Words by Elvina Hall (1820-1889); Music: John Grape (1835-1915)
- I hear the Saviour say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”
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,
All down at Jesus’ feet.
The emphasis of most religions can be summarised in two letters. D –O. The Christian gospel emphasis however, can be spelled with four letters. D_O_N_E. Our devotional hymn this week reminds us clearly of this important truth – that our security in this life and our hope for eternity depend not on our own feeble efforts and works but on Christ’s finished work. A hymn which encourages us to remember that Jesus made it possible for us to be purged, cleansed, and washed whiter than snow is “Jesus Paid It All”.
Jesus Paid It All was written under unusual circumstances. Have you ever had your mind wander away during a worship service? Perhaps you started thinking about other things–maybe what occurred last week, or plans for the coming week or what you will be doing later that day. Something like that happened to the writer of a familiar hymn.
This lovely hymn was written by Elvina Hall on a Sunday morning during a church service of 1865. If the title “God Works in Mysterious Ways” were not already taken, the circumstances of this song’s origin would certainly qualify for it. Elvina Hall (1820-1889) was a choir member at the Monument Street Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. One Sunday morning the pastoral prayer was extremely long. As the pastor went on and on praying, Mrs. Hall’s thoughts began to wander. She opened her eyes, took up her hymn book and, turning to a blank page inside the cover, she began to write. What a holy wandering thought we might say. Afterward, she presented the pastor with some simple lines of poetry–not likely telling him when they were written! Glancing at them, the pastor was reminded of something that had happened just that week. The church organist, John Grape (1835-1915) had composed a new hymn tune, with no words in mind. He passed it on to Pastor Schrick, suggesting they might find a use for it in future.
Stepping into his study, the pastor laid Mrs. Hall’s poem next to the lines of music. In surprise, he saw they fit one another like hand in glove. “Indeed, God works in mysterious ways!” he thought. (Little did he know!) The words and tune have been partners ever since, in the hymn, “Jesus Paid It All.”
Beautifully simple, and simply beautiful! That’s how I would describe this hymn. It says what it needs to say, what is important to say, without unnecessary frills. It should be used often–and is especially suited to the Lord’s Supper. The hymn expresses the heart of the gospel.
Through the song, we confess our inability to save ourselves, and our utter dependence on what Christ accomplished on the cross. “Nothing good have I / Whereby Thy grace to claim— / I’ll wash my garments white / In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb. / And when, before the throne, / I stand in Him complete, / ‘Jesus died my soul to save,’ / My lips shall still repeat.” The refrain emphasizes the “paid in full” value of the cross. “Jesus paid it all, / All to Him I owe; / Sin had left a crimson stain, / He washed it white as snow.”
That is the gospel of grace–that God, in love, did for us what we could not do for ourselves. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [to die in the sinner’s place], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16)–because Jesus paid it all. “Tetelestai!” Paid in full!
When Christ cried from the cross, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30), what He said was one word in the Greek language. “Tetelestai!” Tax receipts have been found that had the word written across them to indicate the debt was “Paid in full!” From the lips of the Saviour, it was a cry of victory. His death on the cross paid the debt we owe in full. Not in part, with something to be made up by penance, or our own good works. In full (Isa. 53:6; I Jn. 2:2).
The hymn uses the cleansing of a leper, by the power of Christ (CH-4, cf. Matt. 8:2-3) as a picture of the cleansing power of the gospel. And the cleansing of garments (CH-2) is reminiscent of the Bible’s teaching that we are clothed in Christ, as in a glorious white robe of righteousness (Gal. 3:26-27; Rev, 1:5).
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isa. 1:18).