Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buried with Christ

Praise for the Lord #85

Words: Thomas O. Chisholm, 1935
Music: Lloyd O. Sanderson, 1935

What was the greatest collaboration between Chisholm and Sanderson? They contributed a number of fine hymns to the repertoire of the Churches of Christ, but I am fairly sure that their best hymn together is either "Be with me, Lord" or "Buried with Christ." Choosing between these two is fairly subjective; I think "Be with me, Lord" wins on the strength of being just nearly flawless, but "Buried with Christ" certainly is a strong contender.

This is one of the most heavily doctrinal songs I can name that is written in the gospel style. Sanderson meant it to be, suggesting the text of Romans 6:3-18 as the basis of a hymn. This is a key passage on the meaning of baptism, and he hoped that in the process of writing a hymn on it, his Methodist friend would examine the subject afresh. Sanderson himself was a Methodist in his younger days, and knew that this text was critical to a Scripture-based understanding of salvation. Sanderson says of this episode,
After my conversion, I tried to influence others. Thomas O. Chisholm was among them. We exchanged many letters on religious convictions. We seemed agreed. He had a similar background, but we lived far apart. I was in Springfield and he in Vineland, N.J. Long trips were "out" in those days. So to know if I might have made an impression, I asked him to write me a poem on Romans 6:3-18. The words to "Buried With Christ" were the result. I do not see how a true Methodist could write such meaningful words.(Sanderson)
Whether Chisholm's views on the subject changed is unknown; but it cannot be denied that he wrote a thoroughly Scriptural hymn on the meaning of baptism. The content of the Romans 6 passage is woven together with references to supporting passages from elsewhere in Scripture in a fashion that makes every line worth careful reading. This has been one of my go-to songs for baptismal services for many years.

Stanza 1:
Buried with Christ, my blessed Redeemer,
Dead to the old life of folly and sin;
Satan may call, the world may entreat me,
There is no voice that answers within.

"We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."(Romans 6:4) Here is the keystone of the entire argument put forth in the sixth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans: our baptism into Christ physically reenacts His death and resurrection, and a parallel spiritual transformation takes place within us. His grace allows us to put down the life we once lived, with our guilt of sins; in a sense that person is put to death, being under condemnation of spiritual death already. His power raises us up free from sin, with His Spirit living within us, a new creation growing into what He would have us to be.

This is a powerful text on the meaning (and necessity!) of the rite of baptism, but Paul is really stressing its effect on our lives after the fact:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?(Romans 6:1-3)
Paul visits this topic often in his letters, for it is a central issue of the Christian life:
You . . . were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.(Ephesians 4:21-24)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. . . .

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.(Colossians 3:1-2,5-10)
Sadly, though, we tend to keep that "old self" on life support, if you will pardon the expression, far too long. The second half of this stanza is to some extent wishful thinking, something we sing as an aspiration to better things. I am afraid that I still hear those "voices that call me," though not quite as often or as loudly as once I did. It is our ongoing task to "put to death the deeds of the body."(Romans 8:13)

Dead to the world, to voices that call me,
Living anew, obedient but free;
Dead to the joys that once did enthrall me--
Yet 'tis not I, Christ liveth in me.

Here is where we are when we rise from the waters of baptism, having taken hold of God's free gift of grace. With Paul we can say, "the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."(Galatians 6:14) The relationship we had with that former life has been severed. We still live in the world, of course, and we live with the consequences of past actions, but our spiritual life is entirely new.

In light of this, we have to realize the changes that have taken place. The world around us--the culture at large and its values, and even its specific people and their values--is no longer our standard of behavior. Paul told the Roman Christians later in the epistle, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."(Romans 12:2) We cannot listen to the standards of the world any longer.

Likewise, we cannot expect to receive the world's approval, and all of its benefits, if we are a new spiritual creation that is becoming more like Christ.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.(1 John 2:15-16)
This does not mean we no longer love the people in the world. John 3:16 tells us how much our Father loves the people of this world, and if He in His holiness can love sinful humanity enough to make such a sacrifice, we must do our best to imitate that love. But our love for sinners outside of Christ (as opposed to us, sinners forgiven by Christ) does not mean we conform to their ways, but rather that we humbly and gently show a better way. Sometimes that will not be appreciated! No one understood that better than Peter:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.(1 Peter 3:14-16)
The last line of the refrain is a reference, of course, to Galatians 2:20,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
It is a profound paradox that what most appears to be freedom, to the worldly mind, is slavery to the appetites of the flesh, or slavery to the god of self; yet what appears to be surrender and servitude to a demanding God is actually the road to freedom. "For one who has died has been set free from sin."(Romans 6:7) What a freedom it is!

If we know, deep down, that we are not what we should be, we want to feel better about it. We make excuses, but we know they are excuses--because we see right through them when another person uses them toward us. We can seek forgiveness from other people, which is noble, but ultimately their forgiveness is too easily won since they are just as flawed as we are. I think this is what David meant when he said, "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment."(Psalm 51:4) But when the God of the universe, infinite in purity and holiness, washes us clean and pronounces us forgiven, we are "free indeed."(John 8:36)

The following stanza is omitted in some hymnals:

Stanza 2:
Think it not strange that things I once cherished
Cannot allure me or charm as before;
For in the flesh with Christ I have suffered,
Old things are passed, I love them no more.


The third line of the stanza may strike us as a bit odd, and may be the reason this stanza is dropped by some editors. But it is a reference to 1 Peter 4:1-2,
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
Certainly the practical application of this passage aligns perfectly with that of Romans 6, that we have died to sin and are no longer to live in it. "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin."(Romans 6:6) But Chisholm makes an interesting interpretation here of "whoever has suffered in the flesh." By laying it alongside the Romans 6 discussion, he seems to suggest that Peter is speaking of our vicarious participation in the suffering and death of Christ. Though the larger context of 1 Peter leads me to believe that Peter was speaking of present, actual suffering by those who were undergoing persecution, certainly our reenactment in baptism of the suffering of Christ should steel us against the frivolous claims the world would press upon us.

Stanza 3:
Dead unto sin, alive through the Spirit,
Risen with Him from the gloom of the grave,
All things are new, and I am rejoicing,
In His great love, His power to save.


Chisholm was likely thinking of this verse as he began this stanza: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."(Romans 6:11) Where the earlier stanzas emphasize our death to the old life of sin, here he focuses on what replaces it--a new life. "For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His."(Romans 6:5) Certainly it refers to the final, literal resurrection and the new body; but in this context I believe it also means that we rise from the grave of baptism with a literal "new lease on life."

The spiritual realm seems to abhor a vacuum just as much as the physical; when Jesus told the parable of the cast-out demon returning to a house "swept and in order," He said that "the last state of that man is worse than the first," because the returning evil spirit brought with it seven others worse than itself.(Luke 11:24-26) Common sense tells us that it is easier to give up a bad habit if it is replaced with something else that redirects the energy and fulfills the same needs. God does the same with us--we do not simply try not to sin, we are living a new life.

Fortunately, when Romans 8:13 says, "put to death the deeds of the body," there is that adverbial phrase that shows us how: "by the Spirit." By His power, "our inner self is being renewed day by day."(2 Corinthians 4:16) There was an incredible power behind the resurrection of Jesus, and that same power is behind our new birth. When the Lord says, "Behold, I make all things new,"(Revelation 21:5) it is not just a promise of the world to come--we really can begin again, right here and now.

Stanza 4:
Sin hath no more its cruel dominion,
Walking in "newness of life," I am free--
Glorious life of Christ, my Redeemer,
Which He so richly shareth with me.


The Scripture behind this stanza must have been, "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."(Romans 6:14) But to understand this, we need to look back earlier in Paul's argument:
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:4)

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God."(Romans 6:8-10)
Our freedom from sin's dominion rests upon the fact that we have, through baptism, participated in the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as He broke the power of death through His resurrection to eternal life, He also broke the power of sin and gave us the way to a new spiritual life. Our ability to be free from slavery to sin, a spiritual death, is just as real and certain as His victory over physical death.

The stanza concludes with a burst of praise for the new life that Christ brings through this death and resurrection, fulfilling His promise, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."(John 10:10) Life, and that abundantly, is the end result that ties together much of this section of Romans.

Back in the fifth chapter, discussing the entry of sin into the world through Adam, Paul says, "For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ."(Romans 5:17) This sets the stage for the sixth chapter's argument, based on our participation in Christ's death and resurrection: "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness."(Rom 6:13)

Not only does this new life free us from sin, "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life."(Rom 6:22) The chapter concludes with a summation of what we have escaped, and what we have gained: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."(Rom 6:23)

About the music

Chisholm wrote this text in a rather complex meter. The syllable pattern of the stanzas is, and the stress patterns of the stanza are, using the simplest scansion:

Bur-ied withChrist mybles- sed Re-deem- er
_ u u_ u_ u u_ u
Dead to theold life offol- ly andsin;
_ u u_ u u_ u u_
Sa- tan maycall, theworld may en-treat me,
_ u u_ u_ u u_ u
There is novoice thatans- wers with-in.
_ u u_ u_ u u_

This is not that simple--a tetrameter of alternating dactyls and trochees! The refrain is slightly more regular, but uses the same basic meter. Sanderson's music alters the trochees to spondees, evening out the weak endings of lines 1 and 3, which is great in poetry but can play havoc with musical phrasing:

Bur- ied withChrist, mybles- sed Re-deem- er,
_ u u_ __ u u_ _
Dead to theold life offol- ly andsin;
_ u u_ _ u_ u u_
Sa- tan maycall, theworld may en-treat me,
_ u u_ __ u u_ _
There is novoice thatans- wers with-in.
_ u u_ __ u u_

In the process of doing this, Sanderson created a lilting overall rhythm, "short-short-short-long-long," that serves to unify the melody. The choice of 9/8 time was perfect for the text.

In this hymn the alto harmonizes against the soprano in parallel 3rds and 6ths, so that it sounds pretty good just as a duet--the harmony is fully implied by just these two voices, except at a handful of places which do not detract from the overall effect. If you make it a trio with soprano, alto, and bass (which is what many congregations are, given the scarcity of tenors!), there is virtually complete harmony throughout except on the word "joys" in the refrain, which will be an open 5th. The bass fills out the voice exchange on "Yet 'tis not" in the refrain, and the open 5th on "'tis" is barely noticeable, coming in the middle of the exchange.


Sanderson, Lloyd O. "The Lord has been mindful of me: an autobiography." Gospel Advocate 146/9 (September 2004), pp. 26-28. Online at

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