Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

by W. Chalmers Smith 1824-1908

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/dkoAfLpBBfU

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart

Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Within the first two phrases of the opening stanza Smith pulls together two very distant Biblical texts. The first line references 1 Timothy 1:17.

17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The second line has several possible origins. I think the one which fits best is Exodus 34:29-35

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Moses wore the veil to hide the affect of seeing God from the Israelites. It is said that no one can see God and live.

The idea of light permeates the entire hymn in some rather unusual contexts.

A light which is inaccessible, yet contains the very essence of God, the wise, blessed, glorious, almighty, and victorious. This silent light gives life to all and is the source of goodness and justice.

The last verses in the fourth and fifth stanzas form a closing prayer.

Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

and

And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Taking the veil from our faces and the vile from our hearts allows the glory of the Almighty, the Christ and his story into our hearts.

W. Chalmers Smith was a pastor of the Free Church of Scotland and a poet.



Alas! And Did my Savior Bleed

by Isaac Watts, (1674-1748)

Usually sung to the tune “Martydom” by Hugh Wilson (1764-1824)

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/pOwkhlqehgw

  1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,

and did my Sovereign die!

Would he devote that sacred head

for sinners such as I?

  1. Was it for crimes that I have done,

he groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! Grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!

  1. Well might the sun in darkness hide,

and shut its glories in,

when God, the mighty maker, died

for his own creature’s sin.

  1. Thus might I hide my blushing face

while his dear cross appears;

dissolve my heart in thankfulness,

and melt mine eyes to tears.

  1. But drops of tears can ne’er repay

the debt of love I owe.

Here, Lord, I give myself away;

’tis all that I can do.

Isaac Watts was one of the most prolific English hymn writers with over 750 hymns to his credit and many are still used today. Watts was raised in what was known at the time as a “non-conformist” home. The life threatening aspects of the reformation had largely passed by Watts’ lifetime, however, there was still a considerable amount of social ostracization towards those who did not conform to the official religious prescripts as ordained by the Anglican Church. His father, also named Isaac Watts was incarcerated twice, including the time of Isaac’s birth. Watts attended the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington beginning in 1690 for his university training instead of Oxford or Cambridge. The later would have put him under the authority of the Church of England.

Watts was a brilliant linguist learning Latin at 4, Greek at 9, French at 11, and Hebrew at 13. In his mid-twenties he became the pastor at Mark Lane Independent Church in London. He began to suffer from several periods of illness, which over time led him to relinquish his duties. However, he continued to write hymns, several books about history and faith, and even an introductory book on logic which went to 20 editions. He was a small man with an over sized head and has been described by his contemporaries as “ugly”. His one known marriage proposal was rejected.

One of the more controversial aspects of Watts hymns was his rewriting of the psalms to reflect how he imagined David would have written them if he had lived in 17th century London. Watts wanted to imbue his texts with an immediacy and expressiveness not available in the stilted, unrhymed, unmetered Psalms.

Within the very first stanza of Alas! and Did my Savior Bleed we see the clarity of Watts’ anguish. His Savior had bled and died for such a horrible sinner as himself. Was it his very own sins which put him on the cross? The amazing grace and love, beyond degree which led to such a sacrifice that even the sun hid its face when the Maker died for the Made’s sin. How shameful, I too must hide my face when I see the cross as my heart breaks in thankfulness and I cry tears of grief. But even these tears cannot begin to repay my debt of love so all I can do is: give myself away.

The penitent heart can do nothing else.



Why Do We Sing?

Romans 8:26 (KJV revised by ANR)

Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Music is the closest we can come to the groanings of Holy Spirit.

“Through the Night of Doubt and Sorrow”
by Bernhardt S. Ingemann, 1789-1862
Translated by Sabine BaringGould, 1834-1924

  1. Through the night of doubt and sorrow
    Onward goes the pilgrim band,
    Singing songs of expectation,
    Marching to the Promised Land.
    Clear before us, through the darkness,
    Gleams and burns the guiding light.
    Brother clasps the hand of brother,
    Stepping fearless through the night.

  2. One the light of God’s own presence,
    O’er His ransomed people shed,
    Chasing far the gloom and terror,
    Brightening all the path we tread;
    One the object of our journey,
    One the faith which never tires.
    One the earnest looking forward,
    One the hope our God inspires.

  3. One the strain the lips of thousands
    Lift as from the heart of one;
    One the conflict, one the peril,
    One their march in God begun;
    One the gladness of rejoicing
    On the far eternal shore,
    Where the one almighty Father
    Reigns in love forevermore.

  4. Onward, therefore, pilgrim brothers!
    Onward, with the cross our aid!
    Bear its shame and fight its battle
    Till we rest beneath its shade.
    Soon shall come the great awaking,
    Soon the rending of the tomb,
    Then the scattering of all shadows,
    And the end of toil and gloom.

Commonly sung to the tune: Ebenezer (remember last month’s article?).

There is but one reason to sing and that is to worship and there are three primary types of songs we sing. We sing to praise, we sing to proclaim, and we sing to pray. This is a hymn of proclamation usually sung during Lent.

The most important part of a hymn, (it is the very definition of a hymn) is the text. The most important aspect to the text is that it faithfully declares the Glory of God. Every aspect of the text must speak to the Biblical truth clearly, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a song for some other purpose. I have heard some songs in church where any reference to God was purely inferred and these songs could just have easily been about some lost lover.

This hymn of proclamation describes the pilgrim’s journey which begins in darkness surrounded by doubt and sorrow. In the second stanza we find a great example of how hymns can teach and reinforce Biblical truths. The idea of God ransoming his people starts early in the Old Testament and finds its culmination at the foot of the cross. The fourth stanza makes a clear statement of the importance of cross and the empty tomb.

One of the most radical transformations which the reformers Luther, Knox, and Calvin wrought was the incorporation of congregational singing. At the time of the reformation worship was done in Latin, a language which had effectively been dead for nearly 1000 years, which all but the most educated had no understanding. The music was performed by professional musicians and choirs. The congregation simply stood there for hours and watched the actions of others.

Moving worship to the vernacular and even letting the congregation sing spiritual poems set to simple tunes was such a profound change we have difficulty understanding it today. The fathers of the reformation and many since have left us thousands of hymns of praise, proclamation, and prayer.

Every Sunday your pastoral and musical staff endeavor to bring music which clearly and unabashedly proclaims God’s truth.

I would challenge you to read the text of each hymn and song we sing and consider the Biblical truths present and even more importantly, dialogue with the text. Consider the implication for your life in the truths proclaimed.



Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers

Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers (Llangloffan)

Text by: Laurentius Laurenti 1700
Translated by: Sarah B Findlater 1854
Tune: Llangloffan, a Welsh hymn melody

Here is one of four tunes I have recorded for this text:
https://youtu.be/x5FlK-CtGsY

Rejoice, rejoice, believers, And let your lights appear;
The evening is advancing, And darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising And soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle; At midnight comes the cry.

The watchers on the mountain Proclaim the bridegroom near;
Go forth as He approaches With alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting; The gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory; The bridegroom is at hand.

The saints, who here in patience Their cross and sufferings bore,
Shall live and reign forever When sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory The Lamb they shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him Their diadems of gold.

Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for, Over this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, We plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption That sets Your people free!

Allusions to Biblical text abound here! Most hymn books place this hymn within the Advent section. While the advent of something is surely present, it just isn’t the usual sense of Advent we have. The allusions are more appropriate to Revelations than the synoptic Gospels.

A great celebration is here as we await the arrival of the bridegroom and the watchers proclaim he is drawing near. The marriage between the bride (the church) and the bridegroom is at hand.

With the third stanza we have the second Advent for it is now after the saints have born their cross and sufferings shall they live with no more sorrow in the presence of the Lamb of God. This imagery of the Lamb and Bride of Christ can be found in Revelations chapters 19 and 20.

The final stanza calls for the redemption which will set the bridegroom’s people free from this benighted sphere.

Within the celebration of the Advent season sits the anticipation of the second coming of Christ. He came once to save and redeem, and he has promised to come again?

The author is a man who took the name Laurentius Laurenti (1660-1722). He spent most of his life in northern Germany. Laurenti was born: Lorenz Lorenzen but after a year studing music at the university of Rostock he adopted the latinized version of his name, a common practice at the time. In 1684 he became the music director at the Bremen Cathedral and wrote several dozen hymns.

The text was translated by Sarah B. Findlater (1823-1907). She was the wife of a pastor in Lochearnhead, Scotland, which then, as now, is nothing more than a wide spot in the road. Sarah wrote and translated (mostly from German) dozens of hymns throughout her life.

Andrew Remillard



What is an Ebenezer and Why on Earth Would I Want to Raise It?

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (Nettleton)

Text by Robert Robinson 1758
Tune: Nettleton by John Wyeth 1813

Here is a recording I did of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

https://youtu.be/h69_DRq-MFA

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
1. Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

  1. Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
    hither by thy help I’m come;
    and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
    safely to arrive at home.
    Jesus sought me when a stranger,
    wandering from the fold of God;
    he, to rescue me from danger,
    interposed his precious blood.

  2. O to grace how great a debtor
    daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
    bind my wandering heart to thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    seal it for thy courts above.
    Robert Robinson 1787


As a student of history, I frequently read texts that are several centuries old. Two things often stand out, one is the very poetic and descriptive language used and the presence of archaic words and structures.

Most of our hymns have a two part history. The first is the poetry and the second is the tune and its harmonization. Sometimes we become so accustomed to singing a tune with a poem we never take a close look at the text. So we sing heartily about raising our Ebenezer and never stop to wonder: “What did I just do? Was it polite to do in mixed company?” And in our ignorance we miss the great theological truths of which we sing.

The first stanza speaks to the immeasurable mercies and grace which come from the mount of God’s unchanging love. And as only a poet can do, this mount of God’s unchanging love pivots into the opening phrase of the second verse.
In I Samuel 7:12 it says: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer; saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.””

The Ark of the Covenant had just been returned to the Israelites by the Philistines after they had captured it in battle. The Israelites were struggling with their faithfulness to the one true God. After the Ark had been returned and their enemies vanquished, Samuel took a large stone and set it up between the cities of Mizpah and Shen to mark the help the Israelites had received from God. It became both a monument and a reminder of God’s faithfulness. So when we raise our Ebenezer we are placing a public monument, acknowledging God’s faithfulness to us.

So raising your Ebenezer is a very big deal and most certainly should be done in mixed company. It also speaks to the question: If you were arrested for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Have you raised an Ebenezer to God’s faithfulness?

Throughout the Old Testament, we read of monuments and alters being built in acknowledgement of Israel’s covenanting with and dependence upon God. Mr. Robert Robinson, back in 1787 reminds us today of the importance of publicly acknowledging our faith and covenant with God.

In the third verse, Robinson writes of his innate inability to remain faithful and his complete dependence upon God to hold himself bound to God. So this public Ebenezer is one more reminder for our ever failing and wandering heart to remember and bind ourselves to God’s everlasting love which he showed in its greatest splendor in the sacrificial love of the cross.

 

<script async src=”//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js”></script>
<!– Andrew Remillard –>
<ins class=”adsbygoogle”
style=”display:block”
data-ad-client=”ca-pub-3258422581548247″
data-ad-slot=”7135165219″
data-ad-format=”auto”></ins>
<script>
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
</script>

,

Thoughts from Behind the Keyboard #1

Earlier this year, just before Easter, I effectively lost the use of my left hand due to arthritis. I had surgery to restore some functionality and while the surgery went fine, the infection which followed was devastating. When I was admitted to the hospital I feared that anything which hurt this much could not stay attached to my body. But through the grace of modern medicine, the skill and patience of my doctors and nurses, the love of my wife Diane, and the many prayers from my fellow Christians I survived and have been able to return to my seat behind the keyboard.

Throughout this episode I had the time to reflect on a number of questions. Before I knew for sure that my hand would work well enough to play again I considered why was it so important for me to play again?
In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the parable of the master who gives his three servants various amounts of talents to manage in his absence. I had always assumed that my “talent” had been the ability to play and share my skill with others. For me to play is an act of worship. All of the many hours of preparation leading up to the first notes of the Prelude are an act of sacrifice and worship. Every day of the week I would rise and plan my day around the my preparation for each Sunday. And now I feared that this would soon end.

God and I had already faced the greatest test when my son Kurt died and I knew he was always faithful. So as I laid in the hospital and then spent weeks in occupational therapy I came to realize that my ability and opportunity to worship God extends to everything I do, not just my piano playing. How I treat my neighbor and how I encourage my brothers and sisters every day is an act of worship. The patience you show a restless child is an act of worship and the patience you show the careless driver is also an act of worship. The daily practice of life provides opportunities to worship our God. We don’t do this to “feel good” or for any other purpose. Worship is an expression than God is altogether worthy of worship and is deserving of our faithful worship for no other reason.

So Sunday morning as we gather together to worship corporately, when you first hear the piano or the band begin to play please join us for we are here to worship, we are here to bow down, and we are here to say that you’re our God.