Sunday, 2 September 2007

Judgement, hope and joy

Charles Wesley understood that the ground of the Christian's hope and joy is firmly grounded in the reality of God's judgement:

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!

The great truths set out in this final verse of his hymn are resisted or misunderstood by many Christians today, and even evangelicals are constantly losing sight of them. One good reason for rediscovering at least a few of the old hymns is that they have a far more fullblooded understanding of the grace and gooodness of the gospel than the spineless and anaemic contributions of far too many present day choruses.

Very rarely do we find songs that rejoice in the truth and hope and awe of final judgement. Here's one I love:

Great God, what do I see and hear?
The end of things created!
The Judge of mankind doth appear,
On clouds of glory seated.
The trumpet sounds, the graves restore,
The dead which they contained before!
Prepare, my soul, to meet Him.

The dead in Christ shall first arise
At the last trumpet’s sounding.
Caught up to meet Him in the skies,
With joy their Lord surrounding.
No gloomy fears their souls dismay,
His presence sheds eternal day
On those prepared to meet Him.

But sinners, filled with guilty fears,
Behold His wrath prevailing.
In woe they rise, but all their tears
And sighs are unavailing.
The day of grace is past and gone;
Trembling they stand before His throne,
All unprepared to meet Him.

Great God, to Thee my spirit clings,
Thy boundless love declaring.
One wondrous sight my comfort brings,
The Judge my nature wearing.
Beneath His cross I view the day
When Heav’n and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to meet Him.

What wonderful grace and glory is found here. All that is old and corrupt and dead and diseased and sinful will be set to rights. The old has gone, the new has come. It's completely fitting that a tune by Martin Luther is one of the best known settings for this song (on cyber-hymnal here).

We've lost the sense of the awe-fullness of God's grace in and through judgement. Consequently our evangelism is wet, gutless, flaccid and prone to regular outbursts of gimmickry and postmodernist church growth techniques, and general gimcrackery. It's only in, with, and under judgement that the hope of salvation is discovered.


Isaiah knew this:

Is. 6:13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

and it's surely not without significance that Jesus quotes this very chapter and vision of Isaiah at such a crucial stage of his ministry. In judgement, and only in judgement, is found the hope of glory.

And indeed, the glory of God is revealed to us only under the mask of the cross, and nowhere else.


1 comment:

Stephen said...

That judgment is an eschatalogical judgment and it is that which we can put our hope and confidence as you've rightly pointed out. I also think though that due to our position in redemptive history we should also have an attitude of utter anguish and grief for the many we see around us refusing to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Something perhaps similar to the attitude that Christ adopts when he looks over the city of Jerusalem and mourns her perishing.

I think a combination of that grief and also the confident hope in the only just judge should serve spur on our evangelism.

Thanks for the post on an oft negelcted topic.