About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.

A Personal Hermeneutic

How you read the Bible matters.

This is what the study of Hermeneutics is all about, the theories of interpretation and application of a text, usually referring to how we approach God’s Word. There’s an excellent article on Theopedia that explains what is meant by hermeneutics: but I’ll give a brief summary here:

A sound Biblical hermeneutic considers the the context of the passage, the genre and literary devices of the passage, and the situation of the author and the intended audience of the passage in order to understand the meaning and application of the text. In other words, a good hermeneutic seeks to draw out the meaning of the text and apply it to our lives today, rather than read our lives today into the text and see how it fits.

Still, having an “originalist hermeneutic,” or an exegetical approach to the Scriptures, does not keep one from also reading with a very personal view. Reading exegetically does not keep me from inserting myself into the story. 

For example, when Paul addresses saints or the Church, I can read that as being addressed to me as well. I may not share in their exact experience, but the word still applies to my life. When the Scriptures describe the struggle of the faithful in this life, I can see comparisons to the struggles that the faithful still face today, and draw from the same well of hope that has comforted God’s people through the generations.

Today, this Personal Hermeneutic hit a little close to home. M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned often in previous blogs, brought me back to Genesis with the start of the New Year, and this morning I came to the reading of Genesis 6. Here we read of the increasing corruption of the human condition, culminating in the damning passage of Genesis 6:5:

“The Lord say that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ESV).

Wow. Such a judgement on the wickedness of the heart of humanity, it was only evil, all the time.  Ever affection, every plan, every thought, every hope of every person was self-centered, self-indulgent, self-promoting, and self-seeking. Nothing was directed toward God. None (except for Noah) sought His ways or sought His face.

It’s easy to see the connection to Paul’s review of the state of humanity in Romans 1:29-32:

“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32 ESV).

And it’s easy to see how this applies to our age today. We look around us and we see this in our culture, in the media and entertainment, and even preached within many churches that have abandoned the gospel in order to gain the praise of the world.

But the point of the personal hermeneutic is how I read myself into this story. Where do I fit? By nature, I’m not Noah, nor one of his children. I’d be one of those scoffers, mocking him for building a boat when there wasn’t any rain. I know my heart, and apart from the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, it’s intentions are always evil all the time. I know that I am, by nature, like those in Romans 1:29-32.

My personal hermeneutic does not allow me to be the hero, the one righteous out of all the others. Instead, it brings me back to the reality of my own heart. I stand, like all the rest of humanity, as a sinner before a righteous and holy God, in desperate need of salvation. This hermeneutic is humbling, crushing…

But this personal hermeneutic is also life-giving. This view allows me to see that when Jesus says He came to save sinners, I know he came for me. I can read myself as Gomer, the bride who has been redeemed, never to stray again; the church purified and adorned, waiting for the day of the Bridegroom’s arrival. I see how Jesus took the flood of God’s wrath reserved for me, so that, because I am in Him by faith, I am safe and secure from all harm.

Every day I read the Bible, I don’t just read of some old story from long ago. I read of the wondrous, ongoing  working of our eternal God in our gracious Savior Jesus Christ. I see how God has worked, and continues to work, to bring about His good will for His own glory and for our benefit. 

I pray you find yourself in God’s word today, too.

A Sussex Carol – On Christmas Night

For this final installment of some of my favorite Christmas Carols, I want to share with you the Sussex Carol, otherwise knowing as “On Christmas Night.”  This isn’t a well-known carol in the U.S., but is among one of the more popular Christmas hymns in England.  

The song was first published in 1684 by an Irish Bishop, Luke Waddinge, in an 11 song collection entitled “A Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs, Composed by a devout Man, For the Solace of his Friends and neighbors in their afflictions” (seriously, I think the title is longer than some of the songs). Since this was long before hymnals were readily available (not to mention streaming music on the internet), it was through little songs books like these that hymns and carols were brought to congregations, giving them resources for worship and a library of music.

It wasn’t until the early 20th Century, though, that the carol became well known. English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was working to preserve and collect English folk songs. In 1904, he was traveling through Sussex County, England, asking people to sings old folk songs for him, which he would then transcribe. A Mrs. Verrall sang the ‘On Christmas Night” song for him, and it since became known as the Sussex Carol.

What I love about this carol is it’s simplicity in style, but richness in content. It is a call and answer carol; where one voice sings, and another voice echoes. The tune has a joyful bounce to it, so you can’t help but smile when you sing it.

And that’s the purpose of the words as well.  This carol doesn’t tell the story of Christ’s birth, nor is it shrouded in the longing and burden of the years of waiting for Christ’s coming. Instead, this carol calls us to sing of the joy of Christ’s coming, the blessing of our salvation, and of God’s grace conquering over all our sins. The carols sings of Christ’s work of redemption, bringing light and grace, and setting us free from our sin.

I pray you’ll enjoy this carol as much as I do. 

I’ve included a link to the King’s College Choir from 2019, and the lyrics are below.

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring
News of great joy, news of great mirth
News of our merciful King’s birth

Then why should men on earth be so sad?
Since our Redeemer made us glad
When from our sin he set us free
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before His grace
Then life and health come in its place
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the newborn King

All out of darkness we have light
Which made the angels sing this night
“Glory to God and peace to men
Now and for evermore, amen!”