Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: "Arise, My Soul, Arise"

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 18
“Arise, My Soul, Arise”
First Published: May 7, 1998

Our Hymn of the Month for May is “Arise, My Soul, Arise” (Trinity Hymnal, 508) This is one of Charles Wesley’s many fine hymns. He was, of course, younger brother of the famous John Wesley and the author of numerous familiar and beloved songs in our hymnal (such as “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” “Rejoice, the Lord Is King,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Soldiers of Christ Arise,” and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”).

Though the Wesleys were not particularly fond of Calvinistic doctrine (Charles, for instance, actually wrote hymns against the Calvinistic teaching on predestination!), many of their hymns are filled with what we would immediately identify as Presbyterian views of God’s sovereign and free grace (for instance, who can imagine a more beautiful poetic expression of a Reformed view of God’s sovereign effectual calling than is contained in the fourth stanza of “And Can It Be”?). And so we Presbyterians can heartily join in with the Wesleys in so many of their beautiful expressions of praise to our loving and triune God. “Arise, My Soul, Arise” is such a song.

This hymn celebrates Christ’s priestly work and heavenly intercession, and especially the assurance that flows from it to the believer. The first stanza bids the believer to “shake off your guilty fears” because “before the throne my Surety stands” and “my name is written on his hands.” This language powerfully reminds the Christian of the basis of our acceptance before God and the certainty of our pardon—it is the Lord Christ who is our Surety, our guarantor!

The second stanza prompts us to reflect upon the fact that he is interceding for us now at the Right Hand of the Almighty and that he has finally atoned for people from every tribe and tongue and nation. Indeed, the third stanza picks up with this thought and declares to us that the wounds he received on the Cross make Christ’s intercession effectual, powerful, efficacious, even binding! He says: “Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary; they pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me. ‘Forgive him, O forgive,’ they cry, ‘nor let that ransomed sinner die.’” What a tremendous testimony to the basis of Christian assurance.

The last stanza of the hymn joyously meditates on the reality that God, in Christ, has been reconciled to us, and thus “he owns me for his child, I can no longer fear.” It is this reality (our adoption) and our realization of it (the recognition that ‘I am his child’) that grounds our confidence to boldly approach the throne of grace.

May you sing this great hymn with exuberance and understanding this month. I am looking forward to singing it with you this Lord’s Day!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

1 comment:

Zac Hicks said...

The "war" between John Wesley and Augustus Toplady (ardent Calvinist, writer of "Rock of Ages") is one that I find fascinating, especially in light of the reflections above. It always seemed like Charles Wesley was a closet Calvinist, but it's hard to fathom when one reads the vicious tracts in the Wesley vs. Toplady exchange. (J.C. Ryle's book on 18th century English Protestants is informative here.)

Thanks for this reflection. I was awakened to this glorious hymn through Kevin Twit's Indelible Grace version. It has ministered to me and our congregation many times.

Zac Hicks
(Associate Pastor of Worship & Liturgy at Don Sweeting's [new RTS President] home base) ;)