I love the old hymns. I love the richness of the words and the depths of the theology. When I think of the cross of the Lord there are, of course, so many wonderful hymns about it. Over the years I have grown particularly fond of paying special attention to the third verse of hymns. Take a look at the third verse of any hymn and there you will often find the most inspiring part of the song. For me, It is Well with My Soul is my favorite.
The third verse in It is Well with My Soul is my favorite because that is the song that the Lord gave me when I was truly saved in 2005. Over the course of the year and a half before, God used a discomforting awareness of my guilt to ultimately break me and cause me to cry out to Him for mercy and forgiveness. The months that followed my conversion became a difficult season of further breaking as the Lord was completely (and graciously) rebuilding me.
As painful as those times were, I always found comfort in Phillip Bliss’s soothing, empathizing melody and in Horatio Spafford’s words, themselves inspired by a time “when sorrows like sea billows rolled.” For the first time in my adult life I really understood that “Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and shed His own blood for my soul.” Those words from verses one and two are as comforting as they are beautiful. However, in the third verse the full significance of what they mean rings out:
My sin, Oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more –
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord Oh my soul!
Every time I get discouraged by my sins, past or present, I can sing this song to myself and the power of these words lifts me from “My sin” at the first line, to “Praise the Lord!” at the last. All of it, all of it is gone. All the shameful things I’ve done. All the pain. All the sorrows I have caused others and my offenses against the Lord…all dealt with! All nailed to His cross. The power is not in the cross, it is in the Person who hung there. I bear my sin no more because Jesus Christ bore it for me—a blissful, glorious thought to be sure. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, Oh my soul!
I know there is one final verse of the song. I know what comes next. But we’re not there yet. This week it is well with our souls to kneel at Calvary and gaze upward. Do you see the roughness of the wood, with its splinters and edges? Do you see how not even light can penetrate the full depth of the nail holes that held Jesus? Do you see how the cross stands straight up? “[F]or being thus ‘lifted up,’ He cleansed the air from all the evil influences of the enemy,” as Athanasius says—that is how powerful Jesus’ death on the cross is.
Most importantly, I hope that today and every day you see your sin, not in part but the whole, nailed there too.