Hymn of the Month, April 2015
Researched and written by Shelby Breedlove and Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Many of the hymns we sing are gems of wisdom, guidance, and admonition, drawn from God’s Word and set to music so that the word of Christ might dwell in us richly. Let’s take some time to dig into another of these this month, “We Come, O Christ, to You.”
This hymn text was one of the first of dozens of hymns from the pen of Edith Margaret Clarkson (1915-2008). We know a great deal about E. Margaret Clarkson from her prolific writings, her long association with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), and the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections.
This text, “We Come, O Christ, to You,” was written in 1946 at the request of Stacey Woods, the General Secretary of IVCF. He wanted a theme hymn, to “link together the widely-scattered groups that made up the young student movement.” The song was sung at their convention in late December of that year, the precursor of the IVCF Urbana Mission Conferences still held regularly. Miss Clarkson was always a strong supporter of IVCF and wrote several more theme hymns for them.
Margaret Clarkson's writings include hundreds of poems and articles, dozens of hymns, and seventeen books, both sacred and secular. Many of these have been translated into other languages. Her secular writings flow out of her elementary teaching experience and her love for the outdoors. Her sacred hymns and books come from learning to lean on the Savior during a lifetime of pain and suffering. She learned that memorized Scripture, hymns, and Catechism would focus her mind on her Sovereign Lord, lessening her pain. Her book Grace Grows Best in Winter, first published in 1972, arose from her suffering.
A Wheaton College Archive staff member summarized her life and work this way: “Throughout her life Margaret Clarkson seemingly experienced every form of suffering one could experience; a broken home, financial strains, loneliness and isolation, and constant physical pain. However, through it all, she continued to place her faith and trust in her Savior. During a life of trials she sensed God's grace and mercy and communicated that to others by providing the church with dozens of hymns testifying to His sovereignty, love, and power. Margaret Clarkson heard and increasingly understood God's call upon her life. As she matured she recognized that she was sent out to minister to others, not in isolation, but in triumph. She died on March 17, 2008 in Toronto, Ontario.”
History taken primarily from the Wheaton College Archives website: http://bit.ly/1yeeAIz.
Among other things, good hymns help us respond to God in the light of how he has revealed himself in Scripture. This hymn—“We Come, O Christ, to You”—does precisely that. In particular, it leads us in responding to Jesus given how he revealed himself in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This hymn leads us in thinking about those words and in responding to Jesus accordingly, specifically with joyful, reverent trust.
We come, O Christ, to you,
true Son of God and man,
by whom all things consist,
in whom all life began:
In you alone we live and move,
and have our being in your love.
This opening verse leads us to begin immediately by singing to Jesus Christ our response to him. In particular, we sing, we come, O Christ, to you. Such an initial response is fitting and necessary. Indeed, every other response to Jesus Christ—even worship—is built upon responding to his gracious call to come to him in faith and repentance. In Matt 11:28 Jesus declared, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
In this opening verse we respond to Jesus’ gracious call by singing that we do indeed come to him. And we come to him not as an idol of our own making, but as the Son of God revealed to us in Scripture. As this verse continues we make that clear by summarizing Scripture’s testimony that the one we have come to is the true Son of God and man (Matt 1:1; John 20:31), by whom all things consist and in whom all life began (Col 1:15-17). Indeed, since he is God, the words of Acts 17:28 likewise apply to him: “In him we live and move and have our being.”
You are the Way to God,
your blood our ransom paid;
In you we face our Judge
and Maker unafraid.
Before the throne absolved we stand,
your love has met your law’s demand.
In this verse we continue to sing of who Jesus is, though not to identify him so much as to respond to him according to how he revealed himself in John 14:6. Here we tell our Savior, You are the Way to God, and we sing this not reluctantly or under compulsion, but with genuine joy in our hearts. We who are by nature objects of God’s wrath can’t help but sing for joy at Jesus’ announcement that he is the Way. We can’t help but respond with trust when we see that his blood our ransom paid (1 Tim 2:6; Matt 20:29), such that we—yes, us!--face our Judge and Maker unafraid. As the apostle Paul marveled in Rom 8:31-34, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Earlier in that same chapter Paul also explained that because of Jesus Christ, before the throne absolved we stand, his love has met the law’s demand. Rom 8:1-2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Dear Christian, if you have come to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance, sing to him with hearty praise! As he has told us, he is the Way to God!
You are the living Truth!
All wisdom dwells in you,
The Source of every skill,
the one eternal TRUE!
O great I AM! In you we rest,
sure answer to our every quest.
Here we continue to respond to Jesus according to his self-revelation in John 14:6, this time his declaration that he is the Truth. As Paul explained in Col 2:3, “in [him] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In John 18:38 an exasperated Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” We can relate to Pilate. We understand something of what he was feeling. In Christ, however, we rest. He is the sure answer to our every quest. As Jesus himself said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29).
Dear Christian, do you lack wisdom? Look to your Jesus Christ! He is the living Truth, who can and will equip, direct, and sustain you!
You only are true Life,
to know you is to live
The more abundant life
that earth can never give:
O risen Lord! We live in you:
in us each day your life renew!
Here we finish responding to Jesus according to his self-revelation in John 14:6. In this verse we praise him for alone being true Life. Right in line with Jesus’ words about him being the true vine and believers being branches that bear much fruit in him (John 15:5), we go on to sing that to know him is to live the more abundant life that earth can never give. We don’t stop there, though. We keep going, asking him to renew his life in us each day. By God’s grace we live in him, and by God’s grace we would do so all the more.
Dear Christian, is that your prayer? Sing to your Savior with joy that you live in him, the true Life, and in the same breath as him to renew his life in you each day.
We worship you, Lord Christ,
our Savior and our King,
To you our youth and strength
adoringly we bring:
So fill our hearts, that all may view
your life in us, and turn to you.
This verse constitutes a fitting conclusion to the reflections of the previous verses. With the angels and creatures of Rev 5:12-13, we sing Christ’s praise. He is our King, and since we belong to him, we offer him our life and strength with adoration, asking him to use us as instruments of his grace.