Mocked no more

When I was a teenager and young adult, it was common to make fun of the song “Just As I Am.”  Perhaps its use seemed gratuitous, or perhaps the song struck us as old . . . or perhaps we just didn’t like it—because we felt pressured to come to Jesus as some older people were coming, just as they were.  One might think that this so-called invitation song, written in 1834, would have passed out of style within 50 or 100 years, but not so.  (Now, I wonder why.)

Later on, I began to see many invitation/altar call songs more as all-occasion songs (not to be relegated to seemingly thoughtless use after the sermon).  I probably shouldn’t shun them altogether because of their habitual, ritualistic use, I thought, so I would choose other assembly times to lead songs like “Almost Persuaded” and “I Bring My Sins to Thee” and “Hear the Sweet Voice.”  These could become devotional meditations for all:  I hoped every believer would take the messages to heart personally and perpetually.  Never should we fall prey to assigning such sentiments only to that other sinner across the aisle who might really need to repent.  (We all need to confess and repent and come to Jesus as Savior.)

Last Sunday, I was impressed anew with what is really a timeless quality in the words of “Just As I Am.”  It hit me pretty deeply.

Who among us could rightly mock the notion of approaching Jesus to “rid my soul of one dark blot”?

Who has not been “tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt …” or had “fears within and foes without”?

Who, upon realizing personal blindness and the need for “sight, riches healing of the mind,” would not want to recognize the Lamb of God as the one to whom I go, crying out, “All I need in Thee to find!”?

And who would not love the Savior whose “love unknown has broken every barrier down”?

I think I’ve sensed more of why “Just As I Am” is still sung and can still impact hearts.  I won’t mock the song anymore.  May we all say sincerely, “Now to be Thine alone … O Lamb of God, I come.”

Deadlines and Jesus (3)

The granddaddy of all the “deadliney” altar-call songs–many of which wield emotional power over the potentially penitent–is “Almost Persuaded” by Philip P. Bliss (of “When Peace Like a River” fame).  “Almost Persuaded” takes its motif from the possibly mistranslated words of King Agrippa (Acts 26); every line has the potential to have impact on a fearful, sorrowful, quivery soul who wonders whether he should “go forward” to be counted among those who “respond”:

  • “Some more convenient day on Thee I’ll call”
  • “Jesus invites you here; angels are ling’ring near; prayers rise from hearts so dear”
  • “Harvest is past … doom comes at last”
  • “‘Almost’ is but to fail — sad, sad that bitter wail — ‘almost, but lost!'”

The intimacy of some of these thoughts overwhelms and even embarrasses me … I resist the possibility that these words could be appropriately used in an assembly in this day and age.  Is my reaction because of the generation(s) with which I’m associated, i.e., would these words ever have been appropriately used?  “Prayers rise from hearts so dear”–I think we’re supposed to picture our grandmothers and Sunday-school teachers praying for our lost souls, and that could be a good thing.  But if emotionalism is the sole determinant in leading me to take a step toward Jesus, I doubt my relationship with Him will last.

“Doom comes at last”–seriously? Today, can anyone really use the word “doom” in a conversation about eternity without sarcasm?  “Almost, but lost!”–I think now of a couple of men in the church of my youth over whom my dad would often express spiritual concern.  “Bobby” is one of them–a well-educated, articulate, former corporate businessman who has been a brother-in-law to the church for something like 65 years.  I can well imagine that the words “Almost, but lost!” might apply to Bobby, but the situations in which such a phrase are applicable are few.

If we picture ourselves in revivalish, churchy settings such as that shown here, very few of these “come to Jesus now” songs have much application these days, it seems to me.  Yet one song traditionally used as an invitation towers above most of the rest.  “Just As I Am” expresses such strongly penitent, yet beautifully weak longings.  Not manipulative by nature, and not meaninglessly emotive, but spiritually astute and worshipful in a sense only a few contemporary worshippers comprehend, this song still deserves use when there must be an altar call, but also on many other occasions.

No West Coast pseudo-prophet, and not even a true biblical exegete, knows the day that Jesus returns before He actually does.  But there should be some sense of spiritual “deadline” in our lives.  “Be prepared” is the message of the parable of the Ten Virgins at the Wedding, and it resounds in our century, too.  Some things must not be put off interminably; we must be ready.

May we all worship and “come to Jesus” even now, whether it is the initial response that leads to putting Him on and walking as His disciple, or a later dip into repentance or confession.  May we sense urgency in the spiritual sphere, coming to Jesus without pretense. . . .

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
With fears within, and foes without,¹
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.²

I’ll close this series with these good words.  Maybe you’ll even have time to read these words over again, or print them for later meditation and inner response.


¹ The original line seems to have been “Fightings and fears within, without,” but the hymnals I know have made a change for the sake of better syllabic connection with the music.
² I had never seen the final stanza before looking this up today.  I think I prefer leaving it as is–the ideas of God’s love breaking barriers and the yearning to be His alone are wonderful final thoughts.  For the hymnologist, though, here is the final stanza as penned:

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Speaking of closing clues …

Speaking of closing clues (see last half of yesterday’s post) . . .

Ever heard the preacher utter a less-than-thoughtful non-bridge into the invitation or altar call?  We’re sometimes so embarrassed at the habitual nature of this invitation time (and rightly so, in my book) that we grasp and fabricate and manipulate, in order to assist in making the moments more meaningful, catching people’s attention somehow, because if they weren’t asleep already, their spirits fall asleep the moment the preacher starts moving to the closing words.

If a preacher says, “Let’s all stand and praise God together,” but the following song is “Just As I Am,” it seems that the request was less meaningful than functional, because we’re not praising God.  “Just As I Am” is not a song of praise or worship.  If the invitation song is “Are You Washed in the Blood,” we’re not praising, either; we’re speaking to one another.

I don’t mean to be pointing the finger only at preachers and invitation songs.  I manipulate things, too, as I plan and lead.  If you please, though — less mere habit, and more thoughtful connections!