understanding of conversion
This page contains text examples of categories relating to the way Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby understood conversion. They both wrote hymns to help people recognize their sin, respond to God's invitation of grace, and commit their lives to God. The list does not attempt to be exhaustive.
Text locations are designated by the following hymnal key:
CATEGORY ONE: RECOGNITION HYMN TEXTS
CATEGORY TWO: RESPONSE HYMN TEXTS
Personal conversion experiences remain a foundational doctrine of Methodism. Crosby and Wesley both wrote hymn texts for the three specific worship experiences surrounding conversion: recognition, response and commitment. These three categories may be further divided into subcategories based on content and writing style.
The category of "Recognition Hymns" divides into two subsets. The first subset contains texts exhorting others to recognize their sinful nature and the cleansing offering of God through Jesus Christ. They use language that sounds more like an intimate visit than a sermon in song. An example would be the first two verses of Crosby's Only a Step to Jesus.
Only a step to Jesus! Then why not take it now? Come, and, thy sin confessing, To Him, thy Savior, bow. Only a step to Jesus! Believe, and thou shalt live; Lovingly now He's waiting, And ready to forgive.
The text names the listener as a sinner and Jesus as a patiently waiting Savior. The listener is told why and how to be saved from eternal death. The language is gentle and pleading in tone. The language of Wesley's texts of this subset also exhibit a welcoming, yet pleading tone as exemplified in Come, sinners to the Gospel Feast and Sinners, turn: why will you die?
The second subset of the Recognition Category contains texts that portray an individual testifying to a recognition of their sin. Wesley's Jesus, lover of my soul (vs. 2) is a heartfelt prayer of realization.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me. All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring; Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
In Crosby's hymns, this realization is coupled with a confession and petition for forgiveness thus moving these texts to the next category.
"Response Hymns" also divide into two subsets: individual confessions of sin with a petition for God's forgiveness and testimonies of assurance. Crosby's Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior (a classic hymn of petition) and Safe in the Arms of Jesus are archetypes for this category. They poignantly describe the events directly preceding and following the moment of justification. Category Two contained the least amount of texts surveyed. More texts were devoted to calling sinners into repentance than illustrating the moment of conversion.
The majority of texts surveyed minister to believers as means of encouraging committed holy living. Commitment Hymns divide into five subsets due to the spectrum of post-conversion experiences encountered by believers. Wesley's A Charge to Keep I Have is the perfect illustration for the first subset.
A charge to keep I have, A God to glorify, A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky. To serve the present age, My calling to fulfill: O may it all my powers engage To do my Master's will! Arm me with jealous care, As in Thy sight to live; And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare A strict account to give! Help me to watch and pray, And on Thyself rely, Assured, if I my trust betray, I shall for ever die.
The text clearly states the individual's commitment to God. The individuals know their success is not based on their own strength, but God's strength. They therefore petition God for help. Petitions which utilize begging or crying language are placed in the second subset because their tone contrasts markedly from the first subset. The language of the first two subsets is very introspective and often takes on the quality of private prayer as illustrated in Crosby's Hide Thou Me.
In Thy cleft, O Rock of Ages, Hide Thou me; When the fitful tempest rages, Hide Thou me; Where no mortal are can sever From my heart Thy love forever, Hide me, O thou Rock of Ages, Safe in Thee. From the snare of sinful pleasure, Hide Thou me; Thou, my soul's eternal treasure, Hide Thou me; When the world its power is wielding, And my heart is almost yielding, Hide me, O Thou Rock of Ages, Safe in Thee. In the lonely night of sorrow, Hide Thou me; Till in glory dawns the morrow, Hide Thou me; In the sight of Jordan's billow, Let Thy bosom be my pillow; Hide me, O Thou Rock of Ages, Safe in Thee.
While the first two subsets contained texts couched in prayer language, the last three subsets contain texts couched in exhortation language. It is in the comparison of these texts that the priorities of Wesley and Crosby are most divergent. Subsets three and four contain texts in which an individual is exhorting believers to persevere. In the texts surveyed, Crosby writes four times more of this type of hymn text than Wesley. The fifth subset contains texts in which a community is exhorting itself persevere in holy living. In the texts surveyed, Wesley wrote ten texts for this category while Crosby only wrote one.
This information is now compared with Crosby's and Wesley's preference for writing invitation style hymns (category one). It is then possible to conclude, that the revival leaders in both of their time periods emphasized calling sinners to repentance, but that the revival leaders of Crosby's time period were more interested in the nurture of individuals rather than communities.
Historical evidence proves this conclusion true. Methodist bands and societies were much more important in Wesley's day than in Crosby's day. Crosby wrote for Moody's revivals. His emphasis was on the salvation of the individual, not the transformation of the "mother church." The Wesleys spent much of their time defining and defending Church of England/Methodist doctrine while Moody was more interested in "getting everybody saved and sanctified." Moody had little regard for maintaining a specific denomination's agenda. (transdenominationalism)
Therefore, it is appropriate to say that Crosby and Wesley wrote a body of hymn texts based upon the Wesleyan understanding of personal conversion experiences. They both wrote texts in the languages of exhortation and prayer. They both wrote texts for the three specific events of conversion (recognition, response and commitment) which fulfilled even more specialized experiences of believers and seekers. But, the priorities of the revival leaders in Crosby's time period caused her to write commitment texts which were aimed more at the individual while the priorities of the revival leaders in Wesley's time period caused him to write texts aimed more at the nurturing of the Methodist societies.
[ Song Bird ][ Her Words ][ Links ][ Friends ]
The New York Institute for Special
Please address corrections
and comments to our webmaster.