With this post, I’ve reached the one hundredth entry in my series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth, which means I’ve been running the series for almost two years now. When I began, I hardly imagined that I would come up with so many hymns that featured someplace in my youth… and yet, here we are. I still have a few hymns sitting in the wings that I would like to include, after which I’ll be drawing the series to a close with what I consider to be perhaps the greatest hymn ever written. I know the series has been popular with a number of people who may be sorry to see it go, but I have begun to grow a little tired of it as it begins to be more and more difficult to come up with a hymn I recall but haven’t yet covered. I’m sure I will think of several more after I’ve concluded the series — isn’t that always the way? In the meantime, I’ve come up with a new concept for my regular Sunday posts so that I will be replacing it with a new long-running series that I hope will be at least as popular and which I would love to see generate some good conversation.
The hymn at hand today was written by Isaac Watts in 1707; a refrain was added by Ralph Hudson in 1885. Noted hymnist Fanny Crosby reports responding to an altar call as this hymn was playing at a revival meeting one evening in November of 1850.
Readers who know this hymn well may have already checked the final line of the first stanza to find that I’ve included it as originally written by Watts. The line has been changed in more recent hymnals to read, “For sinners such as I?” Apparently it’s alight to call oneself a sinner, but not to denigrate oneself in the process. I admit I prefer the original line, “For such a worm as I?” For me, this is not simply an insistence on the doctrine of total depravity, but a willingness to admit imperfection and the extent of the holiness gulf between where I am and where God is. And yet.
The hymn is of course a fitting one for the Easter season, though it majors more on Jesus’ death than his resurrection. In my memory of the hymn, I don’t readily place the verses and the refrain together in the same context, though I do recall both. I suppose this has to do with the very different tone between the two, where the refrain attempts to “lighten” the tone of the whole. Knowing now that the two were not written by the same hand, I might suppose that’s the difference 180 years can make in how one prefers to look upon a particular set of facts.
Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine–
And bathed in its own blood–
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
‘Tis all that I can do.