Friday, March 29, 2013

How Deep the Father's Love for Us

The Crucifixion (1622) by Simon Vouet

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. ~ Isaiah 53:4-5
Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, is the climax of the Christian year.  In this one short period are celebrated (among other events) Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the Last Supper; the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; Christ's arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death in atonement for our sins; and His resurrection from the dead on the third day thereafter. These events fulfilled divine promises and the visions of prophets declared many centuries before they actually happened. Nothing else written or imagined by man is so compelling a story; no other event in history is as important. It fixed the purpose of life and the destiny of man, the Earth, and all Creation.

The atonement, death, and resurrection of Jesus have inspired countless works of art, poetry, and music down through the centuries. The vastness of the subject might seem to make futile any attempt to capture it in a single work. But its essence, for man, is breathtakingly simple. As summed up in one popular hymn published in 1891, "I need no other argument, I need no other plea; It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me." (My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, by Eliza E. Hewitt).

And composers continue celebrating that simple, powerful message today.  Among the best examples is a song by Stuart Townend, an English Christian worship leader and writer of hymns and contemporary worship music. It's called How Deep the Father's Love for Us. This simple, three-stanza work embraces the salient events and greatest truths of Christ's passion, death on the Cross, and resurrection--especially, our redemption through them. The tune is likewise simple and graceful, and easy to sing--very much as with Christendom's most beloved traditional hymns.
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss -
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life -
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart -
His wounds have paid my ransom.

How Deep the Father's Love for Us is very similar in theme and approach to My Song is Love Unknown, which was featured here a few weeks ago. Both hymns reflect the singer's sense of unworthiness and remorse, and of personal responsibility for the sin that brought about Jesus' suffering and death ("My sin upon His shoulders" . . . ", "It was my sin that held Him there"). The line referring to the singer's hearing his own "mocking voice/call out among the scoffers" brings powerfully home our own guilt, and brings stark immediacy to that awful scene of mob vengeance in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago.

Another telling theme in this hymn is the unfathomable love of a Father who would sacrifice His only son to save someone who in no way deserved or had earned such a blessing, and the unutterable loneliness that Jesus must have endured as His Father "turned His face away" as His wounds earned salvation for all of us.

The third stanza of Townend's hymn testifies movingly to the redemptive, transforming power of Christ's sacrifice: "this I know with all my heart--His wounds have paid my ransom". It is a very anthem of that "blessed assurance" that the believer knows!  The precious work that secured it for us, and the glory rightfully attending it, are Christ's alone.

The Scripture student may notice is how this hymn echoes the main themes of Isaiah 53, in which Jesus' suffering and death in atonement for our sins was prophesied more than 700 years before it occurred.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
. . . [By] his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
It's rare indeed to be able to hear from a composer's own lips how he came to write a hymn, but here is a short interview with Stuart Townend himself about the spiritual and musical processes behind How Deep the Father's Love for Us:

[NOTE: If you subscribe to these posts by email, the videos may not appear; in that case you can see them at the Songs of Praises web site.]

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Although How Deep the Father's Love for Us has now been published in at least eight hymnals, including the Baptist Hymnal and the hymnal used by the Church of Ireland, there seem to be no videos currently available featuring the hymn being such in a congregational setting. But there are several good solo and small group renditions, especially this one by Stuart Townend himself. Be sure to see how the lyrics echo passages from both the Old and New Testaments concerning the sacrifice of our Lord and its meaning:

Another fine solo performance is rendered by Christian artist and worship leader Fernando Ortega.

Here is a fine small group performance by contemporary Christian music trio Phillips, Craig and Dean (warning: the video contains some scenes from the film The Passion of the Christ, which may be as violent and hard to watch as they are accurate in depicting Jesus' terrible suffering):

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 May you come to know and embrace the miraculous salvation that Jesus Christ
purchased for YOU with His precious blood on the Cross!
God bless you and your family abundantly.

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things,
in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation
perfect through sufferings. ~
Hebrews 2:10

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful, and moving, contemporary hymn! It's the Gospel in a nutshell of three deceptively simple verses. What else can be said? Thank you for posting this, during the Easter season.