This morning, during our family worship time, one of the hymns we sang was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Full disclosure: I officially love this song now. Let’s back up. A couple weeks ago I had the immense privilege of preaching at a few revival services down in the Chicago area. The majority of the messages I preached were simply on the gospel and covered different aspects of the glorious truth of salvation in Christ Jesus alone. One of the texts that we worked through was Romans 2, where we read that according to Paul’s gospel (and Jesus’), there will be a day when “God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (2:16). As you work through the context, you’ll see that Paul is getting at the internal qualities of how people think and feel. In other words, God will judge our hearts, for He alone can do so righteously (cf. Isaiah 11:2-5). If you look closely, though, the future judgment is a consummation of the internal conscience that people repress. In v. 14, Paul writes that the Law is written on the hearts of people and that their conscience also bears witness. The internal evaluation that people do of themselves will be consummated when God judges the secrets of people’s hearts. Schreiner draws this idea out when he writes,

“The most satisfactory resolution is to see a close link between verses 15 and 16, with verse 15 describing the present work of conscience and verse 16 the final judgment. The accusing and defending work of the conscience in the present will reach its consummation, full validity, and clarification on the day of judgment, when God will judge the secrets of all (Dunn 1988a: Moo 1991: 150–51). Käsemann (1980: 67) observes rightly that the work of the conscience without God’s judgment leaves the passage hanging in the air. God’s judgment brings the entire passage to a climax and recalls the introductory words in verse 12. Not only is his judgment climactic; it is also comprehensive. He will judge the secrets of all, assuring the reader that the judgment will truly be impartial (v. 11) since it is based on a thorough understanding of both actions and motives (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5).” – Schreiner, Romans, p. 125

So what does this have to do with The Battle Hymn? My wife and I joined our three daughters and Cyril (who just sat there) in singing:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Julia Ward Howe, the hymns author, understood that one day, the hearts of men (and women) will be sifted. They will be judged. There will be no secrets and the conscience repression of the truth will be judged. As the Great Awakening revivalists noted, it is a terrifying idea to be in a sinner in the hands of an angry God (cf. the sermons of Jonathan Edwards or his father-in-law Solomon Stoddard or George Whitefield). Yet, while this is terrifying, for those who have been redeemed and reconciled to God and who have a small understanding of the splendor of God, perhaps we can join Howe’s chorus by singing,

Glory! glory, hallelujah!
Glory! glory, hallelujah!
Glory! glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

Think about it.

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