Hymn text by Orson F. Whitney, 1855-1931. View the full text of this hymn.

Like we do in many hymns, we sing about our Savior in this hymn, and as we often do when we sing about the Lord, we sing particularly about His atoning sacrifice. His “mighty hand hath made [us] whole, [His] wondrous pow’r hath raised [us] up and filled with sweet [our] bitter cup.” He, and He alone, has purified us when we had strayed from His presence. He has redeemed us, and it’s that role in particular that we sing about.

Isaiah wrote about the bitter cup, giving us an image that I’ve always found powerful. Listen:

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.

[But] thus saith thy Lord the Lord, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again. (Isaiah 51:17, 22)

Sometimes, in our lives, it’s not enough that we drink out of the cup of His fury. Not only do we stray, we seem to insist on drinking the dregs of the cup. We return to the sin that separates us from Him again and again, refusing to return to Him and refusing to let Him help us. The Lord sees us, and He, our God who pleads our cause, gently takes the cup out of our hands. “Let me,” He says, and does what we cannot by drinking the bitter cup to the uttermost. The juxtaposition between the cup of fury and the kindness and softness he treats us with has always been striking to me.

We cannot drink the bitter cup ourselves. We cannot pay the price for our own sins, no matter how willing we are, or insistent that we drink the dregs of the cup of trembling. We’re simply not capable of it, and if we can’t settle our own spiritual debts, there’s no chance that we could do so on behalf of anyone else, let alone everyone else. The price is simply too high. But the Savior could, and He did. We are bought with a price, Paul wrote, and as we discussed earlier, the cost was dear. And so we must love Him too. Listen to the second verse:

Never can I repay thee, Lord,
But I can love thee. Thy pure word,
Hath it not been my one delight,
My joy by day, my dream by night?
Then let my lips proclaim it still,
And all my life reflect thy will.

“Never can I repay thee, Lord, but I can love thee.” Those few words sum up our relationship with the Master. He has suffered too greatly, too deeply for us to ever hope to balance the ledger. His pains were sore, how sore and exquisite, we know not. But he doesn’t ask us to repay Him. He asks only that we love Him, and do His will. And so we do. We do the things He asks us to do. We learn of Him, and do our best to emulate Him and follow His example. In all things we let our lips proclaim His gospel, and let all our lives reflect His will.

He has given us more than we can possibly comprehend, and He asks for so little in return. But as we offer what little we have, He pours out His redemptive gifts on us, helping to change “frowning foes to smiling friends” and making us “more worthy of [His] love.” He can change us, making us both in “perfect harmony with [Him]” and making us more “fit… for the life above.”

He has redeemed each of us. What tongue our gratitude can tell?

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