Posted by: rcottrill | March 18, 2015

Not I, but Christ

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Words: Ada Anne Fitzgerald Whiddington (b. _____, 1855; Mar. 14, 1933)
Music: Albert Benjamin Simpson (b. Dec. 15, 1843; d. Oct. 29, 1919)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Cyber Hymnal gives a date of 1891 for this hymn, though it may have appeared as much as a decade earlier. Whiddington wrote six stanzas, but most hymnals include only four (CH-1, 2, 3, and 6). Hymns of the Christian Life, the hymnal of Simpson’s own Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, also has CH-4.

As to the tune, some books use the one written by Simpson. But others have a tune named Exaltation, by C. H. Forrest (of whom nothing is known). In my view, the latter is the superior tune. There are others as well, some using the refrain, others omitting it.

CH-1) Not I, but Christ, be honoured, loved, exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen be known, be heard;
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action,
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.

O to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
O to be lost in Thee,
O that it might be no more I,
But Christ, that lives in me.

CH-2) Not I, but Christ, to gently soothe in sorrow,
Not I, but Christ, to wipe the falling tear;
Not I, but Christ, to lift the weary burden,
Not I, but Christ, to hush away all fear.

This is a powerful hymn expressing the believer’s aspiration that Christ be more and more revealed in and through him. Several key Bible texts relate to the theme.

¤ The words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). Though he likely meant this in terms of public prominence and influence in ministry, it stands as a simple expression that can be applied more widely. In our lives, we should desire that more of Christ be seen.

¤ God’s stated purpose for us is this: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29).

¤ The ministry of the Holy Spirit reproduces in us the “fruit” of Christlike character: “Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Cor. 3:18; cf. Gal. 5:22-23).

¤ Paul’s testimony was: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The hymn uses the precise phrase, “not I, but Christ,” as it’s found in the King James Version.

¤ In yet another passage, Paul expresses the hope, “That the life of Jesus also [should] be manifested in our mortal flesh” (II Cor. 4:11).

It’s not that we become mere robots, manipulated by God, with no identity of our own. Rather, as we grow spiritually, the Holy Spirit seeks to produce in us the holy and loving character of Christ. Through our meditation on the Word of God, we learn to think God’s thoughts after Him. We are “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind” (Rom. 12:2). Sometimes the goal is referred to as Christlikeness. The Bible describes it as bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

CH-5) Not I, but Christ, my every need supplying,
Not I, but Christ, my strength and health to be;
Not I, but Christ, for body, soul, and spirit,
Christ, only Christ, here and eternally.

In this life, we’ll never reach perfection. We are a work in progress, under the hand of God. But when others see us responding to life’s situations, they should be able to say, “That must be what Jesus is like.” Then, when we are caught up into the presence of the Lord, His design for us will finally be fulfilled. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). We look expectantly to the time when:

CH-6) Christ, only Christ, ere long will fill my vision;
Glory excelling soon, full soon I’ll see–
Christ, only Christ, my every wish fulfilling–
Christ, only Christ, my all in all to be.

1) What does the refrain mean by the expression, “oh to be saved from myself”?

2) In your own life, what area do you believe is the least Christlike, and most needing daily grace?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Hi, Robert,

    I like this hymn! Thanks for introducing me to it. I’ve listened to it with Simpson’s tune, Bolton’s tune, and Exaltation by Forrest. I agree that Exaltation is the better tune for this hymn, but the refrain seems out of place no matter whose tune is used. The words of the refrain are fine, but the change in meter from the stanza to the refrain gives the refrain a rushed and less reverential feel compared to the stanzas, in my opinion. Do you favor keeping the refrain or omitting it?

    • Thanks for the comments. Yes, the refrain is a distinct change. But maybe there’s a reason. We suddenly move from a reverently ordered prayer, to the kind of desperate self-talk that sometimes happens to us. (e.g. “Lord, thank You for your great salvation. I want Sunday’s message to turn the hearts of the people toward You, in praise and gratitude….But, oh, I’m so weak and wayward! I can’t do it, apart from Your grace. Save me from myself!”) Perhaps a little more frantic or slightly frenetic pace is appropriate.

      We have the same thing, in reverse, in Psalm 13. David starts out with a desperate and anguished plea in vss. 1-4. Then, the word “but” introduces his trustful resignation, in vss. 5-6. I wonder if he didn’t change the melody and the pacing of the music at that point.

      But there are examples of where it definitely doesn’t work. I’m not a fan of the way Ralph Hudson added catchy refrains to some great hymns–to somehow pep them up, I suppose. Isaac Watts’s Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed? has an emotional intensity and reverent awe throughout that is palpable. The mood is violated, time and again, by Hudson’s jolly rumpty-dum, rumpty-dum refrain. Yuck! Just an opinion. 🙂


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