And Can it Be
The very popular hymn by Charles Wesley, “And Can it be That I should gain,” originally entitled "Free Grace": contains some serious heresies in the following words.
He left his father's throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace,
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
By using the phrase, “emptied himself of all but love,” Wesley is talking of the ancient heresy known as the Kenosis theory. What has come to be called "Kenotic theology" attempts to understand the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in light of the kenosis found in Philippians 2:7. In this verse it tells us that Christ, “"Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7),” The aim of this view is to try and solve the supposed paradox of Christ having both a human and divine nature. The problem comes when it is concluded that in the incarnation, Jesus took on human nature and gave up or lost some of the divine attributes, such that Jesus was not fully divine. Thus, when Wesley writes and says Christ “emptied Himself of all but love” he is saying Christ gave up all of or part of His divine nature. The doctrine of the two natures of Christ (known as the hypostatic union) maintains that Jesus possessed a full human nature and a full divine nature. Many modern hymnals have solved this heresy in the hymn by changing the words to read, “Emptied himself and came in love.”
The Cleansing Wave
At a surface reading of this hymn there appears to be nothing wrong with the lyrics. In fact, based on how you interpret these lyrics, there is no discernable bad theology in the hymn. Here are the words to the chorus:
The cleansing stream I see, I see!
I plunge, and O it cleanseth me;
O praise the Lord, it cleanseth me,
It cleanseth me, yes, cleanseth me.
As I said, there is nothing here that immediately jumps off the page at you. This is why it was especially disheartening for me when I read about what the author of the hymn intended by her lyrics. The author of this hymn is Phoebe Palmer (1807-74). Palmer was a writer who strongly promoted the doctrines of Christian perfectionism. In fact, Palmer is known as one of the founders of the Holiness movement in America and the Higher Life movement in the United Kingdom. She is also a forerunner of the Keswick movement. Though we all know this hymn, it is the theology of Phoebe Palmer that bears her legacy. She is often considered to be the link between the Wesleyan revivals and the modern Pentecostal movement. Her teaching emphasized the erroneous belief holiness is a matter of immediacy. Notice that in the hymn there is no future tense. Everything that happens is either past or present. In the hymn she is comparing the crisis of Christian perfectionism that her theology holds to as a baptism that cleanses immediately to produce a pure life.
Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling
This is one of several common hymns that depict Jesus as a kind-hearted Savior who reflects characteristics that are less than deity.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
This hymn is often used in our churches as an invitation hymn because of its quiet, inoffensive nature. The idea of Jesus “calling” as reflected in this hymn, however, is not evident in the biblical data. Romans 8:30 promises us that those who God calls He will also justify. This entire passage demonstrates that those whom God calls will always answer. The major problem with this song is how it portrays Jesus. The image that is evoked is one of Christ standing a ways off unsure if the unbeliever will come to him or not. This does not jive with the Scriptural teaching of the father’s unwillingness to let any perish. Christ was not passive in his desire to see men saved. He was eager to rescue a lost and dying world, a far cry from “waiting and watching.”
Posted by Caleb