The end at the beginning

This is my adaptation of Noël Piper’s The end is the beginning, in which she lists some parallels between the birth and death of Jesus.

Some similarities between Christ's birth and death

(Click to enlarge)

Christ the Lord is risen today

Christos Anesti! Christ is risen!

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say! Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply. Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won: Alleluia!
Lo! our sun’s eclipse is o’er, Alleluia!
Lo! he sets in blood no more. Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids his rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened Paradise. Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save; Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, O grave?” Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head; Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!

I imagine that Charles Wesley (author of this hymn) was a prim and proper British gentleman. But some of his hymns—this one included—just beg to be sang at the top of one’s lungs with reverently reckless abandon. After all, in the first stanza, he calls upon the entire created order—human beings, angels, the earth and the heavens—to join in praise. That can hardly be a quiet, dignified affair (unlike the video I’ve embedded 😉 ).
So this resurrection day, pull a David and sing like crazy to Jesus Christ, for “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)

O Sacred head now wounded

This hymn comes from the last section of a seven-part Latin poem written in either the 12th or 13th century. Each of the seven sections focuses on one aspect of Christ on the cross—His feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and head.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour:
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favour,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

The joy can ne’er be spoken,
Above all joys beside,
When in thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
Lord of my life, desiring
thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy Cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine for ever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee.

Be near when I am dying,
O show Thy Cross to me;
And for my succour flying,
Come, Lord, to set me free.
These eyes, new faith receiving,
From Jesus, shall not move;
For he, who dies believing,
Dies safely, through Thy love.

“Christ died for me.” What a simple statement. What a profound statement. As I read the second stanza of this hymn, I imagine the poet with tears in his eyes as the truth of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice sinks in. I deserve death and eternal separation from God, but because of the cross I am His beloved child. I think that’s worth shedding some tears over—tears of sorrow at my sin and of joy at my salvation.
At the end of the fourth stanza is a prayer I’ve appropriated for myself: Lord let me never, never outlive my love for Thee.

All glory, laud and honour

Happy Palm Sunday!

Today’s hymn has been sang in countless Palm Sunday services since it was penned (in Latin) in around 820 A.D. by Theodulph, bishop of Orleans. Theodulph had been imprisoned on suspicion of treason in 818, and died in prison in 821.

All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the king of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessèd One.


The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.


The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.


To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.


Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.


I’m guessing that the prison wasn’t a most congenial place for hymn-writing, yet Theopdulph’s mind and pen only pour forth praise. His starting point is the original Palm Sunday (Matt. 21:1-17, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-38, John 12:12-13), to which he adds a scene of angelic worship from Revelation.

What I found delightful is that from the third stanza on, he places the worship then alongside our worship now. They presented their praise, and so do we; they sang a melody, and so do we; God accepted their praise, may He do the same with ours. Isn’t that such a lovely picture of the continuity of God’s covenant people? And as we sing this centuries-old hymn, we too join in the multitude of the redeemed who are now singing it in a nobler and sweeter tongue (to borrow words from here).

Man of sorrows

Happy fifth Sunday in Lent!

This hymn was first published in 1875. The following year its author, Philip Bliss, died in a railway accident that also took the life of his wife.

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we;
Spotless Lamb of God was he;
Full atonement! can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

Lifted up was he to die,
“It is finished!” was his cry:
Now in heav’n exalted high:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

When he comes, our glorious King,
All his ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!

I hit on the idea of summarising each stanza in one word, and as a pale imitation of Bliss’s far superior rhymes, all my words end in -ion.

  1. Mission: To reclaim sinners for God
  2. Substitution: Christ took my condemnation and secured my forgiveness
  3. Perfection: Of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself and its effect of full atonement
  4. Completion: Of the work on the cross
  5. Consummation: Christ will return to take His people to their eternal home.

Hmm… Maybe I should keep well away from writing poetry…

On a serious note, I’m loving how these hymn-writers pull together the past, present and future works of redemption in five stanzas or less. Such rich content to meditate on!

There is a fountain filled with blood

Happy fourth Sunday in Lent!

This hymn, written by William Cowper, was first published in 1772. It is based on Zechariah 13:1, “In that day there shall be a Fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.”

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
O may I there, though’ vile as he,
Wash all my sins away!

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
‘Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be ’till I die.

But when this lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing thy power to save.

Though a brilliant poet and hymnodist, Cowper struggled with deep depression much of his adult life and some of that struggle is visible in this and other of his hymns.

He starts off by putting together the prophecy from Zechariah and its fulfilment in Christ. The purpose of the fountain is to cleanse sinners, like the thief of Luke 23. Yes, he was a nasty piece of work, that thief! But wait, I am as vile as that criminal… I too need to be cleansed. I too can be cleansed in the same fountain!

The third stanza touches on the efficacy of Christ’s work at the cross. As I was reviewing YouTube videos for this post, the last line in the third stanza really got me and bounced around my head for hours. How wonderful that would be, to never sin again! to never live in fear of displeasing God! I imagine that Cowper, with all his dark moments, must have eagerly looked forward to that day.

The fourth and fifth stanzas, written in the first person, get sweetly personal. While awaiting the time that sin will be no more, Cowper and the hymn-singer can revel in God’s saving love (stanza 4). What’s more, the singing of praise will not cease with our death, but instead will become even more glorious (stanza 5). (By the way, does the poetry of these two stanzas turn you to mush as it does me?)

Here’s a biographical sketch of William Cowper along with lessons we can learn from his life, by John Piper.

When I survey the wondrous cross

Happy third Sunday in Lent!

Isaac Watts wrote this hymn in preparation for a communion service in 1707 and it may well be the first hymn in English to be written in the first person.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Watts starts, not with a casual look or a cursory glance, but with a survey of the cross. This steady gaze leads him to the realisation that those things that previously held his attention—his richest gain and the things that charmed him most—utterly pale in comparison.

The second stanza calls to mind Galatians 6:14, a connection made more strongly in a verse that fell out of use (see the link to below).

In the third stanza, Watts sees in the flow of physical blood a flow of love (towards us sinners) and sorrow (at the abandonment by the Father). The stanza ends with an upending of the crown of thorns—rather than a sign of mockery, it becomes an object of wonder.

The last stanza is a study in paradox. The whole realm of nature is vast, but it’s too small of an offering to make to God. His point of course, isn’t a scientific  one but a theological one: the only proper response to such an amazingly wondrous love is wholehearted surrender.

Resources I used: