October 4, 2017

His We Are as Hymn We Sing

A hymn to commemorate a 500-year anniversary.

Bill Knott

Writing anything about anniversaries is daunting work, which is why so many of us opt for the crafted verse of greeting cards. With pen in hand we pause above the page, doubtful that our added words will do justice to the significance of the occasion. Writing anything about a 500th anniversary is even more challenging, for the meaning of that event has unfolded through a dozen biblical generations and continues to unfold to this day.

So when the minister of music challenged me to write a hymn for our congregation’s celebration of Reformation Day (October 31), I initially quailed at the thought. What words of mine could somehow encompass the enormous and enduring contributions made by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, and so many others to the history of Protestant Christianity?

As with so many other pieces that I write, it was a place that helped me regain my courage and accept my friend’s challenge. On Sabbath, July 1, I was standing within sight of John Knox’s home church in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the first line of the hymn on the facing page emerged: God of truth unmixed with error, Guide Your people to Your Word.

As a child I was fascinated by the bold and remarkably successful reformation of the Scottish Church accomplished by Knox, whose confrontations with Mary, Queen of Scots, likely turned the tide for Protestant Christianity in that nation. The challenges and persecutions endured by Knox and his successors for another century lodged in my faith and helped me understand the words of Jesus: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24, NKJV).*

From that simple line about the reliability of God’s Word unfolded the first two verses of the hymn, celebrating the Reformation principles of sola scriptura, sola gratia, and sola fide. Expressed in the Latin of the era, they underline that only Scripture is ultimately reliable as a source of truth, that only grace saves us, and that only through faith do we receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness.

The third verse calls to mind the foundational principles of love and peacemaking in the church of Jesus. The fourth verse celebrates the unique contributions of Adventism to the Protestant movement—the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14, and the reality of Christ’s soon Second Coming.

It is impossible to trace the significance of the Protestant Reformation in prose or verse without acknowledging the heroic sacrifices of the millions of Christians who gave up their lives because of their commitment to Jesus and the truths of His Word. Their stories moved me deeply as child, and they continue to fire my faith today.

The final verses are a reminder that the work of the Protestant Reformation is never complete—that the church of Jesus continues to need revival and change if it is to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev. 14:4, NKJV).

All of this is encompassed in a prayer, offered in the opening line of each verse, that the connection between God and His faithful people will grow stronger and deeper as we move toward the culmination of human history.

Adventist Review readers may wish to use this hymn in worship services on Sabbath, October 28, as the world nears the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31. The hymn may be sung to several tunes in The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, including “Hymn to Joy” (no. 12), and “Austria” (no. 423).

Spirit of True Reformation

A Reformation Day Hymn

God of truth unmixed with error,

Guide Your people to Your Word.

Give Your preachers timely courage;

Let Your righteousness be heard.

Father, keep us from all doctrine

Fashioned by the will of man;

Save us from our hallowed structures

Not prefigured in Your plan. 

God of grace, in faith receiving,

May we trust in Christ alone;

All our works are less than nothing

As we kneel before His throne.

Keep us from our self-absorption

Lest we come to love our fame.

Let the blood of Jesus wash us:

We are righteous in His name. 

God of kindness, lead Your people

To the primacy of love;

Give us deep, connected living,

Mirroring Your courts above.

Let our words be full of caring;

Let our hands be full of peace;

May the gentleness of Jesus

In Your church each day increase. 

God of hope, restore our longing

For a future shared with You;

May the coming of Your kingdom

Make our hearts beat quick and true.

Shape us to the task of heralds,

Joining angels in their cry;

Pointing tribes and tongues and peoples

To the truth that cannot die. 

God of all who died for Jesus,

Fiery saints who shared His pain;

Beaten, broken, stoned, and martyred—

Make their deep resolve our gain.

Teach us how to bear our sorrow,

Wrestle doubt, and conquer fear;

Nerve us with the deep conviction:

In all trouble, Christ is here! 

God who far exceeds our worship,

Lend Your people heaven’s song;

Let Your angels teach an anthem

That will drown out noise and wrong.

Spirit of true reformation,

Flame up bright—revivals start!

With the coals from heaven’s altar,

Light the altar of our heart.

Bill Knott is executive editor and director of Adventist Review Ministries.