October 18, 2017

A Hymn for Ordinary Time (10): A Great (the Greatest?) Gospel Hymn

By Chaplain Mike

From The Center for Church Music, here is the story of today’s hymn, perhaps the greatest hymn about the evangelical conversion experience ever written:

Charles Wesley, founder of the movement known as Methodism with his brother, John, was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1735. However, three years later, the evening of May 21, 1738, reportedly after prolonged Bible reading he wrote:

“At midnight I gave myself to Christ, assured that I was safe, whether sleeping or waking. I had the continual experience of His power to overcome all temptation, and I confessed with joy and surprise that He was able to do exceedingly abundantly for me above what I can ask or think.”

Another writer states that he recorded in his journal:

“I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. I saw that by faith I stood.”

Two days later, his journal reported that he had begun writing a hymn. This hymn was likely “And Can It Be” because of the vivid testimony of stanza four. This hymn and “Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin” were the first of the 6000 plus hymns that he wrote….

The Release of Peter, Tiffany Window UCC Montclair

AND CAN IT BE?
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
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?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

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.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

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.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Text: Charles Wesley
First Published in Songs and Hymns, 1738
Usually sung to the tune SAGINA, by Thomas Campbell

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this hymn—it is one of my very favourites (especially when sung to the tune ‘Sagina’.)

    My denomination doesn’t include that second verse in our hymnal, but I think I like it.

  2. David Cornwell says:

    Chaplain Mike, thanks for writing about this hymn. It is also one of my very favorites. It has great beauty and power, gaining strength in the singing. One of the standout memories of my seminary days was the singing of this hymn in chapel with so many voices lifting testimony and praise to God.

  3. Highwayman says:

    As a musician, I love playing this hymn set to that tune, particularly with a large congregation. One can really ‘play the words’ – keep it throttled back until halfway through verse 4, then crank it up and give it full organ (and/or everything one can throw at it on the piano) in verse 5. It’s a hymn that lets mind and emotions come together in worship very powerfully.

    • David Cornwell says:

      This hymn does always seem to gain strength and power as it moves through the verses, especially when accompanied by a musician like you.

  4. Dan Crawford says:

    I first heard the hymn more than 20 years ago and was stunned by the power of the verses and the theology. I was later appalled to learn that the compilers of the 1980 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church omitted this hymn by a good Anglican. Apparently, it didn’t fit in with their smoke and mirrors approach to redemption.

  5. A great hymn, Mike. Thanks.

    And this is a little off-topic, but perhaps fodder for another post: I had done a search a while back about Charles Wesley having used the tunes from tavern songs for some of his hymns, and there seems to be some resistance to the idea. A search of “Charles Wesley tavern songs” will bring up several articles, but they seem to revolve around the findings of one person, Dean McIntyre, director of music resources at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee. He insists that Charles and John Wesley did NOT use such tunes.

    In one article, he says, “The Wesleys did no such thing. Given their aesthetic and theological sense, it would (have been) unthinkable for them to do so.”

    In my mind, an argument that they “wouldn’t” do such a thing is not a good argument, but McIntyre also says that “bar tune” may have been confused from “bar form” of music. This argument at least is interesting, but I know nothing of music theory.

    I’ve always thought that Luther and the Wesleys using contemporary songs kind of fit in with Paul’s doctrine of “all things to all people in order to win some to Christ.” But McIntyre says no, and that the idea is used to support rap and rock in churches. It seems that this also may be “proof” that it’s untrue.

    An article by Maura Jane Farrelly says, ‘Mr. McIntyre says the myth that they did [use tavern songs] is being used to justify the use of rock and rap music in present-day Methodist worship. “How much of rock culture are you going to put into the worship of your congregation in its hymnal? How far can you go with ‘acid’ rock, for instance? Does that have a place in the worship of God through music in the Church? Many say it does. Many say it doesn’t. Of course, the fact that it does or doesn’t is another issue. My point is we should never point to John Wesley as a person to approve of that practice,” he said.’

    Any thoughts on this? At least it isn’t political. Well, sort of; it could start a bar-room brawl, though. Or the Christian equivalent, for those who don’t frequent such places…

  6. ” ’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
    Who can explore His strange design?
    In vain the firstborn seraph tries
    To sound the depths of love divine.”

    Inspiration aside, Charles was a genius.

  7. I certainly concur this is a contender for greatest hymn ever. Surprisingly sound in doctrine for a Methodist 😛
    This is an outstanding hymn to have memorized, it is always comforting. I’ve yet to hear a good modern remake of it, however. The common melody really does the text justice and is as hard to improve on as it is to sing.

    “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.”

    Surprisingly “reformed” for Wesley.

    • It was his first hymn. His theology wouldn’t have been properly developed yet. 😛

      • He wrote THAT his first time out? Ridiculous. Unfair. He never really even outdid himself on this one, except for maybe that stanza about “harlots and publicans” from “O For A Thousand Tongues.”