Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Hopeful Hymns in Uncertain Times (part 5)

During these uncertain times, it is important to hear from God's word and from godly counsel. One of the resources that provides us with good Christian teaching is good Christian music. Hymns, both new and old, are a treasure for the church as we seek to sing spiritual songs that remind us of great truths. My hope is that these little devotionals will encourage Christians in days of trial. 

"Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"
Helen Howarth Lemmel

Originally titled, "The Heavenly Vision," this hymn has its roots in a gospel tract from over a hundred years ago. Lilias Trotter, a missionary to Algeria, supporter of D.L. Moody's ministry, and friend of Amy Carmichael's, authored a variety of tracts as an aspect of her ministry, often incorporating her art skills in the publishing. Her pamphlet titled Focussed (sic), was the inspiration for Helen Howarth Lemmel who penned this song (she wrote over 500 songs in her lifetime and taught music at Moody Bible Institute).

Lemmel released this work to the public in 1918 as a pamphlet, before creating her own tune four years later to turn the words into a hymn. The song first gained popularity at the Keswick Conference in northern England and has since turned into a Christian classic. For me, it's a top-five all-time hymn.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
and life more abundant and free.

Here at the opening of the song we are given the scenario: a down-trodden soul, distressed because of the world. Lemmel gives us the remedy: look to Jesus. Abundant life is what Jesus came to offer (John 10:7-10) and whom He sets free is free indeed (John 8:36). The Savior, Jesus Christ, is the cure for the problems of the human heart.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in His wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His glory and grace.

Here is where we can see the influence of that old Trotter tract. The words from that missionary read this way, "Turn full your soul's vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him."

What a truth! The chorus is what makes this song, as the melody causes the powerful words to stick in the mind. I remember learning this song early on in my Christian life (around age eighteen) and being so moved by these words. I was transitioning into new life with Jesus and living through this very chorus. I can't help but think of Colossians 3:1-4.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there.
O’er us sin no more hath dominion,
for more than conqu’rors we are!

First Peter 3:18 says, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." Our Lord, truly man and truly God, was put to death and breathed His last -- yet He never ceased to be. He opened the gates of Heaven for those who will follow Him, as He rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Therefore, those who have begun living eternally in the here-and-now should live for this Lord in every way. Lemmel connects these concepts in this stanza just as Peter did in his letter. Look at what he went on to write in 4:1-6.

His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
believe Him and all will be well.
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

This last verse issues the bottom line. God's word never fails; we are backed by the promises of God. As we find our rest and assurance in the God of all comfort, we are then commissioned to point others to this marvelous Savior of the soul. Second Corinthians 5:17-21 explains this clearly.

Here are a couple of versions of this song. The first is a more traditional rendition; the second is Sovereign Grace's more contemporary spin (with new words added).

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