“Nothing In My Hand I Bring, Simply to Thy Cross I Cling”: A Line From a Familiar Hymn But Would the Apostle Paul Agree?

When N.T. Wright was in town last week I picked up a copy of his book Pauline Perspectives. The book is a compilation of articles that he’s written over the past 35 years. It also includes some previously unpublished exegetical essays on Paul’s letters. I’ve enjoyed several of them already and look forward to reading more. Prior to each article he offers some personal thoughts on the occasion for the article and where he was when it was written. The book falls naturally into four parts: 1) Oxford and Cambridge, 2) Lichfield and Westminster, 3) Durham and 4) St. Andrews. I was intrigued by the following paragraph which comes from his article “New Perspectives on Paul (2003) which was a paper delivered at the 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, Rutherford House, Edinburgh, 25-28 August 2003. Originally published in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (ed. Bruce L. McCormack; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 243-64).

“I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work. ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at his royal appearing? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy’ (1 Thessalonians 3.19f.; {sic should be 2.19) cp. Philippians 2.16f). I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done—though sometimes, to be sure, he adds a rider, which proves my point, that it is not his own energy but that which God gives and inspires within him (1 Corinthians 15.10; Colossians 1.29). But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?” (282-83)

Pauline Perspectives

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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