Hymn of the Month #2, April 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the many hymns of Charles Wesley. Born in England in 1707—the youngest in a family of 18 children—Charles Wesley stands out as one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time.
Together with his brother John, Charles Wesley is also remembered for his founding role in the Methodist movement. He and John were first called “methodists” during their time at Oxford University. They and some classmates had formed what they called the “Holy Club," and in time were labeled “methodists” by other students on account of their disciplined and detailed method of Bible study and life more broadly. Though meant as an insult, Charles, John, and the rest accepted the name as a badge of honor, a badge that many of them would continue to wear for the rest of their lives.
After graduation Charles followed his father and brother John into ordained ministry in the Church of England. Soon thereafter he set sail with John to the American colonies, where both of them experienced heartbreaking rejection, including being shot at. This rejection gave birth to deep soul-searching which eventually led to the aching feeling that they needed to be converted. As John famously wrote, "I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?" That period of soul-searching came to an end in 1738. On May 21, after months of praying, waiting, and laboring--most recently by reading Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians and wrestling with Galatians’ message of justification by faith in Jesus Christ--Charles joyfully recorded in his diary, "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ."
Three days later his brother John had a similar experience during a meeting where someone was reading the preface to Luther’s commentary on Romans. As he wrote in his diary, “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Those conversion experiences gave Charles and John renewed strength for ministry and a desire to preach justification by faith in Jesus Christ and the new life in him. One way Charles did that was through hymns. By one count Charles wrote nearly 9,000 hymns in his lifetime, a number of which are sung yet today, including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”, and “Rejoice! The Lord Is King!” These hymns played a significant role in the spread of Methodism and continue to encourage believers to the present day.
The composer of the tune used is unknown. Originally published in a collection titled Lyra Davidica in 1739, it was later paired with these words by Charles Wesley and continues to be the tune most often used.
From its title to its closing words, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” focuses unmistakably on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymn leads us in rejoicing in this pivotal event in the history of redemption and praising the one at the center of it: our Lord and Savior who died on the cross but rose from the dead, never to die again.
"Christ the Lord is ris'n today," Alleluia!
sons of men and angels say; Alleluia!
raise your joys and triumphs high; Alleluia!
Sing ye heav'ns, and earth, reply. Alleluia!
In Mark 16 we read that early on the first day of the week, a handful of women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices. Much to their surprise, however, they met an angel there! The angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” We begin our hymn with an echo of the angel’s words to the women, together with the praise that followed. Alleluia! Praise God!
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Alleluia!
Christ has burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
death in vain forbids his rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise. Alleluia!
Matthew 27:60-66 tells us that not only was Jesus laid in a new tomb with a great stone at the entrance, but that the chief priests and the Pharisees also convinced Pilate to post guards at the tomb and seal the stone “lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Those precautions proved in vain when the first day of the week arrived. In vain also was the power of death to hold him. As Peter proclaimed on Pentecost, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” All this is good news for those who trust in him--Christ has burst the gates of hell and opened paradise! Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia!
where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died, our souls to save; Alleluia!
where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
As our song continues, we rejoice in the resurrected life of our King, singing Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has no victory, because our glorious King is alive, never to die again. Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
foll'wing our exalted Head; Alleluia!
made like him, like him we rise: Alleluia!
ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!
1 Corinthians 15:22 declares, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” We live in a world corrupted by sin—indeed, we by nature are corrupted by sin throughout our being—but we live in Christ, and will into eternity! Alleluia!
Hail, the Lord of earth and heav'n! Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be giv'n; Alleluia!
thee we greet triumphant now; Alleluia!
hail, the Resurrection, thou! Alleluia!
Jesus Christ is Lord, and we profess that to him in this final verse. Calling him the Resurrection, as he referred to himself in John 11:25, we acknowledge that he is Lord of earth and heav’n, and so he is.
Is that evident in your heart and life? He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord—how will you honor and follow him here and now?
Hymn of the Month #1, April 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
“Not All the Blood of Beasts” is one of the lesser-known hymns of one of the best-known hymnwriters of all time, Isaac Watts.
Born in England in 1674, Watts had a way with words already as a child. In time he began writing hymns for worship. According to one account, he had repeatedly lamented to his father the poor quality of many of the hymns they sang in worship. One day his father finally challenged him to write something better, so he did. The next Sunday the twenty-year-old Watts brought his first hymn for use in worship, a hymn titled “Behold the Glories of the Lamb.” It received an enthusiastic response, as would many of his future compositions. From then until his death in 1748 he would publish some 750 hymns, including “Joy to the World,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and “Jesus Shall Reign.” Some of these hymns were written to be sung after the sermons he preached after becoming a minister, which may well have been the case with “Not All the Blood of Beasts”.
Various tunes have been paired with this hymn. This particular tune was composed by the American organist and composer William H. Walter (1825-1893).
Not all the blood of beasts
on Jewish altars slain,
could give the guilty conscience peace,
or wash away the stain:…
“Not All the Blood of Beasts” is a hymn of praise to Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The hymn begins with a look back to Old Testament times, when beast after beast was slain to atone for sin. Lambs, rams, bulls, heifers, goats, doves, and pigeons were killed and offered as sacrifices according to God’s command. Yet, as God made plain later in Hebrews 10:4, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” All those beasts pointed ahead to a greater offering, the Lamb of God whom we sing about in the remainder of this sentence, as it continues in the next verse.
…But Christ, the heav'nly Lamb,
takes all our sins away,
a sacrifice of nobler name
and richer blood than they.
As John the Baptist testified in the verse quoted above, Jesus is the Lamb of God,
the heav’nly Lamb, who takes all our sins away. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).
My faith would lay her hand
on that dear head of thine,
while like a penitent I stand,
and there confess my sin.
This verse leads us in calling upon the heavenly Lamb we sung of in the previous verse and expressing our confidence in him alone. The image here comes from God’s instructions concerning sacrifices for sin during Old Testament times. In Leviticus 1 God commanded his people to bring offerings of livestock from the herd or from the flock. When one of them brought such an offering, “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev 1:4). Fast forward to the present day, and we do the same, except by faith. By faith we lay our hand on the head of Jesus, the Lamb of God. By doing so we confess our sin and quietly but gratefully rest in the substitute God gave us.
Is that true of you? Have you lain your hand on the head of the Lamb of God? Do you? Will you?
My soul looks back to see
the burdens thou didst bear,
when hanging on the cursed tree,
and knows her guilt was there.
This verse leads us to expand upon what Jesus did as the Lamb of God by paraphrasing and making personal the testimony of passages such as Galatians 3:13. There we read that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Jesus hung on the cursed tree to bear the guilt of each of his people.
Believing, we rejoice
to see the curse remove;
we bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
and sing his bleeding love.
Following closely on the heels of what we sang in verse 4, we conclude in this final verse with joy and praise. With the throne of Revelation 5 we bless the Lamb with cheerful voice, singing his bleeding love: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”