Hymns & Hymn Writers: In Christ Alone

Many Christians have a deep and abiding love for the old hymns. Primarily, this is because many of these treasures contain deep and abiding truths. Our lives as believers, almost to a person, have been touched and blessed by these memorable lines, rhymes, phrases, and tunes.

Until fairly recently, modern “praise and worship” songs have paled in depth and truth, compared to the old hymns. Many of them were referred to as “7-11” songs … 7 words, repeated 11 times. Many of them praised the God of creation and glory, but said little of man’s ruin and God’s wonderful remedy at the cross. However, a few hymns have been written in recent years that have already become a part of so many of us. Hymns like the newly written “Man Of Sorrows,” and “Beautiful Terrible Cross” come to mind as gripping, scripturally accurate poetry to music, describing the passion and selflessness of our blessed Savior.

One hymn has become a favorite to many of us: “How Deep The Father’s Love.” Sung at hymn sings, in assembly Sunday schools, at weddings, at funerals, these words have moved our hearts and minds. This hymn was written in 1995, by a British musician and songwriter named Stuart Townend.

He was born in 1963 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, the youngest of 4 children. His father was a preacher, and he had the unmatched privilege of being born into a Christian family. He was saved by God’s grace at age 13, and wrote his first hymn when he was 22 years old.

“In Christ Alone” was written in 2001, with Northern Ireland songwriter Keith Getty. Townend wrote the words, and Getty the music; it was the only hymn on which they have ever collaborated. These two hymns, “How Deep the Father’s Love,” and “In Christ Alone,” have endeared themselves to many believers. One or both of them are frequently sung at the hymn sings of young assembly Christians. Both of these hymns are included in the newly republished “Songs of Praise and Thanksgiving.” This songbook was edited by Roslyn Hoy and Katie Brescia, reviewed extensively by a number of assembly workers and elders, and is available for use at assembly hymn sings all over the world. It is an update of the valued Canadian version, in use for many years. The words of this hymn are Christ-exalting, and heartwarming.

In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this solid ground; firm through the fiercest drought, and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace; when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all- here in the love of Christ, I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe!
This Gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save.
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.

There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His, and He is mine-bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death- this is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry, to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny;
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand:
Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

A bit of recent history has made this hymn and its writer even more memorable. A few years ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) was compiling a new hymn­book, and they contacted Mr. Townend asking his permission to include this hymn. He was most pleased, until he was asked if they could change one of the lines. When he inquired which words, he was told that the selection committee was uncomfortable with the words “… the wrath of God was satisfied.” Their objection was not to “the wrath of God,” but rather to the fact that, in the cross work of the Lord Jesus, God was “satisfied.” Townend was told that “most committee members didn’t want the new hymnal to suggest that Jesus’ death on the cross was an atoning sacrifice needed to assuage God’s anger over sin.” Mr. Townend, to his credit, refused to allow the changes. He told them he had written the hymn “to tell the whole gospel.”

It is far too easy for us, perhaps, to look at the cross of Christ as “it was for me, yes all for me …” Every sinner, saved by grace, will be in heaven based on this truth: He took my place, and He died for me. But first and foremost, foundationally and primarily, the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross was to satisfy the wrath of a righteous God against the sin of mankind. Many of the Levitical offerings ordered that God receive His portion first. On the Day of Atonement, the very first offering was to cleanse the Tabernacle, and to appease the Lord, as to the sins of the high priest and his family. God had to be appeased first, and this is what propitiation is all about. Atonement is an OT consideration, and reconciliation is the thought in the NT. The throne of God has to be satisfied, before God can ever be both “Just, and the Justifier of him who believes on Jesus.”

Modern theology may try to make salvation “all about me.” But every sin is against God. Every sin is a disregard for God’s law, and is disobedience against God’s commandment. The perfect life, vicarious death, and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ first of all satisfied a righteous and holy God. Mr. Townend got it right. On the cross, when Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. And upon this basis, God can save any soul who trusts the work of His Son.