Friends, the song for the month of June is And Can It Be. It was written by Charles Wesley, and first published in 1738.
You probably know, Charles and his brother, John Wesley, played a significant role of the development of Christianity in both England and the American colonies, particularly the establishment of the Methodist movement (though they were both Anglican clergyman, and Charles remained so all his life) which would later become the United Methodist Church.
While John’s influence was felt through his leadership and preaching, Charles influenced many more people through his songs. He wrote over 5500 hymns, which include “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, and “Rejoice, the Lord is King”, and many other hymns that have served Christians for centuries.
Charles and his older brother John were ordained as clergymen before they were converted! They were in the grip of sincere but lifeless legalism. It left Charles in anxious introspection about the quality of his own spiritual state and whether he had done enough. He did not know the Saviour, Jesus, in a personal way.
In the month of May 1738, Charles Wesley was recovering from illness in London. The humble concern and sincere Christian testimonies of his Moravian hosts affected him, Opening his Bible at Isaiah 40:1, the light of salvation shone upon him! His journal entry for May 21 reads:
“I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ… I saw that by faith I stood, by the continual support of faith… I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness… yet confident of Christ’s protection.”
On the following day, Charles strength began to return. He also commenced what proved to be the first of thousands of hymns! Exactly a year later, Charles wrote a more famous hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, which he recommended using on the anniversary of your conversion! Wesley’s new spiritual life was also seen in his deep compassion for lost men and women. His preaching was quite transformed, and like his brother and George Whitefield he began preaching the gospel outdoors as well.
“And Can It Be” describes in a very personal way how amazing it is to realize that the eternal Son of God came to die for each of us as individuals.
Verse one highlights our guilt, as we were the ones whose sins actually pursued Jesus to death.
Verse two acknowledges the seeming paradox of declaring that the immortal God died on the cross.
Verse three tells of the free and infinite grace of Christ’s incarnation and death.
Verse four describes the creation of a Christian, as God brings him from darkness to light, from spiritual captivity to freedom in following Jesus. It’s almost as if the author was re-living his original conversion. But as someone who has grown up knowing Jesus as my Savior all along (thanks to Sunday School teachers), the song still speaks strongly to me.
Lastly, verse five opens with an echo of Romans 8:1 (“no condemnation”) and claims that we can approach God’s throne boldly because we have been united with Christ and are eternally clothed in his righteousness.
This hymn will test our vocal chords and encourage our hearts!
6/2014-2/2017 Pastor Gary Priddy