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Friday, April 14, 2017

Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed

Issac Watts (1674-1748) is known as the "Father of English Hymnody". He specialized in paraphrasing psalms and wrote some 750 hymns including favorites such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", "O God, Our Help in Ages Past", and "Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed". Great stuff.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
(Note: Perhaps you've heard that last line as something like "For sinners such as I?" That was not the original. Earlier Christians didn't have any problem with "self-esteem issues" (like David in Psalm 22:6) and agreed that sinners -- all of us -- were "worm-like".)

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was the brother of John Wesley. In his lifetime he wrote over 6,000 hymns. One of his hymns had 27 stanzas. (We've pared it down to the requisite four now.) He was charged by a grand jury with "introducing into the church ... hymns not authorized." One of his most popular hymns has enjoyed a contemporary reintroduction with Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Love". The original hymn was titled "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" and went something like this.
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
It's Good Friday, the day we celebrate (Imagine that ... celebrating Someone's death.) the Crucifixion. It is a celebration and, in this case, right. Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:23) In his straightforward presentation of the Gospel he began, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures ..." (1 Cor 15:3). Jesus's death on the cross was planned and executed according to God's hand and plan (Acts 4:27-28). He died for us in part as a demonstration of God's love for us (Rom 5:8). It is both horrible and wonderful.

There is, however, a question. Were Watts and Wesley right? Did "my Sovereign die"? Did "my God" die for me? Did God die on the cross?

There is a problem with the idea. If "in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17) and He died, then ... all things ceased to hold together. Some reword Wesley's hymn to say "How can it be, That Thou, my Lord, shouldst die for me?" for that reason. If God is defined as eternal and immortal (1 Tim 1:17), then a god who dies is not God. It cannot, then, be said that God died on the cross.

I take a slightly different view. What does it mean to "die"? Referring to beings (as opposed to machines or ideas, etc.), death is defined as "the end of the life of a person or organism." We die when our bodies cease to live. The heart stops, the brain quits, the breathing ends ... death. The truth, however, is that we do not believe that we cease to be when we cease to live. We go on. "Life after death". Some to glory and some to eternal death, but we go on. Death is not a divine possibility. It is a function of "creatureliness", of being a creation. In this sense, then, it would be true that "God died". That is, God the Son ceased to live on in physical presence while His essence went on. The human part of God the Son stopped living. In this sense I have no problem speaking of God dying for me. And, in this sense it is quite reasonable for Scripture to say that God obtained the Church "with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).

No, the Son did not cease to live entirely; His body did. That's "dying" by our definition. As such, His death is a demonstration of God's love for us and His answer to our sin problem. For that we rejoice.

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