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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: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Vale, by John Duncan Buckingham (b. May 17, 1855; d. _____, 1928)
Note: Charles and his brother John were used of God to lead multitudes across Britain to faith in Christ. In a time of moral decay, God used their faithful ministry to stir the fires of revival across the land. And Charles Wesley remains one of our greatest hymn writers.
As to the tune, I’m not familiar of the one by Buckingham, but St. Catherine fits the words well (a tune we use with Faith of Our Fathers.). Having said that, this is not a hymn that suits a wide use. It is one man’s testimony, and is of interest because of that.
The term swan song is used to describe someone’s final work or words, just before retirement, or before death. It’s based on a legend, dating back centuries before the time of Christ, that these birds burst forth in a beautiful song, just before dying, though usually they’re either silent or only produce a raucous unmusical cry.
There’s no guarantee, of course, that an individual, moments before death, will speak with great wisdom and penetrating insight. Some dying words are trivial, some are incoherent. Others are painfully pathetic. Frank Sinatra died after saying, “I’m losing it.” Sir Winston Churchill’s last words were, “I’m bored with it all.” Queen Elizabeth I, when she died in 1603, said, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” And musician Bob Marley said, “Money can’t buy life.”
Others who’d lived rejecting God’s grace, died in angry defiance. When asked if he had any last words, Karl Marx said, “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” And when the housekeeper of actress Joan Crawford tried to pray for her dying mistress, Crawford swore at her and said, “Don’t you dare ask God to help me!”
How sad all this is–tragic–when hope and peace, and abounding joy, are found in Christ, accessible to all who call on Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). And “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). By faith we can say, “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).
For the believer, death becomes a doorway to far better things. David prayed, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). As the Apostle Paul put it, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Scientist Michael Faraday was asked, on his deathbed, if he knew what heaven would be like. He replied, “I shall be with Christ, and that is enough.” Theologian Jonathan Edwards said to those gathered around him, “Trust in God and you shall have nothing to fear.” Missionary Adoniram Judson said, “I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. I feel so strong in Christ.” Martin Luther said, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit [cf. Lk. 23:46]! Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth.”
On her deathbed, Queen Victoria told those around her that she loved God and was His little child, so she was ready to die. Then she called for a hymn to be sung: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” Hymn writer Joseph Addison said, “See in what peace a Christian can die.” And hymn writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788) said, “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness. Satisfied [cf. Ps. 17:15]!”
But there is something more from Wesley that needs to be added. He wrote more than 6,500 hymns, some are among the finest in the English language. But it’s a short hymn from the dying hymnist that we consider here. Near death, at the age of eighty, and in great weakness, he called for his wife to come so he could dictate to her one final hymn.
Here is how she reported it (with her own spelling): “The following lines I wrote from Mr. Charles Wesley’s repeating, a few days before he departed ye life. In age and feebleness extream.”
The hymn consists of only one stanza, but it’s a remarkable testimony from an outstanding servant of God. Charles Wesley’s last hymn says:
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus! My only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart;
O, could I catch one smile from Thee,
And drop into eternity!
Oh my! There is, writ plain, a recognition of helplessness and any ability to save himself (cf. Isa. 41:14), but steadfast hope anchored to the Saviour. That is some swan song!
1) What Bible truths are expressed or implied in this hymn of Wesley’s?
2) If you had to choose the hymns for your own funeral, what would they be?