Thursday, February 5, 2009

All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord

Praise for the Lord #18

Words: Charles Wesley, 1747
Music: Sylvanus B. Pond, 1836.

The Methodist movement emphasized a personal relationship with God, and Charles Wesley understood as well that personal relationships with other Christians are a significant part of developing that bond with our Father. "For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."(1 John 4:20) Thus we have from Wesley this and other fine texts that emphasize Christian love and unity within God's kingdom.

Stanza 1:
All praise to our redeeming Lord,
Who joins us by His grace;
And bids us, each to each restored,
Together seek His face.

Here we have a picture of Christians assembling together for the blessed purpose of worship. We are "restored" to each other in the simple sense of seeing one another again, but "restored" echoes the earlier term "redeemed", and reminds us that He also "restores our souls."(Psalm 23:3) As we come together to worship, we are made whole again as a body of His people, both locationally and spiritually.

We enjoy a wonderful fellowship together--as the apostle John said in both his second and third letters, he longed to "speak face to face" with fellow Christians--but our highest purpose is to seek the face of Christ. May we echo the Greeks who approached the apostle Philip and said, "Sir, we would see Jesus."(John 12:21) We are promised that if we seek Him, He is in our midst when we gather.(Matthew 18:20, Revelation 1:12-20)

Stanza 2:
The gift which He on one bestows,
We all delight to prove;
The grace through every vessel flows,
In purest streams of love.

Stanzas 2 and 3 appear in reverse order in many sources.(Cyberhymnal) As we think of the church assembling, we know that there is a diversity of gifts seen. Some individuals (such as a pulpit minister or Bible class teacher) may be seen and heard every week. Others (such as songleaders, prayer leaders, and Scripture readers) may be seen and heard frequently or infrequently in a rotation of some sort. Not everyone can or should participate in every role; but everyone has a role in the worship. When we make too much of particular roles (either by being puffed up about having them, or being envious of others who do), we are not thinking as Jesus did: "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."(Mark 9:35) The humblest voice lifted to God in heartfelt praise, the simplest heart that hears and meditates on His word, is just as important, just as glorifying to God, as the most dynamic songleader or the most stirring preacher.

That being said, use your gifts! We do not want to seek the praise of this world; but neither should we hide our light under a bushel.(Matthew 5:15) The discussion of miraculous gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, though it describes a different order of abilities, still gives us principles that should guide us. Use the gifts God has given you for His glory, in an appropriate time and place, and in a manner that builds others up rather than ourselves. (Ironically, the more we learn to do this, the more uplifted we become ourselves.)

And be thankful for, not jealous of, the abilities of others. Apollos was an impressive, eloquent speaker (Acts 18:24) and Paul apparently was not;(2 Corinthians 10:10) still, we see nothing but respect on Paul's part for the work that Apollos did.(e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:6) Peter spoke of "our beloved brother Paul" without a hint of jealousy for the "wisdom given him",(2 Peter 3:15) even though it was through Paul that God chose to unfold much of the deep theological teaching of the New Testament, and it was through Paul that the floodgates of conversions among the Gentiles were opened.

Stanza 3:
He bids us build each other up;
And, gathered into one,
To our high calling’s glorious hope,
We hand in hand go on.

"Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."(Romans 15:2)

"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up."(1 Corinthians 10:23)

"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."(1 Corinthians 14:26)

"In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."(Ephesians 2:22)

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, [fn] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."(Ephesians 4:11-16)

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."(Ephesians 4:29)

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."(1 Thessalonians 5:11)

"But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life."(Jude 1:20-21)

I quote all of the above simply to try to drive home the importance that the Scriptures give to "building up" the church. How often do we instead thoughtlessly say or do things that tear down? God forgive us, and help us to repent and do better.

The following stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord:

E’en now we think and speak the same,
And cordially agree;
Concentered all, through Jesus’ Name,
In perfect harmony.

This is a good thought, based on 1 Corinthians 1:10, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Wesley may even be suggesting a connection of the clause "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" to the commandments that follow, rather than as an intensifier of the preceding phrase. That is, instead of "I plead (by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ), that you...", it might be: "By the name of the Lord Jesus Christ you are to speak the same thing, have no divisions, etc." I will have to leave that to a Greek scholar to settle, but the name of Jesus as the empowerment to unity is certainly clear in Wesley's interpretation. It is this kind of thoughtful, subtle scriptural reference that makes me love his texts. Unfortunately, the word "concentered" ("drawn together to the center", cf. "concentrate") is just too big a pill to swallow.

Stanza 4:
We all partake the joy of one;
The common peace we feel;
A peace to sensual minds unknown,
A joy unspeakable.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."(Romans 12:15) We do this because we are family, part of one body with a common history, a common faith, and a common goal. If these things are true, we will truly know that peace that comes from our common Head: "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body."(Colossians 3:15)

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."(Philippians 4:7) There is a sense of calm and assurance, even in the middle of a topsy-turvy world, that comes only from knowing that this world is not our goal. To the Jewish mind, "peace" is inseparable from the beautiful Hebrew idiom "shalom", meaning an all-inclusive wholeness, completeness, and well-being.(Genesius) It does not, however, necessarily mean the absence of external conflict; but it means a stable center in the midst of that conflict. This is what the church will be, if Christ is at its center, because we "believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory."(1 Peter 1:8)

Stanza 5:
And if our fellowship below
In Jesus be so sweet,
What height of rapture shall we know
When round His throne we meet!

Wesley is really writing about the beauty and joy of the church on earth, and throws in this last-minute reference to heaven to remind us that, if we have not even begun to understand the magnitude of our blessings here on earth, how much greater than our ability to comprehend must be the blessings of heaven?

It is easy to see the faults in the church (a mirror is all we need!), and it is easy to focus only on those disappointments we have experienced. The world is also ready to throw gasoline on the fire, mocking "organized religion" and keeping an eagle eye out for the least sign of hypocrisy, the only sin still universally condemned.

In C.S. Lewis's brilliant satire The Screwtape Letters, senior devil Screwtape advises his apprentice Wormwood on the tempting of a human subject who has "unfortunately" become a Christian:

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans... When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew.(p. 5)

We are not always that much to look at, are we? But look past the faults and see instead what we are trying to become--what Jesus, in dying on the cross, could see.

About the music: Little is known of Sylvanus B. Pond beyond this and a couple of other fairly obscure hymn tunes. This is a fairly tame little classical pseudo-minuet style, written well before the more showy and florid Victorian period (note the near absence of sharps, flats, or naturals outside the key). It is a nice little tune with pretty harmony, worth learning if you have the part-singers for it, but no better or worse than many others.

If learning new tunes is an obstacle, this text could also be sung to the tunes of "Amazing grace" or "I'm not ashamed to own my Lord", to suggest two; for more possibilities, look at the tunes listed under "CM" ("Common Meter") in the Metrical Index at the back of the book. (Hymn meters is another post I need to do!)


Cyberhymnal. All praise to our redeeming Lord.

Genesius, Wilhelm. Shalom. Genesius's Lexicon, provided by Blue Letter Bible.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

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