God of Grace & God of Glory

This morning the greeter at church said “We’re singing ‘Oh God, We Yearn for Safety’ again. I wish we didn’t have to sing that one so much.”

And we did. But we also sang:

“God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.”

Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the major pioneering voices in Christian liberal thought. He staked his soul and his career on the ideas that Scripture should not be taken literally and that the Church must change with the times. After years of constant friction with the Presbyterian Church, John D. Rockfeller, a big fan, suggested that Fosdick should have his own pulpit, beholden to no one. The result was Riverside Church, an enormous Gothic edifice overlooking the Hudson in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights. It was intended to be a cathedral church for Christian liberalism.

“Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.”

But something changed between Riverside’s conception in 1927 and its completion in 1930. The years from the Crash to Roosevelt’s inauguration were one of the most terrifying periods in American history. The economy imploded and society itself seemed about to unravel. Suddenly the mission of Riverside became not so much over whether Adam & Eve actually existed or whether the Resurrection was a physical fact, and more about how to preach hope in a time that had no promise of tomorrow.

Under this shadow, Fosdick sat down to write a hymn for the church’s dedication service. What he produced was “God of Grace and God of Glory.”

“Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.”

The first fifteen years of Riverside’s existence saw the spark lit by the Depression burn down the fuse of the Thirties and finally explode in the cataclysm of World War II, the single worst event in human history. The people of Riverside Church kept singing the hymn Fosdick gave them. The Cold War, the Sixties, crisis after crisis, and yet that song was still there. The church was still there. They were still there. The hope they had been promised turned out to be as valid as the fear it had answered. And while the darkness never went away, the light shone yet, and the darkness could not extinguish it.

“Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore.”

It is the promise of the Christian faith that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (literal or not!) means that “life, not death, is the final word.” This fallen world is soaked in evil; it always has been. Through the swampy depths of that evil, the power of human good can and does shine forth. Perhaps Fosdick doubted, when he wrote the hymn, whether there’d be anyone to sing eight decades later. There is. We sang it this morning. We will keep singing it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: