Still Homeward Bound

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A reader has written to take issue with my post "Homeward Bound."  First the critique, and then my response:

Pastor Ryken commends as "good" Thomas R. Taylor's text "I'm But a Stranger Here." I must disagree. I think this text is unworthy to be sung in church. Like too much hymnody, it falls short of full Christian hope for the union of heaven and earth so strong in Paul and the closing pages of the Apocalypse, short of hope for new bodies fit for new heavens and a new earth. "I look for the resurrection of the dead," we keep saying. We ought to mean it. A far better hymn, I think, is "For All the Saints." Note especially these two verses:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

That's the sort of thing we ought to be singing.

Needless to say, I do not believe that Thomas Taylor's text is unworthy to sung in church.  It emphasizes many important biblical themes related to the subject of our eternal destiny.  Here are a few of them: heaven is our home and final destination; our present earthly existence is full of sufferings that one day will come to an end; life is a short pilgrimage; we are aliens here, but our citizenship is in heaven; one day we will stand in the presence of our Savior; heaven will reunite us with the people we love in Christ.  All of which is not bad for four stanzas.

It is true, of course, that the resurrection of the body is an important doctrine -- one that receives far too little emphasis in these gnostic times.  But not every hymn can touch on every doctrine, and Taylor's hymn (there are better ones, of course) manages to say quite a lot of things about life and eternity that need to be said.

I would say further that "I'm But a Stranger Here" actually does teach or at least imply the resurrection of the body.  When it says "I shall be glorified" it uses terminology that in the Bible refers to the glorification of the body.  Furthemore, when it speaks of standing at the Lord's right hand, this is metaphoric language that requires a physical body. 

As for singing "For All the Saints," well, I could hardly disagree with singing one of my favorite hymns, not so much for what it says about the resurrection of the body, but for its beautiful imagery of the risen Christ. 

Posted September 7, 2007 @ 4:32 PM by Phil Ryken

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