Monday, October 29, 2007

How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place

Hi everyone, it's me: Mrs. Alan. You can call me Lisa, if you'd like. :)

God has blessed me with many gifts. One of my favorites is singing. I love to sing! Recently, though, I've been convicted that I have been prideful, more intent on listening to my own voice (and wondering if others around me are noticing) while singing hymns in church than on paying attention to, and really meaning, the words of praise I am singing. To change that, I've been concentrating more on the words and less on the tune in the past few weeks. The lyrics are often quite compelling, and I'd like to share some thoughts with you.

When I searched the Internet for the words to this hymn by Isaac Watts, which was written in 1707, I was surprised to find that some of the lyrics have been changed. I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised—the English language is constantly evolving, and new connotations develop over the years. For example, the original title and first line of this hymn was How Sweet and Aweful is the Place. Even though the spelling is different, when sung, that projects an "awful" image in 2007! The second verse changed, as well. It used to be, "Here every bowel of our God/With soft compassion rolls." I don't know about you, but if I'd come across that Sunday morning, it would have distracted me to think "third grade bathroom humor" when I should be thankful for God's mercy and compassion, shown to me, a sinner.

The first phrase that caught my attention Sunday morning was the last line of verse three: Lord, why was I a guest? A few months ago, I was overcome with a feeling of unworthiness when I considered being chosen for salvation. The feelings got worse when I considered that some of my friends and family probably aren't saved. "Why me?" I asked Alan. "I would rather it was them than me, sometimes. Is it wrong to feel that way?" He had me read Romans 9:3, "For I could wish that I myself were caccursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen daccording to the flesh." Paul felt that way, too.

Then I sang, "When thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?" Wait a minute. Choice? I've learned a lot from Alan, including that the popular "Christian" idea of choosing Christ is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that cannot be backed up scripturally (at least not without a lot of linguistic gymnastics). At that point, I lost my place in the music a bit as I searched the lyrics, trying to understand what was being said. It took going back to the beginning of that verse and into the following verse ("'Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly forced us in; Else we had still refused to taste, and perished in our sin.") to understand what Mr. Watts was trying to convey. Irresistible grace! We would not be able to choose God on our own. No one seeks God unless God chooses him and, in the apt words of this song, forces him to believe.

As I continue studying and learning about my faith, I'm thankful for the authors of these old hymns. They've put complex scriptural concepts into phrasings that are easily understood, if we pay attention to the words we are singing. I hope you will think about the words next time you sing one of these beautiful old hymns.

Here are the words to How Sweet and Awesome is the Place.
How sweet and awesome is the place
with Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.

Here all the mercy of our God
with vast compassion rolls;
And peace and pardon through His blood,
is food for ransomed souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,
Each of us cries with thankful tongues,
"Lord, why was I a guest?"

"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
and enter while there's room;
When thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?"

'Twas the same love that spread the feast,
that sweetly forced us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
and bring lost sinners home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
that all thy chosen race
May with one voice and heart and soul
sing Thy redeeming grace.

Isaac Watts, 1674-1748. Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship (London: Wakeman Trust, 1991): 662.


Anonymous said...

Warm first coffee of the morn,
a coursing through my veins,
I chance opt wide this blog to read,
and fed my brain instead.
No longer twas it a caffeine fix,
but grace that warmed my soul,
to think the Master of my fate,
with deliberate love He chose.

Ahh, tis truly amazing grace.

Mark M said...

Great post, Lisa.

Anonymous said...

Yet another "ah-HA!" moment on the road to reformation.

Great thoughts, thanks for reminding us to focus on God in worship rather than ourselves.
It's so much easier to remain fascinated with what we can see, feel, and so hard to catch a vision of God based on what we hear out of his Word, even as it is distilled to us through the brilliant hymnody of an Isaac Watts.