Posted by: rcottrill | March 28, 2010

Today in 1788 Charles Wesley Dying

So much could be said about this man, one of our greatest hymn writers. He wrote more than 6,500 songs, and our hymn books still contain many of them over two centuries later. (For a listing of a few of them, see Today in 1707.) His hymn, Jesus, Lover of My Soul, is considered one of the finest in the English language, yet it is a model of simplicity. The entire song includes only 3 or 4 words of more than two syllables.

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

I’ll take a moment to comment on another song that may have been written by Charles Wesley. Though it was listed as Anonymous in its original publication, many attribute Come, Thou Almighty King to him. About 12 years before, the British national anthem God Save the King came into popular use. It is thought that perhaps the hymn was written to remind Christians that they were accountable to a higher power than the king of England! The hymn originally was sung to the tune used for the national anthem (used by Americans with My Country ‘Tis of Thee). Try it, and see. The British anthem and the hymn certainly contain a number of similar phrases, particularly:

(From God Save the King)
Send him victorious, happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us, God save the King.

(From Come, Thou Almighty King)
Father all glorious, o’er all victorious,
Come and reign over us, Ancient of Days!

After 50 years of active ministry, Charles Wesley was nearing journey’s end. (He died on March 29th–check tomorrow’s blog.) On his deathbed, he quoted one of his greatest hymns, And Can It Be? It seems to have been written shortly after his conversion in 1738, and was originally entitled Free Grace. The rhetorical questions of the first stanza are meant as an expression of sheer wonderment. The second stanza below (actually the third in the hymn) is absolutely stunning. It is virtually unmatched in our hymnody as a poetic expression of the librating power of the gospel.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain–
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

The video and audio of the following clip are not quite in synch, but don’t give up on it on that account. This is how this great hymn should be sung!

(2) Today in 1919 – Elizabeth Codner Died
GGraphic Thirsty Landifted with her pen, Elizabeth Harris Codner had been the editor of a missionary magazine when she was only 17 years old. Later, she and her husband served at a mission in the city of London. In 1860 word reached them of a spiritual revival taking place in Ireland. Mrs. Codner talked with a group of young people who were excited by the stories of what God was doing. She counseled them not to be satisfied with hearing how the Lord was blessing elsewhere. What about themselves? Did they not want to enjoy the refreshing touch of God as well?

The words of Ezekiel 34:26 came to her mind: “I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.” She challenged them, “While the Lord is pouring out such showers of blessing upon others, pray that some drops will fall on you.” It was this encounter that inspired Elizabeth Codner to writer her hymn, Even Me.

The original last line of the first stanza was “Let some droppings fall on me.” Not only do we not usually speak of rain as “droppings,” it seems more like what birds leave behind! Thankfully, the line was later changed to what you see below.

Lord, I hear of showers of blessing,
Thou art scattering full and free;
Showers the thirsty land refreshing;
Let some drops now fall on me;
Even me, even me,
Let some drops now fall on me.

Love of God, so pure and changeless,
Blood of Christ, so rich and free;
Grace of God, so strong and boundless
Magnify them all in me;
Even me, even me,
Magnify them all in me.

Here is an unusual rendering of Mrs. Codner’s hymn. It does not stick strictly to William Bradbury’s tune, nor does it use many of the original words, but I believe it is worth a listen. African American opera singer Leona Mitchell virtually turns the hymn into a traditional Spiritual. Interesting, to say the least.


Responses

  1. The second stanza of “And Can it Be,” as it is rendered here, is not only the personal testimony of many, but it is patterned upon the events surrounding Peter’s being freed from prison in Acts 12.

    The video clip of this hymn being sung congregationally is wonderful. Anymore, it’s hard to find churches that sing like that.

    • Well, as to your second point, I fellowshiped with just such a congregation yesterday. I was invited to preach at a small Baptist church, situated in a city some distance from us. The hymn singing (in parts) was wonderful! I led the last hymn without accompaniment, singing the bass part, once I got them started. Wow! (May its tribe increase!)

      On your other point, let me throw in a brief Bible study. There does seem to be an intentional connection to Peter’s experience in the stanza “Long my imprisoned spirit lay…” Charles Wesley seems to have used the supernatural deliverance of Peter from a physical prison (Acts 12:7-8) as a picture of the saving power of the gospel, which he had recently experienced (Rom. 1:16). And it is interesting to note that Wesley, before his conversion, was not a down-and-outer, but a moral man who was doing his best to honour God. However, like Nicodemus of old (another very good man) he came to the realization that he needed an inner transformation, a spiritual rebirth, through personal faith in Christ (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3).

      Apart from Christ, human beings are slaves of sin and Satan (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:17; II Tim. 2:26). The Word of God says they are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and in that condition are unable to grasp and appropriate spiritual truth (II Cor. 2:14). It is salvation through faith in Christ that delivers individuals from this plight (Acts 26:18; Rom. 6:23; Isa. 42:7). Christ is the one who lightens their spiritual darkness (Jn. 1:4; II Cor. 4:3-6; Eph. 5:14), and sets them free (Jn. 8:36; Col. 1:13). Once freed, they are able to bind themselves to Him as willing servants of righteousness and of Christ (Rom. 6:18; II Cor. 4:5).

  2. [...] We can be glad he persevered. The song is a great declaration of faith in the finished work of Christ. The fourth stanza (the second one included below) is sublime poetry describing the conversion experience. (For more about Wesley, and a stirring congregational rendition of this hymn, see Today in 1788.) [...]

  3. [...] Wordwise Hymns (and here too) The Cyber [...]

  4. [...] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber [...]

  5. [...] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber [...]

  6. [...] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber [...]


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