Monday, December 31, 2007

Some end-of-year words from Scripture

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:11-14).

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).

May the Lord bless you in 2008 with his peace and joy.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

“Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”

When growing up, there were two hymns that we sang in church which were set to the Welsh hymn tune, “Cwm Rhondda”: “God of Grace and God of Glory” by the American Baptist minister Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) and “Guide Me, O Thou great Jehovah” by the Welsh preacher, poet and hymnwriter, William Williams (1717-1791).

Recently, I was comparing the words of these two hymns. It’s interesting how these hymns vary in the level of dependence upon God that they encourage. For instance, though it’s a fine hymn in many ways, if you read it carefully, you’ll notice that “God of Grace and God of Glory” expresses a kind of if-it-is-to-be-it’s-up-to-me philosophy:

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power;
Crown Thine ancient Church’s story;
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Lo! The hosts of evil round us
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways!
Fears and doubts too long have bound us,
Free our hearts to work and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control;
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places;
Gird our lives that they may be
Armored with all Christ-like graces
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee!

Save us from weak resignation
To the evils we deplore;
Let the search for Thy salvation
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee whom we adore,
Serving Thee whom we adore.

Although Harry Emerson Fosdick, the author, acknowledges God as the source of wisdom and courage, it is clear that he sees the task of accomplishing God’s will on earth as being ultimately dependent upon the work of God’s people: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage/That we fail not man nor Thee!” Fosdick’s God is dependent upon people.

It is even more interesting when you consider that Fosdick was a leading figure in the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s and 30s, as a prominent liberal minister and the pastor of the famed Riverside Church in New York City.

Now, compare Fosdick’s hymn with William Williams’ “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more,
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through;
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my strength and shield,
Be Thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side;
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to Thee,
I will ever give to Thee.

In Williams’ hymn, the Christian is totally dependent upon God. God is the believer’s guide, source of strength, spiritual deliverer and sustainer, companion at death and focus of praise in eternity. Williams, it turns out, was a friend of Howell Harris and George Whitefield, and was a leader in the 18th century Welsh revival and a notable figure in Calvinistic Methodist history. Theology makes a difference in the words we sing.

I absolutely love the hymn tune, “Cwm Rhondda”. Composed by John Hughes (1873-1932), this hymn tune, when combined with great words, lifts my thoughts to heaven in a most powerful way. It matters not what mood I’m in, I feel better after hearing “Cwm Rhondda”. This is, no doubt, why for many years I considered “God of Grace and God of Glory” one of my favorite hymns; in the A.M.E. Church of my youth, it was the hymn most often sung to the tune “Cwm Rhondda”. On the other hand, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” was most often sung to the tune “Zion” by Thomas Hastings (1784-1872) (an old tune that, by the way, I’ve never heard outside the traditional Black Church). Although “Zion” brings back many wonderful memories of good, ol’ A.M.E. congregational hymn singing (and works fairly well in a slow, gospel style), as a hymn tune it is not nearly as vigorous and stimulating as “Cwm Rhondda”.

So, it turns out that, when I was younger, I was drawn to “God of Grace and God of Glory” because of the music. With the passage of time, however, I’ve grown to appreciate more and more the depth of the words of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”. Whereas I can identify with some of the sentiments of Fosdick’s hymn, I fully embrace the message of Williams’ hymn: I feel and know myself as weak and look to Yahweh (Jehovah) to hold me up and guide me, I know I can’t survive this life’s journey without the sustenance which the Lord provides, I so look forward to the “death of death and hell’s destruction”, and I hope, through Christ, to land “safe on Canaan’s side”.

Below is a great example of Welsh hymn singing that I found on YouTube. The version of the hymn that this group sings substitutes “Redeemer” for “Jehovah”, but I invite you to listen to their wonderful singing. After you’ve listened a while, feel free to join in with this great song of praise.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Am I “easy to read”?

While browsing blogs yesterday, I followed a link from Thabiti Anyabwile’s blog, “Pure Church”, over to “Christ Is Deeper Still”, the blog of Pastor Ray Ortlund, Jr. Pastor Ortlund has written some short, but soul-challenging posts; I highly recommend you check out this blog.

Anyway, today, I clicked over to “Christ Is Deeper Still” and came across the following post:

As a kid growing up, I didn't need an alarm clock most mornings. I woke up to the sound of my dad, down the hallway, singing in the shower. Every morning he sang heartily, cheerfully, with zero irritation to me, this hymn:

When morning gilds the skies
My heart awaking cries
May Jesus Christ be praised
Alike at work or prayer
To Jesus I repair
May Jesus Christ be praised

I never wondered about my dad. Never once. Never. I knew where he stood. Unlike so many others, he was not hard to read. He did not take a wait-and-see, keep-a-low-profile, play-it-safe approach to life. Jesus was too real and wonderful to him. He praised the Lord openly throughout the whole of his life, public and private. What a man!

I want to be unmistakably easy to read, beginning with my dear family.

When I read that, I had to wonder, “Can others say the same thing about me?” May God grant that we all become “unmistakably easy to read”, especially before our families and loved ones.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A cause for worship and rejoicing

While I’m on Winter Break, I’m trying to catch up on some of my reading. One of the books I’ve begun but haven’t had a chance to finish is Arnold Dallimore’s two-volume biography of George Whitefield. Since the school year started, I generally only read this work when my sons and I make our semimonthly trip to the barbershop, as I wait my turn to sit in the barber’s chair, or as I sit in the car waiting for my boys while they have their weekly piano lesson. I hope to finish Dallimore’s first volume this week so that I can get started on volume two before school resumes on January 7.

This morning, I was reading and came across this quote from Whitefield’s Journals, regarding election and predestination:

“Whatever men’s reasoning may suggest, if the children of God fairly examine their own experiences—if they do God justice, they must acknowledge that they did not choose God, but that God chose them. And if He chose them at all, it must be from eternity, and that too without anything foreseen in them. Unless they acknowledge this, man’s salvation must be in part owing to the free-will of man; and if so,…Christ Jesus might have died, and never have seen the travail of His soul in the salvation of one of His creatures.”

Before I came into a fully biblical understanding of election and predestination, I used to wonder about Christ dying for all when so many of those for whom He supposedly died go to hell anyway, in spite of the price He paid for them. In regards to those who ultimately reject Christ, I used to wonder to myself was Christ’s blood wasted on them. Now, thankfully, I understand that not a drop of the blood of Christ was wasted. All for whom Christ died will be saved. It makes perfect sense: Jesus came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), He laid “down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). God “gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish” (John 3:16). In other words, those who believe are those for whom God gave his Son. Jesus said about those who do not believe, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” Speaking of his “flock” or his “sheep”, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27). Is it not clear that only those who hear and obey Christ are his sheep, and that it is his sheep—his people—whom he came to save and for whom he shed his blood?

Nevertheless, Whitefield continued in this quote I read today with a wise word for those of us who embrace the biblical doctrines of election and predestination and are adamant in their defense:

“But I would be tender on this point, and leave persons to be taught it of God. I am of the martyr Bradford’s mind. Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination.” (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival, Volume I [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust], p. 570).

That’s a good word: “Leave persons to be taught it of God”. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. Don’t be known as a contentious Calvinist. Let God’s sovereignty in election be cause for worship and rejoicing, not a cause for divisiveness and strife.

Monday, December 24, 2007



That’s how I, and thousands of other teachers, feel at this time of the year. I’ve been so busy in the month leading up to Winter Break that I’ve not had any time to blog. Now that I’m home I have time, but I want to spend it with family, as I’m sure you understand. Before I go back to work, I hope to write more. For now, let me just extend to you my hope that you will have a wonderful Christmas. In all your celebrating, please don’t forget the Savior; give him the glory due his name.

Until I write some more, I invite you to peruse my archives over in the right margin of this page. Just click on the link to the month you wish to look at. I’ve been blogging for a little over a year now, so there’s plenty to read.
May the Lord bless you and yours this Christmas and into the New Year.