Brethren Archive


As Debtors To Mercy Alone

by Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778)

Tune: De Fleury Dactylic

1 AS debtors to mercy alone,
Of heavenly mercy we sing;
Nor fear to draw near to the throne,
Our praise and our worship to bring:
The wrath of a sin-hating God
With us can have nothing to do;
The Saviour's obedience and blood
Hide all our transgressions from view.

2 The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete:
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet:
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below nor above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo,
Or sever our souls from His love.

3 Our names from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase:
Impressed on His heart they remain
In marks of indelible grace:
And we to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The spirits departed to heaven.

Gregory Morris said ...
Do you think the saints would be better served with the tune Trewen?
Tuesday, Jan 10, 2023 : 07:19
Syd said ...
A challenging question. Is the tune Celeste not more well-known and sung?

On another note (!), the lines, “The Saviour's obedience and blood; Hide all our transgressions from view,” remind me of Edward Dennett’s objection to the Brethren’s doctrine on justification. He wrote in his—“The Plymouth Brethren: Their Rise, Divisions, Practice and Doctrine” (available on this website) of the common understanding of justification in Protestantism:
“First the death of Christ procures for him (the sinner) the remission of sin , and the obedience of Christ a perfect righteousness. In other words, on the exercise of faith the blood of Christ cleanses him from sin, and the obedience, the merits of Christ imputed to him, constitute him as a righteous person before God. Our hymns are full of this doctrine, as for example:—

“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.” (Zinzendorf)

But according to ‘the Brethren’ we have all been mistaken, and they utterly deny the imputation of the obedience of the Saviour's life—His righteousness to the believer. His life on earth was, they say, in no sense vicarious.”

Dennett was later otherwise persuaded and learned that the living obedience of Christ does not justify a sinner. Toplady’s hymn embraces the same error concerning Christ’s “obedience.” I suppose that a taught believer might understand the words in the hymn to mean Christ’s, “obedience unto death.” But that is not what Toplady meant.
However, it is a truly magnificent hymn, and worthy of the best tune to uplift the saints' hearts.
Thursday, Jan 12, 2023 : 22:06
Steve H said ...
Hi Syd,

You make some interesting comments.

Christ's death is clearly fundamental to our salvation, but what would His death have accomplished if:-

He had not lived His whole life in perfect obedience to His Father's will?
He had not risen again?
He had not ascended - to go to prepare a place for us?
He does not return?

How important it is for all of us to know what we believe and why, and look to the Scriptures to help us to know Him better.

I really love hymns, spiritual songs and poetry, but sadly not all hymnology is good theology.

Similarly, it is very easy to place too much reliance on what others have previously stated / written, rather than try to understand what the Bible is saying to us now.

Even difficult passages can be a real blessing, if we open our hearts and minds to the Lord.

I would much rather spend my time dwelling on the positive things, rather than rake over all the sad history of conflicts, divisions, failures etc.

Every blessing for the rest of 2023 (and beyond).

Steve H

Friday, Jan 13, 2023 : 03:10
Gregory Morris said ...
I think objections to the hymn set the cart before the horse. The Lord's life was an offering to God from its beginning to its end. He pursued obedience till the end even death on a cross. God is satisfied with Jesus, we sometimes sing. The offering had to be unblemished or it could not be offered.

Anyhow, Celeste would be disastrously disruptive. There is a slent needed at the end of line 4 in all the verses (indicated by the colon). We are about to be launched into a higher plane and to have to start the tune again sends the singer into a nose-diving anti-climax.

Celeste is of course a well known and well loved tune though often annoyingly jazzed up with dotted crotchets (I have a feeling they might be in the original version but think they spoil the tune)
Saturday, Jan 14, 2023 : 02:45
Syd said ...
I take your points Steve; our Lord's impeccable life and obedience pleased the Father, and thus He could be that unblemished, spotless sacrifice for sin. But it was only on the matter of justification I raised the point. Dennett would later write acknowledging his error: "It is thus abundantly evident, as before said, that the alone foundation of peace with God lies in the death of Christ." Atonement was made on the cross. Never did the Saviour's obedience during His life cover a single sin. The burnt offering is a lovely type of Christ's total devotion to His Father - it was wholly burnt up; a sweet savour to the LORD.

A man may preach error; and rightly he is challenged. Then we may sing the same error in a hymn, and pass it over! And the angels look in to learn from the Church!
Saturday, Jan 14, 2023 : 03:35
Gregory Morris said ...
Thank you, Syd. The Hymnbook has near canonical status amongst Brethren and that is why there are as almost as many Hymnbook versions as there are fissiparous groups of Brethren. One solution is to truthify the errant hymn. I don't know how far back that hymn goes in the canon of LFHB hymnody. Some might say, if it was good enough for Mr Darby ...
Monday, Jan 16, 2023 : 05:31
Nick Fleet said ...

The hymn was in all the hymn books from Wigram's 1838 Poor of the Flock. It didn't make it into the 1932 edition, though, so isn't in any subsequent Little Flock.

I haven't checked what changes were made in the various editions in which it did appear but I shall do and report back.

Monday, Jan 16, 2023 : 20:34
Joshua said ...
What is your thought on Hymn no.75 in Echoes of Grace ( TW brethren's gospel Hymnbook) by F.Havergal:
" I gave My life for thee,
My precious blood I shed,
What hast thou given for Me?"

Is it right to speak/sing for/as the Lord in the first person even if it's a gospel hymn?

Monday, Jan 16, 2023 : 21:40
Syd said ...
It’s a very relevant question, Joshua. Frances Havergal was a saintly lady who died aged 42. She was a gifted poetess and hymnwriter, often quoted and sung; I think she often added a touching, human side to her pieces to make them personal, but they were certainly spiritual. Perhaps a little untaught, she wrote this hymn in the first person of the Lord. It is also found in Sankey's "Sacred Songs and Solos" (No 621).

Probably the answer is found in the rewrite of some of the words throughout the hymn (eg: The Believers Hymn Book, 458):
“Thy life was given for me,
Thy blood, O Lord, was shed
That I might ransomed be,
And quickened from the dead;
Thy life was given for me;
What have I given for Thee?”

Our Lord spoke directly to the apostle Paul (eg, Acts 9, 18), and He personally speaks to the assemblies and believers (Rev 2, 3). But I would suggest that beyond these bounds of Scripture we should not go and presume to speak on behalf of the ascended, glorified Christ in our own words in a hymn such as this. In preaching we may certainly quote Scripture and say, "thus saith the Lord." So, some brethren thought that Havergal’s hymn needed some adjustment. I really would welcome the thoughts of others.
Tuesday, Jan 17, 2023 : 13:38
Steve H said ...
Hi Joshua & Syd,

It is amazing how many times in both the Old Testament and New Testament that the words of the Lord are recorded as He communed with those who have gone before.

There are so many different tones to that voice - from rebuke in the garden of Eden, to the promise to Abraham (and many others), the call to a life of service even at a relatively young age as with Samuel, the great prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and of course the disciples of Jesus and the crowds that followed Him.

The Psalmist declares in Psalm 46 v 10 "Be still and know that I am God", and how important it is for all of us to take time to be still, read, meditate and listen to God as well as present our requests to Him in prayer.

There is one very well known and well-loved hymn, in which the author has Jesus speaking to us directly - and is found in many hymn books, including various brethren books.

I heard the voice of Jesus say "Come unto me and rest...

The important test when anyone claims to hear God speaking to them, is to make sure that it is backed up by what has already been revealed to us in His written word.

The closer we live to the lord, the more likely it is that we will hear His voice.

Last night at our home study group, where we were looking at Revelation chapters 14 & 15, we also sang:-

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord,
No tender voice like Thine, can peace afford.

I am sure that many in their devotional notes, journal jottings, and even poetry, will sense that God is speaking to them directly, and sometimes it is appropriate to share that with others - as in various hymns.

If it is "wrong" to write in that way, then perhaps I should tear up some of my own devotional poems, including:-

"Remember Me", I heard Him call,
"Remember how I died,
Remember Me the Lamb of God,
The One you crucified"

My response is.

Yes! Lord I will Remember,
The way You died for me...

May we all focus on what the Lord has done for us - as a well-known hymnwriter put it:--

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain...

Near the cross, O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;....

The chorus reads:-

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find,
Rest beyond the river.


Steve H

Tuesday, Jan 17, 2023 : 21:00
Syd said ...
Thanks Steve; some helpful thoughts.
I believe that most believers who hold to the form of sound words (2 Tim 1:13), never go outside of “what has been revealed to us in His written word” as rightly claimed above. So often we hear in prayer or by the preached word: “Lord, Thou hast said to us in Thy Word.....;” or, “God is saying to us not to neglect the assembling of ourselves...;” or, “How tender are the words of the Lord to us, ‘come unto Me all ye that labour,’ and so forth. All this is true to the Word; yet there is liberty in how it is expressed.

I think the danger is in ascribing words or sayings to Christ that could not be supported by Scripture, because there is no standard by which they can be judged, and some may claim “the sense that God is speaking to them directly.” Of course God speaks to His own—by the Spirit and through the Word—so that we know that they are God’s thoughts to us.

I said that Frances Havergal may have been “a little untaught,” in using the first person in her hymn; otherwise the hymn is scripturally sound. My assessment of Frances may be unjust; sorry! JND writes in his piece, “God speaking from heaven” (Heb 12:15)—not that he is the standard:

“The same Person, the same Christ who was humbled for our sins; who went through the world, weary and sorrowful; the same man who was crucified, dead, buried, raised, and ascended, that now speaks from heaven, as having passed through all these, and is now at the right hand of God, from whence He is inviting His people up thither. This then is the joy of the child of God, when he hears this voice of Jesus addressing him from heaven, testifying of what He has done, and speaking as a witness of peace; speaking in the consciousness of having so overcome—so entirely to have borne the sin of His people as to set it aside for ever by the one sacrifice of Himself once offered. And in this position He speaks—I have set aside for ever the sin which kept you excluded from God; and I am entered into the rest and glory, as your representative, in the presence of the Father. When this voice is heard and known, we have peace.”
Wednesday, Jan 18, 2023 : 03:09

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