Posted by: rcottrill | December 23, 2016

O How Happy Are They

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Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Miletes, by William Henry Monk (b. Mar. 16, 1823; d. Mar. 1, 1889)

Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: A study of the growth and development of English hymnody yields many gems that have been long forgotten. But it also uncovers some oddities that are best left in the gathering dust where they lie. Here is an example by Charles Wesley.

Ah! lovely appearance of death,
No sight upon earth is so fair;
Not all the gay pageants that breathe,
Can with a dead body compare.

How blest is our brother, bereft
Of all that could burden his mind?
How easy the soul, that hath left
This wearisome body behind!

The present song does not descend nearly to that level, but it is considered far enough down the scale that some have questioned that Wesley is the author. However, there is no real indication that it came from any other.

Author Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying, ‘Flee at once. All is discovered.’ They all left town immediately.” Since a version of this story is also attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it may not have actually happened. But it suggests that even the most upright in society may have skeletons in their closets.

Guilt is a corrosive and painful emotion. Fueled by memory, and fanned by flames of regret and the fear of discovery, it can crush the individual who struggles with it. That is the theme of Crime and Punishment, a classic 1866 novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He tells of the growing mental anguish of Rodion Raskolnikov, after he murders a disreputable pawnbroker. In the days following the violent act Raskolnikov falls into a feverish state, and worries obsessively about what he has done. He desperately tries to clean his clothing of any blood and, by his frayed nerves, and strange actions, actually begins to draw attention to himself as a possible suspect.

Poet William Wordsworth wrote, “From the body of one guilty deed a thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts proceed.” And Shakespeare pointedly says, “The mind of guilt is full of scorpions.”

Long before, King David wrote of the heavy hand of God weighing upon him, because of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and his complicity in the death of her husband, one of his most honoured soldiers.

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah [a Hebrew word possibly meaning Think of that!]” (Ps. 32:3-4).

David’s experience illustrates a couple of things. First, he was not a vile reprobate; he was a man of faith that the Lord had described as “a man after His own heart” (I Sam. 13:14). The potential to fall into sin is in all of us. When a believer yields to temptation and spiritually backslides, he or she can sin terribly. Godly English reformer John Bradford (1510-1555) witnessed prisoners being led off to be executed, and to him is attributed the phrase, “But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford.”

Second, we learn from David’s experience there is forgiveness with God, when the sinner confesses. David also wrote:

“I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah [Think of that!] (Ps. 32:5).

Yes, there’s forgiveness for the child of God who sincerely confesses (I Jn. 1:9), but that does not necessarily cancel all the temporal consequences of sin. In David’s case, a child born of that illicit relationship died, and David experienced conflict in his family for the rest of his life (II Sam. 12:9-14). Yet, it’s true that his relationship with God was restored. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered [by the gracious hand of God]” (Ps. 32:1).

Which brings us to the hymn by Charles Wesley. He wrote some marvelous hymns, but in the more than 6,500 songs that flowed from his pen, this one is not highly ranked. In one stanza his joy at God’s forgiveness is likened to Elijah soaring skyward with a chariot of fire!

I rode on the sky,
Freely justified I!
Nor envied Elijah his seat;
My soul mounted higher,
In a chariot of fire,
And the moon it was under my feet.

What? How’s that again? (Those lines have usually been omitted from later publications of the hymn.) Nonetheless, there’s simple joy in God’s forgiveness expressed in the song. No heavy hand of God here.

CH-1) O how happy are they
Who the Saviour obey,
And have laid up their treasure above!
Tongue cannot express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love.

CH-7) O the rapturous height
Of the holy delight,
Which I felt in the life giving blood!
Of my Saviour possessed
I was perfectly blessed,
As if filled with the fullness of God.

1) What has been your own experience of guilt feelings over something you have done?

2) What has been your experience of the joy of God’s forgiveness?

Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley)
The Cyber Hymnal


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