A GREAT HYMN WAS BORN (text on page 14)
Much of modem hymnody. though produced in great quantity, is mere trash, from the point of view of both content and music; but occasionally we find a jewel among so much rubbish. The latter must be said of some of the popular hymns which arc being sung today, but particularly of How Great Thou Art, copyrighted five years ago. How seldom today’s hymns speak of God and the glory of God revealed in creation! But here is a hymn whose first and second stanzas remind us of some of the beautiful “nature psalms” of the Bible (8, 19, and others). The music, too, though simple is majestic, stirring and inspiring but not sentimental.
A recent poll of favorite hymns (we do not recall how extensive it was) showed that Rev. George Bennard’s The Old Rugged Cross was still in first place, as in former polls, while How Great Thou Art was fourth on the list. But the latter was more deserving to be first than the former. The Old Rugged Cross is evangelical in spirit and its tune touches the heart-strings but both the music and the words lack depth. Besides, theologically it has two serious faults, First, it speaks of Christ’s “blood so divine” which is nonsense; there is no such thing as divine blood. Christ’s human nature, including his body with its blood, was as truly human as ours. Second, the chorus is marred by an inexcusable identification of Christ’s cross with that of the believer. For the hymn states that we shall some day “exchange” the cross of Christ “for a crown.” But the Bible clearly distinguishes between the cross that Christ had to bear and the cross which each one of us must take up to be his followers (see Matthew 16:21 and 20:19 compared with 16:24). Jesus does not say of his disciple: “Let him take up my cross,” but “his cross.” The cross to which our sins were nailed can never be the cross that we must bear. Only Christ’s cross atones for sin.
How Great Thou Art does not merely glorify God as Creator. It sweeps the ages, beginning with creation (vss. 1, 2 ), advances to redemption through God’s Son. who “bled and died to take away my sin” (vs. 3), and reaches its peak in the parousia “when Christ shall come with shout of acclamation” (vs. 4).
Our Psalter Hymnal Committee did well in omitting Bennard’s very popular hymn from our praise book. We hope if ever new hymns are substituted for the few whose music is either too difficult or too unmelodious for successful congregational singing, Stuart K. Hine’s How Great Thou Art will be one of them.
P.S. Those who may want to have a copy of this hymn in sheet music form can obtain it from Zondervan Book Store, 25 Division S., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Price is 60 cents in U.S.A. It is also available for choir arrangement, regular or Simplified; male quartet; piano solo, concert or Simplified; pipe organ; Hammond organ; and accordion solo.
DR. JAMES DE FOREST MURCH ON THE WORLD COUNCIL
Doctrinal weaknesses and an “institutional concept of Christian unity” were listed among the reasons why evangelicals stay out of the World Council of Churches, in the last of a series of articles on the WCC appearing in United Evangelical Action magazine. Written by Dr. James DeForest Murch, a former editor of the magazine, the series of five articles was an analysis and evaluation of the ecumenical body,
The final article appeared in the December issue of the magazine as the was was holding its third assembly in New Delhi, India.
Dr. Murch listed ten reasons why “evangelicals are compelled to seek other means of implementing their desire for Christian unity and cooperation—media which do not require compromise of the clear teachings of God’s Word concerning the fundamentals of the Christian faith.”
Among these reasons was the charge that the Council has set itself up as an “ecumenical ecclesiasticism” and has “refused to adopt as a basis of fellowship the absolute minimum of fundamental evangelical Christian doctrine necessary to such a body.” Dr. Murch also charged the Council with admitting into its membership “a host or liberals who are committed to a theology and philosophy which are definitely anti-Christian in the biblical sense.”
Other reasons mentioned the Council’s friendliness with the Roman Catholic Church which “threatens to weaken if not destroy the distinctive testimony of Protestantism” and its tendency to function as a “super-church, bringing pressures or exerting controls over both members and nonmember churches.” The Council was also charged with “meddling in national and international politics, imperiling the status of the churches and the peace of the world.”
Church News Service (NAE)
THE GLORY OF MAN OR THE GLORY OF GOD?
As I write this, the news media are busy reporting on the attempt of our space experts to send a chimpanzee around the globe. It is a bitter embarrassment, of course, that the Soviet Union scientists succeeded in doing more than this, with a human being aboard, already on August 6, 1961. How did the leadership in the Soviet Union regard this great triumph? Their language is unmistakably plain, and here are a few excerpts from the official Message* of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Government of the Soviet Union:
This exploit reflects the new, tremendous achievements of the Soviet Union, of our science and technology and entire national economy…the great superiority of the socialist system…The second space flight of a Soviet man around the earth serves as a fresh and vivid confirmation of the great might of the people who have built socialism. Our achievements in the conquest of space are not accidental. They reflect the natural course of victorious communism. Communism is irresistibly advancing, and there is no force in the world capable of hampering the vigorous advance of mankind to its bright future…Communism is fulfilling the historic mission of ridding all peoples of social inequality, of all forms of oppression and exploitation, of the horrors of war, and will establish Peace, Labor, Freedom, Equality, and Happiness for all peoples on earth. Everything for man! Everything for the good of man!–this is our loftiest goal.
In sharp contrast with the point of view expressed in these lines from the Soviet Message is John Calvin’s* comment on the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name”:
For what is more shameful, than that the Divine glory should be obscured partly by our ingratitude, partly by our malignity, and, as far as possible, obliterated by our presumption, infatuation, and perverseness?…We wish God to receive all the honor that he deserves, that men may never speak or think of him but with the highest reverence; to which is opposed that profanation, which has always been too common in the world, as it continues to be in the present age…Now, as God manifests himself to us partly by his word, and partly by his works, he is in no otherwise hallowed by us, than if we attribute to him in both instances that which belongs to him…The tendency of the petition is, further, that all impiety which sullies his holy name, may be utterly abolished; that whatever obscures or diminishes this hallowing, whether detraction or derision, may disappear; and that while God restrains all sacrilege, his majesty may shine with increasing splendor.
* This Message was published in the magazine, USSR, Sept., 1961, p. 15. The quotation from Calvin is from The Institutes, Bk. III, chap. XX, section XLI.
The mean between two extremes is proverbially golden. Sometimes it is golden indeed. However, in many instances it merely glitters like gold but is in reality of exceedingly base metal. Following is an example of the latter.
In the twenties of the present century there ensued in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. a sharp theological controversy. On one side stood the modernists, who denied Christian supernaturalism, particularly the supernatural inspiration of the human authors of the Bible and such supernatural events as the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus, together with the other miracles related in Scripture. As to the person and work of Christ, they denied his eternal and essential deity as well as the satisfaction of the divine penal justice by his sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross. Diametrically opposed to the liberals were those who, loyal to the Word of God and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, unqualifiedly upheld all the aforesaid teachings of historic Christianity.
Between these two floundered the “middle-of-the-roaders.” By and large they claimed to believe the fundamentals of the Christian religion, but they did not insist on subscription to them by every minister of the denomination. They were willing to see orthodox Princeton Theological Seminary transformed into an “inclusive” institution, representative of the various theologies present in the church. Some of them fought against modernism for a time but were unwilling to sacrifice their name and place in the denomination for the sake of truth. Under the spell of the trite slogan that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life there were those who suggested that the modernists in the church excelled as Christian gentlemen, often more so than their militantly orthodox opponents. Not a few were so ignorant of sound doctrine and so indifferent to it as to applaud the man who under the influence of liquor inquired of his pastor as to the difference between liberalism and orthodoxy and, on being told to repeat the question when he would be sober, retorted that then he would not be interested. Many of them were of the opinion that, the doctrinal differences within the church being purely academic, they did not affect the faith of the man in the pew and therefore should be kept out of the pulpit. All of them were willing to purchase peace at the price of purity.
The outspoken modernists did not constitute anything like a majority. Twelve hundred and seventy-four out of some ten thousand ministers signed the infamous Auburn Affirmation, which held that the General Assembly of 1923, in asserting that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of the Holy Scripture as to keep them from error, spoke without warrant of the Scriptures or the Confession of Faith. Those who uncompromisingly upheld the Christian faith also fell far short of constituting a majority. Much more numerous than either of these groups and, for that matter, than both of them were the middle-of-the-roaders. It was they who by their compromising attitude sold the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. down the river.
Theologically the Christian Reformed Church is in a far better position today than was the Presbyterian Church forty years ago. The firm stand taken by recent Synods on the matter of Scriptural infallibility and inerrancy is heartening indeed. However, to state the case mildly, there are among us different degrees of enthusiasm as to that stand. Nor may it be overlooked that what has happened to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., whose sound resolutions of 1913 did not stem the evil tide, can happen to the Christian Reformed Church in the future. May God forbid! But if and when that should come to pass, beyond all doubt middle-of-the-roadism would have to bear much—not to say most—of the blame. Even now its pattern is plainly discernible among us.
Newspapers and other means for the dissemination of reports have announced that Governor and Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller of New York intend to sue for divorce. These media supply us with some additional information: the couple have five adult children. they have been married mOre than 30 years, both arc very, very rich, etc. Besides, the papers also speculate. They wonder how this contemplated divorce will affect the chances Rockefeller may have of being nominated and elected president of the U.S. in 1964. Attention is being called to the fact that in 1952 and in 1956 a divorced man ran for this high office and failed to attain. It is suggested that his, divorce contributed to his defeat.
Of course, all of us realize that a “scoop” like this is grist upon the mills of our news media. They grab for it and make it as sensational as they can. They have also sought to indicate its possible political implications. However, as well as I know, none has called attention to the religious and moral implications of this act.
Marriage is sacred. It is sacred not by human regulations, neither by mere tradition, but by divine ordinance. The marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller is sacred also. It is not more sacred than any other marriage, but it is as sacred as any. No matter how lofty the poSition one may occupy, none has a right to flout this institution and make mockery of it. The word of Jesus is applicable to the Rockefellers also, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).
This contemplated divorce of the Rockefellers is both indicative and symptomatic. It indicates to what extent lawlessness has penetrated all levels of society—the low and the high. It is, therefore, symptomatic of a trend which all of us should fear as we fear an enemy, even Communism. Disrespect for law, and especially the explicit law of God, will eat as a gangrene at the vitals of our national existence. Failure in orbit flights may be a sign of national weakness, but this is surely true of lawlessness and godlessness, and the latter are far more serious. Tho)’ gnaw at the very fibers of the nation. Be it true that the evil of divorce is not only found with the Rockefellers and that other families occupying eminent positions are infected by it, and be it true that the institution of marriage has had a struggling existence through the ages, yet there has been a certain restraint among us up to this time. Though the relationship between husband and wife was by no means ideal in many homes, yet a stigma was attached to divorce which “respectable” people feared and which they sought to avoid. However, the evil now seems to break forth openly. People do not seem to blush for shame anymore. In fact, we are meeting with a blatant and unabashed contempt for the laws of God and even for ordinary social decency.
It may be argued that legal divorce is more honest than hidden separation. However, that does not justify divorce. It is not the proper solution to “unbearable” situations. The proper solution is a return to God and the righteousness of his precepts.
The high office which Mr. Rockefeller now occupies, and a still higher one for which he is mentioned from time to time, make this all the more ominous. If these things occur among the prominent so that even the chief executive of one of our states is personally involved, what can be expected of the less prominent? We bemoan the lawlessness and the delinquency of youth nowadays (and Mr. Rockefeller has a good deal of this in his state) and we should. But shall we not say “Ichabod” (the glory has departed) when adults and even those in high place transgress God’s law? Indeed, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do” (Ps. 11:3)?
THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT DESCRIBED AND APPRAISED
The Lord wilLing, considerable attention will be given in TORCH AND TRUMPET this year to the movement for church union which is one of the most Significant and far-reaching phenomena in modern church history.
The ecumenical movement is wider than the National Council of Christian Churches in this country and the international World Council of Christian Churches. It embraces all the movements and organizations which seek to establish greater unity and cooperation among Christians and churches of various denominations, as for example the ICCC (International Council of Christian Churches) and the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals).
Beginning in our February issue a series of articles on all these movements will appear in this periodical. Here are the titles of some of the subjects to be treated: The Historical Background and Rise of the World Council; The Objectives of the World Council; The Doctrinal Basis of the World Council; Scripture and the Unity of the Church; The World Council and the Doctrine of the Church; The World Council and Foreign Missions; The World Council and the Protestant Reformation; Competitive Ecumenical Endeavors; Is Denominationalism Sin? Among those who have agreed to participate in this series are Rev. R. B. Kuiper, Rev. J. H. Piersma, Rev. N. J. Monsma, and this writer. There will be at least ten articles in the series and other writers besides those just mentioned.