Monday, July 9, 2007

“The Holy One”

(with apologies to P. Earnhart)

Thirty times, the prophet Isaiah refers to God as “the Holy One”. The word “holy” is often used to imply purity and righteousness, but at its root, the meaning is “to be set apart”. Therefore, when using this term to describe God, it is referring to the quality of His uniqueness. It refers to the fact that He is above and beyond all else, transcendent and incomparable! It is no wonder that Isaiah twice asks the question, “To whom will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?” (Isaiah 40:18, 25). It is an unanswerable question!

“Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises…” sang the children of Israel when delivered at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:11). What is God like? He is like nothing that we have ever known. “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Notice the rebuke in Psalm 50:21: “You thought I was altogether like you”. He is not like us. He is holy!

Isaiah 40 reveals several ways in which God is seen to be holy.

God is holy in His creation. He holds the oceans in His palm and measures the span of the universe with His hand. That is an overwhelming thought when one merely considers our own milky way. When one realizes there are millions of such galaxies in the universe and that it would take a billion years to cross the universe traveling at the speed of light, it is incomprehensible! The power of God in creation is beyond words to describe it. However, the wisdom God displayed in creation is just as amazing. The magnitude, order and intricate detail of the universe is staggering.

Isaiah 40:13-14
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

Romans 11:33-35
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?

Who can create like Jehovah? No one!

God is also holy in His rule over creation. All the nations combined is to Him as “a drop in the bucket”, as “less than nothing and worthless” (40:15-17). And all men are to him as “grasshoppers” (40:22); they are as withering grass before His breath (vv. 6-8) and their gods are pathetic (vv. 18-20). Before this great God all mountains will be cut down and all valleys elevated (v. 4). There is nothing that can withstand Him.

Who can rule the nations like Jehovah? No one!

God is holy in righteousness. He is absolutely pure. “But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the God the holy one is sanctified in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16). The very concept of righteousness comes from Him (Psalm 119:142, 172). And out of His absolute justice judgment upon unrighteousness burns like a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29)

Who is righteous like Jehovah? No one!

There is a hymn by John Needham (c. 1786) that discusses all this and points out yet another way in which God is seen to be holy. The first three verses discuss His wisdom, knowledge, and power as seen in creation.

Awake, my tongue, thy tribute bring
To Him Who gave Thee power to sing;
Praise Him Who is all praise above,
The source of wisdom and of love.

How vast His knowledge, how profound!

A deep where all our thoughts are drowned;
The stars He numbers, and their names
He gives to all those heavenly flames.

Through each bright world above, behold

Ten thousand thousand charms unfold;
Earth, air, and mighty seas combine
To speak His wisdom all divine.

Do you want to see God’s wisdom and power? Just look at creation. There is evidence of immense power and wisdom all around us so that truly, “they are without excuse” who deny God and refuse to obey, Rom 1:18-21. So yes, God is holy in power, knowledge and wisdom. But this is prologue. The writer of this hymn is just setting you up for his real point in the fourth verse. Do you want to see even greater wisdom and greater power?

But in redemption, O what grace!
Its wonders, O what thought can trace!
Here, wisdom shines forever bright;
Praise Him, my soul, with sweet delight.

Who can forgive like Jehovah? No one!

God is holy in His grace and mercy. One wonders who could possibly stand before such power and righteousness. The answer is astounding: “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place with him who has a contrite and humble spirit…” (Isaiah 57:15). God’s holiness is redemptive. Those He declares “laden with iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4) are invited to “Come… and let us reason together… Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:18).

Whoever could have imagined a God like this? He is holy indeed. He is incomparable.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Music and Education

This is a very nice essay entitled The Politics of Music and Education. I appreciate the historical approach which is vital to understanding the importance of this issue. Makes me wish I could have taken a few days off just to drive up and listen to the entire lecture.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Revision 3

I know I promised not to torture anybody with this anymore, but I haven’t been able to put it down.

O faithful Christians far and wide
Let Joy burst forth and sing
For there is at the Father’s side
A Prophet, Priest and King!

Sing of the Prophet of the Lord
Whose word is just and pure,
Who calls to men of all the world,
“Believe, obey, endure!”

Now in the Holy Place He stands,
The Lamb of God, The Christ!
From us, His perfect blood demands
A perfect sacrifice.

Then to our Ruler, Monarch, King
The Victor of us all
Let ev’ry heart high honor bring,
And low before Him fall.

This may not be Shakespeare, but it is better. Joy is personified in verse one and we end up with stronger verbs (burst and sing). Also, in verse 1 Christ "is" at the Father's side instead of the past tense "sent". That is probably better theologically since He is currently seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” as Hebrews says.

Verse two starts with "sing" instead of the more pedestrian "He is".

The third verse uses the repetition of “perfect” to emphasize the magnitude of the sacrifice required. It is not perfect in the same sense that Christ's sacrifice was perfect, but perfect as in complete, or total. As Jesus said “deny self, take up your cross and follow Me.” You don't hang onto any past sins. It is also a reference to Old Testament sacrifice where the meaning includes the thought “without blemish”.

The phrase "Victor of us all" needs to stay. We are conquered! It should make you think of passages like Eph 4:8, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

Now, that is about as far as I believe I can go. Some have asked about writing hymns and I hope this illustrates the process just a bit. Although some like Wesley could pop out reams of verse without breaking a sweat, for most it takes hard work, study, meditation and prayer. It makes you appreciate the beauty of the Psalms in a whole new way!

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Christian Culture?

Saw this from John Derbyshire…

I am at the point with this business about the British hostages where I really can't trust myself to post any more, I'm so mad. Toby Harnden indeed says much of what needs saying, but I think he is too kind to the enlisted men. They are saps and worms, insults to the Queen's uniform. I'd better change track right here—see what I mean?

I've told this story before, so I hope I'll be forgiven for telling it again. My Mum, Esther Alice Knowles (1912-98), eleventh child of a pick'n'shovel coal miner, in one of the last conversations I had with her, said: "I know I'm dying, but I don't mind. At least I knew England when she was England."

It's all gone now, "dead as mutton," as English people used to say. Now there is nothing there but a flock of whimpering Eloi, giggling over their gadgets, whining for their handouts, crying for their Mummies, playing at soldiering for reasons they can no longer understand, from lingering habit. Lower the corpse down slowly, shovel in the earth. England is dead.

I must admit being a little embarrassed for those sailors when I saw some of their quotes. Whatever happened to the British “stiff upper lip”?

If I am every imprisoned or tortured for my faith, I pray I will have to courage to look death in the face and sing,

O, for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by every foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe!

That will not murmur nor complain

Beneath the chastening rod,
But, in the hour of grief or pain,
Will lean upon its God.

A faith that shines more bright and clear

When tempests rage without;
That when in danger knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.

Lord, give me such a faith as this,

And then, whate’er may come,
I’ll taste, e’en here, the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.

Or this…

The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood red banner streams afar:
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain,
Who patient bears his cross below,
He follows in His train.

That martyr first, whose eagle eye
Could pierce beyond the grave;
Who saw his Master in the sky,
And called on Him to save.
Like Him, with pardon on His tongue,
In midst of mortal pain,
He prayed for them that did the wrong:
Who follows in His train?

A glorious band, the chosen few
On whom the Spirit came;
Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
And mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,
The lion’s gory mane;
They bowed their heads the death to feel:
Who follows in their train?

A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of Heav’n,
Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given,
To follow in their train.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Interesting editorial

Interesting editorial from Vox Day with a paragraph appropriate to past discussions of hymns.

Nothing New...

Well, I was wrong. Finding an original thought in scripture for subject matter in hymn writing is difficult if not impossible. After 2000 years of hymns perhaps everything has been touched on in some way. The best one can hope is to find a way of expressing a thought in a new way.

The thought that Christ’s sacrifice demands a sacrifice of us is not new in hymnody. Watts has already written about the sacrifice of Christ and points out in When I Survey The Wondrous Cross…

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of that earlier. There are plenty of other examples too.

O well… back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Revision 2

This is the last revision I will torture you with. It likely needs a complete re-write or perhaps discarded as a mere exercise and nothing more. My purpose in posting the piece was not to convince anybody that I was a good poet (trust me), but to illustrate the point that you don’t just throw a few religious sounding phrases together in 15 minutes and call it a hymn. It takes hard work. But it is always an enjoyable process, even when it doesn’t turn out to be the next “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.
First of all, the last line needed something more solid to build up to the point that the worshiper would fall on his face before the throne of God. Many excellent hymns have used the imagery in the book of Revelation to good effect.
“Casting down their golden crowns
Around the glassy sea,”

It is imagery that never grows old or stale. Only a badly written hymn can make the biblical imagery of heaven look silly. A 30 second review of Rodeheaver’s Gospel Solos and Duets turns up jewels such as these.
I am coming near the city
My Savior’s hands have piled,
And I know my Father is waiting
To welcome home His child
For unworthy tho’ I be,
He will find a place for me,
For He is the King of Glory
The Man of Galilee!

Or this one…
There’s a place for my soul that He doth prepare,
And its beauty by faith I can view;
First of all, when I enter that mansion fair,
I want to see Jesus, don’t you? (don’t you?)

Ouch! That is not a song for singing, it is a song for laying down and avoiding.

So, to fix our last verse I tried something like this…
Now to our Maker, Monarch, King!
The Savior of us all,
Let ev’ry heart high honor bring,
And low before Him fall.

However, as one friend kindly pointed out, “you can’t do that”. It destroys the whole point of the “King” verse. There has to be the thought of victory or conquering somewhere in the verse. We still want to emphasize the idea of a sovereign King, so this came up next.

Then to our Ruler, Monarch, King
The Victor of us all
Let ev’ry heart high honor bring,
And low before Him fall.

You loose a bit of alliteration, but you keep a strong noun parallel that elevates the victorious King to a position high above His subjects who are bowing low before Him.

Now I’ll have to put that on the shelf for a few weeks or months and then come back to it. At that point, perhaps I will find it worth working on again, or perhaps not.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Revision 1

O faithful Christians far and wide
A hymn of gladness sing;
Behold, sent from His Father’s side,
A Prophet, Priest, and King!

He is the Prophet of the Lord,
Whose word is just and pure,
Who calls to men of all the world,
“Believe, obey, endure!”

Now in the Holy Place He stands,
The Lamb of God, The Christ!
From us, His perfect blood demands
A perfect sacrifice.

A Prophet, Priest, our mighty King
Victorious over all;
Let ev’ry heart high honor bring,
And low before Him fall.

The problems (in my mind) that exist with this version are...

1) too many rhymes of ring/bring/sing/King. They are fine rhymes in and of themselves, but have been used to the point of being over-used. They run the risk of being cliche. (I try to avoid cliches like the plague!) You may think of some rhymes as "scriptural rhymes" e.g. is there anything else that rhymes with "love" except "heaven above"? Whew... if that comes up, you still have work to do!

2) the slant rhyme of Christ/sacrifice is still there. But so is Lord/world.

3) some will certainly object to the use of "men" in verse 2, line 3 as not quite politically correct. I don't have a problem with it, since the convention has always been there to speak of mankind in that way, and that includes women!

The good points are...

1) I can't think of a hymn that makes the point that Christ's sacrifice demands a sacrifice of our self, at least not in this way. There are so many good hymns already in print that it is hard to think of an original thought or find a new way to make an old point. It is harder still to write something that will stand beside the great hymns and stand the test of time. Very hard indeed.

2) the contrast in the last verse between "high honor" and falling "low". We may only lift praise and honor to the Lord when we have sufficiently lowered ourselves.

3) Christ is describes as our High Priest, but not by using those words. It is implied since He is standing in the Holy Place and only the High Priest could do that under the law of Moses. In this case, we are referencing the book of Hebrews to know that the real Holy Place is in heaven itself and Christ is there as our High Priest.

So, the minor tweaks are done. If this is still not up to the high standards of a hymn, then I think it will need a complete re-write.

One last concern... as Reeves noted in his book "The Hymn As Literature" a good hymn is marked by "strong feeling under firm control". Does this hymn have strong feeling in it? Most people have heard sermons that were correct in every respect but had no passion in their delivery, and there are plenty of published hymns that lacked feeling. Nearly all of them have faded into obscurity. A hymn without passion is DOA.