Apologies for the title of the post, since if, like me you were a teenager in the 1990s you maynow have a particular song in your head… However this blog post has nothing to do with that song. The post was inspired by church on Sunday morning where part of the service involved building a cairn in rememberance of particular situations. The Old Testament is full of stones set up to remember things: Jacob places several, Joshua builds a memorial by the Jordan. The word Ebenezer comes in 1 Samuel 7:12:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[b] saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ (ebenezer is actually two words – eben = stone and ezer = help)
It is good to look back and think of how God has helped us. To see where he has brought us, and the surprises along the way. Around 5 years ago I was listening to a radio programme describing the busyness of Cheltenham in Festival week. I had no conception I was about to do 3 years of a Masters Degree in Canada, followed by moving to Cheltenham to persue a PhD. Today we drove to Liphook via Leicester (look on a map of the UK to see how much sense that makes) to see our house, and check it is still standing (it is, and just needs some cleaning and fresh paint to be fit for more tenants next month – anyone who wants a two bed house in Leicester to live in, let us know). It brought back many happy memories of our first two years of married life, and the friends we made in that time. It is good to look back and think of how God has helped us thus far in our lives. What Ebenezers can you set up to mark such times?
Today’s hymn has the distinction of actually having the word Ebenezer in it, and in itself is a remembrance for me of one particular place where the Lord helped me. Appropriately the place I learnt the hymn is the same church where the sermon series on 1 Samuel helped me at a particularly difficult time of uncertainty and confusion. In the midst of that confusion I was taught each week that God is with us in the midst of confusion as we looked at David’s life as an outlaw. Good preaching does that, it speaks God’s word into our lives, not with trite moral lessons but with the great truths of a God who rules and saves, a God who is with us in each and every situation we face, even if, and perhaps especially even if, circumstances scream at us loudly that he is absent.
So, here is the hymn – by the hymn writer with perhaps the best name ever. Augustus Montague Toplady. Perhaps because of that name he was a slightly cantakerous man, quick to oppose what he saw as error (in his case often the Wesley brothers), and unfortunately not always doing that in a particularly helpful way. It is one of the happy ironies of church history that though bitterly opposed in their lives Toplady and Wesley find a place side by side in many hymn books and services as congregations delight in both Rock of Ages and And Can it Be. This Toplady hymn is slightly less well known, but expresses great truths really well.
A Sov’reign Protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.
Inspirer and Hearer of prayer,
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my Shield and my Sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.
Kind Author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!