Posted by: rcottrill | June 23, 2014

Have I Done My Best for Jesus

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Words: Ensign Edwin Young (b. Jan. 3, 1895; d. July 22, 1980)
Music: Harry E. Storrs (b. _____, 1900; d. _____, 2000)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (E. Edwin Young)

Note: The remarkable story of a daring rescue that inspired this hymn is told on the Wordwise Hymns link. Though it happened in 1860, the song itself wasn’t written and published until 1924. The author was not a military “ensign;” that was his first name–though he usually went by E. Edwin Young.

Harry Storrs was a musician who composed the music for a number of gospel songs. With Bob Jones Sr., he edited and published the book Special Revival Hymns. The dates given for him are somewhat suspect. They seem too neat to me. But they can serve at least as an approximation.

The question raised by this song is an important one–and certainly convicting. But it is also fraught with the danger of misconceptions at several points.

1) I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus,
Who died upon the cruel tree?
To think of His great sacrifice at Calv’ry!
I know my Lord expects the best from me.

How many are the lost that I have lifted?
How many are the chained I’ve helped to free?
I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus,
When He has done so much for me?

1) Regarding that first line, we need to be sure to answer any implied “because” question correctly. The Bible is abundantly clear that salvation comes not through what we do for God–whether it’s our “best” or not–but on what He did for us. To be fair, I see no indication that Mr. Young was suggesting salvation was earned by our good works. But there are some who believe that.

Here is the place God’s Word gives to good works. Salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5). But “those who have believed…should be careful to maintain good works” (vs. 8, italics mine).

“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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

We are not saved by good works, but “for good works.” It is God’s plan and purpose that the saints invest their lives in His service.

2) The last line in the first stanza should also be questioned. Is it true that the Lord “expects the best from me”? In a way, perhaps. He is certainly worthy of not only our best, but of our all. However, here is what the Lord actually expects:

“Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).

These words were spoken to the apostles, after three years of intensive training. But they are not told, “You can do a little now.” It’s nothing. Only by drawing nourishment and strength from the Vine (the imagery Christ is using in the context), can we bear fruit for eternity. Only by the grace of God can we serve Him.

“Who is sufficient for these things?…Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 2:16; 3:5).

3) There is a third issue that comes to light in the refrain. And, again, let me say that I’m not accusing the author of the hymn of the misconception I’ll address. But I know it’s abroad in the hearts and minds of some. The refrain asks: “How many…how many…?”But there are definite dangers in the numbers game. Counting the proverbial noses and nickels in order to determine how successful a ministry has been will too often foster pride. King David got himself into grave trouble by numbering the people (I Chron. 21:1-30; cf. 27:23).

I know of missionaries who laboured for many years in a spiritually dark area, and either saw no converts come to Christ, or perhaps one. So was their work a failure? Not necessarily. While it’s helpful in some ways to keep track of the results of our labours, it does not begin to provide the full picture. We need to leave the counting and the ultimate assessment to the Lord.

The other emphasis of the hymn is that “He [Christ] has done so much for me” (refrain). There we can safely rest. The more we know of the sacrifice of Christ, and the extent of the work of salvation, the greater will be our wonder and worship. (And this will keep on growing, through the ages of eternity, as we learn more and more.)

In the book of Romans, Paul pleads with his readers, and us, to respond on the basis of “the mercies of God” (i.e. because of all that God has done for us) to become living sacrifices, offered up to Him.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

1) Given the issues raised, would you use this song in your church?

2) What do you do when you find a hymn that contains unbiblical teaching–or teaching that could easily be misunderstood?

a) Do you sing it anyway, because people like it, and it has a catchy tune?
b) Do you simply discard the song and not use it?
c) Do you skip the questionable stanzas and sing the rest?
d) Do you explain why you don’t want to use the song, or don’t want to use some stanzas?
e) Do you change the words to something that seems more biblical?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (E. Edwin Young)


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