Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be”: Background and Scriptural Allusions

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Charles-Wesley-preachingAccording to the editor of The Oxford Edition of the Works of John Wesley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975-1983, vol. 7), “And Can It Be” was written immediately after Charles Wesley’s conversion (May 21, 1738). Wesley knew his Bible well prior to this time, but had not yet experienced assurance of new birth or the fulness of grace in his life.

The editor also that it was probably this hymn, or “Where Should My Wond’ring Soul Begin?” that was sung late on the evening of his brother John’s Aldersgate Street conversion just three days later on May 24.

John Lawson, in A Thousand Tongues: The Wesley Hymns as a Guide to Scriptural Teaching (London: Paternoster, 1987), says this “is perhaps the best known and best loved of all the Methodist hymns associated with the conversion experience.”

Wesley begins the first stanza by expressing amazement over the love expressed in God the Son dying for him; it is a mystery that we who caused his death now benefit from it.

In the second stanza, Wesley calls for adoration at the incomprehensibility of God’s love and mercy in this sacrifice.

In the third stanza, Wesley recounts the infinite grace and mercy of Christ’s love and humility in the incarnation, death, and finding of lost sinners.

Now in the fourth stanza, Wesley turns his attention to the bondage of his own sin and the freedom he found in Christ.

Finally, he explores the results of Christ’s amazing and merciful work: there is no condemnation for those made alive in Christ and clothed in his righteousness; rather, there is bold access to the throne as we have the right to claim the eschatological crown.

Using and adapting the notations in the reference works cited above, I have sought to identify probable biblical allusions (in the KJV) that probably implicitly or explicitly informed Wesley’s wording and concepts in this great hymn:

1. And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Saviour’s blood?[1]

Died he for me? who caused his pain![2]

For me—who him to death pursued?[3]

Amazing love! How can it be[4]

That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?[5]

 

2. ‘Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:[6]

Who can explore his strange design?[7]

In vain the first-born seraph tries[8]

To sound the depths of love divine.[9]

‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore![10]

Let angel minds inquire no more.[11]

 

3. He left His Father’s throne above[12]

So free, so infinite his grace![13]

Emptied Himself of all but love,[14]

And bled for Adam’s helpless race.[15]

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,[16]

For O my God! it found out me![17]

 

4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,[18]

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;[19]

Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray[20]

I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.[21]

 

5. No condemnation now I dread;[22]

Jesus, and all in him, is mine;[23]

Alive in Him, my living head,[24]

And clothed in righteousness divine,[25]

Bold I approach th’eternal throne,[26]

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.[27]

 


[1] Eph 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Eph 1:14, “Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”

[2] Gal 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

[3] Acts 9:4-5, “And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

[4] Isa 29:14, “Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”

[5] Gal 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

[6] 1 Cor 2:7-8, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Phil 2:6-8, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation [=emptied himself], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

[7] Isa 28:21, “For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.”

[8] Job 38:7, “ When the morning stars [=angels] sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Isa 6:2, “Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.”

[9] Eph 3:18-19, “May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

[10] Hab 2:20, “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

[11] 1 Pet 1:12, “Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”

[12] John 6:38, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Rev 22:3, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him.”

[13] 2 Cor 8:9, “ For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”

[14] Phil 2:7, “But made himself of no reputation [=emptied himself], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”

[15] Rom 5:12, 14, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned . . . Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come.” Rev 5:9, “And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.”

[16] Ps 145:9, “Jehovah is good to all; And his tender mercies are over all his works.” Rom 11:32, “For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”

[17] Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel.” Gal 1:15-16, “But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood.”

[18] Ps 107:10, “Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron.” John 8:34, “Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” Acts 12:6-9, “And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.”

[19] Rom 6:17, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” 1 Cor 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

[20] John 1:4, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

[21] Acts 2:7-8, “And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.” Luke 5:28, “And he left all, rose up, and followed him.” John 8:36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Rom 6:18, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”

[22] Rom 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

[23] Rom 8:32, “ He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” 1 Cor 3:22, “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are your’s.”

[24] 1 Cor 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Col 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

[25] Isa 68:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” Phil 3:9, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

[26] Eph 3:12, “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Heb 4:6, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb 10:19-22, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

[27]  2 Tim 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” James 1:12, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” Rev 2:10, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

 

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