Posted by: rcottrill | May 13, 2013

Almost Persuaded

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Philip Bliss died)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The story of the Blisses tragic death in a train accident is told in the Wordwise Hymns link. This gospel song was written five years before, in 1871.

Philip Bliss penned the words of this sobering hymn after hearing a Reverend Brundage preach a gospel message on Acts 26:28. The text reports, “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian’” (KJV). Brundage’s closing words made a deep impression on the hymn writer: “He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost.”

King Agrippa was a Roman official, the grandson of Herod the Great. He lived a very immoral life, and died around AD 100. As to Paul’s encounter with him (Acts 26:24-32), a couple of things prevent us from understanding exactly what Agrippa meant by his comment. If we had been present, we could have seen the expression on his face, and heard his tone of voice as he spoke.

Without those cues, we don’t know for certain whether there was any sincerity in his words, or whether they were spoken in mocking sarcasm. Here is how a couple of Bible versions interpret what Agrippa said.

J. B. Philips in his paraphrase, The New Testament in Modern English, has: “‘Much more of this, Paul,’ returned Agrippa, ‘and you will be making me a Christian!’” The Amplified Bible gives us: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You think it a small task to make a Christian of me [just offhand to induce me, with little ado and persuasion, at very short notice].’”

It’s unlikely that Agrippa meant he was on the verge of becoming a Christian, though that reading is possible. More likely it was an observation along the lines of, “I see that you trying to appeal to my belief in Israel’s prophets (vs. 27) to convince me to become a Christian.” However, Paul used his comment to urge all who heard him to be not only almost converted, but to become truly born again believers (vs. 29).

Philip Bliss, in his hymn, deftly combines the words of Agrippa with those of Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea, before whom Paul had appeared previously (Acts 24). The Bible says:

“Now as he [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time [i.e. more leisure, a time when I’m not busy] I will call for you’” (Acts 24:25).

In the latter case it seems evident that Felix’s words were an excuse born of fear. Paul’s warning of God’s coming judgment motivated him to end the interview abruptly. His real hope in detaining Paul was that the apostle would bribe him to grant his release (vs. 26).

Whatever was meant precisely by these two men, their words ring down the centuries, sounding a sober warning. “Almost persuaded….When I have a more convenient time…” Almost can be a dangerous word. If you’re ever on trial for a serious crime, you’d better hope the jury is more than “almost convinced” of your innocence!

Though the emotional pathos and poignancy of this Victorian hymn seem too much for some modern hymn book editors to include it for publication, its message is still needed.

CH-1) “Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
On Thee I’ll call.”

The wonderful grace (the unmerited favour) of God is mentioned dozens of times in His Word. It is by His grace, not by our own good works, that we’re saved (Eph. 2:8-9). “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

However, though God, in great grace, can reach down and save even the worst of sinners, His grace is not extended forever to those who reject it (cf. Gen. 6:3). The day of grace will come to an end, and certain judgment will follow (Jn. 3:36; Heb. 9:27). That’s why the Bible makes an urgent plea for sinners to turn to Christ “now” and be saved (II Cor. 5:20–6:2).

CH- 3) “Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail–
“Almost,” but lost!

Questions:
1) Would you ever use this hymn in an evangelistic service? (Why? Or why not?)

2) What other hymns of invitation have a powerful message that God can use today?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Philip Bliss died)
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. Robert, I happened to preach on this passage yesterday. The word “Christian” only appears three times in Scripture, and is not a name that believers gave themselves. Based on the usage in I Peter, at least, and seemingly here, it was used as a term of persecution, a mocking term. It seems that Christians, being mocked by the name, accepted it as an honour to suffer scorn and persecution for their Saviour and adopted the name.

    If that is so, Agrippa was saying, “Almost you persuade me to join the persecuted ones” — which fits with Paul’s response. I would take it as a serious statement on Agrippa’s part, that he knew the truth about the resurrection, on which Paul had challenged him, but he wasn’t quite prepared to accept that which came with faith in Christ.

    He counted the cost, and backed away. That’s how I understand it, for what it is worth.

    To answer your question, I believe in strong and direct challenges, and firm warnings of the need to repent. However, we didn’t include this hymn in our hymnbook, nor did I use it yesterday. The appeal strikes me as too much emotionalism. I believe emotional appeals have their place, but this one seems excessive. Yesterday, I closed with “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” which also has an emotional appeal, but not (by my way of thinking) to the same extent.

    • Some good and helpful comments and insights. Thank you. The idea of Agrippa associating the word “Christian” with those who are oppressed and persecuted certainly fits the historical and biblical context. As to the emotional or sentimental tenor of the hymn, yes, I agree. Nothing wrong with the message itself, and it might work in certain settings, but I’d want to select and use it with great care, if at all.

      [Apologies. I used the wrong URL for the following. I’ll try again.] In my research I came across this emotionally charged recitation of the words. (Click here, and skip to about two and a half minutes through the presentation. The gentleman may be entirely sincere, but it made me cringe all the same. It reminded me of a class in Pastoral Theology, when I was a student. One of the fellows presented a practice sermon with a put-on sanctimonious voice, and the prof tore a strip off him!

      • Wow. Robert, I know the Lord has greatly used that type of ministry and presentation, and I’m thankful for that. But I would be totally phony if I did something like that. If I did, someone in our church would call the police to report an alien invasion, and that they’d taken control of my body.

        But if I start talking about emotionalism, I’ll get nothing done today. 🙂

  2. Thanks for your hard work making this resource available to all. I’ve been here many times and have never commented. I’m likewise doing my part to keep the old-time gospel hymns alive and well for classical and acoustic guitar. We talk about hymns often in our home and really appreciate this website.

    • Thanks for your gracious words. I’ve been studying hymns for something like half a century, and the blog (along with a weekly newspaper column, and a couple of books–so far), has given me many opportunities to share what I know. I’ve found a great love for the old hymns and gospel songs, all over the world. God bless.


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