Till on that cross as Jesus died,The wrath of God was satisfied
These words are controversial because of the theology of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) they presume. I don’t need here to go into the reasons for why they’re controversial; it’s enough for me to link to this recent post at Ian Paul’s Psephizo blog and to Steve Holmes’s eight-year-old post on the song’s grammatical problems. But if we do happen to object to these particular lyrics, what should we sing in their place? How about N.T. Wright’s suggestion?
Till on that cross as Jesus died,The love of God was satisfied
But this amendment, if you read Holmes’s post, isn’t free from problems. So I sing a variant:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,The God of love was glorified
You could argue it’s a little too Abelardian in its theology (the cross as moral influence) and doesn’t fit especially well with the following lines (‘For every sin on Him was laid / Here in the death of Christ I live’), but it works for me. However, if you’re not in favour of a moral influence model of atonement, what other words might fit, metrically and theologically? Someone in the comments on Psephizo proposed:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,The wrath of God was turned aside
And here is my suggestion if you want to affirm Christus Victor:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,The Devil’s schemes were nullified
If you see Jesus’s death as a sin offering (cf. Leviticus 4, 16), you could sing:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,This world of sin was purified
And a ‘second Adam’ revision could look like:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,Creation’s course was realigned
I’m not sure how much sense that makes, though, and the rhyming is perhaps unforgiveable!
So what are my reasons for seeking alternative lyrics for these two lines? I have three reasons. First, and most importantly for me, I don’t appreciate the way in which some champions of PSA appear to use this and similar songs as measures of orthodoxy. (Maybe this was purely a noughties phenomenon.) There are genuine problems with PSA, and some might choose not to sing these words precisely because they cannot assent to the theology of atonement PSA presupposes. But this does not mean that anyone choosing not to sing this song or these two lines in particular is heterodox or unorthodox. So I do not sing about the cross satisfying God’s wrath—not because I necessarily disagree with a doctrine of PSA, but because I just do not think any model of atonement can be used as a measure of orthodoxy. Scripture does not explain the precise mechanisms of atonement and so to privilege PSA as the model of atonement is mistaken. My second and third reasons are simpler to explain. These lyrics seem unhelpfully to conflate two different models of atonement (satisfaction theory and PSA). And I find the octave leap from ‘The’ to ‘wrath’ quite jarring because it seems tonally to celebrate God’s wrath. Taking these three aspects into consideration, I will continue to sing, ‘The God of love was glorified.’