In an earlier issue of the magazine we looked at that great hymn of Augustus Toplady's, "Rock of Ages." In the course of the article we referred to another of Toplady's hymns, "From Whence this Fear and Unbelief?" and such has been the response to that brief reference that we thought we would include the hymn with a few notes in this edition.
The hymn appears to have been written following a time of trial in Augustus Toplady's life. Strong Calvinist and all as our author was he, nevertheless, like every true saint of God, experienced those times in his life when his knees grew feeble and his arms weak.
When Pilgrim had been shown around the House of Interpreter and had been asked what he thought of the wonders and mysteries of the Christian life that had been shown to him, his reply was that they both filled him "with hope and fear." And the words of this great hymn reflect one such time in the life of its author, when he was filled with fear. But, and this is the glory of it all, the words also expound the source of "hope" that is eternally set forth to rescue the believer from all his times of "fear and unbelief"
Note how our author rides out to challenge that great two-headed dragon – "Fear and Unbelief" – that has come out and partly robbed him of his spiritual well-being. He lifts up the blood-stained cross of his Saviour before its glowing eyes so that it is forced to shrink back and retire into its lair again. "Who is he that condemneth?" Toplady is shouting out this first verse, "it is Christ that dies." And this is the source of victory over all our anxious thoughts and unbelieving hearts, that "God spared not his own son, but delivers him up for us all." See how Toplady places himself within the Courts of God's Justice.
The sentence has been written clearly above his head – "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." But a "surety" steps into that place of condemnation – even God's own Son – and he takes the full brunt of that sentence for him. Why should he then fear or be unbelieving? The "Judge" who sits upon the seat of judgement in that Courtroom is "the Righteous Judge" and if He has accepted the payment of the "debt" by the surety on the condemned's behalf, then the condemned will never be condemned for that "debt of sin, which, Lord, was charged on Thee."
Not even a little? The old dragon of fear and unbelief may often suggest as a parting shot; will you not be condemned even a little? But Toplady lifts the Cross to its fullest height as he starts in upon his second verse to show, indeed, that "there is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."
Some would call this "high" doctrine, and, indeed it is – high as heaven itself – for it's Christ's atonement for the sins of His people that we are called to sing about here. One of the accusations that fell at the feet of the disciples after our Lord had expounded the nature of His sufferings and death to them was that "they understood none of these things." And it is still an indictment writ large across the Church's character today that she has still, to a great extent failed to appreciate and preach the true nature of Christ's wondrous atonement. "Jesus who loved the church," says Paul, "and gave himself for it." "Thou shalt call his name Jesus," says the evangelist, "for he shall save his people from their sins." "The Son of Man is come to give his life a ransom for many," it says in another place. The old Calvinist, Toplady, might have called this "Limited Atonement" – that Christ's atonement was on behalf of His Church, His Bride, His People, His Sheep, His Elect, and for none else. And yet, here is the great and glorious paradox: that this so-called Limited atonement is the only "Complete atonement" that there is. Jesus has really paid the debt of His people's sins – "to the utmost farthing," says our author. "Charge it to mine account," says our blessed Saviour to His father in heaven who is seated upon His throne of judgement, "I will repay it." And He did – really did!
But, believer, do you really believe that Christ cancelled the debt of sin when He poured out His life an offering on the Cross? Whose debt, then? The debt of all the world, indiscriminately, say some. Ah then, my evangelical friend, if you believe that you are really a universalist after all, for you believe that all men have had their sins accounted for and the debt atoned for. But, it was "whate'er Thy people owed," says Toplady aright. And it was because Jesus paid every "farthing" of His people's debt when He made atonement for them on the Cross that that "limited" atonement is, indeed, and in truth the only "Complete atonement" that there is.
Let the glorious weight of our next verse anchor this mighty truth in your heart, believer.
"The wages of sin is death," thunders the Word of God; "The wicked shall be turned into hell," it says. Now, visualise this sight, my friend: here is a sinner in hell, and yet, some would tell us, Christ really paid the debt for his sin! "Aha," says the devil, "what a prize I have here; Christ suffered hell for this sinner, but now this sinner must suffer hell all over again for himself." "Aha," he says again, "Christ paid the price of this one's sin to ransom him from this dark abyss, but Christ hasn't received what He purchased with His blood." "Aha," he cries a third time, "the Father - the Judge of all the earth who is always suppose to do right – laid this sinner's iniquity upon His Son and his Son "bore his grief and carried his sorrow," but now the sinner will have to bear it all over again – I have robbed heaven of its purchase!" Ah, my friends, if your gospel of redemption leaves such room for such a possibility – that the ransomed and redeemed for whom Jesus shed His blood might indeed be lost at the last, then you have much room for "Fear and unbelief." But banish the thought with this blest truth ….
Now may we sing the last verse with Augustus Toplady, and sing of "The merits of our great High Priest" really believing that those merits have purchased all needed grace to reconcile the banished from God back into His favour again. And what Christ has died for can never be lost, but, must be saved, and cannot run the hazard of ever suffering what He once and for all suffered for them:
This Page Title – Great Hymns and their Writers – "From whence this fear and unbelief" by Augustus Toplady
The Wicket Gate Magazine "A Continuing Witness".
Internet Edition number 73 – placed on line July 2008
Magazine web address – www.wicketgate.co.uk