Posted by: rcottrill | February 28, 2019

Blessed Assurance

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Words: Fanny Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: Phoebe Palmer Knapp (b. March 9, 1839; d. July 10, 1908)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby); for the story of the writing of the song, see here.
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This is a song of personal affirmation. So, how about it? Can you say and sing from the heart, “This is my story”? Or how can any of us sing such a song? Yes, there’s a sense in which congregational singing involves a united declaration of the church’s beliefs, or the expression of an ideal to which we aspire. And it can be that without the full agreement of all who sing each song. But that doesn’t let the individual off the hook.

The Bible says we should be “singing with grace [thanksgiving] in our hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16) And if we sing “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” as though we’re talking to the Lord about ourselves, we have a responsibility to follow through and live it out. If it’s not true of us, we must answer the question: If not, why not?

One day my wife and I went to a restaurant new to us. The young waitress smiled as she came to our table. And to each choice I made from the menu, she responded enthusiastically, “Perfect, sir!” It was as though, from all the many items listed, I, with amazing wisdom, had chosen the best of all.

Looking at a dictionary definition, we find “perfect” comes to us from an old word meaning finished or complete. In its precise usage, perfect is an absolute. You can’t have something that’s more perfect or the word doesn’t fit. The dictionary uses descriptions such as: exactly fitting the need, unblemished, faultless, and beyond improvement. The meal we had that day was fine, but not absolutely beyond improvement. Nor were my choices likely the absolute best, without question.

When it comes to spiritual things, God Himself is perfect, absolutely faultless and beyond improvement. His work is perfect (Deut. 32:4), His way is perfect (Ps. 18:30, and His will for us is perfect (Rom. 12:2). When the New Testament uses the word of human beings, it often describes spiritual maturity, but never sinless perfection. Only God is the latter (I Jn. 1:5).

The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers, “Let us go on to perfection” (Heb. 6:1). It’s a matter of spiritual growth and development. We’re to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1). As the Apostle Paul puts it, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).

It was a hymn by Fanny Crosby that got me thinking about this. Judging by the more than nine hundred hymn books that contain it, Blesses Assurance, written in 1873, is possibly Fanny’s best known or most beloved song. In it, the word perfect is used several times.

She begins by describing her salvation (And “purchased of God” seems to have been an early word used, though it’s now usually printed “purchase of God.”)

CH-1) Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

God’s great salvation through faith in Christ involves both cleansing through His shed blood, and a new spiritual birth. It brings the assurance of a personal relationship with Him (Gal. 3:26; 4:6), and this is a kind of down payment anticipating eternal blessings.

The second stanza and the third begin with the words “perfect submission.” But I’m not sure that was Fanny’s original intent. In a book published in 1874 (a year after the song was written), the second begins differently.

2) Fullness of mercy, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Psalm 86:15, describes the Lord as “abundant in mercy.” Psalm 119:64 declares, “The earth, O Lord is full of Your mercy.” That’s possibly what Fanny Crosby intended. (Another very early version has, “Perfect salvation, perfect delight,” which works too.) Certainly the fullness of God’s mercy in saving her brought, within human limitations, a perfection of joy and delight.

Then, we have another use of the word perfect in the third and last stanza.

CH-3) Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

The perfection of submission may refer to fully submitting to God’s will–again, within the limits of one’s understanding, and by God’s grace. But combined with the phrase “all is at rest,” it brings to mind the rest of faith, described in Hebrews 4:10, in which we cease depending on our own works to save us, completely resting in what Christ has done for us.

“For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10).

Finally, we have in the refrain, a reminder that we’re presenting, in this song, a personal witness to our own experience.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

“This is my story,” says the refrain, this is what happened to me. When sung, it becomes a personal testimony, providing a joyous expression of praise for God’s saving work in us, through Christ. May the joy of God’s perfect salvation, described and enjoyed by Fanny Crosby, be yours too, as it is for this writer.

Questions:
1) Can you say with confidence that you’re saved, and have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, by faith? (If the answer is no, I encourage you to read God’s Plan of Salvation.)

2) For what reasons (or in what ways) can God’s salvation be described as “perfect”?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby); for the story of the writing of the song, see here.
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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