AND CAN IT BE?
|Charles Wesley wrote over 9000 hymns. He wrote his first hymn three days after he was saved and averaged one hymn every two days for the rest of his life. R. K. McGregor Wright wrote concerning “And Can It Be,” that it was “a rousing testimony to the wonder and power of God to save helpless sinners in bondage to sin. All Calvinists sing it with gratitude to God for this brother’s wonderful gift of expression and sensitivity to the reality of God’s sovereignty in releasing us from the bondage to our sin nature.”
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Wright concluded, “Here we have a truly regenerate Arminian describing his own conversion in fully Calvinistic terms” [No Place for Sovereignty, p. 118]. Yet it is also quite possible that Charles Wesley understood Wesleyan-Arminian theology better than modern Calvinists like Wright.
The imagery of “chains” and “prison” depict the bondage of sin. We cannot save ourselves. Nor do we have any desire for salvation. We are doubly bound both by our personal sins and by the darkness of our natural condition. This reference to our natural state is a reference to total depravity. Wesleyans affirm that man’s affections are alienated, man’s intellect is darkened, and that man’s will is perverted. We have lost the original righteousness in which Adam was created and we are deprived of the Holy Spirit. The Methodist Articles of Religion state
Thus far, Charles has stated nothing exclusive to Calvinism. Then he describes the prevenient grace through which the natural man is awakened. Notice that while his dungeon flamed with light, at this point in the conversion process, he was awakened, but still imprisoned.
According to Ephesians 5:13-14 the light of the gospel reveals our true condition. But to be awakened to our lost condition is not the same as being delivered from it. In “The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption,” John Wesley explained that the natural man neither fears nor loves God. He commits sin, more or less, day by day, yet is not troubled. But the awakened man fears God and sins unwillingly.
Yet it is Calvinism which has always asserted that this description from Romans 7:24 depicts Christianity. Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion
B. B. Warfield defended this view saying, “Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just ‘miserable sinners’: ‘miserable sinners’ saved by grace to be sure, but ‘miserable sinners’ still.” James Montgomery Boice also concluded that Romans 7 described the mature Christian.
On the other hand, John Wesley wrote that most who were accounted “good Christians” were contented to live and die in this awakened state, struggling with sin. The Wesleys preached, however, that the new birth brought deliverance from the bondage of sin. This salvation was portrayed by Charles Wesley in the lines
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
Charles returned to this theme in “O For a Thousand Tongues”
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
While we agree with Calvinists that man is helplessly lost and cannot save himself, it is this freedom from sin that makes this hymn of Charles Wesley sound distinctly different than “fully Calvinistic terms.” Although Wright said he rejoices in this great hymn which expresses the release from bondage to our sin nature, nothing I have ever read in Calvinistic literature suggested any deliverance from the sin nature prior to death.
While I rejoice that Calvinists sing this great hymn, I would also encourage them to preach what they apparently enjoy singing. Since Wright has claimed “And Can It Be” as “fully Calvinistic,” I would also encourage him to incorporate another hymn by Charles Wesley which questions the Calvinistic caricature of God.
Thou can not mock the sons of men,