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Words: Philip Doddridge (b. June 26, 1702; d. Oct. 26, 1751)
Music: Holborn Hill, from a collection of hymn tunes in The St. Alban’s Tune Book, 1866
Note: Doddridge, the youngest of twenty children, died of tuberculosis before reaching his fiftieth birthday. But he packed a great deal into a short life. He served as the pastor of a church, and was an outstanding preacher. He was head of a Bible college for two decades. He wrote scholarly works of theology, and penned over four hundred hymns. Unusual for clergy of that time, he had a strong social conscience, and a passion for foreign missionary work.
This is one of those strong hymns that should be in every hymn book–but isn’t. The original first line seems to have been, “My gracious Lord, I own Thy right.” To “own” (or recognize) God’s supreme right over us should be true of every believer. If you are unfamiliar with the anonymous tune Holborn Hill, the tune Quebec (also called Hesperus) works too. We use the latter with Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts.
There’s a story–it may even be true–about a teen-ager who couldn’t get along with his parents. He crossly rebelled against their rules at every turn. To his mind, at his advanced age, they have no right to tell him what to do. Finally, things reached a climax. He informed them he was leaving home, and was going to join the army.
His miscalculation is obvious. The young man was rejecting one set of rules, only to put himself under an even stricter and more demanding set of rules. He would learn quickly that most of the things he thought of as his “rights” meant nothing at boot camp!
These days we hear a great deal about a demand for rights. It’s in the news all the time. Individuals protesting loudly that their rights are being violated. There are times when they have a case, but many times two important things are being forgotten.
First, there’s a need to balance my rights with the rights of others. I may have a right to walk down the street swinging my arms, but not if my hand is going to connect with someone else’s nose! That person has rights too. Second, there’s a need to balance rights and responsibilities. For example, each citizen of Canada has certain rights. But we also have a responsibility to live by its laws.
Holding these things in balance applies in the home and in the community, at work and at school, and even in the church. In whatever context we live–and it’s likely several of those mentioned–we must recognize and accommodate the rights of others in the group, and the duties we have relating to the welfare of the group as a whole.
This being said, Christians have an overarching responsibility to God. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever” (Rom. 11:36). Believers must live as those “doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). In times of oppression, when others try to restrict what the Lord commands us to do, we must say, with the apostles, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). And “let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (I Pet. 4:19).
More than two centuries ago, pastor and hymn writer Philip Doddridge wrote a hymn about that. Published posthumously in 1729, the author called it “Christ’s Service, the Fruit of Our Labours on Earth,” citing Philippians 1:22, “If I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour.” We now use the first line as the title (where the word “own” is used in the sense of admit, or confess). This is a powerful prayer of commitment, recognizing God’s sovereign right over our lives.
Viewing service for God as not only an obligation but a delight, the hymn says:
CH-1) My gracious Lord, I own Thy right
To every service I can pay,
And call it my supreme delight
To hear Thy dictates, and obey.
CH-2) What is my being but for Thee,
Its sure support, its noblest end?
Thy ever-smiling face to see,
And serve the cause of such a Friend.
CH-4) ’Tis to my Saviour I would live,
To Him, who for my ransom died;
Nor could untainted Eden give
Such bliss as crowns me at His side.
1) What “rights” do you have the most difficulty yielding to the Lord?
2) What are the blessings that come from yielding ourselves completely to the will of God?