Friday, April 3, 2009

Such a Worm...

I can remember, as a child singing that great old hymn, “At the Cross” by Isaac Watts and I can recall vividly the first stanza of that song: “Alas and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head, For such a worm as I?” And then as I grew older, the last line of that song began to change. Changed to something like-- “such a sinner as I”..or “such a one as I”, or “for sinners such as I”. The hymn was originally entitled, “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?” and did not contain the chorus from which the new title arose, ”At the Cross”. The chorus was later added by R.E. Hudson and ends with the line, ”and now I am happy all the time”. You old-timers, like myself, can fill in the first part of that chorus by memory, youngsters..can “google”.

Now, I think the last line of the chorus is indicative of what happened to the last line of the first stanza. How can a person who is “happy” all the time see himself as a “worm”? “Sinner” or “such a one as I” is much less humbling than to be thought of as a “worm”. There is a true and real contrast between being happy all the time and worminess, struggle, holy discontent, and remembering our sinful roots. I think if Isaac Watts were around today..he would discard completely the chorus that was added to his poem or song, or at a minimum add it to a more appropriate song. The original does seem to be out of place in this age of self-esteem. Worms? No way,..I’m OK and you’re OK. Most today, I think, would want to keep the chorus, repeat it eight times and throw away the stanzas altogether. Way too much “theological” info there!

We are now into I Kings reading through the Bible in 2009. So far we have been introduced to a multitude of godly well as some very unsavory ones. In looking back over some of my biblical heroes I just might ask the question...”did they see themselves, as the chorus states, happy all the time”? How about David, the one who was characterized by God Himself, as one “after God’s own heart”. Happy all the time? Hardly! I don’t think you can find an OT character with more “problems, issues and concerns”. He knew his sinful roots...and could say, “He brought me up out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay..” (Ps 40:2) “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me" and “my sin is ever before me” (Ps 51:3,5) I think David and many other OT heroes would acknowledge the last line of Isaac Watts’ song..that Christ did indeed devote that sacred head, ”for such a worm as I”.

Now, it is true we are to acknowledge the past, as David certainly did, but also we are to realize that there is a glorious future as well. Balance, as in most things, is key. Paul could acknowledge his roots as “chief of sinners”, and even rehearse some of those continuing sins, but he could also say..”Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:24-25) Christian qualities, I believe, are enhanced by an acknowledgement of our unworthiness. Truly, it is, and must be, by grace that we are saved and not of ourselves.

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