Theology and Doxology
Angelic beings approach the throne of the triune God. They arrive in His immediate presence because they need no mediator. No sin prevents them from entering, and God gave these creatures the capacity to draw near without being incinerated by His glory. Is it safe to say these angels know better than we do? But what do these knowledgeable ones do in God’s presence? According to Revelation 4:10, they fall down, cast their crowns, and sing. In short, they worship God with their whole beings.
I read a lot of theology books. That’s my job—and my passion. But every time I pick one up, I raise a silent challenge: “Make me sing.” I go to a lot of worship services. That also is my job—and my passion. My challenge is, “Take me deeper.” The knowledge of God and the praise of God, theology and doxology, belong together. They are dance partners in the fulfillment of our chief end: to glorify and enjoy God forever.
Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its mission, no matter how correct it may be. Worship that doesn’t take us deeper into Christ has also failed, no matter how glorious the music or how applicable the sermon. Praising God properly means deepening our knowledge of this God we adore. Our hearts should be set aflame when we really explore how the Father sent His Son into the world to save us, and then joined us to that Savior by sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts. Great theology stirs the heart. Excellent worship grows our knowledge.
Let’s take, for an example, two stanzas from Joseph Hart’s hymn “Come Ye Sinners.” The lyrics have been reset several times in both traditional and contemporary styles, a testimony to their enduring power. The words take us deep into the work of Christ in a way that inspires us to give our hearts in worship:
View him prostrate in the Garden, On the ground your Maker lies, On the bloody tree behold him; Sinner, will not this suffice?
In just four short lines, we enter the narrative of our Savior’s work. A great theological paradox is evoked through vivid imagery. We behold not just a man, but God in the flesh. The transcendent Creator of all has His face to the ground of creation. The impassible God unites Himself to a human nature that can suffer agony. Who can fathom this? But then Hart lets his theology become a call to worship: “Sinner, will not this suffice?” Does knowing what God has done not move you to worship?
The next stanza continues our journey into theological mystery, as Hart answers for us the enduring theological question, “What is Jesus doing now?”
Lo! Th’ incarnate God ascended, Pleads the merit of his blood, Venture on him, venture wholly, Let no other trust intrude.
Hart evokes this crucial passage from Hebrews: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). Jesus continues in His priesthood, applying on our behalf the finished work of His sacrifice, not only for justification but for our growth in sanctification as well. What a wonder—Jesus lives to pray for us. How could I rely on anyone else? “Yes,” my heart cries as I sing this theological truth: “I will venture on Jesus. I will give my life wholly and only to him.”
John Calvin was one of the most doxological theologians. In writing about the Lord’s Supper, Calvin rejoiced to affirm that through union with Christ, “whatever is his may be called ours.” In what is now a very famous passage, Calvin articulated this wonderful exchange:
This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness. (Institutes, 4.17.2)
With this in our theological hymnbooks, how could Calvinists ever be the frozen chosen? This is the greatest deal in the universe: God trades us His life for our death, His peace for our anxiety, His heavenly home for our orphaned exile, His forgiveness for our sin. Then, amazingly, He considers it a great bargain. Such news makes me want to get up from this keyboard and run around the block shouting.
Theology is meant to set us singing. Our worship is meant to take us deeper into the glorious truth of our Redeemer’s work. These two are meant to be dance partners into eternity.