Do You Know What You’re Singing?

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been writing here about some of my favorite, though somewhat obscure, Christmas Carols. I’ve made no bones about it, I love Christmas music. Not the materialistic, plastic-pop music that’s all about Santa and reindeer and snow (though I must confess that “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” does hold a dear place in my heart), but the good old Christmas carols and hymns that convey the message of Christ’s birth. I love that these songs are being played on radio stations around the clock right now, because, in the midst of all the other clutter, the truth is being spoken. Whether the listener knows it, the gospel is being preached, and God’s word will not come back empty (Isa. 55:11).

This is why I love the old carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” written by Charles Wesley in 1739. Though not a Calvinist per se, much of Charles Wesley’s hymns convey the reformed view of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and Wesley himself noted that he “was within a ‘hair’s breadth’ of Calvinism” (click here for the full interview).  

We sing “Hark! The Herald…” so often that I don’t know if we really stop to consider what we’re singing. The world’s casual familiarity with this song has people singing along, subversively teaching profound Biblical truth without the singer ever really knowing it. This hymn conveys the doctrines of incarnation, atonement, union with Christ, and sanctification.

I’ve included here the original lyrics of Wesley’s hymn. Today we usually only sing three verses, but I think that’s a shame considering what verses 4 and 5 contain. I’ve made some notations along the way for clarification. Enjoy!

Vs 1

Hark how all the Welkin rings
(Welkin – an Old English name for Heaven or sky)
Glory to the King of Kings,
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconciled.
(Here we note the need of Christ’s coming – for the reconciliation of sinful man with a Holy God.)
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
(The Gospel isn’t for one ethnicity, but for all peoples who would come to Christ by faith.)
Join the triumph of the skies,
Universal nature say
(Romans 8 talks about all creation eagerly awaiting the revealing of the sons of God)
Christ the Lord is born today!

Vs. 2
Christ by highest Heav’n adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord,

(Essential to our understanding of the person and work of Christ Jesus for our salvation is the teaching that the Son of God is of one substance and equal with the Father, who, in the fullness of time, took upon him man’s nature, in order to serve as our Prophet, Priest, and King. This second verse teaches great incarnation theology.)
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the virgin womb
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to appear
Jesus, our Immanuel here!

Vs. 3
Hail the Heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and Life to All he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in his Wings.
Mild he lays his Glory by,
Born—that Man no more may die,
Born—to raise the Sons of Earth,
Born—to give them Second Birth.

(This verse, especially the last half, brings to mind the substitutionary work of Christ in the atonement. He was born that Man no more may die. How? By dying in the place of sinful man. He was born to raise the sons of earth. How? By rising again from the dead on the third day. He was born to give man second birth. How? Not by reentering our mother’s womb, but by being born again of the Spirit, sent from Christ at Pentecost to all who believe.)

Vs. 4 
Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in Us thy humble Home,
Rise, the Woman’s Conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.
Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.

(Here, our union with Christ through faith is exemplified. United to Christ, the power of sin and death is crushed, and we are more and more made like unto Christ.)

Vs. 5
Adam’s Likeness, LORD, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.
Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart.

(Following the theme of union with Christ is the natural result of that union: our sanctification. No longer does the old Adam have dominion over us, but we live through the second Adam, who gives us life. What I love most about this verse is the desire for Christ. “Let us Thee, tho’ lost regain, Thee, the Life, the Inner Man.” To translate that for modern vernacular: “God let us, though lost, regain You.”)

My prayer is that the next time you sing this, you’ll contemplate the deep truths being conveyed here, and the message of the Gospel will ring clear this Christmas!

Here’s a Video from King’s College singing the Carol:


A well deserved Hell…

“For the wages of sin is death…”
(Romans 6:23 (ESV)

Rob Bell and Love Wins notwithstanding, there really is a place called Hell, there is a final judgment, and God is righteous in His anger and wrath against sin.  It’s not fun to talk about, but then neither would it be “fun” to ignore the subject altogether only to find yourself already there when it’s too late to do anything about it. 

Unfortunately, God’s judgment has gotten a bad rap by those who stand under it.  We hear God’s righteous decree to be holy, for He is holy (Lev. 19:2), but we know that’s impossible, so the call must be impractical.  We try to live a good life, we do our best anyway, and we look for whatever joy we can find – even if the Bible says it’s a sin.  We tell ourselves, “God really wouldn’t hold this against me, surely He will understand.”  When confronted with the truth of God’s Word, we kick against the goads.  We bristle under correction.  We despise discipline.  “Who died and made you god,” we complain.  In our arrogance, we think we are more compassionate, more just, more forgiving than God himself.  We’d prefer the toothless and tame god of our own creation who is kind and generous to all, giving everyone a hall pass through life.

Living under such a delusion will lead to our destruction.  We worship a holy God who cannot even look upon sin, how then can we presume to stand before Him in our sin?  Psalm 5:4–6, teaches us, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”  Habakkuk 1:13 says, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” 

The fact of the matter is that we must deal with a Holy and Righteous God who has issued His decree on all of humanity.  We are called to live in holiness before Him, but “we have all sinned fallen short of His glory” (Rom 3:23), “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12).  Under this judgment of God we stand condemned, for the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  God is just in declaring that sinners are bound for Hell.

The preaching of judgment is not intended to scare you into believing or acting a certain way, but to tell you that you do indeed need a savior.  Luther called it one side of the gospel coin.  Unfortunately for many of us, it is a lesson we need to hear again and again.  We tend to insulate ourselves from the need for help.  I can manage just fine on my own.  I’ve got Jesus is in my life as a “spiritual insurance” policy – just in case things get bad, but hopefully I’ll never have to call upon him.

Friends this is not gospel living, this is not the gospel faith.  The truth of the gospel is this: you are in desperate need of a savior.  Things are bad, they are beyond repair.  Your life is not acceptable to God, in fact, our lives apart from Christ are offensive to God.  We owe to God a perfect life we cannot live, a tremendous debt we cannot pay, an offering we cannot make.  Only when you see your life as forfeit before God do you truly begin to appreciate the miracle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God is gracious in calling the redeemed to His side in glory!

It is true that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but the story does not end there.  Paul goes on to say we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24).  It is true that “the wages of sin is death,” but it is equally true that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).  To preach the judgment without the gospel would be cruel, but to preach the gospel without the judgment would be meaningless for us today.

We deserve Hell, but our loving God has seen to it that, by faith in Jesus Christ, we can be made fit to live in heaven.  We are covered by his righteousness, made alive by his spirit, redeemed by his blood, purchased with his life, given victory over death and hell by his empty tomb.  This is the free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is nothing we could ever do to deserve this gift, to try would keep us from receiving as it was intended, as a gift.  We live by responding in joyful obedience; God equips us and sends us for the work He has prepared for us from before time (Eph 2:10), but these works are always in response.  God, from the beginning of time, has always been the one to act first in grace, we were created to respond and live in the joy and splendor of His grace and glory!

Richard Baxter, the 17th century Puritan preacher, wrote in his work The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, “So let ‘DESERVED’ be written on the door to Hell; but on the door to heaven and life, ‘THE FREE GIFT.’”

I’ll say “Amen” to that.