By Colton Corter
The song which many people know as Hillsong’s “Cornerstone” was actually written right around the time of the Civil War. Edward Mote wrote the original hymn, giving it the title “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” His song is well-known and well-sung, despite its regrettably fading importance in the typical Christian’s mind. It was penned with the parable in Matthew 7 in mind. The chorus, reflecting the teaching of that parable reads: “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
Mote rejoiced in the all-sufficient Savior and wanted others to as well. The song constantly contrasts our wavering with the sure grace of God rooted firmly in the penal substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is one particular line of the song that I want to meditate on in this post. Indulge me as I attempt to endeavor in a bit of “hymn exegesis.” Hymns are not Scripture. But the best ones arise from biblical meditation and are chock-full of rich gospel truth. Hymns help us to remember truth and to turn that truth into worship of the Triune God.
The line goes a little something like this: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” What an opening line is rich! Mote is writing on the greatest truth of Scripture; that our justification has nothing to do with us but rests completely outside of us, a one-time declaration that we are righteous based on the obedience of Christ on the cross and His perfect living unto the Father. Basically, Christ’s works save us and not our own. This justification is through faith and faith alone. So we place our hope on nothing belonging to ourselves, even our sanctified self, but in Christ who is our righteousness. He is not only the sole ground our forgiveness, for this would never be enough. God is holy, perfect and just. Perfect too, must we be. Christ is our righteousness – our perfect before the throne of a perfect God. Not only did he take the penalty for our disobedience, he has also become our obedience by trusting, obeying and enjoying the Father at every point. What a gospel!
The next line is the one I’d like to consider most. Again, it reads: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” On the surface this is encouraging. A deeper look, however, gets to the earth-shattering point I believe that Mote is trying to make here. This is a line of contrast. He says don’t trust this and do trust this. So what would he have us not to trust? We dare not trust “the sweetest frame.” What is a frame? We have a couple of options. One, Mote could be warning us not to trust even the nicest picture frame at the store. I doubt it (although I’ll admit this is what my mind goes to when I read the lyric). Second, the author could be referring to a frame as in “being framed.” This option would make the line have to do with something being made to look good when it really is not; a biblical idea, to say the least. I spent a brief portion of my day reading Thomas Brooks’ book, “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.” One of the first sections deals with the deceptive “bait-and-switch” that Satan tries to pull on us as believers. Deception says that the sin offered is said to be sweeter, more satisfying than Christ. But O dear believer, they never are! Brooks goes on to say that the more “sweetened” the sin is the more sinister and damning it could be. All this to say, I don’t think that is what this song is saying. Let’s consider a third and final option. Admittedly, I think this one is right. Think of frame as in “frame of mind.” We are all familiar with that idiom. When we are off a bit, we are not in our right “frame of mind.” This use of frame is referring to our joy and affections for Christ, how our souls are rejoicing in Christ. The Christian life is one of ebb and flow. Make no mistake, if you know nothing of affections for Christ, pure supreme pleasure in the intrinsic worth of God, then you do not know Him. Affections, joy are not optional but a natural, Spirit-given result of a regenerate heart. God is pleased to cause of hearts to be joyous in response to who He is. In other words, truth drives devotion. God gives us “sweet frames.” This is a reality of sanctification.
But these sweet frames can serve as a temptation to us. How easy is it for us to trust the fruit of our salvation as the root of our salvation. We must heed the warning of Paul to “take heed, lest we fall.” God given maturity is beautiful and should be enjoyed. But the moment we lose sight of the gospel as the source of both our justification and our sanctification, we are close to denying the gospel. I think this is what the author is getting at. We are not even to trust our sweetest period of life in Christ. Even on our “best” days, we are radically dependent on the wrath-bearing death of Christ for our sin.
The truth is that sweet frames have been few and far between for me lately. My heart has been dull, indifferent to the truth that I love so much. How scary are these frames! My inner conversations and wonderings are reminiscent of Psalm 42: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” And yet there is a mysterious beauty about them. Only in the heart of the redeemed could this apparent paradox operate. To be sure, these periods of “desertion” are not to be desired. Not enjoying God is sinful and we must repent towards the Father. But God is pleased to lead us into these times to show us the reality of our sinfulness. When we are in a sweet frame, our tendency can be to forget why that is the case. Do we have anything that has not been given? Is it not God working in us that which is good and pleasing in His sight? Yes, these bitter frames expose us. But they expose us that we might cling to something else, something outside even the spirit-wrought sanctification that we do well to walk in.
This is what the latter part of the line calls us to. We look not even to our sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. Even on your best day, the cross is your only hope. My only hope. We magnify Christ when we look outside of ourselves for our security. Our salvation does not hinge on our ability to enjoy God but instead on Christ’s enjoyment of God on our behalf. This, though, frees us to enjoy God. Indeed we must. That is genuine gospel fruit, without which we will not see the Lord. But the fruit can never serve as the root. As in horticulture, so in the gospel. Enjoy sweet frames, fight through bitter ones and acknowledge all the while that is the work of Christ on the cross and in His glorious resurrection on which you will stand in the presence of God’s full glory with great joy. Amen.
Colton Corter is from Arkansas, student at SBTS, member at Third Avenue in Louisville, and you can follow him on Twitter @coltonMcorter.