Easter: The Story Behind “Jesus Paid It All”

Hi, friends. This is the first installment of my Easter 2019 series, where we will focus on three hymns that align with the blended theme of sacrifice and redemption.

The Story Behind the Hymn

In 1865, choir member Elvina Hall listened to her pastor deliver his sermon like any other Sunday at Monument Street Methodist Church in Baltimore, MD. On this particular day, her mind began to wander. Perhaps as she contemplated something the preacher had said, poetic verses randomly started popping into her mind. She grabbed a hymnal and a pencil, jotting down lyrics on the flyleaf of the song book.

After the worship service, she showed her pastor the lyrics. I wonder whether she felt sheepish for not listening attentively to the whole sermon or if she felt too pleased with the stirring words she wrote to care.

The pastor realized an interesting coincidence. Another member of the church–organist John Grape–had recently written a piano tune, but he had no lyrics to pair with it. The pastor suggested combining the two, and voilà–“Jesus Paid It All” was born!

[Sometimes, God works in mysterious ways, but sometimes, God is very unsubtle, ha! This song was “meant to be.”]

Reflections on the Theme

The lyrics of this hymn emphasize Jesus’s strength, grace, and magnitude vs. our weakness and need of redemption. The song is clear that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption. The “return sacrifice” that we give because we are redeemed is subtle but still present.

At the line “Jesus paid it all/ All to Him I owe,” I contemplate what “all” we have to give to further the kingdom of God–time, money, spiritual gifts, dedication, care, etc. We don’t give these things to EARN salvation (“For nothing good have I/ Whereby Thy grace to claim”); we are called to spread the good news and God’s kingdom when we ACCEPT salvation.

“Thy power and Thine alone/ Can change the leper’s spots/ And melt the heart of stone” is a lovely yet revealing statement. God’s power can change the leper’s spots AND melt the heart of stone. Redemption is not just the forgiveness of sins but also relinquishing our hearts and allowing the Lord to renew them.

Lyrics

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Refrain:
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

And now complete in Him,
My robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r and Thine alone
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down, (Or: “Jesus died my soul to save,”)
All down at Jesus’ feet. (Or: My lips shall still repeat.)

Here is a lovely rendition of the hymn! This song sounds awesome with more harmony parts, by the way.

Thanks for reading! Do you like this song and/or my literary analysis? Let me know in the comments.

22 comments

  1. Great post Retrospective Lily!! Ironically, I had just been watching a video of a panel meeting to discuss how to reach Millennials (Gen Y) and Post-Millennials (Gen Z) with the Gospel.

    One of the panel members made the comment that one obstacle he sees for many of the younger generation, along with other barriers, is the mindset that having a vertical channel with God is impossible. Even though they “work” at it – it is too hard to establish. In reality, however, Christ has already provided the channel – freely to those who choose to accept it. The Gospel is really a rest – because Jesus carries the burden of your life once you give it to Him, and He did so by dying on the cross for us.

    Once that channel is opened and received on the person’s side, working for God may not always be easy, but with it comes an immense joy because the Spirit fills and sustains us. We as His church, must do better at reaching those who think accepting a relationship with Christ is work, rather than a gift to us from God.

    This song conveys that message of Christ as a gift to us so well – He sets us free from the bondage of the world. Thanks for sharing! 🙂 Many blessings!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thorough comment! I never thought that “having a direct channel to God is impossible” would be the barrier to entry for some, but that is interesting. I feel overwhelmed when I contemplate that God sent Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for human sin and we now have “bold and confident access to God through Jesus” (can’t remember the verse)…but overwhelmed in a good way at God’s love for us.

      There seems to be a misunderstanding about salvation by grace vs. through works. Christians are just as fault for creating that misunderstanding, especially those who emphasize sin and hell above all else. We do not have to earn our salvation; as you said, it is a gift. However, I do believe that true salvation is more than metaphorically signing your name on a dotted line stating you believe in Jesus. We are called to partnership with Jesus, to be do’ers of the Word and not hearers, etc. But as you said, the Spirit sustains us to do this work and fills us with immense joy.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Totally agree Lily! Once we accept His gift, it is our mandate to strive to live as Christ showed us. As difficult as it is sometimes in this fallen world of ours, if we give up our control, the Holy Spirit will walk with us every step of the journey. To me, it is so incredibly awesome to feel a thought enter my mind and as quick as I say a prayer for more pure thoughts, the bad one I was thinking disappears. It is a minute by minute choice to give the reigns to God but one that brings such joy and peace!! 🙏🏻 ♥️ ✝️

        Like

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