A Hymn by James B Torrance

Last week I read A Passion for Christ written by the three Torrance brothers: Thomas, James, and David. The book is sort of like a “greatest hits” for the brothers, as each chapter presents fragments of their most significant contributions to theology and pastoral ministry. I enjoyed reading the book, and found it to be a very helpful introduction to their theology (especially for anyone who has not read their work).

I’ll eventually write a fuller review. Today however I want to share a Hymn written by James B. Torrance  called I Know Not How to Pray.

James has often written about worship, and specifically about a trinitarian understanding of worship in which we partake in the Son’s relationship with the Father in the Spirit. In worship and prayer we do not petition God in our own name or by our own efforts, as if God were some kind of “contract” God and not the covenant God of grace. We pray in the name of Jesus because worship and prayer is participation in the Trinitarian life of God through the Spirit and the Son’s relationship with the Father.

In James’ own words: “Worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father…” (P. 36) And also, “The doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of our understanding of prayer and communion.” (P. 60)

As someone who grew up in a methodist/charismatic environment this is revolutionary. When I first read James’ book Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace several years ago I was amazed at how magnificent God’s grace actually is. (I quote the book here.) God does not leave our relationship with Himself up to us! We are not the authors or perfecters of our faith, of our worship, or of our prayer! We are not called to climb the mountain of prayer to reach God and ask Him to bless us! Jesus Christ has come to us and He has included us in the life of the Trinity. Through the Spirit and in Christ we are taken up into the fellowship of God, we are embraced and we participate in the communion of the Godhead. This is worship: our participation in the life of God—not our striving to please an unhappy God! The act of worship does not rest on our shoulders, nor does the act of prayer or even the entire act of “Christian living’! We participate in the life of Jesus Christ and therefore we say with Paul, “Not I but Christ.” (Gal. 2:20)

James’ hymn is profound because it embodies this theology of worship, which is both a practical doctrine of the Trinity and a theological doctrine of prayer. The doctrine of the Trinity is at once the doctrine of our participation through Christ in the Triune life of God, and therefore the doctrine of prayer must be Trinitarian. There is no separation between who God is in Himself and who God is towards us, and therefore the Trinity becomes one of the most practical and essential doctrines for the Christian. Far from being an abstract idea, the Trinity is the center of our lives in Christ.

So without further ado here’s James’ hymn: I Know Not How to Pray. Enjoy!

(My favorite verse is number seven!)



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