lyrics for living 8 (not what these hands)

There are a host of hymns that I have only ever sung in public worship when I have selected them. And that was mostly when I was a young pastor all those years ago.

Horatius Bonar (1808 - 1889)
When I found my heart growing cold - or even drifting a bit - I had a couple of default spiritual practices which coaxed confession from me. One was to read the book of Hebrews aloud, all in one go. The other was to head for my hymnbook and sing #434 and #450, one after the other, to myself. Same author (Horatius Bonar). Same meter, with a simple tune, and so even a non-musician like me could manage it. Then, every now and then I'd slip one of these hymns into public worship. The two of them became like precious friends.

I have sung neither of these hymns publically in the intervening twenty-seven years. Baptists in New Zealand aren't great at public confession and so it is not that surprising. Nor are we that flash at singing anything before our own time (NB: CS Lewis called this chronological snobbery, by the way - it sounds bad and it is bad) and so the chances of either of them appearing in public worship were somewhere between nil and zero.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I walked into St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Hollywood (Florida) last Sunday - and saw the first hymn?! Yes, for sookie me the eyes moistened as I lapped up every phrase (sung to a newer Aaron Keyes 2009 arrangement). It was like embracing an ol' friend after a long absence.

Barby and I found a simple version on youtube this morning, with only 12 views (!) when we watched and listened. Here it is:

The simple honesty in the lyrics gives me the words I need. The simple theology reminds me of the load I carry with my sin, while also reassuring me of the capacity Christ has to lift that load and 'set my spirit free' from the 'dark unrest'. The chorus, added by Keyes, picks up the Pauline clothing imagery of taking off our sin, 'filthy rags' in the song - and putting on, or 'wearing Your righteousness' in the song. Then there is that line he adds: 'we are broken and we are yours'. It is beautiful.

Truth be told, last Sunday we sang a variant of this version on youtube. This is because there is a surplus of verses in #434 and #450 (and if I went scurrying around google I could probably find even more verses). But can I conclude with the original words from the hymnbook that I have loved for so long? That is a rhetorical question because I am going to include them anyway, regardless of how you might respond :).

Baptist Hymnbook 434
I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart, I call the Saviour mine.

His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my Joy, my Light.

In Him is only good, in me is only ill;
My ill but draws His goodness forth, and me He loveth still.

'Tis He who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

My life with Him is hid, my death has passed away,
My clouds have melted into light, my midnight into day.

Baptist Hymnbook  450
Not what these hands have done can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.

Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers, and sighs, and tears can bear my heavy load.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.

Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.

Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak;
Thy power alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.

I bless the Christ of God, I rest on life divine
And with unfaltering lip and heart, I call this Saviour mine.

(Notice how the first verse of the first hymn and the last verse of the second hymn are exactly the same. Kinda like an inclusio, or a frame ... which is why I think I liked to keep them together].

nice chatting



Ben Carswell said…
Can you help me understand the antipathy towards hymns that I regularly find in the NZ church? Is it simply chronological snoberry, anti-colonial, desiring just a 'shallow-end' experience or something more? I love hymns, ancient & modern, as much as I do new songs, but find the diet here to be unbalanced. I find it sad & troubling.
Paul said…
It is 'sad and troubling' - and unwise. I am not sure I have too much to add to your inferences here, Ben. Over the years, at assemblies and pastors' gatherings etc, I have noticed this fear of being discovered to be out-of-step with the latest trends and missing out on the latest wave sweeping the country. It is a kind of insecurity that may be fed partly by the pragmatism in church life. The 'new thing' becomes SO important ... and I think music/worship gets caught up a bit in this reality. Plus a lot of the active churches in NZ are not at ease with Confessions and Creeds which can anchor the soul in the past in a helpful way.

One other reflection would be whether the under-30s show the same hesitancy (as our generations) with what can be valued and utilised from the past. They seem much more open.

But it is three years since I lived in NZ - and so what do I know, really?!
Ben Carswell said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Carswell said…
3 years? Wow, time flies. But I'm not sure you're THAT disconnected so soon! I think, unfortunately, I have seen much of the same hesitancy about the past from the under 30s - however, the (delightful) exception to this is when they learn to love God's Word & want to savour it & see it 'front & centre' (to quote you).

I think the desire to be up with the latest trends misses out something significant about those who have gone before & all we can learn, feed on & benefit from their experience. Confessional/credal angst is definitely something at play too.

Still, we can be champions of the cause! Keep up the good work!
Max said…
Hymns and choruses, confessions and creeds ... well said, gentlemen. I know I sound like a broken record in the environment I'm in.

Anyway, thank you both for verbalising the frustrations of more than a few of us. Indeed, an unbalanced diet is putting it nicely.

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