Son of God, Eternal Saviour
“Son of God, Eternal Savior.” Imagine yourself living in the late 1800’s—there is great prosperity in the United States and in Europe, technological innovation and sophistication is increasing at a rate previously unknown; it was only a generation before that the telephone and lightbulb were unknown. This is a time of great optimism—the 1890’s themselves have been described as the “Gay ‘90s.” This optimism influenced the churches and theology of the time, resulting in what is known as the “Social Gospel Movement.” This movement is based upon the idea that Christians are capable of achieving perfection and of establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth through their service to the poor and oppressed and to one another. Missionary endeavors throughout the world were begun (the YMCA and YWCA originate at this time) and it is thought that, once the whole world is converted to Christianity, God’s peace will flourish.
The British writer of this hymn, Somerset Lowry (1855-1932), was influenced by this world view which can be seen in the only hymn for which he is known. The omitted stanza which we do not sing today probably demonstrates best his theology:
Dark the path that lies behind us,
Strewn with wrecks and stained with blood.
But before us gleams the vision
Of the coming brotherhood.
See the Christlike host advancing,
High and lowly, great and small,
Linked in bonds of common service
For the common Lord of all.
How optimistic! The stanzas we do sing today stress that “As You, Lord, have lived for others, so may we for others live. . . freely may Your servants give.” The fourth stanza implies how unity will be achieved: “By Your praying, by Your willing that Your people should be one. Grant, oh, grant, our hope’s fruition: Here on earth Your will be done.” This text encourages our service toward others here and now and encourages us not to get distracted from this missionary endeavor.
Our 21st century world does not view itself so optimistically as did the world of the writer. The past century saw two world wars and the rise of weapons of mass destruction which perhaps forced the world to see itself less innocently. We have endured a bitter election with political misadventures abounding. Is the future bright? On earth, probably not. In eternity, certainly so. As we know from Romans 8: 38, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Kingdom of the World may be corrupt by sin, but our hope is not in the world, but in Christ, for in the end, in the words of St John in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”