Hymns and God’s Law as a Tutor to Christ

The Law of God is of great value. For the Christian it is a reflection of God’s righteousness, a rule of life that reveals God’s will, and a reminder of our need for redemption.

When we view God through the prism of His Law it reflects His glory and splendor. The Law is “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). In it we see the perfection of God’s character. But when we view our own reflection in the Law, it exposes our sin and corruption. The Law shows us our great peril as we see the threatened punishment and consequences of sin. It shows us our great need of a Savior. The Law is a strict and unforgiving task master. It has no power to save and can only condemn us. But it drives us to One who can save. It serves as a “tutor to bring us to Christ.”

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16, NKJV).

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24, NKJV).

The Law is valuable in that it exposes the depth of our sin against God and makes evident our need for rescue from the corruption and consequences of that sin. We see this use of the Law taught and expressed in many hymns. Here are several of my top choices:

The Law of God Is Good and Wise (Matthias Loy, 1883)

1. The Law of God is good and wise
And sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

2. Its light of holiness imparts
The knowledge of our sinful hearts
That we may see our lost estate
And seek deliverance ere too late.

5. The Law is good, but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us for our sin to die
And has no power to justify

6. To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at His throne,
Saved by His grace through faith alone.

[Trinity Hymnal—Baptist edition, 1995 #449]

Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder (John Newton, 1774)

1. Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
He has hushed the Law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame;
He has washed us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

4. Let us wonder; grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles and asks no more;
He who washed us with His blood,
Has secured our way to God.

[Trinity Hymnal—Baptist edition, 1995 #127]

Lord, How Secure My Conscience Was (Isaac Watts, 1709)

1. Lord, how secure my conscience was,
And felt no inward dread!
I was alive without Thy law,
And thought my sins were dead.

2. My hopes of heaven were firm and bright,
But since the precept came
With a convincing power and light,
I find how vile I am.

5. Thy gracious throne I bow beneath;
Lord, Thou alone canst save;
O break the yoke of sin and death,
And thus redeem the slave.

[A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship—William Gadsby, 1965 #46]

Vain Are the Hopes the Sons of Men (Isaac Watts, 1709)

3. In vain we ask God’s righteous law
To justify us now,
Since to convince and to condemn
Is all the law can do.

4. Jesus, how glorious is Thy grace!
When in Thy name we trust,
Our faith receives a righteousness
That makes a sinner just.

[A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship—William Gadsby, 1965 #111]

Where Must a Sinner Fly (John Berridge, 1785)

1. Where must a sinner fly,
Who feels his guilty load,
And stands condemned to die,
Out of the mouth of God?
Can any door of hope be found?
Not any sure, on nature’s ground.

2. What if he mend his life,
And pour out floods of tears,
And pray with fervent strife?
These pay no past arrears.
The law, with unrelenting breath,
Declares the wage of sin is death.

4. Jesus, Thy helping hand
Has made the contest cease,
Paid off each law’s demand,
And bought the blest release;
Stern Justice, satisfied by Thee,
Bids Mercy bring the news to me.

[A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship—William Gadsby, 1965 #146]

In the next hymn William Cowper alludes to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. When Christian fell under conviction and felt the terrible weight of his sin in the City of Destruction, Evangelist came and gave him a parchment that said “Fly from the Wrath to come.” Evangelist then pointed him to the Wicket Gate (representing Christ as the way to life). When Christian was unable to see the gate, Evangelist asked him: “Do you see yonder shining light?” Christian said: “I think I do?”

My Former Hopes Are Fled (William Cowper, 1779)

1. My former hopes are fled;
My terror now begins;
I feel alas! that I am dead
In trespasses and sins.

2. Ah, whither shall I fly?
I hear the thunder roar:
The law proclaims destruction nigh,
And vengeance at the door.

3. When I review my ways,
I dread impending doom;
But hark! a friendly whisper says,
“Flee from the wrath to come.”

4. I see, or think I see,
A glimmering from afar,
A beam of day that shines for me,
To save me from despair.

[Baptist Psalmody, 1850 #417]

Come Ye Souls by Sin Afflicted (Joseph Swain, 1792)

1. Come, ye souls by sin afflicted,
Bowed with fruitless sorrow down;
By the broken law convicted,
Through the cross behold the crown;
Look to Jesus!
Mercy flows through him alone.

[Our Own Hymnbook—C.H. Spurgeon, 1866 #493]

O Sinner Come to Jesus Christ (words and music ©1992 Ken Puls)

3. The sinner stands condemned to die.
No sin of his remains unknown.
Each testifies a guilty plea
Deserving judgment from God’s throne.
O sinner, come to Jesus Christ!
Find righteousness that He must give
To be forgiven and made pure.
O sinner, look to Christ and live!

[Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 2004 (Founders Press) #49]

Here Lord, My Soul, Convicted Stands (from Rippon’s Selection of Hymns, 1787)

1. Here, Lord, my soul convicted stands
Of breaking all Thy ten commands;
And on me justly mighst Thou pour
Thy wrath in one eternal shower.

2. But thanks to God, its loud alarms
Have warned me of approaching harms;
And now, O Lord, my wants I see;
Lost and undone, I come to Thee.

[A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship—William Gadsby, 1965 #44]

Send the Law Before the Gospel (words ©1987 Ken Puls)

1. Send the Law before the Gospel,
Shine the Light revealing sin!
Men will see they need a Savior
As their hearts are bared within.
Weep you sinners under judgment;
See yourself before God’s Law!
Full deserving condemnation,
Dread the wrath of God in awe.

2. Come you sinners and take comfort,
You convicted and dismayed,
For God’s love is only sown in
Furrows that His Law has made.
Come you sinners, look to Jesus!
He’s fulfilled the Law’s demands.
Christ will turn your dread and sorrow
Into love for God’s commands.

3. Praise to God for such instruction,
Sent to show us our great need.
We must place our hope in Jesus
And in Him we shall be freed.
O believer, be encouraged!
Christ died suff’ring in our place;
Bore the sins of all His children,
That we shall come unto grace.

The Law shows us God’s righteousness and glory. It shows us our sin and need for salvation. And it shows us God’s will, how we are to live as creatures made in His image. In the next post we will look at hymns that highlight the use of the Law as a rule of life.

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