Hymns bursting with biblical truth are a great way for frontline clergy to do what it says on the tin of the Ordinal: ‘with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word’. A hymn that has aroused the public wrath of one liberal bishop, to which he gave vent at a church service, is Stuart Townend’s 1995 masterpiece, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.
As an aid to refuting erroneous liberal doctrine about the death of Christ, it is the spiritual equivalent of the SAS: ‘How great the pain of searing loss – the Father turns his face away, as wounds which mar the chosen One brings many sons to glory. Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders.’
This beautifully devotional modern hymn could not be clearer that the death of Christ propitiated the wrath of God on sin. Such a doctrine of the atonement is well reflected in the Book of Common Prayer, particularly in its service of Holy Communion, with its reference to the wrath of God in the Confession, its mention of ‘propitiation’ in the Comfortable Words and in its proclamation in the Prayer of
Consecration that Christ made on the Cross ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’.
Mr Townend’s hymn is most appropriate to be sung when a bishop is present in a parish church for a Confirmation or for some other reason. After all, he too promised to drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word. Refuting error should certainly not be the only motivation for choosing a particular hymn but it is a godly motivation among the others which the New Testament commends in pursuit of the edificatory purpose of Christian assemblies.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s command to the church at Colossae: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col. 3.16, RSV). Preaching a wrathless doctrine of atonement is about as much use in salvation as issuing commandos with peashooters and rotten tomatoes in an action to rescue hostages from terrorists.