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Words: James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Colebrooke, by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)
Note: As of the time of writing this article, the Cyber Hymnal lists 124 of Montgomery’s hymns, but the present brief gem is not among them.
The words either/or, present a choice between two, implying that having both together is not possible. They present a kind of verbal fork in the road. Taking one means abandoning the other, going one way means we have decided not to go the other. As the saying goes, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
This dilemma has been the subject of humour. Like the old joke about the stranger in town asking which street to take to get to the railway station. The response was, “Go left and you’ll be right; go right and you’ll be left [i.e. left behind].” And there’s legendary baseball player Yogi Berra, telling his friend Joe how to get to his house, saying, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Humour aside, either/or can represent a life-changing decision. In November of 2016, Americans had that kind of judgment to make in an election. A choice between two individuals for the office of president. It had to be either one or the other. Only time will reveal the wisdom or folly of the decision that was made.
In the Bible, the word “or” is used over a thousand times. Occasionally it represented this clear choice between two options. We see it when Abraham gave his nephew Lot a choice of where to pasture his flocks.
“Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left” (Gen. 13:9).
Lot, making his decision on the basis of which land looked more fertile and green (vs. 10-11), chose to camp near the wicked city of Sodom. Terrible consequences followed.
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus warns, “No one can serve two masters….You cannot serve God and mammon [money]” (Matt. 6:24). Both God and money cannot control your life; it must be either/or.
But suppose a prior commitment has been made to the Lord. A commitment that is both sincere and steadfast (as described in Romans 12:1) . Once we determine that life’s choices will be governed by our loyalty to God and His Word, that priority, like glowing signpost, points to which road we must follow.
Three Hebrew slaves in Babylon were told to either bow in worship before an idol or be thrown into a blazing furnace. But their response was:
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not [if He chooses not to], let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18).
In a similar vein, there is the agonizing decision which was before Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He was facing the terrible torment of crucifixion, and He shrank from it in horror. (Who would do otherwise?) But loyalty to His heavenly Father, and a desire to fulfil His mission, triumphed.
“[He] fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will…Your will be done’” (Matt. 26:39, 42).
In England, on July 19th, 1829, William Rawson died. A much beloved husband, he was only twenty-eight. But, in the hours of suffering before his death, he exhibited a wonderful peace of mind, and expressed his resignation to whatever was the will of God for him. His mother, near his bedside in those last hours, wrote down the words of his godly witness.
Some time afterward, hymn writer James Montgomery was visiting in the home. He asked to see what Rawson’s mother had written, taking the account with him to his room that evening. In the morning, he returned the papers, having written the words of a new hymn in the margin. The hymn beautifully enshrines the young man’s testimony.
1) “Father! Thy will, not mine, be done;”
So prayed on earth Thy suffering Son;
So, in His name, I pray;
The spirit faints, the flesh is weak,
Thy help in agony I seek,
O take this cup away!
2) If such be not Thy sovereign will,
Thy wiser purpose then fulfil;
My wishes I resign;
Into Thy hands my soul commend,
On Thee for life or death depend;
Thy will be done, not mine.
1) Have you recently faced an either/or choice in your life, one in which your loyalty to Christ was the deciding factor?
2) What has been the outcome of your choice so far? By faith in God, what do you foresee as the ultimate or final outcome?