Monday, April 13, 2009

Arise, My Soul, Arise

Praise for the Lord #46

Words: Charles Wesley, 1742
Music: Daniel B. Towner, arr., 1909

Charles Wesley's founding role in English hymnody is discussed in an earlier post. Suffice it to say that it is always a pleasure to engage his hymn texts; they are consistently rich and thought-provoking.

Stanza 1:
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in thy behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

There are times when, as imperfect and sinful beings, we feel unworthy to come before God. Certainly the Communion is one of the chiefest of those occasions, because in it we are reminded of the awful seriousness of sin, and what Christ did to deliver us from it. Perhaps we should feel unworthy every single time. But this hymn shows us the other side of the coin--that in fact, regardless of our unworthiness, in Christ we have a Redeemer and an Advocate who can bring us before God's throne in good standing.

After a call to "shake off" these fears and doubts about our salvation, we are called to look at Christ, in the mind's eye, standing as our Advocate before the Father. He is a "bleeding Sacrifice", but He is glorious; as John describes Him in Revelation 5:6, "I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain..." The injuries Christ received on the cross were meant as humiliation, but only amplify His glory.

He stands as our "surety" ("pledge" or "collateral") before the throne of the Father, as Hebrews 7:22 says, "Jesus [was] made a surety of a better testament." It is almost as if Wesley represents Christ first "making our bail"; no matter how sinful we are, Christ's good standing before the Judge is a guarantee that our case will be heard favorably for His sake. Our Attorney is also a Friend of the Court!

Isaiah 49:16 is the source of the final line of this stanza, where the Lord promises that no matter what happens to His people, "Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls [i.e. Jerusalem? DH] are continually before Me." If I write something on the palm of my hand, it is because I am anxious to be certain that I remember it. I will see it throughout the day and be constantly reminded of it. God does not need reminding because God does not forget--but this is a heart-warming picture of Jesus' concern for His children. We are always before His eyes, always in His thoughts.

His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

These lines are a little puzzling at first reading, but Wesley's writing is theologically rich as always, and he expected a high degree of familiarity with the Scriptures. Ephesians 5:25-26 tells us that "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word;" but Revelation 1:5 clarifies that He "loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood." The blood of Christ, then is the effective power in the water of baptism. The coming of Christ into the believer's heart by baptism is also called the "washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit."(Titus 3:5)

The Spirit's role of regeneration is intimately connected with the blood, for without the ransoming blood of Christ there would be no clean slate from which to begin. Acts 2:38 promises "the gift of the Holy Spirit" to those who repent and are baptized; and repeatedly we are told that the saved are "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit."(2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 4:30) 2 Corinthians 1:22 adds that the Spirit's sanctifying work within us is our "guarantee" ("earnest", KJV; "deposit", NIV); thus the indwelling Spirit is a testimony to the effectiveness of the water and the blood.

Wesley also certainly refers to Romans 8:16, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Here I must part ways, however, with Wesley's doctrines. We need not look for a feeling or an experience; Hebrews 10:15 and the passage following teach that the Spirit "bears witness to us" in the words of the Scriptures. The Spirit's witness in the Word, by which we first come to faith in the power of Christ's blood, is always before us--even in (or especially in) moments of spiritual doubt.

The refrain is taken from the last two lines of what was originally the next-to-last (4th) stanza:

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.

One cannot be certain, but it is possible that people have objected over the years to the lines stating that God "cannot turn away" from the "presence of His Son", since God did in fact turn His face away from Christ for a period of time on the cross.(Matthew 27:46) Wesley could hardly have meant to contradict that, but for the sake of avoiding confusion it is sometimes better simply to leave something out.

Stanza 2:
He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Romans 8:33-34 paints this wonderful scene of heavenly justice and mercy:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Wesley also references the high priesthood of Christ. The high priests of Israel came into the Most Holy Place, into the presence of God, once a year to make atonement for the sins of the nation.(Leviticus 16) But Aaron and his sons were a line of imperfect men like us, who had to be forgiven of their sins before they could appear before God on behalf of others.(Hebrews 7:27) Jesus Christ, however,

holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.(Hebrews 7:24-25)

And not only do we have a lasting Advocate and High Priest of peerless character, but He is able to offer His own sinless blood for our atonement. "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,"(Hebrews 10:4) but Christ offered Himself "once for all."(Hebrews 10:10) What more assurance could we ask?

The following verse is omitted from Praise for the Lord:

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

"Five wounds" simply refers to the piercing of Christ's hands, feet, and side during the crucifixion. Nonetheless this is an odd verse--especially the personification of the wounds as "crying" on our behalf.

Stanza 3:
To God I'm reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

In the final verse, Wesley portrays the end of the proceedings in the imagined "heavenly courtroom". Our Advocate has interceded with the Judge on our behalf, pleading His own special standing with the court and offering His own matchless blood in our place. Now the "trial" is over, and God is "reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them."(2 Corinthians 5:19) Instead of being viewed as criminals before the bar of justice, we are embraced as "have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'"(Romans 8:15) With this understanding of our new relationship, we can let go of the fear and guilt of the past, and we can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."(Hebrews 4:16)

About the music: This music first appeared in Towner's Ideal Song & Hymn Book, published 1909. Looking at Towner's other songs, though, such as "Anywhere with Jesus"(PFTL#48), "At Calvary"(PFTL#53), "Grace greater than our sin"(PFTL#189), or "Trust and obey"(PFTL#714), I really doubt that this is original music by Towner. Praise for the Lord attributes it only to one of his publication; and the songs that are definitely written by Towner are all very much in the late 19th-century gospel mainstream.

This music, on the other hand, has a peculiar complexity similar to that of the music of "Awake, my soul, in joyful lays"(PFTL#38). It is complicated and even somewhat fussy, yet charming in overall effect. The rather counter-intuitive rhythm of dotted eighth-note, sixteenth-note on the downbeat is odd, yet becomes a strong unifying factor. The style is not homespun enough to be campmeeting or Sacred Harp music, is too sophisticated in tone to be gospel, but neither is it truly classical. It seems rather to fit into the sphere of the amateur choral society, similar to works of Lowell Mason such as "Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore Him"(PFTL#531).

Click here to hear a different tune for "Arise, my soul, arise" (this would be sung without a refrain, and with the third line repeated each time).

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