Dear Church Family,
About a week and a half ago in our Sunday morning worship service, we sang two hymns from two very different, but contemporary, hymn writers: Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. During the service, I mentioned how the theology of each hymn writer comes through in their respective lyrics, especially with regard what they believed and taught concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Here’s some more of those details regarding these two hymns.
Contra Entire Sanctification
The final hymn that we sang in our service was Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me by Augustus Toplady. As a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley, Toplady wrote this hymn to counter their views on sanctification. You see, John Wesley (the preacher) and Charles Wesley (the hymn writer) believed and taught a form of Christian perfectionism (or entire sanctification). Christian perfectionism holds that a Christian may obtain such a perfect love of God and man in heart, mind, and soul that one could become perfectly holy and free of sin in this life.
This view of entire sanctification was set forth in some of Charles Wesley’s hymns. For example, the second verse of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling is a prayer of petition, asking God to give His people a “second rest” and to “take away our bent of sinning.” [Don’t look for these words in our Trinity hymnal; many hymnals have subsequently changed Wesley’s hymn to ask God to give His people the “promised rest” and “take away the love of sinning.”] The original text of the hymn by Charles Wesley, however, conveyed the idea that Christians should hope and work for a second work of the Holy Spirit (a “second rest”) by which the ‘love of sinning’ would be entirely removed from the believer.
Augustus Toplady believed in sanctification. He believed that those who had been justified would be progressively renewed in the image of Christ, increasingly able to die to sin and live to righteousness. But, contrary to the Wesleys, and in keeping with the Westminster Standards, he believed that the believer would be made perfect in holiness, only in glory.
The Double Cure
As a staunch Calvinist, Toplady was so distraught and angered by the Wesleys’ teaching on Christian perfectionism, that he wrote many works countering their Arminianism (and views on entire sanctification). In one of these articles about God’s forgiveness, Toplady penned a poem that eventually became Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. The first verse of this hymn conveys the biblical teaching of how the sacrifice of Christ deals with the sin of His people:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
[This text is from the New Trinity Hymnal, Toplady’s original text read, “Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse from wrath and make me pure” but each conveys the same general meaning and theology.]
Here, Toplady shows how God’s dealing with sin is rooted in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. This is in keeping with the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:4-6; it is through union with Christ in His death and resurrection that we are forgiven and freed from our slavery to sin. So, Toplady writes that Jesus’ atoning death is the “double cure” of our sin problem. Here is where the rubber meets the road in expressing the difference between the biblical view of justification and sanctification and that of Christian perfectionism.
As the “double cure,” Jesus’ atoning death accomplishes two things in the person of the believer: (1) Jesus’ death deals with the punishment that we deserve: Christ redeems us from the curse of the Law, rescuing us from the wrath to come (Galatians 3:13; Titus 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:10); and (2) Jesus’s death deals with the power of sin in our lives: Christ removes the dominion or rule of sin in our lives such that we are no longer “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6); “sin shall not be master over you” (Romans 6:14).
This week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving together as a nation, we have much for which we should be grateful. We enjoy great freedoms and material blessings in this country that many throughout the world do not. So, together with our believing and unbelieving friends, we celebrate God’s good providence and common grace to us in this life. Our Father in heaven “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
As children of God who are united to Jesus Christ by faith, we have even more for which are grateful. Though we were born dead in our trespasses and sins (by nature children of God’s wrath), and thus we lived in the lusts of our own flesh and desire (Ephesians 2:1-3), God loved us and made us alive together with Christ and made us citizens of heaven (Ephesians 2:4-9). God has removed the curse and punishment due to us for sin.
But not only has God removed the punishment due to us for our sin, He removes the power or dominion of sin over us. We are remade and transformed to become His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
Indeed, God’s redeeming work on our behalf, in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, is of sin the double cure. Let us, therefore, give thanks to God.
The Lord be with you!
Pastor Peter M. Dietsch