How can I keep from singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Author: “Pauline T.”
19th century

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Our Confidence in Christ

Confidence in Christ’s presence with us.  Confidence in Christ’s purposes for us. Confidence in Christ’s protection over us.

A couple weeks ago I came across a verse from Proverbs 3:26 “For the Lord will be your confidence”, and it got me to thinking.

What kind of confidence is this? Is this a kind of holy self-confidence? Is this just another way of  saying that there is power in positive thinking? Oh no, it surely can’t be. There has to be more to it than that.

In the first place, we read that the Lord will be your confidence. The Lord. Who are we dealing with here? The psalmist writes in one place, “Let all the earth fear the Lord, Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.  For He spoke and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast.” The Lord, our Creator. It is a dogma of the Christian faith that the eternal God created everything there is out of nothing. Ex nihilo is the Latin term for it. And in the book of Hebrews we read that “the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible”. But, really, how could it be otherwise? Unless you want to say that stuff, that is matter, has always existed—always—in which case we are all living in an idiot universe. And if that is true, what is the point of talking about confidence at all?

We read from Psalm 139 this morning, a Psalm of David. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You [even] know my sitting down and my rising up. [Why] there is not a word on my tongue but behold O Lord, you know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before.” Do these verses make you uncomfortable? They seemed to have made David, at least initially, uncomfortable. Look how he goes on in verse 7 to say, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee?” I need to get away.  How did Billy Joel put it, I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life. Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.

But we are not alone. One of my favorite Bible verses is from the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 23. “Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places so I shall not see him, says the Lord? Do I not fill heaven and earth, says the Lord?”

We can’t get our minds around it, but verses like the ones we’ve read reveal to us the fact that God is actually closer to us than we are to ourselves. The overwhelming emphasis in Scripture is not that God is very far from us, but that we are far from Him. We push back.  We want to run.  It is all too natural for us not to want a God we have to answer to. A God we can’t pull one over on. A God that crowds our space. This all too natural tendency the Bible calls sin. I’ll do it my way.  And what is the middle letter in the word sin? I think you know what I’m trying to say. And in our pushing God away we cut off our nose to spite our face.  No, it is much, much worse than that.  The Bible describes sin using the metaphor of a paymaster.  “The wages of sin is death.” Physical death.  Spiritual death.

This is why our Lord Jesus Christ—of whom the apostle John declares, “all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”—this is why he began his earthly ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent. Oh sure, I get it, Jesus.  I guess I’ve got to turn over a new leaf.  I’ve got to do better.  I’ll try not to swear quite as much.  And maybe I throw a few more back than I should now and again. I’ll clean up my act. After all, I’m basically a good person.

Well, that wasn’t the gospel the apostles preached.  Or the martyrs died for.  No, it was this—that none of us are basically good.  We read in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

True repentance is the turning away from ourselves, to Christ. We all learned in Sunday School that He is the Savior of the world.  Yet it is not enough to believe that He died for the sins of the world.  It is enough to believe that He died for your sins.  It’s not really about “accepting the Lord”.  It’s more, as we sing at Christmas—“Fall on your knees!  O hear the angel voices!”  I have learned, my Lord and my God, that you are rich in mercy.  While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.  That’s being poor in spirit.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

For the Lord will be your confidence. Your confidence.

There is or used to be a poster in the back of the church that read, God accepts you just the way you are, but not so you’ll stay the way you are.  Our salvation is not some pie-in-the-sky thing.  It’s a life-transformation. “Old things have passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.”

Before, the thought of God’s nearness was irritating, something we’d rather not think about.  Now, it is our confidence.  We read in Psalm 91, “he who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, he is my rock and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust.” Or from Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices.  My flesh also will rest in hope.  For you will leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption.  [This is the resurrection that we look for] You will show me the path of life.  In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Our confidence is in Christ.  We are confident of His presence with us, now and forever.  “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end.”

St Augustine is famous for having said, “We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they can find their rest in you.“

And as good Presbyterians, we should all know the answer to the first question from the Westminster Confession, “What is the chief end of man?” To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  

Our confidence in Christ.  We can be confident of His presence with us.  We can be confident of His purposes for us.  For you and me.  Apart from Christ, life really has no path and no destination.  That is why Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Nobody comes to the Father but by Me.”

And we can be confident of Christ’s protection, too.  This last part, however, is no doubt the most challenging.  

If you listened carefully as Psalm 91 was read, and it did not raise questions, then you probably weren’t really listening. Let’s look at it again.  “Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.  He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.  His truth shall be your shield and buckler.  You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.  A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you.”  Wait, stop. Isn’t the Psalmist getting carried away here?  Let’s be real.  Isn’t this hyperbole?  Verses like this used to really give me trouble, until I realized something.  Our Lord, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He assumed a human nature, became man, and walked among us, He went to the synagogue faithfully.  He would have read these verses.  He would have no doubt memorized them. Not just because He was a good Jewish boy, but because he knew them to be the inspired words of God, His Father.

What am I trying to say?  We need to look at these verses through the lens of Christ.  Was He protected?  More than once, when the scribes and Pharisees surrounded Him with plans to throw Him off a cliff, the Scripture says He disappeared from their midst.You can almost picture them saying,  “What the?  Where’d He go?  He was just here.”  Jesus would often say things like, “My hour has not yet come.” And yet it did finally come.  He was given over to His enemies.  He was mocked.  He was beaten.  He was crucified.  He was laid in a borrowed tomb.  His dying words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And three days later His message, His life, his divinity were all gloriously vindicated when He was raised from the dead.

No, the Psalmist wasn’t getting carried away.  We can be confident of Christ’s presence, His purposes and His protection.  We don’t go through life whistling through the graveyard, so to speak.  Life is real.  Death is real.  Pain and suffering are real. But we, like the Psalmist, are to set the Lord always before us, because He is at our right hand, we shall not be moved.  Moved from our firm conviction that God is Sovereign over all things, and if He calls on us to endure hardship, His grace will be available to endure it.  “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I can think of one case in church history where a thousand did fall, and close to ten thousand at his right hand, and yet he was spared.  It is the story of Martin Rinkart…

Christ is our confidence.  Confident of His presence, His purposes for our lives, and His protection.  These truths are summed up beautifully by the apostle Paul in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans:

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died—more than that—who was raised, who is seated at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And all God’s people said, Amen.

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Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

Jesus Christ, my sure Defense
And my Savior, ever Iiveth;
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope it giveth
Though the night of death be fraught
Still with many an anxious thought.

Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead?

Nay, too closely am I bound
Unto Him by hope forever;
Faith’s strong hand the Rock hath found,
Grasped it, and will leave it never;
Even death now cannot part
From its Lord the trusting heart.

I am flesh and must return
Unto dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern
That from death I shall awaken
With my Savior to abide
In His glory, at His side.

Glorified, I shall anew
With this flesh then be enshrouded;
In this body I shall view
God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;
In this flesh I then shall see
Jesus Christ eternally.

Then these eyes my Lord shall know,
My Redeemer and my Brother;
In His love my soul shall glow,–
I myself, and not another!
Then the weakness I feel here
Shall forever disappear.

They who sorrow here and moan
There in gladness shall be reigning;
Earthly here the seed is sown,
There immortal life attaining.
Here our sinful bodies die,
Glorified to dwell on high.

Then take comfort and rejoice,
For His members Christ will cherish.
Fear not, they will hear His voice;
Dying, they shall never perish;
For the very grave is stirred
When the trumpet’s blast is heard.

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet.

Oh, then, draw away your hearts
Now from pleasures base and hollow.
There to share what He imparts,
Here His footsteps ye must follow.
Fix your hearts beyond the skies,
Whether ye yourselves would rise.

17th century
Author unknown

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In and through all things

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside. Psalm 14:2-3

It is as if the Lord looks expectantly, truly desiring to find one who does understand, which has not turned aside. The Lord is sovereign, yes, but sovereign in and through all things.

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Seems so foreign

The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.  Psalm 58:10

This is a michtam, a golden psalm, of David. David the shepherd-warrior.

A psalm like this seems so foreign to what we learn in the New Testament from our Lord Himself—love your enemies.

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Stubborn hearts

But My people would not heed My voice,
And Israel would have none of Me.
 So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart,
To walk in their own counsels. Psalm 81:11-12

O Lord, deliver us! We are all born with stubborn hearts.

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Heart’s desire

“For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire.” Psalm 10:3

What is my heart’s desire? Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

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To the end

It will come to pass in that day…then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed; for the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously.  Isaiah 24:21-23

It will come to pass. No matter our particular circumstances. In fact—in some sense—even through our circumstances, because God has ordained them. “To the end that my glory may sing praise to you…” (Psalm 30:12)

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The one who turns away

But the wicked and the one loves violence his soul hates.  Psalm 11:5

How does God hate the wicked, yet Jesus was called the “friend of sinners”?

There is hope for the sinner, who may yet repent. There is no hope for the wicked—the one who turns away determinedly.

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First Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius

To the Most Pious and Devout fellow minister Nestorius, Cyril – greeting in the Lord.

Certain, as I learn, are babbling to your Piety against my reputation and this incessantly, watching above all the time of the gathering of those in authority, and thinking (I suppose) to please thine hearing they put forth unadvised words, in no wise wronged but convicted and that aright, the one as a wronger of the blind and poor, another as having drawn his sword upon his mother, another as having stolen money in complicity with a maidservant and having always that kind of reputation which one might pray should not befall even one’s chiefest foes. But the speech of such is of no great weight with me, that I stretch not out the measure of my littleness above my Lord and Master nor yet above the Fathers. For it is not possible however one may choose to live, to escape the crookedness of the bad.

But those men having their mouth full of cursing and bitterness shall give account to the Judge of all: I will turn to what belongs more specially to myself, and will put thee in mind now too, as a Brother in Christ, to make the word of teaching and the conception of the Faith with all guardedness to the people, and to consider that the offending even one alone of the little ones which believe in Christ, is the cause of indignation not to be endured. But if the multitude of those grieved be so great, how stand we not in need of all skill, with all solicitude to cut away offences and to extend the sound word of the Faith unto those that seek the Truth? And this will be rightly achieved if reading the words of the holy Fathers, we be zealous to hold them dear, and proving ourselves whether we be in the Faith, as it is written, conform with our conceptions to their right and blameless opinions.

The holy and mighty Synod therefore said that the Only-begotten Son Himself, Begotten by Nature of God the Father, Very God of Very God, Light of Light, Him through Whom the Father hath made all things, came down and was made Flesh and made Man, suffered, rose the third day, and ascended into the Heavens. And these both words and doctrines we too must follow, considering what the Word of God made Flesh and Man means: (For we do not say that the Nature of the Word was changed and made flesh, nor yet that it was changed into whole man, of soul and body: but this rather, that the Word having Personally united to Himself flesh ensouled with reasonable soul unspeakably and incomprehensibly was made Man and was called son of man not in respect of favor only or good pleasure, nor yet by appendage of person only:) and that the natures which are gathered together unto Very Union are diverse, yet One Christ and Son of Both, not as though the diversity of natures were taken away because of the Union, but rather that the Godhead and Manhood make up One Lord and Son through their unspeakable and ineffable coming together into Unity.

And thus is He said, albeit He have His being before the ages and be begotten of the Father, to be born after the flesh too, of a woman; not as though His Divine Nature received the beginning of Being in the holy Virgin, nor yet as though a second birth were needed on Its own account, along with that of the Father. For it were alike idle and foolish to say that He Who is before every age and Co-eternal with the Father, needs a second beginning of Being. But since for us and for our salvation, the Word having united the Human Nature to Himself Personally, proceeded forth of a woman, He is therefore said to have been born in the flesh. For not mere man was first born of the holy Virgin, and then the Word of God came down upon Him, but united from the very womb, He is said to have undergone birth in the Flesh, as making His own the birth of His own Flesh. For thus we say that He both suffered and rose again, not as though God the Word suffered in His own Nature either stripes or piercings of nails or the other wounds (for the Godhead is Impassible because It is also Incorporeal), but since that which had been made His own body suffered these things, He again is said to suffer for us, for the Impassible was in the suffering Body. In like manner do we conceive of His Death too. For the Word of God is by Nature Immortal and Incorruptible and Life and Life-giving: but since again His own Body by the grace of God (as Paul saith) tasted death for every man, Himself is said to have suffered death for us, not as though He had experienced death as far as pertains unto His own Nature (for it were distraction to say or think this) but because (as I said just now) His flesh tasted death. Thus too when His Flesh was raised, the Resurrection again is said to be His, not as though He fell into decay (not so!) but because His Body again was raised. Thus shall we confess One Christ and Lord; not as if co-worshiping a man with the Word, that a fantasy of severance be not privily brought in, by saying with [syn] but as worshiping One and the Same, because not alien to the Word is His Body with which He sits with the Father, not as though two sons sit with the Father but One in union with His own Flesh. But if we reject the Personal Union as either impossible or as uncomely, we fall into saying, Two sons; for we must needs sever and say that the one is man by himself, honored with the title of son; by Himself again, the Word of God, having of Nature both the Name and Fact of Sonship.

We must not therefore sever into two sons, the One Lord Jesus Christ, for it will nothing aid the right utterance of the Faith so to do, even though one should allege unity of persons, for the Scripture hath not said that the Word united to Himself the Person of a man, but that He hath been made Flesh. And the Word’s being made Flesh is nought else than that He partook of flesh and blood in like way with ourselves and made our body His own and proceeded Man of a woman, not casting away the being God and His Generation of God the Father, but even while in assumption of flesh remaining what He was.

Thus does the declaration of the exact Faith everywhere set forth to us, thus shall we find that the holy Fathers thought, thus were they bold to call the holy Virgin Mother of God: not as though the Nature of the Word or His Godhead took a beginning of Being from the holy Virgin, but in that the holy Body souled with a reasonable soul was born of here, whereunto the Word united Personally is said to have been born after the Flesh.

These things now too I writing as out of Love in Christ, exhort thee as a brother and conjure thee before Christ and the elect Angels, with us both to think and teach these things; that the peace of the Churches may be preserved and the bond of harmony and of love abide indissoluble with the Priests of God.

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