Brief Comments on the hymn ‘Trust and Obey’

We sang the following hymn at the service Sunday evening. Though well loved by many, I’ve felt uncomfortable about this hymn for a while so I’d like to briefly explain my problems with it. Let me just emphasise and underline that I have no problem with the command to trust and obey, these are entirely scriptural. It’s the setting of other aspects of the hymn and when it gets used in any Gospel context, any context. Period. It just didn’t sit well within the overall message. It was a good message, but with serious problems that demand another post – more later.

Here’s some of my problems with the hymn.

The overall concept it seems to me is to produce happiness. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being happy and only someone with serious problems would not want to be happy. We all want to be happy. And, it does to some extent depend on how many footnotes you put round the word. To be fair, the song speaks of being ‘happy in Jesus’ which may be an entirely different concept to a worldly description of just being happy per-se. A better word might have been ‘Blessed’ but that wouldn’t fit and is more positional than experiential.

When you look through the song it’s basically about me and my trusting and my obeying. There’s no objective truth about Jesus that might draw out from Christians a desire to Trust and Obey but the end result of happiness. Thinking back to the History lecture about Andrew Fuller, he suffered the terrible loss of his daughter and it completely rocked him. His diary entries stopped. Here’s an extract from the lecture concerning this period of Fuller’s life.

On 30th May 1786, Fuller’s daughter, Sally, died at the age of six and a half years. This was one of several deaths close to the man at the same period, but surely the most painful, and it is a measure of his sensitivity of soul that within a few days his diary entries dry up, only a few torn leaves indicating the heart trouble of the following months. The diary does not open again until 3rd October, 1789:

‘For above a year and a half I have written nothing. It has seemed to me that my life was not worth writing. Two or three years ago my heart began wretchedly to degenerate from God. Soon after my child Sally died, I sunk into a sad state of lukewarmness; and have felt the effects of it ever since. I feel at times a longing after the lost joys of God’s salvation; but cannot recover them. I have backslidden from God; and yet I may rather be said to be habitually dejected on account of it than earnestly to repent of it. I find much hardness of heart, and a spirit of inactivity has laid hold of me. . . . [After recording some sermon preached:] These subjects have tended sometimes to make me long after that joy and peace in believing which I have heretofore found. But joy of heart is a feeling I cannot yet recover.’

Jeremy continues; The climb out of this period of spiritual dullness and desolation was painfully slow and difficult, but the Lord was upholding and helping his servant.

This period of trial in the life of Fuller does not square with this hymn. Surely Fuller was not Trusting and Obeying sufficiently to be ‘Happy in Jesus’. And we should especially note the comment made by Jeremy Walker that the Lord was upholding and helping his servant. The hymn doesn’t tell us this at all. But I’m running a little ahead of myself.

The hymn I believe is damaging and destructive in the following ways. The tune is quite upbeat and almost triumphalistic and to the Christian that believes he is Trusting and Obeying it’s sung with great gusto – this could be a problem. But what about the Christian conscious of his sin or is walking through some fiery trial – this is anything but helpful. What would Andrew Fuller have made of the hymn? Given this biographical entry of Fullers I fail to see how verse 2 can be anything other than discouraging for one going through such a trial. This verse is just cruel to such a one. How Fuller and other suffering Christians need the Balm of Gilead pouring into their souls as they are indeed kept by the power of God and His loving kindness.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

The hymn concentrates on the ability of the Christian to do His good will and to therefore find that ‘He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.’ Is this true? I don’t believe it is. Are we really to believe God only abides with us when we are ‘Happy in Jesus’ and ‘trusting Him still’. The Bible says ‘He will never leave us, nor forsake us.’ It’s to the praise of His marvelous Grace that He ALWAYS abides with us still. Even though the sense of His presence or the reality of the truth is not able to be grasped. Many years ago now at an Aberystwyth Conference Douglas McMillan was preaching through Romans 8. When he recited verse 28 ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose’ he leaned over the pulpit and said ‘Sin included‘. Now that’s the Grace of God at work. We do not deserve any of it including when we are not trusting and obeying as we ought to be. The hymn is pure law. There’s no Grace in it at all.

I think you get the idea now. In verse 4 we read ‘But we never can prove the delights of His love, Until all on the altar we lay; For the favor He shows, … the joy He bestows, Are for them who will trust and obey. This is not good news. I only know of one person that has laid all on the altar. We read much of Burnt offerings & sacrifices in Leviticus. And in John 1:29 we read of ‘the lamb that takes away the sin of the world’. That’s laying all on the Altar! Only Jesus has done that, otherwise we wouldn’t need a Saviour! Otherwise we wouldn’t need to repent. This why we need Jesus the only one that has kept perfectly the law of God in every way. In thought, speech, deed, behaviour, inwardly, in every way trusting and obeying the law of God. Now THAT is Good News. Even though we are so dull and wayward in our sin and rebellion God gives the desire and the power to call upon the Saviour.

The Gospel really is THAT radical! We are all self righteous at heart. Surely there’s some little thing I can do? Nope. It’s all been done. All you have to do is come – and as I say He even gives the desire and the power to do that! What a Gospel! What a Saviour! What a Salvation!

I said it would be brief so I’ll leave it at that, though more could be said. The last hymn on Sunday evening was ‘Rock of Ages’. What a contrast!

Full Text of the Hymn :

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Refrain

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

Refrain

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Refrain

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Refrain

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