Joseph Hart struggled to understand the balance between faith and good works. Throughout his life, Hart found himself at the extremes of these elements. At times he believed he was not righteous enough to be saved, while at other times he believed that he had a license to live sinfully because of Jesus’ righteousness. Since neither approach aligns with the gospel, Hart’s faith was shallow and tumultuous. How could have Hart written such a renowned hymn as “Come Ye Sinners, Poor, and Needy?”
Unsure of his salvation, Hart asked God for a sign and he claimed that God gave him a vision of Christ suffering in Gethsemane. Hart finally understood that Jesus died for all—including him. Once and for all he let go of his libertine lifestyle to follow after Christ. Joseph Hart quickly became a powerful preacher and hymn writer eager to tell of God’s great grace and his own transformation. One of Hart’s most well-known hymns, “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” is a testament to Hart’s new life in Christ. He equally expresses God’s eagerness to rescue sinners and our need to fully surrender to God.
A Glorious Invitation
The hymn begins with a grim portrait of humanity tainted by sin. Ignorant of our own deficiencies, we find ourselves in need, deprived, diseased, and injured only when we see Christ. Yet Jesus does not cast us aside, nor does he mock our unrighteousness or inability to free ourselves from sin. Instead, we are earnestly invited to drink of the living water that offers eternal life—God only asks for our belief and repentance.
We must believe that Jesus was the Messiah and the only Son of God who came to earth to live perfectly, die a criminal’s death (though he was a blameless man), and rise from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the promises spoken by the Father since Genesis. In order to fully turn to Christ, we must surrender our entire selves to Him, including our sin. Understanding morality is not repentance; repentance is understanding the cost of sin and the need for grace. True belief perceives the weight of Jesus’ grace, and true repentance is its natural fruit.
Responding in Light of Our Plight
Anytime we are confronted with the gospel, we respond. Our non-responses, verbal “amens,” thoughts about lunch, and fervent prayers are responses. Anytime the gospel is presented to us, we respond. And there are only two responses: we remain as we are, believing everything is alright as we are, entrenched in sin, or we turn toward Christ, knowing He is our living hope. He awaits us, welcomes us as his brothers and sisters, and guards us closely. After handing over our identities, hopes, desires, personality quirks, annoyances, and sins, God does not leave us empty-handed and void. We find grace, beauty, and joy through knowing the Father. We have redemption, righteousness, and eternal life by the work of Christ. And we participate in the life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. These “charms” do not exclude the possibility of suffering or hardship but they do promise the love, provision, faithfulness, mercy, and life of a good God to us.
His Grace Is Sufficient
For those of us convinced that we can make it on our own or that we must clean ourselves up for God, Hart reminds us of our delirium under the influence of sin. We are weary of the world, sin, and death. We are over-burdened and restless. And we feel confused, purposeless, and are marred by the effects of evil. Without the Holy Spirit, we can never advance toward God. We cannot trick Him into accepting us, fly under his radar, or impress him. Hart urges us to give up waiting for our best selves. Faith does not require perfection; faith acknowledges our need of God. We must come to the end of ourselves, for His grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
In his last two stanzas, Hart reflects on his own vision of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. For those of us who want the benefits of the gospel without surrendering ourselves, how can we reckon our Maker becoming human to die at our hands? He turned himself over to sinful men so that he could freely offer us forgiveness and life. How can we refuse to abandon our sin in exchange for a Savior that gave everything to bring us into union with God? Christ intercedes for us even now on the basis of his death and resurrection. We must choose to trust him and Him alone, even though this can bring us out of our comfort zone and require great sacrifice. Though we naturally place our hope in our efforts, others around us, or the sins that make us feel comfortable, Christ calls us into humble discipleship that puts all our trust in the true and faithful God.
Fully Surrender to God
This hymn encourages us to lean fully on the work of Christ and bids us to fully surrender all to God. Hart stacks each stanza full of reassurance and potent calls to action that easily come to mind throughout the day. Hart, and many of us, struggle balancing belief with surrender because it is so natural for us to fall back into natural patterns of sinfulness. Without the Holy Spirit working within us to transform and renew us day by day, we inevitably fall victim to the effects of sin. These simple yet theologically profound lines reinforce our big and small daily choices to follow Christ and trust fully in God’s grace. “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” reminds us of the Savior who stands eagerly waiting to embrace and protect us as we relinquish everything to him.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lyrics of “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.
I will arise and go to Jesus;
He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
Come, ye thirsty; come and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify,
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Lo! The incarnate God ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly;
Let no other trust intrude.