November 28, 2014.
For a while now I have wanted to do a series on some of my favorite hymns with a running commentary on the verses as they unfold. I believe singing to be one of the best ways to worship our Lord, and music has throughout the centuries both captivated and touched the hearts of people all across this globe, a concept that transcends time and culture. There is something so powerful about music, and I for one am very grateful to the Almighty that He created us with such abilities to learn and understand music and poetry, that we might be able to compose beauty that can touch the soul. Now is as good of a time as any to start the series that I am going to call “Hymnnotes.” This series probably will not be consecutive, but if you ever just want to pull up all the post, you can search “Hymnnotes” in the search bar to the right and it should pull them up. If I can find a good video, I will also embed this at the bottom of each post if you would like to listen to the words in song. It is my prayer that when we lift these songs up to God, that we do so in sincerity, studying the words and meaning of the song so that our sacrifice may be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. If you have insight about any one of these hymns that I have failed to mention, feel free to comment and share your thoughts. May we glorify the Lord both now and forever.
“When My love to Christ Grows Weak”
Words by John R. Wreford
I grew up singing this song, usually on solemn or contemplative occasions, but I don’t think I really looked at it too much until this past year when I was in Nicaragua. Often when we sing, we get so focused on the song or the music (or what other people around us are doing/hearing) that we neglect to draw the deep meaning that protrudes from so many wonderful hymns. I know that this has been the case for me, at least. The meaning of certain songs will sometimes just hit me when I am singing them alone to myself. Sometimes its like my eyes are open and I think “Why have I never understood what this song means before?” Those are wonderful times, not because I didn’t know before, but because the hymn suddenly took on so much more meaning for me. This was the case for this song. I was going through a rough patch in my life, and this hymn stood out to me, particularly the last verse. It was a solace in a time of need. The song hasn’t been the same to me since. Let us take a closer look at the words and pull the meaning from the beautiful poetry.
When my love to Christ grows weak,
When for deeper faith I seek,
Then in thought I go to thee,
Garden of Gethsemane.
I have often said in times past that faith is a journey. There is no single point of faith, for it is constantly in flux. We all go through spiritual highs and lows, and I don’t think this is anything we need to hide. It is just not that simple, but rather a winding road that we walk with the Spirit throughout our lives. This verse comes to the Christian who is at one of those low points. We all have them, and if you haven’t yet, you will. I don’t say this to discourage you, but to prepare you. When we believe that we are untouchable, it is then we often fall the hardest. One of the lowest points in my faith was right after my first mission trip to Panama, which was definitely a spiritual high. I can’t explain how it all works, but I can say that we must be prepared for those times, because they will catch us off guard.
But the songwriter here seems to make a suggestion through his lyrics. In times where his faith grew weak, he knew that he needed to seek a deeper faith. What better place to go than to the garden of Gethsemane where we find Jesus facing what would be the most difficult thing He would do in His life, not for His sake, but for our own.
“And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Perhaps a good lesson to draw from the beginning of this story is the necessity of prayer. When our faith grows weak, we need to pray, and pray boldly. We need to entreat the Father that He might bestow on us a greater faith, that He might make firm our footsteps and keep us in step with the Spirit. However, we need recognize that when we pray this prayer, that does not mean things are going to instantly get better. In fact, things might indeed get worse, for this is how faith is forged. God is likely not going to just give us a stronger portion of faith (though He could if He so chose), but rather an avenue to build this faith. And that is terrifying to me. Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of this, but it does scare me. But I know that I can make it though the Spirit, and I know that you can too. We must trust in the Father that He knows what He is doing, and He knows what is best for us, even when it is frightening. This is how faith is built.
There I walk amid the shades
While the lingering twilight fades
See that suffering, friendless One,
Weeping, praying there alone.
The hymn then continues on in the same scene, with Jesus praying fervently in the garden as He is awaiting His betrayal. He has brought with him some disciples and asked them to watch with Him for an hour while He withdrew to pray. But they fell asleep. Not only once, but three times.
“And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Even with His closest disciples with Him, He was alone. They could not stay up with Him for one hour while He prayed. Thus it was truly Him and the Father, as He prayed in agony. But what we must remember is that He did this all for us! He did not have to lay down His life (ref. John 10:15-17), but He did so that we might be ransomed to the Father, washed clean in His blood. He suffered this agony for our sins, while we were still in them! He didn’t do it because we had already repented, already come clean and pledged our life to Him. While He was on the cross, He prayed “Father forgive,” even though they were spitting on Him and reviling Him! It is no wonder that the hymn carries us to this moment when we are seeking a deeper faith. When we have a failing love for Christ, we can turn to this story and remember why we love Him. We love Him because He first loved us. And what a complete, sacrificial love He has for us.
When my love for man grows weak,
When for stronger faith I seek,
Hill of Calvary, I go
To thy scenes of fear and woe.
Whereas the first verse seemed to pull us out of a spiritual low, it seems this verse serves to push us forward as we are gaining momentum towards the Father, so to speak. Perhaps our trip to the garden has indeed set us back on track and now we are going to Calvary, the place of the Skull, when He would suffer everything He was greatly troubled about the night before. He would be condemned to die by way of a cruel Roman punishment, crucifixion, which would indeed send scenes of fear and woe to any of us. But while our Lord hung on that tree, He still though not of Himself, but of those for whom He was dying.
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
What love did the Lamb of God have for mankind! What wonderful, soul filling love. And so we love Him, for what He has done, for the love He has shown to us. The hymn continues in the scene.
There behold His agony,
Suffered on the bitter tree;
See His anguish, see His faith,
Love triumphant still in death.
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”
His faith was strong, even to the point of death. Amidst agony, amidst pain and persecution, there hung our Lord, full of faith, full of love, full of the coming victory. There is not much more that I can tell that would give any more of an impression other than the word of the gospel itself. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Then to life I turn again,
Learning all the worth of pain,
Learning all the might that lies
In a full self sacrifice.
This is my favorite verse of the hymn for what it means to me. Christianity is sometimes portrayed as an easy life choice, or as a box that you check to bring some benefits to us. American Christianity often has the wrong picture of what the Christian life is. I am here to tell you that the Christian life is not easy. It was never promised as easy, but rather as difficult. Before you become a Christian, you must first count the cost. You must realize that it is not simply a name you wear, but rather a world view that you take on. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did not live an easy life. His call from the Father was tremendously difficult. Yet it was the will of God that He go to the cross to bear our sins, that we might be offered the gift of salvation. That’s the good news.
When I think of this verse, I think of what it is saying. There is worth in pain, even when we don’t realize it. I don’t know about you, but most of the time that I go though a painful situation, I don’t necessarily see it as a good thing. But it is good, for we are forged through it as sons of God. We go through trials and tribulations so that we might be molded by the Almighty in ways that we would never imagine possible. We must learn all the worth of pain. But going a step further, this hymn teaches us that there is might in sacrifice. We often see submission or sacrifice to someone else as weakness, but in reality, there is so much strength in it. It takes a strong person to fully commit themselves into the hands of another. That level of trust isn’t just present. It must be built. It must be willingly given, and there is so much might in that. This is the relationship we are to have with the Father. The relationship that Jesus had- a full self sacrifice. We are to walk in His will, keeping in step with the Spirit. His will becomes our will, and we shall dwell forever more with Him. What a wonderful thing it is, this sacrifice. What trust it entails, what joy it promises and what heights of love hold it together. I pray that we all are able to learn all the might that indeed lies in a full self sacrifice.
Suggested Daily Reading: Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Mark 14, Luke 23.
May our love ever grow strong in the Lord.