Lenten Hymns and their Story

March 09, 2023

“We Sing the Praise of Him Who Died”

The inspiration for this Passion hymn by Thomas Kelly [1769-1855] is revealed in the heading under which it was first published: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.”  Kelly was an evangelical clergyman under the British monarch in the Church of Ireland, and he had taken these words very much to heart.  In fact, he believed in them so strongly, and it caused such an offense to some, that the Archbishop of Dublin prohibited Kelly from preaching in the city.  He left and formed his own church in 1802 - all because he preached Christ crucified.
Verse 1 reflects the paradoxical nature of the Gospel, that praise is sung to One who appears defeated, who wins the victory through dying.  This is an attitude of confident faith, even though the believer may very well be outnumbered at home and in town.  He recalls Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”  
Verse 2 shows us the Crucified’s unfailing love for sinners.  The eyes of faith see even more than what Pontius Pilate wrote, for here the Father writes in glowing letters of the Word made flesh to communicate His love.  
Verses 3 and 4 describe in ways similar to the bronze serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9] the cross.  To all who look in faith, the guilt of the venom of sin is taken away, and then, your sagging spirit will be revived.  
In verse 5, the language takes a more sacramental tone with words such as “balm” and “cure”, implying almost a medical application of the blessings of the cross and the Sacrament of the Altar.
The angel’s theme of praise mentioned in verse five is reflected in the final stanza.  Even in heaven, the cross is the central theme, for it is only through Christ’s sacrificial death that the victory has been won.

We sing the praise of Him who died, of Him who died upon the cross.
The sinner’s hope let all deride; for this we count the world but loss.

LSB 429

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