The big Boeing 777 lumbered down the runway and was soon airborne. My wife, my son-in-law’s father, and I were on our way to Johannesburg, South Africa. The direct flight from Atlanta to Jo’burg takes approximately sixteen hours. There is a lot of time for thought and reflection during this forced inactivity. A couple of hours into flight, I turned on the flight tracker and noted that our altitude was something above 35,000 feet and we traveling at a speed of 620 mph. I also noted that we had left the east coast of the USA behind and now had thousands of miles and many hours ahead of us before we would approach the west cost of Africa.
I tilted my seat back, closed my eyes and thought of how immense the ocean beneath us really was. The old, beloved hymn by F. Faber, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, came to mind.
But, before relating some of that great work to you, I have something to say about the newer praise and worship music. I have spent the last 45 years at Asbury University working with Christian students. I worship with them and truly appreciate most of the contemporary Christian music they enjoy. I’ve learned a lot from the passion, emotion, and joy these young people find in this style of music. That said, I often find myself wanting to introduce them to some of the older hymns that have sustained me across 55 years of ministry. The old hymns have been my theology teachers, my guides, my comforters and so much more.
Now, as an example, here is the hymn I referenced earlier. I will share parts of it without further comment:
There’s wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.
Souls of men! Why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! Why will ye wander from a love so true and deep?
It is God: His love looks mighty, but is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness goes far out beyond our dreams.
But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.
Was there ever kinder shepherd half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us Come and gather at His feet?
~ Brother Roy