Posted by: rcottrill | August 10, 2011

Once for All

Words: Philip Paul Bliss (b. July 9, 1838; d. Dec. 29, 1876)
Music: Philip Paul Bliss

Wordwise Hymns (Philip Bliss)
The Cyber Hymnal

As Christmas of 1871 approached, Mr. Bliss’s wife Lucy asked a friend if she had any ideas for a present for her husband. The friend suggested she give him a bound volume of English periodicals called Things New and Old. She did so, and Philip greatly appreciated the gift. It was while reading an article there that made reference to Romans 8 and Hebrews 10, that Philip Bliss got the idea for the present song.

CH-1) Free from the law, O happy condition,
Jesus has bled and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all.

Free! What does that mean? And more importantly, what does God mean by it, in the context of our freedom from the Law? Does it mean that God now shrugs at sin? That He means us to live however we like? No, of course not. But the world has some strange ideas about freedom.

Janis Joplin’s soul-wrenching recording of Me and Bobby McGee contains the line “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” One gets the impression of a person for whom life has gone sour, who decides to booze it up, and party it up, because what else is there? (Perhaps a picture of Janis’s own experience. The legendary rock star died of a heroin overdose in 1970.) But, of course, the song lyric’s the devil’s lie. In this mortal life, there’s always something to lose (cf. Mk. 8:36)! The line presents a completely wrong-headed definition of the word freedom.

On this side of the cross, the Bible proclaims, “We are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15). The weakness of the Law was that it could only identify sin, and condemn the sinner (Rom. 3:20; 7:7). Nobody (apart from Christ) was able to keep it perfectly, and the Law had no power to save (Rom. 8:1-4). Grace has provided two things the Law could not: a means of clearing our debt of sin, and of empowering us to live lives that are pleasing to God.

First, God, in grace (His undeserved favour), sent His Son into the world to pay the penalty for all sin for all time (Rom. 3:21-26; I Pet. 3:18). That payment is applied personally to all who will trust in Christ as Saviour.

CH-2) Now we are free, there’s no condemnation,
Jesus provides a perfect salvation.
“Come unto Me,” O hear His sweet call,
Come, and He saves us once for all.

The second thing the grace of God does is give us His indwelling Holy Spirit when we trust in Christ, by whom we are regenerated and empowered to believe and obey God, and serve Him acceptably, day by day (Gal. 5:16, 22-23; II Pet. 1:3).

CH-3) “Children of God,” O glorious calling,
Surely His grace will keep us from falling;
Passing from death to life at His call;
Blessèd salvation once for all.

1) How would you explain Christian liberty (what it is, and what it is not)?

2) Can you explain how the kind of “freedom” the world often talks about is actually a harmful bondage?

Wordwise Hymns (Philip Bliss)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I’ve always liked that line from “Me and Bobby McGee.” I think it hauntingly depicts the emptiness of what the world calls freedom– accountable to no one, able to do whatever I want, whenever I want. That kind of “freedom” is only available if we eschew any form of intimate relationship, both with God and other human beings. That’s what that song is all about, in my opinion. By the way, the Joplin version is not the best. Look up the Roger Miller or Kris Kristopherson versions. Much better.

    • H-m-m… Thanks for the comments. My use of the line from the song was meant to show that there are some terribly skewed and ruinous ideas about “freedom” around. It wasn’t, as I’m sure you understand, an endorsement of Janis Joplin, or a promotion of her version of the song as the best. Don’t really care about that. My focus remains on the traditional hymns of the church. As you point out, the words from Bobby McGee define a “freedom” that is so self-centred and nihilistic that it’s hard to see it surviving in any kind of relationship that respects the other person.


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