Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Jesus Loves Me" - Critique of Hymn 633

One thing I really disliked about Pastor Shishko's cross-examination of Dr. White in their debate on baptism was Pastor Shishko's suggestion that believers should teach their children to sing Trinity Hymnal #633, which the hymnal indexes, "Yes, Jesus loves me!"

First of all, the only religious songs authorized in Scripture are those found in the Psalter - of which there are but 150. Even leaving aside the second commandment, however, and the specific application of that commandment to songs of worship, #633 of the Trinity Hymnal is not a song that has particular doctrinal strength, as we will see below.

Stanza 1
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.

The Bible does not tell either all children or even children of believers that Jesus necessarily loves them. I realize that this flies in the face of Arminian theology, but within the context of my comments to Pastor Shishko, we can take for granted that Pastor Shishko also rejects Arminian theology as unscriptural.

It is true that Jesus is strong, and there is a sense in which not only little children but all of Creation belongs to Him. Is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Therefore, they are His. That said, many little children are not the recipients of the special saving love that Jesus has toward the elect. Both Jacob and Esau were children of believing Isaac, but God loved Jacob and hated Esau from before their birth, as Scripture tells us.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

This refrain expresses the same theme above, which is objectionable. It is especially objectionable to encourage young children who have not repented of their sins, as well as unbelieving visitors to one's church, to sing this song. I suppose such a problem could be handled by the minister (or one of the other elders) announcing that this song is to be sung only by those who have repented of their sins and believed on Christ. In fact, such a warning may be appropriate in the case of certain Psalms as well. Those who have not repented and believed need to recognize that the primary, outward manifestation of Jesus, the coming judge of all the world, is discfavor because of their sins, not a Santa-Claus-esque joviality.

Stanza 2
Jesus loves me, he who died
Heaven's gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let his little child come in.

Clearly the first couplet of this stanza presents the Arminian view of the atonement, and not the Reformed view. Indeed, even Arminians usually recognize that Scripture states that "strait" (narrow) is the gate that leads to eternal life. Furthermore, to emphasize, Jesus did not die simply to open Heaven's gate so that people could clamber up of their own free will. Instead, Jesus died to save his people (those the Father had given him) from their sins.

The second couplet would not be as objectionable if sung by those who had already repented and believed in Christ. For others, such a claim is presumptuous. That is to say, it is presumptuous for unbelievers to claim that their sins will be washed away and that they will be welcomed into heaven.

For believers, however, the second couplet is still objectionable because it seems to deny that justification has already occurred. Those who have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, have been justified in God's sight: their sins have been washed. Thus, in the case of those not already baptized, we illustrate that washing away of sins in baptism.

[The refrain, being repetitive, has been omitted, but is to be sung after each stanza as set in the Trinity Hymnal]

Stanza 3
Jesus loves me, loves me still,
Though I'm very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high
Comes to watch me where I lie.

The first couplet of this stanza is objectionable basically for the reasons above. Obviously, it is true that Jesus love for his people does not depend on us being healthy. That may be an encouragement to those who are sick, as perhaps it was to Job who looked forward to the coming Messiah.

With respect to the second couplet of the stanza, Jesus is enthroned on high, but does not "come to" us personally. He certainly sees our affliction and watches over us. Perhaps the inexactness of theology here may simply be chalked up to an attempt to be poetic. That's one place where the Psalms have a marked advantage from a practical point (even overlooking the Regulative Principle of Worship), because as the inspired word of God they cannot justly be accused of compromising theology in order to be poetic. They certainly use literary devices, but they do so in a way that is proper.

Stanza 4
Jesus loves me, he will stay
Close beside me all the way:
If I love him, when I die
He will take me home on high.

A more succinct summary of conventional Arminian soteriology than what is presented in this stanza could not be hoped for. The basic theme seems to be that Jesus is going simply to love me throughout my life, and so long as I do my part, I will be in heaven after death. Of course, I must being doing my part at the moment of death, so the stanza seems to indicate, or it will be for nothing.

For a believer, the first couplet is certainly accurate. That is to say, as Reformed Christians we acknowledge that Jesus loves us and abides in his love for us, throughout our life.

Turning to the second couplet, however, we place our confidence in eternal life not in our own love for him, but in his love for us. We know that we will be with him, because he loves us. We know that we will die loving him, because he loved us. We try to avoid suggesting that we get to heaven because we love him, but rather acknowledge that he both works a love of God in us, and brings to God whom we love.

One certainly could try to defend the words of this stanza from a Reformed position, since it is true that if we love God when we die, we will go to heaven. It is also true for the elect that God loves us no w and always. However, as noted above, it seems Pastor Shishko wants to exhort people whose status as regenerate or unregenerate is unknown (such as covenant children who have not yet professed faith in Christ) to sing this song.

In short, while Pastor Shishko scored some minor points in the debate by pointing out that Hymn #633 is in the hymnal that Dr. White's church uses (a fact of which Dr. White was apparently unaware), the disuse of that hymn by the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Fellowship (the most obvious explanation for Dr. White not thinking it was among the hundreds of hymns found there) is more consistent with Reformed theology and generally more wise than Pastor Shishko's approach of encouraging covenant children to sing this song, prior to any expression of repentance and faith in Christ.

Furthermore, while the tune to which the song is set is catchy, it's a doctrinally flabby song that probably just should be avoided: particularly in a culture in which God is misportrayed as omni-benevolent.

"The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble ... Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright. Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call." (Psalm 20:1a and 7-9)


Update: 13 July 2008 - Apparently this hymn is number 189 in at least some editions of the Trinity Hymnal.


Anonymous said...

Let ALL the people say "Amen"!

Anonymous said...

You're right. The Trinity Hymnal from 1961 has JLM as #633 while the 1990 TH has it as #189.

Turretinfan said...

That would be, if I'm not mistaken one of the many differences between the "blue" (1961) Trinity Hymnal and "red" (1990) Trinity Hymnal.


Anonymous said...

particularly in a culture in which God is misportrayed as omni-benevolent.

Are you really saying that God the Lord is not omni-benevolent?

Turretinfan said...

Anonymous asked: "Are you really saying that God the Lord is not omni-benevolent?"

Of course. Yes. There is a hell.


Anonymous said...

You are the first christian I encounter who denies God's omni-benevolence. This attribute has been held by the orthodox church throughout the ages. God's omni-benevolence is testified by more than 3 bible authors.

Turretinfan said...

Anonymous: you clearly know as little about Church history as you do about the Bible. You're mistaken on both counts.


Brad and Kristin said...

I apologize for begininng my previous post [which you declined to publish] in a somewhat confrontational way. I will not apologize for being passionate, or for calling Thornwell "de-formed" on this matter as opposed to re-formed. However, Please understand, from my perspective, your view amounts to the disciples driving the mothers and their infants away, and that makes me very angry, just as I read it did Jesus.

Turretinfan, you should still interact with my views in public, especially if you advocate a rather extreme position in which we cannot allow our children to sing "Jesus Loves Me." Can we allow them to pray? Can they call God "Heavenly Father?" We don't expect non-Christians to live as Christians, what about our children (they are pagans for all we know, right?)?

Thornwell said the church should treat covenant children "Precisely as she treats all other impenitent and unbelieving men" (The Revised Book Vindicated). He also said in this same work that they are "slaves of sin and the devil…[to] be treated according to their true character as slaves." He then went on to liken their relationship to the church as that of slaves in the south to white society. Again he said, "they are to be dealt with as the Church deals with all the enemies of God."

Does that sound reformed? It does sound like what you are saying, but not like the rest of historic reformed theology.

Westminster Confession 28.1 "Baptism is...not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life."

Then in 28.6 "the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto."

Westminster Directory for Publick Worship instructs the minister to instructs the minister "to use some words of instruction, touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, shewing…That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized."

The Synod of Dordt instructs parents in Article 17: 'The Salvation of the Infants of Believers' that because "the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy."

Calvin writes in his sermon entitle 'Justification is by grace alone' that "the children of the church today are regarded as the people of God and amongst the number of the elect" because of the "supernatural gift" (regeneration?).

I could give many more examples, but the confessions alone are sufficient to demonstrate that your sentiments, although common in American Presbyterianism, are certainly not historically reformed.

Turretinfan said...

Thornwell was a godly minister, and solidly reformed. While Christians may hope for the election of those children of theirs who die in infancy, and while baptism of infants is proper (and Thornwell therefore baptized infants), nevertheless being a covenant child is a coin with two sides, for of the children of the covenant there are two exemplars:

Jacob (who God loved)
Esau (who God hated).

Not all covenant children are Jacobs, though all receive the sign of the covenant.

Children who do not have faith in Christ and repentance should not be given assurance of God's love for them - since (at least to outward appearances) they remain under the condemnation of God for their sins, as unjustified persons.