Posted by: rcottrill | March 28, 2011

Trust and Obey

Words: John Henry Sammis (b. July 6, 1846; d. June 12, 1919)
Music: Daniel Brink Towner (b. Apr. 5, 1850; d. Oct. 3, 1919)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

This hymn is one of those simple songs that draws attention to a big truth. Trust and obey, faith and obedience, faith in God that produces obedience–those are surely the essentials of the Christian walk. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7). “He who says he abides in Him [Christ] ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (I Jn. 2:6). And trust and obedience is not a new thing. It’s been characteristic of the life of the saints since the beginning. Of Abraham we read, “By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb. 11:8; cf. Ps. 4:5; 143:8, 10).

The two belong together. They are inseparable, two sides of a coin. You cannot say, “I have faith in God and His Word,” and not obey Him. As James reminds us, faith without works is a dead kind of faith, not true biblical faith (Jas. 2:26). Nor will we do much in the way of obedience if we don’t trust what God has said. There would be few martyrs in church history, if those courageous Christians didn’t have confidence in the Scriptures.

The Christian life involves daily faith and obedience, exercised in many different situations. But there is an underlying commitment that provides a foundation for this. The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans 12:1.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

The Greek verb tense for “present” indicates it’s to be a once-for-all action. We are to yield ourselves to God as “living sacrifices,” forever and for all. That is what Pastor Sammis is referring to in CH-4 of our hymn, when he says, “We never can prove the delights of His love / Until all on the altar we lay.” Then, hundreds of daily acts of faith and obedience grow out of that, as described in CH-5.

When believers falter and fail, we don’t need to re-present ourselves to God. We simply need to confess our sin (I Jn. 1:9), and go back to acting as the living sacrifices we’ve committed ourselves to be. And the walk of faith and obedience is richly rewarding–not only in heaven, but here and now (CH-3).

There is one stanza of this hymn, however, with which I differ somewhat. In CH-2 John Sammis says:

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Is it true that there can be no doubts, no fears, no sighs, no tears, in the life of the one who is walking with the Lord? No. That’s nonsense. It fails to reckon with the complexity of human existence, and the many fears and tears suffered by godly men and women, down the years.

The Apostle Paul speaks of “what comes upon me daily: my deep concern [anxious care] for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28). He also speaks of the “great sorrow and continual grief in [his] heart” regarding the Jews (Rom. 9:1-3; cf. 10:1-2). And he tells the Corinthian believers that he visited them “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (I Cor. 2:3).

Beyond that, what of the Lord Jesus, “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3)? When He walked the earth, Christ experienced a range of human emotions, including anger, sorrow, dread, and more. And we can hardly say that at such times He was not living in a way that pleased His Father. There is relief from our burdens, and comfort in our trials, in fellowship with the Lord, precisely because He can sympathize with our condition (Heb. 4:15-16). But instant and total deliverance from all our painful struggles? No.

1) Clearly, there was a failure to obey God, when Adam and Eve sinned (Gen. 2:17; 3:6). But explain how a failure to trust God was involved as well.

2) How is a life of faith and obedience toward God illustrated by the physical act of walking?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I appreciate very much your questioning of that stanza in “Trust and Obey.” I learned from my mother not to sing or lead that stanza years ago — essentially, for the reasons you mention.

    The emphasis on walk and obedience is appreciated, as well!

    • Thanks for your comments. In my study of this subject for about half a century (!) I’ve noticed the tendency of some to get their theology from their sacred songs. Ideally, that should be possible. What we sing should always reflect the truths of the Word of God. But, for a variety of reasons, that’s not always the case. We need to be on the alert, and, as service leaders, not invite the congregation to sing error! Taking a moment to point out the problem, before we omit a stanza, or make an appropriate change in the wording, helps people to examine their hymnody more critically–and biblically! God bless.

  2. […] NKJV translation chosen by Cottrill in his post renders the Greek logikan latreian as “reasonable service.”  Now, words are just […]


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