Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face

Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face

Liturgy Lesson: May 19, 2019
Call to Worship: Psalm 84 (responsively sung)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Invocation: O Breath of God
Confession and Jesus, Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)
Assurance of Pardon: Eph. 2:4-9
Hymns of Assurance: Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy; He Will Hold Me Fast
Reading of the Word: Luke 10:38-42 (Martha and Mary)
Doxology (Duke Street – 2 verses)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face (#378, vss. 1-3); My Soul Longs for the Lord
Closing Hymn: All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name (#296, vss.

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos
all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?
They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other,
but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.
So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ,
are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be,
were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

– A.W. Tozer

Let’s consider that as Christians we form a symphony orchestra. Christ is our conductor. Together we watch him. We follow him. He is the great composer, and he is beautifully weaving the distinct textures and themes of our lives into a redemptive masterwork. The cross was his podium. He stepped up to it, raised his arms and readied the whole world for the downbeat that would drown out the deafening silence of the grave. Now He is risen, and the music shall have no end. How blessed are those to whom the Holy Spirit has given the song. As we look to him, wait upon him, respond to his gestures, there is such sweet music to be discovered and made. For in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28); And from Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Rom. 11:36). We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10). This means that whatever is going on in your life right now, however you are being stretched and bent…you are being tuned to sing His praise.

Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face
Text: Horatius Bonar (1855)
Tune: Morecambe, Frederick C. Atkinson (1870)

Horatius Bonar (let’s call him HB) was born into a comfortable middle-class family in Edinburgh in 1808 and died there in 1889. His father was a solicitor (attorney), but the Bonar family line gave many ministers to the Presbyterian Church, including his older brother John James, and the better-known younger brother, Andrew.

HB (“Horace” to his friends) graduated from the University of Edinburgh, was an assistant minister in Leith (the city’s port), served faithfully from 1837 in the Scottish Borders town of Kelso, and then was called in 1866 to the new charge of Chalmers Memorial Church in Edinburgh (named after his great professor). Here he ministered until his death in 1889. He was 80 years old.

During his life, he edited various Christian magazines, wrote many outstanding tracts (he had a great heart for pointing others to Christ), and a number of best-selling books (God’s Way of Peace and God’s Way of Holiness being perhaps the best known; they are still in print today). In 1843, at The Disruption, he was one of more than 400 ministers who sacrificed their livings and manses in the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church of Scotland.

HB requested that no biography of him be written (although he himself wrote two biographies of others), and those who knew him best honored his request. But there is so much that could be written about his faithfulness in ministry, his friendships, and his fruitfulness. He experienced deep wounds during his life in the loss of five children; he was occasionally caught up in sharp controversy—on one occasion over his support for D.L. Moody, on another over the use of hymns (rather than only Psalms, and in some instances, paraphrases) in public worship.

HB holds claim to fourteen hymns that are included in our revised Trinity Hymnal. That is more than John Newton, William Cowper, Fanny Crosby, Frances Havergal, Philip Bliss, Reginald Heber, or James Montgomery. In fact, when looking at our hymnal index, one discovers that this beloved Scottish churchman and prodigious poet is only surpassed in volume by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, John Mason Neale, and the ancient Latin poet Maximus Lyricus Anonymous (yes, that one’s a joke). What is it about his writing that justifies such a lion’s share of real estate in our songbook? Well, perhaps the best way to answer that question is to give you one of his best samples.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary and worn and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s Light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your days be bright.”
I looked to Jesus and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk,
’til trav’ling days are done.

HB was a lifelong pastor who expressed himself in a beautiful economy of words that always gave a clear and impassioned articulation of the Gospel. His writing is simple, but never banal. His hymns always develop a theme, make personal application, and lift the soul in praise to God. His charisma and zeal for Christ was infectious for young people. Sinclair Ferguson said that HB had “poetry in his soul.”

It was originally for children that Horatius began writing hymns. In total, he wrote around 600, which, of course, are not all of equal merit. But since his time, most hymn books—where they are still in use today—include a number of his compositions. Bonar’s hymns are usually simple, but not simplistic; poetic and yet clearly theological; and the best of them focus on the person of the Lord Jesus, his atoning work, coming to him in faith, living unreservedly for him, and anticipating future glory. In these hymns, the heart of the gospel is always found in Jesus Christ, at the cross, in substitutionary atonement. For him, as for Paul, this was a personal work of Christ, accomplished in love for us, on our behalf and in our place (“The Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20). And while he wanted to express all this simply and memorably for young people, he did so in such a way that the oldest and most mature are deeply moved by the profundity of it all.

I love the description that Ferguson gives of HB’s hymn writing. He goes on to say that in his hymns we find…

“…the marriage of logos (powerful Biblical reasoning), with ethos (a life integrated with and illustrating the fruit of that Biblical reasoning), bound up with pathos (the expression of affections and emotions that match and express the truth that is being proclaimed).

Logos, Ethos, and Pathos. Sounds like the three musketeers of great hymnwriting. Put simply, it is head, hands, and heart. Doctrine, Discipline, and Devotion. The integration of beauty, goodness, and truth. One of the best examples is in his famous hymn “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face”.

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen,
Here grasp with firmer hand th’eternal grace;
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with thee the royal wine of heav’n;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiv’n.

This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heav’nly table spread for me:
Here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
The brief, bright hour of fellowship with thee.

I have no help but thine, nor do I need
Another arm save thine to lean upon:
It is enough, O Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in thy might, thy might alone.

Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace:
Thy blood, thy righteousness, O Lord my God.

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by,
Yet, passing points to the glad feast above,
Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb’s great bridal feast of bliss and love.

One hundred years before HB wrote this hymn, Charles Wesley wrote a beautiful fourteen-stanza dramatic poem depicting Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with the Angel. After being touched and transformed in both hip and heart, the newly named Israel says “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Gen. 32:30). Wesley riffs on that moment by giving us this poetic stanza:

My prayer hath power with God; the grace unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face, I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove; Thy nature and Thy name is Love!

Horatius Bonar takes this line and uses it as his creative inspiration for the best of his final collection of poetry, entitled Communion Hymns. This great hymn reflects on the reality that in communion we come close to God, face to face, flesh to flesh; and, as we partake of the elements, we celebrate our new identity in Christ. Just as Jacob’s Angel disappeared, so the symbols ought to disappear for us, leaving us transformed in the presence of our Lord and God. As we sing this hymn, may our prayer have power with the God of grace, and may He grant that the veil of words, notes, symbols, and liturgy be lifted. May we behold the beautiful Christ, high and lifted up. Let us gaze upon him and ready ourselves. He has unimaginably glorious music in store for us.

Sheet music
Piano version of MORECAMBE melody (same tune we use for “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”)