“And from my smitten heart
two wonders I confess;
the wonder of redeeming love
and my unworthiness.”
Sitting in church listening to the beautiful hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, I couldn’t get past this one line. No doubt, many find this lyric to be harsh at best. “… my unworthiness”? Did the writer really mean to sound so severe? Ms. Clephane, you’re bringing us down!
RC Sproul helps us understand why this lyric presents such a disconnect in a day when fallen human nature is celebrated and our prideful disobedience placated to unimaginable lengths. He wrote: “Without God man has no reference point to define himself. 20th century philosophy manifests the chaos of man seeking to understand himself as a creature with dignity while having no reference point for that dignity.” And so, the language of this old hymn seems jarring to contemporary sensibilities and twenty-first century self-awareness and empowerment. But, perhaps the unvarnished words of this hymn should give us pause.
JI Packer got it right — “We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God.” Ouch. The playwright, George Bernard Shaw said it with tongue in cheek – “In the beginning God created man in His image … and then man returned the favor.” Sadly, he’s not wrong. (Check out Romans 1:22-23.) Without a change in course, our upside-down, wrong-side-out thinking is doomed, sailing us straight into the rocks of our own futile speculations (Romans 1:21) and ultimate demise. Thankfully, His word shines a bright light out into the ocean of voices we must navigate everyday.
So, how do we begin to have right thoughts of God and who we are in Him? Who God is stands at the core of “the wonder of redeeming love”. Though we are the objects of this great love, the wonder of it all lies in the condescension of a holy God giving His one and only Son to die in the place of fallen man.
“There can be no other way with a holy God.
Either He forfeits His holiness
and becomes defiled by
letting unredeemed sinners
go free without a just payment,
or an adequate ransom price is paid
on our behalf by a qualified representative.
Therefore, God must sacrifice
His holiness or His Son.
And sacrificing His holiness
was never an option.” *
And so, He made a way. We were broken, lost, and absolutely helpless. He was humbled (Hebrews 2:9) so we could be raised to new life. He gave Himself as a ransom so we would be redeemed (Mark 10:45). He emptied Himself so we could be filled (Philippians 2:7). To gaze upon the mystery of a holy God stooping to redeem desperately lost men so we could be found and made new shines the light on the real wonder of it all. Jerry Bridges said it so well: “We only contribute one element to the formula of grace — our sin”.* It’s all about His justice, love, grace, mercy, glory, and holiness. In a word — it’s all about Him.
There are uncountable books written on this topic alone; books that help us get past the deficiency that so many today present as the good news of the gospel. The lack often lies in skipping over the “bad news” of our need and heading straight to the good news of redeeming love. JC Ryle said it like this: “If a man doesn’t realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.” We must know, as Isaiah did, what it means to be undone when confronted with His holiness (Isaiah 6:5) before we can experience wholeness.
When we confess who we
really are in the presence of
our hearts begin
great thoughts of God.
This is how we start to right the ship and find safe passage through the cacophony of empty messages all around us. It’s to exchange hollow words meant to somehow prop us up for a bedrock hope anchored in the truth of grace. We are the objects of this great love, and therein lies our worth.
“…He first loved us” (I John 4:19). There could be no greater worth or more cherished belonging.
Hoping we will be given a renewed sense of just how amazing His grace really is!
*”The Great Exchange” by Jerry Bridges