“How Can It Be?”

For me to write about my favorite hymn is something I really cannot do. I have always loved great hymns and have made a point of memorizing many of them.

I don’t have a single favorite; however, there are many that hold special places in my heart, ones that have been particularly precious to me at various times in my life.

Avis B. Christiansen’s “How Can It Be?” has long been a hymn I have especially loved:

O Saviour, as my eyes behold
The wonders of thy might untold,
The heav’ns in glorious light arrayed,
The vast creation Thou has made—
And yet to think Thou lovest me—
My heart cries out, “How can it be?”

How can it be? How can it be?
That God should love a soul like me,
O how can it be?

The other stanzas speak to us of the cross of Christ, His deep humiliation, and His amazing mercy in saving sinners, which all lead to the repeated refrain, “How can it be?”That hymn expresses the wonder I always feel when I consider that the God of glory loved me and saved me at such awful cost.

There was a time in my late teens when I struggled with the assurance of salvation. I will never forget the day that I set aside for prayer, determined to remain before the Lord until He brought peace to my heart. He did, through the words of Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” So you can understand why I also have a deep love for the simple but profound testimony of Anna Hudson’s “Dear Saviour, Thou Art Mine.”

Other hymns recall particular times and experiences. In 1976, the Lord visited us in Ballymoney and brought many souls to Himself. The theme hymn of that gospel campaign was James McGranahan’s “If God Be for Us” and I can never hear it without reliving those powerful meetings.

When we moved to Greenville I often felt in awe as our congregation sang the great hymns of the faith as I had never heard them sung before. Some of the hymns were new to us and some were old favorites. We were blessed to have Dr. Gingery and many accomplished musicians. Dr. Gingery had a way of making you want to sing and he conducted the packed congregation as if it were a great choir. I am sure that none who attended those services will ever forget such glorious hymns as Samuel Davies’ “Great God of Wonders”, sung to John Newton’s magnificent tune, Sovereignty; Edward Perronet’s “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, to the Diadem tune; Charles Wesley’s “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, to the Lyngham tune; and, of course, Henry Lyte’s “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”, to the tune Joan Pinkston composed and named for my husband, often sung to the accompaniment of our small but excellent church orchestra. And I must not omit mentioning one Communion hymn that so often helped draw me close to the Lord as we remembered the Savior’s death: Horatius Bonar’s “Here, O My Lord, I see Thee Face to Face.” Those were very precious times around the table and often, with full hearts, we ended with Seth Sykes little chorus, “Thank You, Lord, for Saving My Soul.”

All of these hymns bring happy memories of times of worship and fellowship. Better still, they all contain deep and wonderful truth. Best of all, they never fail to lead me afresh to Christ and rekindle my love for Him.

Mrs. Joan Cairns is the wife of Dr. Alan Cairns, Minister Emeritus, Faith FPC, Greenville, S.C. They now live in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland.

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