Friday, December 14, 2007

Charles Wesley: And Can It Be That I Should Gain?

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.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

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!
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for 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.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

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.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
=====================

"[T]here are hymns that contain doctrinal insight to rival that of the best theology ever produced. The fact that they are falling out of the church's collective memory is something to be deeply regretted as it is one more facet of what at times seems to be a concerted effort to fail catechetically." - WTM

This hymn is great on a few points, but also leaves something to be desired on a few others. Verses 1, 2, and 4 are excellent. Verse 3 is fine if you understand kenoticism properly, but it isn't straightforward. I would drop out verse 5 if I was the one in charge of such things. Verse 6 is fine, except for the 'righteousness divine' line. At least in the Protestant tradition after the 1550's has affirmed that we are saved by the human righteousness that Christ acquired for us on the basis of his obedience. Still, a fine hymn that makes some deep theological points very well, for instance, 'th'Immortal dies'!

4 comments:

JohnLDrury said...

Thanks for commenting on this hymn, especially in reminding us of the theological value of such texts.

Will you entertain my responses to your comments?

RE: Kenoticism. It is an interesting historical curiosity that a non-speculative early form of kenotic thinking was put forth by Zizendorf (from whom it was picked up and developed theoretically in the 19th century by the Erlangen school among others) and that this seems to be the source of the Wesley's occasional (though out of character) kenotic language. Hmmm, is there some connection between Pietism and Kenoticism???

Re: Verse 6. Why do you want to cut it? I could guess, but I'd like to hear it from you.

Re: Death of God. Take note that the Red Presbyterian Hymnal edits "Thou my God didst die for me" into "Thous my Lord didst die for me." Ha!

Lucy said...

Quoting yourself on your own blog?

WTM said...

Lucy,

Thanks for stopping by! The quote comes from my comments in the post when I started this pseudo-series of hymn postings, and I wanted to include it in the subsequent entries. I hope that you didn't find this too pretentious, but I couldn't think of a better way to do it.

John,

That's interesting about kenoticism and the Presbyterian red hymnal! As for verse 5, there are a couple things that I don't quite like. First, the emphasis on how the singer / writer feels. That's just not how I roll; probably more a personality thing than anything else. Also, the bit about the atoning blood that satisfies heaven's wrath can get out of control if other elements aren't present.

Esteban Vázquez said...

It is said that, after reading this hymn, John "Rabbi" Duncan wrote to Charles Wesley: "Where is your Arminianism now, friend?"

A flawlessly orthodox Reformed hymnal I own does indeed omit that (admittedly) troublesome verse 5, and changes the "problematic" lines in verse 3 to "humbled Himself because of love, / and bled for all His chosen race." (And I am not ashamed to say, incidentally, that this was how I first learned to sing this hymn! :-) Another Reformed hymnal changes "that Thou, my God..." at the end of the first stanza to "that You, my Lord..."

My own problem has always been the word "spirit" in the first line of verse 4. Experience in the trenches taught me that people don't usually understand this as an instance of synecdoche!

(And if I may be permitted a bit of hymnological snobbery, "Amazing love, how can it be, etc." is decidedly not a refrain, and should only be repeated at the end of the first verse, to which it belongs; in the rest of the verses, the last two lines of each are repeated, after the model of the first verse.)