Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: William Cowper

9/11 Aftermath and the Providence of God

This morning I read through Joe Carter’s 9 Things You Should Know about the 9/11 Attack Aftermath. Remembering that day certainly brings back something of the shock and horror of that terrible event. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. I remember gathering with friends around the TV, watching the news as everyone (newscasters included) were trying to figure out what was going on.

Making Sense of It All

Making sense of that day was hard, even from a distance. We don’t live in New York — we don’t even live in the USA — but the events of that day still felt like they struck very close to home.

One of the things I remember about the immediate aftermath was the heightened tensions in even-more-present religious conversations. Some people blamed God; other people looked for him. Some people blamed Islam; others blamed fundamentalism in all its forms.

Among Christians, many went to work seeking to defend God, his providence, and his plan. Some said it was his judgement on America for sin. Some said it was merely the result of human free will — that God had no part in it at all. And while both of those answers, in some sense may have some grounding in truth, it’s hard to think anyone would find those things, on their own, to be emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually satisfying answers. Those answers wouldn’t (and still won’t) satisfy because they don’t rightly reflect the biblical God who loves justice and mercy, who decrees all things — including his creation of humans who will choose to rebel against him.

Continue reading

Why Singing Music from Sovereign Grace is Better Than Singing Hymns

I also thought about titling this post: Why Stephen Altrogge is better than William Cowper. I decided against that one, though.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, both the title and that first sentence are said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But I will say, however, that I do agree with those statements, in a qualified sense. Let me try to defend that by way of example and comparison.

First, here is a classic hymn by Cowper–some have even suggested this is the greatest hymn of all-time!

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

I love this hymn. Especially in the context of Cowper’s life. It’s ministered to me huge at a number of points in my life.

That being said, I think the song could be improved. The reality is that the Bible tells us over and over (in narrative, in poetry, in apocalypse, everywhere!) that God moves in mysterious ways. But in Scripture, this always points us to the greatest mystery: the cross & resurrection of Jesus. The hymn never takes us there.

The ‘vindication’ of God’s wisdom and trustworthiness in the midst of what appears to be defeat is the cross. There should be another verse drawing us to the reality of God’s mysterious workings, as shown in the cross, the climax of all God’s revelation.

Now compare Cowper’s classic to a modern song by Sovereign Grace Music on the same theme, by Stephen Altrogge: (© 2002 Sovereign Grace Praise [BMI])

Who can comprehend
Your holy ways O Lord?
Your glorious power without end
From which the stars were born
How could we ever understand
The moving of Your hand?
How could we ever come to grasp
The One who never began?

Oh, what a glorious mystery You are
Oh, what a glorious mystery You are
Though we only see in part
You’ve completely won our hearts
Oh, what a glorious mystery You are

Who can comprehend
Your gracious mercy Lord
Great loving kindness that would send
A Saviour to be born?
Why would you, Jesus, die for us
Who cursed Your perfect name?
Why would You come to reconcile
Those who caused Your shame?

There are many similarities: both songs focus on the mysterious nature of God’s character and God’s works. Both songs glory in God’s sovereignty over all things.

But there are differences too. Frankly, I don’t think Altrogge could match Cowper’s poetic ability. Cowper’s turns of phrase and gripping metaphors are breath-taking and illuminating. But here’s why I’d rather sing Stephen’s song: He glories in the climax of Scripture and points us to the ultimate reason why we can trust a God who seems mysterious; he points us to the cross.

And which is more important? Where will a Christian find true comfort and solace in the midst of suffering or guilt or distraction or despair? In poetic imagery or in simply being reminded of God’s love for him displayed in the death of Jesus?

The reason why I continue to love Bob Kauflin, the Altrogges, and all the folks at Sovereign Grace Music is not because they are the best lyricists or musicians of all time. It is because they faithfully, time-after-time, give us song-after-song that points us to the revelation of God in the cross. And that’s what God loves! And that’s what Christians need.

All that to say, I am super-fantastically excited for the release of Risen coming up in a few days. If I’m certain of anything, it is this: Every song will make much of what God has done for us in Jesus.

And what could possibly be better to sing about?

© 2019 Julian Freeman

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑