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The Bridegroom's Face

My memory isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and my memory has always been awful. Out of necessity I allow Aileen to be my memory and she’s always saying things like, “Do you remember when we had to rush Abby to the hospital for that operation and I ended up staying there with her all night?” And I search my memory banks and find absolutely no recollection of such an event. It’s pathetic, really. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before she’s pinning my name to my shirt to help me remember who I am.

But of course there are some memories that are forever clear and that, I trust, will always remain that way. I will never forget standing at the front of St. John’s Anglican Church in Ancaster on an already-hot morning in August of 1998, as I waited for my bride-to-be to walk down the aisle. From the moment I saw her, I was completely undone, unable and unwilling to hold back the emotion. There she was, walking toward me, about to become my wife. It was a moment I had been anticipating for so long and here it was at last. It was almost surreal, like a dream—a dream come true. I cried like a baby.

Yesterday at church we wrapped up a beautiful day of worship by singing “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” This is one of my favorite hymns. It was written by Anne Cousin back in the mid 1800’s and before it was a hymn it was a poem inspired by the letters and the last words of Samuel Rutherford. Only later was it set to music. The best verse of all is this one:

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.

As Aileen was walking down that aisle toward me, those (almost) twelve years ago, her thoughts were not on her dress, beautiful and ornate though it was. It was a dress that her mother had made for her, just for this day. It was a beautiful dress, intricately made and hand-fashioned. It was a dress that she would wear for just this one day and then put away forever, to be taken out only very occasionally so she could look and reminisce. If ever she had an excuse to focus on what she was wearing, this was it. And yet her thoughts were not on her dress—they were on me. She and I made eye contact almost the whole way down that aisle. The dress was the furthest thing from her mind.

And that’s the analogy Cousin uses for the Christian as he looks to eternity. “I will not gaze at glory / but on my King of grace.” Though the Christian could so easily be distracted by the benefits of salvation, by that crown of glory, the true glory of heaven is the Lamb.

When I was learning to drive, one of the first lessons I learned was that you need to have a long view if you are to drive straight. The first time I got behind the wheel my mother took me to a part of town where streets had been laid and paved but where the buildings had not yet been started. It was a great place to learn to drive—long, straight streets with no traffic and no pedestrians. I learned quickly that if I wanted to steer straight, I could not look immediately in front of the car; I needed to find an object down the road and steer toward it. That way I could hold a straight course and not swerve around like a drunk. My pastor used a similar analogy in a sermon on Hebrews, talking about piloting a boat and holding its course straight by steering toward a landmark off in the distance.

And there we see a picture of the Christian life. We can tend to look to what is immediately ahead, to this goal and that goal, swerving a bit to the left and then a bit to the right. So few Christians ever develop that big picture of the Christian faith that shows them not just the immediate but also the distant and, even more so, allows them to interpret the immediate by the distant. We end up like the bride, walking down the aisle enraptured with her own dress, rather than the bride whose eye is fixed on her dear bridegroom.

How much better is it to keep your eye fixed on that landmark, on Christ, and to steer toward him. He is the one, he is the object of our faith, he is the great prize. “I will not gaze at glory / But on my King of grace. / Not at the crown He giveth / But on His pierced hand; / The Lamb is all the glory / Of Emmanuel’s land.”

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for -
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark had been the midnight
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

The king there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land

O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

O I am my Beloved’s
And my Beloved is mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His house of wine
I stand upon His merit -
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.