And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. (Acts 12:7)
In my more generous hours I like to think that it is an issue of copyright which kept the famous hymn “And Can it Be” out of that stalwart of Anglicanism, Hymns Ancient and Modern. Over two hundred and fifty other hymnals found room between their covers for this great work, but until its 2013 revision not so Hymns A&M. For shame! In my less generous hours, I wonder if its enthusiastic wonder was deemed rather too much for polite, Anglican ears.
It seems very likely that Charles Wesley (1707-1788) penned these verses in 1738, soon after his conversion. In his journal, he records the experience: “At midnight I gave myself up to Christ: assured I was safe, sleeping or waking. Had continued experience of his power to overcome all temptations; and confessed, with joy and surprise, that he was able to do exceedingly abundantly for me, above what I can ask or think.”
Prior to this Charles Wesley - who was ordained, had been missionary and served as Rector of a parish for three years - was a man who took his spiritual life terrifically seriously. He and his brother John had been given the nickname “Methodists” whilst at university, a name which reflected their methodical spiritual discipline. What Charles went on to experience, however, was the liberation that comes from realising that we do not earn our way into heaven. Christ has done the work for us, and our part is to place our trust in him. To rely on him for our place before God. To follow the path he lays out for us.
As you read the words of the hymn, you can sense the wondering joy of Wesley and he contemplates what Christ has done, and the liberation this brings. Perhaps too much for A&M, but surely rich food for contemplation.
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
’ Tis mystery all! the Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of Love Divine!
'Tis mercy all; let earth adore,
Let angel-minds inquire no more.
He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown through Christ my own.