Thursday, June 25, 2015

Defiant Hymns

The hymns of the Christian Church come from all levels of the emotions.  I suppose that most people gravitate to the happy, up-beat songs since they are, well, happy and up-beat.  These are often praise songs or may be the jubilant hymns of Christmas and Easter.  While such hymns are fun to sing, they don't capture the full range of emotions or difficulties that Christians face.

This particular entry would have you consider what I think of as "Defiant Hymns."  These are the kinds of hymns that are sung like a fight song or even angrily.  They express the Christian faith in terms of a confidence that defies everything we experience.  They spring out of such circumstances as grief over a loved one's death, personal tragedy, great temptation, or despair.

Paul Gerhardt (March 12, 1607 - May 27, 1676) was exceptional at writing these.  They came out of all the pains and sorrows he endured in his life--and they were a lot!  A short biography can be found here.

Normally, hymns written in the first person are flawed.  They are written by an individual who seems to sing about "What Jesus means to me," which usually does not speak for everyone.  In some places, they are practically loves songs to Jesus.  If you can replace every "Jesus" with "baby" and sing that song to your boyfriend/girlfriend, that song is not a Christian hymn; it is a love song.  Men, in particular, have a hard time singing a song to Jesus that they could just as easily sing to their wife.  And if a hymn cannot be the confession of every Christian, it is badly flawed.  Christian truth is true for every Christian.

Consider, however, how well Gerhardt expresses the Christian faith.  And consider how Gerhardt's confession, though personal, is true for every person who would sing it.

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
   Christ is near     With his cheer;
Never will he leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
   That God's Son     For me won
When his life was given?

When life's troubles rise to meet me,
   Though their weight     May be great,
They will not defeat me.
God, my loving Savior, sees them;
   He who knows     All my woes
Knows how best to end them.

God gives me my days of gladness,
   And I will     Trust him still
When he sends me sadness.
God is good; his love attends me
   Day by day,     Come what may,
Guides me and defends me.

Since I know God never fails me,
   In his voice     I'll rejoice
When grim death assails me.
Trusting in my Savior's merit,
   Safe at last,     Troubles past,
I shall heav'n inherit.

Gerhardt does not sugar coat the realities that life is full of difficulties and grief.  Our refuge in these painful days is not to paste on a happy face and pretend all is well.  Our refuge, confidence, and joy in the midst of earth's sorrows is that God has extended promises to us that earth cannot destroy or diminish.  So, we sing defiantly, "Why should cross and trial grieve me?" (Christian Worship, 428)

Another hymn worthy of more attention and familiarity is "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It." (Christian Worship Supplement, 737)  Again, this is a hymn that is best sung with a defiant attitude.

God's own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ.
   He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth's treasures many?  I have one worth more than any
   That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ.
   I have comfort even stronger; Jesus' cleaning sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me Since my baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood, Sprinkling me with Jesus' blood?

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ.
   Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I've traveled, All your might has come unraveled,
   And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ.
   When I die, I leave all sadness, To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes Faith's assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine To make life immortal mine.

There is nothing worth comparing To this lifelong comfort sure!
   Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I'll rest secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising:
   I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise!

Imagine having this hymn sung at your funeral.  It makes an outstanding confession and trumps any eulogy out there because it is based on divine promises, not personal opinions or feelings.  (Note: You can be fond of any loved one who has died.  But no one is saved by our fondness, only by Jesus' promises.)  With this hymn, we defy sin, Satan, and death.  They have no power against us because our baptism has united us to Jesus.  Rather than fear our enemies, we sing of our victory over them!  In fact, we defy them because they cannot harm us.

Defiant hymns provide great comfort to us--not because we are so strong to overcome, but because Jesus has.  That is the Christian truth.  It is true for all Christians at all times.  And that is what makes such hymns so good.

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