Two Roman soldiers stand in Bethlehem, half-hidden in the shadows as, not far from where they leer, and unaware of them, a virgin mother labors in a barn. In just a few short years, these streets will run with babies’ blood; these soldiers’ hands will hew the limbs of weeping Rachel’s thousand sons. Tonight, though, Herod’s men stand by while through the dark there dawns an unforeseen shining of aural light, a glorious chorus that sings the coming of the crowning King. They cannot know this babe is born for us and that, despite the worst of Herod’s plans, this baby’s blood can cleanse their bloodstained hands.
For this one, I wanted to write a manly hymn for the church militant, which is something I think is too rare in our contemporary songs (nobody sings “Onward Christian Soldiers” anymore, for example). I wanted a song that serves as a battle cry, rallying the troops and encouraging men to fight the good fight of faith and to live in a particular way. So this one is essentially addressed to Christian men and intended to be sung primarily by Christian men.
It’s set to DIADEMATA (“Crown Him With Many Crowns”) because I think its joyful, jubilant, triumphant tone is well suited to the words.
Come, Men of Christ, Be Strong To the tune of DIADEMATA (‘Crown Him With Many Crowns’)
Verse 1 Come, men of Christ, be strong! Stand firm, and hold your ground. Take courage: Though the battle’s long, The Victor has been crowned. Advance the cause of Christ! Once more unto the breach! Make sharp your swords and join the fight, For triumph is in reach.
Verse 2 Come, men of Christ, enjoy! God’s given all that’s fair. The things of earth are for your joy, Received with thankful prayer. Take heart, glad men, have cheer! Let loud your laughter ring! And live as rowdy cavaliers For covenant and King.
Verse 3 Come, join the Bridegroom’s feast! The table’s set to dine, Filled full with ale and fatty meats And rich with bread and wine. Lift up your glasses high, And toast, “No king but Christ!” Then eat your fill and fix your eyes On Him, our sacrifice.
Verse 4 Sing, men of Christ, sing loud: “Our banner is the Lord!” First in, last out, and laughing loud, We work for our reward. One day we’ll hear, “Well done,” And all our striving cease, But ’til our lifelong race is run, We’ll fight and laugh and feast.
Our home contains the world, these days. Not all We love, perhaps, but most and dearest-held Is sheltered safe inside these shabby walls. We hadn’t noticed how our lives had swelled Like springtime floods that, everflowing, rise To overwhelm the riverbanks but won’t Recede again; our floodplain never dries. Diversions tugged relentlessly (they don’t Deserve the time we gave them). Swindled by False urgency, we’d grasped toward each demand. Turns out this busied frenzy was a lie; The only tasks worth doing are at hand. This sudden, unexpected ebb has shown How small, yet rich, our cares should be: our own.
“Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”
This isn’t a very popular sentiment. I know a lot of you will disagree with it; many of you will find it offensive. But it’s a great comfort to me. Not only is it a great comfort, but I believe it’s the only solid ground to stand on during these anxious times. If you’re looking for those things — comfort and a firm place to plant your feet — then I recommend resting in the providence of God.
When Becca was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2017, our world was rocked. In many, many ways we’re still struggling to get our feet back under us. I’m a reader, so the first thing I did was turn to books about suffering in an attempt to wrap my head around what was happening to us and why; I never expected my bookshelf to have a whole section devoted to suffering. The books that gave me the most comfort were ironically, unexpectedly, the ones that insisted that suffering is part of God’s good purposes, that he wills it for his own glory and for our ultimate good — even though we may not understand it or like it.
I’m not saying it’s easy to believe these things. At first, the idea that God might be responsible for suffering (for Becca’s epilepsy or the coronavirus or anything else) was repulsive to me. But as I kept pressing in, I became convinced that this is the plain testimony of the Bible. (Kevin DeYoung has an excellent post summarizing this.) Once I saw in the Bible that God exercises his sovereignty for the good of his people, even in painful ways, I couldn’t un-see it. But I still didn’t find it comforting.
The comfort comes when I consider the alternatives. I would rather rest in the arms of a God who loves me and who has promised to work all things for my good, even if I can’t understand how this particular thing is truly for my good, than turn myself loose into a world where God is either too impotent or uncaring to do anything about the suffering he didn’t intend. If this is only of the devil, or merely random and meaningless, or simply the way of the world — none of these can give me more comfort than the truth that there’s a Father in heaven who loves me, is watching over for me, intends all things for my good, has promised to be near to me in my suffering, and has reconciled me to himself through Christ so I will one day enjoy him forever.
And the thing is, I can see it. I don’t need to imagine ways that God might eventually use Becca’s epilepsy for her good — I can see many of the ways he’s already using it even now. Her faith and character are stronger. Her testimony is beautiful. Our family is being refined and improved. Our children will be better men and husbands and fathers than they would be without this. And while I may not be able to identify ways, yet, that he’s using coronavirus for good, I absolutely trust that he’s doing something in and through it that couldn’t be done any other way; and if it could be done in a better way, I trust that he’d do it that way instead.
None of this is to say that I can wrap my head around all the ins and outs of the dilemma. How can God be providentially sovereign over suffering without himself being responsible for sin? I don’t know, exactly. How do we balance God’s providence with free will? I’m not sure I can adequately answer that question. I honestly don’t like all the implications of this; if it were up to me, I’d often choose differently — but if it were up to me, I’d’ve made a wreck of the whole thing a long time ago; I can hardly manage a family of four, much less a whole universe; and I certainly wouldn’t have given my wife a disability, which means we would’ve missed out on the blessings and growth that have come from our suffering together.
So, yes, there is comfort and security here. If you do not yet know the love and care of the one true God, consider this your invitation: Repent of your sins and turn to Christ. He died to save sinners like you and like me. And, having done so, he blesses us with the assurance that he is caring for us and that all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
The year’s first snow should look more like the flakes in snowglobes or in Hallmark’s Christmas flicks than this, a dingy slop of wet sleet thick with slush and gross with leaves that lie unraked throughout the yard. Their tannins stain the snow like yellow piss. We’ll have to wait a few more weeks — a month, perhaps — before the truly picturesque snow falls. It will, I know, because it always has before. And when it does, the lamppost in our yard will stretch its charming beams like fingers out to catch and hold each gently falling snowflake. Then the snow (at last, a faultless wintry sight!) will blanket all, like Christ our sins, in white.
There are no graveyards here that want a ghost,
No clapboard churches crowning far-off hills
Whose stones like granite corn rows stretch almost
To where a slate-cold sky meets soil and chills
Our blood with thoughts of Pilgrim bones laid down
Beneath the frost line, safe from fall’s last fell
And skittish breath, which blows before it browning
Autumn leaves to heap in grave-like dells
Where wait old ghosts on crisp New England nights.
No, here belong no poltergeists to spy
And startle from our peace with sudden frights
We weary, footsore souls who wander by.
Here, instead, spring-turned-summer’s splendent rays (As far removed from cold Atlantic glooms As south from north) have long lit tranquil days Where wildflowers — butter-yellow blooms, Or lupine blue, like bonnets — dot vast plains Still somehow green despite the noontime heat. Those wisps might later swell with evening rains To water prairie grasses, long like wheat, But now they simply scuff the sky, too thin To send their shadows racing by, now slow, Now fast, spurred on before some sigh of wind That ripples waves across the fields below.
Yet even here, beneath the shadeless sun’s Benevolent and gently warming face, The headless Hessian’s stallion sometimes runs. Its sudden gallop spooks and puts to chase Scared choirs of startled songbirds from their trees. Then, with withered visage grimaced, tight-drawn, An unexpected specter stoops to seize With grasping, grapnel hands — and then it’s gone. The steadfast sun still shines unfazed, still bright, While we, who half-recall the birdsong, grieve To hear the fading wingbeats of their flight, The skittish scratch of browning autumn leaves.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)
Bless’d are the dead who die in the Lord, Theirs is true peace, now, Christ their reward. Those who are his their inheritance gain: Rest from all labor, hardship, and pain.
Those left behind bear sorrow and grief, Theirs is the mournful cry for relief. Real is the pain, though there’s comfort in this: God brings his own to heavenly bliss.
Paradise waits for those found in Christ, Bread and fine wine for feasting unpriced, Tree bending low with its dozens of fruit, Waters of life to wet every root.
God for their daylight; Christ for their king. Saints ’round his throne incessantly sing. Christ for their ransom; forgiveness for sin. God for their father; Christ for their kin.
Tears have no place there, sadness no more, Grace for the weary, balm for the sore. God will himself kneel to lift every chin, Peace poured on all, all gladness within.
Ever immortal, ever with breath, Never again to taste second death, Sheltered forever from famine and sword, Bless’d are the dead who die in the Lord.