Every so often I pick up on a complaint/objection to Stuart Townend’s hymn “In Christ alone.” Here is one such example.
There are people who would be happy, they say, to sing the hymn but are deeply distressed by the line
“Til on that Cross, as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied.”
Now, some of the discussion about the line centres upon technical theological language. The concept of satisfying honour is primarily associated with Anselm and even people who would hold to Penal Substitution have argued that it is more of a medieval concept than a Biblical one. Further, the argument has been made that satisfaction of honour would still be different to satisfaction of wrath. It’s God’s name/glory that needs to be satisfied/honoured not his anger. Well, I’m not quite convinced that the concept of honour/satisfaction is as removed from Scripture as some seem to think it is but that’s a question for another day.
Furthermore, even if a hymn line is not as theological precise as we might prefer, I think we can cope with that imprecision as we see a hymn using poetic language to draw our attention to a Biblical theme. What we can say about the atonement is that:
- The Bible points us to God’s wrath against sin (Romans 1:18ff)
- The Bible talks about Christ bearing punishment/wrath experiencing crushing (Isaiah 53).
In so far as Stuart Townend was picking up on those themes, I’m not sure why the hymn would be problematic. Also, it seems that a lot of the objections arise not out of technical theological question marks but out of horror and distress at the idea of God’s wrath being experienced and dealt with by Jesus at Calvary.
So, for me, it raises a further question.
“If you cannot sing about God’s wrath being satisfied at Calvary, then why in good conscience would you want to sing the rest of the hymn?”
The whole point of the hymn is summed up in the first line “In Christ alone, my hope is found.” The song points us to Christ as our unique, only and sufficient hope. It is important then to remember why he is singularly unique.
Christ is unique and our only hope, not one hope among many because he is our saviour. His death on the Cross was for us, on our behalf, in our place. Why do we need a saviour? Well, the Bible makes it clear that we are sinners and deserve God’s judgement. This is what makes the Cross necessary. In fact, it is only penal substitution which makes sense of the atonement without it becoming some barbaric pointless act.
If God’s wrath, his righteous anger against sin, his passion for justice were not present then we would have alternative options to put our hope in. We could hope that by our own efforts we could overcome and survive evil in this world. We would expect that without wrath, then God wouldn’t mind too much who entered heaven. Our hope would be in our own free will and choice to spend eternity with God.
It is because of God’s wrath and because the Cross is the place where, to quote another song “wrath and mercy meet” that Christ must be our only hope. It is because of the Cross that he is our only hope.
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand
In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
Songwriters: Keith Getty / Stuart Townend
In Christ Alone lyrics © Capitol CMG Publishing