Sunday, 10 September 2006

Lord, behold a wretched sinner

A hymn by Kim Fabricius

(Tune: Quem pastores laudavere)

Lord, behold a wretched sinner,
from the outer to the inner;
at repentance, rank beginner:
   day and night my conscience cries.

Where begin? My faults keep mounting;
when I start I can’t stop counting;
huge the sum, but Christ’s accounting
   crosses out and nullifies.

Good I would but can’t achieve it,
bad I hate but can’t relieve it.
God for us? I can’t believe it:
   me the apple of his eye!

God forgives before petition;
grace alone shows our condition;
truth demands our self-suspicion:
   like a snake the heart is sly.

While accusing scribes are hissing,
Christ portrays the Father kissing
cheek of child that he’s been missing:
   Love forgives and sanctifies!

12 Comments:

Jim said...

Very nice.

Still, I wonder if there's biblical warrant for this line:

"God forgives before petition;"

If that's so then naturally the Prophets were all quite wrong to call for repentance and John the Baptist as well.

Though I admit, it fits nicely with the theology of hopeful universalism.

Ben Myers said...

The thing I like most about this hymn is the emphasis on the priority of grace -- we don't even know that we need forgiveness until we experience the grace of forgiveness. Or, as Karl Barth always said, it's not the Law that comes first, but the Gospel!

Richard Hall said...

I really like this one Kim, and will be using it at 8 tonight. Small query about the punctuation of the last line of the 3rd vs. Shouldn't it be "me, the apple of his eye?"?

kim fabricius said...

Hi Jim.

The precedence of forgiveness over repentance - indeed the empowering of repentance by forgiveness - is, as Ben notes, Barthian. But, though it may surprise some folk, Calvin too insisted that repentance is the fruit of faith (as trust that God is pro me), not the other way around (see the Institutes, Book III, Chapter 3). In any case, don't even pagans forgive on the basis of apologies? Isn't the uniqueness - and the scandal - of the gospel precisely that forgiveness is extended truly freely and unconditionally? As for scriptural warrant, I submit not a particuar text - which could always be countered - but the entire lifestyle of Jesus in his encounters with sinners. And though not an argument as such, my own personal experience of conversion started from hearing the word of grace before I knew that I was a sinner, and of being pardoned before I confessed my sins. Which is why true evangelical repentance is not a doleful act but a response of joy. Does this touch base with anyone?

Richard.

Richard (whose blog is Connexions) is a (Methodist) colleague who lives just down the road, so I phoned him about his comment - which is fair, but for me, adiaphora. Richard's main query is about the question mark, which, for the punctuation police [:)]is probably right, but I wanted to express the sheer gob-smacking amazingness that God loves me - yes, even me - and no question about it!

Weekend Fisher said...

That gave me chills. Good stuff.

kim fabricius said...

Why, thank you WF. I hope that you and your community are well, indeed thriving.

Every blessing,
Kim

Ben Myers said...

Another point in response to Richard's grammatical query: it's surprisingly difficult to sing a question-mark at the closing line of a verse -- exclamation marks are much easier to sing! (Unless, of course, the whole verse happens to be a question: e.g "And can it be ...?")

Jim said...

Calvin... what a guy. Still, Calvin would have doubtless chalked up the priority of grace to repentance to the fact of election. And in that he is quite right. I don't think he would have believed (nor did he) in a sort of universalized "forgiveness sans repentance".

But don't get me wrong Kim, I think this a fine work. One quibble over one phrase doesn't diminish my esteem for the whole.

kim fabricius said...

I know that, Jim. Thanks.

John Hartley said...

I have come across this hymn in issue 37 of "Worship Live" (a magazine for sharing new material for worship, published by Stainer & Bell, UK). The suggested tune was "Quem Pastores" which fits the meter but not the mood, and subscribers were invited to write new tunes for it. I'd be interested in knowing what the copyright position is, as I'd like to use the hymn in our church (St Luke Eccleshill, Bradford, UK).

I agree with Richard that the question mark at the end of verse 3 would better get the sense of amazement at such unwarranted favour, particularly as the singer is obviously questionning (otherwise the previous line wouldn't be "I can't believe it). It doesn't seem to me that the hymn crosses the boundary into universal forgiveness, since it includes lines which make it clear that the singer is required to exercise self-suspicion and return as the prodigal.

From the point of view of setting it to music (which I've done), the composer in me would like to be able to set the self-condemnatory lines to a minor mode, and then switch to the major for the good news of God's forgiveness. Unfortunately that's not possible as different verses have these different themes in different places in the verse. I'd be interested to know if Kim had any thoughts on the ideal music when the words were being penned?

JOHN HARTLEY

kim fabricius said...

Hi John,

Thanks for your comment (which Ben has just forwarded to me).

I have often owned up to the fact that, musically, I am an ignoramus, which is why I always consult with one or two musically gifted friends over the tunes of my hymns. However if you think Quem pastores laudavere is unsuitable to "Lord, behold a wretched sinner" I certainly won't argue with you and would be delighted for you to put it to any music, particularly your own -what an honour! - that would be more apposite. And that goes for any of my hymns you come across (I know that several people have written tunes for hymns they have seen at Worship Live).

Thanks again for your input - which I hope will bear fruit in its output in your church!

Kim

John Hartley said...

OK, you can find a tune (midi file to listen to and a graphic with the sheet music to read) at this link, and I'm very grateful to Kim for his permission to display the words too. It's a privilege to be able to set words like this to music.

JOHN HARTLEY

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