A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING
Historically, Lutheran churches have placed great emphasis on the study of the Bible, God’s Word, because that Word is the only true source and norm of theology. Apart from God’s self-revelation, man cannot know truth about God. Apart from God’s self-revelation, all religions would be merely the products of human speculation; and as such, all would be equally valid (or, perhaps more accurately, equally invalid).
But God has revealed Himself to man. That revelation consists not only in the “natural knowledge” of God that can be attained through consideration of His creation (Psalm 19:1); but especially in the revelation that is found in the Bible. It is through God’s Word—both Law and Gospel—that the Holy Spirit works to show us our sin, lead us to contrition and repentance, create and sustain saving faith in our hearts, and give us growth in sanctification.
How can one learn what the Bible teaches? For almost five hundred years, Lutherans have used Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism to educate their children in the basic doctrines of the Bible. Many Christian churches today shy away from such formal teaching, claiming that the study of doctrinal truth is stodgy and dull, and that it should be replaced with an emphasis on simply living a Christian life. However, as C.F.W. Walther noted, that’s like telling a farmer not to worry about the seed he plants, but simply concentrate on growing a good crop. Moreover, it ignores and contradicts what the Bible itself says about living a Christian life: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9)
In our churches, the study of Luther’s Small Catechism is usually seen as the core element of instruction leading to the confirmation of young people as communicant members. Hymn 337, “Our Lord and God, Oh, Bless This Day” is a confirmation hymn. It is a musical prayer for God’s blessing on those who have learned the truth of God’s Word from their study of the Small Catechism, who now make public profession of their faith.
In singing this hymn, we are praying that God would “Let them, Thy truth possessing, / Bear witness true with heart and tongue, / Their faith and ours confessing.” (Verse 2) This is a prayer that the possession of faith will lead also to the profession (declaration) of the truths of that faith. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:10)
Formal instruction in the catechism conducted by the pastor is important, but perhaps even more important is the consistent parental inculcation of Biblical truth and its application that trains up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). “From mother’s arms Thy grace / With love did them embrace.” (Verse 2) The composer of this hymn, Johan Nordahl Brun, was taught arithmetic and writing by his father; his mother taught him to read the Bible. The Small Catechism and confirmation class should be adjuncts to home training, not substitutes for it.
The biblical truth taught in the Small Catechism not only leads us to right knowledge of God and to salvation, it also arms and strengthens us to resist all evil. Verse 3 says, “When Satan’s hosts assail; / Oh, arm them with Thy might / And grant that in the fight / They unto death be faithful!” God’s Word provides both the defensive armor and the offensive weapons that Christians in the Church Militant need in order to resist and finally overcome the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful flesh (Ephesians 6:11-17). Until by God’s grace we join the Church Triumphant, we shall have battles to fight. In our own strength, we cannot be victorious; but armed with God’s Word, we cannot fail. “He ne’er shall be undone / Who trusts in God alone / God is his mighty Father!” (Verse 4)
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.