Hymn writer James Rowe (1865-1933) lived during the childhood and working years of our grandparents and great-grandparents--the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In response to the pressures of secularization many gospel song texts of that era addressed personal struggles and exhorted fellow human beings to turn to God from their lives of sin and sorrow. Elements of adoration and worship common today were not stressed back then.
Rowe’s most memorable hymn text, “Love Lifted Me,” was published in 1912. When I was young I sang this hymn dozens of times. This hymn still appears in some modern hymnals. Its spiritual exhortation to depart from the ravages of spiritual degradation and flee to Christ is timeless. But hidden away in the third verse is a phrase with more than a pure spiritual message, especially in this more sophisticated scientific age: “…He’s the Master of the sea, Billows His will obey…” The provider of our eternal salvation is also the Master of the sea in more than merely a poetic sense. Physical matter, including air and water, obeys His will. Christ is the Master of both spiritual and physical dimensions of our world. Christ’s mastery over the events of the physical world is not high on the list of fascinating topics for some of our parishioners.
Did James Rowe understand the precision forces governing the behavior of atomic particles composing the air and water molecules of the sea? Realistically, we could speculate, “Probably not.” Such precision forces govern not only atoms and molecules, but thousands of phenomena surrounding us each moment of our lives. Scientists tell us of hundreds of physical constants governing every event in our daily life, and each function of our body. If this were not true, chaos would govern the universe. Our understanding of these truths give new meaning to Rowe’s poetic and devotional statement, “He’s the Master of the Sea, Billows His will obey.”
The physical constants governing the universe originate in the creative heart, mind, and power of God just as certainly as the plan of salvation. Both spheres of God’s creative work are indicators of God’s love and care for His creation, for His created beings, and for humanity in particular. Even a rudimentary understanding of how our world works provides an expanded appreciation of the infinite love of God for the works of His creation. We speak of a complementary relationship between our understanding of special revelation (inspired scripture) and general revelation (the created physical order).
“Synergy” is a popular term expressing the idea that the effect of two or more combined agents could be greater than the sum of the same agents taken separately. Church ministries would do well to consider more deliberately the synergistic effect of theological instruction incorporating both special and general revelation--God’s authorship of both. Investigation of broadened subject matter would be well worth the efforts of our leaders. Christian educators may discover even greater apologetic value in presenting a more intentional two-front approach when communicating the gospel message.