Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
I absolutely love the word “juxtapose.” I love the way it rolls off the tongue. I love the noun version of it, “juxtaposition.” Often our approach to God and His reality, His identity, and His adjectives are replete with juxtaposition.
The King of creation, born to simple people in a backwater town.
The head of greatest glory hung in greatest shame not on a throne of victory, but on a cross of indemnity, circled with thorny brambles.
The lion of Judah.
The lamb that was slain.
What a great song to sing of the victorious arrival of such a paradoxical and perfect God! We sing of kings and kingdoms bowed at His approach. We sing of our own sincere and wonder-filled awe. We are set free, our chains broken.
Another juxtaposition we run into as we seek to celebrate our King is that the only way we may ever sing excellently is if He teaches us. We must ask… beseech even, since that’s the word that’s really at the tips of my fingers, Heaven and its glorious King for the song and the skill appropriate enough to bring the affection which we desire to pour out for Him.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
-Robert Robinson, 1758
Ready for something wild? Robinson was a Baptist preacher in 18th century England. This was the era that saw the Baptist church absolutely scandalized by all of the hymn writers writing music with contemporary music melodies. Their great fear was that a great swath of unwashed sinners might flood the church and then OH! the spectacle of saint and sinner all singing together.
I’m not kidding.
Anyway, that wasn’t the wild thing. According to hymn historian C. Michael Hawn, the practice of taking out a verse is not a 20th century practice to get back to the ballgame in time. Hawn writes about the publication of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” that “Martin Madan [an 18th century hymn book publisher] included the first three stanzas in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns  which established the practice of eliminating the original fourth stanza.” This may also be where we find the recently re-introduced fourth verse of “Amazing Grace” made popular by Chris Tomlin.
But since I hope you’re curious, like I was, here’s the fourth verse.
O that Day when freed from sinning,
I shall see thy lovely Face;
Clothed then in blood-washed Linnen [sic]
How I’ll sing thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransom’d Soul away;
Send thine Angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless Day.
The theme of juxtaposition continues for us this Sunday by singing the greatness of God from the position of so ungreat a being in the grand scheme. We are so utterly small in the light of His glory, and yet, we are the ones called forth to write the human poetry, as the crown of creation. Our offerings are so small in comparison to His greatness.
When a song, taught our tongues by the Holy Spirit, soars into “Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee, how great thou art!” I feel great not because I have done great singing, but because I have been allowed to extoll so amazing a God as Jaweh.
And finally, as we look at realities that conflict and only have peace in the embrace of God, is “When Peace Like a River.” The refrain, made resurgent popular by the Bethel song “It is Well,” haunts in its invitation to call and respond.
The true juxtaposition comes not as much in the words as in the story itself. The song was written by a man who lost his entire family, little by little until finally, he felt the last of them give her soul up to eternity on a trans-Atlantic journey.
It was on the return journey, when the ship glided past the very same place that inspiration came to him that come what may, folly or fortune, ruin or reign, he would proclaim the greatness of God.
“Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well. It is well with my soul.”
- C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” UMC Discipleship Ministries Online, 2019. Accessed 11 February 2019, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-come-thou-fount-of-every-blessing