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Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: St. Agnes, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)
Note: From over three centuries ago comes this pointed and penetrating confession of how prone we are to carnal and worldly ways, apart from the inner ministrations of the Spirit of God.
Years ago, when I worked in the photography department of an advertising firm, there were occasions when we would buy an expensive piece of new equipment. We’d take it out of the box and packing, and stand around admiring it. There it was, shiny and brand new. All kinds of dials and knobs. Impressive. Now it was time to set it up and put it to work.
Men, in particular, seem prone to do that before reading the instructions! Why is that? I don’t know. But it seems to be common. I can recall a time when, printed right on the carton, in big, bold lettering, was: “Before you do it your way, try it our way.” Okay, so they don’t trust us to know what we’re doing. “Where are those instructions? …Here they are, a thick book in three or four languages!”
But we had another humiliation in store. (And this happened more than once.) Opening the instruction manual we read, “Number One: Be sure the equipment is plugged in.” How insulting! They must think they’re dealing with imbeciles! Who wouldn’t realize that a cord attached to the equipment, with a plug on the end, meant we’d have to plug it in, in order for it to work? If the power source wasn’t internal, it had to be connected to one.
But people can make the same mistake in the spiritual realm. They may try to do things their own way, before checking out God’s way (Prov. 14:12). The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And that sinners are spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). They are “alienated [cut off] from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). In fact they are “without Christ…and without God” (Eph. 2:12).
In that dreadful and dangerous state they need an infusion of spiritual life, a new power source. And God has provided one. The Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus came into this world to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins. When we put our faith in Him, we experience a spiritual birth through the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:16). By that birthing we become children of God, fitted for a new and vital relationship with Him, and a glorious and eternal future with Him.
Put another way, the connection is made, not by us doing enough good works to merit or achieve it, but by God reaching down in grace to save us. God, whose animating breath gave life to Adam in the first place (Gen. 2:7), provides the life we need, not only to fit us for heaven, but to equip us to live for Him here and now. “Are you so foolish?” Paul asks, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
When we become Christians, the Spirit of God comes to live within us (I Cor. 6:19-20). He provides the power we need to live consistently with faith and obedience toward God. If we are to love the Lord and love others as we should, if we are to be involved in meaningful service for God, He is the power source to which we must be connected.
That is the theme of a hymn by Isaac Watts, who, with his early contribution of hundreds of hymns, became known in history as “the Father of English Hymnody.” (The word “quickening,” as Watts uses it below, means life-giving.)
CH-1) Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.
Then he bluntly describes our blind and impotent condition, apart from God’s vitalizing energy.
CH-2) Look how we grovel here below,
Fond of these trifling toys;
Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach eternal joys.
CH-3) In vain we tune our formal songs,
In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.
CH-4) Dear Lord! and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great?
Then, having diagnosed the problem, Dr. Watts repeats his plea for the enabling of the Spirit of God.
CH-5) Come, Holy Spirit, heav’nly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Saviour’s love
And that shall kindle ours.
1) What are some of the “trifling toys” (CH-2) that consume time and energy that could be better spent?
2) What does Watts mean by “sacred love” (CH-1), and how will that help us?