.
And then the mountains shall bring forth
to all the people peace;
the hills because of righteousness
their blessing shall increase.

2 The people’s poor ones he shall judge,
the needy’s children bless;
and he will break in pieces those
who would the poor oppress.
The just shall flourish in his days,
and prosper in his reign;
and while the moon endures he shall
abundant peace maintain.

3 His large and great dominion shall
from sea to sea extend;
it from the River shall reach forth
to earth’s remotest end.
Yea, kings shall all before him bow,
all nations shall obey;
he’ll save the needy when they cry,
the poor who have no stay.

4 Now blessed be the Lord our God,
the God of Israel,
for he alone does wondrous works
in glory that excel.
And blessed be his glorious name
to all eternity.
The whole earth let his glory fill;
amen, so let it be.

O God Your Judgments Give the King

Our final hymn this week comes from Psalm 72. Its inscription says, “Of Solomon.” It is a prayer for the king, and the last verse identifies it as a prayer of David the son of Jesse, so that the inscription means that Solomon is the subject of the Psalm, not the author. It may be that Solomon versified the prayer that David prayed for him, or it may be that David himself wrote the psalm. Either way, David should be regarded as the author, and Solomon the intermediate subject. But Solomon did not fulfill the prayer of David except partially; his rule did not lead to everlasting righteousness and justice. Zacharias’ prayer at the birth of his son John identifies the events of his lifetime as being the fulfilment of these and many similar prophecies; it is Christ the Son of David who is ultimately the king spoken of here, and the glory of His reign which is promised, from Old Testament eyes.

The first verse shows that it is only with the power of God that a king can accomplish these great things, and especially that the righteousness of God is worked in the king. The wickedness and incompetence of their kings was the continual plague of the nation of Israel, and their rare righteous king could do little to reverse the tide. But God had promised David that one of his seed would come and be endowed by God in a special way, and that His kingdom would reign forever. The Babylonian Captivity definitively proved that none of the line of David up to that point was that king, and none from the line of David ever sat on the throne in Jerusalem since then. But God sent His Son, to be born the Son of David after the flesh, and anointed Him with power and glory to fulfill the ancient promise.

This king will provide justice and righteousness for the people. No longer will the strong oppress the weak, and the rich exploit the poor, which is the normal course of the world. People will live in peaceful community with one another, no longer fearing invaders, robbers or evil oppressors. It will be a time of great material abundance, as even the tops of the mountains will be fertile and productive.

Verse 3 shows that this dominion of the king would extend from sea to sea, and all the nations of the earth will be subject to it. The glory of the Lord will be known throughout the world, and the kingdom of this king will rule over all, bringing peace and justice not just to Israel but to all the world.

The Psalm therefore presents to us a time on earth when all the nations are ruled in common by one king, that all oppression and injustice ends, that is characterized by tremendous material abundance, peace, security and knowledge. All of this comes as a result, we see in verse 4, of the wondrous work of God, who “alone does wondrous works” for His glorious and blessed name.

There has always been a great deal of debate about how this state will come about. I believe it makes the most sense to understand this as the eternal state seen somewhat dimly from Old Testament eyes, a time when all of God’s people from every nation live in fellowship and harmony together, praising God and enjoying His good creation without any oppression, fraud or violence, for all eternity. It happens when Christ comes again and destroys all the evildoers and oppressors and wasters, all those who have not bent the knee to Jesus’ kingship and accepted the forgiveness of their sins.

That debate will no doubt continue to rage until the actual state of affairs is fully achieved and all the questions are answered. Until then, however, we clearly can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is certainly bringing about this state of affairs even now according to His secret plan. We also can have wisdom to know that since God has endowed Jesus Christ with this power and righteousness, we should certainly expect no other ruler or great man to bring us security, prosperity and justice, except by God’s grace only very partially, as Solomon did. Christ is the hope of this sad world, and there is no other. So blessed be the glorious name of God, and of His Son, Jesus the Messiah, for the day will infallibly come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Worship Notes: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

1 Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heav’n, to earth come down:

fix in us thy humble dwelling,

all thy faithful mercies crown:

Jesus, thou art all compassion,

pure, unbounded love thou art;

visit us with thy salvation,

enter ev’ry trembling heart.

 

2 Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit

into ev’ry troubled breast;

let us all in thee inherit,

let us find the promised rest:

take away the love of sinning;

Alpha and Omega be;

End of faith, as its Beginning,

set our hearts at liberty.

 

3 Come, Almighty to deliver,

let us all thy life receive;

suddenly return, and never,

nevermore thy temples leave.

Thee we would be always blessing,

serve thee as thy hosts above,

pray, and praise thee, without ceasing,

glory in thy perfect love.

 

4 Finish, then, thy new creation;

pure and spotless let us be:

let us see thy great salvation

perfectly restored in thee;

changed from glory into glory,

till in heav’n we take our place,

till we cast our crowns before thee,

lost in wonder, love, and praise.

This is a song about sanctification.  The writer (Charles Wesley) fixes the nature and source of our sanctification from the very beginning in the love of Christ, a love greater than any love; and vital to success in sanctification.  As long as we think of repentance and good works merely as a duty or as a way to earn God’s favor or avoid His wrath, we will never truly progress.  On the one hand, we will look to our own strength for the source of our labors, which is woefully insufficient.  On the other our motivation will be fundamentally selfish, and how can we progress in righteousness motivated by sinful motives?  But when we recognize that the love of Christ toward us is the source of all progress in truth, and the motivation for all our efforts in repentance and sanctification, then our efforts are on the proper footing.

Wesley demonstrates a rich understanding of the Scriptures throughout.  Much of the thinking here is drawn from John 14-16, though there are references to many other Scriptures as well.  The lyrics are a progression of thought through the Biblical doctrine of salvation, starting with the love of Christ, through the work of the Spirit, reuniting us to the Father, and ending with our eternal glorification.  This follows well the process of salvation as we experience it subjectively in our own lives.  We become aware of the love of Christ for us in what He did for us in His death.  That love works more and more in us through the power of the Spirit, making us know and understand God better over time, leading more and more to despise the false ambitions, threats, and seductions of this world.

Wesley prays for the divine love to come and make a home in our hearts (verse 1), as Jesus promised to do.  He does this via the work of the Holy Spirit (verse 2), and this is very helpful to know, for it helps us understand the way that our salvation is accomplished.  The salvation of Christ is at work in us through the ministry of the Spirit of God.  Jesus said He would send His Spirit to His apostles, and this resulted in the inspired Scriptures being sent.  The Spirit comes to us as well, not that we might write new Scriptures, but that we might understand the Scriptures already written.  Understanding the role of the Spirit in our salvation helps us give full glory to the Trinity for our salvation, but also to understand the means by which that salvation occurs so that we can be obedient to lay hold of the means of grace as we are instructed.

The Spirit of love is also the Spirit of adoption, and verse 2 recognizes this with a prayer that in the Spirit we might inherit the promise.  The land of Canaan was a type of the promise we have in Christ, a figure to which Wesley refers in verse 2, “let us find the promised rest.”

Verse 2 also gives us a profound bit of psychological understanding.  “Take away the love of sinning.”  This is the great problem of sanctification, of course.  We can develop disciplines, techniques, and habits, and these are all well and good, but in the moment of temptation, the problem is that we don’t want to follow those things.  We want to sin.  And ultimately we’re going to do what we want to do.  Sanctification therefore requires a change in our desires, and this is work that only the divine power of God can accomplish.  He’s promised to work through means, so we’re not passive, but we have to understand that this is not anything we can ever do in our own strength.  Thus Wesley’s prayer, “take away the love of sinning.”  The last part of that verse recognizes that God is therefore not just the One who starts us in the faith, but the one who preserves and finishes us in that faith as well—“Alpha and Omega be, end of faith as its beginning.”  And the result of this is freedom—freedom from the greatest slavery mankind knows, the slavery to sin.

Verse 3 again calls on Old Testament imagery of the temple of God in Jerusalem, in which the presence of God dwelt.  When that temple was corrupted by idolatry, the glory of God departed (Ezekiel 8-10).  The prophets all promised a return to His Temple though, when the Messiah came and poured out His Spirit.  The people of God are that temple (1 Peter 2:1-9), consecrated by the shed blood of Christ and indwelt forever by God.  The consecration of Christ’s blood is so much better than that of bulls and goats (Hebrews 9:13-14), and this new temple to God will never be defiled.  Thus, God will never again leave His new temple.  Verse 3 goes on to reflect on the eternal fellowship of love and worship that the people of God will enjoy forever in this new temple.

So the final verse calls on God to complete the work that He has begun.  The Christian earnestly desires to be free of sin completely.  We do not desire to be merely forgiven sinners, but perfected saints.  Forgiveness is only the beginning.  When we are complete in our salvation, restored to the image of God, recognizing finally and fully that the love of God is greater than any other love, then we will finally be able to come before God and see Him face to face with no impediment, and return to Him all the glory and worship that He deserves.

 

Worship Notes: Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

1 Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord and precious,
binding all the church in one;
holy Zion’s help forever
and her confidence alone.

2 All that dedicated city,
dearly loved of God on high,
in exultant jubilation
pours perpetual melody;
God the One in Three adoring
in glad hymns eternally.

3 To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of hosts today:
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy people as they pray;
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.

4 Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain,
what they gain from thee forever
with the blessed to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.

5 Laud and honor to the Father,
laud and honor to the Son,
laud and honor to the Spirit,
ever Three and ever One,
One in might, and One in glory,
while unending ages run.

This hymn is a song about Zion.  “Zion” is a rich and complex set of metaphors in Scripture, starting from the fact that Zion is the name of the hill on which Solomon built the temple, and was the center of God’s presence in Israel for many centuries.  It is the place where God and His people would meet.  As such, it becomes a figure for the people of Israel as a whole, or in the New Testament, the New Israel, the Church.

Our hymn uses a bold and confident tune, celebrating the joy and assurance that the people of God can have, knowing that He is in our midst.  In Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem was left alone and preserved from the attack of the Assyrians which engulfed the rest of Judah and, indeed, the whole region, which demonstrated God’s ability to care for and protect His people.  Unfortunately, the people of Israel misunderstood this event, believing that Jerusalem could never be taken by foreign conquest.  Jeremiah warned them against this error. The people of Israel had abandoned God, neglected His worship, and chased after foreign gods.  Therefore they were not the people of God anymore.  “Zion” being under God’s protection was never about a place, but about a people, the people who trusted and relied on God, who met with Him and worshiped Him.  Those people are certainly under God’s protection and can trust Him in all events of life.

The hymn starts with a celebration of the establishment of Christ as the foundation of the Church, the new temple, the new spiritual Israel which God had always foretold, which sprouted from the cut-down stump of the old (to mix the metaphors).  The true Church of Jesus Christ must always be united—perhaps not in outward organization but in true spiritual essence.  Jesus “bind[s] all the church in one (verse 1).”  He told His disciples that He would be with them until the end of the age, and He is even now at the right hand of the Father mediating for us.  That is a source of great confidence for the believer.

The second verse celebrates the church as a place of praise for the Triune God, praise which will last forever.  It is the great joy of the Christian to have the opportunity to praise and worship the glorious God, and praise is at its best when it is shared.  When one has a great experience of some kind—a great meal, a particularly enjoyable movie, or anything like that—one wants to share it with others.  This fact demonstrates the truth that people are fundamentally communal, made to be a people, not just persons.  The church is a body of people, gathered together to share that greatest experience of all, the experience of knowing God.

The third verse calls on God to receive the worship of His people, to come to His temple to hear His people worship.  God is gracious and merciful, and receives our worship with “lovingkindness” even though our worship falls so far short of His true merits.  The writer also prays for the “benediction,” meaning literally a “good word,” a blessing from God.  With the blessing of God on His people, we know that nothing can harm us, and even the suffering we experience in this life is part of God’s perfect purpose.  The benediction pronounced at the end of each service is not well-wishes on the part of the pastor, but rather is the promise of God Himself to all those who put their trust in Him.

Verse four asks God to “vouchsafe” to His people the promised blessings.  This is a call to God to work assurance of faith in us, the sure confidence that the promised blessings will come to pass.  This assurance is so important, for it is our only true protection from the snares of the world.  The lures, seductions, and threats of the world will have no power over us when we know that far greater things are secured for us in the eternal Kingdom than anything the world can offer or take away.  We will be kings and priests of a glorified creation, enjoying all God’s good promises, and the greatest joy of all, God Himself, forever.  The assurance of God’s promises, as verse four recognizes, is God’s gift to us and not something we can work up on our own.

The final verse, as early Christian hymns often do, praises the Triune God in each Divine Person, Father, Son, and Spirit.  Many of the early Church fathers recognized the importance of hymns as pedagogy, and knew that the doctrine that people sung would become deeply embedded in their hearts.  Paul calls on us to teach and admonish one another in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16).  With the Arian heresy, which denied the Trinity, still running rampant when this hymn was originally written in the seventh century AD, it therefore serves a wonderful teaching purpose, as well as a doxological purpose, to end the hymn with a praise to God as Three in One, distinct as Persons, but One in power and glory, forever.

 

Jesus the Splendor of God’s Glory- Worship Notes

1 O Splendor of God’s glory bright,
from light eternal bringing light,
O Light of light, light’s living Spring,
true Day, all days illumining:

2 Come, very Sun of heaven’s love,
in lasting radiance from above,
and pour the Holy Spirit’s ray
on all we think or do today.

3 And now to thee our pray’rs ascend,
O Father, glorious without end;
we plead with Sovereign Grace for pow’r
to conquer in temptation’s hour.

4 Confirm our will to do the right,
and keep our hearts from envy’s blight;
let faith her eager fires renew,
and hate the false, and love the true.

5 O joyful be the passing day
with thoughts as pure as morning’s ray,
with faith like noontide shining bright,
our souls unshadowed by the night.

6 Dawn’s glory gilds the earth and skies,
let him, our perfect Morn, arise,
the Word in God the Father one,
the Father imaged in the Son.

Jesus, the Splendor of God’s Glory
There is a good chance that you learned the alphabet through a song– “A B C D E F G” sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Music has always been used to teach, and was especially valuable when literacy was comparatively rare. It is a great way to transmit knowledge in a fixed and memorable form.

The Church early on recognized the value of good hymns for teaching sound doctrine. Paul calls us to be “teaching and admonishing one another in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:15). Our hymn of the month, “O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright,” does just that, teaching the doctrine of the divinity of Christ in beautiful poetry. It is also a prayer, calling for aid in our walk with God throughout the day. It was written in the fourth century by the very influential pastor Ambrose of Milan, who is credited with, among other things, being instrumental in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians God ever gave the Church.

The first verse captures well the idea of Jesus being the express image of God. “God of God, Light of Light”, the Nicene Creed says, capturing the paradox of the Eternal Generation well—Jesus is fully God of Himself, but in His Person comes from the First Person eternally, so that He is God from God, Light from Light. Jesus comes to earth, God Himself and sent by God, to shine the light of God’s eternal glory on this sad, cursed world.

Jesus said as a result of His ascension that He would send the Holy Spirit to His people, and that promise is called upon in verse two, that Jesus would indeed pour the Holy Spirit out on us. Jesus’ glorification means that the power of His revelation of truth to the world is not limited to His thirty-three or so years on earth, but continues afresh today. So the writer prays for the power of the Spirit in an imminent sense—that He might be with us, and communicate to us the light of Christ even now. Likewise in verse three, the writer pleads for grace in the matter of battling the temptation to sin. This hymn is a prayer, as many are, and should be sung as a prayer, directed toward God.

Envy gets mentioned specifically in verse four. The writer recognizes the great power of envy, as any experienced pastor knows. The power of envy is mighty to cause all kinds of other sins, but envy often disguises itself as righteous anger or a justified resentment over some kind of fault that others may have done to us. The power of the Spirit is necessary to reveal the hidden motives of our hearts, very often hidden even from ourselves. Faith, trust in God, is the antidote to all forms of envy and resentment, and so the writer asks for a renewal of trust in God to steer our minds right in the second half of verse four.

Verse five calls on God’s assistance in strengthening faith throughout the day. The writer uses the light of the day as a metaphor for knowledge, joy, and faith, so that all day we have the joy of the sunrise, the clarity of the noontime, but none of the gloom or fear of the night.

Jesus is called the Bright and Morning Star in the book of Revelation, and is frequently described by the prophets as the dawning of a great light on the earth. So the writer calls Him our “perfect Morn.” He is truly the Light of the World, and whatever understanding or truth that any person has is because of Him. Through greater faith in Him and careful study of His words and those of His authorized interpreters, the apostles and prophets, we can see that glory and that truth even more clearly, and come more fully to understand the Father Himself. And that is the only way we can do so, for no man comes to the Father but through Him. So the last lines of the hymn form a beautiful inclusio with the first—Jesus is the Word of the Father, the perfect communication of the Father’s truth and power, and in Jesus, and only in Jesus, the Father is perfectly displayed in His glory to the world.

Tearing the Veil: Worship Notes, 12/25/2016

Tearing the Veil

When one studies the Old Testament forms of worship that God gave to Israel, one is struck with the very mediated nature of it. God is presented as very holy, and given the sinfulness of the people, a very dangerous presence. The people insist that Moses put a veil over his face, for even the reflected glory of God is too much for them. They say, “Who can stand before this God?” and turn instead to the worship of the golden calf, a worship they can control. But the presence of God in their midst requires the constant offering of sacrifices, the observance of a great many rituals of purification and cleansing, and the utmost care over all the details. Only certain people were permitted to enter into the temple, and only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was most manifest.

This is one major reason to be so thankful for the incarnation of Christ. In His person He joins together God and man, and through His work of redemption, His death on the cross, the relationship between God and man is reconciled. The book of Matthew tells us that the veil in the temple was torn when Christ died. That was the heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Hebrews tells us in chapter 10 that His ministry opens the way between us and God, making an analogy between the tearing of the veil and the tearing of His flesh. Because of the death of Christ and the covering of our sin with His blood, the presence of God is no longer a terrifying threat, but a great joy and comfort. This is not because He is less holy, but because our sins are taken away and covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness.

This was of course true in the Old Testament as well. God’s saints in the Old Testament also talk about the joy of fellowship with God. But this was not seen or experienced to anywhere near the same degree as the New Testament believer experiences it, and this is because of the coming of Christ into the world.

The Old Testament believer’s worship had a strong emphasis on guilt and condemnation, and looking forward to the promised Messiah. Our worship today focuses much more strongly on the grace and forgiveness of God, and the accomplishment of our salvation by Christ, and for that we have much cause to be thankful! To the Judaizers insisting on a return to the Old Testament ceremonies, Peter said, “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” Sometimes Old Testament worship will seem very dramatic and powerful to the New Testament believer, but Peter here describes it as an intolerable burden.

Because Christ came, the veil is torn, and God’s presence can be a comforting joy in worship instead of a fearful thing. But how much more fearful our judgment will be then if we neglect this great mercy and grace! The way is clear to God, and all who come to Him through faith in His Son are received in forgiveness of sins. And all of this is true because Christ came, because He who was God was born as a man, uniting and reconciling God and man in His own flesh.

Worship Notes: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

1 Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
set your minds on things eternal,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended,
come our homage to command.

2 King of kings, yet born of Mary,
once upon the earth he stood;
Lord of lords we now perceive him
in the body and the blood.
He has given to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

3 Rank on rank, the host of heaven
stream before him on the way,
as the Light of Light, descending
from the realms of endless day,
comes, the powers of hell to vanquish,
clears the gloom of hell away.

4 At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to his presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
“Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

Hymn #193, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, is a hymn from the Liturgy of St. James. Dating back to the fifth century, this liturgy is one of the oldest surviving complete liturgies of the Eastern church. The hymn celebrates the coming of Christ, especially focused on His glory and majesty.

This time of year we often focus on the humility and meekness of Christ, and that certainly is a crucial aspect of understanding Him. But too often it seems like people want to stop there, and not consider the other half of His advent, the glorious king coming to throw down all His enemies. People prefer Christmas to Easter for just this reason; they’d rather deal with the child that came for some vaguely positive reason than the risen King who came to establish a kingdom. But the First Advent makes no sense without the Second. The forgiveness of sins is only understood against the backdrop of impending judgment.

So our hymn from the beginning focuses on the awe and majesty of Christ as the conquering King and eternal Lord. All mortal flesh should be silent before Him, in respect for His great power and majesty. The hymn in particular is calling us to this spirit and attitude when we come before Him in worship.

The last line of the first verse is especially powerful- He comes to Earth to demand our homage. We owe Him our worship. Jesus is so often portrayed in the artwork of the modern church as effeminate and passive. He is shown quietly and passively knocking at the door, as if He is merely pleading to be invited in. But this is the Lord who slays all His enemies with a sword, His robe dipped in blood. This is the meaning of the offer of forgiveness—one last chance for amnesty before all the rebels are killed before Him. He has a right to be worshiped and obeyed, and He is not shy about insisting on it.

Given this great majesty and glory, what a wonder that this great king descends to help us with His grace! He is incarnate as a man, and a humble man, a servant. He dies the death of the cross so that He can feed us with Himself. His life, by the power of the Spirit of God, feeds and nourishes those who believe in Him just as our physical bodies are fed with bread. This is the message we read in verse 2.

We therefore ought to worship Him. It is only right, as the heavenly host well know. If angels and saints in heaven worship Christ, and they are far greater than us, ought we not also worship Him? His presence drives away all the powers of hell, freeing earth to be what God created it to be, as John says in Revelation 11:18— when He comes, He will destroy all those “who destroy the earth.”

This final vision, drawn from Revelation, fully impresses on us His great transcendence. The great angels, these magnificent powerful creatures described in the prophets and in Revelation, sit at Jesus’ feet, almost like pets ready to follow His command. One commenter remarked that if we did not know God, we would surely worship angels, and many have. Yet they do His will, and are nothing before Him. What awe and trembling it fills us with to know that one day we will stand before His glorious presence. He will come back to earth in great power and glory, bringing vengeance with Him. On that day we will surely know Him. May we pray to know Him in His grace and kindness before that terrible day comes.

Repost: Worship as an Act of Faith

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

Economists describe the cost of any choice we make as “opportunity cost”, or the loss of an opportunity to do something different with whatever time or resources we committed to a particular choice. If I spend a dollar on a candy bar, the cost of the candy bar is whatever else I could have spent the dollar on. If I spend an hour watching television, even if it is free there is still a cost- namely, whatever else I could have spent the hour on.

Coming to worship always incurs a cost- the cost of sleeping in on Sunday or going to the park with your kids or whatever else might bring you short-term enjoyment. Worship itself might bring you short-term enjoyment as well- seeing friends, enjoying good music and a hopefully engaging sermon. But there are always pressing needs or more immediately enjoyable activities. That’s why God made it a commandment to observe the Sabbath. Left to ourselves, people will always allow other things to crowd out the worship of God. We do not observe a day in the same ceremonial fashion as the Jews under the Mosaic Law did, but the principle has not changed. We must make time for the worship of God.

When we gather together on Sunday for worship, we are committing an act of faith. Faith means trust, believing in God’s word and promises that He is who He says He is and will do what He promises to do. Worship is a means of grace, the way God works great benefits in His people through the power of His Spirit, but those benefits are subtle and long-term. Often they are not clearly visible in the short term.

The short term benefits of worship mentioned above, while real, should not be our main motivators for being in worship. If short term benefit is our motive, our sinful flesh will always find other things to tempt us. Our real motive should be faith, trust that God will work His work in us over time. We should “desire the pure milk of the word, that we may grow thereby.” (1 Peter 2:2). We should desire to be taught and exhorted by the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. (Colossians 3:16). We should desire to “stir up love and good works” in each other (Hebrews 10:24). When we are motivated by trust in God’s promises, then we will be faithful in church even when we don’t feel like it, even if we’re not getting along with others, even if there are other things we’d rather do. Motivated by faith, walking not by what we can see but what we can and must believe, we will learn to attend consistently to the means of grace and have confidence that we will grow in grace as a result.

Holy God, We Praise Your Name

Holy God, we praise your name;
Lord of all, we bow before you;
all on earth your scepter claim,
all in heav’n above adore you.
Infinite your vast domain,
everlasting is your reign.

Hark, the glad celestial hymn
angel choirs above are raising;
cherubim and seraphim
in unceasing chorus praising,
fill the heav’ns with sweet accord:
“Holy, holy, holy Lord.”

Lo! the apostolic train
join your sacred name to hallow;
prophets swell the glad refrain,
and the white-robed martyrs follow;
and from morn to set of sun,
through the church the song goes on.

Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name you;
while in essence only One,
undivided God we claim you,
and adoring bend the knee,
while we sing this mystery.

Our hymn of the month is an adaptation of a very ancient hymn, one of the oldest hymns still extant, the Te Deum of the fourth century. It is a hymn of praise to God, anticipating the completion of salvation and the fullness of the kingdom.

That anticipation is clear in the first verse, which states that “all on earth your scepter claim,” meaning that everyone on earth acknowledges the rule of God. Clearly it is not the case presently, but we know that it will be one day. So the writer, anticipating it, writes the hymn as if it had already happened. This verse praises the universal extent of God’s rule and the totality of His sovereignty.

Much of the hymn alludes to Revelation 4 and the vision of the throne of God that John sees. The angels, the hymns, the throne, and the refrain, “Holy, Holy, Holy” all remind us of that chapter. Verse 2 describes the worship of the angels, showing us what a glorified thing it is to worship God. The higher we ascend in heavenly glory, the more we praise God. Worship isn’t something we just do in this present state. It’s not something that just serves some end, like giving us comfort in present sorrow or educating us about God’s nature (though it certainly does those things). Even after the need for education or comfort is gone, we still praise God like the angels do, for it is the highest purpose of our created nature to do so.

Verse 3 similarly portrays the great men and women of the faith, apostles, prophets, and martyrs, and their unceasing praise to God. It is truly a glorious gift to know God and to praise Him, as the hymn illustrates to us by the joyful worship of these great saints. This hymn shows so clearly that the worship of God is something we should look forward to joyfully, not a dutiful chore to be performed.

The last verse makes reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. God is one in essence and three in person, a uniquely Christian doctrine. The hymn does not spell out all the nuances of the doctrine, but nonetheless clearly identifies the true doctrine of God as Trinitarian. The original Te Deum as well as many other hymns contains this doctrine for a few different reasons. First, because the nature of God is always cause for wonder and joy at the revelation of this beautiful mystery. Secondly, it serves to identify the orthodox doctrine and shut the heretics of the day (most notably the Arians who denied the deity of Christ) out of the orthodox faith. And finally, it serves a pedagogical purpose, to deeply impress within the people’s mind the Biblical and orthodox teaching in a way that the decision of a church council by itself never could.

This is a great example of the best use of good hymns. It teaches us good doctrine; it serves as a confession of faith for the church; and it guides us in right practice, showing us what a good and wonderful thing it is to joyfully praise our God.

Worship Notes, 7/10/2016- Abide With Me

1 Abide with me: fast falls the eventide:
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
when other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2 Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

3 I need thy presence every passing hour;
what but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

4 I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless:
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

5 Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes:
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

This beautiful hymn is the reflection of one approaching death and calling upon God for comfort and assurance as he passes.

We are not all dying. But then again, we are. In 2 Corinthians 6:9 Paul describes himself as “dying, and behold we live.” He is not here commenting on his particular circumstances, but rather on the fact the Christian life is a death to the world and self, an embrace of that death as passing into life. Just two chapters earlier he said that he is “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2Co 4:10 NKJ)

The pride of life is sin (1 John 2:16). We are under the curse of death, and for us to boast in our life, to be lifted up in pride in our physical strength or good health or intellectual capacity is to fall into the pride of life, and to fail to recognize the curse of death that is on all of us. If we are in Christ by faith, then that curse of death becomes a blessing, a deliverance, as we are released from this body of death into the glorious life to come. But even as a saved man, the reality of death constantly hangs over me, and it is a reality I should embrace as my deliverance, not to flee from. So the hymnist’s attitude should be all of our attitude whether we are close to death in our estimation or not.

To “abide” is to stay or remain in place. The hymnist is calling on the Lord to remain by his side, to stay with him, throughout the coming darkness. He can endure it if he knows God remains his faithful God, and Christ his faithful savior, throughout the ordeal. There comes a time in all our lives, sooner or later, when troubles overwhelm the ability of even the most faithful and loyal friend, when loved ones are silent and throw up their hands in despair. But God is never overwhelmed at our sorrow and trouble, and can and will be a friend to us when nobody else is.

One does not have to live very long before earth’s joys start to grow dim. The things that used to give me such joy as a teenager, mysteries of life that I longed for, become unfulfilling when now experienced regularly. Buying a new album or seeing a movie in the theater is nice, but not particularly exciting. I remember how glamorous it used to seem to fly on an airplane or stay in a hotel, experiences I now simply endure. “Change and decay” is indeed all around, and the fundamental brokenness of the world becomes more apparent. But the Lord’s comforting presence throughout guides us through.

In verse 3 the writer recognizes that change and decay in himself as well. The devil’s constant attacks, only made more potent by the despair and hopelessness in the things of this world, would ruin us if not for God’s constant presence. The Reformed doctrine of perseverance of the saints does not deny the need for us to stay faithful throughout our lives to avoid falling away; nor does it teach an inherent power in the believer to do so. It teaches that God will abide with us; that those united to Christ by faith will be preserved by God’s power throughout.

The cross, then, is our guide throughout our lives. Jesus’ victory came not through earthly triumph or glory, but through dying. We must enter into His death, that we might enter into His glory. The life of the Christian must be cross-shaped throughout, for if we look to the glory and pride of this earth to bless us, we will be sorely disappointed, and ultimately lost. The cross is God’s verdict against all the world and its glory, and our salvation depends on us embracing that cross—not as an abstract principle, but as a living reality deep down in our bones that shapes our whole lives, right up to death. Then we can say with Christ, “Not my will but Thine be done, Father.” We can accept whatever pain or humiliation the world dishes out, knowing that Christ’s glory came through suffering and death.

So too will mine, if He abides with me.

All That I Am I Owe To Thee

1 All that I am I owe to thee;
thy wisdom, Lord, has fashioned me.
I give my Maker thankful praise,
whose wondrous works my soul amaze.

2 Ere into being I was brought,
thine eye did see, and in thy thought
my life in all its perfect plan
was ordered ere my days began.

3 Thy thoughts, O God, how manifold,
more precious unto me than gold!
I muse on their infinity,
awaking I am still with thee.

4 The wicked thou wilt surely slay;
from me let sinners turn away.
They speak against the name divine;
I count God’s enemies as mine.

5 Search me, O God, my heart discern;
try me, my inmost thought to learn;
and lead me, if in sin I stray,
to choose the everlasting way.

Hymn #37 from the 1990 Trinity Hymnal is a versification from Psalm 139:14-24. The psalmist expresses a complete confidence in God’s will for his life based on the fact that God created him.

He starts by praising God for this fact, which is most appropriate. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” indeed. A human being is an amazing entity, and we are only just beginning to understand how amazing we are. The mechanical design of our bodies, the chemical reactions necessary, the intricate proteins, and the many different elaborate structures and the way they react to each other all point to a highly complex and ordered design. In the past, more than once, certain organs like the tonsils or the appendix have been declared superfluous, just evolutionary holdovers, only to discover later what the functions of these organs are. One of the most amazing things about a human being is his ability to communicate, that I can have concepts and ideas formed inside my head, and that I can communicate those concepts to others by means of electrical and chemical signals along neural pathways that cause my mouth and throat to make vibrations in the air, that in turn cause tiny little bones and membranes in some other person’s ear to vibrate, which in turn sends electrical and chemical signals along neural pathways to his brain, causing the same or similar concepts to appear in the other person’s brain. How appropriate is it then that we offer glory and praise to God with this most incomprehensible faculty? The amazing nature of a human being should not cause us to be prideful, but on the contrary to praise and worship the great power and wisdom of the God who made us, and to listen to His word. So the psalmist gives His maker thankful praise (verse 1).

Since every single aspect of his being has its origin with God, the psalmist knows he can trust God completely with his life (verse 2). Who can know us better than the God who made us? And if we are His creation, we can have confidence that He has the best in mind for us. He certainly has demonstrated His benevolence toward us many times, not least in how wonderfully He made us in the first place.

The psalmist comes to the obvious conclusion of that truth in verse 3. If all this is true, what could be more important than knowing God’s thoughts, as He has revealed them to Him? It is like the great value the owner’s manual of a complex piece of equipment has if you are having trouble working the machine. Without knowledge, the equipment is useless. Without the wisdom of God, prospering in our life is impossible, or even knowing what real prosperity is. But what a joy it is to contemplate that wisdom when we have it, by His grace!

The fourth verse might seem shocking or incongruous or shocking to the modern ear, but in fact the thought flows naturally from the previous. God is wise and perfect, and loves His creation. The wicked are those that destroy His creation and rebel against Him, and it cannot be that God would permit this to go on forever. If God intends good for His creation and His people, then it must be the case that He is hostile to those who would destroy His creation and His people, and this is what rebellion against God always entails.

Therefore, the psalmist desires that God’s grace would be at work, for he knows it is only by that grace that any of us would be on the right side of God’s justice and not exposed to His wrath. So he prays in verse 5 for the inner searching of God, to know the sins that lie lurking in the human heart, and lead him to righteousness instead. If God is our creator and God’s plan is perfect, then He alone can diagnose the problem in the human heart and fix it, and the psalmist knows this. If we are wise, we will follow the lead of the psalmist and desire the sanctifying work of the Spirit of God, working in us the salvation of Jesus Christ, so that God’s perfect intention for us is fulfilled, for the only alternative to that is the destruction of the wicked. But by His grace we can instead come to the “everlasting way.”