April 30, 2020

Alone with Thee

This morning's prayer reminded me of another hymn by Charles Wesley—arguably his best. In fact, Isaac Watts (who wrote Joy to the World, Our God Our Help in Ages Past, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, among thousands of others) said that this single poem by Wesley was "worth all the verses that he himself had written."

This song is usually known by its first line, Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown, but Wesley himself called it Wrestling Jacob, since it is the Genesis story of Jacob wrestling God at the ford of the River Jabbok, re-told from the perspective of person discovering the Christian nature of grace. In thinking about this hymn for the first time in a long time, I was suddenly struck by the line, "My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee." I remember reading once that, after his brother's death, John Wesley was leading a congregation in singing this hymn, and broke down upon reaching that line.

This song is an excellent piece to meditate on during a time when so many are forced into isolation. Perhaps we should all be wrestling with our hopes and fears, and discovering who God is to us.

Below is a British Methodist congregation singing this hymn to a tune called (I believe) David's Harp. American Methodist sing it (though not nearly as often as they should) to a tune called Candler. The British have updated the lyrics a bit. I'll place the original lyrics beneath the video.


Come, O thou traveler unknown,
whom still I hold but cannot see;
my company before is gone,
and I am left alone with thee;
with thee all night I mean to stay,
and wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell thee who I am,
my sin and misery declare;
thyself hast called me by my name,
look on thy hands, and read it there;
but who, I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy Name, and tell me now.

In vain thou strugglest to get free;
I never will unloose my hold;
art thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of thy love unfold;
wrestling, I will not let thee go,
till I thy Name, thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
but confident in self-despair;
speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
be conquered by my instant prayer;
speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
and tell me if thy Name be Love.

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! thou diedst for me,
I hear thy whisper in my heart;
the morning breaks, the shadows flee:
pure, universal love thou art;
to me, to all thy mercies move;
thy nature and thy Name is Love!

Lame as I am, I take the prey;
hell, earth and sin, with ease o’ercome.
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
and, as a bounding hart, I run
through all eternity to prove
thy nature and thy Name is Love!
—Charles Wesley, 1742

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