by Ray C. Stedman
I want to continue tonight just briefly in the passage we looked at last Sunday night together, that great passage, “Do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery, that is excess, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” [Ephesians 5:18-19]
Now, last time together, we talked about what these different categories of songs are: psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. You remember, the apostle here is drawing a comparison between the singing of the world and the singing of the church. And it is a comparison that is different in every respect. It is different in the source. What causes people of the world to sing? Well, basically, wine. They need a good stiff drink before they can have a good time at a party. If you want to relax people, you have to give them a drink. That’s what the world believes. But with a Christian, it’s not wine, but the Spirit and it does the same thing to you, that’s the point he’s making. It should fill you with a desire to sing and to really pour out some glorious song because you are filled with the Spirit just as the worlding is filled with his wine. And then they sing in a different way. As the apostle says, when the world sings, it’s to excess. You listen to the songs of the world and their extravagant words. They’re usually exaggerated words. You know, even their love songs are so highly exaggerated. You know, “I’d swim the ocean for you.” “I’d climb the highest mountain.” “I’d soar to the moon.” “And I’ll be over tonight if it doesn’t rain.” That sort of thing. That’s the approach of the world. But here in the Scripture, it’s to be by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. That is, that which really doesn’t exaggerate, but nevertheless sets forth clearly and plainly the excellencies of the Lord.
Now, we must not stop there, because the most important part is this last part. What do they sing about? Well, what does the world sing about? You listen to the world’s songs and you’ll find that it almost invariably reduces to something about themselves or one another. The world is always singing about themselves, about how they feel, how they react, what they want, how they want it and when they want it. And how others feel in the same boat. And almost without exception, the songs of the world are devoted to the exaltation of self.
But the Christian, you see, is to sing, making melody in his heart, unto the Lord. That’s the point. The theme of our song, that which prompts us to sing, is the Lord. And the theme of which we sing is the glory and the greatness of the Lord. Now that is Christian singing. And I think this is a mark of a truly Christian gathering is that the songs are going to be glorifying the Lord. After all, that is the work of the Holy Spirit, isn’t it? Jesus said when he comes, he will not speak about himself. Wherever you find people speaking a lot about the Spirit and making a great deal of the Spirit and saying very little about the Son, you can be sure that whatever else they have, it is not of the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit talks about the Son and glorifies the Lord Jesus.
Some of you were not here last Sunday night when I mentioned that story that’s always stuck in my memory of hearing John Noble telling about his experiences in a Russian slave camp up in Siberia. He and his father were in business in East Germany and through a strange combination of circumstances, they were both thrown into a slave labor camp in Siberia, and sentenced to a long period of hard labor. Neither of them were Christians; in fact, they were atheists. But in that slave labor camp in Siberia, both of them, though they were separated from each other, became a Christian on the same day – a most remarkable story. And there were quite a number of other Christians in that camp. And John Noble told about their desire to be together. Wherever Christians are really Christians, they want to be with other Christians. There’s a powerful magnetic pull that draws them together. These Christians used to try to get together wherever they could and sometimes they were able to assemble briefly. And when they came together, they always sang, but they didn’t dare sing words, because that would make it too loud and they’d be heard. But they hummed together. One song. Only one. They all knew it. Whenever they’d get together, they’d hum softly:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to him in prayer!
Now, that’s the theme of Christian singing, you see. And this is what the apostle is speaking about. And really, of course, this is the theme of the whole Bible. You read the Old Testament and you find the Old Testament prophets as they looked forward and saw the coming of the Lord Jesus; they began to sing. You listen to Isaiah and his songs constitute some of the most beautiful poetry in the world. Read the 40th chapter of Isaiah and as he begins, he says, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people.” Well, what about? Well, your God is coming. Behold, your God cometh. And, these Old Testament prophets, when they saw and thought of the coming of the Lord Jesus, they were just thrilled and they began to sing and their language is highly captivating. “Sing,” they say, “shout.” Let every hill be exalted and every valley be made low and so on. They can hardly contain themselves as they think about the coming of the Lord. You remember, when he did come, the angels sang of his coming and there on the plains of Bethlehem as the Lord Jesus was born in the dinginess of that cave, the angels began to sing and the shepherds heard them singing, the heavenly hosts singing and praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, good will to men.” So, this has been the theme, you see, of all the saints of the past is the greatness of the Lord Jesus. And I think it’s the theme of most of our hymns.
There are some hymns that I think are tremendous hymns and I want to just have you look at one with me. Take your hymnbook for a minute and look at the words of some of these great hymns. Turn to 244. Here’s a song that has captured the way believers feel when they think of the Lord Jesus:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
What an expression, you see, of the sense of the glory and the wonder of the person of the Lord Jesus. We’re to sing and make melody unto the Lord. Does this do that to you? When you sing these hymns, do you sense something of the beauty of the Lord and sing unto the Lord, so that your heart reflects what the song says and you’re just letting it pour out in thanksgiving unto him? “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear.” You know how Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, that famous old saint of the thirteenth century put it:
Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter still [sic] thy face to see
And in thy presence rest.
And all through the centuries, believers everywhere, when they’ve gathered together, have thought about the greatness and the glory and the beauty of the Lord Jesus and have sung to him like that. One of my favorite hymns, I think it’s probably the favorite of many of you, “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature.” What a beautiful hymn that is. And what an experience to sing it with the intelligent understanding that you are worshipping the Lord – the one who is the center of all things.
You know, this, I think, is the source of Christian joy. Sometimes we Christians don’t look very joyful. Nietzche was right when he says, “If you want me to believe in your redeemer, you’re going to have to look a lot more redeemed.” And some of us don’t look very redeemed do we? We look discouraged and defeated. Some of us have a very negative attitude. What’s the reason? We look like we’ve been soaked in embalming fluid for about a week, some of us. Well, the reason is, you see, we’ve somehow got occupied with ourselves. We’re always going around feeling our spiritual pulse and taking our spiritual temperature. We are centering and focusing upon ourselves. Now, you see, the exhortation of the apostle is, when you come together, don’t think about yourselves; begin to think about the Lord and the beauty and the glory and the greatness and the wonder and the majesty of the Lord Jesus and let your thoughts just gather around him and you’ll find your spirit begin to be uplifted as you think and sing and make melody in your hearts unto the Lord.
The Spirit of God does that. It’s the Spirit who’s prompting you to sing about the Lord. Now it’s the Spirit who prompts us to read the word. Well, why read the Word? Well, you sometimes feel, you know, all at loose ends with yourself and you don’t know where to turn, you feel restless. That’s the prompting of the Spirit to begin to consider the Word of God. And if you follow it, you’ll find that the Word begins to set forth the greatness of the Lord Jesus. You remember how, in Philippians, the 2nd chapter, the apostle dwells on this theme. He says it’s the way you settle church quarrels. Here are a couple of women in the church at Philippi, who were quarrelling with each other. The apostle even gives their names: Euodia and Syntyche, which someone, you remember, has pronounced, “Odious” and “Soontouchy.”
Let Odious and Soontouchy be of the same mind in the Lord. Well, how do you get them together, these two quarrelling women? I think they were probably soloists in the choir. That’s the war department in so many churches. How do you get them together? Well, he says, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God” – just think of that, being in the form of God and not counting it a thing to be held onto to be equal with God. Think of that. The Lord isn’t saying, though he’s equal with the Father, “Well, this is such a glorious thing. I don’t want to give this up.” But, he’s laid it aside, Paul says, and though he was equal with the father, yet he laid it aside. He emptied himself. He became a servant. He took the lowest place. He didn’t stand up for his own rights, but he laid them down. And he says, now, if you’ll just have that mind in you that was in Christ Jesus, you can settle your own quarrels. You don’t have to stand up for your rights. But begin to think of the majesty, the greatness, the wonder of the Lord in laying down his life on our behalf.
And then think of the majesty of his person. You remember how Hebrews begins, “God who at various times and in different ways, spoke to our fathers through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, who is the Heir of all things.” He’s standing at the end of history. By Him He created all things, He says. And He’s the express image of His glory, of His person. Exactly what God is. And when you begin to think about this, about the Lord Jesus, that He is your Lord and your Savior, then your heart begins to sing and you begin to make melody in your heart unto the Lord. Think of the wonder of His incarnation. This is one of the greatest themes of the Bible. I never get over this myself. It always stirs me to think that He who was the glory of God, the effulgence of his glory, the very express image of God, who bears upon Him the very stamp of His nature, that He became flesh and dwelt among us. I don’t think there’s ever a greater hymn that’s been written than number 259, Charles Wesley’s great hymn. You remember, this is one of our favorites here:
And can it be that I should gain an int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Think of that. But the one I want is the 3rd verse.
He left his Father’s throne above (so free, so infinite His grace!),
emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; for O my God, it found out me!
What a tremendous song that is. The theology of that hymn is fantastic. I always enjoy Charles Wesley’s hymns. And then another one from his pen is number 32. This is one we sing at Christmas, but the words of it are fantastic. Perhaps you’ve lost the meaning of this because it’s so familiar, but notice it. The 2nd verse:
Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Do you get the wonder of that, the mystery of it? This is what caused Paul to write to Timothy and say, “Great is the mystery of godliness.” God became flesh and was manifested among men.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
You only have to let your mind think upon the record of the scriptures about the Lord Jesus and your heart begins to sing, at least mine does.
You think of his authority; how he spoke. And men always listened to him because he didn’t speak like other men. He spoke with authority. His words had the ring of truth. And he didn’t need any letters of reference. He didn’t need anybody’s recommendation. He simply spoke and everyone listened, because what he said rang the bell of truth. He spoke with authority.
And you think of his compassion. How he was always willing to touch the lepers when they came to him. These frightful, ghastly lepers with their hideous diseases, their disfigured limbs and arms, and their running sores. And yet, he always touched them when they came. And I’m always moved by the story of how, tired and weary, he went into a house to try to hide from the crowd for a bit, but it says he couldn’t be hid because there was a woman outside who was in need and he responded to that need and came out.
And when you think of how the Scriptures detail the offices he fulfilled. He was the great prophet. He spoke as no other man spoke. He foretold the future when the present was dark and hopeless looking. I’m always moved when I read the Olivet discourse, the great sermon on the Mount of Olives, just before the cross, when he was gathered there with this little band of frightened, fearful men and the city was turning against him, the shadow of the cross was looming over his pathway, and he predicted that there would come a day when not a rock would be left standing in the temple, the whole city would be razed and the people carried into captivity. And he himself, he said, would be crucified and it looked so hopeless, the cause that he represented. And yet, standing there among these men in that dark hour, you remember he said, “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory with all his angels with him, then shall all the nations be gathered before him, and he shall sit upon his throne judging the nations.” And he was so confident that God would work things out, speaking as the greatest prophet that the Bible has any record of, he foretold the future and foretold all the detail of things that would come as God’s great prophet.
And then you see him as the priest, how he kept the law, how he was always careful that nothing ever offended the Father and how he fulfilled every demand of God’s righteous law upon men, so that he could say to others, “Which of you convinces me of sin?” Now, why does he do that? Well, because he was a priest, fulfilling the law as the priests were supposed to do.
And then he becomes the sacrifice and you watch him in the Garden of Gethsemane, how he’s troubled and torn in spirit and in an agony within himself. Why? Well, because a priest, as Hebrews tells us, is to be one who is able to feel like we feel – to sense our infirmities, to enter into our feelings about the troubles that come to us. And there he is, in the garden entering into this, feeling all the puzzlement and all the bewilderment that you and I feel when we’re in trouble. And then he’s on the cross. What’s he doing? Well, he’s dying. Just think of that. The son of God, who created the world and made all the things that are in it, is dying. This is what causes Charles Wesley to cry out:
‘Tis mystery all! Th’immortal dies:
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries,
To plumb the depths of grace divine. [sic]
But he can’t do it, you see. Who can explain the cross? The mystery, the wonder of the Lord Jesus dying upon that tree. And, then, that isn’t all. He ascended, rose above all principalities and powers and every name that’s named and high above every principality and power, we’re told. He’s incomparable. There’s not a power on earth that can hold a candle to him. What’s he doing there? Well, he’s still the priest, you see, presenting his blood before the father, the perfected offering that has satisfied the righteous demands of God.
And then the Scriptures speak of him as the king. I love these Scriptures that speak of him that way. You watch him in the boat in the Sea of Galilee and he’s asleep and the storm is raised and the winds are howling and the waves are rising and falling all around him and it looks as those the ship is about to go down and they wake him up and he steps to the side of the boat and just says, “Peace, be still.” The wind quiets down and the waves stop. There’s a calm, just as glassy as anything you could want. And the disciples are amazed. They say, “What kind of a man is this?” Why? Why did he do that? Well, because he’s fulfilling man’s heritage to be ruler of all things.
He’s the King. And as you watch him rising from the dead, when they bound him there in grave clothes and put him in a tomb. But death could never hold him. He comes bursting out on that glorious Easter morning. And when he appears before his disciples, it’s because he’s the King. And even there, you remember, on the cross, when the thief is watching him, he sees that this is no joke, this kingship. That here is someone who has power, not only over the forces of earth, but over the forces of life beyond death. And he says to him, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And the Lord’s answer is swift and sure, “Today, shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Now you see, what a theme this is. No wonder the hymn writers regard him as incomparable.
Let me just bring this to a close with referring you to two other hymns. Look at the words of number 126. Isaac Watts says:
Begin my tongue, some heavenly theme
And speak some boundless thing:
The mighty works or mightier name
Of our eternal King.
Tell of his wondrous faithfulness
And sound his power abroad;
Sing the sweet promise of his grace,
The love and truth of God.
His very word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.
And then look at the words of 109. Here again you have Isaac Watts and he says:
Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and power,
That ever mortals knew,
That angels ever bore:
All are too poor to speak his worth,
Too poor to set my Savior forth.
Do you ever feel that way? Now, that’s what it means to sing in the Spirit, to let your heart just respond to the words you’re singing so that you praise the Lord, and sing unto his name, and exalt the greatness of our Lord. After all, you see, according to the book of Revelation, we’re just rehearsing for heaven. You remember, in the 5th chapter of Revelation, John saw the lamb with the seven sealed book in his hand and he hears a great chorus of voices from every corner of the earth. Every tribe and nation. And they’re singing, “Worthy is the Lamb to be praised, to receive power and glory and blessing and honor.” And if you and I are redeemed, we’ll be joining in that song. That’s why we are to learn to sing here, so we won’t be off key when we get up there. And we’ll know how to sing to the glory of the Lord. That’s what it’s all about. And then John says, “And I heard thousands and thousands and ten thousands upon ten thousands that join in this great song, singing to the glory of God.”
Well, that’s about enough, I think. If our hearts are ever stirred at all, that should do it. We should sing unto the Lord and the glory of his name. How do you feel about that? Do you feel like saying, “Amen?” All right, let’s sing then as we come to this communion table that reminds us so eloquently of the death of our Lord Jesus and his resurrection again for us and his life given to us.
Title: The Lord Jesus (Hymnology)
Source: Single Messages
By: Ray C. Stedman
Scripture: Ephesians 5:18-19, various
Catalog No: 2048
Date: October 5, 1969
(Grateful appreciation to Judy R. Pierson for transcription - September 2007)
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