Published in over 1400 hymnals since 1757, this hymn by Joseph Hart points us to the work of the cross to deal with our plight.
In the church music world, there’s a never-ending discussion of the old music vs the new music. As I lead our blended worship ministry, I encounter this discussion often. Recently there was some research published about the most statistically popular newer worship songs and their common origin. Currently there are 4 main sources creating most of the popular music sung in modern worship settings all over the world. Now, if you consider that Fanny Crosby wrote upwards of 9,000 hymns, having 4 sources of popular worship music seems less alarming. The issue of discussion is not the lack of more sources, it’s the content of the music.
In many churches, hymns like Come Ye Sinners are thought to be too old in language and too offensive when compared to popular worship music today. Even though this is an encouraging song to all who are in need of a savior, the raw nature of its lyrics doesn’t produce that soft and sensitive, happy feeling that many are seeking. If we wouldn’t put the words “Come Ye Sinners” over the door to the sanctuary, why would we sing a hymn titled the same? Would we stand at the door and greet our visitors and regular attenders with a hearty, “Welcome poor and wretched sinner!” No. I hope not.
A book is not only it’s cover and this song is not simply it’s title. Thanks to social media, our culture has become one of headline-only reading. This hymn is a deep dive into the invitation to the unworthy for the healing power of forgiveness found only at the cross.
In the movie “Jesus Revolution” one of the central characters, Lonnie Frisbee (played by the dude that looks like Jesus – Jonathan Roumie), has a description about hippies that sums up so much of where pop culture usually sits decade after decade. “If you look a little deeper, you’ll see a bunch of kids searching for all the right things, just in all the wrong places.”
We all want heaven. We all want no more pain, no more tears, no more death, no more war, only love and happiness. But, if we don’t deal with our sin, with our wretched self, we will forever be “searching for all the right things, just in all the wrong places.” Pop church culture loves to sing about how good God is, how loving God is, etc. Those are true statements. It is by His immeasurable love that He sent his son to be the propitiation for our sin. But we must face our sin and repent of it. And this song invites us to do so, and find a loving and powerful savior, ready and waiting to grant forgiveness.
This hymn begins with the simple invitation; come.
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
In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Of this, Matthew Henry writes, “All those, and only those, who are aware of sin as a burden and groan under it are invited to rest in Christ….The comforter must first convict.” If we don’t believe we’re wretched and in need of saving, this hymn will come across as offensive.
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
Come ye weary heavy laden
Bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry till you’re better
You will never come at all
Not the righteous not the righteous
Sinners Jesus came to call
In the center of the third stanza, we find the words “If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all”. To tarry is to wait. Why would Hart put that in there? Because it’s human behavior. When we are ill, do we immediately go to the doctor or do we wait a little while and see if it improves? When Adam and Eve sinned, did they immediately go to confess or did they wait? Their thoughts going something like, “here, put this on, you’ll feel better and maybe he won’t notice and we’ll feel better in time.” In our unending desire to fix it ourselves, don’t we often “give it some time” cause “time heals all wounds”?
As Hart continues, Jesus did not come to call the righteous. The righteous are the self-fixers. My nature is a self-fixer. I have spent many years as a mechanic fixing things. I know how to fix a lot of things and foolishly I think sometimes I can even fix myself. With all of our intellect, schooling, training, acquired knowledge, and street smarts, don’t we often try to fix the problems ourselves? And we glorify the authors, the preachers, and the celebrities that give us ideas and methods on how to fix it ourselves. Drink this, eat this, read this, save this, follow this, etc. Not that it’s all bad, but when it comes to the problem of sin, we may be chasing “all the right things in all the wrong places.”
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
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
Because of the fall of man, our fallen world, our sin nature, and our simple humanness, we need a savior. And while the church isn’t the only place one can confess and be forgiven, it is supposed to be a safe place in which to do so. The church is the body of Christ and that body is the hands and feet. While Jesus is the only one who can forgive sins, it is His church that He calls to welcome His chosen. To feed them the bread of life, and to show in human form, with all it’s faults and failures, the salvation only found in Christ. “None but Jesus, none but Jesus.”
There are a lot of considerations that go into choosing the music we sing in church. But we should never shy away from singing music that needs to be sung even when it may seem uncomfortable.
Be encouraged by the words of Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.”