Posted by: rcottrill | December 14, 2012

Only a Sinner

Words: James Martin Gray (b. May 11, 1851; d. Sept. 21, 1925)
Music: Daniel Brink Towner (b. Apr. 5, 1850; d. Oct. 3, 1919)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Wordwise Hymns link has a biographical note on James M. Gray, describing his wide interests and outstanding abilities. Dr. Gray was an innovative Christian leader, the author of about twenty books, as well as many tracts and pamphlets. He was the president of Moody Bible Institute, when my father was a music major there, in the late 1920’s.

To begin with, let’s not misconstrue Dr. Gray’s use of that word “only,” in this 1905 gospel song: “Only a sinner.” He’s definitely not suggesting that being a sinner is an insignificant thing–like a man climbing out of a wrecked car suffering “only a scratch.”

In the song, the word is meant to emphasize that the saved person can take no credit for being anything more than a needy sinner–that all the glory belongs to God for his salvation. The opening lines of the song nail down that principle. “Naught [nothing] have I gotten but what I received. Grace [God’s unearned, unmerited favour and blessing] hath bestowed it I since I have believed.”

CH-1) Naught have I gotten but what I received;
Grace hath bestowed it since I have believed;
Boasting excluded, pride I abase;
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace!

Only a sinner, saved by grace!
Only a sinner, saved by grace!
This is my story, to God be the glory—
I’m only a sinner, saved by grace!

Just how impoverished are we, when unsaved–a category including us all? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. Jude 1:15). The Bible describes sinners as being “without God” (Eph. 2:12), and “without strength [spiritually]” (Rom. 5:6). Apart from God’s grace, “our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope” (I Chron. 29:15). Yet we are also “without excuse,” since God has done all that’s necessary to reveal Himself to us (Rom. 1:19-20).

Before I came to Christ, says Gray, “sin ruled my heart” (CH-2) and, as a result, I was on the wrong path and heading the wrong way. Just being sorry for my sin was not enough. “Tears unavailing, no merit had I” (CH-3). I had nothing I could offer God that would cancel my debt of sin and gain me His acceptance. In fact, it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Tit. 3:5).

CH-3) Tears unavailing, no merit had I;
Mercy had saved me, or else I must die;
Sin had alarmed me fearing God’s face;
But now I’m a sinner saved by grace!

“Without faith” in Him, we cannot hope to please the Lord (Heb. 11:6). The sinner is “condemned already” (Jn. 3:18), and “the wrath of God abides on him” (vs. 36), and “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). All of that, and more, is the condition that James Gray captures with his phrase, “only a sinner.” But, praise His name, God in grace has provided a remedy in Christ.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3). “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). We who trust in Christ have abundant reason to rejoice.

CH-4) Suffer a sinner whose heart overflows,
Loving his Saviour to tell what he knows;
Once more to tell it would I embrace–
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!

1) What other things can you think of that are true of the sinner?

2) How does what Christ has done provide the remedy for such things?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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