Posted by: rcottrill | February 29, 2012

I Want a Principle Within

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Gerald, by Ludwig Spohr (b. Apr. 5, 1784; d. Oct. 22, 1759)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Wesley’s original had five eight-line stanzas, which he headed with the title, “For a Tender Conscience.” (“A principle within” is used as another term for the conscience.) A number of changes have been made over the years which have improved this excellent hymn. The present version uses the second and third stanzas, plus half each of the fourth and fifth.

Wesleyan teaching includes the doctrine of perfectionism, the idea that an individual can arrive at the place that he is so sensitive to sin, and so spiritually energized, that he can live without sinning (though John Wesley himself doesn’t seem to have believed he had reached that point). The need for a supernaturally sensitized conscience was seen as a necessary element if perfect holiness was to be achieved.

There are too many Scriptures that indicate the endeavour to maintain a holy walk is a lifelong struggle. When John speaks of the return of Christ, he says, “Everyone who has this hope in Him [Christ] purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I Jn. 3:3). Kenneth Wuest’s amplification of the Greek text reads: “Everyone who has this hope continually set on Him is constantly purifying himself just as that One is pure” (The New Testament–An Expanded Translation).

It’s a process. To say either that we have, in some crisis experience, rid ourselves of our sin nature, or to say that we have reached a point where we no longer sin, would be naive self-deception. It is to grossly underestimate the supreme standard expressed in John’s words, “just as He [Christ] is pure” (cf. I Jn. 1:6, 8, 10). But, praise the Lord, there is a remedy available when we sin! God promises that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (vs. 9; cf. vs. 7).

It is important to see the distinction between the Christian’s righteous standing (or position) in Christ, and the call to righteous living (our state or condition). The former is based on Christ’s righteousness alone, the One who is eternally unchanging (II Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:9-10; Heb. 10:14). God views us as perfect in Christ. But the second is practical and experiential, and depends upon the consistency of our walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25).

However, all of this being said, it does not render Charles Wesley’s hymn unsuitable for those who don’t believe in perfectionism. The hymn expresses an urgent and ardent prayer for spiritual sensitivity to sin (Rom. 2:15). It is something we each should seek. The conscience can be desensitized by rebel unbelief and repeated sinning (I Tim. 4:1-2). Wesley’s concern is legitimate and important. Though we never, in this life, achieve the perfection he sought, it should be our goal to purify ourselves and keep ourselves pure, by the power of the Holy Spirit, “just as He is pure.”

CH-1) I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

CH-2) From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

CH-3) Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart;
The mountain from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul,
And drive me to that blood again, which makes the wounded whole.

1) What are the characteristics of a godly conscience, as described by Wesley’s hymn?

2) How can this spiritual condition be fostered and maintained?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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