Posted by: rcottrill | September 30, 2009

Are You a Worm?

Hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748) published a song in 1707 that he called Godly Sorrow Arising from the Sufferings of Christ. (When was the last time we grieved over what it cost Christ to save us?) Using the old English word “alas” to express grief, Watts begins,

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Some editors have balked at having singers refer to themselves as “worms.” So various amendments have been proposed to the opening stanza: “For such a one as I,” or, “For sinners such as I.” But we ought not to be too hasty. “Worm” is biblical. The Lord says to Israel, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, You men of Israel! I will help you,” says the LORD And your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 41:14; cf. Job 25:6).

From these texts we get some idea of the meaning of the imagery. Two things in particular. The word is used to indicate how sinners, in themselves, are both helpless and unworthy. In comparison to human strength, a worm is a very weak creature. And lowly, and often despised. And that’s us. Powerless to know God or live for God, and unworthy of the least of His favour.

Significantly, in Psalm 22, that is prophetically descriptive of Christ on the cross, the speaker says, “I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised by the people” (Ps. 22:6; cf. vs. 1). If the term can be used to describe the suffering Sin-bearer, surely it is appropriate for those whose sins nailed Him to the cross! We ought to view Calvary, not only with wonder and worship, but with a sense of abject shame. Yes, “worm” is a demeaning term. But it is in humbling ourselves before Calvary that we can find salvation.

And in response to the work of Christ, we ought to move beyond saving faith to a life of loving service. Isaac Watts comes to this in his last stanza:

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.

The force of the words of this hymn were the means of bringing renowned hymn writer Fanny Crosby to Christ in 1850. Fanny says as the last line was sung, “I surrendered myself to the Saviour, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light.” She was captivated by the love of Christ, and spend the rest of her days singing His praises, and providing the means by which others could do likewise.


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