MM: Our Blest Redeemer, Ere He Breathed

[The “MM” initials stand for “Monday Music”; I’ve been endeavoring to post on Mondays on the lyrics of hymns and other worthwhile Christian songs.]

When I began this series nearly half a year ago, I listed 15 or 20 songs and hymns that came into consciousness; every week or so, I share them, adding new titles as they come to me, as well.  Often I write about the song one or more days before the Monday the post goes up here on the blog, and often I paste in lyrics from the Cyberhymnal site instead of retyping.  But it is in fact today that I’m writing, and I will be typing the lyrics myself so that there’ll be more likelihood of personal spiritual growth and connection to God as I ponder these rich thoughts.

This song that’s been on my list for months keeps getting deferred, but it jumped out at me this morning.  Call it the move of the Spirit, or perhaps call it a sense of responsibility, or coincidence, but this one was the only choice for Monday Music this week.  This song is not a hymn but is a sort of historical narrative followed by a prayer.

Our blest Redeemer, ere He breathed His tender, last farewell, a Guide, a Comforter bequeathed with us to dwell.

He came sweet influence to impart–a gracious, willing Guest, while He can find one humble heart wherein to rest.

And His that gentle voice we hear, soft as the breath of ev’n, that checks each fault, that calms each fear, and speaks of heav’n.

O God of purity and grace, our weakness, pitying, see; O make our hearts Thy dwelling place, and worthier Thee.

Apparently, the  author, Harriet Auber, not having pen or paper, had taken off her diamond ring and scratched the words on the window pane.  The pane was stolen after her death.  Although the subject of the hymn is the invisible, inner working of the Spirit of God, we can sometimes see its outward effects.  The permanent etchings in the glass, wherever the pane is now, seem appropriately emblematic of the Spirit’s means.  We can see the effect, but the holy mystery is that we can’t see it coming or where it’s going.

The teachings about the Spirit of God that emanate from these words seem quite biblically sound to me.  The title itself springs directly from scripture:  the historical mention of Jesus’ having breathed on the disciples (John 20:19-23) is a beautiful inclusion in this last canonical record of our Lord on earth, and breathing is connected to the spirit.  (The same Hebrew and Greek words, more or less, refer to spirit, wind, and breath.)  The 2nd and 3rd stanzas are a bit more ethereally subjective but don’t offend my sense of biblical accuracy.

Speaking of accuracy, it bears mention here that I don’t find Trinitarian (with a capital “T”) doctrine in scripture.  There are ample references to the Father and to the Son, of course, and many references to the Spirit of God, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Christ, etc., as well, but nowhere have I ever discovered that God wants believers to conceive of Godself as precisely tripartite.  Not that I would go on record saying that there are not three “parts” of the “Godhead” (an extrabilical, fabricated term), but it is much more important that we leave room for the mystery of God to be whatever God wants to be, and to work in whatever way He wants to work.  I’m grateful that God chooses to live in me, and now I just need to make more room for Him.

It’s also worthy of note that nowhere in scripture does a prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit appear.  For this reason, I generally opt out of the 3rd stanza of all those songs that have three verbatim repeats of thought, changing only the addressee from the Father to the Son, and then to the Spirit.  Poetic license would allow us to address the Spirit as God, but not finding a biblical address of the Spirit, I’m reluctant to address the Spirit in prayer/song, as well.

In the four stanzas of “Our Blest Redeemer” included in the hymnal I grew up with, no hint appears of the miraculous work of God–either in the 1st century or in the present day.  But in the original stanzas, “semblance of a dove” and the “tongues of living flame” are mentioned, but without overemphasis on the miracles and speaking of other languages; the intent of the Spirit’s coming is said to be “to teach, convince, subdue.”  I like that.  And even more, I like the last stanza that I’d never known before:

And every virtue we possess, and every conquest won, and every thought of holiness, are His alone.

God, be praised for Your holy intrusion into humanity … no, check that … for Your continued, holy intrusions You are characterized by gracious intent and the impulse of will that streams from love unceasing.

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