Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.
On the Committee’s Facebook page earlier this month they wrote, “After last night’s Hymn Festival, PCOCS think that ‘In Christ Alone’ will become a favorite. What are your other favorites on the list?”
Apparently they used a version that excluded the wrath of God. How far the Presbyterian Church (USA) has drifted from their historical roots. I’m trying to picture John Knox, the leader of the Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian Church, having an issue with idea of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross.
Knox once said, “By the brightness of God’s scriptures we are brought to the feeling of God’s wrath and anger, which by our manifold offences we have justly provoked against ourselves; which revelation and conviction God sends not of a purpose to confound us, but of very love, by which He had concluded our salvation to stand in Jesus Christ.”
The Scottish Confession of Faith (one of Presbyterianism’s first creeds) says:
[We confess] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us; that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions; that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God, was damned in the presence of an earthly judge, that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God; that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God), but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father, which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow, that he remained the only and well-beloved and blessed Son of his Father, even in the midst of his anguish and torment, which he suffered in body and soul, to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people. After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin: which if any affirm, we nothing doubt to avow that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same.
1. Heb. 10:1-12.
2. Isa. 53:5; Heb. 12:3.
3. John 1:29.
4. Matt.27:11,26; Mark 15; Luke 23.
5. Gal. 3:13.
6. Deut. 21:23.
7. Matt. 26:38-39.
8. 2 Cor. 5:21.
9. Heb. 9:12; 10:14.
They are embracing a cultural hatred of God’s wrath. I mentioned over four years ago something Brennan Manning wrote (Manning’s writings were very influential among the Emergent Church):
The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger… the god who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.
The trend to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus has taken root in the Presbyterian Church (USA). What a shame! Though Christ’s death on the cross God’s wrath was satisfied. He gave up His son to bear it Himself because God knew we could not. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV). It is finished. God’s wrath is satisfied. Nothing else is needed, Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation.
I shared this back in 2009, but it is relevant to this news. The late Yale Professor H. Richard Niebuhr adequately described liberal Protestantism’s message which we see as the basis of the Committee’s decision on “In Christ Alone.” He wrote in The Kingdom of God in America, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a world without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
The committee wanted the lyrics of “In Christ Alone” to be “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” Why did Jesus die if it were not for God’s wrath? Why is it that they believe God’s love can’t be magnified through penal substitutionary atonement? God’s wrath was for us because of our sin. His love was demonstrated because Christ died for our sin while we were still sinners.
In the Gospel, the late John H. Gerstner wrote, “justice and mercy kiss each other.”
First, Christianity confirms the fact that justice must be satisfied. Sin must be condemned according to its demerit. This means eternal doom. The sinner must be damned because God must be inexorably holy and just. His all-powerful Being must vindicate His all-holy Being. Christianity never compromises the ever-blessed purity and excellency of the divine nature. Second, Christianity alone finds a way to satisfy infinite justice and provide infinite mercy at the same time. What no other religion has dreamed of, Jesus Christ has accomplished. He underwent the infinite wrath of God against sin and lived to bestow His mercy on the damned sinners for whom He died. The infinite Son of God took upon Himself a human nature in which He underwent the full fury of the divine wrath. The omnipotent God satisfied His violated holiness by punishing sin completely in His blessed Son, who “became sin” for His people. The justice of God was vindicated in full in the substitute, His own Son, our Saviour dear. He survived that awful vengeance and rose victor over the grave by the power of His own divinity. Now He offers to every sin-sick and “pleasure”- burdened soul an everlasting mercy. Perfect mercy and perfect justice in the gospel of the crucified, (The Problem of Pleasure: Why Good Things Happen to Bad People, pg. 24-25).
While rejecting a great hymn is tragic, rejecting sound doctrine is even more so.
Here’s a video of In Christ Alone with the lyrics below:
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
“In Christ Alone”
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music
HT: Denny Burk
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