Are you Washed in the Blood of the Lamb


Words & Music: Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878

Hoffman, though lacking formal musical training, had a good ear for the popular song styles of his day and incorporated them into his numerous gospel songs. “Are you washed in the blood?”, for example, is written in the style of a military march (of the pre-Sousa days). It became quite popular, in fact, among the Salvation Army brass bands. This association was once so strong that the hymn was referenced in this context by Vachel Lindsay in his poem “General William Booth Enters Heaven”, later set to raucously fun music by the eccentric American composer Charles Ives, who quoted liberally from Hoffman’s tune.(McNeil)

Stanza 1:
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

People often mistakenly believe that the proverb, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”, is in the Bible. It is not in so many words, but the Bible frequently uses the concept of cleanliness–in a spiritual sense–throughout both testaments. In the Old Testament the separation of clean from unclean, and the need for God’s people to maintain “cleanness”, was focused on certain outward and ceremonial aspects related to diet and health. In the New Testament, however, Jesus makes it clear that true cleanness is a matter of behavior:

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. …For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”(Mark 7:15,20-23)

This is an uncleanness that none of us can wash away on our own, for “there is none righteous, no, not one.”(Romans 3:10) If you have watched your child trying to clean up a mess and only making it worse, perhaps you have a picture of humankind’s efforts to rid itself from its spiritual uncleanness. We are just moving the dirt around, at best.

The situation is dire, because it is clear that heaven is a place of spiritual cleanness; “nothing unclean will ever enter it.”(Revelation 21:27) But “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”(Hebrews 10:4) What could be done? Malachi 3:2 prophesied of One who would come to cleanse His people: “For He is like a refiner’s fire and like a launderer’s soap.”(Malachi 3:2) Even today, we use intense heat to refine materials by burning away the impurities from the desired substance. Likewise, we use powerful detergents to remove stains. Christ is the most powerful Refiner and Cleaner of all–His blood has the power to “take away the sins of the world.”(John 1:29)

Refrain:
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Throughout the Bible, white robes are indicative of holiness and purity. Angels appear in white, and Jesus in His transfiguration was also in dazzling white. In the Revelation the “white robes” take on an added significance, as they symbolize those who are counted worthy to enter Christ’s heavenly home; stains and spots on the robes indicate unworthiness.(Revelation 3) How do we acquire, and maintain, such spiritual attire? In Revelation 7:14 we learn that the white-robed saints in heaven “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We read of Christ’s desire for this in Ephesians:

Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.(Ephesians 5:25-27)

Salvation requires washing away of spiritual uncleanness: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”(1 Corinthians 6:11) How do we engage in this washing? In Acts 22:16 the apostle Paul, recounting his process of conversion to Christianity, gives us the words that Ananias spoke to him in Damascus: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Paul had come to believe in Christ, felt the conviction of his sins, and was earnestly praying to know what to do; but up until this point, he had not washed away his sins. Baptism was the final step in which he “called on the name of the Lord” and let the blood of Jesus cleanse his soul.

Stanza 2:
Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
(Refrain)

If only a one-time cleansing were enough! We try to walk in the right way, but sometimes we are not much better than the sow that after being washed “returns to wallow in the mire.”(2 Peter 2:22) “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”(1 John 1:7) Not that we would ever take His forgiveness for granted, or treat it as license; but we are reassured that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”(1 John 1:9) Rather than an encouragement to license, it is an encouragement to even greater love and devotion to such a wonderful Savior.

Stanza 3:
When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
(Refrain)

In this stanza Hoffman seems to reference the Ephesians 5:25-27 passage, in which Christ is the Bridegroom preparing His bride, the church, by washing her clean of any stain; but there is also a sense of our active responsibility to be prepared. Hoffman may also have had in mind the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14, in which a man was found in the banquet hall without a wedding garment and ejected from the presence of the king. There has been a great deal of debate over the significance of the wedding garment, particularly whether it was customary for guests to provide their own attire, or to receive it from the host. Since we are not told in the parable, it seems a bit much to try to make a point of this; there is plenty to learn from the facts as Jesus presented them. There was an expected “holy” attire for the occasion, and those who did not have it were not allowed to enjoy the king’s hospitality. The repeated references to robes in the Revelation indicate the same is true for admission to Christ’s hospitality in eternity. Jesus said to the church in Sardis:

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”(Revelation 3:3-5)

Stanza 4:
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O be washed in the blood of the Lamb!
(Refrain)

Fortunately it is not up to us to provide the cleansing of the garments of righteousness, for Isaiah 64:6 truly says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Even to the church at Laodicea, for whom Christ reserved His most scathing rebukes in the Revelation, He also said, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself.”(Revelation 3:18) Near the conclusion of the Bible we also read, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”(Revelation 22:14) The invitation is clear and open to all who will take advantage of it.

About the music: This hymn first appeared in Hoffman’s publication Spiritual Songs for Gospel Meetings and the Sunday School.(McNeil) The title of the publication itself is an interesting commentary on the role gospel songs played in an earlier era: they were not necessarily accepted in, or intended for, the regular services of the church. Much in the fashion of “devotional songs” or “praise songs” of the last few decades, they were used in youth gatherings and other special meetings. There was a certain amount of controversy in singing something so obviously connected to a popular secular style (the military march, in this case) in worship. Gradually they were accepted, and with the familiarity of long use and the shifting of popular music styles they have acquired a “sacred” sound that they might not have had to their original singers.

References:

McNeil, W.K. “Hoffman, Elisha Albright.” Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music. New York: Routledge, 187-188.

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