Wrestling with Truth December 18, 2011

Symbols and their referents are often:

  • Inexpressible:   (1 Pet 1:8 NIV)  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy . . . ,
  • Indescribable:   (2 Cor 9:15 NIV)  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
  • Unspeakable:   (Rom 11:33 NIV)  Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
  • Ineffable:  from William James’ definition of religious experience

We need to make the transition from symbols to the reality that stands behind the symbol.

In class today, we used the carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (Charles Wesley, 1739) to consider “theological symbols” or concepts contained therein.

This carol could be called A MESSAGE OF GRACE AND HOPE.  We considered its five stanzas as follows:

Hark! The herald angels sing,  –Luke 2
“Glory to the newborn King;  –Rev 7
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,  –Rom 5:1; Ps 85:10
God and sinners reconciled!”  –2 Cor 5:19 (reconciliation)
Joyful, all ye nations rise,  –Luke 2:10 (joy, hope)
Join the triumph of the skies;  –2 Cor 2:14  (triumph)
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;  –(deity)
Late in time, behold Him come,  –Gal 4:4 (fullness of time)
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.  –(virgin birth)
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;  –(incarnation)
Hail th’incarnate Deity,  –John 1:14 (deity; incarnation)
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,  –Ps 8:4; Heb 2:6; Ps 144:3 (identification)
Jesus our Emmanuel.  –Is 7:14 (God with us)

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!  –(peace)
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!  –Is 9:6-7 (righteousness)
Light and life to all He brings,  –John 1:4-9 (light and life)
Ris’n with healing in His wings.  –Mal 4:2 (healing)
Mild He lays His glory by,  –Phil 2:5-8 (kenosis; self-emptying)
Born that man no more may die.  –Heb 2:8; 2 Cor 8:9; John 11:26 (no more death)
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.  –John 3:3 (second birth)

Come, Desire of nations, come,  –Hag 2:6-7 (long-awaited desire; anticipation. hope)
Fix in us Thy humble home;  –John 14:23  (our home)
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,  –Gen 3:15 (proto-evangelion)
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,  –(salvation)
Ruined nature now restore;  –Gal 5:24; Romans 8 (restoration)
Now in mystic union join  –(union)
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:  –(new image; God’s image)
Second Adam from above,  –1 Cor 15:45-47 (second Adam)
Reinstate us in Thy love. — (love; holiness)
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,  –(restoration)
Thee, the Life, the inner man:  –(true life)
O, to all Thyself impart,   –(imparted holiness)
Formed in each believing heart.  –(formation; believing)

For some further discussion of the theology of this hymn see:



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