Posted by: rcottrill | December 16, 2015

Once It Was the Blessing

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Words: Albert Benjamin Simpson (b. Dec. 15, 1843; d. Oct. 29, 1919)
Music: Albert Benjamin Simpson

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Simpson was a Canadian pastor and sometime hymn writer. For a time, he served a church in my home town of Hamilton, Ontario. Later, he founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, which now consists of a family of evangelical churches worldwide.

Pastor Simpson’s original title for this hymn was simply Himself–referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. It now sometimes uses the first line as a title. One old book I’ve seen entitled it “The Past, the Present,” which is certainly descriptive of the theme. The Cyber Hymnal currently dates the hymn at 1904, but it was actually published in 1899. On a personal note, when my father was dying of cancer, this hymn was a special encouragement to him–particularly the first stanza.

Back when Murray and Mark were teens, they had two particular interests. Whenever you talked with them, there were two things that almost always came up. One was the Beverly Hillbillies–a popular television show at the time. And the other was cars and trucks. They seemed to know about every make and model you could think of.

But that was over forty years ago. And since then their interests and priorities have changed quite a bit. Murray is married, and has a family. He and his wife Linda have served the Lord as missionaries for many years. He may still be interested in cars for practical reasons, and he probably remembers that TV show. But those aren’t the most important things in his life anymore. His focus has changed. He has different priorities now.

In photography, there is a concept known as depth of field. Suppose you want to take a picture of your friend, but there are all kinds of things around that aren’t of interest–distracting things that would just clutter up the picture, taking attention away from your main subject. If you have a good camera, it’s likely possible to reduce the depth of field, so that, while your friend’s face stays in sharp focus, things in the background are blurred.

That can happen in our spiritual lives too. There is a dramatic difference between an unsaved person and a born again Christian. The Bible puts it this way: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Cor. 5:17). That refers to the believer’s new standing before God, and his new spiritual condition. However, it is not the same thing as spiritual maturity. Salvation is a point-in-time crisis experience; maturing is a process.

Our son Jim is our son. He was our son when he was a babe in arms, and when he was a child, and a teen. He still is our son, now that he is married and has a family of his own. Similarly, for the one who becomes a child of God through faith in Christ (Gal. 3:26), his standing as a son in the family of God remains the same. But it is hoped that he will grow in his Christian life, both in character and in outward behaviour.

As we study the Word of God, and as the Spirit of God directs and enables us to apply it, we grow spiritually. Peter writes to some newer Christians and exhorts them, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (I Pet. 2:2). On the other hand, Paul writes to some squabbling Christians in the church at Corinth and says, “I…could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal [those governed by fleshly values], as to babes in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1). There were divisions and contentions in the church, and as a result they were still on spiritual baby food (vs. 2-3).

As we mature, some things should change. That was the realization that came to Albert Simpson. In 1899, he published a hymn he called simply Himself–speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. With a series of twenty statements, arranged in five stanzas, the song contrasts how Simpson used to see things “once,” and how his focus had changed, “now,” through the maturing process. In immaturity, there is a tendency for us to focus most on what God can give us, His blessings and answers to prayer, and not on “Himself.” That is the author’s main point.

CH-1) Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, now it is His Word;
Once His gift I wanted, now, the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone.

All in all forever, Jesus will I sing;
Everything in Jesus, and Jesus everything.

I do see a problem with one statement in the second stanza. Simpson says, “Once a half salvation, now the uttermost.” Of course the consummation of our salvation awaits the resurrection and the ushering in of eternity (Phil. 3:20-21). There is more up ahead. But that is not what the author seems to mean. He’s talking about “now.”

In that sense, there is no such thing as a half salvation. Salvation is a great umbrella word that includes many things. Depending on how they are divided, there are approximately three dozen transformative blessings that are ours the very moment we are saved. No one is halfway born again, or half a child of God, or half forgiven.

We are “complete in Him [Christ]” (Col. 2:10). For by one offering He [Christ] has perfected forever those who are being sanctified [set apart for God]” (Heb. 10:14). That is the believer’s eternal standing before God. Where the difference comes is in our appropriation of the blessings that are ours in Christ. Just as it’s possible to have ten million dollars in the bank, and live like a pauper, we can fail to put to use what God has given us. In that sense, I can agree with Simpson.

CH-5) Once I hoped in Jesus, now I know He’s mine;
Once my lamps were dying, now they brightly shine;
Once for death I waited, now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored safe within the veil.

1) What are some of the blessings that are ours through God’s salvation?

2) How much of your daily prayer times is taken up with asking for things, and how much is the praise and worship of God?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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