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Archive for July, 2012

Today in church we sang one of the great 19th-century hymns, and one of my favorites:  “It Is Well With My Soul” (lyrics by Horatio Spafford; tune by Philip Bliss).  Not to poke fun at anything (that’ll be coincidental) but here is a bit of satire that I’ve been hoarding from Sacred Sandwich—something like “Great moments in hymn writing” as might be seen on David Letterman:

Now, this may not mean a thing to you without knowing the third stanza, so I’ll post it here, and the full lyrics below.  Sorry no YouTube clip, but the quality ranged from rock-bottom to CCM to worse.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

In the first line of that stanza, Horatio Spafford takes a thought-break, very much like the apostle Paul who said in Romans chapter 5, “ For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This “parenthetical thought” has amused or perplexed readers for centuries, and Spafford (oh, the bliss of this glorious thought) continued the tradition.  Even his words echoed the Romans passage.

A couple of things interest me about the hymn, aside from the fact that I really love the music and the lyrics:

Firstly, that Horatio Spafford wrote it after suffering a series of Job-like tragedies.  His four-year-old son died; then he lost his fortune in the Chicago fire; then his four daughters drowned in a shipwreck during a trans-Atlantic crossing with his wife.  She survived, and while Spafford was on his way to Europe to join her he was inspired to write the lyrics near the spot where their daughters had died.

Secondly, that the lyrics represent a prevailing viewpoint of that period and of earlier periods, that “the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend” and without mention of anyone disappearing from airplanes.

Did I blindside you with that one?

Of course nobody disappeared from airplanes.  They hadn’t been invented yet; Jenkins and LaHaye hadn’t been born; and neither was there any mention of driverless cars.  I bring this up, seemingly off-topic, because the current pop-theology prescribes that believers be removed from the earth in a “rapture” before the second coming of the Lord.  However, as hymns from ancient times through the nineteenth century attest, Christ simply comes back.  It was never perfectly agreed whether he’ll come before or after a millennial period (whether pre- or post-millennial) but there was never any question of us disappearing.

Until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Irish import “Pre-millennial Dispensationalism” began to capture Americans’ imaginations.  The annotations in the Scofield Reference Bible carried it away, reinforced later by a great deal of popular literature such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and later still Jenkins’ and LaHaye’s Left Behind series; and by now this sort of thing is gospel.

Except that it’s not.  It’s merely a theology.  And a rather convoluted one.

Horatio Spafford had it right, as did millions of Christians over hundreds of generations:  the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend.  Maybe we’ll disappear, our shoes and tooth-fillings left behind for the infidels to collect.

But I don’t think so.  And at any rate, that’s not the gospel.  That’s another gospel, and Paul warns against chasing after that sort of thing in the Epistle to the Galatians.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

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