Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: CS Lewis

Tough Words on Forgiveness

forgivenessIn his excellent commentary on Luke’s Gospel, David Garland spends some time thinking about forgiveness as he reflects on the Lord’s model prayer (Luke 11.1-4). He then cites C.S. Lewis on the topic of forgiveness and what Christians really believe:

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord’s Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don’t forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t we shall be forgiven none our own. 1

Garland then continues: 2

Though most people agree that forgiveness is admirable, it is not easy. Alexander Pope’s adage, “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” may explain why human so often fail to practice this divine trait. It has been said that some bury the hatchet but leave the handle sticking out of the ground so that it is ready to grasp when they want it. Others ask, “Do I have to forgive if the offender does not repent?” It may never occur to them to ask, “Can the offender repent if I do not forgive?”

 

Jesus understands that forgiveness is as important for the one who has been hurt as for the one who caused the hurt. Forgiveness keeps one from being clobbered again and again when the memories resurface. Harboring a grudge opens persons up to the danger of defining their lives by how they have been hurt. Forgiveness provides release. Smedes writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” 3

It’s easy to understand forgiveness in theory. It’s another thing to be defined by it and display it. Forgiveness is one of the most costly things anyone can ever do. It always has been; especially at the cross. Forgiveness hurts. But it also heals.

May God give us grace to live this. Only the power of the cross can make it so.

Notes:

  1. “On Forgiveness,” in The Weight of Glory (London: SPCK, 1949; repr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001), 178.
  2. From David E. Garland, Luke, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 472.
  3. Garland is quoting from Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1984).

The Birth of Longing

There was a time when I used to think, ‘I hope Jesus comes back… but not until…’ and then I’d fill in the blank with something I really hoped to do in this life. That seems like a long time ago now. Somewhere along the way over these 30 years I have realized that the joys of this life (even the pure and the good ones) are mere shadows of the reality for which we were created.

Everything here is a shadow, a testimony, a teaser, pointing us to the greater reality of unfettered freedom and unadulterated pleasure in uncompromisingly personal relationship with the one who created us for himself. We were not created for this broken world. Everything here that gives joy points us forward to the fulfilment of that longing on the day when we will fully know, even as we are fully known.

Mountains, oceans, valleys, magnificent animals, music, poetry, the climax of a narrative, the unfolding of a mystery, the moment of learning, relationships, husbandry, fatherhood, church membership, passing seasons of beautiful intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ, intangible and inexpressible moments of close communion with the Triune God; all of it has functioned to one end: to create in me the birth of longing. Longing for the day when it will not end. Longing for the day when the feeling won’t pass the very moment you realize it’s there. Longing for the uninterrupted gaze and the unending contemplation of the One who is Beauty and Wisdom and Joy and Life.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
— C.S. Lewis (Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold)

Cottage Sunset

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Why Singing Hymns is Better than Singing Contemporary Worship Music

Okay, it is time to re-establish some equilibrium in the universe. Sovereign Grace Music is not the only good form of worship, and hymns are most definitely not bad. Anyone who has worshipped with us at GFC knows that we do sing both contemporary worship music and hymns. And yes, that’s a deliberate choice. In my previous post, I tried to emphasize that hymns are not better merely because they are hymns nor because they are older. The best of Christian songs are the best of Christian songs because they focus our hearts and minds most clearly on what God has accomplished for his glory and for our joy in Christ–regardless of when they were written.

That being said, we must immediately recognize that as wonderful as Sovereign Grace Music (and many other contemporary worship composers / leaders) are, they are not the first Christians to be cross-centred, are there are many ways in which singing hymns can be beneficial. Here are just a few reasons why we need to sing older hymns. Feel free to add your own reasons in the comments.

1. Because We Need the Clean Sea Breeze

Here I want to listen to CS Lewis. Below is something he wrote with regard to the value of reading old books. I would argue that the same principle holds true in the songs we sing as Christians, since the songs that we sing are intended to be educational and edifying (Col 3.16).

Naturally, since I myself am I writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old…. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones…. We all … need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth [and to be certain, the twenty-first] century … lies where we have never suspected it…. None of us can fully escape this blindness…. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.[1]

So while we may glory in some of the advances of reformed evangelicalism in the 21st century, which is producing wonderful new worship songs, we must also be cautious. The ‘characteristic blindness’ of our own age is invisible to us and we will be doomed to be held captive by it unless we’re able to let the centuries of Christians who have gone before us inform us.

Singing old hymns reminds us of the way that our brothers and sisters who have gone before us faithfully testified to and gloried in Jesus in their own day. Singing their hymns helps us see things a little more from their perspective, which helps open our eyes to the subtleties of the 21st century worldview that we would not otherwise be aware of.

2. Because of the Richness of Our History

As Christians, we simply cannot afford to ignore our glorious heritage. Too often we have been told that the history of the church is nothing but shameful. The average Christian can be made to be afraid of church history because ‘we were so bad in the crusades’ and we somehow view the whole realm of church history as belonging to the Roman Catholics (at least until the Reformation). But when we look back, we begin to uncover the treasures of our history that will help us to glory in our God who is Lord of generation after generation throughout all ages.

Take, for example, the ‘Odes of Solomon’ which were written and compiled in the first three centuries AD (either in Greek or Syriac). These worshipful meditations reflect gloriously (though with all the imperfections of non-inspired poetry) on the story of the Christian faith and the love that has been shown to us in Christ.

Look at this brief meditation from Ode 27:

  1. I extended my hands and hallowed my Lord,
  2. For the expansion of my hands is His sign.
  3. And my extension is the upright cross.
    Hallelujah.

So as early as the third century (at the latest) Christians were raising their hands in worship. But it was deliberate: They were making the sign of the cross. The cross wasn’t just the thing they were singing about, they were glorying in it with their bodies as well! We need to glory in the richness of our history, never run away from it in ignorance.

3. Because the Best of Hymns Are Cross-Centred Too

21st century evangelicalism may have invented the cool terminology for being ‘cross-centred’ or ‘gospel-centred’ but the concept is thousands of years old. And that is indeed reflected in the best of hymns from all ages. Take this hymn from Bernard of Clairvaux, written in 1153, for example.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favour, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Saviour, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Or how about this one, from Isaac Watts, written in 1707:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Singing these hymns and hundreds of others like them not only points us to Christ, but unites us with brothers and sisters from past centuries, with whom we will one day worship forever.

4. Because Words Matter

There are many exceptions to this, so I say it with all the necessary qualifications in place, but I still think it’s worth point out. The form of hymns often tends to better use of English. The form, metre, and length of hymnstend to increase the demand for highly-skilled writing by those with a high level of poetic ability. For that reason, hymns are often better able to encapsulate more truth through more words in better and more memorable images. Not always, but often.

Speaking personally, when I sing to my children each night when I put them to bed, it is generally hymns that I sing, and it is generally for this last reason. I want them to hear more truth in poetic images and rhymes that they will remember into adulthood–truth that I pray God will cause to sink into their hearts and cause them to love the God of the gospel that we’re singing about.

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[1] C.S. Lewis, from God in the Dock. As quoted in John Piper’s Brother’s, We Are Not Professionals, 69-70.

Homesickness

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

I had an opportunity today to realize just how powerful general revelation can be. Call me crazy, but working in Niagara Falls, I very rarely actually look at the falls. Today, however, during a break at work, I sat and watched one of the most elegant and beautiful displays of God’s power in nature that the world knows for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t help but be filled with a longing for God and for all his glory to be revealed in all its splendour and majesty. I think it was something along the lines of what CS Lewis called “homesickness”. I was drawn… and I can’t help but feel that I’m not alone.

It cannot be denied that there is some mystically divine draw, some special allure to the power and majesty of God that is revealed in nature. Millions of people every year stream to Niagara Falls. It is the honeymoon capital of the world! Why is that? Is it because there are casinos and nice hotels? No… those are there to capitalize on the people that were coming anyway. Rather, people come to Niagara Falls to fall in love, get married, spend their honeymoon, or just to get away, because of the special emotional and spiritual draw to such a place… to such a wonder.

The problem, of course with discussing this draw is similar to the problem of describing why a joke is funny. By the time you’re done analyzing it, it is completely demystified, and the mystery is never done justice. It’s like trying to explain why just looking at my wife still gives me such a thrill inside… it makes me quiver and smile and want to woo her all over again. But how can you explain why there is that pull? It is, to be sure, more than the sum of its composing parts.

But the effect cannot be denied. God has revealed himself and men the whole world over search for him. And what Augustine said so many hundreds of years ago still rings true in our world today: “You (God) made us for yourself, and our hearts have no rest till they find it in you.” God himself is the true sovereign joy, he calls us to himself in things like Niagara Falls by giving us just a hint of the wonder and splendour and majesty and beauty and glory that are his… and we long for that joy. We long for that God, our maker, who knows us intimately, who longs to establish his glory by granting us that ultimate soul-satisfying joy that defeats and casts out any former joy we ever could have known in our sin! What a great God!

But… alas, then it was back to work. It’s just interesting to me how it only takes a brief moment to notice all that and to fall all the more in love with our God. But yet how often we go through the day spending hours and hours on meaningless things and never even notice that the wonder all around us was there to be beheld if only we would pause and look…

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