This is the first of what I imagine will be many hymns based posts. I have always loved poetry, even from before I was a Christian. Hymns have been a part of the experience of God's people since the very beginning, indeed, the first poem we know of composed by man is Adam's song "This at last is bone of my bones/and flesh of my flesh/she will be called woman/because she was taken out of man". I love hymns because I find that music has a special potential for expressing the full range of emotions that it is proper for us to feel when presented with God's work in Scripture.
Without wishing to discourage modern writers (in fact some of you are doing a really great job!), most of my favourite hymns still come from the 18th century. With such hymn writing giants as Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, and Isaac Watts, surely it was the golden age of hymn writing in the English language. Their hymns so often combine beautiful rhyme with a deep and joyful appreciation of Biblical truths which I find myself all too quick to rush over. Once you get over the fairly minor language barrier, you'll also find that, though their hymns are generally simple enough for just about anyone to understand, they express some of the most profound and lovely reflections on what our doctrines mean in day to day life.
The hymn I want to share with you today, depending on which source you consult, was composed either in 1757 or 1758 by Robert Robinson (1726 - 1791). Robinson lived a wild and reckless life until he attended a service taken by the legendary Methodist leader George Whitefield. He was so profoundly struck by Whitefield's sermon that, aged 20, he converted and became a Methodist preacher.
I love this hymn because it reminds me of my dependence of the grace of God for everything. When I first heard this hymn, I misheard the words at the start of the third verse, and thought it said "Jesus saw me when a stranger/wandering far, a foe of God/He to rescue me from danger/interposed his prescious blood" and thought that it was a beautiful expression of the truth found in Romans 5:6-11 that "when we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." As it is, it has more of the ring of Isaiah 53. Either's good if you ask me. Both should keep us from pride as we realise that every grace we have comes through Jesus loving decision to rescue us from the hardness of our hearts in our emnity against God.
I love the verse "Oh to grace how great a debtor/daily I'm constrained to be". It reminds me of God's amazing grace in my past, my need for his grace to "bind my wandering heart" to God for present obedience, and my faith in his future grace to keep my wandering heart with him until I see him in his courts above.
If, like me, you sometimes find it more helpful to hear these things with a tune, and you like music of a fairly modern bent, a good version of this song can be found at http://media.marshillchurch.org/ under music/bands/red letter.
Anyways, enough of me, onto Robinson! As a language note, you may find it helpful to know that "Ebenezer" means "stone of help". As with any poetry, I really recommend that you read this aloud. Enjoy!
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.