01(14): What I learnt from ‘His Robes For Mine’

Nicholas Loh Avatar

‘His Robes For Mine’ is a hymn consisting of text by Chris Anderson and tune by Greg Habegger. I first heard of this hymn at the conclusion of my church’s youth fellowship camp last December. This hymn was used as the background music of the church camp’s montage. The montage was shown at the end of the camp and yet again during the combined anniversary service of the Youth Fellowship and Young Adults’ Fellowship on New Year’s Eve – which took place prior to the Watchnight Service (a late-night service which commemorates God’s faithfulness in the past year and prepares us for the coming year).

When I first heard the hymn, I was amazed not just by the majesty of the melody and harmony of the tune, but also the sheer theological depth of the hymn’s text. This hymn has had an indelible impact on me, to the extent that I feel much compelled to write this post.

With much gratitude to reference [1], here is the lyrics for ‘His Robes For Mine’, along with my insights from the lyrics:

1. His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.

Ask a typical ‘Christian’ in contemporary Singapore, who is only Christian because of his parents’ religion status: what the effect of Christ’s death on the cross at Calvary was. Most will only say that Christ has forgiven them of their sins as our sins have been imputed unto Christ. Their explanation stops there. They fail to address what the sins were exchanged for. This is haply the consequence of an anthropocentric culture that pervades modern liberal Christianity. The first line of this stanza tells us that this is not all. An exchange has taken place, and how wonderful it is! An exchange is two-way. On one hand, our sins have been imputed unto Christ, the sacrificial Agnus Dei. On the other, his righteousness was imputed unto us (cf 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:19-4:8; Phil 3:9). Such is the essence of an exchange. The imagery of ‘robes’ in this hymn is supported by Scripture (Isa 61:10; Zech 3; Matt 22:1-14; Rev 7:9-14), as the doctrine of imputed righteousness and unrighteousness is often pictured by the exchange of garments. Kudos to reference [1] once again for the valuable verse references.

This counters people, particularly those whom are fed the heretical ‘Hyper-Grace’ messages in certain churches in Singapore and around the world, who treat the Son’s expiation as a total farce. They go to the extent of even saying that they can continue indulging in sin because Christ has forgiven them and would forgive them of their sins as long as they ‘believe’ in Him. In sum, hyper-grace teachers turn ‘the grace of our God into lasciviousness‘ (Jude 4), and into a license for immorality. They and their followers flirt with antinomianism (the false belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey; see reference [3] for more information). It is indeed unfortunate that such people have been imbibed with a spurious understanding of the work of Christ at Golgotha. The rest of the stanza elaborates on the mechanism of substitutionary atonement.

I truly appreciate the structure in this hymn because the latter part of the second line in this stanza alludes to its analogue in the refrain. The idea of Christ suffering underneath God’s rage baffled even the earliest of theologians at the Council at Nicaea. Are not both God? How can God exist as three distinct persons, where the Son is subordinate but not inferior to the Father? The core of this statement is the doctrine of the holy triune God, better known as the Trinity.

The last line reminds me of Galatians 2:20, which was coincidentally the theme verse for the youth fellowship camp last year. Many years ago, I was given a gift of memory verse cards which, as you might easily guess, aid in memorising verses. One of the first verses I worked on was Galatians 2:20. Time and time again, this verse has cropped up. When I was still in Adelaide last September, I attended the church’s Integrated Fellowship Retreat, and its theme was “Not I, But Christ” (no prizes for guessing the theme verse). The hymn of the same name (which was also used as the theme hymn in the youth fellowship camp) has its roots in *surprise surprise* Galatians 2:20.

I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost:
Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God.
Bought by such love, my life is not my own.
My praise-my all-shall be for Christ alone.

I did not think much of the words of this hymn until a friend told me about how she was so amazed by the words of this hymn’s refrain: ‘God estranged from God’. To quote her, ‘Who can comprehend such love? The Trinity, which has always been in perfect union since the beginning, had to be broken in order to redeem Man from his sinful state and become the sons of God’. Indeed, for Christians, our existence and entire being should be centered on Christ and the Godhead. The first point the Westminster Shorter Catechism addresses this issue: What is Man’s chief end? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.

2. His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.

The word ‘vicarious’ is a big word and those unfamiliar with the faith might not know it. One definition of this adjective is as such: ‘acting or done for another’. Hence, Christ’s death can be described as a ‘vicarious atonement’. The word comes from the Latin word ‘vicarius’, which means ‘substitute’. Basically, this is a fancy word for ‘substitutionary’. Similarly, we have the English word ‘vicar’. According to Wikipedia, a vicar is a representative, deputy or substitute for a superior.

Fun fact: Linguistically, the word ‘vicar’ is cognate with the English prefix ‘vice’ (cf Vice-President = Deputy President).

3. His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased.
Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased.
Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “‘Tis done!”
Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.

The cry of “‘Tis done!” brings to mind John 19:30, which reads ‘When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.‘ The wages of sin is death (cf Rom 6:23). However, instead of us who rightfully deserved such a death, Jesus received the wages on his sheep’s behalf. Such is the essence of vicarious atonement. What stark contrast – the Word incarnate who was absolutely free of sin, and at the other end of the spectrum: a group of depraved wretches. The word “propitiation” is yet another one of those theological terms which can confuse those who are unfamiliar with such jargon. According to Google Dictionary, the “propitiation” is “the action of propitiating or appeasing a god, spirit, or person; atonement, especially that of Jesus Christ”.

4. His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!

The word “accursed” just means the state of being under a curse. This is similar to the word “athirst”, which describes the state of being thirsty.

Congratulations if you have read this far. I hope this hymn and my insights on it have blessed you.

Yours faithfully,
Nicholas Loh
12 February 2019

References and Further Reading
1. https://www.churchworksmedia.com/product/his-robes-for-mine-free/
2. https://www.gotquestions.org/hyper-grace.html
3. https://www.gotquestions.org/antinomianism.html
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicar
5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNJGhq8PPRs

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