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Words: John Morrison (b. Sept. 18, 1746; d. June 12, 1798)
Music: Kilmarnock, by Neil Dougall (b. Dec. 9, 1776; d. Oct. 1, 1862)
Note: In 1781, Scottish pastor John Morrison produced this beautiful hymn, along with a number of other paraphrases of Scripture.
Mr. Dougall, the tune’s composer, also a Scotsman, was a sailor when a mishap severely injured him. He was loading a gun when there was an explosion. He was blinded, and lost an arm. He then needed to change careers, but he didn’t give up on life. He studied music and became a singing teacher and conductor.
Years ago I had a speaking engagement in a place I’d never been to before. The directions given seemed complicated, and somewhere I made a wrong turn, ending on an overgrown path in a field–with no sign of civilization. New-Englanders have a phrase for it: “You can’t get there from here.” Nothing would do but to turn back and seek the right road.
That works as a metaphor for the U-turns we sometimes have to make in life, times when a minor adjustment is not enough. For example, if a man comes to the realization that he has become an alcoholic, and is addicted to alcohol, it’s unlikely that simply reducing his consumption will solve the problem. He needs to turn back, and commit to a life of abstinence.
A Bible word for this reversal of direction is repentance. Repentance is more than mere regret. Often the latter involves grieving over the painful consequences of a choice or action, without the actual abandoning of it. Pastor and Greek scholar Marvin Vincent wrote:
“Mere sorrow that weeps and sits still is not repentance. Repentance is sorrow converted into action, into a movement toward a new and better life.”
The Apostle Paul delivered a stern message from the Lord in his first letter to the church at Corinth. And apparently they dealt with the issues he directed to their attention. In his second letter he wrote, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance” (II Cor. 7:9). In other words, it gave him no pleasure to upset them, but he was delighted to see that his message led to a definite change, a turning back to the right way.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel turned their backs on God. They broke His commandments, and began worshiping the idols of the heathen (Hos. 4:1-2, 12). Because they had done this, the Lord said He would withdraw His presence from among His people, “Till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me” (Hos. 5:15).
It’s then the prophet makes an appeal, calling on his people to turn back to God:
“Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn [disciplined], but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth” (Hos. 6:1-3).
That appeal was extended in around 700 BC but, sadly, there was only a shallow and temporary improvement. A century later the Babylonians attacked and carried off many of the people of Judah into captivity. As noted earlier, more than feelings of regret and a minor adjustment were called for, but it didn’t happen.
Pastor Morrison’s fine hymn paraphrases the summons of Hosea to repentance. It calls individuals on this side of the cross, those who have strayed, to turn back to God, being assured that “Though His arm be strong to smite, / ’Tis also strong to save” (CH-2).
CH-1) Come, let us to the Lord our God
With contrite hearts return;
Our God is gracious, nor will leave
The desolate to mourn.
CH-4) Our hearts, if God we seek to know,
Shall know Him, and rejoice;
His coming like the morn shall be,
Like morning songs His voice.
CH-5) As dew upon the tender herb
Diffusing fragrance round,
As show’rs that usher in the spring,
And cheer the thirsty ground.
CH-6) So shall His presence bless our souls,
And shed a joyful light;
That hallowed morn shall chase away
The sorrows of the night.
1) What are some common hindrances to true repentance?
2) What are the blessings of true repentance?