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Songs to Sing: Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted

Posted July 1, 2020
Worship

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ‘tis he, ‘tis he!
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
by his Son God now has spoken:
‘tis the true and faithful Word.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
‘tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning,
foes insulting his distress;
‘Tis the long-expected Prophet,
many hands were raised to wound him,
none would interpose to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him
was the stroke that Justice gave.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
his the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on him their hope have built.

I remember exactly when the heinousness of sin finally hit me. I grew up knowing sin was evil, understanding that a holy God could not abide with it, and acknowledging a perfect Savior’s death as the only acceptable sacrifice to cancel it. I mostly possessed theoretical knowledge of sin’s destructive nature, with a few exceptions here and there, and a well-informed theology of the atonement. I desperately wanted to be saved from the fires of hell, but my affections towards sin were rather ambivalent, considering it to be more of a nuisance rather than the mighty enemy that it was. It wasn’t until the embarrassing age of 27 when this all changed.

I was rehearsing a Christmas song with a vocal group. I had listened and sung along to this piece hundreds of times before, but this time, as we made sure of rhythms and harmonies, I found myself physically unable to sing. “Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn, tiny heart whose blood will save us, unto us is born.” The giant lump in the back of my throat wouldn’t allow me to even speak. You see, a little baby boy had just made me a mother two months earlier. Suddenly, in an unhinged wave of postpartum hormones, desperate lack of sleep, and a stark, newfound awareness of just what this sacrifice for sin entailed, I was undone.

Maybe this seems silly to you. Maybe you’re thinking, What exactly did she expect? She acts like she had never considered the gruesomeness of the cross before motherhood. How shortsighted of her. Well, yes. But how often does our theoretical knowledge of a biblical topic immediately impact our hearts? The affections are fickle things, and Christians need to be wary of assuming that, just because we have filled our heads with much knowledge of God, our hearts will automatically be filled with much love towards God. Our affections need sanctification too. One man noted, “Sin will be burdensome if the Savior is precious to you.” John Owen, the eternally perceptive Puritan, explains this concept:

Sin also carries on its war by entangling the affections and drawing them into an alliance against the mind. Grace may be enthroned in the mind, but if sin controls the affections, it has seized a fort from which it will continually assault the soul. Hence, as we shall see, mortification is chiefly directed to take place upon the affections.

This hymn has long been one of my favorites, but singing these verses is a weighty undertaking of the soul. Its words are piercing, painful, and the believer will find his conscience more than pricked upon completion. But it is good to sing songs which cause us to examine ourselves, to look upon the ugly portions of our hearts which need reforming, and to let the light of our Savior sanitize what has been growing in darkness. The German choral tune, “O Mein Jesu, Ich Muss Sterben,” is a hauntingly beautiful medium through which this text is conveyed. The four verses are exquisite and powerful answers to these questions:

  1. Who is suffering?
  2. How did he suffer?
  3. Why did he have to suffer?
  4. What did his suffering accomplish?

Who is stricken, smitten, and afflicted? It is the Christ, the long-expected prophet, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord, Son of God, the true and faithful Word. Jesus wasn’t just a good man, a respected teacher, he was God incarnate; the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophesy of the coming Messiah. And his was immense suffering. “Tell me ye who hear him groaning, was there ever grief like his.” He was beaten, mocked, betrayed, and disowned by those he loved. His physical suffering was atrocious, “but the deepest stroke that pierced him, was the stroke that Justice gave.”

Now come some of the most sobering words ever written in all of hymnody: “Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.” Let your mind wrap itself around this concept, and let the wind be knocked out of your chest. Sin is dreadful. Sin is pure evil. The wages of sin is death; it is slavery of the soul and not to be trifled with. You cannot, dear reader, flirt with sin, for it will not merely flirt with you. It will not be satisfied until is has seared your conscience and devoured your soul. King David even laments the physical distress of unrepentant sin: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3)

We are comfortable with a God who is love, who is merciful and gracious, who is longsuffering. And God is all these things to the fullest. But God is also holy, and we are not comfortable with a holy God. God is angered by sin, and God will pour out his wrath in eternal judgement of sin. The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wisely remarked, ‘God never showed his hatred of sin so much as he did in Christ. When God sent his Son into the world to die for man’s sin, he is saying, “they shall see the extent to which I hate sin in how I deal with my son.”’ “Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load.” During a recent conversation I had with author Rosaria Butterfield on sin and sexual identity, she said something which stopped me in my tracks: “The blood of Christ does not make an ally with the sin it crushes, ever.” My dear brothers and sisters, neither can we. “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

The last stanza of this powerful hymn picks us up from our proverbial fetal position on the floor and gives us reason to rejoice. “Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost; Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast.” Just reading that word—salvation—doesn’t it sound sweeter after all that we’ve considered? Salvation! Hallelujah! The Lord does not leave us in our despair; he saves us! “Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!”

The good news often doesn’t seem good without the bad news. It is good, even healthy, for us to consider the magnitude of what Jesus endured on the cross and the terrifying reality of the wages of sin. But we should not dwell there for prolonged periods of time. The Bible calls for self-reflection, not self-castigation. Your sins are heinous, but they have been atoned for; no more punishment is due. Sing these words as heartily as your throat will allow: “None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”

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Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris has been happily married to her husband, Sean, for 12 years and is a mother to four crazy, hilarious, and adorable children. She graduated from Grove City College with a degree in music. She and her family live in Oak Ridge, TN where her husband is a pastor in the PCA. In between homeschooling duties, toddlers, and babies, Sarah enjoys writing, cooking, podcasting, napping, and making fun of her ridiculously pathetic dog.