The lyrics were written by Joseph Townsend, but this is the first of the hymns we’ll cover this year whose tune was written by our site’s namesake, Ebenezer Beesley. The tune, fittingly named “Meekness,” adds an extra layer to the hymn that isn’t present in the lyrics. The lyrics, as are common with sacramental hymns, are about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, the emblems of the sacrament itself, forgiveness, and redemption, and the tune, as is also common with sacramental hymns, lingers in a minor key through much of the hymn, providing a discordant, unsettling feeling, which reminds us of the Lord’s suffering in Gethsemane.
The tune doesn’t stay in a minor key forever, though. Phrases like “sweat in agony of pain” and “oh, remember what was done” are in a minor key to highlight that suffering, but the phrase that follows each of them resolves to a major key, and fittingly, each of those final phrases is about us. The Savior suffered all those things that we might not suffer, provided we repent and turn our hearts to him. Those four phrases (“I have ransomed even thee,” “I have suffered death for thee,” “like a fountain unto thee,” and “that thy Savior I may be”) give us hope and remind us that His suffering was not for nothing, and the peace they bring is only amplified by the resolution of the key on those closing chords.
But take a closer look at those phrases.”I have ransomed even thee.” “That thy Savior I may be.” In this hymn, it is not we who sing to or about our Savior, but our Savior who sings to us. He tells us all that He has done for us, reminds us of the significance of the bread and water to be presented to us after the song concludes, and very gently asks us to “let [our] head most humbly bow” in reverence of the magnitude of His sacrifice. It’s not often that we’re permitted to put ourselves in the Savior’s place when we sing. We get the chance to see ourselves as He sees us. We realize that each of us can be addressed as “thou ransomed one.” We learn that He has no greater desire for us than we should “with [our] brethren be at peace.” And in the fourth verse, we get a sense of the depth of His love for us:
At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.
We know that He loves us. We learn it from the time we are very small, and we are reminded, at the very least, every Sunday as we sing to Him. But His description of us as His friends is awe-inspiring to me. We are not projects to Him, nor are we inconveniences He is forced to endure. We are dear to Him. The word “friend,” to me, implies not only love, but genuine interest in our lives. He redeemed us because He wants to be with us, and wants us to be able to return to where He is. It is His life’s sole mission to bring us home, and so He ever pleads before the Father’s throne for us. We fall short time and time again, and each time He makes the intercession for us. He stays the hand of justice, promising that we’ll do better this time. And He does it because we are His friends.
He asks nothing more than that we be obedient, prayerful, watchful, and constant, and we promise as much to Him as we take the sacrament of which we sing. We renew the covenant we made at baptism to do those things, and we resolve to try a little harder in the coming week. And as we do those things, we allow Him to become our Savior. We accept His sacrifice for us. We allow Him to take our hands in His and heal us. We allow, as we sing in the second verse, His Spirit to be a fountain to us, cleansing and purifying us.
And we fall short, again and again. But we remember He is our friend, and that His hand is always outstretched to us to help us up so that we can try again.