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Jan 2021

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. – Matthew 16:24

This Sunday, we will be introducing a new hymn to our gathering, Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken by Henry Francis Lyte, featured on the album Edmund by Kindred Worship. Lyte was a 19th century poet and hymn writer, who had very strong convictions abut the cross, despite suffering from many believed to be tuberculosis. This is not a hymn written on the basis of hollow beliefs. Throughout the hymn there are theological and practical implications bursting from the seams, some of which we will delve into below. Here are the lyrics:

Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee
Destitute, despised, forsaken, thou from hence my all shall be
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known
Yet how rich is my condition, God and heaven are still my own

The hymn begins by heeding the call of Christ in Luke 9:23 by declaring “I my cross have taken.” What are the implications of this statement? This implies that to lose everything, to have nothing, and even to “perish every fond ambition” that this world has to offer in order to follow Christ are the richest of conditions. What else could we need or want? This mingling of loss and gain, of real danger and deeper delight, makes these lyrics so powerful, both as worship, and as formation. I am “destitute, despised, forsaken,” but Christ is “my all,” and God is “my own.” In Christ, our heavenly condition is rich, even as we are struck with successive waves of earthly pain and sorrow. In such joy, the second stanza braces us for the inevitable:

Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Savior too
Human hearts and looks deceive me; thou art not, like man, untrue
And, while thou shall smile upon me, God of wisdom, love, and might
Foes may hate and friends may shun me; show thy face, and all is bright

We endure the wickedness and sinfulness of human hearts and looks by seeing the smile of Jesus. His pleasure readies us, and steadies us, for opposition from afar and (most painfully) near. What should matter to us is not the world and its opinions. The world responds to our confession like they have with Christ: rejection. Though the world seems dark around us now, the Lord is still brighter. Our response to the seeming onslaught of trials and troubles should be one of joy.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure, come disaster, scorn and pain
In Thy service, pain is pleasure, with Thy favor, loss is gain
I have called Thee Abba Father, I have stayed my heart on Thee
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather; all must work for good to me

Verse three is the climactic declaration. Our confidence is not in our earthly position, but in our spiritual placement. We have reckoned with earthly losses. Now we welcome them, with the line that is at the very heart of the hymn: “In Thy service, pain is pleasure, with Thy favor, loss is gain.” We have confidence and comfort knowing that our Father has divinely appointed trials that would aid in our sanctification, what else is there to fear (1 Corinthians 10:13)? This verse then culminates with the deepest reality of God’s comfort in the midst of pain and loss: His sovereign and fatherly goodness (Romans 8:15, 28).

Take, my soul, thy full salvation, rise o’er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station something still to do or bear
Think what Spirit dwells within thee, what a Father’s smile is thine
What a Savior died to win thee: child of heaven, shouldst thou repine?

Verse four then invites us into a life of Trinitarian remembrance. Think about the Spirit that dwells within you, think about the love that the Father has for you, think about the Savior that died for you. The sufferings of this life, however real and monumental they may feel, cannot hold a candle to the eternal blessedness of the Godhead that is being shared with us, and produced in us, by Christ through his Spirit. What again is our grounds for complaint? This finally gives way, in the final verse, to basking in what lies ahead. Not only do heaven’s eternal ages lie before us, but “God’s own hand shall guide us there.” And it will be “soon” that our hope is transformed into “glad fruition,” when we see him face to face.

Hasten on from grace to glory, armed by faith and winged by prayer
Heav’n’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there
Soon shall close thy earthly mission, swift shall pass thy pilgrim days
Hope soon change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise

Many of the lyrics in this hymn almost seem scandalous. Many of us may hesitate to sing such declarations. Do I really mean these words? Does my soul truly welcome disaster, scorn, and pain? Some of us may be reticent to sing along, not because the hymn is any more radical than the words of Jesus, but precisely because the lyrics are so steeped in the call of Christ, and the bracingly stark realities of the Scriptures. Part of us believes and deeply wants the kind of radical life the lyrics portray, while part of us knows we’re not yet there. As we sing this hymn going forward, make part of your prayer simply be, “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jesus, make me more like this!

Lyrics like this help us grow and stretch. They press us and extend us and shape us into what we should be — into what we are not yet but want to be with the help of God’s grace. In worship we express both what we already believe and feel and live, and also what we aspire to, what we pray for. This is how worship forms us. In particular, Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken models for us how a mature Christian anticipates and appropriates suffering in this age. The hymn takes us on a journey from Jesus’s initial call, to the hard yet joyful road of the Christian life, to a taste of the blissful repose awaiting us just over the horizon. These lines put the sweet ups and painful downs of life in this age in the context of God’s overarching redemptive story, precious promises, and ever-present help.

You can listen to Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken by watching the video below, and you can purchase and download the full song by clicking here. As we sing this hymn, my prayer is that we would reconsecrate our lives for the various assaults of this time we live in. That we would prepare our souls for the rhythms of pain and pleasure, loss and gain, grief and joy. I pray that we would ready ourselves to suffer with Christ, upheld by Christ. That we would embrace afresh the essence of the Christian life, for now, as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). I pray that this hymn wouldn’t become some disgruntled manifesto of complaint to God, but a declaration of joy. Yes, we may lose in this life, but how much more we gain. We gain heaven, all things, Christ’s own comfort, and God himself.


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