Hymn of the Month, May 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Both last month’s hymn and this month’s have the same writer: Charles Wesley (1707-1788). As noted last month, he is not only one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time (both in quality and quantity), but also remembered for his founding role in the Methodist movement.
Wesley wrote “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” shortly after his conversion in 1738. He and his brother John published it two years later in their collection titled Hymns and Sacred Poems.
Wesley’s original hymn contained five verses, but many hymnals today, including the Trinity Hymnal, omit verse 3. Verse 3 runs as follows:
Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall--
Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
dying, and behold, I live.
Today Wesley’s hymn is often paired with one of two tunes: a Welsh tune called ABERYSWYTH and an American tune called MARTYN. Neither of these tunes were written with Wesley’s hymn in mind; in fact, Simeon B. Marsh (1798-1875), a New York music teacher, wrote MARTYN for one of John Newton’s hymns. The editors of the Trinity Hymnal chose to include both tunes on opposing pages, no doubt because of their similar popularity and unique appeal.
“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is a hymn of petition grounded in the strength and grace of Jesus Christ. It leads us in calling on him for refuge in the face of temptation and trial. We have no other refuge, and we say as much at the start of the second verse. Our lives and souls depend on him.
Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high:
hide me, O my Savior, hide,
till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!
We begin our hymn by calling upon Jesus by name and appealing to him as the lover of my soul. How can we say that? What reason do we have to believe that Jesus is the lover of my soul? The Holy Spirit tells us as much in the Bible. In Romans 8:35 we hear Paul ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The context gives us the answer: no one. Christ loves each of his sheep with a powerful, unrelenting love. Thus we appeal to him in the midst of temptation and trial: let me to thy bosom fly… hide me, O my Savior, hide. Our plea echoes the words of the psalmist in Psalm 32:6-7: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.” That is our hope and prayer in the storm of life!
Other refuge have I none,
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah! leave me not alone,
still support and comfort me!
All my trust on thee is stayed,
all my help from thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head
with the shadow of thy wing.
We begin the second verse by professing other refuge have I none. Many of us have learned this through experience, as David did. In Psalm 142:4-5 we hear him declare, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” We join David in making this profession and elaborate on it in the remainder of the verse, drawing on words and imagery of Scripture. For instance, we ask Jesus to cover my defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing. By this we are not claiming Jesus has wings like a bird, but rather protects his people as tenderly a bird protects its chicks. As Ruth took refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12), so we may and must take refuge under the wings of our God and his Christ.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
more than all in thee I find:
raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name;
I am all unrighteousness;
false and full of sin I am,
thou art full of truth and grace.
In this third verse we continue calling upon Jesus for help, grounding our plea in whom he has revealed himself to be. Philippians 4:19 states, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Given that truth, expressed there and elsewhere, we together profess to Jesus that he is all I want, that more than all in thee I find. We then add that he can and does raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind, because he said as much on one Sabbath in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). And though he is just and holy (Acts 3:14), we who are false and full of sin—every one of us—dare approach him because we know that he his “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Indeed, let’s approach him early and often, especially given the fullness of his grace and truth we’ll sing about in the fourth and final verse!
Plenteous grace with thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound;
make and keep me pure within:
thou of life the fountain art,
freely let me take of thee;
spring thou up within my heart,
rise to all eternity.
Given what Jesus told Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)—we elaborate with delight on the fullness of Jesus’ grace and truth: plentious grace with thee is found! Thus we continue our plea in the very next breath, asking Jesus to let the healing streams abound. Through the prophet Zechariah God revealed that one day “there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1). Jesus is that fountain--the fountain of life--and each of us who feels our guilt and shame longs for his healing streams to abound. In fact, we long for his water to spring up within our hearts, welling up to all eternity. In John 4 Jesus told the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Do you personally want this? In what ways does your life have yet to grow into the words you sing in this hymn?
Hymn of the Month #2, April 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the many hymns of Charles Wesley. Born in England in 1707—the youngest in a family of 18 children—Charles Wesley stands out as one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time.
Together with his brother John, Charles Wesley is also remembered for his founding role in the Methodist movement. He and John were first called “methodists” during their time at Oxford University. They and some classmates had formed what they called the “Holy Club," and in time were labeled “methodists” by other students on account of their disciplined and detailed method of Bible study and life more broadly. Though meant as an insult, Charles, John, and the rest accepted the name as a badge of honor, a badge that many of them would continue to wear for the rest of their lives.
After graduation Charles followed his father and brother John into ordained ministry in the Church of England. Soon thereafter he set sail with John to the American colonies, where both of them experienced heartbreaking rejection, including being shot at. This rejection gave birth to deep soul-searching which eventually led to the aching feeling that they needed to be converted. As John famously wrote, "I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?" That period of soul-searching came to an end in 1738. On May 21, after months of praying, waiting, and laboring--most recently by reading Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians and wrestling with Galatians’ message of justification by faith in Jesus Christ--Charles joyfully recorded in his diary, "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ."
Three days later his brother John had a similar experience during a meeting where someone was reading the preface to Luther’s commentary on Romans. As he wrote in his diary, “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Those conversion experiences gave Charles and John renewed strength for ministry and a desire to preach justification by faith in Jesus Christ and the new life in him. One way Charles did that was through hymns. By one count Charles wrote nearly 9,000 hymns in his lifetime, a number of which are sung yet today, including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”, and “Rejoice! The Lord Is King!” These hymns played a significant role in the spread of Methodism and continue to encourage believers to the present day.
The composer of the tune used is unknown. Originally published in a collection titled Lyra Davidica in 1739, it was later paired with these words by Charles Wesley and continues to be the tune most often used.
From its title to its closing words, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” focuses unmistakably on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hymn leads us in rejoicing in this pivotal event in the history of redemption and praising the one at the center of it: our Lord and Savior who died on the cross but rose from the dead, never to die again.
"Christ the Lord is ris'n today," Alleluia!
sons of men and angels say; Alleluia!
raise your joys and triumphs high; Alleluia!
Sing ye heav'ns, and earth, reply. Alleluia!
In Mark 16 we read that early on the first day of the week, a handful of women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with spices. Much to their surprise, however, they met an angel there! The angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” We begin our hymn with an echo of the angel’s words to the women, together with the praise that followed. Alleluia! Praise God!
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Alleluia!
Christ has burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
death in vain forbids his rise; Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise. Alleluia!
Matthew 27:60-66 tells us that not only was Jesus laid in a new tomb with a great stone at the entrance, but that the chief priests and the Pharisees also convinced Pilate to post guards at the tomb and seal the stone “lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Those precautions proved in vain when the first day of the week arrived. In vain also was the power of death to hold him. As Peter proclaimed on Pentecost, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” All this is good news for those who trust in him--Christ has burst the gates of hell and opened paradise! Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia!
where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died, our souls to save; Alleluia!
where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
As our song continues, we rejoice in the resurrected life of our King, singing Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Death has no victory, because our glorious King is alive, never to die again. Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
foll'wing our exalted Head; Alleluia!
made like him, like him we rise: Alleluia!
ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!
1 Corinthians 15:22 declares, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” We live in a world corrupted by sin—indeed, we by nature are corrupted by sin throughout our being—but we live in Christ, and will into eternity! Alleluia!
Hail, the Lord of earth and heav'n! Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be giv'n; Alleluia!
thee we greet triumphant now; Alleluia!
hail, the Resurrection, thou! Alleluia!
Jesus Christ is Lord, and we profess that to him in this final verse. Calling him the Resurrection, as he referred to himself in John 11:25, we acknowledge that he is Lord of earth and heav’n, and so he is.
Is that evident in your heart and life? He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord—how will you honor and follow him here and now?