Salvation Unto Us Has Come

The true knowledge of the distinction between Law and Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book. – CFW Walther

28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. – Romans 3:28

The hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” was written by Paul Speratus, who lived from 1484 to 1551. He assisted Martin Luther in compiling Etlich Christlich lider, a collection of early Lutheran chorales in polyphonic style for choir. Salvation Unto Us Has Come was included in that collection and has endured to this day because it is possibly the best Lutheran hymn ever written. It preaches Law and Gospel so clearly that it gives us the fullness of the Gospel story and gives us a framework from which we can understand all of Scripture. The tune is from the same collection and is also a favorite of mine. The tune is fun to sing without being excessively difficult.

Paul Speratus was born in what is now Germany in 1484 and became a preacher in 1518. He believed Luther’s teachings to be in accordance with what Scriptures teach and he was persecuted for his faithfulness to the pure Gospel. He was fired from his early preaching posts for expressing his views too openly. He was also one of the first priests to get married during the reformation period. He received his Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Vienna, but was later condemned by the Vienna faculty for defending marriage and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. His preaching, however, became very popular with the people and he was thrown in prison for it in 1523, where he stayed for three months. It was while he was in prison that he wrote this hymn, based on Romans 3:28 (see above).

I don’t have any other comments to make about this hymn because it leaves very little unsaid. Our current hymnal includes 10 of the original 14 stanzas and we will be singing all 10 on Sunday, with some sung by the choir and one played by the organ.  I wish that all Christian churches in all places could sing this wonderful hymn on Reformation Sunday and throughout the year.

 

Salvation unto us has come

By God’s free grace and favor;

Good works cannot avert our doom,

They help and fail us never.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,

Who did for all the world atone;

He is our one Redeemer.


What God did in His law demand

And none to Him could render

Caused wrath and woe on every hand

For man, the vile offender.

Our flesh has not those pure desires

The spirit of the law requires,

And lost is our condition.


It was a false, misleading dream

That God His Law had given

That sinners could themselves redeem

And by their works gain heaven.

The Law is but a mirror bright

To bring the inbred sin to light

That lurks within our nature.


From sin our flesh could not abstain,

Sin held its way unceasing;

The task was useless and in vain,

Our guilt was e’er increasing.

None can remove sin’s poisoned dart

Or purify our guileful heart

So deep is our corruption.


Yet as the law must be fulfilled

Or we must die despairing,

Christ came and has God’s anger stilled.

Our human nature sharing.

He has for us the law obeyed

And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed

Which over us impended.


Since Christ has full atonement made

And brought to us salvation,

Each Christian therefore may be glad

And build on this foundation.

Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,

Your death is now my life indeed,

For You have paid my ransom.


Let me not doubt, but truly see

Your Word cannot be broken;

Your call rings out, “Come unto Me!”

No falsehood have You spoken.

Baptized into Your precious name,

My faith cannot be put to shame,

And I shall never perish.


The Law reveals the guilt of sin

And makes us conscience- stricken;

But then the Gospel enters in

The sinful soul to quicken.

Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;

The Law no peace can ever give,

No comfort and no blessing.


Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith is known,

With love and hope increasing.

For faith alone can justify;

Works serve our neighbor and supply

The proof that faith is living.


All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise

To Father, Son, and Spirit,

The God who saved us by His grace;

All glory to His merit.

O triune God in heav’n above,

You have released Your saving love;

Your blessed name we hallow.

 

 

Want to Reach Young People? Give Them 16th Century Hymnody!

A couple of mid-week observations:

First, at choir rehearsal tonight the children’s choir raised the roof with the stanza of the hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” that they are singing on Reformation Sunday. None of the kids had ever heard the hymn before last week, but they sing it as well or better than many who have sung the hymn their entire lives. There’s just something about those rhythmic 16th century German hymns that kids really grab onto. The same thing happens when we sing Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.  I think it’s the fact that the melodies are singable, are in bar form (which means that the first few measures of music repeat themselves), and they allow you to sing them in an energetic, unrestrained way that kids love. What I really love about it is what the kids are singing. It’s not another chorus of “God is my super cool friend” or “Every move I make, I make in you. LALALLALALALALA”, but they are singing this:

Let me not doubt but truly see Your Word cannot be broken: Your call rings out, “Come unto Me!”  No falsehood have You spoken. Baptized into Your precious name, My faith cannot be put to shame, And I shall never perish.

A second, unrelated, thing I noticed this week was how ancient some parts of our old TLH liturgy are.  I had a recording of gregorian chant playing the other day while I was working and I suddenly found myself singing along. It was the preface to holy communion in the olde Lutheran Hymnal. I had no idea that some musical parts of that service were 1000 years old. That’s pretty cool stuff!

By the way, don’t tell the kids that the songs they like are from the 16th century.  They might find out that it’s not “cool” to like that sort of thing.

 

 

 

 

To Thee, Omniscient Lord of All

Our opening hymn this Sunday is by the Norwegian poet and hymnist Magnus Brostrup Landstad. He was born in 1802 in Masoy, Finnmarken, which is at the northern tip of Norway.  The harsh climate of northern Norway and the poverty of his family meant that his childhood was very difficult. He was taught at home by his father and, at the age of twenty, entered the University of Christiana in Oslo. He went on to be Pastor of several different churches throughout the country. It was while he was at the university that he came across hymns by the German hymn writer Philip Nicolai, the author of “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”.

https://musicalcatechesis.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/the-king-of-chorales/

Inspired by Nicolai, Landstad began writing his own hymns. His own writing expertise, along with his interest in the folk songs of Norway, led him to publish his own hymnal in 1861. This hymnal became the official hymnal of the country of Norway in 1869. On his retirement, he was granted a pension by the government for his service to the church and his work as a poet and publisher.

The hymn itself, To Thee, Omniscient Lord of All, is a short three stanza hymn. Each stanza is based on a penitential verse from the Bible, one of which is the Gospel text for this Sunday.  Much like a good sermon, this hymn takes those penitential Bible verses and applies them to the singer.  The confessions of Ezra, David, and the tax collector of Luke 18 become our own.

 

Here’s stanza 1:
To Thee, omniscient Lord of all.

In grief and shame I humbly call;

I see my sins against Thee, Lord,

The sins of thought and deed and word.

They press me sore; I cry to Thee:

O God, be merciful to me!

 

This stanza is based on Ezra 9:6

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.

In context, Ezra is praying about the sin of intermarriage. The remnant has returned from exile and now they are disobeying God’s law and marrying people from all the surrounding nations.  Ezra knows that his people deserved God’s wrath and punishment, and this is why he is so ashamed.  If we are truly sorry for our sins, this will be our response as well.  We cry at the end of this and every stanza that God would be merciful to us.

Stanza 2:

O Lord, my God, to Thee I pray:

O cast me not in wrath away!

Let Thy good Spirit ne’er depart,

But let Him draw to Thee my heart

That truly penitent I be:

O God, be merciful to me!

This stanza is based on Psalm 51:10-11

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51 is the great penitential Psalm of David, written and earnestly prayed after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David knew that he deserved to be cast off, or thrown away, because of the sins he had committed. He also understood that his sin showed a need for a clean heart. A clean heart can only be made through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Do we really deserve to join in the penitential prayer of an adulterer and murderer? Sadly, yes, because we too have sinned against God and shown our hearts to be unclean. We pray in this second stanza that God would not take His Holy Spirit from us, but continue to work in our hearts.

Stanza 3:
O Jesus, let Thy precious blood

Be to my soul a cleansing flood.

Turn not, O Lord, Thy guest away,

But grant that justified I may

Go to my house at peace with Thee:
O God, be merciful to me!

This last stanza is based on Luke 18:12-14, which also happens to be the Gospel text for this Sunday:

13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here is our third great Scriptural example of penitential prayer. It comes from one of Jesus’ parables, where he contrasts this prayer of confession with the self-righteous prayer of a Pharisee.  Again the example and parallel to our lives is striking. I pray that we may all take these words to heart! The hymn ends with a plea to God’s mercy, but in a very specific way. The hymn allows us to appeal to the precious blood of Jesus, which was shed to cleanse us from our sins. We know that we are forgiven for Jesus’ sake and that we will leave the worship service justified before God and at peace. Thanks be to God!

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9

I Trust, O Lord, Your Holy Name

Our prelude for our 8AM service this Sunday will be the reformation hymn, I Trust, O Lord, Your Holy Name by a student of Martin Luther by the name of Adam Reusner. I didn’t grow up with this hymn, but I’m very glad that it is picked as the hymn of the day in Lutheran Service Book. It really is a wonderful hymn and you can tell that the author spent a lot of time studying at the feet of Luther.

The hymn comes from a great Reformation tradition of hymns based on the Psalms.  These Reformation psalmody hymns are so grounded in the Scripture and so earnest that they speak to us just as clearly as though they were written yesterday. This particular hymn is based on Psalm 31, especially verses 1-5.  I’ll be giving you the Psalm verses, followed by the hymn stanzas.

Psalm 31:1

1 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!

Hymn stanza 1:
I trust, O Lord, Your holy name;

O let me not be put to shame

Nor let me be confounded.

My faith, O Lord,

Be in Your Word

Forever firmly grounded.

My Lutheran Study Bible tells me that Luther writes of Psalm 31:1, “It does not say ‘in my’ but ‘in thy righteousness’, that is, in the righteousness of Christ my God which becomes ours through faith and by the grace and mercy of God”.  How do we hear of this righteousness that comes from God by faith? We are know of God’s salvation only through His holy Word. Our faith is ‘firmly grounded’ in the Word of God, as Paul writes in 2nd Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 31:2, 11-13:

2Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!

11Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.

Hymn stanza 2:

Bow down Your gracious ear to me

And hear my cry, my prayer, my plea;

Make haste for my protection,

For woes and fear

Surround me here.

Help me in my affliction.

This second stanza is an earnest plea for God to protect us from all affliction, danger, and need. When David wrote the Psalms, his life was literally in danger at many times because he had many enemies. The reformers, likewise, knew that their lives were in endangered. Luther spent years of his life hiding in a castle because the pope wanted him dead. It is no wonder, then, that men like Luther and Reusner took refuge in the words of the Psalms. When we sing this stanza, we join David and Luther in asking God to protect us from all dangers that we face in our lives.

Psalm 31:3-4:

3For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
4you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.

 

Hymn stanza 3:
You are my strength, my shield, and my rock,

My fortress that withstands each shock,

My help, my life, my tower,

My battle sword,

Almighty Lord

Who can resist Your power?

This stanza is our answer to the pleas for help in stanza 2. We are rescued from the nets of Satan and we live securely, knowing that our God is our fortress. I love the translator’s use of the word “shock” at the end of the second line. It makes me think of God as a fortress that can stands up against the most powerful explosives and weaponry ever invented.  The stanza does not stop there, however, but goes on the offensive. God’s “battle sword”, which is His Holy Word, is a powerful weapon that no one can resist.  With it we may live out our Christian lives without fear.

Psalm 31:5

5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

Hymn stanza 4:

With You, O Lord, I cast my lot;

O faithful God, forsake me not,

To You my soul commending.

Lord, be my stay,

And lead the way

Now and when life is ending.

The words of Psalm 31:5 are Jesus’ words from the cross. These words of Jesus teach us that in life and in death we entrust our whole lives to our Lord. Our God has redeemed us, He protects us from all harm and danger, He defeats Satan’s plans to harm us, and He finally brings us safely to heaven to be with Him. What more could there be to sing? Oh yes, the Trinitarian final stanza.

Hymn stanza 5

All honor, praise, and majesty

To Father, Son, and Spirit be,

Our God forever glorious,

In whose rich grace

We run our race

Till we depart victorious.

Amen.

 

 

A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus

The sermon text for this Sunday includes this verse:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

So, let’s play Guess the Sermon Hymn.


It must be Onward Christian Soldiers, right? Sorry, no!

Our sermon hymn is one that I did not know before this week, “Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ you” by Pastor Wilhelm Arends. The tune, “wachet auf”, is a familiar tune, but this text was new to me – and what a text! Arends takes the idea of being a soldier of Christ Jesus, puts it into the context of an epic battle scene, and gives us a solid dose of Christ-centered Lutheran theology.

Here’s the first stanza:

Rise! To arms! With prayer employ you,

O Christians, lest the foe destroy you;

For Satan has designed your fall.

Wield God’s Word, the weapon glorious;

Against all foes be thus victorious,

For God protects you from them all.

Fear not the hordes of hell,

Here is Emmanuel.

Hail the Savior!

The strong foes yield to Christ, our shield,

And we, the victors, hold the field.

The serious nature of our spiritual life is inescapable in this first stanza. Satan, our foe, has designed our fall and has come to destroy us. The problem can’t be ignored; we must get up and fight. This warning comes to us most clearly in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”.

Against Satan, we do not use man-made weapons, but we use the sword of God’s Word. We learn in Hebrews, chapter four that,  “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”. In our Epistle reading for this Sunday, from 2nd Timothy, Paul, a prisoner, says, “8Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” Satan can put us in prison, but he can do nothing against the Word of God.

Are there other weapons to be used? Of course! There’s a whole list in Ephesians, chapter 6: “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,”.

We have all of these things with which to fight the evil one, but in the second half of this stanza we learn of something even more astounding. Christ the Savior comes to fight for us! The hymn-writer, Arends, calls our shield “Christ.” In Ephesians, our shield is called “faith”. This fits perfectly because it is through faith, and faith alone, that we cling to Christ, who wins the victory for us.

Stanza 2:

Cast afar this world’s pleasure

And boldly strive for heav’nly treasure.

Be steadfast in the Savior’s might.

Trust the Lord, who stands beside you,

For Jesus from all harm will hide you.

By faith you conquer in the fight.

Take courage, weary soul!

Look forward to the goal!

Joy awaits you.

The race well run,

Your long war won,

Your crown shines splendid as the sun.

Now that Jesus has won the victory, we can get back to our hedonistic lifestyles, right? Wrong! Our treasure is in heaven, as Jesus says in Matthew chapter 6, “”Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We do not trust in our possessions, our income, our mutual funds, or even our families and friends. Our heavenly Father knows that we need those things, but we trust in our Lord Jesus, who keeps us from harm and gives us the victory. This eternal victory does not come by our own works, but it is by faith alone. “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The poem next tells us that we should take courage, even though we grow weary, because we are striving towards our goal like runners in a race. There is a heavenly crown awaiting us at the end.

Stanza 3:

Wisely fight, for time is fleeting;

The hours of grace are fast retreating;

Short, short is this our earthly way.

When the Lord the dead will waken

And sinners all by fear are shaken,

The saints with joy will greet that day.

Praise God, our triumph’s sure.

We need not long endure

Scorn and trial.

Our Savior King His own will bring

To that great glory which we sing.

Paul writes in Romans, chapter 13, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” We are in what the Bible calls the “last days” (Hebrews 1). We live with a sense of urgency, knowing that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. For those who do not know Christ by faith, it will be a day of terror.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”. For those of us who do know Christ by faith, the day will be one of great joy, as our hymn says. The book of Revelation describes a great city, the new Jerusalem, where we will dwell with Jesus forever. I leave you with Paul’s description of the second coming from 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4:

16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.