We return today to a modern rendition of a hymn that sparkles brightly among even some of the best songs that have ever been written. It is a great privilege to talk about both this hymn writer and the people who have recomposed his work, for both are dear favorites of mine.
Also, thanks to Scott for the excellent recommendation. Any of you are free to recommend songs to me at any time!
Sojourn is a group of songwriters and worship leaders from a thriving church in Louisville, Kentucky. I know their ministry first-hand, having attended there during my seminary years, and I am quit glad to see some of my colleagues being used by God tremendously in that area. Sojourn has produced several albums, including Over The Grave which was entirely dedicated to Isaac Watts hymns.
Isaac Watts, a prolific theologian and hymn writer from the early 18th century, was one of the greatest fruits of the Reformation and is often remembered as the “Father of English Hymnody.” He wrote many famous songs, such as “Joy to the World”, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, and “This is the Day the Lord has Made” (as well as over 750 others). Today’s selection, “Living Faith” (hymn #140, as Watts called it), carries a vital theme that is often times ignored in Western churches today – the dangers of an empty faith:
Mistaken souls that dream of Heaven
And make their empty boast Of inwards joys and sins forgiven
While slaves to greed and lust
Vain is the will of mortal men
If faith is cold and dead
Imagine belting out those lines in your seeker-sensitive, opening worship slot next Sunday morning. The Reformation was certainly known for change and enlightenment. But often times these vital truths were presented “in your face”, so as to cut through centuries of fluff and propaganda (i.e. the Dark Ages). Who knows, maybe history has cycled back into a time of needing a similar approach. However, Watts didn’t just provide another bold-faced wake up call without offering the balance of a practical “how-to”. He carries the theme forward into what every believer needs to be reminded of, so that we can embrace the real Christian life that God calls us to:
None but a living power unites
To Christ the living head Pray for a living faith
That leads us to trust this grace
We cannot come to God on our own.
A faith that truly sees
That drives us to bended knee
Looking for hope in the cross of Christ alone. True faith will purify the soul
And Faith will work by love
It forces sinful thoughts to go
And lifts our minds above
This faith will conquer earth and hell
By God’s celestial power
This is the grace that will prevail
In the decisive hour…
It takes every breath to God alone, it takes every breath to God alone
That last line says it all. The Christian life is a gift by grace alone – THAT – demands and takes our every breath, word, moment, thought and deed. No, this is not a trumpet call to a life of perfection now. That is what awaits in Heaven when our salvation is completed. However, we cannot afford to think that what we do right now does not matter to God or to our eternal destiny.
James 2:14-26 reminds us of this living faith and how fundamental it is to remember that a holy God cannot accept just a hallow gesture of belief. And the most beautiful part of it all, as Watts affirms, is that our faith is filled and realized only by the cross of Christ. When we fully submit to Him, He makes us faithful. We are to called to pray for this kind of faith, to trust in His grace, and to daily depend on Him.
Let the reformation of your heart begin today with this anthem of truth that calls all of us to have a living faith. It takes every breath to God alone…but He is worthy, able and willing to breathe His life into us!