RBC’s House Hymns

Posted On February 20, 2024

Each of our four houses at RBC takes its name from a significant figure in church history: Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon. To unite students around a common identity, each house also claims a classical Christian hymn that reflects its values.

Recently, we sat down with the professors who serve as our house regents to learn more about the significance of their house hymns:

Luther House
House Regent: Dr. Matthew Dudreck
House Hymn: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Were you involved in selecting the house hymn?
As regent of Lutherhaus (Luther House), I knew there really was no other candidate for house hymn to be considered aside from “Ein feste Burg is unser Gott” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). Martin Luther composed and wrote this hymn and it really served as an anthem like “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the Reformation.

How does this hymn aptly suit Luther House?
The world that the men and women of Luther House will enter into upon graduation is in upheaval in many ways. Even so, they will trust in the words of Psalm 46:6–7, on which this hymn was based: “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

What is your favorite verse or line from the hymn and why?
My favorite line in the English version is:

That Word above all earthly pow’rs,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth.

This is a powerful confession that Christ has taken up His heavenly royal session, having defeated the powers of this age upon His resurrection and ascension, and now shares the blessings of the kingdom with His people through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Calvin House
House Regent: Dr. Keith Mathison
House Hymn: Be Thou My Vision

Were you involved in selecting the house hymn?
I believe I suggested it when we began the discussion. I suggested it because it has long been one of my favorite Christian hymns.

How does this hymn aptly suit Calvin House?
Calvin’s theology is known for being God-centered. Everything in his theology emphasizes the glory and majesty of our sovereign God. The lyrics of “Be Thou My Vision” are also God-centered. They direct our gaze to the One who is Lord over all.

What is your favorite verse or line from the hymn and why?
I love every verse of this hymn, but I suppose if I were forced to choose, I would say verse 4:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
thou mine inheritance, now and always:
thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

I love this verse because it reminds us that the kinds of things we often grasp after—riches and fame (man’s empty praise) are fleeting. Our true inheritance, that which is forever, is God Himself.

Do you have any other thoughts to share regarding your house hymn?
According to Revelation 21:1–4, in the new heavens and new earth, God will dwell with His people. He will be with us as our God. We are then told in Revelation 22:1–5 that the throne of God and the Lamb will be there, and we will see His face. He will be our vision for all eternity.

Edwards House
House Regent: Dr. Ben Shaw
House Hymn: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

How does this hymn aptly suit Edwards House?
The hymn is appropriate for Edwards House because both the author of the hymn (William Williams, 1717–1791) and the translator (Peter Williams, 1722–1796, no relation to William) were contemporaries of Jonathan Edwards. The theme of the hymn is also suitable to the spirituality of the Great Awakening, in which Edwards played a significant role.

What is your favorite verse or line from the hymn and why?
Let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” The imagery for this verse is taken from the pillar of fire/cloud by which God manifested His presence with Israel throughout forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Seeing this life as similar to the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, the idea of God’s continual presence with and guidance of His people is indeed a daily comfort.

Do you have any other thoughts to share regarding your house hymn?
The hymn was written in Welsh by William Williams, who was known as the “Welsh Watts.” That is, he was to Welsh hymnody what Isaac Watts was to English hymnody. The hymn was translated into English by Peter Williams, who was a contemporary of William, but not related to him.

Spurgeon House
House Regent: Professor Levi Berntson
House Hymn: Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

How does this hymn aptly suit Spurgeon House?
Charles Spurgeon is one of the most well-known preachers of the nineteenth century, and his fame has rightly earned him the title “prince of preachers.” But though Spurgeon’s sermonic charisma for Christ has captured the attention of countless figures both past and present, he had much to say about the gospel in song. Spurgeon recognized that Scripture is full of exhortations to sing, and one such passage is Psalm 138:5, “And they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.” In a sermon on this passage, Spurgeon explains that our singing as Christians should “take pleasure in the things of religion.” That is, when Christians sing, they should revel in the wondrous theological truths that Scripture sets forth, especially the message of salvation.

The Spurgeon House hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” is no exception to this. This hymn, penned by Augustus Montague Toplay in 1763, reflects on the truth of texts like Isaiah 26:4, which describes God as an “everlasting Rock” whose promises are sure and trustworthy. The first verse highlights God as this “Rock of Ages” in whom we may hide ourselves, and at the same time connects this with Christ as the “double cure” of our sin (see 1 Cor. 10:1–4).

What is your favorite verse or line from the hymn and why?

Rock of Ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy riven side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure,
cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r.

In the subsequent two verses, we sing of our own sinful state and unworthiness to approach this Rock, not only because we cannot “fulfill thy law’s demands,” but also because we are “foul” and are in desperate need of the cleansing blood of the Savior.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the Fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

My favorite verse of this hymn is the final one, which turns to the blessed result of the first three verses: the sweetness of meeting Christ in the air and being whisked away to stand before the King whom we have served for our whole fleeting life. The verse ends with a short reminder of where it started, which summons to our minds the truth that the Rock of Ages did it all.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyelids close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

The use of “fleeting breath” and “death” reminds us that this life is brief, even though at times it feels as if our suffering will never end. But Spurgeon said that “no music that goes up to the throne of God is sweeter in Jehovah’s ear than the song of suffering saints.” What grants us comfort in this life is our constant reading, confessing, and singing of God’s rock-hard promise that He will be faithful to rescue us from death to sin.

Do you have any other thoughts to share regarding your house hymn?
Another reason why I love “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” is because the music of this hymn aptly fits the truth of the lyrics. For example, in the final verse of the hymn, the melody of the line that reads, “when mine eyelids close in death” is a series of notes that go down the scale, which fits the idea of eyelids closing. Likewise, the lines “when I soar to worlds unknown” and “see thee on thy judgment throne,” move higher up the scale, so that the idea of our soaring to meet Jesus is propelled upward by the notes themselves. “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” serves as one example in which the true (the content of the song) is fitting to the beautiful (the expression of the true).