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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.
Words: Samuel Wesley, Sr. (b. Dec. 16, 1662; d. Apr. 25, 1735)
Music: Martyrdom, by Hugh Wilson (b. Dec. 2, 1766; d. Aug. 14, 1824)
Note: Both Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna had non-conformist clergy in their ancestry (those who served in churches outside the Church of England), though Samuel joined the Anglicans and held several pastoral appointments with them. The couple were the parents of John Wesley and his hymn writer brother, Charles.
It’s one of the most terrifying cries imaginable, especially when it comes at night, awakening sleepers in a confusion of sickening panic. “Fire! Fire!” We likely all know of families who’ve suffered great loss by a house fire. If there’s not a loss of life, certain of property, belongings gained over many years, some with strong sentimental value, gone forever.
That’s what happened to Samuel. A busy pastor, he sat by the window of his home putting the finishing touches on a hymn he’d written to use at a Good Friday service about a month away. The song begins:
CH-1) Behold the Saviour of mankind
Nailed to the shameful tree!
How vast the love that Him inclined
To bleed and die for thee.
Then, the pastor retired to bed, leaving the new composition there on the table. But during the night he and his large family were aroused by frantic cries of, “Fire!!” In one room slept five-year old John with his three sisters, a baby, and the baby’s nurse. When the alarm was given, the nurse caught up the baby and rushed from the room, calling the children to follow her. All did so but little John, who was still fast asleep.
Waking shortly after, amid the heat and smoke, he found leaving through the door impossible. He went to the window, climbed on a chest that stood beneath it, and cried for help. His father made two attempts to reach him by the stairs and failed. But finally a spectator urged a smaller man to climb on his shoulders and reach the boy that way Eventually three courageous men formed a human ladder to the attic window, and the child was brought down, just before the roof fell in with a splintering crash. The whole house was quickly engulfed in flames and totally destroyed.
“Come, neighbours, cried the pastor, hugging his precious boy in his arms. “Let us kneel down, let us give thanks to God! He has given me all my eight children. Let the house go, I am rich enough!”
All of this happened in the night of February 9th, 1709. The pastor was Samuel Wesley, and the five-year-old was John Wesley. In later years, God would use him mightily to bring many to Christ and light revival fires across Britain. He preached 42,000 sermons, wrote 233 books, and his influence today is worldwide. Alluding to Zechariah 3:2, John would speak of himself as “a brand plucked from the burning.”
But something else survived the conflagration that night. As the fiery destroyer raged on, a searing updraft caught the paper on which the pastor’s hymn was written, sending it out the window. Later, someone walking in the garden nearby spotted it, slightly charred, but still legible.
Pastor Wesley’s hymn remains in use, and its theme, salvation through the blood of the cross, is central to the gospel. Though deemed foolishness by unbelievers (I Cor. 1:18), the wonderful truth remains. We have redemption through faith in the Saviour’s Calvary work (Eph. 1:7). “The blood of Jesus Christ His [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7). No wonder, with Peter, Christians speak of “the precious blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:19).
The hymn describes the scene. (Note: “envious” in CH-5 seems to be used in the sense of eager to possess and hold on to.)
CH-3) Hark, how He groans, while nature shakes,
And earth’s strong pillars bend;
The temple’s veil in sunder breaks,
The solid marbles rend.
CH-4) “‘Tis done! The precious ransom’s paid,
Receive My soul,” He cries!
See where He bows His sacred head!
He bows His head, and dies!
CH-5) But soon He’ll break death’s envious chain,
And in full glory shine:
O Lamb of God! was ever pain,
Was ever love, like Thine?
“Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death]” (I Cor. 15:20).
CH-6) Thy loss our ruin did repair;
Death by death is slain;
Thou wilt at length exalt us where
Thou dost in glory reign.
1) Why, or in what way, is the blood of Christ “precious” to believers?
2) What is your favourite hymn about the cross?