Posted by: rcottrill | July 27, 2011

A Charge to Keep I Have

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Boylston, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Wordwise Hymns (Lowell Mason)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: There are a couple of doctrinal issues in this hymn, which later editing have addressed. In the original, line 3 of the first stanza is “A never-dying soul to save.” But that seems to place the emphasis on man’s efforts to save himself–which I’m sure Wesley did not intend. The line is as amended, “Who gave His Son my soul to save,” as John 3:16 declares.

To accommodate those who don’t share Wesley’s Arminian theology (as I do not), editors commonly alter the last lines of the hymn (in CH-4). There is no eternal safety in the original: “Assured, if I my trust betray, / I shall for ever die.” Surely, even one sin can be seen as a betrayal of trust. So are we to assume the saints lose their salvation every time they sin? No. A misbehaving child is still a child of his father. These lines have been amended to: “And let me ne’er my trust betray, / But press to realms on high.”

The inspiration for this hymn came to Charles Wesley reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on Leviticus 8:35. The Bible text says:

“Therefore you shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, so that you may not die; for so I have been commanded” (Lev. 8:35).

The task was given to the Levitical priests, the responsibility to see that all that was done at the tabernacle of Israel was in keeping with the Word and will of God. Though this initial seven days on duty related to their own ceremony of consecration (vs. 33), it was also to be an ongoing commission (Num. 1:53).

Wesley, in his last stanza (discussed above) seems to suggest that the punishment for failure to keep one’s “charge” is eternal death, but that is not likely the sense in Leviticus. The punishment for priestly disobedience was physical death (cf. Lev. 10:1-2).

The comments by Matthew Henry that caught Wesley’s attention were:

“We have, every one of us, a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duties to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily care to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master” (The Matthew Henry Commentary, p. 121).

CH-1) A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

CH-2) To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfil:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my master’s will!

Many things have changed, on this side of the cross. There is no longer a Levitical tribe of priests, or one central tabernacle (or temple) as Israel had. And because of the great sacrifice of Christ, God’s Lamb (Jn. 1:29), we no need to offer animal sacrifices. They were simply a foreshadowing of Calvary.

However, the New Testament addresses all Christians as “a holy priesthood,” and “a royal priesthood” (I Pet. 2:5, 9). As such, we are to offer sacrifices of praise to God (Heb. 13:15), and the sacrifice of service to others (Heb. 13:16). “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). And a significant part of our work is the proclamation of the gospel (Mk. 16:15).

God didn’t save Christians to sit and soak and sour. There is work for each to do, in the service of the King, according to the gifts and opportunities the Lord provides. Our rewards (or lack of them), at the judgment seat of Christ, will be according to whether we have spent our resources to gain what is fleeting (wood, hay and stubble, to use the Bible’s imagery), or “gold, silver, precious stones” (I Cor. 3:11-15).

1) What kinds of things do people strive to acquire that could be labeled wood, hay and stubble?

2) What kinds of things in our Christian service could be called gold, silver, and precious stones?

Wordwise Hymns (Lowell Mason)
The Cyber Hymnal


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