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Wrath and love in a well-known atonement hymn

13 October 2010


From the Revd David Phypers

Sir, — Although I firmly believe that (in the words of Philip Bliss’s hymn) “In my place condemned he stood,” I, too, share Jeremy Davies’s hesitation in singing: “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied” (Features, 24 September).

That single word “wrath” spoils an otherwise incomparable modern hymn, which stands in the great tradition of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Graham Kendrick, and Timothy Dudley-Smith. To be sure, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Romans 1.18). But God did not so hate the world that he gave his only Son. Rather, he so loved the world.

So, at Bishop Tom Wright’s suggestion in The Cross and the Caricatures, I now sing: “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The love of God was satisfied.”

This not only enriches Stuart Townend’s hymn: it better expresses the scriptural doctrine of substitutionary atonement with which we must all grapple if we are to begin to understand the mystery of our Lord’s sacrificial self-offering for the sins of the world.

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