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Monday, February 20, 2017

The Song of the Righteous: Part 1

Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."

The power of good music in the last few days, especially hymns, has been a balm of Gilead for me through stressful moments.  The peace I have felt and the calm reassurance of the love and power of God in my life, brought to me through them by the Holy Ghost, is the driving force behind my next several entries.  I will doing an in depth look at a number of LDS hymns and attempting to give a Holy Ghost guided presentation of the spirit, message and power of each of them.

As President Boyd K. Packer said: "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"  So hopefully, these analyses will serve as both and instructive and sanctifying force for my readers.

Without further delay...

Hymn 85 - How Firm a Foundation

(Play the music from here if you are not familiar with the tune)

"How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord Is laid for your faith in His excellent word
What more can he say than to you he hath said Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled

In every condition - in sickness, in health, In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea - As thy days may demand so thy succor shall be

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove My sov'reign, eternal unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn, Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be born.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

There are just a few hymns where it's as if the Savior Himself is speaking right to us.  This is one of them and I'm not sure I can imagine a better hymn to parallel Isaiah 54:2.  I'm surprised this one isn't in the that little scripture reference section in the bottom right corner of the text in the hymn book.  It's so encouraging: "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones."

Consecrating our afflictions for our gain - "laying [our] 'stones' with faith colors", etc. - is one of the most reassuring and empowering doctrines of the Father.  This is sometimes a difficult concept for many to understand.  Something else that helps to clarify such a doctrine is where I was actually studying today (Feb 20th, 2017) in my scriptures, 2 Nephi 2, where Lehi says in verse 11 "there must needs be an opposition in all thing" and in verses 14 and 16 "...for there is a God, and he hath created all things ... both things to act and thing to be acted upon ... it must needs be that there was an opposition; ... the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.  Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the [good and bad]."

The test of life is to basically see whether we will say, by how we choose to live, "Yes, I'm sure I support Heavenly Father's plan for me.  I'm stand by what I chose before I was born here on earth, to side with Jesus Christ, to have faith in and use His atoning sacrifice to the fullest extent intended." over and over and over until each test of our commitment is either passed or, if failed, hopefully repented of in the end.

Each time we indicate faith in Christ by responding to opposition and trial with optimism and faith and obedience, we choose to "act" instead of being "acted upon" by those trials. When that happens, the Lord promises us, in this hymn, that He "will be with [us], [our] troubles to bless, and sanctify to [us our] deepest distress" meaning that He will make it so that our acting will result in such trials become a purifying and elevating experience rather than something that "acted upon" us and pulled us down.  His grace makes it all possible.  Our faith activates it.

"As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be" adds an additional source of comfort and encouragement from the Lord as well.  He always gives us exactly what we need in the exact moment we need it.  Whatever necessity is required through out each day, whether it be temporal or spiritual or both, the Lord promises us that He will succor (run to our aid) exactly as the laws of justice and mercy require or "as [our] days may demand."

Something else I love about this hymn is when He says "I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."  In metal work, dross is the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal as a result of oxidation.  Basically garbage that is completely useless and will only make the finished product look bad.  In symbolism, the Lord is basically saying that anything that we didn't need to go through for our own salvation - like effects of the fall put upon us by others sins or weaknesses - will be like dross.  All of those effects on us will be consumed so that all that is left is purity and holiness - "thy gold to refine".  More generally speaking, that was the whole purpose of the atonement of Christ in the first place, the reverse all the effects of the fall.

In the end, this glorious hymns exits with a short anthemic response of allegiance to our Savior: "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot desert to his foes; That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!

Why would we want to?  He promises us in this hymn that He'll be there as often as we reach for Him.