HYMN OF THE MONTH
I Once Was a Stranger
Robert McCheyne, 1837
I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
I oft read with pleasure, to sooth or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;
But e’en when they pictured the blood sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.
Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu—’twas nothing to me.
When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see—
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
My terrors all vanished before the sweet Name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life giving and free—
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.
Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In Thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,
My cable, my anchor, my breast-plate and shield!
Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This “watchword” shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be.
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BEHIND THE HYMN
Do you like to start your new year with a Bible reading schedule, friend? if so, you have the writer of this month’s hymn to thank.
Scotsman Robert McCheyne (also known as M'Cheyne) was a preacher, a scholar and a poet who died from typhus just before he turned 30, leaving behind his church and his fiancé Jessie Thain.
He was well-known for his character, devotion to Christ, his biblical scholarship and his key role in the Church of Scotland’s renewed missionary efforts to Palestine. Over 7,000 people attended his funeral in 1843.
His friend, Andrew Bonar, wrote a biography after his death that has been in print since, influencing evangelical Christianity worldwide.
McCheyne also designed a widely used system for reading through the Bible in a year. The plan entails reading the New Testament and the Psalms through twice a year and the Old Testament through once.
His hymn, I Once Was a Stranger, is his very personal testimony of salvation, beautifully describing the moment he was awakened by God’s grace to finally apply the Gospel he knew in his mind — and that even affected his emotions — to his own soul. Jehovah Tsidkenu, a Hebrew name for God that means "The Lord Our Righteousness" appears in all seven stanzas.
This hymn is particularly relevant for the start of the New Year — a time when Christians earnestly endeavor change and improvement in their lives — because of two very important truths it teaches.
First, because Christ’s righteousness became ours at salvation, we no longer have to strive to be good or better to gain God’s approval or salvation. When we make our goals and resolutions for this year in the light of this truth, our motivation will be more aligned with Scripture.
The second truth this hymn teaches — or perhaps mostly implies — is the face that we’re unable to be truly better in our strength. It is the same God who calls us who also will do it.
Happy New Year to you, reader. And may the Lord be your righteousness all year long.
- Kristen Iaffaldano, Editor
P.S. —This hymn is particularly helpful when teaching children the true meaning of the Gospel, the difference between understanding the good news intellectually and understanding it spiritually or personally, and what elements to include in a written salvation testimony. I hope you’ll listen in to the podcast this month as we take this hymn study a bit further.