I just finished reading Where Wrath and Mercy Meet, edited by David Peterson. It’s taken from a series of messages given at Oak Hill College in the summer of 2000. They were a response to current challenges to the view that Jesus receiving the punishment we deserved at the cross. Otherwise known as the doctrine of penal substitution. Parts of the book were a little too technical for me, but I especially appreciated the last chapter by Paul Weston, and the appendix by Alan Stibbs.
Dr. Stibbs’ contribution came from a message he gave 50 years ago on the need to recover the doctrine of justification by faith in preaching. I think his words can be applied to worship leaders as well, and are more relevant today than they were fifty years ago. Here’s how he ended his message:
“[M]any are disturbed and sometimes tormented by inner misgiving. They resort for relief either to the psychoanalyst and his psychotherapy or to confession to, and absolution by, the priest. The widespread prevalence of both these practices provides objective evidence that men are still hungry for, and in many cases far from enjoying, inner assurance. It is ours to declare that such full assurance of peace with God, of sufficient grace to face the uncertainties of this life, and of sure in the life beyond, is only to be possessed, and is meant fully to be enjoyed, by those who are justified by faith. For none can give the heart of sinful man true peace except the justifying Savior. This is exclusively His prerogative; and this glory He will not give to another. Is it not time, therefore, that over against the well-meaning but ultimately insufficient ministries of the psychologist and the priest those who know the truth of the gospel of saving grace should set the renewed preaching of justification by faith?” (p. 175)
As we seek to help our congregations deal with their fears, insecurities, guilt, anxiety, and emptiness, we can tempted to think that only psychologists, psychiatrists, and man-made religious activities can solve their “real” problems. We can also be tempted to pick songs that make them feel good over songs that are good for them. We can choose lyrics that fail to acknowledge the seriousness of our sin, the depths of our problem, or the greatness of the salvation we’ve received in Christ. We can also focus so much on managing the musical flow, establishing the right groove, and creating the right atmosphere, that we forget what will really set them free.
We have no better way to serve those we lead than by reminding them of this reality: “[T]hat Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. (J.I. Packer, Celebrating the Saving Work of God, p. 105) That is a truth worth defending. That is a truth worth singing about. That is a truth worth living and dying for.
What hope we’ve received through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ! What deliverance! What freedom! What grace! Yet one more reason why I want to be sure that our song diet contains consistent references to, explanations of, and wonder at the glorious gospel. If you’re looking for songs, a good place to start is Songs for the Cross Centered Life. You can also check out the songs by Keith and Kristyn Getty, Indelible Grace, or search for other Sovereign Grace songs on the cross.
“For none can give the heart of sinful man true peace except the justifying Savior.” Amen.