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Words: Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (b. Apr. ___, 1818; d. Oct. 12, 1895)
Music: Newland (or Armstrong), by James Armstrong (b. _____, 1840; d. Apr. 20, 1928)
Note: Cecil Frances Alexander was a busy pastor’s wife in Ireland. She wrote familiar hymns, such as All Things Bright and Beautiful, and There Is a Green Hill Far Away. Most of her songs were to help children understand Christian teaching, and explain to them how to live the Christian life. One of these, published in 1889, is Do No Sinful Action.
The above tune was written for the hymn at Mrs. Alexander’s request. There is another tune I especially like, which I have in an old recording of Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar. Written by Kenneth George Finlay (1882-1974), it is called Glenfinlas. It is also used with a song called For Thy Daily Mercies, found in “Anywhere” Songs (Intervarsity Press, 1960).
There is a point I must mention, regarding Mrs. Alexander’s beliefs. She wrote on one occasion, “To us in baptism, a new life He hath given, / A better birth than that of earth, and made us heirs of heaven.” That expresses what she and others believe regarding infant baptism. I have a baptismal certificate beside me now, filled out in 1902. It says of the baby, “Christian, dear child, we call thee…now is thy heavenly rest begun.”
But that is certainly not what the Bible teaches about water baptism. It is rightly called by many “believer’s baptism,” as it is a declaration of personal faith in Christ, and an identification with Him in the power of His death and resurrection (Acts 2:37-38; 8:12, 36-37; 9:5-6, 18; 16:30-33; Rom. 6:3-5). Even the Great Commission presupposes teaching and discipleship, implying faith before baptism (Matt. 28:18-20). It’s therefore only appropriate for those who can knowingly choose to trust in the Saviour.
Infant baptism may be an expression of the faith of the parents, but it will not have a spiritual effect on the infant. These things being said, however, there are aspects of this hymn that are appropriate teaching for children who have indeed trusted in Christ as Saviour.
T o label something as “pure” usually means it is one particular thing, without anything alien added or mixed in. One definition says it is free from anything inferior or contaminating.
Pure water has had contaminants filtered out, and minerals removed through distillation or deionization. Defining pure air can be a little less exacting. It’s made up of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and less than 1% of other gases such as carbon dioxide. It may also contain varying amounts of water vapour.
Words such as pure and purity are found in our English Bibles many times. Sometimes physical purity is in view, as in references to “pure gold” (Exod. 25:11). But more often the words speak of godly character and moral cleanness. Paul encourages young Timothy to have a pure heart (II Tim. 2:22), and to set an example of purity of conduct before others (I Tim. 4:12).
If we are speaking of utter and absolute sinless perfection, only the Lord Jesus Christ can be described that way (II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; I Pet. 2:22; I Jn. 3:5). For the rest of us, sinners all (Rom. 3:23), purity of daily conduct is a relative term or a sincere aspiration. For Christians, it may mean that we have confessed and dealt appropriately with any sin we are aware of, receiving God’s cleansing and forgiveness (I Jn. 1:9). Someone has described that as keeping short accounts with God, not allowing sin to remain that hasn’t been dealt with.
There’s a word the Bible uses to describe such a condition. It is “holiness,” a word meaning, in both Hebrew and Greek, separated or set apart. It’s a term used in various ways, about six hundred times, concerning both God and man. At the level of our daily lives it describes one who consistently keeps away from behaviour that is displeasing to God, one who seeks purity of life day by day (cf. Job 1:1).
Two dangers, when we determine to live this way are hypocrisy and pride. Living a God-honouring Christian life isn’t a matter of being a good actor. Any pretense on our part (hypocrisy), while it may fool others for awhile, never deceives the Lord. And if we ever get to the place where we say something like, “I’m a very good person; I don’t sin,” we likely just have! Or else we have a very weak and inadequate view of what sin is.
The gospel message is a simple one, that the Lord Jesus came to earth to take the punishment for our sins on the cross (I Cor. 15:3). When we put our faith in Him as our Saviour, we are born anew into the family of God (Jn. 1:12-13). Even little children are capable of saving faith. In my own case, I trusted in Christ as my Saviour at the age of seven.
To instruct young believers, mostly in words of one syllable, on how to live pure and holy lives, Mrs. Alexander wrote:
CH-1) Do no sinful action,
Speak no angry word;
Ye belong to Jesus,
Children of the Lord.
CH-2) Christ is kind and gentle,
Christ is pure and true;
And His little children
Must be holy, too.
The hymn also warns of the active enemy of our souls, the devil, who tempts and seeks to lure us astray (I Pet. 5:8). “Ye must not hear him” (stanza four) means don’t heed him, don’t do as Satan is prompting you to do.)
CH-3) There’s a wicked spirit
Watching round you still
And he tries to tempt you
To all harm and ill.
CH-4) But ye must not hear him,
Though ’tis hard for you
To resist the evil,
And the good to do.
Helpful words for older Christians, as well as young ones.
1) What do you believe is the biblical view of water baptism?
2) Is this a suitable children’s hymn for today?