We celebrate love’s saving grace

* I wrote this hymn with the aim of helping worshippers better understand Paul’s complicated and technical argument in Romans 1.16-17 and 3.22b-31. Even if I have not succeeded in explicating Paul, I hope that my verses, sung to EISENACH’s kindly melody, will make these concepts more user-friendly.


We celebrate love’s saving grace.midi


I wrote this hymn in order to shine a light on Paul’s use of the concepts power of God, salvation, faith, righteousness, justification, redemption, sacrifice, and atonement. The hymn is offered as a celebratory piece inviting all creatures both to name and to join in praise of God, ‘life’s Saving Source, love’s Gift and Flame’. It’s theme is the recovery of the lost, the lifting ‘high in Christ’s own love’ of humankind that has fallen ‘from heaven above’[1]. As such it stands within the long tradition of ‘objective’ hymns. The ‘we’ who celebrate and own ‘the power of Jesus’ name’ are but a few of the ‘ransomed race’; ‘we’ figure here as a way-in for individual worshipers, much as individual skaters step onto the rink to join others already there.

The core of the hymn is the opening couplet of the third stanza. Here the abstract concept of righteousness is concretised in ‘Christ’s love’ (not, be it noted, the experience of Christ’s love, but the love that is enacted by Christ, irrespective of whether or not any particular person feels loved). The effect of what Christ does is to justify ‘faith’s own’, to rehabilitate completely those who embrace his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus[2]. Nor is there any hierarchy of those who embrace this grace: both ‘first-born and their siblings all are powered to answer life’s high call’.

The phrase ‘life’s high call’ may sound like a cliché. But it is a deliberate periphrasis[3] for ‘God’, used here to explicate the phrase for faith in the complicated notion of the righteousness of God revealed through faith for faith[4]. Paraphrased, it might read: ‘God’s willingness to see everything that is wrong put right is manifested where people accept the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’, for this is to speak of the life for which all are made: ‘zoë’, eternal life.

The fourth stanza is devoted to Romans 3.27-30, where Paul sets out to demolish the case for hierarchies of religious status. We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by law. Justification cannot be earned or achieved, and the only ones who ‘enter heaven’s host’ are ‘those who claim no pride of place, but live by faith before Christ’s face’. This kind of assertiveness lays those who speak thus open to a charge of presumption, of usurping the role, if not of the God the Judge of all, then at least of ‘St Peter at the pearly gates’. But of course it is not that Paul or the hymn-writer are dividing sheep from goats: our aim is to point the way ahead for all in the least ambiguous terms possible. An exhortation is implied: Become one of ‘faith’s own’.

The argument of this hymn is so vigorous that I needed to choose a well-known tune, so as to simplify the singers’ task. To further ease the way, anadiplosis[5] is used to link the first five stanzas, and thus keep the thread of argument (or, as might be preferred, of exposition) free and effective. I hope that this is a hymn to nourish both hearts and minds in the spirit of fellowship, and to persuade doubters that it is worth getting to grips with Paul’s far from accessible writing in the Letter to the Romans.

[1] I make no apology for using this ‘up’ and ‘down’ imagery: it is so useful for the expressing comparative ideas. Its use does not imply belief in the so-called ‘three-decker universe’.

[2] Romans 3.24

[3] A round-about way of saying something; using several words instead of one.

[4] Romans 1.17

[5] the repetition of the last word of one line or clause at the beginning of the next one.