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Love Divine

“Love Divine”  Today’s entrance hymn comes from Charles Wesley (1707-1788), the brother of the Methodist reformer John Wesley.  Both John and Charles were born into the Church of England, but only Charles died in it, John having progressively seen himself in opposition to the established Church.  The brothers each had a type of “conversion” experience in which he found his heart “strangely warmed” and when he made an active commitment to Christ.  (Although the writer of music notes must here echo other scholars in noting that, far from being unrepentant heathens before their “conversions,” the brothers were involved heavily in ministry and missions [particularly in Georgia] before their conversion and, whilst it was an important moment for their inner spirituality, there was little noticeable change in the daily lives.  This reinforces the fact that the Holy Spirit worked in them through their baptism even before they felt Him!)  Much like the roughly-contemporaneous German Pietists, John in his preaching and Charles in his over 6,000 hymns sought to “personalize” Christianity and bring God “down” to humanity, rather than to “lift” humanity up to God. 

            To illustrate, consider the opening lines, “Joy of heav’n, to earth come down!  Fix in us Thy humble dwelling, all Thy faithful mercies crown.”  Here is God, in His Incarnation, descending from the cosmic expanse to live within our hearts.  Charles is here concerned with “inward” light and feeling, much as he is in another hymn of his, “Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies” in which he implores, “Daystar, in my heart appear. . . joyless is the day’s return till Thy mercy’s beams I see, till they inward light impart, Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.”  Wesley’s poetry induces us to look inward to the faith that God gives.  This seems rather straightforward to us moderns, but consider the difference between Wesley and Isaac Watts.  In his hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Watts is fond of this idea of “survey”—as though one is surveying a landscape on which the surveyor is only a small portion.  Watts continues, “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small;  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”  To Watts, this “whole realm of nature” represents the magnitude of God.  Not only can we not give to God what is already His—nature—but we are forced to confront our diminutive status within the universe.  This awareness of the cosmic scope of Christianity is what demands “my life, my all.”  Watts starts inward and proceeds outward (and arguably returns inward again.)  But Wesley is always one to remind us that this omnipotent God will “breathe Thy loving Spirit into ev’ry troubled breast.”  (Stanza 2)  The third stanza has Wesley praying that God “return and never. . . Thy temples leave,” the term “temples” being a metaphor for one’s soul. 

            As any great Methodist would, Charles Wesley concludes the hymn with a prayer for sanctification, “Finish then they new creation, pure and spotless let us be.”  We Lutherans often stop at the realization of justification, but Wesley reminds us that the Holy Spirit works in us so that we might be “new creation(s).”  His last lines, “lost in wonder, love, and praise” embody a type of surrender to God which is only possible through God’s initial action, as the glories and splendours of heaven are opened to us and in which our intellects are too limited to comprehend or to respond.  Like Luther, Wesley was not a rationalist—human reason is flawed and subservient to faith, and it is this grand, mysterious, all-encompassing, saving faith which Wesley tries to put forth in all of his hymns, embodying the divine love that not only justified but sanctified humanity.

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness

 

“Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness”  This contemporary hymn text was written by Rusty Edwards (b. 1955), an ELCA pastor and hymn writer whose works appear in 15 hymnals or hymnal supplements.  He has served as churches in Illinois, Nebraska, and Georgia, but most recently accepted a grant for extended study at Oxford University.  This modern text is set to the old American melody, BEACH SPRING. 

            This text is praise-filled, and begins by reflecting the spirit of Luke 4: 18-19 when Jesus himself is reading from the scroll of Isaiah:  “’The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has annointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”  This, then, inspires the first stanza which begins, “Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light;  praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight.”  This imagery of light is strongly scriptural;  we often take for granted Jesus’ words in John 8: 12 when He says that “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  This hymn requires us to “work” for a proper understanding of it in that a prior knowledge of who this “One” is required in order to understand it properly.  Jesus is not mentioned by name in the first stanzas, although these metaphors are strongly present.

            The second stanza alludes to Mark 10: 13, when Jesus requires the disciples not to “hinder the little children.”  This is the “. . .One who bless’d the children with a strong, yet gentle, word.”  The stanza goes on to praise the “One” who “. . . drove out demons. . . who brings cool water to the desert’s burning sand. . .”  The scriptural imagery is strong, yet still somewhat vague. 

            The final stanza begins praising the “Word incarnated, Christ.”  Finally, this “One” is named!  Not only is He named, but the Gospel is clearly presented:  “Christ, who suffered in our place;  Jesus died and rose victorious that we may know God by grace.”  With this “information” now in our mind, the stanza continues, we may “. . . sing for joy and gladness, seeing what our God has done;  let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one.”  The gospel is clearly presented as being the reason why we praise.  We do not express praise and thanks because we feel like it (otherwise, feeling depressed would be a legitimate excuse not to praise God) and we likewise do not express praise and thanks in order for our emotions to feel a certain way.  We might like to feel “uplifted” (whatever that means to you), but we do not worship our emotions.  We worship the historical Christ and God and Holy Spirit whose deeds are accomplished throughout history and recorded in Scripture, and whose salvation is offered today as well.  This hymn recounts many of Christ’s deeds and His character and links these to the reason for giving praise.  A Christian does not worship his or her emotions—one who comes to church expecting/hoping to feel a certain way will either 1) always be disappointed or 2) will leave that church and find one that “worships” human emotions rather than God.  We always express our praise with emotion and deep meaning, but we do so, as in the final stanza of this hymn, with a knowledge of Whom we worship and for what reason we worship Him.

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

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