Sunday, 27 January 2013

Ae Fond Kiss?

‘Till Death Do Us Part

As part of celebrating Burns night we always stand around the piano for a while and sing some old Scottish songs, some by Burns, some not.  Lots of nationalistic songs proclaiming the many virtues of Scotland, and lots of love songs.  Most of which are incredibly sad ones, there’s something about this country that lends its poets to melancholy…  Still, I think one of the most poignant and beautiful of the many love poems Burns wrote is this one:

“Ae fond kiss, and then we sever
Ae farewell, and then forever
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him
Me nae cheerful twinkle lights me,
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy:
Nothing could resist my Nancy
But to see her was to love her
Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never loe'd sae kindly,
Had we never loe'd sae blindly,
Never met - nor never parted -
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever
Ae farewell, alas, for ever
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.”

A song of two lovers, parted for ever, never to meet again.  What is it about Scotland that all our best songs are heartbreakingly sad?  I always loved this one because even in the black despair of being parted the poet still looks and hopes for the happiness of his beloved: “Thine be ilka [every] joy and treasure, Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure”.  It is a great Christian sentiment to have, care for even the people that hurt you.  Maybe I’ll come back to that in a later blog but that isn’t what I want to look at now.  Instead, consider the main theme of the song: the despair of separation.  We find that heart-breaking in both song and life yet it is the common theme of all human relationships because when all is said and done, all of them end.  Every year in Scotland alone around ten thousand marriages are broken up and countless more relationships split.  We call it ‘true love’ when it lasts through thick and thin, sickness and health, poverty and wealth but in the end even ‘true love’ is only until death do them part and life itself is fleeting.

“O LORD, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! (Selah)
Psalm 39:4-5

What a depressing blog this is.  And yet it is an important message to get across in today’s sex-driven world.  The church is so quick to absorb the culture around it and maybe it sanitises it a little for the sake of the gospel but a romance-driven life is no better or more Biblical than the world’s more explicit version.  As my good friend Ben keeps on saying:

We think that sinner plus sinner might actually equal happiness, that one flawed person plus another flawed person will somehow create something perfect.”

Not so.  It was never so, will never be so, can never be so.  There is no relationship on earth that can complete you and even if it did it wouldn’t last forever.  But I didn’t write this blog to be a grumpy old man and complain about the fickleness of human emotions or the futility of life or any of that.  There was another song we sang that night, after the Burns section was over.  A better song to sing, a song with a hope and a future.  A song with no tinge of sadness, only hope.

‘Till Death Do Us Join

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
George Matheson

Like the book of Ecclesiastes so wonderfully shows, the main gain of reflecting on the futility of our earthly idols is to turn our eyes then to Christ.  As looking out at the dull grey skies make the fire in the hearth burn more brightly, as a child’s drawing makes Van Gogh look so much greater, as the majesty of Everest is only shown the more by comparison to lesser peaks so also looking at the feeble bonds we have in this life should only make us the more eager to glory in the beautiful love of Jesus for us.  Love that is better than any other.  Love that is more forgiving than any other. Love that lasts forever. Love that will not let us go.

Is this not a better, more glorious, song to sing?  Love that will never leave us, never say farewell.  Love that pledged itself to us in heart wrung tears in the garden.  Love that wages us constant prayer before the throne of God.  Love that never leaves us without a star of hope, love that always lights our way.  Love that is truly irresistible.  Love that is indeed the very foundation of our own love.  Love that is never blind, but always kind.  Love that will never part, never break our hearts yet is always broken-hearted to see us come to harm or fall into sin.  Love that cried out ‘forgive them’ as it bled and died on a cross.  Love that indeed always wishes us well even when we reject it.  Love that brings us real peace, eternal enjoyment and happiness.

Jesus love is not a mushy feeling for us; it’s not a nice warm sensation in his heart when he sees us.  It is true love.  Love that dies for us.  Feelings fade and flicker, wax and wane but God’s love is a solid commitment to us.

“In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
1 John 4:10

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Rom 5:8

Jesus quite literally loved us to death.  He was willing to die for us and he kept that commitment throughout his life.  That is love!  How could he now, having died for us, reject us?  How could he turn away from us after paying such a price to win our hearts to himself?

"The poets themselves said, that amor Deum gubernat, that love governed God. And, as Nazianzen well speaks, this love of God, this dulcis tyrannus, —this sweet tyrant,—did overcome him when he was upon the cross. There were no cords could have held him to the whipping-post but those of love; no nails have fastened him to the cross but those of love."
Thomas Goodwin

How we deceive ourselves!  We are but strangers here on earth, foreigners, passing through.  Why seek our happiness in fallible folk in our temporary home when real, eternal, unfailing love is offered to us?  Why seek fulfilment in an emotional ‘connection’ when we have solid love, demonstrably shown in the cross?

By all means, get into a relationship, as Genesis 1 says ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ but don’t make it your everything. Make Christ your everything, get into a relationship to glorify God and be drawn closer to God, get your heart straight on the matter and make sure God sits in first place. Even in a relationship make sure that Christ is first and so that if your human relationship is taken away from you (as well it might) you recognise that you still have your first and greatest love: Jesus Christ. Seek God out in prayer over this, ask him to sanctify your heart, invite him to take first place, confess that often he isn’t and above all rejoice greatly that you weren’t made to find your all in all from another flawed human being but in the perfect relationship you can have with God through the work of Jesus Christ!

Another quote then:

And there's no concept of abandonment
For I am safe within Your arms

And in this marriage of our hearts
There is no death do us part
For You are eternal
And I am eternally Yours
Sanctus Real

Get that?  In the love of Christ, there is not even space to entertain the concept of abandonment.  Once loved always loved.  But do not take my word for it, after all, surely our experience shows no love can last forever?

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
Jeremiah 31:3b

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. 2Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. 3Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever”
Psalm 136:1-3

“For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalm 100:5

But really forever? What if someone or something else gets in the way?

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Jesus will never, can never, give you up for someone else.  As Mike Reeves points out so often, we are adopted into God’s family and “Children are not ‘unchildrened’ because they are naughty.  To quote Thomas Watson:

"When God calls a man, He does not repent of it. God does not, as many friends do, love one day, and hate another; or as princes, who make their subjects favourites, and afterwards throw them into prison. This is the blessedness of a saint; his condition admits of no alteration. God's call is founded on His decree, and His decree is immutable. Acts of grace cannot be reversed. God blots out his people's sins, but not their names."

What then when we die?  Surely all that changes then is our perception.  Christ’s love knows no change, and could not be greater than it is.  However when we die, then we will truly see it with eyes unclouded with worldly love.  This then is why I titled this section ‘till death do us join because our love will be all the greater when we pass that final gateway and enter into new life.

"Most men need patience to die, but a saint who understands what death admits him to should rather need patience to live. I think he should often look out and listen on a deathbed for his Lord's coming; and when he receives the news of his approaching change he should say, 'The voice of my beloved! Behold, He cometh leaping over the mountains, skipping upon the hills' (Song of Solomon 2:8)."
John Flavel

Let us remember always the love of Christ and in the light of it, never shirk the cross that lifts us closer to him.  Let us long for the ground to blossom red and from it spring ‘life that shall endless be’.  Let us yearn every day that we might see the love of God more clearly, and love him therefore more dearly.  Imagine that day when we actually see Christ for what he is.  The first (and the last), the fairest, the best.  Then, as now he should be, shall he be dearest of all to us.  Then, as now he should be, will he truly be our peace, our enjoyment, our love and our treasure.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-12

This is the love of God, oh for the day when the perfect will come, the partial pass away and we shall fully know it even as we have always been known by it.

<<Multiple versions of both songs are below for your listening pleasure>>

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