Posted by: rcottrill | April 4, 2018

And Can It Be?

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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: Sagina, by Thomas Campbell (b. July 27, 1777; d. June 15, 1844)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Silas H. Paine, in his 1926 book Stories of the Great Hymns of the Church, says, “The conversion of Charles Wesley marks an epoch in the religious history of the world as remarkable as that which dates from the conversion of Saul of Tarsus [i.e. the Apostle Paul].”

I would not go nearly that far. Paul was not only a great theologian and missionary, but God revealed through him much of the New Testament Scriptures. However, in terms of their work in Britain, John and his brother Charles were used of God to transform eighteenth century society in a significant way. They also founded the Methodist denomination, that has since ministered worldwide. In no small way, their impact is due to the many fine hymns Charles has given us.

There are many wonderful things to be seen in the world of nature, from the jagged arrow of a lightning bolt, to the tiny twinkling light of a firefly, and from the mysterious grandeur of the northern lights, to the intricate marvel of a spider’s web.

When we lived in Ontario, years ago, my wife and I visited Niagara Falls many times. On a couple of occasions we took the opportunity to climb down under the falls–slickers and rubber boots provided for everyone by the park authority. There you can stand with your back to the rocky cliff and experience the thundering, earthshaking power of tons of water cascading a few feet in front of you. It’s an unforgettable reminder of the awesome power of God.

The Bible says God “does…wonders without number” (Job 9:10). And surpassing all natural wonders is His great salvation, rescuing us from eternal condemnation, through the Calvary work of Christ. It gave us a magnificent hymn by Charles Wesley. He trusted Christ as his Saviour on May 21st, 1728, and right after wrote two hymns of personal testimony.

One of these says, “Where shall my wondering soul begin?” The other song, more widely known, is And Can It Be? Yet, though he rejoiced in what God had done for him, Wesley began to worry whether writing about it involved sinful boasting on his part. He wrote in his journal:

“At nine I began a hymn on my conversion, but was persuaded to break off for fear of pride. Mr. Bray coming, encouraged me to proceed in spite of Satan. I prayed Christ to stand by me and finished the hymn….I clearly discerned that it was a device of the enemy to keep back glory from God. And it is not unusual with him [i.e. the devil] to preach humility, when [our] speaking will endanger his kingdom, or do honour to Christ.”

The hymn shows the author’s wonderment at what the Lord had done, expressed by several questions in the opening stanza.

CH-1) And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?

And why this is such a puzzle to the author comes out in other questions:

Died He for me, who caused His pain–
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Wesley had grasped a couple of essential facts.

1) First, that Christ died to take upon Himself the punishment for human sin, including that of the author. That’s the repeated testimony of the Scriptures. Isaiah prophesied of Him, seven centuries before His coming: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

The New Testament takes up the theme. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). And in the epistles we have, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3). “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree….For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, (I Pet. 2:24; 3:18).

2) The second fact realized by Charles Wesley was that, in a very real sense, it was he who drove the nails into the Saviour’s hands and feet. It was he (along with others) who were responsible. Isaiah hints at the paradox when he says, “He was wounded [by us sinners] for our transgressions, He was bruised [by us] for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5, added phrases mine). God turned our rejection of Christ into the means of saving us! Amazing! “Surely the wrath of men shall praise You” (Ps. 76:10).

One commentator calls this hymn “an extraordinary and daring tour-de-force, both poetically and theologically.” The life-changing power of Wesley’s wondering faith is seen in the final stanzas. (Note: There is a fifth stanza–which you can see on the Cyber Hymnal link–not commonly used today.)

CH-4) Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray–
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

CH-6) No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

1) Is it true that sometimes personal testimonies about what God has done for us can become self-glorifying?

2) How can this be avoided?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


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