By Dr. Trent Roubleau

I love thy Kingdom, Lord,
The house of thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With his own precious blood.

I love thy church, O God:
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heav’nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.1

 

This hymn, written by Timothy Dwight in 1801 is perhaps the oldest hymn written by a United States citizen that is still being sung today. In a culture like ours that is marked by a low view of the church, singing a worship song like this about the church can seem strange. I think that in our culture it feels more natural to critique a church, talk about its failures or be apathetic towards it. I think that this is true of Christian and non Christian alike.

However, being among the assembled body of believers should stir our deepest affections. One such place, of many in the Bible, where we see this is the book of Hebrews: (vv: 18-24, 28-29).

 18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

On this passage John Owen comments:

“We have here a blessed, yea a glorious description of the [universal] church… such a description it is, that if it were attended to and believed, it would not only silence all the contentious wrangling that the world is filled with about that name and thing, but cast out also other prejudicate conceptions and opinions innumerable, which divide all Christians, fill them with mutual animosity, and ruin their peace.”2

So what are some privileges here that should stir our heart? First we have come to Zion. God is presented as a consuming fire on both mountains (v29) but unlike Mount Sinai where the law condemn us to fear, Mount Zion represents our forgiveness because of  Jesus sacrificial death in our place, life giving resurrection and gift of imputed righteousness (vv. 18-21, 22a). Second we are gathering within a city where God dwells. I have heard it said that the closest a Christian can come to God in this life is interacting with another Christian. Third the angels that are gathered with us are partying (v. 22c)! Fourth Jesus the first born is the sovereign savior and supreme authority of our assembly (vv. 23-24).

All this, the author of Hebrews concludes, should lead Christians to meet together having: One a heart of gratitude for receiving an unshakable kingdom (v. 28). Two it leads us to offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe. Far from being casual or formalistic these truths should move us to a careful, breathless, joyful celebration of God among His people (v.28).

In conclusion, we should ask ourselves this: ‘Is the worship I offer acceptable according to this passage? Is it filled with reverence and awe? Why or why not? Is our view to low?’ If so, we should repent, pray and meditate on the privileges above until our hearts melt with gratitude, reverence and awe. Until we can, sing with the hymn writer:

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

  1. Timothy Dwight, Trinity Hymnal #280
  2. Epistle to the Hebrews. John Owen pg 636- 637 vol IV

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