Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?

At our congregation, we get the great privilege of learning Paul Gerhadt’s hymn Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me during the month of September. Some background on Paul Gerhardt can add more meaning to this text. Gerhardt was a German Lutheran pastor in the 17th century. He survived the horrors of the Thirty Year’s War, four out of his five children did not survive childhood, and his wife died when his surviving child was only 6 years old. As a pastor, he remained steadfast against the pressures of his day and this cost him his position at St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin. He refused to sign a document agreeing not to teach on subjects where Calvinists and Lutherans disagreed, and he was fired for this.

Out of this great suffering, Gerhardt emerges as one of the great writers of Christian hymnody. His hymns are comforting and personal, yet they remain biblically literate hymns that proclaim solid Scriptural teaching.

Stanza 1:
Why should cross and trial grieve me?

Christ is near 

With His cheer;

Never will He leave me. 

Who can rob me of the heaven

That God’s Son

For me won

When His life was given?

What is a cross? Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow Him, after all. A cross is when we suffer in this life. More precisely, it is when we suffer as a consequence of living out the Christian faith. God allows these sufferings into our lives in order to refine our faith in much the same way as precious metal is refined in the fire. Peter speaks of these things in 1st Peter chapter 1. This is a longer section, but it is worth reading:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

As St. Peter says, we have a living hope because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the inheritance that is in heaven for us. God allows various difficult periods, challenges, and events into our lives that test our faith, prove it to be genuine, and lead us to rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible. Nothing can rob us of this great treasure.

 

Stanza 2:
When life’s troubles rise to meet me, 

Though their weight

May be great, 

They will not defeat me. 

God, my loving Savior, sends them; 

He who knows 

All my woes

Knows how best to end them. 

Yes, this stanza does say that God, our Savior, sends our troubles into our life. How can this be? First of all, remember that God is not the ultimate source of evil and trouble; that is the result of sin, death, and the devil. If you look into the book of Job, however, you will see that God does allow Satan to bring various trials into our lives. What are we to do, then? Are we to fear God and ask Him to leave us alone so that these trials will also cease? No! God cares for you! Jesus died for you to reconcile you to Himself! He cares for you as a Father. Rather, bring all your cares and anxieties to Him, because He cares for you, loves you, and will only bring suffering into your life for your own good. Remember, the last line of stanza 2 and know that God will also bring an end to your sufferings.

8And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11)

29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)

Stanza 3:
God gives me my days of gladness, 

And I will 

Trust Him still

When He sends me sadness. 

God is good; His love attends me

Day by day

Come what may, 

Guides me and defends me. 

With the assurance of the promises of the first two stanzas well in hand, we can boldly join in this proclamation of faith in stanza 3.  God is good. When the sadness of life comes, remember that God is good, He loves you, defends you, and guides you. We can rejoice at all times, as James exhorts us to do in James 1:

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

Stanza 4:
From God’s joy can nothing sever, 

For I am 

His dear lamb, 

He, my Shepherd ever. 

I am His because He gave me

His own blood

For my good, 

By His death to save me. 

 

The faith and comfort springing from this stanza are absolutely incredible. It gives us a reason why we can trust that God will never fail us. It’s because our Savior, our Shepherd, has saved us and made us His own by His death! Jesus says as much in John 10:

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Paul says much the same in Romans 8:
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

 

Stanza 5:

Now in Christ, death cannot slay me, 

Though it might, 

Day and night, 

Trouble and dismay me. 

Christ has made my death a portal

From the strife

Of this life

To His joy immortal!

Having battled the sorrows and trials of this life, we now come face to face with death itself. This great enemy can do nothing to hurt us, for Christ has already won the victory.  We are now blessed to know that when we die we enter into eternal joy, where there will be no more trials, no more crosses to bear, nor more sin, and no more sorrow.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.

56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)

Yes, thanks be to God!

 Full audio of the hymn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When in the Hour of Deepest Need

This week’s hymn is When in the Hour of Deepest Need by Paul Eber, who was a contemporary of Luther. Paul Eber was a student at the university of Wittenberg and later joined the faculty as professor of Latin. He was a friend of Phillip Melanchthon and stuck by Melanchthon throughout the controversies that followed Luther’s death. This hymn is based on an earlier Latin hymn by Eber’s teacher, Joachim Camerarius. When in the hour of Deepest Need is wonderful for the way it takes the themes and imagery from several Psalms and Epistles and combines them in hymn form. In this hymn we fall on our knees and beg our Lord for mercy. We ask for deliverance from our sins and from the troubles that we face in this life.

Stanzas 1 and 2:
When in the hour of deepest need

We know not where to look for aid;

When days and nights of anxious thought

No help or counsel yet have brought, 

Then is our comfort this alone

That we may meet before Your throne;

To You, O faithful God, we cry

For rescue from our misery. 

The desperate pleading of stanza 1 brings to mind Psalm 102:

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;let my cry come to you! 2 Do not hide your face from me

   in the day of my distress!

Incline your ear to me;

    answer me speedily in the day when I call

3For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.

The troubles of this life have a way of taking away every false god that we look to for help. As life becomes more and more difficult and troubles increase, we see everything in which we had trusted break down and fail us. This can lead us to realize that only our God can help us. This can lead us to realize that we are all poor sinners who need to flee to God for refuge, forgiveness, and help. This is where we turn in stanza 2. We cry to God for help. This was also the plight of the Caananite woman, who we hear about in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This comes from Matthew 15:
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In the Gospels you will never see Jesus refuse those who come pleading for mercy, even when He has every reason to refuse.  Jesus is not obligated to have mercy on us but He does so out of His great love and compassion. He came to be our advocate before the Father and to make atonement for us, as we sing in the next stanza.

Stanza 3:

For You have promised, Lord, to heed

Your children’s cries in time of need

Through Him whose name alone is great, 

Our Savior and our advocate. 

I think Eber was most likely thinking of 1 John 2 when he wrote this:

1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

And also Matthew 7:

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Our Father in heaven has promised to hear our prayers. Not only do we have this great promise, but we also know that we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who has made atonement for all of our sins so that we may approach our Father without fear. We know that our cries for help will be heard.

Stanza 4:
And so we come, O God, today

And all our woes before You lay;

For sorely tried, cast down, we stand, 

Perplexed by fears on ev’ry hand. 

This stanza brings us back to the Psalms with Psalm 25:

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

Again, we know that we have nothing to offer to God. We need Him to rescue us from every evil and trouble, but most importantly we need Him to rescue us from our sins. All the trouble in the world is the direct result of our sinfulness. We are broken, sinful people in a fallen world and the consequences of that are always with us. Our only hope is to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil by our gracious Lord. The next stanza brings us to confession.

Stanza 5:
O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face;

Absolve us through Your boundless grace. 

Be with us in our anguish still;

Free us at last from ev’ry ill. 

 

That delivery from sin is ultimately our delivery from all our woes is brought out in Psalm 130:

1Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!

 2O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

   to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

 

We know that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:). We know that He will not turn us away and that He forgives us for Jesus’ sake. We rejoice in this great deliverance and forgiveness and seek to serve our Lord with thanksgiving and obedience.

Stanza 6:

So we with all our hearts each day

To You our glad thanksgiving pay, 

Then walk obedient to Your Word, 

And now and ever praise You, Lord. 

We looked at a few verse from 1 John 2 earlier. Now let’s finish that paragraph:

3And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

In response to God’s great mercy we seek to serve Him with our lives. We do, however, often fail and falter along the way. We come regularly to confession and absolution, always seeking His grace and mercy. His mercies are new every morning and we rejoice and gladly give Him thanksgiving, and honor, and praise forever and ever.  We’ll end with the words of Psalm 103:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
3who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Full audio of the hymn


For All the Saints

I usually pick the hymn studies based on the upcoming Sunday, but this week I’m basing it on a hymn for a memorial service. It is the great hymn For All the Saints, with text by William Walsham How and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. William W. How (1823-1897) was an Anglican priest best known for his work among the poor. He was known at the time as the “poor man’s bishop”. The hymn itself is a wonderful proclamation of the life and salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. It’s a hymn of the church triumphant and uses the imagery of the Christian church as an army of soldiers. This text and tune is a treasure of our Christian hymnody. As we go through it, pay special attention to the way the hymn takes us from the present into the future.

Stanza 1:

For all the saints who from their labors rest, 

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, 

Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Jesus deserves all glory and thanks for the saints who are given eternal life. We are redeemed by our Lord and strengthened by Him in this life. Stanza 1 echoes Revelation 14:13:

13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

What wonderful words! Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord! Death has no sting or victory, for we belong to a resurrected and victorious Lord and King.

Stanza 2:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might:

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

This stanza summarizes much of Psalm 27. Here are a few parts of that Psalm:

1The LORD is my light and my salvation;

    whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

   of whom shall I be afraid?

 5For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

Notice who is doing the action in both the Psalm and the hymn stanza. The Lord is our strength, our salvation, our light, and our rock. This was true when David wrote Psalm 27, it was true when William How wrote the hymn text, and it is true for us today.

Stanza 3:

Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, 

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!

Alleluia! Alleluia! 

In the first two stanzas, we praised our Lord for His work in the lives of the saints. Now we pray that He would continue that work today in our lives and in the lives of all believers.  We pray that we may persevere to the end, as we are told in Revelation 2:

10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Stanza 4:

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

We are reminded in this stanza that we are not in this life alone. We have communion and fellowship with the other members of the body of Christ. Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17 that this would be so:

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

We know from Colossians 1 that we are part of body of Christ:

18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

We have life together in the body of Christ, which is the church. We teach one another, forgive one another and encourage one another; yet we do sometimes grow weary along the way. This leads us into the next stanza.

 

Stanza 5

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, 

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, 

And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

This stanza is wonderful for the imagery. This hymn works chronologically, and as we sing in stanza 5 we are beginning to approach the fulfillment of all things.  What is the triumph song? It is the song of salvation that runs through all scripture. The triumph song is God’s deliverance at the Red Sea, from the Fiery Furnace, from the flood, from the tomb, and at last the victory against death itself. The Lamb will triumph, as we hear in Revelation 17:

14They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

The Lamb will conquer. Let this be our triumph song!

Stanza 6

The golden evening brightens in the west;

Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest; 

Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

The cycle of the sun has often been used to speak of death and resurrection. The prayer service of Compline focuses on these themes. Just as we lie down and rest in the evening and awake in the morning so we will also lie down and rest in the Lord to be awakened at the last day. We pray that our Lord Jesus will come soon. Paul uses this imagery in Romans 13:

12 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.

The sweet calm of stanza 6 refers to the rest that we have in death. We do not fear death because we rest in the Lord.

Stanza 7

But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:

The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way. 

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Now we have reached the second coming of Christ and the new heavens and new earth, where we will see Him face to face. Having rested in Christ at our death, we are raised to everlasting life and worship Him in the splendor of holiness forever and ever. What a glorious sight it will be when our King passes before us and the new heavens and new earth all join in singing the praises of our Triune God! These last two stanzas are a glimpse of heaven after the resurrection and the imagery comes from Revelation 21:

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

22And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

Knowing our salvation is secure, we praise our Triune God with stanza 8:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, 

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, 

Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia! Alleluia!