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A tale of two hymnals

I was recently attending a church service where, as it so often happens, the hymn "O Church Arise" was on the hymnal list. The hymn is generally very lovely, but I always struggle singing this verse :

So Spirit, come put strength in every stride,
Give grace for every hurdle,
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When with Christ we stand in glory.

It is clear that this verse is inspired by Revelation and Hebrews. But unfortunately, the last lines can be easily misunderstood by non-Christians or those new to Christ. In other words the sort of people churches ought to pay special attention to.

There is also potential for grow misunderstanding from those raised in certain cultural and religious traditions. For example, the error of ancestral worship is prevalent in African traditions. There is also the flawed saints theology of Anglican and Catholicism.

The line of particular interest is this : "As saints of old still line the way/ Retelling triumphs of His grace/ We hear their calls and hunger for the day". We certainly don't hear the words of the saints. We hear the words of God. And if we are hearing words of saints we should quickly speak with church leaders.

The hymn writers cleared want to reflect the Hebrews 12:1 spirit. They presumably want to say we are inspired by the old saints. Unfortunately, it comes out slightly dangerous. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses but we cannot hear the witnesses directly, except through the words of the Bible.

On the flip side, I have been very encouraged recently singing Amazing Grace recently. The full traditional seven verses. I have noticed that some modern versions try and shorten it. The casualty is usually this verse :

Through many dangers, toils and snares, 
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

I find this verse to be the most encouraging. It is no good holding onto great promises if such promises have no real world validity. Faith is not something that just floats heavenly. True faith proceeds from God's word which directs us to look around and see how God is working. As the Bible, "taste and see that the Lord is good!"  

That knowledge of how God is already at work in our lives builds our confidence to trust God more and more. We can be sure that we will see God face to face, not only because the Bible says so, but because we can see God already at work in our olives. God is at work through all dangers, toils and snares!

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2015

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