We turn to Christ anew

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise was “We turn to Christ anew”. Although in the section on Christian Initiation, it doesn’t specifically refer to baptism and would be equally suitable for confirmation, renewal of vows or a Covenant service.

The three verses, set to a tune more familiar as “The God of Abram praise”, are all about obedience and trust.  It’s significant that the hymn is written in the first person plural – “we”, not “I”. The longer I have lived as a Christian, the more I have realised that the ‘Christian life’ is less about following rules (whether God-given or man-made) and more about recognising God’s sovereignty in the world and being part of the whole Christian church, indeed the wider company of all who believe in God and seek to do his will, not only our own lives, but in the lives of all people and indeed the whole creation.  With this attitude, prayer and worship become not a list of requests, but trying to be attuned to the will of God in everything.  The first verse, then, is about turning to Christ, walking his way, obeying and serving him, as well as turning from sin (which is merely a first step towards doing his will, whether at conversion or subsequently). 

The second verse declares “We trust in Christ to save”, with a reminder of his death on the Cross as paying a ransom (one of several understandings of its significance, and perhaps not a commonly heard one these days). It also looks forward to the “final day” when those who trust in him will be saved to eternal life.  It is, of course, much harder to decide whether I myself trust in Christ sufficiently to merit this, let alone to see into anyone else’s mind and make a judgement about their level of trust, than it is to ask a yes-or-no question about whether someone has been baptised or had a particular experience, which is why preachers and evangelists now tend to be less dogmatic about who will be “in” or “out” of God’s favour come that final day.

The last verse starts continuing the theme of looking towards the end of time, or at least of our earthly lives, acclaiming Jesus as “our changeless friend”.   It ends with a challenge to renew our faith and love to follow him.  The very last line – “and find him true” – is important, because it is Christ’s promise to be true (i.e. faithful) to us that is if anything more important than our promises to be true to him, which we know can often falter.

1 thought on “We turn to Christ anew”

  1. My difficulties with playing and singing this hymn were entirely to do with the four flats in the key signature of the tune, which I find fumbles my fingers frightfully – and not at all to do with the words, which I liked and appreciated.

    I spent some time trying to work out whether Timothy had structured the hymn on the “decision” section of the baptism service, as the words “We turn to Christ” and “We trust in Christ” are so prominent in v1 & v2? But I couldn’t actually make the link work – surely he would have opened v3 with “We come to Christ” if he had intended it like this? The repetition of the key words “turn” and “trust” as the final words of v1 & v2 persuades me that Timothy really wanted to start the last verse as “We true to Christ remain” or “We true to Christ will stay” (the final word in the hymn is “true”), but somehow couldn’t make it work convincingly.

    I was also interested that Timothy has a note of “aiming” rather than “achieving” in his words. v1 line 5 starts “To serve him …” rather than “We serve him …”. v3 starts “We would …” rather than “We are …” (this latter wouldn’t work grammatically, but as above I think this line was a bit of a work in progress for a while). The word “aim” actually comes in v3 line 7, and the hymn finishes with the aim that we will find him true rather than the assertion that we have already found him true. As a bishop Timothy will doubtless have confirmed many people who later on drifted away from churchgoing, and I wonder if he meant to imply that the sacrament by itself has no power to keep us close to the Saviour, and that Christian discipleship remains a matter of setting one’s hand to the plough and not looking back?

    Stephen is of course right that the hymn is corporate – it is about following Jesus together, and the singing of it together is one way of encouraging each other in our faith. I was interested that Stephen says the “ransom” theory (“substitutionary atonement”) is not often heard these days. It certainly is in some places, and Stuart Townend’s famous use of the word “wrath” in his hymn “In Christ alone” provoked considerable discussion about this theory. We evangelicals have never subscribed to this theory exclusively, but it is (as Stephen says) part of the raft of illustrative concepts which the New Testament uses to explain the significance of Christ’s death (see Nicky Gumbel’s chapter on “Why did Jesus die?” in his “Questions of Life”), and I welcomed it in this hymn.

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