Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jesus, I Come

Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee;
Out of my sickness, into Thy health,
Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of earth’s sorrows into Thy balm,
Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm,
Out of distress to jubilant psalm,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into Thy bless├Ęd will to abide,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of myself to dwell in Thy love,
Out of despair into raptures above,
Upward for aye on wings like a dove,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb,
Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come;
Into the joy and light of Thy throne,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of the depths of ruin untold,
Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold,
Ever Thy glorious face to behold,
Jesus, I come to Thee.

Text by William T. Sleeper, 1887

Tune by George C. Stebbins

I was listening to a well-known evangelical theologian and pastor on the radio after church on Sunday and something he said reminded me of this text, which has been a great encouragement to me. The tune, well…it is functional and has its place. It is harmonically pleasing and I’ve always been a sucker for a 6/8 hymn tune.

Anyways, back to the text. Theoretically, it could be the song of a person at the point of regeneration, which is why it is one of those texts unfairly branded as an evangelistic invitation or “alter call” hymn. But this has still been my song at numerous points during my Christian journey. Why is that? If salvation is a reality in my life, why do I find these words passing through my lips even now? Well, if sanctification is, at least partially explained as the process of “getting used to justification,” it makes some sense.

I was brought up in a tradition that is very skeptical of people who could not name a particular time and a particular place where they were converted, or “saved” (a term that is appropriate but I believe is probably overused, for reasons I might get into later…possibly). I think the reasoning is that if you can’t remember it than it must not have been that important and life-changing. At this point in my life, I’ve come to the place where I don’t think the words in the so-called “sinner’s prayer” are not so magical. I didn’t get this when I was young. In fact, I can recall times in my life, usually after I was subjected to a sermon on dispensational eschatology, I was so scared my first meant recitation of that prayer had not been effective that I stayed awake in my bed for hours trying different combinations of the usual words just in case I hadn’t gotten the magical combination just perfect. Thankfully, I did get to the place where I stopped worrying about it so much and I realized my faith was alive and vital and that periods of doubt were points on my sanctification journey.

Let me be clear: I believe that regeneration is instantaneous; that one steps out of night and into light, as the first line of the text reads. Because of the pervasive presence of sin and its effects on the human psyche and conscience, we cannot always pinpoint that particular instant. I believe that I was saved one night in my bedroom in 1990, but I no longer worry about it, and I wish many evangelical circles would have more grace for Christians who don’t have their “spiritual” birthdays highlighted on their wall calendar. A thorough awareness of justification may not be immediate.

Now, back to the text. I believe this and other similar hymn texts are so meaningful for us who are getting used to the reality of our salvation. Since we continue to struggle with sin, both the personal and general realities of it, we keep finding it necessary to move out of bondage into freedom; out of sickness into health. We could personalize this statement, too. It could be out of depression and anxiety, I come. Or out of addiction, I come. Maybe out of my idols I come. Perhaps it could be out of my passive belief into active belief.

Regeneration is “once for all.” Recommitment and repentance are constant. May we be released from the “dread of the tomb” and be confident in the “glorious gain of the cross.”