And Can It Be

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"And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" is a Christian hymn written by Charles Wesley in 1738 to celebrate his conversion, which he regarded as having taken place on 21 May of that year.[1] The hymn celebrates personal salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and is one of the most popular Methodist hymns today.

And Can It Be
Charles Wesley.jpg
GenreHymn
Written1738
TextCharles Wesley
Based onPsalm 145
Meter8.8.8.8 (L.M.)
Melody"Sagina" by Thomas Campbell

HistoryEdit

Charles Wesley (1707–1788), along with his brother John Wesley, was one of the founding figures of Methodism. Like his brother, he was profoundly influenced by a religious conversion. Charles's experience took place on 21 May 1738 (the feast of Pentecost), and it inspired him to write two new hymns, "And Can It Be that I Should Gain" and "Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin?". After this, Charles went on to become a prolific hymnnodist, composing over over 6,500 hymns.[2][3]

The original six-verse hymn "And Can It Be?" was first published in 1739 in John Wesley's hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems, with the title "Free Grace".[3]

The hymn remains popular today and is included in many contemporary hymn books. In 2013, following a survey conducted by the BBC Television programme Songs of Praise, "And Can It Be?" was voted number 6 in the UK's Top 100 Hymns.[4] Diarmaid MacCulloch suggests that the hymn is one of the best-loved of Wesley's six thousand hymns.[5]

"And Can It Be?" was the source for the 2003 Contemporary Christian song "You Are My King (Amazing Love)" by Chris Tomlin, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Christian songs chart.[6][7]

WordsEdit

 
"My chains fell off" - the Liberation of Peter (1514 fresco by Raphael, Vatican Museums)

The title and first lines of the hymn are framed as a rhetorical question written in the first person, in which the narrator/singer asks if he can benefit from the sacrifice of Jesus (the blood of Christ), despite being the cause of Christ's death. The hymn makes reference to several Biblical events, and each verse returns to the individual's experience of faith and personal salvation.[8]

The second verse expresses amazement at the apparent paradox of the death of the immortal Christ — "'Tis mystery all! Th'Immortal dies!" — referring to the Biblical accounts of the Passion of Jesus. The following verse celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus and borrows a verse from Philippians 2:6–8, "Emptied himself of all but Love, and bled for Adam's helpless race".[9]

In the fourth verse ("My chains fell off"), Wesley makes reference to the imprisonment of both Saint Peter and Saint Paul — the Liberation of Peter in Acts 12 and the Liberation of Paul in Acts 16 — as a metaphor for the narrator's liberation from sin.[10]

With the line "Thine eye diffused a quickening ray," Wesley describes the liberating power of God descending on the captive soul using words closely based on a line from Alexander Pope's 1717 poem Eloisa to Abelard:[9]

Thy eyes diffus'd a reconciling ray,
And gleams of glory brighten'd all the day.

The fifth verse uses words from Romans 8:1 to describe the doctrine of Justification by faith — "No condemnation now I dread" — and looks forward to the believer receiving a crown in heaven after death.[9]

Musical settingEdit

Early publications of "And Can It Be?" set the hymn to a variety of tunes. One of the first settings was to the tune Surrey, composed by the songwriter and dramatist Henry Carey.[11] In A Collection of Tunes, Set to Music, as they are commonly sung at the Foundery (1742) the hymn was set to Samuel Akeroyde's tune Crucifixion, and in the 1786 edition of A Collection of Hymns, the tune Birmingham was specified.[8]

Today the hymn is most commonly sung to the tune Sagina (Pearlwort) which was composed by Yorkshireman Thomas Campbell (1800-1876). It was first published in 1825 in his hymnal The Bouquet: a collection of tunes composed and adapted to Wesley's Hymns; the floral title referred to Campbell's tunes all being given botanical names. Sagina, named after Sagina, a small flowering plant, was published to accompany a translation by John Wesley of a German hymn by Johann Scheffler, "Thee will I love, my strength, my tow'r" ("Ich will dich lieben, meine Stärke")[12][13][8]

"And Can It Be?" was first paired with Sagina in The Methodist Hymn Book of 1933 and this has since become the most firmly established tune for the hymn. Musicologist Percy Scholes characterises this type of tune as "Old Methodist" and considers that its style may have been influenced by the popular choruses of George Frideric Handel.[8]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Kenneth C. Kinghorn, Wesley: A Heart Transformed Can Change the World, p. 33.
  2. ^ Hunton, William Lee. Favorite hymns; stories of the origin, authorship, and use of hymns we love. Philadelphia, The General Council Publication House. p. 94-97.
  3. ^ a b "Hymnology". hymnology.hymnsam.co.uk. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  4. ^ "2013: The UK's Top 100 Hymns". www.bbc.co.uk. BBC Songs of Praise. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  5. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, p. 754.
  6. ^ Reese, Martha Grace; Weaks, Dawn Darwin; Caffey, Catherine Riddle. Unbinding Your Church: Pastor's Guide (Green Ribbon). Chalice Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-8272-3806-0. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  7. ^ "Hot Christian Songs Chart - week of December 20, 2003". Billboard. 20 December 2003. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d Clarke, Martin (2016). ""And can it be": analysing the words, music and contexts of an iconic Methodist hymn" (PDF). Yale Journal of Music and Religion. Open University. 2 (1): article no. 2. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  9. ^ a b c "History of Hymns: "And Can It Be That I Should Gain"". Discipleship Ministries. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  10. ^ Blair Gilmer Meeks, Expecting the Unexpected: An Advent Devotional Guide (Upper Room Books, 2006), p. 38.
  11. ^ Scotland, The Church of. "And can it be, that I should gain". Church of Scotland. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  12. ^ Humphreys, Maggie; Evans, Robert. Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain and Ireland. A&C Black. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7201-2330-2. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Tune: SAGINA". Hymnary.org. Retrieved 5 March 2021.

External linksEdit