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Hymn Writers and Their Hymns: John Newton – ‘Tis A Point

January 20, 2015

‘Tis A Point I Long to Know

In Kent and Barbara Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, chapter five is a reflection on John 21 to show how success in ministry requires loving Jesus. In this chapter, they refresh the scene of the Risen Christ asking Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”. Can you imagine what must have been going on inside Peter? Just two weeks earlier, on the eve of the crucifixion, he had three times denied any knowledge of Jesus and after realizing what he had done, wept bitterly. And now Jesus, greeting him in peace, asks Peter if he loves him and Peter is grieved.

So it is when we confess our noble beliefs but careful examination of our lives proves otherwise. It brings grief. It happens to all of us. Without spoiling Joshua’s sermon summery, last Sunday Pastor Carter expounded on Acts 15:36-41 and we observed that though Paul and Barnabas preached a message of reconciliation founded on Christ’s love for sinners, they here have a “sharp disagreement” and go separate ways. “The best of men are men at best”.

Kent Hughes shares a spiritual exercise he developed to help him stay committed to loving Jesus as he confesses. He imagines himself being in Peters shoes with the disciples in John 21 when Jesus looks at him in the eyes and asks, “Kent, do you love me?”

John Newton did a similar exercise when writing a hymn for his sermon on this passage:

‘Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?

If I love, why am I thus?
Why this dull and lifeless frame?
Hardly, sure, can they be worse,
Who have never heard his name!

Could my heart so hard remain,
Prayer a task and burden prove,
Every trifle give me pain,
If I knew a Savior’s love?

When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark and, vain and wild,
Filled with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?

If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do;
You who love the Lord indeed,
Tell me, is it thus with you?

Yet I mourn my stubborn will,
Find my sin a grief and thrall;
Should I grieve at what I feel,
If I did not love at all?

Could I joy his saints to meet,
Choose the ways I once abhorred,
Find at times the promise sweet,
If I did not love the Lord?

Lord, decide this doubtful case!
Thou who art the people’s sun,
Since upon thy work of grace,
If indeed it be begun.

Let me love thee more and more,
If I love at all, I’ll pray,
If I have not loved before,
Help me to begin today.

Newton did not write his hymns detached from personal familiarity. He referred to his hymns as, “the fruit and expression of his own experience.” A common understanding of meditation today is that it is an exercise of emptying your mind; however, Tim Keller says that meditation is the act of thinking a truth in [into your heart] and then thinking it out [thinking out the implications of this truth for your life]. That is what hymns help us do as they take their theme and turn it over and let us gaze upon it, often suggesting ways in which this truth should change our lives.

Another example of this is Newton’s How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds. There are notes from Newton’s sermon the day he introduced this hymn to his congregation and it reveals that his sermon text was from Song of Solomon 1:3, “Thy Name is as ointment poured forth.” As he meditated on that text all week he saw its fulfillment in Jesus and the implication for the hardships of the Christian’s life. When was the last time you got that much out of meditating on Song of Solomon 1:3?!

What amazing grace we have when we don’t have to love Jesus perfectly for Jesus to love us back!

One Comment leave one →
  1. dac1224 permalink
    January 24, 2015 1:18 pm

    Aghhhh… Nice. I too think I’ll start putting myself in Peters shoes as Hughes admits. And I appreciate Kellers definition on meditation… And I also like Newtons hymn as I wrestle with my own love for the Master. Desiring it to be elevated! Thanks for the post sir!

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