Posts Tagged ‘hymns’

In our day and age humility is not seen as a blessing. We live in the age of the big ego. This is the dawning of the age of narcissism. Our social media usage seems to stroke our pride as we seek after likes.

IThe Blessing of Humility: Walk Within Your Calling‘m aware of the irony. I’m writing this on a blog, part of social media, hoping people will read it. But I’m hoping they will go beyond this blog post to the book I’m writing about: The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.

Jerry Bridges has written many books that I’ve found helpful in the course of my life as a Christian and a pastor. This is one of the last books he wrote prior to his death. I was unaware of its release until seeing it in a clearance sale. Good for me, but a sad reflection on society and even American church culture. This is a book too many of us need to read.

Pride is like bad breath, everyone knows you have it before you do. The struggle against pride is one that is a daily affair, if we are paying attention. Over time I’ve read a few books on the topic including Humility: the Forgotten Virtue by Wayne Mack, and Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used Mack’s book for our Men’s study at one point.

In Bridges’ book, he looks at the Beatitudes as a description of humility. Humility is one of the twin traits of mature Christianity. The other is love.

Bridges notes that in Jesus’ day, humility was looked down upon in Roman culture, the dominant culture of the day. Before moving into the Beatitudes, he addresses some key texts including 1 Peter 5 which joins precepts and promises.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…

Humility is the metaphorical clothing we should wear as we appear in public. We are to be humble in our relationships with others and with God, in keeping with the two great commandments upon which hang the whole law. While humility seems off-putting and working against our advancement in life, God offers promises of grace and glory for those who humble themselves in this way. There is promised blessing for humility.

Bridges view of the Beatitudes is one of what a sanctified person looks like. While our failure to possess these characteristics as we should points us to Jesus who perfectly manifested them for imputed righteousness, we must not stop there. Like Mark Jones, Bridges sees this as a description of imparted righteousness in sanctification. The Beatitudes reflect whom Jesus is making us as He conforms us to His likeness. Thus we are to seek these traits and therefore humility.

“In the Beatitudes Jesus is talking about the character traits of those already in the kingdom.”

In this relatively short book, just under 150 pages, he explains teach character trait and ties it to humility. With short chapters it can be read devotionally. It contains a study guide in the back for group study or personal reflection and application of the material.

What we find is not an exhaustive book, but certainly a helpful book. It is not very technical, assuming a knowledge of the original languages or lots of theological terminology. It is written for ordinary people to study. He often connects the ideas he is exploring with hymns that express those sentiments. It is rich in Scripture and hymnody.

Humility is poor in spirit. We recognize that we are spiritually destitute and unable to please God in ourselves. Our struggle with sin is far more profound than we realize, and realizing that is half the battle. Maturity means increasing in our awareness of this ongoing struggle. Our focus shifts from our actions to our attitudes and thoughts.

It is because we are still practicing sinners that we mourn. We mourn our spiritual poverty. We aren’t simply aware of our continuing sinfulness but broken hearted about our continuing rebellion.

Meekness points us to the humility of accepting the difficult circumstances in our lives as part of God’s wise, loving providence. Following Thomas Watson (for Bridges loved the Puritans as well as hymns) he applies meekness toward other people in terms of “bearing of injuries, the forgiving of injuries, and the returning of good for evil.” We will all be subject to the sins of others against us. Humility does not retaliate but bears, forgives (!) and bestows good. This is so contrary to our prideful flesh what strikes out, bears grudges and tries to destroy the offender. Our words are often weapons we use against them.

“Meekness is a defining grace, produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, which characterizes that person’s response towards God and man.”

We also have a hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be personally righteous. Such hunger and thirst is not so we don’t need Jesus but so we are like Jesus and bring Him glory. Prideful righteousness, religiosity, is an attempt at self-salvation. It is in this section in particular that Bridges distinguishes between positional and personal (what he calls experiential) righteousness. If I am a Christian I need not hunger and thirst for positional righteousness. I have it! But I do for personal righteousness.

Jesus then moved to mercy, and so did Bridges. He develops the idea of mercy as compassion in action. It is not simply empathy but moving to relieve misery as seen in Isaiah 58 among other places. Part of mercy is remembering the sins of others no more. This is not forgetting but choosing not to bring those sins up against them anymore. This happens only as we see the fact that God no longer remembers our many and grievous sins.

Bob Dylan plays a guitar and sings into a microphone.Another aspect of humility is purity of heart or whole-heartedness. He ties this into the fact that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. We are property of Jesus, as Bob Dylan sang long ago. Purity of heart recognizes this and seeks to see all of life through that lens.

Conflict is regularly addressed in Scripture. When I recently preached through Philippians I was shocked to discover how much this “epistle of joy” was marked by conflict. As someone going through a prolonged conflict, I found hope as well as conviction as I struggled to preach through such a “simple” letter. Humility seeks peace, and makes peace. Peacemaking is very difficult and goes against all our basic inclinations to seek peace on our terms. In other words, there complete surrender.

“To be a peacemaker, then, means we absorb the hurtful words or actions of others without becoming resentful, retaliating, or even cutting off a relationship with the person.”

Humility is revealed in how we respond to being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. While it is appropriate for American Christians to seek protection in our earthly citizenship (Paul, as Bridges notes, appealed to his Roman citizenship at times) we should recognize that our courts system will fail us eventually. We may lose our rights as the tide rises against Christianity. While experiencing hostility, we are not to be hostile but humble. Bridges reminds to entrust ourselves to our Creator, like Jesus, and continue to do good in keeping with 1 Peter 2.

He ends with humility and the gospel. He channels his inner Jack Miller and talks about preaching the gospel to himself and yourself every day. The gospel is not simply the door we walk through to begin life as a Christian but the path we walk as Christians. Humility only grows in gospel soil.

“It is the gospel that will keep us from becoming discourage and will instead motivate us to keep pursuing humility, even when we fail so often.”

This little book is gospel-drenched. That means it is encouraging, not discouraging. Our failures are opportunities to look to Jesus, not a call to despair or simply try harder. The humble and meek Jesus is ready to pardon and help us. Humility keeps coming to Jesus as our only hope. As we do this we find ourselves no better than others, in part because we are not focused on their sins so much. Our sins, and theirs, drive us to Jesus who deals with us as a wonderful, merciful Savior.

This is a book worth the time to read and think about.


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Theirs was an amazing friendship marked by triumph and tragedy. It was a friendship that produced the most famous, well-loved hymn of all time, and one of my favorite hymns.

After years of seeking a call to a church, and ordination, John Newton was called to pastor the church at Olney. He would become an increasingly influential figure in 18th century England. When they met for the first time in 1767, Cowper (sounds like Cooper) was a troubled young man. He was unstable and unemployed. They shared some common experiences, and helped each other reach greater heights than they could have if they had not met. God, in his providence, brought them together in order to give the church many good gifts..

William Cowper

Cowper was born in a well-established family that was well-connected in image conscious England. There were many expectations upon William. He grandfather, Spencer Cowper, was England’s Lord Chief Justice. Spenser’s brother Earl was Lord Chancellor.  William’s mother Ann was a descendent of John Donne, the 17th century poet and Dean of St. Paul’s. His father was a pastor and a fellow of Merton College Oxford.

William, like John, lost his mother when he was six. Where this seemed to harden John it appears to have broken William.

William studied law and a cousin had gotten him an appointment in the office of the Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords. First he had to make a preliminary before the bar of the House to answer some formal questions. Fear of this exam put him into an emotional tailspin that resulted in 3 attempts at suicide. He would be institutionalized for 2 years as a result.

Leaving the asylum, Cowper moved in with Rev. Unwin and his wife in Huntingdon. He stayed with them for 2 years, receiving instruction from the Rev. Unwin. In 1767, Morley Unwin was thrown from his horse and died. In God’s providence, Newton was visiting Huntingdon at the time. He planned on meeting the Unwins, carrying a letter of introduction for that purpose. Arriving in the midst of the tragedy, Newton comforted the grieving widow and her “adopted son” William. They shared an evangelical faith, and a love for long walks, good books and discussing topics of interest. After learning they would have to leave Huntingdon, Newton offered to help them find a place to live in Olney.


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My ‘relationship’ with John Newton was a slowly developing affair. I’m sure you’ve had friendships like that. You meet a person, don’t think much of them at the time. Slowly you begin to see more of them. You see your common interests, and their strengths, previously hidden, come to light. Your appreciation grows.

That is my relationship with Newton. Ah, he wrote a few hymns, that’s nice. Over the years people shared some of his letters. I got to know a little bit more of his life. I read Piper’s short account of his life and bought The Letters of John Newton and Wise Counsel. Over time he has become one of my heroes in the faith. His importance to the church and the world is matched by few.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace By Jonathan Aitken cover image

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace attempts to let us in on the ‘secret’ that is the life of John Newton. The book is easy to read, with short chapters that fit into busy schedules.  Aitken does not hide from us the sinfulness and brokenness of the young Newton. He was the son of a captain whose mother died when he was young. Her gospel influence gone, he often lived with relatives while his father was at sea. He would follow in his father’s footsteps, but soon earned a reputation as being a despicable human being. He was a piece of work, as they say. Some of the words used to describe him would be blasphemer, fornicator, obstinate rabble rouser, dabbler in black arts and more.

“For the fourth time on four successive ships, Newton managed to alienate his captain.”


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John Newton has a few hymns based on Hebrews 4.  I wish we could have sung them when I preached on this text.

Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat where Jesus answers prayer; there humbly fall before his feet, for none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea; with this I venture nigh: thou callest burdened souls to thee, and such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin, by Satan sorely pressed, by war without and fears within, I come to thee for rest.

Be thou my shield and hiding place, that, sheltered near thy side, I may my fiercest accuser face, and tell thou hast died.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die, to bear the cross and shame, that guilty sinners, such as I, might plead thy gracious name!

 Here is the RUF arraingment of the song by Kevin Twit.  They have some chord charts and piano music available.  Here is a quote they have from Luther about the content of the hymn:

“You should tell the devil “Just by telling me that I am a miserable, great sinner you are placing a sword and a weapon into my hand with which I can decisively overcome you; yea, with your own weapon I can kill and floor you.

For if you tell me that I am a poor sinner, I, on the other hand, can tell you that Christ dies for sinners and is their Intercessor… You remind me of the boundless, great faithfulness and benefaction of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The burden of my sins and all the trouble and misery that were to oppress me eternally He very gladly took upon His shoulders and suffered the bitter death on the cross for them.

To Him I direct you. You may accuse and condemn Him. Let me rest in peace, for on His shoulders, not on mine, lie all my sins and the sins of all the world.” Martin Luther

Behold the Throne of Grace!

Behold the throne of grace!  The promise calls me near: there Jesus shows a smiling face, and waits to answer prayer.

My soul, ask what thou wilt; thou canst not be too bold; since his own blood for thee was spilt, what else can he withhold?

Thine image, Lord, bestow, they presence and thy love; I ask to serve thee here below, and reign with thee above.

Teach me to live by faith; conform my will to thine; let me victorious be in death, and then in glory shine.


As I said, great stuff which we should sing fairly often.  Newton had a good grasp of grace, and it is evident in his hymns.  It is this grace-centeredness that needs to be a bigger part of our worship services.

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(this is the second in a series on Covenantal Worship by R. J. Gore)

 Argument Against the Puritan Regulative Principle

Gore argues that Jesus, our model, violated the Puritan Regulative Principle!  His argument is summarized here.

  1. Jesus regularly worshiped in the synagogue.   The origin of the synagogue is speculative (during the Babylonian captivity).  There is no command by God to form synagogues.  There are no directions as to how to carry out synagogue worship.  As a result, synagogue worship itself would violate the norms of the Regulative Principle (it is neither explicitly commanded, nor is the result of good and necessary inference).  However, Jesus regularly participated in the synagogue.  If it was sinful, Jesus would not do it.
  2. Jesus celebrated Chanukah.  John 10 tells us that Jesus went to the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem.  This was the feast of dedication of the temple celebrating the victory of the Maccabees against the Greeks.  There is no biblical command to celebrate this feast (unless we include the Apocrypha), nor any good and necessary inference since this is the result of extra-biblical history.  To celebrate this feast would violate the Regulative Principle.  Jesus did celebrate it.  Therefore, it cannot be sinful. 

In light of the weakness of the Puritan view of the Regulative Principle, we must articulate a better principle for regulating the worship of God’s people.  The last section of Gore’s book is to lay out what he calls Covenantal Worship.  Here is what he means.

Covenantal Worship “implies responsibility and certainly provides no room for any notion of simple, mechanical conformity.  Indeed, the obligation of the covenant requires faithful, responsible, and intentional obedience to covenant precepts and principles (pp. 138).”  Covenantal Worship is an attempt to honor the Biblical commands concerning worship while offering freedom for those areas in which Scripture is silent.  This would actually be in keeping with the WCF 1.6 which reads “that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, … which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” 

In other words, Scripture tells us what to do, but does not tell us how to do it.  We are to sing, and make music to the Lord.  Scripture does not regulate which instruments may or may not be used, or which styles may or may not be used (if it did, our hymns would not meet that criteria since they are products of 16th-19th century European culture).  We are commanded to pray, but there is freedom concerning how we pray (prepared prayers, spontaneous prayers, silent prayers etc.)  We find Jesus using culturally understandable illustrations when he preached.  It may be appropriate to use culturally understandable illustrations such as film clips in the worship service.  “The covenantal principle of worship says that whatever is consistent with the Scriptures is acceptable in worship.  Here is where the major difference with the Puritan formula appears (pp. 140).”

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