Monday, June 16, 2008

The Double Cure of Sin

June 16, 2008

Yesterday we sang “Rock of Ages” the hymn by the eighteenth century Anglican Calvinist, Augustus Montague Toplady to the nineteenth century tune ‘Toplady’ by Thomas Hastings. The first verse as follows refers to a doctrine of ‘the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side on the cross being a ‘double cure’ from sin. The traditional words (our 1982 version is slightly different) are as follows:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

We sing the last line of this first verse as " of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power" which makes things a little more clear.

A quick survey of nearby clergy and other theological types failed to point me to the theological underpinnings of this ‘double cure’ doctrine. It seems to mean that we are saved not only from the consequences of our sin (wrath) but also from our sinful natures or our very propensity to sin (make me pure) thus being a ‘double cure’.

Toplady published a book called The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted in 1758. It was a translation of Zanchius' Confession of the Christian Religion of 1562 which had persuaded him to become a Calvinist. As such he became a great opponent of John Wesley and his veneer of scholarly respectability contained some religious vitriol (not just a modern affliction) that led Wesley to cease corresponding with him. (You can find all this with copies of the books and correspondence on line with search for ‘Toplady’.) Some have seen the doctrine of ‘Rock of Ages’ and its emphasis on the actions of God, and God alone, as criticism of alleged Wesleyan understandings of the place of human freedom in responding to grace.

It turns out that Calvin did refer to ‘double grace in the third book of his Institutes as follows: “Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.” So the ‘double cure’ appears to refer to justification and sanctification, forgiveness of sin (consequence) and holiness of life (nature). Now we know.

At one level this is something that need not keep us up at night. At another it is an argument for full conversion. We have a tendency to want to avoid bad feelings without addressing root causes, A friend of mine used to preach about dog repentance and cat repentance. He said that if you come into your kitchen where you had left your roast meat to ‘rest’ and found your dog and your cat polishing it off, your dog would come up to you wagging her tail and saying in effect, ‘love me, love me love me’. While your cat would lick his paws and look at you as if to say ‘do we have a problem here?’ Neither of course is repentance but many are the ways that human beings attempt to pas such attitudes off as repentance. If part of the consequence of sin is bad feelings (guilt) our desire for forgiveness sometimes appears to be an attempt to feel better without addressing our propensity to sin (cause bad feelings) in the first place. It is much easier to talk of immediate and momentary change rather than the profound transformation of life that can result from such a change.

John Herring in his sermon yesterday talked of our tenth grade pilgrims (including Alexander Hoare) who depart for Greece today and how they would be changed by God and through their experience in ways that may not become evident for many years. This is a similar concern and the ‘double cure’ language is shorthand for it and a useful reminder that God is not solely about ameliorating our symptoms (guilt) but putting everything about us to rights (righteousness, sanctification etc.)

1 comment:

Dave Moench said...

Hi, I just wanted to thank you for this post concerning the "double cure" found in the song, "Rock of Ages." It confirmed my thought that the double cure is justification and sanctification. I am reminded of 1 Jn. 1:9 which states that "... He is faithful and just to FORGIVE us of our sins and to CLEANS us of all unrighteousness." The double cure. And Ps. 103:2,3, “Praise the Lord, O my soul;and forget not all his benefits-who FORGIVES all your sins and HEALS all your diseases.” Again, the double cure. There is much more to be said on this topic of course... Thanks again.