O To Grace How Great A Debtor
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (#2) Matthew 6:12
Recently I heard a television preacher say on the air waves that the Christian hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was errant in its theology. He said that the hymn writer’s words, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be” were simply not true. “God freely forgives us,” he said, “through the atoning death of Jesus Christ for our sins on the cross.” He concluded, “Since Jesus paid it all, we owe nothing in return. Our salvation is a free gift. That is what grace is.” What he says is all very well and true concerning grace and the complete payment for our sin, which could only come from the sacrifice of a perfect sacrificial lamb, the sinless Lamb of God. The great hymn writer Augustus Toplady said it like this in his classic hymn Rock of Ages: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” We have absolutely nothing with which to pay or erase our debt of sin. Yet this preacher is well off the mark when he denies we are “in debt” to God for His magnificent gift of mercy and love. Toplady expresses the very thought of the nature of this debt in the first phrase of another of his hymns, “A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing.” And the Apostle Paul puts it in a nutshell when he wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love….” (Romans 13:8) We do have a debt to pay, a debt which remains even after we ask for our debts to be forgiven, as we have forgiven our debtors: it is to love!
C. S. Lewis remarked in his book The Great Divorce, “You cannot love a fellow creature fully till you love God.” With this combination of Valentine’s Day 2008 and our consideration of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, it well we recognize these abiding truths: in loving God we comprehend how our previous love for our fellow beings was truly deficient; and, we who know His salvation are indebted to Him, a debt calling for one thing from us, and one thing alone, our love. An old saint, being asked whether it is easy or hard to love God, replied, “It is easy to those who do it!”
A young pastor of a church in the highlands of Scotland in the 19th Century, Robert Murray McCheyne, penned the words of this hymn to express his debt to his God and Savior. The first and fifth stanza read:
“When this passing world is done, when has sunk yon glaring sun, when we stand with Christ in glory, looking o’er life’s finished story, then, Lord shall I fully know, not till then, how much I owe.”
“Chosen not for good in me, wakened up from wrath to flee, hidden in the Savior’s side, by the Spirit sanctified, teach me, Lord, on earth to show, by my love, how much I owe.”
Consider this Valentine’s Day how great is your salvation, and, then, how great is your love?
“Teach me Lord, on earth to show, by my love, how much I owe.”
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