Monday, July 30, 2012

Blessed Asurance

  One of the pleasures of travelling is the opportunity to worship with a different congregation.  Recently, we did just that, joining the members of First Presbyterian Church in Roseburg, Oregon.  The minister there is doing a series of summer sermons on favourite hymns.  We hit "Blessed Assurance" Sunday.  This great hymn was the theme for the prelude and the postlude, the anthem and the offertory.  It was sung by the congregation and expounded upon by the minister.  What fun!
   This hymn is usually associated with evangelical traditions, -- loud, noisy, exuberant --  more than with the Presbyterian, characterized by the minister as "the frozen chosen."  Yet on a check of hymn books, he found that "Blessed Assurance" appeared just as often in the Presbyterian hymnaries as it did in the evangelical ones.  
    We had a great time on our Sunday visit to Roseburg and joined the congregation in a rendition of this hymn that was anything but frozen.
    Below is Dr. Kirk's essay on this beloved hymn.  

Scripture reading:  Hebrews 10. 19 - 25

            This confident evangelical hymn is the work of one of the most prolific hymn writers of all time.  Mrs. Frances van Alstyne, better known by her maiden name, Fanny Crosby, wrote over eight thousand hymns using as many as two hundred pen names! [The minister in Roseburg explained that she used so many names because compilers of hymnbooks are reluctant to include too many offerings from one writer.] We have already seen something of the difficulties she faced in life [she was blinded by inept medical treatment at six weeks of age] but she did not let her lack of sight prove to be a hindrance to her work.  Fanny Crosby was converted to an evangelical faith during the singing of Isaac Watt's hymn "Here, Lord, I give myself away" at a meeting in a Methodist church in New York.

            It has to be admitted that many of her hymns do sound as though they have come off a production line in that they sometimes lack imagination and subtlety.  "Blessed assurance" is not great poetry but it does express the heart of the Christian gospel simply and movingly.  The first stanza describes God's work of salvation in the human soul and it is interesting to see how all three persons of the Trinity are involved.  Human salvation is first of all the work of God who loved fallen mankind and sent his Son to die; through the death of Jesus on the Cross the sins of men and women are washed away; the redemption Jesus has purchased for us is applied to the human heart through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who brings us to new life as members of God's family and assures us of a secure future so that life here below becomes "a foretaste of glory divine".  We have had occasion to think of the many ways in which we can look at what salvation really means and this is underlined here again in the verbs that are used to describe it: "purchased", "born" and "washed".

            One of the important elements of the Christian life, and one sadly neglected today in our activist society, is the willingness to wait on the Lord that we might learn of him.  It is surely interesting that in Jesus' short life of possibly thirty-three years the first thirty were spent in preparation!  He submitted himself to his Father's will in all things - if we are to find "perfect delight" in our Christian experience we must first of all offer him our "perfect submission".  Then we will be at rest in him and he will have the opportunity to teach us in the school of faith.  There is a possible reference to Jacob's dream at Bethel (Gen. 28. 12) in the lines "Angels descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love".

            It is when we are submissive and obedient that the Lord can work in our hearts to prepare us for the tasks he wishes us to perform on his behalf.  The Christian life can be summed up in three short commands addressed to us by Jesus: "Come unto me"; "Learn of me"; "Go ye".  There must be the "watching and waiting" before we are ready to be sent out on the Master's mission.  But whatever Jesus calls us to be or to do we have with us at all times the "blessed assurance" that "Jesus is mine" and I am his. 

With thanks to Edna Kirk for sharing these essays.

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