Posted by: rcottrill | May 16, 2014

Not What These Hands Have Done

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Words: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: St. Andrew, by Joseph Barnby (b. Aug. 12, 1838; d. Jan. 28, 1896)

Wordwise Hymns (Horatius Bonar)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The original hymn, called “Salvation Through Christ Alone,” was published in 1861, in twelve, four-line stanzas. The Cyber Hymnal has combined each pair of stanzas in one, and has give us five of these. The combination given there of stanzas 2 and 3 (producing CH-2) is somewhat different from Bonar’s version which was:

Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak;
Thy power alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.
No other work save Thine, no meaner blood will do:
No strength, save that which is divine, can bear me safely through.

Also, Bonar’s final stanza is missing from the Cyber Hymnal.

My life with Him is hid,
My death has passed away,
My clouds have melted into light,
My midnight into day.

The Cyber Hymnal suggests two tunes. St. Andrew (or Barnby) fits the shorter stanza version, while Leominster works beautifully with the longer combined stanzas, as the Cyber Hymnal has them.

The life of Horatius Bonar was a busy one. In fact, if ever there was a man who deserved to get to heaven on the basis of a multiplicity of good works, he is that man. He served as a pastor in two churches for a total of fifty years. Those who observed his ministry said he seemed to be always visiting, always preaching, always writing, always praying!

For twenty-five years he edited the Quarterly Journal of Prophecy, and also The Border Watch, a periodical that had a great influence in the birth of the Free Church of Scotland. He wrote many books and tracts, and over 600 hymns. In his later years he also served as moderator of his denomination’s General Assembly.

Yet all of that he set aside as not deserving of any saving merit.

CH-1) Not what these hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

CH-3) Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.

It is the insistent testimony of the Word of God that salvation is not a reward for human effort or good works. It is by grace, God’s unearned, unmerited favour and blessing. In other words, it is a free gift. If we paid anything for it, it would cease to be a gift.

“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). “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).

“If by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Tit. 3:5).

“[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (II Tim. 1:9).

The other side of the grace “coin” is worship and service, not in order to be saved, but after we’re saved. Since it is true that our salvation is all of God, He, and He alone, deserves the glory and praise for it. “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation….Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” (Rev. 5:9, 12).

We serve the Lord not to gain salvation, but to express our appreciation for it. That is why Ephesians 2:10 follows verses 8 and 9. And why Titus 3:8 comes after verse 5.

“We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [i.e. saved] for good works” (Eph. 2:10). “Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8).

CH-4) I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

CH-5) I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
’Tis He who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

1) Why is it that human nature seems to want to find something to do for God, to earn His favour and acceptance?

2) What other hymn(s) do you know that clearly show salvation to be by God’s grace?

Wordwise Hymns (Horatius Bonar)
The Cyber Hymnal


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