I love the hymnbook. It’s portable, it’s full of rich theology put to wonderful melody, and it comes with the sheet music included. In it are found wonderful hidden treasure: new hymns (to me) which I get to discover and learn.
However, the hymnal does have its down side. Each hymnbook has an editor, someone (or a group of someones) who makes decisions about what to included and what to leave out. Don’t get me wrong, these folks are very helpful I’m sure, but one decision they have to make that can be really frustrating is what to cut out when it comes to an individual song. Often this results in some rich verse of a hymn being left out because it makes the hymn too long or the words might not be received well by the broader audience.
Here are just a few examples of this happening to pretty popular hymns. Let’s begin with Amazing Grace, the most famous of all the hymns. Although you’ve probably heard and sung the song more times than you can remember, how familiar are you with these two verses?
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
The last verse is making a comeback thanks to Chris Tomlin, but how many of our hymnals include it? (Also the final verse -“When we’ve been there ten thousand years…“- wasn’t written by John Newton. It wasn’t included in the song until 50 years after the original was written.)
Here’s another one, taken from probably my favorite Charles Wesley hymn, And Can it Be. At least one of these two verses is left out of most hymnals.
‘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.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
Another hymn that many people are familiar with, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” written by Robert Robinson, is arranged in most hymnals in a far different (and greatly diminished, in my opinion) form than it was originally written.
Why am I point all of this out? Well, today as we continue our study of the lessons left for us in the hymn It is Well with My Soul (here are links to part 1 and part 2), we are going to begin looking at two of the forgotten verses of this hymn. Although they are left out of many hymnals, their exclusion shouldn’t reflect on their worth. As we explore these “rejects” we’ll find some powerful clues to Horatio Spafford’s ability to endure when the waves of tragedy crashed upon his soul. These verses constitute rich aspects of his testimony of God’s grace, a testimony that will help us learn to say “It is Well” when difficult arises in our life.
Here is the first forgotten verse:
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
You can see very clearly how our brother viewed his life. He sounds just like the Apostle Paul, “to live is Christ to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). But it wasn’t always this way with Horatio.
In the early years of his adulthood, when he really began to grow in his financial success and prosperity, he struggled with his commitment to God. It wasn’t until he attended a D. L. Moody evangelistic meeting that he fully surrendered to the Lord. And following that, the testimony of his life is that he became a real man of balance, no longer simply devoted to his business life- but devoted to his family and spending a great amount of time serving and ministering in the church.
He was a man learning, as he put it in the song, that “be it Christ hence to live.” He was learning to live for the glory of God and not for his own glory or comfort. And when the trials came, this resolve- to make living about Christ- was tested.
When those close to us are taken, when our comforts are removed, we discover really quickly what our life is about. Is it about those comforts? Is it about those people? Is it about us… or is it about Him.
If it is about Him, we will be able to say “It is well.”
However, there are times when such an idea seems almost impossible. To be able to face great tragedy, such as Horatio Spafford faced, and still say “It is well” -to still find peace- seems like an almost ridiculous expectation. But, here we need to remind ourselves of the promise of Christ.
In Matthew 16:25, Christ explains to His disciples that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” It is only through surrender to Christ that we truly find satisfaction. It is only when we make the glory of Christ our goal in life that we will find the peace our soul is so hungry for.
And this is what Horatio shows us. This is what his “forgotten” verse is telling us. Even as the river is rolling over head and he finds himself overcome by a flood of affliction, he is secure. “No pang [or mental anguish] shall be mine.” Instead God is gently whispering peace to His soul. Wow.
Here is where it really hit my life, my thinking about how I can be ready to face tragedy in my life. I believe Horatio, through the reminder of this forgotten verse, has exposed why so many, even true believers, are devastated by tragedy. Instead of living each day for the glory of Christ, they have never really let go of their life and made each day about living only for Him. In order to truly say “It is well with my soul” in the face of affliction, we need to see that affliction in light of Christ, in the light of the truth that our lives are His and are to be lived for His glory.
However, we can’t wait until the tragedy comes to make this decision. We must choose today to live for Christ alone, knowing that that the waves of affliction will come only to test that resolve that has already been made. I prepare for the future tragedy by letting go of myself and clinging to Christ today. The resolve made years before gave Horatio the foundation upon which he could stand when the storms struck his life. That is an important and essential lesson for each of us to grasp.
Next week, we’ll examine one more lesson from our brother’s great hymn and in doing so, we’ll look at a second rejected verse. However, since it has been left out so often, I thought I’d end this post with its inclusion. See if you can glean what is the third truth that buoyed up Horatio Spafford as he weathered his life’s greatest trial.
But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!