Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness

Our hymn of the month, #520 in the Trinity Hymnal, is “Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness.” It was written by Count Nicolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf in 1739. A German from noble stock, he was born Lutheran but was disappointed in the dry and sterile state of the German Lutheran Church at that time. With other likeminded men he tried to promote a revival of true religion focusing on the work of Christ.

He was a landowner and part of the nobility and gave land to a number of refugees fleeing religious persecution. He created a religious community based on equality and unity which was not intended to be a new denomination, but rather a catalyst for change and revival within existing denominations. Some of these immigrants were part of the Moravian church, which probably deserves credit as the first Protestant church, tracing its roots back to the Unitas Fratrum, the followers of Jon Huss who was burned at the stake a hundred years before Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses. Zinzendorf was so impressed with the Moravians and their sincere devotion to Christ that he joined the church, eventually becoming a bishop. He became convinced that only free churches disconnected from the state could promote real piety.

Zinzendorf spent most of his own fortune on mission works in a variety of places. He was especially involved in the Americas among natives as well as among slaves colonies in the Carribean where conditions were particularly horrible. He also wrote more than 2000 hymns.

“Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness” well expresses the piety of Zinzendorf. He tried to focus entirely on what Christ had done for him, on the complete righteousness which is imputed to us and which clothes us before God. He desired to focus entirely on that righteousness, believing that it was a singleminded focus on the complete atonement the believer had because of Christ’s sacrifice which would produce the love and ardor which should characterize the church.

Both the active and passive righteousness of Christ are a focus from the beginning to the end- Jesus’ blood takes away my own transgressions, and Jesus’ perfect righteousness in His own life of service is imputed to me so that I am regarded as a faithful lawkeeper before God. The hymn is an outstanding meditation on the perfect righteousness of Christ which is imputed to the sinner, leaving nothing at all that the sinner needs to do to stand confidently before the judgment seat of God.

Getting to Know God

“…These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men (Isa 29:13 NKJ).”

While a great many today downplay the importance of the corporate body of God’s people and make salvation an entirely individualistic affair, the opposite danger is very real and perhaps even worse- the idea that I am saved simply because of an identity or membership in a particular group. The fact that I show up to church, assent to certain doctrinal propositions and perform various rituals, and don’t do anything too bad in the rest of my life, is not sufficient to save me. Nothing is sufficient to save me except the personal intervention of God in my life. We’re not saved by anything we do; we’re saved by a Person, by Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Bible. Our salvation is always a personal matter, always a matter of a relationship between God and man. Getting to know God’s nature and personality is therefore of tremendous importance

The reason we come to worship is to further our relationship with God, and we further that relationship by learning who God is. This means learning God’s attributes, the true things we can say about God, such as His omnipotence, His infinity, His justice. It also means learning about the things God likes and dislikes. We come to know God through the history of Scripture as we see how He works through history to bring about His desired ends. This knowledge comes to us in the context of personal trust, as we have faith that God has saved us and is saving us. A good worship service is filled with God’s personality presented through Scripture in a variety of ways- through praise, through petition, through doctrinal formulas, through narratives, through the sacraments.

Like a Japanese gardener who shapes a miniature tree over years by carefully tying its branches and trunk in particularly chosen ways, so the worship of God, through patient repetition, will shape us. It will guide us in the way we grow. This is not a matter of simply showing up, but truly being bound to God by personal trust and faith, since it is the personal relationship that forms the connection, not simply physical presence or outward activity. This shaping will not happen all at once; the change will often be imperceptible. We might not think anything is going on at all. But over time, those forces will gently, slowly and certainly shape someone. If the worship services we choose to go to are dominated by the opinions and ideas of men, then that is what will shape us, and our hearts will be far from God. But if the content of our worship is controlled by the personality of Jehovah, then we will be conformed to the image of Jehovah.

Let us not simply honor God with our lips. Let us not teach the doctrines and commandments of men. Let us fill our worship and our lives with the true and living God revealed to us in Scripture. Over time, all in us that is contrary to truth will be trimmed off, so that we come more and more to resemble the One who made us, until we are truly in His likeness and after His image, as He always intended.

How Lovely Shines the Morning Star

How Lovely Shines the Morning Star

1 How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For thee my heart is pining.
Lowly, holy,
Great and glorious,
Thou victorious
Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav’nly places.

2 Now richly to my waiting heart,
O thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In thy blest body let me be,
E’en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
Sighing, crying,
For the savor
Of thy favor
Resting never
Till I rest in thee for ever.

3 Thou, mighty Father, in thy Son
Didst love me ere thou hadst begun
This ancient world’s foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit him I see,
I joy in tribulation.
What bliss
Is this!
He that liveth
To me giveth
Life forever;
Nothing me from him can sever.

Hymn #515, our hymn of the month, is an ode of worship and adoration to Jesus Christ. It was written by Philipp Nicolai, a Lutheran pastor, toward the end of the sixteenth century, less than a century after the Reformation began. He also wrote “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (#317), which together with 515 are often known as the King and Queen of Chorales, and inspired J.S. Bach to compose the two arrangements in which these two hymns most often appear in hymnals today.

The first verse describes him in the language of Revelation 22:16, of the Morning Star. It is a vivid picture of the dark world being pierced, broken into, by the light coming from one obscure little country, the land of Judah. A light rose out of Judah which has spread throughout the world, a light which was not some abstract doctrine but a man, Jesus Christ. In a very real way it is Jesus Himself who spreads throughout the world, because it is the very life and image of Jesus Christ that is being worked in people all over the world.

The hymn is not a reflection on the global impact of Christ’s coming, however. It is Christ’s place in our hearts on which the hymn focuses. The writer addresses Jesus as “my bridegroom” and “my king of grace”, showing his highly personal feelings toward Christ. He longs to be united to Christ; his heart “is pining” for Him. The hymn expresses the great irony of Christ- though He is lowly, yet He is the victorious and glorious king whose glory now fills heaven and one day will fill earth as well.

In the second verse the writer calls on God to fill him with love for Christ, to implant him truly into the body of His church, as a branch in a tree, and to empower him with Christ’s life. He recognizes his salvation entirely as a work of God’s grace, forgiving his sin, teaching him faith and love, and granting him new life. The last line of verse two is especially poignant- “Sighing, crying, for the savor of thy favor; resting never- till I rest in thee forever.” This beautifully expresses the heart of every Christian, who cannot rest at all until he rests in Jesus.

The third verse expresses the writer’s confidence and amazement that God’s love for him precedes the creation of the world. What an incredible joy it is to know that the worlds themselves were created to express God’s particular love for each of His people! That love preceded our own faith or knowledge; Jesus’ action in making Himself our friend initiates and creates our fellowship with Him. That knowledge is a great comfort to the writer. No matter what happens, he can “joy in tribulation” because he knows of God’s sovereign love for him in Christ. The last line echoes the last part of Romans 9, and the sure confidence we can have that since God loved us before the world even began, nothing in this world or out of it can ever separate us from that love.

No wonder this hymn has been so beloved for so long, since it so beautifully and personally expresses the joy and love that fills all those who have the knowledge of Christ.