“Our God Contracted to a Span”

I’ve been very busy, so the blog has been quiet recently.  I guess that means I owe my readers some blog posts :), so instead of one hymn today, I’ll give you two.

On Sunday, I preached the final sermon in my “Church on Purpose” series.  I planned it months ago to finish the series with this one — how the Incarnation of Christ (God becoming man) affects our practice within the church.  So obviously, the sermon dealt with the Biblical teaching on the incarnation (and perhaps I’ll summarise it in future blog posts).  But we didn’t sing the usual songs sung around this time of year, even though many of them teach of the incarnation.  Instead, among others, we sang a little known hymn by Charles Wesley, and a well-known hymn by Fanny Crosby (which is rarely connected with the incarnation, but should be).

I’ll start with “Let Earth and Heaven Combine,” by Wesley.  This hymn is a masterpiece, packed with theological truth expressed in thought-provoking language.

The word “incarnate” refers to the fact that the Son of God became flesh and blood, the One who was fully God became fully Man, that He might be Immanuel, “God with us.”  Wesley brings out various aspects of this truth, but most of all, the sheer wonder of it all, that our infinite God would limit Himself to finite human flesh, “contracted to a span,” so that we could be reconciled to Him.

We sing this to William Havergal’s tune, ST JOHN (PARISH).  I haven’t been able to find a version that I can embed for you here, but you can follow that link to the Cyberhymnal page for this hymn.  If you then click on their MIDI link, you can get a sound file that will play the tune.

Let Earth and Heaven Combine

Let earth and heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s Name.

Unsearchable the love
That has the Saviour brought;
The grace is far above
Of men or angels’ thought:
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

Made righteous by His love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Music:  William H. Havergal, 1793-1870

The next hymn is much better known, but I believe it is underused in this context.  This is not just a children’s hymn, not just a hymn about our hope of glory, this is also a hymn for right now for everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ, the Man who was God, the God who became Man.

When God became man, it communicated to us His accessibility.  We know that God is transcendent, above us, far beyond our thoughts.  He is to be given honour and reverence.  But He became like us, one of us, sharing with us the sorrows and temptations of this life.  He deigned to allow us to see Him as a man, One who could be touched, seen, heard, felt.

If we never had the incarnation, we would never have truly known how much His love makes Him accessible to us.  We can lean on Him, rest in Him, rely on His perfect love which casts out fear.  He is not just a God “out there” — He came here, and we can rest, Safe in the Arms of Jesus.  (The wonderful video below the words is produced by Gethsemane Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore.  I believe it is part of a larger production, seen here, though I’ve not watched the full thing.)

Safe in the Arms of Jesus

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! ’tis the voice of angels,
Borne in a song to me.
Over the fields of glory,
Over the jasper sea.

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.

Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world’s temptations,
Sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow,
Free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials,
Only a few more tears!

Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge,
Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the Rock of Ages,
Ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience,
Wait till the night is over;
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.

Fanny Crosby, 1820-1915
Music:  William Howard Doane, 1832-1915




About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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4 Responses to “Our God Contracted to a Span”

  1. Jon ~ are your sermons accessible via the Internet? I hope they are, and if not, perhaps you might consider making then available. Doesn’t cost much. Via YouTube it’s free.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Boyd, thank you for asking. It is something we’ve considered and never done. Perhaps we will do this on a limited basis at some time in the future, but I doubt I will ever put most of my sermons on-line.

      Perhaps I’ll write about the reason for this before long, since it is a question I get frequently, but I’m short on time today. 🙂

  2. Michael says:

    Tune for Let earth and Heaven combine

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