Posted by: rcottrill | November 19, 2012

When I See the Blood

Words: John G. Foote (?)
Music: E.A.H. (possibly Elisha Albright Hoffman: b. May 7, 1839; d. Nov. 25, 1929)

Wordwise Hymns (Elisha Hoffman)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: No other information on Mr. Foote is currently available. I suspect he was a contemporary of Elisha Hoffman’s, though even that connection is uncertain. Some hymn books credit Foote with the writing of the tune as well.

Choice Hymns of the Faith (published by the Gospel Perpetuating Fund, 1946) has the words credited to J.F.G. and E.A.H., and the music to J.F.H.–initials that don’t match what those of John G. Foote’s would be.) The hymn book also has this interesting footnote: “By Foot Bros., not copyrighted. Let no one do so. May this song ever be free to be published for the glory of God.” Though I realize song writers have to make a living, I sometimes fear the commercialization of Christian music, and I truly appreciate this sentiment.

The gospel song When I See the Blood draws upon a specific Old Testament incident. When the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, the Lord commissioned Moses to lead them to freedom, and on to the Land He’d promised to Abraham and his descendants, centuries before. When Pharaoh refused to free the slaves, God visited a series of ten devastating plagues on the land of Egypt (Exod. 7:14–12:30).

The tenth and final plague involved the death of the firstborn child (and of the animals too) in every household in Egypt (Exod. 11:4-6). But, in grace, the Lord provided a way to escape the plague. A lamb was to be carefully chosen (a lamb “without blemish, a male of the first year,” Exod. 12:5). At twilight, before the night of the coming judgment, the lamb was to be slain, and its blood applied to the doorposts and lintel of the home (Exod. 12:6-7). Then the lamb was to be eaten by those in the house, and God said:

“It is the LORD’S Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exod. 12:10-13).

Later, when the seven religious feasts (or holy festivals) of Israel were established, the commemoration of Passover became the first, celebrated on “the fourteenth day of the first month, which was called Nisan (or Abib), corresponding to our late March and early April (Lev. 23:4-5). Each year, since that memorable day in Egypt, the Jews have continued to celebrate Passover.

For the Christian, there is a clear connection to our Easter season. It was the Passover meal that the Lord Jesus ate with His disciples in the Upper Room, just before He went to the cross (Matt. 26:18-19), and it was part of the Passover ceremony that the Lord Jesus applied to Himself, when He instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper, in commemoration of His death (Matt. 26:26-28). We are to continue to participate in this ceremonial supper until Christ returns (I Cor. 11:23-26).

The Lord Jesus is spoken of as “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29; cf. I Pet. 1:18-19). Even in heaven, the title remains. In the book of Revelation, the Son of God is called “the Lamb” over two dozen times (e.g. Rev. 5:6, 8, 12). He is the fulfilment of the symbolism of the Passover, “for indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7). When we put our faith in Christ as Saviour, it is as though His blood is applied to us and, covered by the blood of the Lamb, we are safe from eternal judgment.

“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission [no forgiveness of sins]” (Heb. 9:22). Given the importance of the shed blood of Christ (“We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins,” Eph. 1:7), it is unfortunate that the version of Foote’s hymn used by the Cyber Hymnal (as I write this) has removed most of the references to it.

CH-1. “Sprinkle your soul with the blood of the Lamb” becomes: “All who receive Him need never fear.”
CH-2. “Wash in the fountain opened for sin” becomes: “Oh, sinner, hear Him, trust in His Word.”
CH-3. “Hide in the saving, sin-cleansing blood” becomes: “Oh, sinner, hasten, let Jesus in.”
CH-4. “Find peace and shelter under the blood” becomes: “All who believe are safe from the storm.”

This almost becomes an entirely different song. It’s not that the revised version is in error. But are we not intelligent enough to make a spiritual application of the imagery the Bible itself uses? (cf. “a fountain opened…for sin and uncleanness,” Zech. 13:1; and “the blood of sprinkling,” Heb. 12:24). Surely we can see the meaning.

1) Christ our Redeemer died on the cross,
Died for the sinner, paid all his due.
Sprinkle your soul with the blood of the Lamb,
And I will pass, will pass over you.

When I see the blood, when I see the blood,
When I see the blood, I will pass, I will pass over you.

1) How do you (or how does your church) treat the many hymns about the blood of Christ? (Does your hymn book rephrase them to remove references to the blood?)

2) Why is the shed blood of Christ important to you personally?

Wordwise Hymns (Elisha Hoffman)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I hate it when some hymnbook editor decides to change the words of some of our great hymns. Totally disgusting. And while being on the subject of music, I don’t think much of bringing the modern jungle beat music into church, either. It’s getting harder and harder to find churches that stick with good music.

    • H-m-m… Yes, I agree in general with your comments, though you perhaps state them a little more strongly than I would. It is definitely unfortunate that many churches have largely forsaken the treasury of hymns and gospel songs from the past. The congregations are poorer as a result.

      Editors change the wording of old hymns for a number of reasons. Occasionally it is because the original says something that is doctrinally questionable. Other times, it is an attempt to modernize the language. The examples cited in the above hymn seem to be intended to remove references to the blood of Christ (which God’s Word says is “precious,” I Pet. 1:18-19). How sad! In most cases, I’ve convinced the words are better left as they are.

      As to music styles, to insist that we must have music that is excessively loud, or punctuated by a dominant and incessant drum beat–that style may belong in a nightclub, but I’m convinced it should have no place in a church. Instead of the church being a force for God in the world, too often the standards of the world have been welcomed into the church.


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