And Can It Be?

Charles Wesley, 1707-88

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Savior's blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain?

For me, who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be

That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

"And Can It Be?" is a conversion testimony that has grown more popular in recent years—and this despite its daunting first verse, which is difficult both grammatically and theologically.

This song relates the conversion story of an okay guy, not your typical loathsome wretch. Wesley was the son of a preacher, an Oxford graduate, an ordained Anglican clergyman, a world traveler-—-having spent five months in the New World colony of Georgia as secretary and chaplain to Gov. James Oglethorpe. Though he knew about God—-and something of "the world"—he did not know God or the freedom that comes when God releases one's spirit from bondage. Something primal was missing, until May 21, 1738.

It was Pentecost Sunday. A sick Wesley was the houseguest of an uneducated but spiritually astute Mr. Bray of London. Charles had been reading writings of Martin Luther, the proponent of salvation by grace through faith, not by righteous deeds. Wesley's journal tells the story:

At midnight I gave myself up to Christ: assured I was safe, sleeping or waking. Had continued experience of his power to overcome all temptations; and confessed, with joy and surprise, that he was able to do exceedingly abundantly for me, above what I can ask or think.

I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. Under his protection I waked next morning, and rejoiced in reading the 107th Psalm, so nobly describing what God had done for my soul.

At nine I began [to write] a hymn on my conversion but was persuaded to break off for fear of pride. Mr. Bray coming, encouraged me to proceed in spite of Satan. I prayed to Christ to stand by me and I finished the hymn.

—the first of some six thousand he would pen.

Some scholars think this cited conversion hymn was "Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin?" (better known in Britain than in the States). But others give clear arguments for it being "And Can It Be?"—which was surely an early hymn, as it was published by year-end.

Three days after Charles's conversion, his brother John similarly gave himself to Christ while attending a Moravian meeting. "I felt my heart strangely warmed," he wrote of his surrender.

With several friends in tow, John barged in on Charles, still recuperating, and announced, "I believe!" And then, Charles reported, "We sang the hymn with great joy." "The hymn" is presumably the testimony of amazement written earlier in the week:

Amazing love! How can it be

That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature's night . . . My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Even a man previously committed to a life of Christian service needed to admit that he was spiritually bound in a dark prison, until the atoning work of Christ broke through the barriers, until "Wesley reached out to accept the freedom freely offered. (It's a freedom described in Psalm 107—the psalm Charles read the morning after his conversion: "He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom / and broke away their chains" [v. 14].)......

Reach for the freedom offered in Christ. If you've already claimed it, then reclaim and proclaim it.

How can it be?

Through Christ, it is.

Lord, make me newly amazed at the wonder of your love for me.

From the book "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence.

The Passover time is the time to renew our walk with the Lord, to examine ourselves, to admit we are still sinners, in need of the sacrifice of Christ, and His work as our high Priest in heaven, interceding for 1 John chapter one and the beginning of chapter 2.  And so we never get complacent about it all, God the Father gives us the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread once EVERY year.

Keith Hunt