Sermon Wednesday – In Vain in High and Holy Lays

Welcome back to another Sermon Wednesday!  This week, we continue our series on “Singing with the Understanding.”  Enjoy and use it to God’s glory!


A realization struck me this week, that there was a song I knew, I sang, and I have even led—and I didn’t have a clue what the first line was even talking about: In Vain in High and Holy Lays.

What does that even mean?  Perhaps you have wondered the same thing.

The rest of the song is easier to understand, and we’ll be looking at it today.  It breaks down like this:

Verse 1 – The inexpressible love of Jesus
Verse 2 – The comforting love of Jesus
Verse 3 – The forgiving love of Jesus

Let’s join together and look at the Biblical truths expressed in this song so that we can truly follow the command to “sing with the understanding” (I Corinthians 14:15)

Verse 1 – The Inexpressible Love of Jesus

In vain

This phrase simply means that it is worthless, such as “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).

In high and holy lays.

The word “lays” is an old English word that means songs.  So, these are high and holy songs, the grandest, most serene songs of praise—the ones that can give you chills when you hear it.

My soul, her grateful voice would raise.

The grateful heart sings the most meaningful, heart-felt songs possible.  The first line here describes our singing with our hearts, with truly grateful emotion, the most awe-inspiring melody and most honest and true words…

And it still wouldn’t come close to accurately describing the wonderful love of Jesus.  It can’t come close to doing justice to the praise Christ deserves.

For who can sing the worthy praise of the wonderful love of Jesus?

Though we can understand part of it, there is no way for our human minds to fully express the love of Jesus Christ for us.  Though we can try with all our might, there is no way we can adequately express our gratitude for the love of Jesus.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, but just know that the love of Jesus is so great, so wonderful, so overwhelming that we cannot ever adequately express it.

Jesus loved us in that while we were yet sinners, He died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6)  And we show that love for him through praise, worship, and obedience (Hebrews 5:9, John 14:15).

The full extent of the love Christ has for us is truly inexpressible.

Verse 2 – The comforting love of Jesus.

A joy by day

When you look at the Scriptures, you can see that people who truly came to Jesus had great joy.  The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:29) went on his way rejoicing after being saved by Jesus’ blood when he was baptized.  The people on Pentecost were glad to receive the instructions on how to come to Jesus (Acts 2:41).  John wrote Christians to remind them of the “full joy” they had in Christ Jesus (I John 1:4).

As we go throughout our daily routines, we should constantly remember the benefit of Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf and be joyful.  Even though troubles come in this life—sometimes extremely difficult ones—if we keep our eyes on Christ and continue to remember what He has done for us, we can truly be joyful.

Just remember Paul and Silas when they were falsely imprisoned after being beaten bloody—they sat there and sang (Acts 16:22-25).

What kind of joy do you show because of Jesus?

A Peace by night

When night comes, many people have anxiety—but that doesn’t need to describe Christians.  Every night when you lay down to sleep, you can have peace in knowing that you have come to the saving blood of Christ.  Every night, you can know that if you were to die in your sleep, you’ve got heaven awaiting you when you awake.

You have peace knowing that regardless of what happens, you’re depending on the One who matters most—Jesus Christ our Lord.  And when you get that, you have peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).

In storms a calm

A massive storm was happening on the Sea of Galilee, and a group of lifetime fishermen were afraid they were going to die (Mark 4:37-39).  They stumbled down the steps in the boat as the waves covered the ship.  They found Jesus sleeping—SLEEPING!  How could someone sleep in the middle of that?

They woke Him up and said, “don’t you care that we’re about to die?”  Jesus spoke up and said to the storm, “peace. Be still,” and immediately the waves stopped, the wind ceased, and there was a pure calm.

In the midst of the storms of life, we can have the same kind of calm—as though we are under a protective shelter which keeps the storm from touching us.  We can have a calm, knowing that all things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28).  We can have a calm, knowing that so long as we focus on God’s kingdom and righteousness, He will make sure we have everything we need (Matthew 6:33).

It is because of Jesus Christ’s love for us that He died, and gave us access to the Father in prayer—which can sooth our anxieties in the storms of life (Hebrews 4:16).

In darkness light

Jesus is described as “the light” (John 1:6-10).  In a world of darkness, Jesus is the light.  When all around us seems frightening, like there is no hope, Jesus Christ shines as a bright beacon lighting our way to heaven.  Jesus gives us hope and helps brighten our days.

We don’t have to grope around blindly—Jesus has provided the light for us to walk safely.

In pain, a balm

When we suffer hardships, emotional pain, we can look to the Great Physician (Luke 5:31) and He has provided the spiritual ointment needed to help heal our hurts.  We look to Him, and remember what really matters.

We look to Him, and realize that we’ve not got it as bad as we might think—after all, how many of us have been stripped naked, beaten bloody, publicly mocked and ridiculed, and then been nailed to a cross and left there to die?

Jesus brings healing to our souls, and cares about our lives.

In weakness, might

Leaning on Jesus, Leaning on Jesus, safe and secure from all alarms, leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, leaning on the everlasting arms.

When we are weak, we lean on Jesus Christ who gives us strength; He lifts us up as we walk beside Him.  Paul said it this way, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

He also said, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecution, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).

Is the wonderful love of Jesus.

All of these blessings comes because Christ loved us enough to die for us.

Verse 3 – The Forgiving Love of Jesus.

My hope for pardon when I call.

For non-Christians, pardon from sins comes when they call on the name of the Lord—turning to Him and His authority in obedience.  Calling on the name of the Lord (done by obedience in baptism) brings about pardon from our sins (Acts 22:16).  Calling on the name of the Lord (which was described as “repent and be baptized“) saves us (Acts 2:21, 38, 41, 47).

For Christians, pardon from sins come when they go to God in prayerful repentance.  Simon the sorcerer (a Christian) was told to repent and pray to God for forgiveness (Acts 8:22).  John told Christians to confess their sins to God, and they would be forgiven (I John 1:9).

We can have boldness to go to the Father in prayer BECAUSE of the wonderful love of Jesus (Hebrews 4:14-16).  But without Christ, there is no pardon for our sins.

My trust for lifting when I fall.

When we stumble along the way, we have the help of Jesus to get back up again and keep walking with Him.  If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7).

The sins mentioned in that verse are those times when we stumble. But so long as we keep trying, Jesus lifts us up to help us on our way.

Love lifted me, love lifted me, when nothing else could help, love lifted me.

We can trust in Jesus to lift us back up when we have asked for forgiveness.

In life, in death, my all in all.

We live our lives for Christ—and He helps us through it all by His word and the work that He has already done on our behalf.  And when we do that, we know that when death comes, we can embrace it, knowing that we will go on to be with the Lord, which is far better (Philippians 1:23).

Our entire existence, whether we live or die, should all center on Christ Jesus.


Wonderful love, wonderful love, wonderful love of Jesus!

It is through the love of Christ that we are saved, that we have hope, that we have comfort, and that we have forgiveness.

Remember that the next time troubles come along and you don’t know where to turn.  Remember that the next time you sing this song—The love of Jesus is what our entire existence depends on.

He loved you so much that He came here and willingly took your place—your death sentence because of your sins (Romans 3:23).  His love also revealed the way by which you can be saved—believe and obey the gospel.

-Bradley Cobb

One thought on “Sermon Wednesday – In Vain in High and Holy Lays”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *