Saturday, August 28, 2010

For Such a Worm as I...Isaac Watts

“Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed”, or “At the Cross”

(Words by Isaac Watts, 1674 – 1748)
Remember that Glorious old hymn? One line was as follows:

''Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred Head
For such a worm as I?''

In today's hymnals, it reads "For Sinners such as I"

Wonder why it was changed?


I remember singing this hymn as a child, with the original word “worm” in it. This was one of my favorite hymns. I still have a clear mental image of the exact placement of each line, each word, the notes, bars, etc. on the page in the old Baptist Hymnal. I also recall on the opposite page was the hymn "At Calvary". When we had Sunday night Hymn requests, I would raise my hand and request one of these two hymns.


I remember once, when the church ordered new hymnals, Bro. Benny discovered that “worm” had been changed to “sinners”.
I distinctly remember like it was yesterday when my Pastor of 17 years, Bro. Benny, a very Godly preacher, with a heart for the LORD, Truth, His Word, and a love for His people, stopped the minister of music in the middle of the hymn. All became silent as he approached the pulpit, where the minister of music stood as he led the congregation in praise to God through the singing of hymns, and motioned for the pianist and organist to stop playing, and the choir & congregation to stop singing.


Bro. Benny told everyone in the congregation to look at that line in the newer hymnal, and he explained to us the watering down and subtlety of the editors in replacing the original, harsh/humbling word with a weaker/more palatable substitute. (I believe some hymnals today have watered it down even further, and put "for such a one as I", and even left off "sinner". The image intended by Isaac Watts was not meant to be a pleasant image, but to paint a contrast of the depths of our sinfulness with "That Sacred Head", Jesus Christ.) Brother Benny used this as a “teachable moment”, and then asked us all to take a pen or pencil, and cross out “sinner”, and write back in “worm”. He took his role as the shepherd of his flock very seriously, and was always conscious of his responsibility to lead us into all Truth, and protect us from any error or watering down of the Truth. We then proceeded to sing the hymn as it was originally intended by its author, and for years, every time this hymn was sung, those of us who were present that day remembered the time Bro. Benny interrupted the service and addressed this. This had a huge impact on me, which I will never forget. I realized then how much TRUTH MATTERS!


Bro. Benny did this on more than one occasion. Once we were singing the hymn "Grace Greater than Our Sin", and came to the line “where the blood of the lamb was spilt

"Grace Greater Than Our Sin"

written by Julia Harriet Johnston, born in1849

"Marvelous love of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt

Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured

There where the blood of the lamb was spilt

Bro. Benny did the same thing again. He approached the pulpit while the minister of music led the congregational singing, and stopped us. Once again, he asked us to get our pens or pencils out and mark through "spilt", and replace it with "shed". He told us that to him, "spilt" seemed more like an accident, like "spilled-milk" or something, and "shed" seemed more intentional. He took a few minutes to expound how Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was no accident, but intentional, and was planned by Jesus and the Father, the Lamb slain before the Foundations of the world! Jesus willingly shed His Blood for our sins. My family and I agreed wholeheartedly with Bro. Benny's theological reasoning for changing these words, but even if someone didn't, they had to admire him for his strong conviction, and taking a stand to protect his flock from anything that could even be perceived as less than accurate.


This blog wasn't intend to be as much about those hymns, as it was a tribute to my Pastor Bro. Benny, that great man of God, and his strong convictions, which on occasion led him to even interrupt the Baptist order-of-worship services (nearly unheard of back then) to address what was on his heart, and to stand for the Truth.


Thanks, Brother Benny for the impact you had (& still have) on my Christian life!


For more on the word "worm", click here to see my earlier post on William Carey, Missionary to India, a man who knew his place before a "Thrice Holy God", who had put on his tombstone,

William Carey
Born, August 17, 1761
Died, June 9, 1834
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall.”

Additional Scriptures:
Psalm 22:6(ESV) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
Isaiah 41:14(ESV)Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
John 3:30(ESV)He must increase, but I must decrease.


3 comments:

  1. A friend's autocorrect inadvertantly referred to me as a worm on Facebook. She felt terrible---but this great post puts it all in proper perspective and magnifies the wonder of God's love, grace and mercy! Knocks this "worm" to her knees! Thanks for posting.

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  2. AnonymousJuly 15, 2012

    This was really good. I noticed in my recently purchased CD of hymns that "such a worm as I" had disappeared. This is one more sign of watering down Christianity --its doctrine, its ritual, its ethical codes, and the songs that once represented it. When it ceased to be what it was, what it first promised will be no more.

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  3. Let's not get too Carried away by the words penned by issac watts. Let's provide an accurate view of the nature of God and man as taught in Gods Word. We attract believers by showing mercy and love. We understand our position when we trust and obey our holy Lord

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