Hymn of the Month #1, April 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
“Not All the Blood of Beasts” is one of the lesser-known hymns of one of the best-known hymnwriters of all time, Isaac Watts.
Born in England in 1674, Watts had a way with words already as a child. In time he began writing hymns for worship. According to one account, he had repeatedly lamented to his father the poor quality of many of the hymns they sang in worship. One day his father finally challenged him to write something better, so he did. The next Sunday the twenty-year-old Watts brought his first hymn for use in worship, a hymn titled “Behold the Glories of the Lamb.” It received an enthusiastic response, as would many of his future compositions. From then until his death in 1748 he would publish some 750 hymns, including “Joy to the World,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and “Jesus Shall Reign.” Some of these hymns were written to be sung after the sermons he preached after becoming a minister, which may well have been the case with “Not All the Blood of Beasts”.
Various tunes have been paired with this hymn. This particular tune was composed by the American organist and composer William H. Walter (1825-1893).
Not all the blood of beasts
on Jewish altars slain,
could give the guilty conscience peace,
or wash away the stain:…
“Not All the Blood of Beasts” is a hymn of praise to Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The hymn begins with a look back to Old Testament times, when beast after beast was slain to atone for sin. Lambs, rams, bulls, heifers, goats, doves, and pigeons were killed and offered as sacrifices according to God’s command. Yet, as God made plain later in Hebrews 10:4, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” All those beasts pointed ahead to a greater offering, the Lamb of God whom we sing about in the remainder of this sentence, as it continues in the next verse.
…But Christ, the heav'nly Lamb,
takes all our sins away,
a sacrifice of nobler name
and richer blood than they.
As John the Baptist testified in the verse quoted above, Jesus is the Lamb of God,
the heav’nly Lamb, who takes all our sins away. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).
My faith would lay her hand
on that dear head of thine,
while like a penitent I stand,
and there confess my sin.
This verse leads us in calling upon the heavenly Lamb we sung of in the previous verse and expressing our confidence in him alone. The image here comes from God’s instructions concerning sacrifices for sin during Old Testament times. In Leviticus 1 God commanded his people to bring offerings of livestock from the herd or from the flock. When one of them brought such an offering, “He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev 1:4). Fast forward to the present day, and we do the same, except by faith. By faith we lay our hand on the head of Jesus, the Lamb of God. By doing so we confess our sin and quietly but gratefully rest in the substitute God gave us.
Is that true of you? Have you lain your hand on the head of the Lamb of God? Do you? Will you?
My soul looks back to see
the burdens thou didst bear,
when hanging on the cursed tree,
and knows her guilt was there.
This verse leads us to expand upon what Jesus did as the Lamb of God by paraphrasing and making personal the testimony of passages such as Galatians 3:13. There we read that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Jesus hung on the cursed tree to bear the guilt of each of his people.
Believing, we rejoice
to see the curse remove;
we bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
and sing his bleeding love.
Following closely on the heels of what we sang in verse 4, we conclude in this final verse with joy and praise. With the throne of Revelation 5 we bless the Lamb with cheerful voice, singing his bleeding love: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”