Posted by: rcottrill | September 8, 2017

How Sad Our State by Nature Is

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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: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Southwell (or Irons), by Herbert Stephen Irons (b. Jan, 19, 1834; d. June 29, 1905)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Isaac Watts was both a pastor and a prominent hymn writer–in fact, he’s considered the Father of English Hymnody. And he was determined not to gloss over sin, but to call it what it is, a vile abomination to a holy God. Some churches today, bent on emphasizing the positive and making each church service a happy experience, shy away from some of his songs (or others like them). But their strong medicine is needed all the same.

Perhaps you’ve said it yourself in disciplining a child–said it with exasperated impatience, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that.” Which being interpreted means: “If I’ve told you once, I [might as well] have told you a thousand times [for all the good it’s done].”

Christian psychologist Henry Brandt asked a group of parents, “How long does it take us to teach a boy to tidy his room?” His answer, after a pause, “Twenty years!” which brought the laughter of recognition from his audience. Yes, some things have to be repeated over and over, before we learn them and apply them consistently.

That relates to our hymn singing in church. “Let [literally, keep on letting] the word of Christ [or God’s Word] dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace [or thanksgiving] in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

We are to keep on filling our minds with Scripture, allowing it to bear fruit in our lives as we assimilate and apply it. And that practice should both inform and motivate our hymn singing. Our sacred songs are meant to reinforce the teachings of God’s Word. We don’t just sing them as an empty ritual, or because it’s a traditional part of what we do in church. Our singing is to be intentional. We’re singing our thanks and praise to God, and also singing to one another, to teach, exhort, and encourage those around us.

Years ago, a strongly worded hymn by Isaac Watts was to be sung in an evening service with an interesting result. Pastor Spencer announced the hymn, reading the words first, so the congregation could think about them. (A worthy practice.)

CH-1) How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive souls
Fast in his slavish chains.

CH-2) But hark! a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred Word;
“Ho, ye despairing sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord!”

CH-3) My soul obeys the Almighty’s call,
And runs to this relief;
I would believe Thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!

CH-4) To the blest fountain of Thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul
From sins of deepest dye.

Dr. Spencer almost hesitated to finish his reading, because he knew there was, in the congregation, a young woman who was deeply troubled about her spiritual condition. How would she handle the last stanza in which the hymn writer calls himself, “a guilty, weak, and helpless worm”? Well, she left at the end of the service without speaking to him–possibly a bad sign.

But the next day she came to see her pastor to say she’d made a great discovery. “I have never been so happy before,” she said. “All is light to me now. I see my way clear, and am not burdened and troubled as I was.” After Pastor Spencer had read the hymn, she’d apparently sat in the pew reading it over and over. “I did not hear your prayer. I did not hear a word of your sermon–I do not know your text.”

Here is Watts’s final stanza of the hymn through which her heart found peace.

CH-6) A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into Thy hands I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Saviour, and my all.

“Why sir,” she said simply, “don’t you think the reason we don’t get out of darkness sooner is that we don’t believe?” The pastor realized this simple truth was something that had been “told to her a thousand times,” but it needed to be said again–which is one job of our hymns. And at last she got it!

Sometimes the simplicity of the gospel can almost discourage us. We feel there must be something more to it. One time a young man wrestled for hours in prayer, not sensing that he had done enough to be saved. Finally, he said, “Well, it’s all of no use. I have done all I can do.” But that’s just the point! It’s not up to what we can do at all, but accepting what Christ has already done on our behalf (Acts 16:30-31).

Questions:
1) Do you have the confidence that you have received God’s forgiveness and eternal salvation? If not, check out the article God’s Plan of Salvation.

2) Why is it that we want to complicate things and add certain works to the offer of God’s grace?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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