I love hymns! Hymnody plays an important role in the worship of the church as God’s people gather to unite their voices in sung praise. Like the psalms, biblically–based hymns provide us with words of adoration to extol the greatness of the Lord as well as words of aspiration to make known our desires as His people. That was certainly my goal in writing the lyrics for The Jubilee Hymn.
I am privileged to serve as a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and as the PCA approached its 50th anniversary, I wanted to write a hymn for our congregation to celebrate the occasion. What better way to do that, I thought, than to structure the stanzas around the three–fold motto of the denomination: faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission. Those statements gave me a basis for organizing three stanzas, and on a post–General Assembly flight from Atlanta to Cleveland, the words fell into place. I am not an accomplished musician, so the tune for The Church’s One Foundation (AURELIA) provided the meter with which to work.
The hymn begins by rehearsing several of the biblical images for the church: a body, a bride, and a temple, and then offers praise to the Lord Jesus for His gospel that unites us as His people. For all our differences within the PCA, I believe it is important to emphasize that they pale in comparison to the marvelous unity that we have in Christ.
The church is Christ’s dear body, the ones for whom He died;
His precious bride and temple where He will e’re abide.
O gracious Lord, we praise You, to You the glory be;
For Your victorious gospel that gives us unity.
Following the opening stanza of adoration, three stanzas express the aspirations of the church with regard to God’s word, our confessional heritage, and our missional outlook. At the founding of the PCA, the denomination stated its unequivocal commitment to the Bible as God’s inspired and inerrant Word. The erosion of the doctrine of Scripture had undermined the faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) as liberal or neo–orthodox views of the Bible encouraged Christians to listen for the Word of God rather than to listen to the Word of God. The Jubilee Hymn is meant to serve as a reminder that Scriptural fidelity must remain a hallmark of the PCA. If we lose our faith in the Holy Scriptures as God’s Word, then we have lost everything.
O keep us ever faithful to Your inerrant Word;
The Scriptures of the prophets, the seers of the Lord.
The books of the Apostles that tell us of your grace;
That spur us on to glory, to run the gospel race.
In addition to Scriptural fidelity, we must aspire to confessional integrity. We want to be true to the Reformed Faith. That is the focus of the hymn’s third stanza. No better expression of that faith exists in the English language than the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. While it is vital to say, “We believe the Bible!”, it is also essential that we state clearly what we believe the Bible teaches. The system of Reformed doctrine that the Confession teaches magnifies God, His glory, and His grace. His glory transforms us and will continue to transform us as we behold it revealed in the gracious face of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). Remaining true to the Reformed Faith will enable us to keep the Lord and His gospel at the forefront of everything we do.
We pray we may be true to the Faith we call Reformed;
That magnifies Your glory by which we are transformed.
The Faith despised by many, but precious to your own;
The Faith that lifts up Jesus and leads Your children home.
If the gospel is paramount in our denomination and its ministries, then we will aspire to spread its message far and wide! We will joyfully seek to be obedient to the Great Commission. When we wed Scriptural fidelity to confessional integrity, they should give birth to missional alacrity. If we believe in the Bible and in the power of Christ’s good news, then we should demonstrate great eagerness to tell others of His saving truth. The PCA currently has more missionaries on the field than any other Presbyterian denomination in America. That fact should not puff us up with pride, but rather drive us to our knees in prayer to ask the Lord to use us on the field and to send forth more laborers into His harvest (Matt. 9:38).
And to the Great Commission may we obedient be;
To take Your saving message o’er land and hill and sea.
We will not rest contented till all have heard the news;
Of Christ the risen Savior who lives and reigns with You.
The hymn concludes with Trinitarian praise to express the church’s final and ultimate aspiration — that worship redound to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever!
Accept our praise O Father for this our jubilee!
Accept our praise O Jesus, to You the glory be!
Accept our praise O Spirit, descend on us, we pray;
To give us pow’r for service until that glorious day!
As the PCA celebrates its jubilee, it is my prayer that these words will not only express our gratitude for the past half century but will inspire us to move forward on the same basis into the years that lie ahead.