“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
Every so often, a song comes along that you know is going to endure. That Christians will still be singing this song in two hundred years. This is one of those hymns. Written in 1995 by Stuart Townend, this hymn became an “instant classic”, and is now sung in churches all over the world.
Stuart Townend is one of the greatest hymnwriters of our generation. We sing his music frequently in our worship services. In addition to How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, he has written or co-written In Christ Alone, The Power of the Cross, and Beautiful Savior. What a blessing to the Church!
With regard to the writing of this hymn, here’s Stuart himself sharing the story:
This hymn has been recorded by several Christian artists. Here are a few of my favorite arrangements (in no particular order):
Phillips, Craig, & Dean:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the Man upon the cross,
My sin upon His shoulders,
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life;
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything;
No gifts, no power, no wisdom,
But I will boast in Jesus Christ:
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.
Something is wrong with the world. Anyone will tell you this, no matter what religion or philosophy they claim as their own. The two great fundamental questions of life, then, are “What’s the problem?” and “What’s the solution?”
As Christians, we believe that the problem is sin. We were created by a Holy God, but we have each turned to our own way, breaking his holy law. Sin has broken our relationships with God, with people, and with the world itself. Ultimately, the curse of sin is death.
But we also believe that there is a solution! We believe that this same Holy God – who has every right to condemn and punish us – loves us so much that he came to earth in the form of a man, and took our sin upon his own shoulders. He died on the cross as the substitutionary atonement for our sins, so that we might be saved from death’s curse.
There are three ways that a person can think of this account of salvation. Some consider it offensive. God could do anything, so why this? And are we really so bad as to deserve death? To some, it simply makes no sense. How could anyone actually believe that? But to those whom God calls, this gospel is the power and wisdom of God!
This is the same argument given by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-26. The Jews, who expected a conquering king as their Messiah, were offended by this humble carpenter who spoke with authority in the temple, claiming to be God. They considered him a fool and a heretic for believing himself God, yet allowing himself to be killed on a cross. I’m sure calling them “hypocrites… whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27) and a “brood of vipers” fit for hell (Matthew 23:33) didn’t help his standing in their eyes…
The Greek philosophers, meanwhile, discounted the testimony of the apostles as nonsense. They believed themselves wise, and this story of God himself (as if there were only one!) coming to Earth as a man, dying for our sins, being resurrected and ascending to Heaven, seemed like just another myth like so many of their own stories. Why would anyone actually believe that this story was really true, while all others were false?
In today’s culture, Christians are still confronted with these same objections to the gospel. However, today, as in the first century, God still calls to salvation many of those very same scoffers. Each of us was once an enemy of God, and it was our sins which held Christ on his cross. Yet God’s love for us was so deep that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)! This is the power of God, and of his love.
Our response is one of unspeakable gratitude that is beyond our understanding. “Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer.” When we acknowledge our guilt — that we were not just undeserving but ill-deserving — we are left with nothing in which to boast. Not in gifts or power (like the Jews), nor wisdom (like the Greeks). We boast only in Christ’s death and resurrection (Galatians 6:14).
It is only through God’s effectual calling in our lives, and by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, that we are able to have faith at all. Though we may never fully understand it, we may know with all our hearts that Christ’s wounds have paid our ransom.