Posted by: rcottrill | October 5, 2015

Though Your Sins Be as Scarlet

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Words: Francis Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: William Howard Doane (b. Feb. 3, 1832; d. Dec. 23, 1915)

Wordwise Hymns (William Doane)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Cyber Hymnal gives the date of publication for this song as 1887. However, that may have been a typographical error. You can see copies of it in books on that are dated 1877.

We have a number of expressions used to describe things that are completely distinct and different. As different as night and day, we might say, or as different as black and white. More that six hundred years ago, John Gower gave us the expression, “As different as chalk and cheese.” Nobody knows why he chose that contrast. Perhaps, simply because they alliterated neatly.

The Bible gives us such contrasts too. Night and day, darkness and light, those are a means of describing the distinction between good and evil, saints and sinners. “You [Christians] are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (I Thess. 5:5). “Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Rom. 13:12).

Another dramatic contrast is used by the prophet Isaiah, to call the nation of Israel to repent of their sins and turn back to God:

“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword;’ for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 1:18-20).

The background of the imagery in verse 18 is fascinating. There was a brilliantly red cloth that was much prized in the Mediterranean world. The dye that produced the dazzling crimson colour was made from the crushed bodies of the scarlet worm (coccus ilicis). The cloth, once dyed, was known for its colour fastness, its resistance to fading.

But suppose, in the process of dying a piece of cloth, the scarlet dye splashed where it didn’t belong. Where it perhaps stained an article of clothing that needed to be pure white. Possibly it would be ruined. Nothing known back then could remove completely the ugly and unwanted streaks of crimson.

What a picture this gives us of sin, marring a person’s life like a scarlet stain. A stain so deeply embedded that nothing can take it away. Good intentions won’t do it. The right family connections are impotent to affect it. Performing the right rituals aren’t enough. Even good deeds make no difference to it. The stain and stigma are there still.

So is it hopeless? No, it isn’t. Because God says, in effect, as He said to Israel, “What you cannot do, I can do for you. If you will turn to Me, in faith, your life, with its guilty stain can be cleansed and purified.” Later, Isaiah tells us how the Lord accomplishes this. With a prophet’s eye, he sees the Christ of the cross and writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:3). It is through faith in the Saviour that we are cleansed of our sins (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 1:7).

The symbolism of pure white garments carries through to the visions of the Apostle John recorded in the book of Revelation. He tells us he saw, in heaven, “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes” (Rev. 7:9). Clothing clean and bright. No stains there!

Fanny Crosby wrote a song of invitation, based on Isaiah 1:18. The first stanza gives the promise recorded in Isaiah. (Note: The first two lines of each stanza are repeated as a kind of refrain. And in the song, as originally published, there is a lovely repeated duet.)

CH-1) “Though your sins be as scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though your sins be as scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
They shall be as wool!”

The second stanza is a call to come to the Lord for cleansing (cf. Isa. 55:6-7).

CH-2) Hear the voice that entreats you,
O return ye unto God!
Hear the voice that entreats you,
O return ye unto God!
He is of great compassion,
And of wondrous love.

The third stanza describes the wonderful result. The blessings of the New Covenant, established by the shed blood of Christ, include the implanting, by the Spirit of God, of a new desire to do His will, and a forgiveness of sins that the God describes as remembering them no more (Heb. 10:16-17).

CH-3) He’ll forgive your transgressions,
And remember them no more;
He’ll forgive your transgressions,
And remember them no more;
“Look unto Me, ye people,”
Saith the Lord your God!

1) In what ways is a stain on a garment a good picture of sin and what it does to us?

2) What is meant, in the final stanza, by looking to the Lord (see Isa. 45:22)?

Wordwise Hymns (William Doane)
The Cyber Hymnal


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