Some names we encounter just seem to strike us as humorous. I went to elementary school with Snodgrasses and Butkuses – and I confess, like all the other school-age kids, we chuckled at the names. My own last name was subject to a few taunts and jeers, so I suppose that I at least got my just deserts.
I recall hearing my father tell about “growing up in a church pew.” During long preaching he and his pew-mates would thumb through the hymnal to find some distraction. One of the humorous names he saw was “John T. Grape.” He thought how funny it must have been to be called “Mr. Grape.” Because of his unusual name, I knew of this hymn by its tune’s composer before I ever heard it sung or knew the text!
There’s actually very little information about Grape, except that he was born and died in Boston, Massachusetts (1835-1915). He was a member of the Monument Street Methodist Episcopal church in that city. Grape was a businessman who dabbled in church music as a significant hobby.
Elvina M. Hall (1820-1889) wrote the lyrics in response to a public prayer led at a church service in 1865. Grape and Hall collaborated on a handful of other hymns, some which reached audiences through publication in hymnals, but none that came near to “Jesus Paid it All.”
“I heard the Savior say…”
I’m sure someone, somewhere might object to the idea of personally hearing Jesus’ voice. To make such an objection is to ignore the poetic nature of this hymn and its deeply personal content. Even if our understanding is that God communicates to us through His word (Bible), if we’re really in tune with the voice of God, we will have moments of clarity and reflection – “eureka moments” of epiphany. When either something very good or something very sobering (these are not exclusive of one another), has dawned upon us from our having drunk deeply of the well of God, it is perfectly fitting to say, “I heard the Savior say…” “He who has ears to hear,” Jesus said, “let them hear!”
“thy faith indeed is small…”
Most Christians know of and are growing in their appreciation of God’s grace. We believe “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:10) and we try to take God at his word that we are saved – not by works – but by faith. In a sad twist, though, some of us begin to believe that we are saved by our belief, by the strength of our ability to trust. God’s salvation does not depend on my ability to work perfectly; nor upon my ability to have a perfect faith. “Doubts arise and fears dismay!” God is the author of faith, from beginning to end; He is the one who can help our unbelief (Mark 9:23-25). Our faith is not placed even in our own ability to have faith; the ground of our salvation is the Cross and in it – in Him – we trust.
“Child of weakness, watch and pray…”
Like the disciples whose spirits were willing, but whose flesh was weak, Jesus does not condemn us for our frailties, but he encourages and exhorts us to draw strength from another source than ourselves. It’s when we’ve fallen – or fallen asleep – that we realize our own power is not up to the task. Jesus once again calls us to do something that makes little earthly sense – when your back is up against the wall, when your weakness is on display for everyone to see – “watch and pray.” Is this an echo of Exodus 14:14f? “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” When you and I are weak, the strongest thing we can do is “watch and pray” (II Corinthians 9:7-10).
“Find in me thine all in all…”
Look no further than Jesus. He is the satisfaction for which our souls have longed. Rather than looking for an internal source – ourselves – to bolster our strength, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured” (Hebrews 12:2).
“Jesus died for me, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain: He washed it white as snow.”
This is the only line of the hymn text that reads differently from what I sang growing up in church. For us, the first line was “Jesus paid it all….” How interesting that the line which normally is recognized as the title of this hymn was different in this setting. It was probably lifted from the fourth stanza, whether on purpose or by editorial oversight, we may never know. C.C. Cline’s “Standard Church Hymnal” (1888) has these words in the chorus – and set to Grape’s tune – but an entirely different set of lyrics in the stanzas.
Many different words are used in the Bible to describe what Jesus affected when he “died for me,” including “ransom” and “redemption.” Both of those are words carrying financial exchange – Jesus paid a price for me. The wages which were earned and the debt that was owed was death (Romans 3:23). As significant as Jesus’ death is/was to the dichotomy of life versus death, Jesus’ victory at the cross paid for more than “just” redemption. It also paid for sanctification (the Holy Spirit’s work of making me holy as I “keep in step with the Spirit”) and glorification (the final transformation into the glorious presence of God). He paid for all the spiritual blessings! Jesus paid for everything and He paid for it in full! He pays the price himself “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26) – he doesn’t cut corners!
As distinct from the Christians blessings is the stain of sin. Whenever I get a stain on my clothes, it’s usually a greasy spot (I’ll say it’s little boys’ fingerprints). The Bible describes God as negotiating with people whose lives have been made ugly with sin, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
It’s a futile question to ask, “How I can I repay God and His Christ for all they’ve done for me?” Simply put: we cannot. Walking in the footsteps of Christ is an honor freely bestowed, but which will cost us everything. This is a mystery that will be understood better with time and wisdom.
“Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r and Thine alone can change the leper’s spots…”
This verse probably reflects a mishearing of the text of Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” In other words, can a black man change the color of his skin? Can a leopard reconfigure or remove the spot on his skin and in his fur? In Jeremiah, the idea is that these people are “dyed in the wool” sinners – genuine in their ungodliness – and no surface, superficial change will help them to escape judgment. They’re of a known quality. So the answer is, “No, that doesn’t change.” (At least not on their own!)
Of course, “lepers” (a designation for people who are suffering from a variety of dermatological issues, not just Hansen’s disease) feature prominently in many biblical stories and in the life of Jesus. Many lepers were healed by Jesus (Matthew 8; Luke 17:12). Leprosy was not just an often-fatal disease, it was a sentence worse than death for those who contracted it. In Jewish society, those who suffered from it were required to live without human contact, on the far outskirts of the city. Jesus broke many, many social boundaries when he touched a leper to heal him (Luke 5:13). Only the power of God can change the unchangeable within a man.
“…and melt the heart of stone.”
Isaiah 36 and 37 contain some chillingly vivid images, skeletons reanimated with human flesh, standing at the ready as an army. Before they could “live again” they had be killed. They brought their death upon their own heads (God and death are not companions). A key part of their coming back to life will be a heart transplant. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” (Ezekiel 36:26-29). God has always wanted the softest of hearts within his people (Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 30:6-8).
“For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim…”
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. … Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due … Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (Romans 4:1-4; 3:27)
“…I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s lamb.”
How interesting that we look for the purest water in which to wash and rinse our own clothes, trying to remove all dirt and filth. The key to this cleansing is not what’s removed, but what’s added. And it’s nothing transparent or clear – it’s blood red. Like the overcomers in John’s vision “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
“When from my dying bed my ransomed soul shall rise, Then “Jesus died for me” shall rend the vaulted skies.”
Triumph! Victory! What a powerful moment – the moment of death when a man’s mettle is tested. The victory cry of the Christian is “Jesus died for me!” – no more, no less. It is enough. It is everything. This scream rips through the skies and the heavens and echoes as far as the earth can hear: “Jesus paid it all.”
“And when before the throne, I stand in Him complete, I’ll lay my trophies down, all down at Jesus’ feet.”
There is a tension in the Bible. On the one hand, we have every spiritual blessing because we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). On another hand, there is still something to anticipate about the final coming of the Lord and His claiming His own. We already have throne room status with God, but then we’ll have it in a way that’s more tangible than it is now – more really, more truly, more in every way. And on that day when everything is “in place,” we’ll survey all that we ever had that was ever of any value to us, and well compare it to the splendor and beauty of Jesus. And in comparison “the things of earth grow strangely dim,” they fade and they falter. And we lay them down – not because they are worthless – but because they meant something to us in our past. We lay our entire life at his feet, all that we worked for, all that we earned; in exchange, He grants us to be in his very presence. Yes, it cost us everything to be there, but it was free; Jesus paid it all.
Photo: Levi Sisemore (hymnalcollector.com)
Christian Hymns, 1889
E.G. Sewell, R.M. McIntosh, Leonard Daugherty
Gospel Advocate Publishing Company