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May 2020

And Can It Be

When we see that the whole sum of our salvation, and every single part of it, are comprehended in Christ, we must beware of deriving even the minutes portion of it from any other quarter. – John Calvin in Chapter 16 of Institutes of the Christian Religion

During a time when everything seems to be becoming more mundane, it seems odd to be singing hymns about eyes diffusing quick’ning rays, or dungeon flaming with light, but maybe that’s exactly what we need right now. Lyrics that may sound strange to our modern ears, but shake us out of our Covid complacency.

And Can It Be was written by Charles Wesley, and first published in 1738. Originally titled Free Grace, it is usually associated with a very early period linked with Charles Wesley’s conversion, as the song describes the experience of conversion and the wonder of one who is still amazed “That You, my God, would die for me?”. For me, And Can It Be describes the wonder that fills our hearts when we consider the mercy that caused God to take on flesh and die in our place. It reminds us that all our blessings are “through Christ” (the objective work of Christ) and they are by faith “my own” (the experiential possession). Here are the lyrics, accompanied by a few notes on each verse:

Verse 1

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?

Verse one highlights our culpability in the death of Jesus, as it puts us right in the middle of the crowd who shouted “Crucify Him!”, and ultimately pursued him to his death. It begs the question that will eventually culminate in the Chorus below: How amazed are we at the extravagant grace of God evident in our salvation? How amazed are we that the One whom our own sins caused his death would now offer up his life for us? This is why we can sing with Wesley a little later: “Amazing love! How can it be, That You my God, would die for me?

Verse 2

‘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!
He left His Father’s throne, so infinite His grace;
He emptied all but love, and bled for Adam’s race;

Verse two reminds us of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and death. The depth of this mystery is highlighted by Wesley’s description of angelic attempts to understand the “depths of love divine” (1 Peter 1:12). This “love divine” is seen in that it caused the Son to leave “His Father’s throne above,” demonstrating the freeness and infinite nature of His grace, and climaxing on the cross with the death of Jesus.

Chorus

Amazing love! How can it be that You, my God, would die for me?
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; for, O my God, it found out me.

Verse 3

Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
The chains fell from my hands, my soul, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth in praise to serve and follow Thee.

Verse three describes the creation of a Christian, as God brings him from death to life. This is probably the most personal of the verses. Wesley’s view of his pre-conversion state was that of an “imprisoned spirit” bound by both sin and nature. He draws on the imagery of a prisoner bound by chains in a dungeon. It is only “a quick’ning ray” emitted from the eye of God which caused Wesley to awaken from his slumber of sin and death (Ephesians 2:1-4). The “quick’ning” of the sinner resulted in a dungeon now inflamed with light, chains being broken, and a free heart. And what was Wesley’s response to his “quick’ning”? To rise up and follow Jesus, the author of his regeneration.

Verse 4

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
Now boldly I approach my God’s eternal throne,
And claim the crown of life, through Jesus Christ my own.

Verse four boldly claims that we can approach God’s throne because we have been united with Christ. The reason that we don’t need to fear God’s condemnation is that we are now united to Jesus Christ through faith “Jesus, and all in Him, is mine.” This includes being eternally clothed in His righteousness! And it is on this basis that we are enabled to boldly approach “God’s eternal throne” (Hebrews 4:16).

Ending Chorus

Amazing love! How can it be that You, my God, would die for me?
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.

Not being a big fan of the numerous melodies usually associated with this hymn, Redemption Hill Music decided to write our own. You can watch and listen to a live version of And Can It Be below from a previous Sunday at The Fourhundred, and you can also download the song off our latest album No Other Work here.

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