Posted by: rcottrill | May 23, 2010

Today in 1738 – And Can It Be? written

Charles Wesley wrote And Can It Be? a few days after his conversion (on May 20th). He says in his journal that he had difficulty completing the text “because of Satan creating doubts about it,” causing him to feel he displeased God in writing it. But Wesley recognized this to be a “device of the enemy to keep God from receiving the glory due Him.”

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.)

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?
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.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

But a word should be added about a statement in  Charles Wesley’s third stanza, which begins:

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

“Emptied Himself” is a literal rendering of the original Greek text of Phil. 2:7, which says in the NKJV that Christ “made Himself of no reputation.” The Amplified Bible says He “stripped Himself [of all privilege and rightful dignity].” We must not suppose that the verse is telling us Christ ceased to be fully God when He became Man. “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9)

What He left behind for a time was the eternal honour and privilege fully due to Him. Also, the radiance of His eternal glory was veiled, expect for those moments on the Mount of Transfiguration. As Man, He willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father, even though it included the scornful abuse of sinners, and death on the cross. But He never stopped being what He is, God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. Wesley’s phrase seems to imply more, and that is wrong. Majesty Hymns alters the line to: “Humbled Himself and came in love.” (Much better.)

(2) Today in 1831 – William Perkins Born
William Oscar Perkins was the brother of Henry Perkins (who gave us the tune for the gospel song Blessed Be the Fountain of Blood). William studied music in Boston, and in several European cities. Settling in Boston he founded a music academy and published a number of hymnals and many gospel song books. He composed the tune for the gospel song Did You Think to Pray? (For something about the author of the words, and a quartet version of this hymn, see the second item under Today in 1621.)

Ere you left your room this morning,
Did you think to pray?
In the name of Christ our Saviour,
Did you sue for loving favour,
As a shield today?

O how praying rests the weary!
Prayer will change the night to day;
So when life seems dark and dreary,
Don’t forget to pray.

(3) Today in 1848 – George Hugg Born
George Crawford Hugg began his music career at an amazingly young age. When he was 12 he became the choirmaster at a Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and later served other churches in this capacity. At the age of 14 he published his first song, called Walk in the Light. He was a prolific composer giving us 18 volumes of Sunday School and revival songs, and hundreds of other works, as well as tunes for many gospel songs (Every Bridge Is Burned Behind Me, and No, Not One are two of these.)

There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No, not one! No, not one!
None else could heal all our soul’s diseases,
No, not one! No, not one!

Jesus knows all about our struggles,
He will guide till the day is done;
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No, not one! No, not one!


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