The past few days I’ve been listening to this amazing hymn. I discovered it for the first time on the most recent Indelible Grace cd Joy Beyond the Sorrow. Indelible Grace, if you don’t already know, is a collection of Christian musicians who put old hymn lyrics to contemporary music, and typically in a raw and beautiful way that makes the words of the hymns stand out more as opposed to merely the instruments or singing. If you don’t have this cd Joy Beyond the Sorrow, you might need to think about picking it up or downloading it. It is well worth your money. Anyway, this hymn is so deep and has really spoken to me, so I had to write about it. Though, on the Indelible Grace cd it is called Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart, the original title is To the Afflicted, Tossed with Tempests and Not Comforted. Also, it has a famous hymn writing author, John Newton. He wrote Faith’s Review and Expectation known today as Amazing Grace.
The hymn is based on Isaiah 54:5-11 and Genesis 9:13-14. The first part is written from the perspective of the person and written to the person’s heart. The last four parts of the hymn are written from God’s perspective.
Pensive, doubting, fearful heart, Hear what Christ the Saviour says;
Ev’ry word should joy impart, Change thy mourning into praise:
Yes, he speaks, and speaks to thee, May he help thee to believe!
Then thou presently wilt see, Thou hast little cause to grieve.
To the Afflicted, Tossed with Tempests and Not Comforted, Words by John Newton
Here, Newton is writing about how we as human beings tend to dwell on our doubts and fears, especially when we are in times of mourning and walking through the valleys of life. When we find ourselves in such a time, we find our faith being shaken and challenged. It is not always our tendency in such times to seek to look to Christ and focus on Him, but the prophet Isaiah, through Newton, is telling us to look to God. When, not if, but when our soul is downcast, we ought to by faith look to Christ Jesus. It’s in such times that we need help in and with our faith, but we are tempted to look to our vices and focus on our temporal situation or circumstance as opposed to our Lord when we truly need Him most. We are tempted to feel that God is silent during our hard situations in life, but usually that is because we do not open our ears, our minds, or our hearts to hearing His voice amidst the noise and busyness of the world and our lives. In short, we fail to look to His Word. That is the lesson Newton is teaching throughout this hymn.
First, when we find ourselves fearful, doubting, and pensive during times when we are mourning or struggling in life, we need to listen to the voice of God and we listen to the voice of God by turning to the Bible.
Secondly, he teaches us that the Bible isn’t merely an Old and New Testament disconnected from one another, but rather that the Bible is the story of God’s redemption in Christ Jesus. When you read Isaiah and the prophets and read about the salvation promised, the suffering servant, the one coming to bring justice to the nations, etc., it is Jesus who is being prophesied in the Old Testament. When you learn about the sacrifice Abraham nearly made of his son Isaac, but was stopped and God provided a sacrifice. It doesn’t end there, we are meant to think of the provision God gave in His Son Jesus and how God didn’t hold back His sacrifice from us, but even went to greater lengths than Abraham to secure our salvation by way of the cross of Jesus Christ.
When we read about the Exodus where God chose Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt and how the last plague where death “passed over” God’s people who had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, we are meant to think about how Jesus has brought about the New Exodus as the Gospel writers reveal by connecting Jesus to Egypt and His near slaughter at birth because Jesus brought those with faith out of slavery to sin and for those who believe in His name, death has passed them over not for this life, but for eternity. Then when David slew Goliath the giant Philistine, that was not simply a story of a small guy taking on a big guy and how we can take on any battle in life, that is prophetic in pointing to Jesus as well who would take on the biggest giant the world had ever known, sin, and defeating it by way of the cross. Newton is saying in the first part that this is how we are to understand God’s Word, not as a disconnected collection of moral stories between an Old and New Testament, but a continuous story of God’s plan of redemption stretching throughout Scripture and pointing to Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, Newton teaches us that when we dwell upon God’s Word and remember God’s faithfulness, we will have little cause to grieve. When we think about ourselves in such situations in life we feel hopeless, comfortless, and afflicted. However, when we remember who God is and what God has done and who we are in Christ, we will truly be delivered perhaps not necessarily from our situation but delivered from our state of hopelessness, comfortlessness, and affliction.
Lastly, what Newton teaches us in this first part of this amazing hymn is that when we find ourselves wearied by the world and struggling in life and doubting our faith, we need to discipline ourselves by preaching the Word of God to our hearts. As the Psalmist says, “Why are you downcast my soul?” We need to speak to our hearts, but not merely speak, preach the Word to our hearts. One modern author has this down well, Joe Thorn, who wrote the book Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. We think of preaching as something we receive and hear on a Sunday, but it’s not often we think of preaching as something we are actively engaged in throughout the week, day in and day out, speaking the Gospel to our soul in any given situation. However, the reality is if we don’t do this we will find ourselves in mournful and troubled states, feeling far from God, and we truly will not grow deeper in our relationship with Christ until we do indeed preach the Word to ourselves, and especially the Gospel. You might be thinking, “Wow! All this in the first part of a hymn?” Absolutely. You will find, if you slow down and simply read a hymn, that there is a great, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying, soul blessing power to these older hymns.
For more on this beautiful hymn, read part 2 in my next post on the second part (parts 2-5) which is God’s response to this heartfelt cry in which I will discuss in depth the words and meaning behind next 4 parts of the hymn, and the full hymn lyrics will be posted. Read Hymn Notes #2: John Newton