Posted by: rcottrill | April 9, 2012

My Faith Looks Up to Thee

Words: Ray Palmer (b. Nov. 12, 1808; d. Mar. 29, 1887)
Music: Olivet (or Mason), by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

We sometimes say, “Things are looking up,” meaning our situation seems to be improving. But that’s merely a note of human optimism. Looking up in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ is a far different matter. It means that whatever the circumstances we’re trusting Christ to meet our need, for time and for eternity.

In fact, the words of this hymn were written when Ray Palmer was twenty-two years old, struggling with discouragement, poor health, and a lack of funds. Things weren’t looking up for him at all. But he did the looking–to the Lord. He wrote the lines of verse as what he called his “Self-Consecration,” simply putting down how he felt, “with a deep consciousness of my own needs, without the slightest thought of writing for another eye.”

One scholar noted, “Had it been intended for the public eye, it could never have been written.” I think he means that what gives the song the devotional power it’s had through nearly two centuries is that we sense the personal feelings of the author, and identify with them. Mr. Palmer says he wrote “with very tender emotion, and ended the last line with tears.”

Many have looked to the Lord in a time of need as he did. As the prophet Micah puts it, “Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me” (Mic. 7:7). That applies to the look of saving faith. But faith doesn’t end  with our salvation. We need to go on trusting the Lord daily. The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7). Through all our days, we should be “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).

CH-2) May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

The hymn has been translated into many languages, and stories abound of the influence. Mr. Palmer himself received a hundred letters of thanks for it. But one incident was a little unusual.

In later years, Dr. Palmer was pastor of a church in Newark, New Jersey. A young man who had been attending the church for some time arrived early one Sunday morning. To pass the time until the service began, he took up a hymn book in the pew, and opened it. His eye fell on the opening stanza of our hymn:

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Saviour divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

That caused the reader to stop and think about his spiritual condition. “Look to Me, and be saved,” says the Lord (Isa. 45:22), and he did. The Spirit of God spoke to his sin-burdened heart through the words, and he did indeed look to Christ, and was born into the family of God. Afterward, he called on the pastor, at his home, to tell him what had happened. It was only then he discovered, to his even greater joy, that he was actually talking to the author of the hymn that had led to his conversion!

CH-3) While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

1) Is there a particular hymn (this one, or another) that’s meant something special in your conversion or your Christian walk? (If so, you might consider posting a comment on this blog, to encourage others.)

2) Ray Palmer describes life as a “dark maze” (CH-3), and a “transient dream” (CH-4). What does he mean? And what is our need in such circumstances?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


%d bloggers like this: