Good Good Friday to you! Or Holy Friday. Or Great Friday. Or Easter Friday.
Years ago I taught a Sunday School class on the Poetry & Theology of Hymns. In one sense, I was not very qualified. I am not a musician nor am I a singer. I just enjoyed the power of a hymn to both explain the Gospel and to draw one nearer to Christ. Part of the fascination, too, was about word study. Especially when the lines in the hymn are directly tied to Scripture as well as the language usage at the time the hymn was written.
The lessons included the story behind the hymn. You might love Amazing Grace, but the hymn is bound to your heart forever once you know it was written by the master of a slave ship having an awakening. It is Well With My Soul grabs you in a deeper way when you learn it was written after a man lost his entire family. And Blest Be The Ties That Bind is more relatable when you read it through the eyes of a pastor who changes his mind about leaving his church for another one. Many of the best hymns are relatively simple, easy to remember and compelling in their message.
And then there was Charles Wesley. Most historical references to Charles Wesley say he wrote over 6,000 hymns. He was highly educated. He and his brother John’s rigid devotion and worship was methodical, hence the label Methodists was placed on the Wesleyan movement of that day. Another noteworthy point about both of the Wesley brothers is that they were both involved in Christian ministry and were believers without a doubt. But both had a subsequent religious experience. A profound revelation.
This is relatable to many of us who were born and raised into Christian families, attended church and were perhaps well into adulthood when something happened. It is often that one moves from a head knowledge to a heart knowledge. It may be due to a major event, such as a family death or an accident. It may not be earth shattering at all. C.S. Lewis experienced that moment riding down a dusty road in a motorcycle sidecar driven by his brother. It becomes real. Personal. Rich. You own it. It is a special moment. It is often repeated through rededication or yet another inexplicable time of reawakening. Sometimes a result of an intentional search. Many times by surprise. Always wonderful!
These transformational moments reset one’s GPS. Things are different from that point forward. It was after a life-changing moment, separated by days for the Wesleys, that their true belief became alive and their ministries flourished. This setting is important to understand when you study the context in which many hymns were written.
Charles Wesley wrote many of the great hymns sung in churches today. I had heard of most of them and used many in my Sunday School class. However, it was when I heard that a favorite hymn of Mike Beidel’s was And Can It Be That I Should Gain that I took a closer look. Mike was the headmaster of Trinity Christian Academy in Addison at the time, and a man I greatly respected – and still do. I then read the hymn and listened to the music many times. It grabbed me.
There is an awe in the words. Charles Wesley is writing in disbelief that Jesus’ death for the sins of Man was to benefit him, Charles! So, on this Good Friday, I lift up the words of this hymn for you to consider. Like any piece of poetry, this is not a drive-by collection of words, thoughts and concepts. Dwell on them, and make them yours. Read them and think of Charles crafting each word, each line.
In fact, if you really want some meditative material that will make you think and find nuggets of joy, just savor the poetry and theology in hymns. Some will be familiar, such as O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing. Others such as my favorite Love Divine, All Loves Excelling may be new. All of them have a needed message for us today. They are timeless, as is the case in most things we search for in an effort to find comfort and guidance. LFM
And Can It Be That I Should Gain
By Charles Wesley
1 And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest 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, should die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me!
2 ‘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. [Refrain]
3 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. [Refrain]
4 Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee. [Refrain]
5 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. [Refrain]
After soaking up the message from reading several times, read it again while listening to the hymn here.