Posted by: rcottrill | January 10, 2014

I Am Not Skilled to Understand

Words: Dorothy (“Dora”) Greenwell (b. Dec. 6, 1821; d. Mar. 29, 1882)
Music: Greenwell, by William James Kirkpatrick (b. Feb. 27, 1838; d. Sept. 20, 1921)


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: English poetess Dora Greenwell published fourteen books of verse during her lifetime. On the title page of each volume was a crest picturing a hand holding tightly to a cross. The accompanying Latin motto, “Et teneo et teneor”, expresses a profound truth: “I both hold and am being held.” In faith, believers cling to God, but we are assured also that He will never let go of His child (Jn. 10:28-29).

In one of her books, called Songs of Salvation (published in 1873), are eight of Miss Greenwell’s poems. One of them has become a hymn now found in many hymnals. Though we usually know it by the opening line, in his Sacred Songs and Solos, Ira Sankey entitled the song “My Refuge, My Saviour,” taking these words from Second Samuel 22:3.

Many of us enjoy watching or listening to those who demonstrate great skill at something. Whether it’s a baseball player a piano player, or something else, we admire the hours of training and practice, and the natural talent, that combine to make a superb athlete or musician. On another front, an area of developed skill that’s important to every Christian is the ability to study and understand the Word of God.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [correctly handling] the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15; cf. Ps. 1:1-3).

The problem is that fallen man does not have the spiritual perception to understand the Word of God, or the power to apply and obey it, even if he could grasp its meaning.

“The natural man [one born naturally, but not born again] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

Regeneration and the indwelling Holy Spirit change that. He is “the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 15:26). He is the Revealer and Illuminator of God’s Word (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-15).

“‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:9-10).

But there’s a further difficulty with that. God is infinite; we are finite. Even with the illumination of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we Christians are going to find many things that are beyond our reach, when it comes to the spiritual and eternal realm, and particularly when it has to do with the transcendent Godhead.

“Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:5). Job was a great saint, with an understanding of God that was way ahead of his time. Yet he says at one point: “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26:14).

Even so, this does not, as the saying goes, let us off the hook. We are still called upon to study and seek to know what we can, and we are responsible to apply what we know, and respond to what we know (cf. Heb. 5:11-14). That is the thrust of Dora Greenwell’s hymn.

CH-1) I am not skilled to understand
What God hath willed, what God hath planned;
I only know at His right hand
Is One who is my Saviour!

CH-2) I take Him at His word indeed;
“Christ died for sinners”–this I read;
For in my heart I find a need
Of Him to be my Saviour!

The author rejoices in the knowledge of who Christ is, and what He’s done for her. And the hymn recognizes that we can “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18). We can learn more.

CH-3) That He should leave His place on high
And come for sinful man to die,
You count it strange? So once did I,
Before I knew my Saviour!

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they would “know the love of Christ that passes [surpasses] knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). Even though He is infinitely beyond us, it will be the delight of time and eternity to continue to learn more and more.

CH-4) And oh, that He fulfilled may see
The travail of His soul in me,
And with His work contented be,
As I with my dear Saviour!

1) If you were to take an inventory, what do you know in terms of spiritual truth, and your knowledge of God, that you didn’t know a year ago?

2) What have you done with what you’ve learned”


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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