Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched

Liturgy Lesson: June 16, 2019 (Trinity Sunday)
Call to Worship: Ps. 29:1-3, 10-11; Ps. 100
Prayer of Invocation
Trinity Chimes
Hymn of Invocation: Come Thou Almighty King (#101)
New Communicants
Nicene Creed
Hymn of Praise: Holy, Holy, Holy (#100)
Congregational Prayers/Catechism
Reading of the Word: Luke 15:11-32
Gloria Patri
Sermon: Tom Greene, “The Prodigal Son”
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Trinity Song; Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Closing Hymn: Across the Lands

“I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation; salvation is of Christ the Lord!”

– St. Patrick’s Breastplate (433 A.D.)

We follow the liturgical calendar because there is power in retelling the story of our salvation. The calendar begins with Advent, as we prepare for the incarnation, the birth of Jesus. It takes us through the Christmas Season (including Epiphany), Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, and the astounding miracles of the Ascension and Pentecost. Trinity Sunday is the last liturgical day before Ordinary Time, that long period of about 33 weeks, in which pastors wonder what to preach on, and parishioners patiently wait for the return of their favorite Christmas songs. Trinity Sunday is the one day on the church calendar that does not commemorate an event in the story of Jesus’ earthly journey. Rather, it is set aside to celebrate a “doctrine” which explores the very nature and character of God. How can we even begin to explain the Trinity? In past writings, I have mentioned the concept of the musical triad as an example. Each member of the Godhead sounding forth in particular pitch, but all in harmony together to form a beautiful chord. But music is ephemeral and hard to grasp, and Christianity’s essence is God in the flesh. So, perhaps another metaphor is more tangible and vivid: fire.

In the 4th century there lived a poet named St. Ephrem. He served as a deacon and teacher and wrote many liturgical hymns for the early church. In his 40th hymn, he compares the mystery of the Holy Trinity to fire and to the sun itself. Scripture is replete with this image. Moses encountered God in flaming foliage (Ex. 3:2) and then led the Israelites out of Egypt with the help of a combustible column (Ex. 13:21). The Lord made the altar on Mt. Carmel his own “blazing saddle,” and in so doing, he “Baal”ed out Elijah with a bonfire (1 Kings 18:38), causing the false prophet’s hopes to go up in smoke. The messenger Malachi warns the people that the Lord will come like a “refiner’s fire” (Mal. 3:2), and the book of Hebrews reminds us that God himself is “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). Indeed, last Sunday we honored the day when tongues of fire descended upon the apostles’ heads at Pentecost, making them the very first “embers” of the church. So, Ephrem is expanding on the scriptures, and having us ponder this: God is fire, Jesus is the light, and the Spirit is the heat. All are distinct in character and function, but inseparable from one another. All contribute to the delight and glory of the others. Take any one of these elements away, and fire ceases to be fire. There is an indissoluble relationship between the fire itself, and the light, and the heat which it provides.

As we gather for worship on Trinity Sunday, let’s come before this holy hearth and get fired up!

Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Text: Joseph Hart, 1759
Tune: BEACH SPRING (attr. B.F. White), from Sacred Harp, 1844

Bunhill Fields Cemetery lies just outside the city limits of London. Among the graves there lay some of the most famous names of 18th-century Christianity. Each one of their tombstones was marked with the label “dissenters” (Non-Conformists), those who would not submit to the corrupt religious authority of their day. These include John Bunyan, John Owen, Daniel Defoe, and Isaac Watts. The remains of these “oaks of righteousness” (Is. 61:3) now feed the roots of a lush and green canopy of trees in the graveyard. London plane trees, limes, golden-barked ash, and black mulberry provide everlasting shade for those now at rest. There is a gray, square-stoned path that draws perpendicular lines throughout the graveyard, a sort of masonry blessing, a series of inadvertent crosses inlaid in earth to bless the remains and give hope to those who remain. In the north section, nestling up against the corner of the walkway, is a green, waste-high metal fence that surrounds an obelisk tall enough to touch the leafy canopy that bows in homage. Inscribed on the tombstone are these words:

“Joseph Hart was by the free and sovereign grace and Spirit of God
raised up from the depths of sin,
and delivered from the bonds of mere profession and self-righteousness,
and led to rest entirely for salvation
in the finished atonement and perfect obedience of Christ.”

– Joseph Hart, 1712-1768

Joseph Hart was born in London 300 years ago. As a young man, he was educated in the classics and loved literature. Though he was fastidious in his studies, he also lived a life he described as “carnal and spiritual wickedness, irreligious and profane.” In 1734, when he was 21, he began to have serious concerns about his soul. “The Spirit of bondage distressed me sore.” This began a long period in his life when he wrestled with profound guilt, which he answered often through moralism and a strict attendance on religious ordinances to gain favor with God. His was a soul tormented by a prodigal complex, a deep sense of personal hypocrisy. During these years he was writing and teaching on theology, but by his own admission, he was sinking ‘deeper and deeper into conviction of my nature’s evil, the wickedness of my life, the shallowness of my Christianity and the blindness of my devotion’.

Finally, on Whit Sunday 1757, the crescendo of cacophony in his soul resolved to a sweet chord of submission and peace. On that morning, George Whitfield preached as sermon based on Revelations 3:10, and Joseph Hart heard these words echo deep in his troubled soul:

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”

He recorded his response:

“I was hardly got home when I felt myself melting away into a strange softness of affection, which made me fling myself on my knees before God. My horrors were immediately dispelled, and such light and comfort flowed into my heart as no words can paint. The Lord, by his Spirit of love came not in a visionary manner into my brain, but with such divine power and energy into my soul that I was lost in blissful amazement. Tears ran in streams from my eyes. I threw my soul willingly into my Saviour’s hands; lay weeping at his feet, wholly resigned to his will, and only begging that I might, if he was graciously pleased to permit it, be of some service to his church and people.”

The Lord heard that prayer and honored it. With the sweet music of the gospel resounding within him, Hart trumpeted the glory of Christ for the rest of his life. He became an independent Calvinist preacher. The overriding theme of his ministry was the all-sufficient merit of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. By lifting high the cross through his work, Joseph Hart had a profound impact for the kingdom. A crowd of 20,000 attended the funeral when he was laid to rest at Bunhill Fields.

Joseph Hart is celebrated in history mostly for the force and brilliance of his sermons and, of course for his hymns, which are deeply heartfelt distillations of the gospel. They have been described as ‘diamond fields,’ and his collection entitled Hymns Composed on Various Subjects is an invaluable addition to the devotional library of any believer (you can find it here). These hymns are true to the author’s last name. They are all Hart! They come from the heart, and are directed to the heart. Joseph’s verse is not simply sung doctrine, or a clever versification of theology; rather, there is a comforting and convicting emotional intelligence at work in the writing, a deep compassion and an understanding of the experience of a sinful soul seeking and finding redemption. There is no doubt in my mind that many of these hymns are Holy spirit-inspired. I believe this because when I read through the hymn texts of Joseph Hart, I get the sense that I am in the presence of a truly wonderful counselor.

This week we sing his most celebrated hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched.” Augustus Toplady changed the opening line and substituted the word ‘needy’ for ‘wretched.’ Perhaps Mr. Toplady thought that a hymn of invitation that began by calling the invitee ‘a wretch’ would be offensive or unsuccessful. I really don’t know the reason, but I prefer Hart’s original. There is something profoundly different about calling sinners ‘needy’ and not ‘wretched.’

We often associate this hymn with a refrain (“I will arise and go to Jesus…”), but that refrain was not written by Joseph Hart. It was added during the revivalist era in the 19th century. So, this week we will sing all six verses of Joseph Hart’s original hymn, unchanged from the original order or form. And, to accommodate this, the hymn will be set with the tune BEACH SPRING, which comes from the popular American hymnal, The Sacred Harp. And, for a little dessert to our supper, I have added one final verse by John Newton. This is a trinitarian verse of unity and blessing that links Hart’s hymn with the blissful reality of unending glory that awaits us all.

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.

Come ye needy, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended;
Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him; venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.

May the grace of Christ our Savior
and the Father’s boundless love,
with the Holy Spirit’s favor,
rest upon us from above.
Thus may we abide in union
with each other and the Lord,
and possess, in sweet communion,
joys which earth cannot afford.

(Vs. 1-5, Joseph Hart, 1759; Vs. 6, John Newton, 1799)

I could not find a full version that matches exactly what we will do on Sunday. However, there are a few Sacred Harp original recordings with slightly altered lyrics or missing verses. These should give you a sense of the melody and feel of the hymn:
Solo voice/guitar
Shape-note group singing

And, for meditation on the lyrics, here is a recording of the accompaniment only.