Friday, April 6, 2012

Hymns for Lent VI: Rock of Ages

[NOTE: The sixth in a series of seven blog posts on Lent. The full series is available here. Enjoy!]

Appropriately enough, this will be our final meditation on Good Friday before moving on to celebrate the resurrection.  Written by Anglican cleric Augustus Toplady, this well-known hymn was inspired by a fissure in a gorge where Toplady found shelter during a storm.  This fissure (or the one where folks believe Toplady hid, at any rate) is now marked as the 'Rock of Ages' and can be visited by tourists.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save me from its guilt and pow'r.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone. 
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die. 
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
The first verse begins as a plea to Christ.  He is acknowledged as the rock of our salvation (Ps. 62:1-2I Cor. 10:1-4), and just as Moses struck the rock in the wilderness so that the thirsty, doubting, grumbling Israelites could have water (Num. 20:1-11Ps. 78:15-16; Is. 48:21), so the Lord struck Christ on the cross to give sinners living water (Is. 53:4-6; Matt. 27:50-51; John 4:5-13).  He is the cleft in the rock where we who cannot behold God's glory can hide--he is the means by which we approach God.  (Ex. 33:18-23; John 14:6-7Eph. 3:12) We see God in and through him. (John 1:14; John 14:9Col. 1:15)

After Jesus died on the cross, some soldiers pierced his side with a spear, as Isaiah foretold (Is. 53:5), and water and blood flowed out together.  (John 19:33-34; I John 5:6-8)  In the Old Testament, a combination of water, blood, and hyssop were used to ceremonially declare clean anyone who had been healed of an infectious disease.  (Lev. 14:1-8)  At the original proclamation of Ten Commandments, the covenant was consecrated with a combination of blood, water, wool, and hyssop.  (Heb. 9:18-22)  Yet what the blood of bulls and birds was powerless to do, the blood of Christ accomplishes.  (Heb. 9:11-15, 22; Heb. 10:1-18) Through the water and the blood we are cleansed and forgiven of sin. (Matt. 26:27-28 ; Eph. 1:7-8; Eph. 5:25-27Heb. 10:19-22; I John 1:7)  Having been so saved, we are free from the guilt of sin--we no longer owe the debt our sin has earned.  (Rom. 6:23I Tim. 2:5-6Heb. 9:15)  More than that, we are freed from our slavery to sin; it has no power over us. (John 8:31-36; Rom. 6:17-18; Rom. 7:21-25Heb. 2:14-15)

The second verse is a meditation on the wholly unmerited nature of this gift of salvation.  We cannot keep the law, no matter how hard we try--and most of the time we don't try all that hard.  (Rom. 3:22-24; Rom. 5:12James 2:10; I John 1:10)  Moreover, we have sinned against an infinite God, and have earned an infinite punishment.  (Ps. 51:4)  All our supposed righteousness is just so many filthy rags.  (Is. 64:6; Rom. 3:10-12)  Thus, no matter how zealous we may be, no matter how hard we try, and no matter how sorry we are, we can never atone for our own sins.  (II Cor. 7:10Eph. 2:8-9)

Only Christ could (and did) fulfill the Law.  (Matt. 5:17)  He knew no sin, yet was made sin for us.  (Rom. 8:3-4II Cor. 5:21Heb. 4:15I Pet. 2:22)  It is only through Christ and his sinless sacrifice that we can be saved. (John 3:36John 14:6Acts 4:12; I John 5:12)

The only response to this realization is to approach the cross in humility, honestly acknowledging our sin.  This leads to one of my all-time favorite lines:  'Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.'  We have nothing with which to buy our righteousness.  (Is. 55:1-2)  We are spiritually bankrupt.  All we bring to the table is our sin, and so we cling desperately--as if our lives depended on it, which, as a matter of fact, they do--to the only hope of salvation:  the cross.  We are, as Adam, exposed before the gaze of a holy God (Gen. 3:6-10), and unless Christ clothes us in his righteousness, we will die in our shame. (Is. 61:10; Gal. 3:26-27; Rev. 3:18) We are helpless--we cannot help ourselves, and apart from Christ and his grace there is no help for us.  (Matt. 9:36; Rom. 3:22-24Rom. 6:19; II Tim. 1:8-10; Heb. 4:16; James 4:6) But if we come to the fountain of Christ, our filth is washed away, and where there was only death, we are ushered into eternal life.  (Ps. 51:1-9Zech. 13:1; John 13:3-8; Rom. 6:23I Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:4-7)

The fourth verse, then, is a prayer that we would remember this gospel truth in all circumstances, and that Christ would be our salvation forever.  (Rom. 8:38-39)  Whether living or dying, and after death as we find ourselves before the throne of God, we cling confidently to the finished work of Christ on the cross as the source of our righteousness and salvation.  (Rom. 14:10; II Cor. 5:10; Heb. 4:16; Heb. 8:1-2Heb. 9:27-28; Heb. 12:2)

Here we see that our salvation is in Christ (v. 1).  He did for us what we, in our sin, could not do for ourselves (v. 2). As a result, we look to Christ alone to rescue us (v. 3) from now through eternity (v. 4).

It is no wonder that this day, the day on which we remember the crucifixion, is known as 'Good' Friday.

(Honorable mention:  'Hallelujah! What a Savior' (also known as 'Man of Sorrows! What a name').  'Guilty, vile, and helpless we / Spotless Lamb of God was He / "Full atonement!" can it be? / Hallelujah! What a Savior!')

Having meditated on the events of Good Friday, we'll move on in our next entry to the joyous celebration of Easter.

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