How Deep the Father's Love
One of the most repeated commands in the Bible is, perhaps, an unexpected one: sing.
“Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people” (Psalm 149:1).
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day” (Psalm 96:1–2).
“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19–20).
It is clear from even the most cursory reading of the Scriptures that singing is a vital part of the Christian life. As Martin Luther once said, “Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” As a matter of fact, so essential is singing to the Christian faith that every weekend, we at Horizons Church along with countless other churches across the globe gather together under the banner of Jesus Christ and do just that: we sing. But what we sing as a church is just as important as the fact that we do sing -- if not more so. The content matters. So what, exactly, are we singing about on Sundays?
To put it quite simply, we are singing the praises of God; we are charged to sing, in one form or another, the song of the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 15:3).
That He Should Give His Only Son
When it comes to the what and the content of our songs, one of my favorites that we sing together at Horizons is How Deep the Father’s Love. Not only is its melody beautiful and its structure sublime, but even its lyrics are rich and saturated with the gospel. Let’s briefly meditate on just one of the glorious truths that shines like a jewel in this hymn.
The first verse deftly opens with one of the most stunning realities the world has ever known: God gave up his only Son for the sake of those who hated him.
How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only Son
To make a wretch his treasure
I’ve often heard it said that sin is the great barrier between us and God -- and as far as it goes, that’s true: our sin does make a rift, it does create a Grand-Canyon-chasm that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Our sin must be dealt with if we are to have any hope of being reconciled to our Maker.
But, as John Piper has astutely noted, sin may not be the greatest obstacle between us and God: “Romans 8:32 shows us that [my guilt and God’s wrath] are not the biggest obstacle in the way of my salvation. Instead, God’s love for his Son is the greatest obstacle to my salvation.”
The Father’s love for his Son is the purest love that has ever existed. The Father and Son (along with the Holy Spirit) have been delighting and rejoicing in one another from eternity past. We can’t even scratch the surface of such a love. If we were ever to fully comprehend and possess such a love in our own hearts, I’m willing to bet that we would kill before we would allow it to be taken away from us.
The very notion that the Father has such unfathomable love for the Son should be enough to make us despair of ever being saved, because only the Son can deal with our sin -- and how could we ever expect the Father to give up his dearly Beloved Son?
Sons to Glory
And yet, the Father willingly gave up his Son for our sake (Isaiah 53:10, Romans 8:32). He did not spare his Son. Jesus Christ humbled himself and not only suffered for us, but died a slave’s death in our place during the darkest hour of the world’s history (Matthew 27:45-46, Philippians 2:6-8). And what was the result of such an unimaginable sacrifice from both the Father and the Son? The first verse of the hymn concludes:
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns his face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory
There was a reason that Jesus sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew “the pain of searing loss” he was about to endure (Luke 22:41-44). He knew that he would not only feel the scourge of a Roman whip on his back and the spikes hammered through his hands and feet -- he also knew that he would have to drink the full cup of his Father’s wrath against sin, and he would have to drain it down to the last bitter dregs. No human being could bear such suffering and come out the other side -- except for him. And he knew it.
But Christ’s sufferings were not a mere end to themselves, as if he died a martyr’s tragic death and that was all it was; as Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).
In other words, Christ’s wounds made possible our healing; his shame made possible our glory; his accursedness made possible our blessedness; his death made possible our life (Galatians 3:13). Because Jesus suffered our punishment, died our death, and rose again as head over all, we are now offered the very Spirit of God, by whom we are adopted into God’s family; we become children of God ourselves; we become sons and daughters who call God our Father (Romans 8:15).
All of this life-changing truth is contained in just the first verse of this amazing song. We sing songs like this every week! How right Martin Luther was in calling such music a present from God! When we gather together and lift our voices to words like these, we not only offer up the praise that God is due, like a fragrant offering of incense, but we also indelibly remind ourselves and all those around us of God’s astonishing work of redemption -- and like incense, our songs fill the room with an aroma from which we can all find joy and pleasure.
Indeed, the final verse of How Deep concludes thus, and what a fitting conclusion it is:
Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
We who believe are all destined to share in the great reward of Jesus. If that isn’t worth singing about with all of our hearts, then what else is? So let us sing! Most especially when we gather together with the church to worship, let us sing with all our might the victory song of the Lamb that was slain.