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PRESBYTERIANS AND BAPTISTS
FIGHT OVER POPULAR HYMN

(A SERMON PREACHED ON REFORMATION SUNDAY)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, October 27, 2013

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood… that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26).


This is one of the greatest passages in the New Testament. All mankind has sinned. We can only be made righteous by God’s grace. We can only be saved by Christ. God sent Him to the Cross to satisfy His own justice, and we are saved through faith in Christ’s Blood. God sent Jesus to bleed and die in our place so He could be just, and at the same time justify sinners. That is the heart of the Gospel! But it is a Gospel that theologically liberal Christianity rejects. In his 1934 book, The Kingdom of God in America, Dr. H. Richard Niebuhr described theologically liberal Protestantism in these famous words, “A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Niebuhr was quite liberal himself, but he saw the inconsistency and the hollowness of the extreme liberalism that had eaten the heart out of mainstream Protestantism by the middle of the 1930s. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the same point when he said that in America you have “Protestantism without the Reformation”!

Liberal Protestants want to dumb-down doctrine so modern man will accept it. They dislike the words “sin,” “judgment,” “cross” and, especially, they strongly dislike the words “wrath of God.” They think words like that turn unbelievers away from the churches. Robert H. Schuller, the liberal TV pastor, put it like this,

We cannot speak out with a “Thus saith the Lord” strategy when we are talking to people who couldn’t care less about the Lord! We cannot start with “What does the text say?” if we’re talking to persons who aren’t about to affirm respect for… “the text” (Robert H. Schuller, D.D., Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, Word Books, 1982, p. 13).

That is just so much balderdash, flummery, verbal nonsense! I have been in the ministry for 55 years. All of that time I have been speaking to non-Christians, and winning them to Christ. Last Monday night my wife and I were eating dinner in a restaurant. A Chinese man walked up to us and told me that I had led him to Christ 48 years ago. He was a wild little boy running around Chinatown. They brought him to our Chinese Baptist church. He became a Christian when he heard me preach a sermon at our summer camp. That was in 1965. Now he is a fifty-eight year old medical doctor. He recalled how I preached and he came trembling to trust Christ.

Furthermore, I have started two churches from scratch in such highly secular places as Marin County, north of San Francisco, and in the very heart of the Civic Center in downtown Los Angeles. I have always preached, “Thus saith the Lord.” I have always begun my sermons from a text in the Bible. And I have never “trimmed” the words of the sermon to make secular sinners happy. I may not have as big a church as Schuller’s – but, then again, he doesn’t have a church at all! His “Crystal Cathedral” is now a Roman Catholic church! His former congregation is scattered to the four winds! Both the churches I started are still going strong. So I think my way of straight talking to sinners is better than his liberal slickness.

It’s hard to get liberals to see that, though. The committee putting together a new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal recently dropped the popular modern hymn, “In Christ Alone,” because the authors of the hymn refused to change a phrase about the satisfaction of God’s wrath. That was the song Mr. Griffith sang a moment ago. The phrase they didn’t want said,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.

A few months earlier, the Southern Baptist Convention had published a new hymnal with this song. But the Southern Baptists changed that line of the hymn from “The wrath of God was satisfied” to “The love of God was magnified.” The Southern Baptists had changed the words without the authors’ permission, which was denied when the Presbyterians asked for it.

“The wrath of God was satisfied” was changed to “The love of God was magnified.” As soon as I read that I guessed that a liberal feminist was involved. Sure enough, her name is Mary Louise Bringle, a religion professor who chaired the hymnal committee. She changed those lines from a masculine phrase, “The wrath of God was satisfied” to a softer phrase, “The love of God was magnified.” Leon J. Podles has written about the feminization of Christianity in his penetrating book, The Church Impotent (Spence Publishing Company, 1999). And David Murrow has made a strong case that feminization is an important reason why men and young people have fled from the churches – in his celebrated book, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004).

The Committee Chairwoman who got the hymn removed was Miss Mary Louise Bringle. She said, “The view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger would have a negative impact on worshippers’ education.” What utter nonsense! The words are in perfect harmony with the understanding of the propitiatory work of Christ across the ages! The hymn correctly says,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For every sin on Him was laid –
Here in the death of Christ I live.

Miss Bringle and the liberals on her committee said that the “satisfaction theory” of Christ’s atonement on the Cross was invented by the theologian Anselm in the 11th century. But they are wrong. In the Old Testament, over 700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah said,

“He [God the Father] shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant [Christ] justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

So “satisfaction” was taught in the Bible at least 1,800 years before Anselm taught it! And propitiation, the corollary term for satisfaction, is taught in the New Testament in such passages as Romans 3:25; I John 2:2; and I John 4:10. In the 5th century, Augustine proclaimed that fact that Christ satisfied the justice of God on the Cross. And Anselm himself is not to be rejected. Christianity Today said, “Anselm is as contemporary as ever – and a blessing to evangelicals.” In a chapter titled “Satisfaction and Substitution Outlined,’ the great Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683) quoted the following verses,

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18).

Owen then said, “All these expressions undeniably evince [clearly display] a substitution of Christ as suffering in the stead of them He came to save. This, in general, is all we intend by His satisfaction, namely, that He was made ‘sin for us,’ that is, in our stead that we might be saved from the wrath to come…hence, on the part of God it is affirmed that ‘he spared him not, but delivered him up for us all’ (Romans 8:32)…[Christ] bore their sins, or the punishment due unto their sins…that the justice of God being appeased and the law fulfilled, they might go free or be delivered from the wrath to come; and if therein also He paid a real satisfactory price for their redemption, then He made satisfaction to God for sin. These are the things that we intend by that expression of satisfaction” (John Owen, D.D., “Satisfaction and Substitution Outlined,” The Works of John Owen, vol. 2, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004 reprint, p. 419).

I know that was a hard paragraph to follow, and difficult to understand. Dr. Owen was a theologian, not a preacher. Therefore I will give you a simple explanation of propitiation, which sheds light on those words of the hymn,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.

Dr. Thomas Hale said,

Because God is just and righteous, He must punish sin. It was to demonstrate His justice that God punished Christ for our sins. But it was also because of His love for us that He punished Christ in our place. In punishing Christ, God was, in actuality, taking the punishment Himself. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Thomas Hale, D.D., The Applied New Testament Commentary, Kingsway Publications, 1997, p. 538; note on Romans 3:25).

Miss Bringle said she and her committee wanted to remove the words, “the wrath of God was satisfied” because it referred to a theological view they rejected. That may be true, but I don’t think that is the whole truth. I think she didn’t like the masculine words “wrath of God.” So she wanted to substitute the more feminine words, “the love of God was magnified.”

David Murrow is an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is the same denomination as that of Miss Bringle. She and her committee really ought to read Murrow’s book, Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nelson, 2004). Murrow said, “…leadership in the church requires a balance between the masculine spirit and the feminine spirit” (p. 152). But the thesis of his book is that our churches are overwhelmingly dominated by female values and programs. Personally, I think he is exactly right. Listen to this. Murrow said,

      Men fantasize about saving the world against impossible odds. Women fantasize about having a relationship with a wonderful man…
      But few churches model men’s values: risk and reward, accomplishment, heroic sacrifice, action and adventure. Any man who tries to live out these values will find himself in trouble with a church council in no time. That is why [men hate] to go to church (ibid., p. 15).

Am I getting too far away from the argument over that line in the hymn, “In Christ Alone”? I don’t think so. I think the changing of those words is the microcosm that reveals the macrocosm – a small detail that reveals the larger problem of feminization in our churches. Listen to the original lines,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.

That’s the original, written by two men. Now here is the re-done version, proposed by Miss Bringle and her committee,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The love of God was magnified.

Which one is masculine? Which one will appeal to men? Obviously, the one the two men gave who wrote the original hymn! “The wrath of God was satisfied.” That’s the kind of God that men respect – a God who drowns a whole civilization that disobeys Him in constant sin; a God who opens up the ground so a group of rebels fall headlong into Hell; a God who destroys wicked Pharaoh and his soldiers in the waters of the Red Sea; a God who sides with Gideon and a few men to wipe out the Midianites; a God who takes three Hebrew men out of a furnace of fire unscathed to show His power to a wicked king; a God who goes into the temple, not once but twice, and overturns the tables, and whips the frightened money changers out into the street; a God who opens a prison door and lets Peter escape, and then leads him to say to those religious rulers, “We ought to obey God rather than men;” a God who strikes a man and his wife dead for lying to Peter; a God who “delivered by [His] determinate foreknowledge” Jesus into the “wicked hands” of sinners to be crucified (Acts 2:23); a God who “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6); a God who was “pleased to bruise him [and] put him to grief [and] make his soul and offering for sin…and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10, 11) – that is the God of whom the hymn said,

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied!!!

That God, and that God alone, is the kind of God that men respect, and that men will follow – not the weak and feminine God of Miss Bringle, but the God of Mount Sinai, and the God of Mount Calvary – “The great and terrible God” of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:5) – “the great and dreadful God” of Daniel (Daniel 9:4) – the God who sacrificed His only begotten Son, who was by God’s own hand “made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) – that is the God of the Bible! That is the God and Father of Christ! That is my Lord, and that is my God! I do not know Miss Bringle’s God – and I do not want to know Him – and neither do most men! That’s why the Episcopal Church has lost most of its men. That is why the Methodist Church has lost most of its men. And, yes, Miss Bringle’s church, Presbyterian (U.S.A.) has lost most of its men as well (Murrow, ibid., p. 55).

In his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, Mr. Morrow has a chapter titled, “Men Aren’t the Only Ones Missing from Church.” He says that women want security, but men and young adults want to be challenged. Guess what? Women are most likely to be in church – and men and young adults are least likely to be in church! (ibid., p. 18). Could this be part of the reason that our churches lose 88% of their young people by the age of 25? Murrow says that men and young adults see the church as a place for women and little kids, with nothing to challenge them, and so they leave!

If you let a cross-section of young people 18 to 25, and a group of adult men, vote on which lines they liked best – which one do you think they would vote for?

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied,

or

Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The love of God was magnified?

Even though both are true, I think you know that most men and young adults would vote for the original words, written by two men, rather than Miss Bringle’s revised version!

Men and young people are drawn to a great, and mighty, and fearful God – the God of the Bible! Middle-aged women, who haven’t been truly converted, prefer a soft, secure God, who never challenges, and never damns anyone. So our churches have an abundance of older women, while we lose most men, and 88% of our young people.

Our own church is dominated by men. Why? I think there are several reasons. First, I make sure my sermons are focused on the great and terrible God of the Bible, and on the forceful, muscular Christ who led His men to conquer the world. I constantly give examples of courageous men and women who lay down their lives to the glory of God. We put up photographs and paintings on the walls of the church that depict the great heroes of the faith – men like Spurgeon, Edwards, Bunyan, Knox, Whitefield, Wesley, William Jennings Bryan, and many others. Tonight is Reformation Sunday. As usual, we will watch the great black and white film on Luther, while we have dinner after this service. Luther is one of our heroes. Earlier, in the service, we sang Luther’s moving and powerful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

We don’t have a “men’s breakfast” for our men. And we don’t have an “ice-cream social” for our young people! No! We send them out – onto the mean streets of Los Angeles at night – to win souls two-by-two. Is it scary? It would be to Miss Bringle! It would make her tingle! But it is a challenge to our men and our young people – exactly the kind of challenge they need – to be true soldiers of the cross!!!

The Bible says,

“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3).

“If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:12).

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23).

Those are the thrilling and challenging kinds of Scriptures that inspire our men, our young people – and our women – to live their lives in dedication to Christ and to His church!

And what about conversion? To us, conversion does not make you a sissy, a nerd, or a loser. Conversion is a big step toward becoming a man, the kind of man God wants you to be! I can say for certain that if I had not been converted I would have been a miserable failure in life. When I came to Christ, He gave me strength to be what I ought to be, and do what I ought to do! My life verse is this:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”
       (Philippians 4:13).

“Which strengtheneth me.”

Look at Luther. He was weak, fearful, and a loser, groveling in the cloister of a monastery. Then he trusted Christ! Then he became a mighty soldier of the cross! Spurgeon said that Luther “could have commanded an army.”

When you confess your sinfulness, and fall at the foot of the cross, you will rise, like Dr. John Sung, to be the mighty Christian God means for you to be! Look at Peter! Look at Augustine! Look at Bunyan! All of them came to Christ in fear and weakness, but when they trusted Christ they rose up as mighty men of God! Look at Wesley – running away from the mission field in Georgia, falling in weakness before Christ – and rising as a great man who shook England for God! Look at Whitefield, who laid on his bed crying, “I thirst! I thirst!” and rising up from the weakness of sin to proclaim the Gospel on two continents! There is no telling what God may do with your life if you yield to Jesus Christ, who went to the Cross and suffered the wrath of Almighty God to make it possible for you to be the kind of man – or woman – that you ought to be! – to sing with Luther,

A mighty fortress is our God,
   A bulwark never failing;
Our helper, He amid the flood
   Of mortal ills prevailing…
Let goods and kindred go,
   This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
   God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever!
   (“A Mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther, 1483-1546).

You can be sure that Luther would have chosen the lines that said,

On that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied.

Come to Christ, and do it now, tonight. He will pardon your sin and give you power to live for God!

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Romans 3:20-26.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“In Christ Alone” (by Keith Getty and Stewart Townend, 2001).