- Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
- Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.
- Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak;
Thy pow’r alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save thine, no other blood will do;
No strength, save that which is divine, can bear me safely through.
- I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfalt’ring lip and heart, I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in his tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each ling’ring shade of gloom.
- I praise the God of grace; I trust his truth and might;
He calls me his, I call him mine, my God, my joy, my light.
‘Tis he who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because he loveth me, I live because he lives.
THE HYMN WRITER
Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) was born in Scotland as one of eleven children in the Bonar household. While his father was a solicitor (lawyer) many of Horatius’ grandfathers before him were pastors, and it just so happened that God had plans for Horatius to become a pastor as well. Horatius (“Horace” to his friends) came to saving faith in Christ early in his childhood, went to the High School and University of Edinburgh and was licensed to preach in 1833. He did mission work in Leith for a while, and then in 1837 became the minister of the new North Church in Kelso. God blessed Bonar’s ministry greatly and many were added to the Kingdom of God throughout Scotland through his service. He preached the Gospel with authority and passion, with kind sincerity visited his parishioners and faithfully fasted and prayed for God’s blessing and help. Bonar was especially dedicated to the children in his church, in the community and in his Sunday-school classes, where he began composing hymns put to well known tunes especially for them. It was because of this work that the children were able to participate in worship more happily and readily than if they only sang the metrical psalms used in the Church of Scotland in those days. He loved the children greatly and they grew very attached to him. Sinclair Fergusen has said, “It is a great mark of grace, surely, when a minister of the gospel endears himself to youngsters in this way. For this was also a man who was no shrinking violet and was resolutely opposed to any distortions of the gospel.”
In 1843, Bonar married Jane Catherine Lundie, who was also a hymn writer (she wrote “Fade Fade Each Earthly Joy”). Together they experienced terrible hardship and broken hearts when they lost five of their young children in succession. Horatius wrote verses of grief as he watched each little life slip away. God graciously allowed four of their nine children to grow to maturity. Towards the close of their lives, one of their surviving daughters was widowed with five small children and she returned to live with Horatius and Jane. The love and sweet spirit of the Bonars is truly evident in a letter written to a friend, “God took five children from life some years ago, and He has given me other five to bring up for Him in my old age.”
While Bonar’s hymns were initially written for his beloved Sunday school children, adults also treasured his songs and he continued writing hymns throughout his life for all saints. He wrote over 600 of them, all rather simple in frame, yet beautifully profound in their theological depth. At a memorial service following his death, his friend, Rev. E. H. Lundie, said: “His hymns were written in very varied circumstances, sometimes timed by the tinkling brook that babbled near him; sometimes attuned to the ordered tramp of the ocean, whose crested waves broke on the beach by which he wandered; sometimes set to the rude music of the railway train that hurried him to the scene of duty; sometimes measured by the silent rhythm of the midnight stars that shone above him.”
As a hymn writer, a celebrated author, beloved pastor, dear husband, dedicated father and as a saint, Bonar’s desire was to give His God all the honor, glory and praise so that “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). He even requested that no one write a biography about him after his death. Thankfully, we are blessed to have scraps of memories that we can piece together to know somewhat more about this pastor whose heart was full of love, poetry and song.
THOUGHTS AS YOU SING – (Can be read as a family devotional)
There are many religions among the peoples and tribes of this world. Many of those religions sing hymns or chant or offer up words of prayer and praise to their false gods. But there is only one religion in the entire world that can sing the words of the song, “Not What my Hands Have Done.” When we sing this song, we are affirming the truth of Scripture that we have absolutely nothing to offer God and that salvation, from beginning to end, is achieved through the work of God, not by us (Romans 3:21-25, 5:1-2; 2 Cor 5:20; Eph 2:1-10; Titus 3:5). We sing, “Thy work alone… Thy blood alone… Thy grace alone… Thy power alone…No other work, save Thine, no other blood will do; No strength, save that which is divine, can bear me safely through!” The religions of the world cannot sing these words, (they would be fairly nonsensical in their opinion) because for them, their salvation is based entirely on either the family they are born into, or how they pray, how often they go to church, the good works they do, how they keep all the rules, or the evil they expell from their lives. Aside from Christianity, every religion in the world is a works or law-based system for attaining some form of salvation, heaven or nirvana (the good life).
The Scriptures tell us that God requires complete perfection and righteousness to be in His presence. Try as we may, there is no way for us to get rid of all the sin in our hearts because thanks to our first parents (Adam and Eve) it is part of our very nature. The greatest news ever is that God has made a way for us to be righteous before Him. That way is to rely and trust completely in Jesus for His perfection. The burden is not on us to be good enough, or pray hard enough… We wouldn’t be able to achieve that kind of perfection and holiness even if we tried! Jesus has done it! He is our only hope for righteousness, salvation, and heaven. Praise Jesus! He has made a way!
HOW WE DO HYMN OF THE MONTH
If you are new to this community, welcome! It is a great time to join in and make family worship a priority if you haven’t already. You may or may not be familiar with this hymn. Either way, we invite you to spend this month meditating on its truths.
To get you started, we’ve provided free printable lyrics, music and copywork — all found here!
Also, you can find fresh versions of the hymn on our YouTube channel that you and your family can sing along with. There are loads of fresh versions of our favorite hymns on our hymn of the month playlist.
When we began singing hymns with our littles about 10 years ago, we kept it simple… We prayed and sang one hymn together every night at bedtime for a whole month. Everyone’s family rhythm is different, so we welcome you to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn (following your daily time in the Scriptures and in prayer) whether it is first thing in the morning, or around the dinner table or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. You can let us know how it’s going by posting either a video or a photo on Instagram. Just tag it with #happyhymnody! As always, if you have any questions or if you’d like to share your heart with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out! God bless you all this month as you worship and follow Jesus together as a family!
With so much love,