Singing the Means of Grace with Charles Wesley

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What has always been regarded as one of the geniuses of the Wesleyan revivals is that we don’t just believe doctrine in our heads; we sing it into our hearts! Charles Wesley was so moved by the sermons his brother John preached on the means of grace that he wrote a hymn to capture many of those truths.

Charles Wesley wrote this hymn in common meter (8.6.8.6), so it can be sung to the tune of many familiar hymns, such as “Amazing Grace,” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” or even “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

What I love about this hymn is that it never presents the means of grace as anything other than the work of Jesus Christ in and through our lives. Jesus Christ is the fountainhead of all the means of grace. The hymn never turns the means into works, as it concludes with the strong testimony to the Reformation doctrine that we are saved by grace. Yet, the whole hymn reverberates with the grand Wesleyan truth that God intends to transform us into His likeness and make us sharers in His holiness.

 1. Long have I seem’d to serve Thee, Lord,
With unavailing pain;
Fasted, and pray’d and read Thy Word,
And heard it preach’d, in vain.

2. Oft did I with th’assembly join,
And near Thine altar drew;
A form of godliness was mine,
The power I never knew.

3. To please Thee thus (at last I see)
In vain I hoped and strove:
For what are outward things to Thee,
Unless they spring from love?

4. I see the perfect law requires
Truth in the inward parts,
Our full consent, our whole desires,
Our undivided hearts.

5. But I of means have made my boast,
Of means an idol made;
The spirit in the letter lost,
The substance in the shade.

6. I rested in the outward law,
Nor knew its deep design;
The length and breadth I never saw,
The height of love Divine.

7. Where am I now, or what my hope?
What can my weakness do?
JESUS, to Thee my soul looks up,
’Tis Thou must make it new.

8. Thine is the work, and Thine alone—
But shall I idly stand?
Shall I the written Rule disown,
And slight my God’s command?

 9. Wildly shall I from Thine turn back,
A better path to find;
Thy holy ordinance forsake,
And cast Thy words behind?

10. Forbid it, gracious Lord, that I
Should ever learn Thee so!
No—let me with Thy word comply,
If I thy love would know.

11. Suffice for me, that Thou, my Lord,
Hast bid me fast and pray:
Thy will be done, Thy name adored;
’Tis only mine t’obey.

12. Thou bidd’st me search the Sacred Leaves,
And taste the hallow’d Bread:
The kind commands my soul receives,
And longs on Thee to feed.

13. Still for Thy loving-kindness, Lord,
I in Thy temple wait;
I look to find Thee in Thy Word,
Or at Thy table meet.

14. Here, in Thine own appointed ways,
I wait to learn Thy will:
Silent I stand before Thy face,
And hear Thee say, “Be still!”

15. “Be still—and know that I am God!”
’Tis all I live to know;
To feel the virtue of Thy blood,
And spread its praise below.

16. I wait my vigor to renew,
Thine image to retrieve,
The veil of outward things pass through,
And gasp in Thee to live.

17. I work, and own the labor vain;
And thus from works I cease:
I strive, and see my fruitless pain,
Till God create my peace.

18. Fruitless, till Thou Thyself impart,
Must all my efforts prove:
They cannot change a sinful heart,
They cannot purchase love.

19. I do the Thing Thy laws enjoin,
And then the strife gives o’er:
To Thee I then the whole resign:
I trust in means no more.

20. I trust in Him who stands between
The Father’s wrath and me:
JESUS! Thou great eternal Mean,
I look for all from Thee.

21. Thy mercy pleads, Thy truth requires,
Thy promise calls Thee down!
Not for the sake of my desires—
But, O! regard Thine own!

22. I seek no motive out of Thee:
Thine own desires fulfill;
If now Thy bowels yearn on me,
On me perform Thy will.

23. Doom, if Thou canst, to endless pains,
And drive me from Thy face:
But if Thy stronger love constrains,
Let me be saved by grace.

Did you enjoy this entry? One of our latest resources, Seeking Jesus: Finding Life in the Means of Grace by Timothy Tennent, reminds us that the purpose of the means of grace is to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. We pray because, in praying, we become more like Jesus. We worship and we do works of mercy because Jesus modeled this consistently and perfectly. Seeking Jesus through the means of grace helps us fulfill our vocation to become the image of God in our world—not by self-striving but by allowing Christ to be formed in us.

Discover why exactly Christians have long engaged in spiritual activity such as baptism, prayer, worship, and works of mercy. Get it from our store here.

If you would like to sing your spirituality and theology, Seedbed’s new hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise is now available for pre-order.

This 800-page comprehensive collection includes:

  • 675 hymns for the entire church year
  • A rich treasury of hymns by Charles and John Wesley
  • Wesleyan themes of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace
  • Classic favorite hymns and contemporary selections across the breadth of church history
  • Baptism and Holy Communion liturgies
  • Service music for various occasions
  • A rich collection of creeds, prayers, and benedictions
  • A selection of metrical psalter hymns
  • Hymns organized around the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed

Learn more about this hymnal here.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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