Issue #584 -------
August 9, 2013
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
It seems some come late in life to the true purpose of their existence, discovering in the dusk, rather than the dawn, of life's day the divine design for their earthly lives and the legacy they are to leave in the wake of their passing. Such was the case with a man by the name of Edward Mote. He was born on January 21, 1797 in Upper Thames Street in London, England. His parents were rather poor, being struggling keepers of a local pub. They were also quite ungodly, and neglected their son horribly, leaving him to roam the streets unattended. Edward would later write about his younger years, "My Sundays were spent in the streets. So ignorant was I that I did not know that there was a God." He also stated that the school he attended had no interest in religion whatsoever, and not only would they not allow the Bible to be taught there, but no Bibles were even allowed on the premises. Thus, in the early years of Edward's life he had no exposure to God or His Word. There was a huge void in his life in this area.
As he grew from a small child to a youth, his father apprenticed him to a local cabinetmaker so that he could learn a trade. In time, he would become highly skilled at this work and made a successful career of it for almost 40 years. "At the age of sixteen, he was taken by his master to hear the esteemed preacher, John Hyatt, of the Tottenham Court Chapel. Here young Edward was genuinely converted to Christ (he was later baptized at age 18). He later settled at Southwark, a suburb of London, where he became known as a successful cabinetmaker and a devoted churchman" [Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, p. 275]. Edward Mote, in spite of his economically and spiritually impoverished beginnings, became rather well off materially and also grew more devoted every day to the Lord and His cause. He wrote a number of religious pamphlets and also over a hundred hymns, which would years later be published in a collection titled "Hymns of Praise: A New Selection of Gospel Hymns Combining All the Excellencies of Our Spiritual Poets with Many Originals." It was during this period of time, while he was successfully engaged in his cabinetmaking business, that he wrote his most famous poem, which would, in time, become one of the most beloved hymns of the people of God. In 1834, as he was walking to work one morning, the concept for the poem entered his mind. He titled it "The Gracious Experience of a Christian." Notice, in his own words, the account of this (which appeared in one of the local newspapers shortly thereafter):
"One morning it came into my mind, as I went to labor, to write a hymn on the 'Gracious Experience of a Christian.' As I went up Holborn, I had the chorus, 'On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.' In the day, I had the first four verses complete, and wrote them off. On the Sabbath following, I met Brother King as I came out of the Lisle Street Meeting ... who informed me that his wife was very ill, and asked me to call and see her. I had an early tea and called afterwards. He said that it was his usual custom to sing a hymn, read a portion, and engage in prayer, before he went to the meeting. He looked for his hymnbook, but could find it nowhere. I said, 'I have some verses in my pocket; if you like, we could sing them.' We did, and his wife enjoyed them so much that after the service he asked me, as a favor, to leave a copy of them for his wife. I went home, and by the fireside composed the last two verses, wrote them off, and took them to Sister King. As these verses so met the dying woman's case, my attention to them was the more arrested, and I had a thousand of them printed for distribution."
This poem appeared in a few publications for a time, but when Edward decided to publish his collection of hymns, he included this one under the new title "The Immutable Basis of a Sinner's Hope." This was around 1836 to 1837 (there is some debate as to the exact date this collection was first published). In 1863 the music for this poem (the tune which we know today) was composed by William B. Bradbury, one of the great Christian composers in America. He titled the tune "Solid Rock," and in some hymn books this song has come to be known as "The Solid Rock." Most readers probably know the hymn (words and tune) best by the title "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less" (which are actually the first seven words of the first stanza). Bradbury has composed a great many of the beloved melodies in our hymn books, including: "Sweet Hour of Prayer" ... "He Leadeth Me" ... "'Tis Midnight, and on Olive's Brow" ... "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us" ... "Soldiers of Christ, Arise" ... and, of course, the classic music for "Just As I Am" and "Jesus Loves Me."
Many people over the years have written reviews of the theology of this hymn, as it has truly touched the hearts of those who perceive in Christ Jesus the sufficiency of our salvation. Some, indeed, have characterized it the rallying hymn of salvation by grace through faith, for it shows that we take our stand on HIM, as our solid rock, and ALL ELSE is simply shifting sand (which brings to mind the parable of our Lord about the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27). Keith W. Ward, in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society [Spring, 1998], made the following observation: "In the first stanza, hardly a clearer statement of total dependence on Christ could be made. Mote recognizes that our hope for eternal life depends completely upon Jesus' righteousness, not on some sweet earthly frame. Nothing in this hymn ever hints that any work on our part can add to Christ's work in order to secure our eternal salvation. However, the hymn is not ignorant of the reality of our daily struggles. In the second and third stanzas, Mote recognizes that there are times when the doubts, cares, and darkness of this world will seem to weaken our fellowship with God and veil His face from us. Even in these times, when 'all around (our) soul gives way,' God has not left us. Our anchor of faith can still hold in the darkness, knowing through faith that even though not seen (Heb. 11:1), He still sustains us. It is at these times that it is most important, in Mote's words, to 'rest on His unchanging grace.' It is the immutable, certain promise of God unto salvation that allows us to have assurance even in times of great spiritual darkness. ... This hymn, penned by the son of neglectful pub-keepers in London, has become one of the most beloved gospel hymns in the Church today. ... The basic message strongly sets forth Christ's righteousness as the only requirement for salvation, making it very much a 'Hymn of Grace.'"
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
Although Edward Mote wrote over 100 poems which were later set to music, this particular hymn is the only one for which he is known today. Yet, it has been sung by millions over the years! His work has truly impacted countless lives with the message of salvation in the Son by virtue of the grace of God. Yet the real dream of this devoted disciple was to become a pastor of a church. That life-long dream was finally realized at the age of 55, and in a rather unusual way. Because he was a man of some financial means, he took on the project of providing the primary funding for the building of a nice church building in the village of Horsham, Sussex, England for the Baptists there. "The church members, out of gratitude to Mote, offered him the deed to the property. He refused their offer, saying: 'I do not want the chapel; I only want the pulpit, and when I cease to preach Christ, then turn me out of that'" [Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, p. 275]. The members agreed, and Mote became their pastor, a position he held for the next 21 years, never missing a single Sunday in the pulpit that entire time. He was never "turned out of the pulpit," for, true to his word, he never ceased to preach the sufficiency of Christ Jesus unto our eternal salvation.
In 1873 he had to resign his pastorate due to poor health, and he died the following year on November 13, 1874 at the age of 77. He is buried in the churchyard of that same Baptist church in Horsham for which he preached. Near the pulpit of that church is a tablet with this inscription: "In loving memory of Mr. Edward Mote ... the beloved pastor of this church, preaching Christ and Him crucified, as all the sinner can need, and all the saint desire." May God truly bless all those today who preach that same Good News!
From a Reader in California:
Al, just when I think you are done ... BAM -- you give an encore! I absolutely love this issue of your Reflections ("The Definitive Church Exam"). Keep 'em coming! You are winning!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I got a chuckle out of the three Tennessee preachers who replied to your "goof" with regard to Guy N. Woods. Trust me, from having lived in Tennessee for 15 years, those preachers up there think Bro. Woods is the 4th person of the Godhead!! Too bad he was a legalist, just like most of the rest of 'em. Glad to know that Bro. Homer Hailey changed his position on eternal punishment. I'm an admirer of his work.
From a Reader in Texas:
I read your latest Reflections, and, per your direction, also read the referenced article and "church test." I kept wondering when the author of that article (Allen Webster) was going to use the word "congregation" or "group," but he never did. He continually referred to the local establishment as the "church," wondering if said local "church" was meeting the "pattern" to be saved. Since when does salvation come via a group, much less the "correct" group? Aren't individuals saved, and only individuals?! Is someone lost if nothing locally meets the author's requirements for a "correct group"? Keep up the good work, Al. I promise you, since your return from vacation you have hit nothing but home runs!!
From a Reader in Alaska:
Though Revelation 1-3 takes issue with seven "churches," we will nevertheless be judged individually: Rom. 14:10, 2 Cor. 5:10, Heb. 9:27. Thus, while our relationship with Jesus ought to be nurtured, encouraged, and strengthened via the numerous "one another" verses, along with mutual accountability (1 Cor. 5:11-13), God will still sort out the wheat from the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30). The ongoing process of learning to obey all that Jesus commanded and taught doesn't depend solely on the congregation, though healthy teachings should facilitate the ongoing transformation discussed in Rom. 12:1-2. Still, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matt. 5:6). God doesn't issue group tickets to eternity, but each blessed believer, each faith-filled disciple, may confidently look forward to a "well done, good and faithful servant" from the great I AM. May the called-out recognize their role as they have been gifted (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12).
From a Reader in Georgia:
Wow! If Mr. Allen Webster had been around back a few thousand years ago, the NT would have been a much shorter read: just do this (pass his little test) and you get to go to heaven. Walking by faith would never have come up. Just put his little list in your wallet, and when you have a question -- check the list. I have a hard time understanding how so many people can buy into this "tower of Babel" approach to salvation. Makes one wonder why Jesus would have to die on the cross. Just have another "Moses on Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments" moment and be done with it. Bro. Al, keep shining the light on this radical departure from real faith!
From a Missionary in Peru:
What a graceless list of "church test" questions, and what arrogance to believe that they actually keep all those rules! The Pharisees are truly their fathers. Does any Christian love perfectly? Do all of their congregations visit the fatherless and widows? What blindness and arrogance. They don't need grace, do they?! They don't need the power of the Spirit within them, because they are already so good and faithful. It's like the Pharisee who prayed, "I thank you, Lord, that I'm not like others. I fast twice a week and never miss my Bible readings." That publican, however, who wouldn't even lift his head because he was a sinner, went home justified. It is sadly obvious that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell inside the heart of one with such arrogance and confidence in self. What is sad, is that these people just reproduce after their own image, making their converts twice as much children of hell. That's how seriously Jesus regarded the dangers of legalism. Keep chipping away at their error, brother, for by God's grace some of them may yet be saved.
From a Minister in Texas:
A congregation near me (I grew up there, and even preached there for several years) uses this paper (House to House, Heart to Heart). I am praying for all those who have not grown to understand that God has more for us than so many of us were raised to believe. Blessings to you, my brother!
From a Reader in Florida:
We need to pray for Allen Webster, and for those like him, for these people bind what God has not bound, and they also set themselves up as His judges of our souls and our salvation. Their own exegesis has become their god. May God have mercy on them.
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you, Al, for your article on "The Definitive Church Exam." Psalm 82 is perhaps a good passage to read, one which we all need to understand and take to heart. Jesus referenced this psalm when He challenged the Pharisees (John 10:34). Those who wish to play God, but without truly understanding Scripture, will fall if they do not repent of their ways. Our job is to be just, not judgmental.
From a Reader in Florida:
Thanks for exposing this "church test," Al. I guess we of the Restoration Movement today are not all that much different from years past. Sigh!!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
I fully agree with what you said in your article "The Definitive Church Exam." I also agree with what you said about "House to House, Heart to Heart." I used to read this publication, but quit taking it because of the very things you pointed out. Please keep up your outstanding work, brother!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
The 15-question "church test" was MUCH too long! I can summarize my search for the "one true church" with the question: Is Jesus there?! That can cut away so much "stuff," and gives room for growth, both in me and in other believers. If Jesus is there, He will direct the worship, the giving, the singing, the affairs of the congregation. After all, whose church is it? Sadly, I have worshipped in "denominational" congregations that exhibit far more of the qualities of HIS church than those of us in the Restoration Movement. Sadly, there are too many of US who forget -- Love God and Love One Another. Thank you, Bro. Al, for your efforts to keep the church focused on what congregations should be all about.
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Thanks for the article "The Definitive Church Exam." It is really a tragedy how so many well-meaning brethren, like the brother who wrote that article and church test in "House to House, Heart to Heart," cannot see how they make that not so subtle shift from theory to application in concluding that the present day Church of Christ group is THE one true church. This is also the approach of a book that is wildly popular among the more conservative among us at the present (at least where I live). It is titled "Muscle and a Shovel" by Michael Shank. It is typical "Church of Christism."
From an Elder in Texas:
The church quiz that you mentioned in your Reflections caused me to think that one could "rig" such a quiz quite easily so as to get the desired result. For example, here are some more questions that could be asked on such a quiz:
The possibilities for such quiz queries to determine if one's group is approved by God are truly endless, limited only by the parameters of one's personal or party prejudices. In my view, such "tests" reveal far more about the "tester" than the "testee." -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in California:
One of your readers asked about the Stone-Campbell Movement preacher who had the following exchange with a man whose wife was homely: "Well, you know beauty is only skin deep," the man said, to which the preacher replied, "Well, if she was mine, I'd skin 'er." That preacher was J. D. Tant (the J. D. stood for Jefferson Davis). His son, Yater Tant, wrote about him in the book: "Texas Preacher." He was quite a character and plain-spoken to the point of being insulting. Also, thank you for mentioning Homer Hailey in your latest Reflections. He did indeed change his mind on the nature of hell.
A great many of you wrote me and correctly identified the preacher in question as J. D. Tant, and the book as "Texas Preacher." I sent the information on to the person who asked for this help, and I know he appreciates each of you for taking the time to share this knowledge with him. Again, a very special thanks to each of you who wrote in with this information. As always, you guys are awesome! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Toronto, Canada:
I saw the picture in the Readers' Reflections section of your most recent issue. I know Edward Fudge, don't know the Rob Ford pictured, and as to the third person in the picture: just based on looking at the top of the head, I'd say he is obviously a "hairy tick."
From a Minister in Tennessee:
I muse: what did the Ethiopian eunuch continue on his journey knowing other than that Jesus was the embodiment of the prophesy of Isaiah, a fact that so enthralled him that he wanted the immediate freedom from sin and identification with Christ evidenced in baptism. The time is rapidly coming when we will learn to cherish all others who stand for biblical truths in the melting pot of the secular marketplace of ideas. Collaboration with others who declare faith as evidenced by the tenor of their transformed lives is a sorely needed component of our witness. I don't have to know exactly how the Spirit of God works, but I can surely see His fruits, thanks to St. Paul's eloquent summary in Galatians 5. Those who declare that Jesus is the Son of God, affirm the things of first importance as Paul stated in 1 Cor. 15:3ff, and evidence this transformation of character, are my brothers and sisters.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Thank you, brother, for addressing the House to House, Heart to Heart paper. I feel sure that they mean well, but it is just another sectarian, party spirit paper that has recently been finding its way into the mail boxes of the community in which I live. I had received this paper before, and was becoming somewhat amused at the portion of it that told its readers how to be saved. I had noticed that their list of requirements for getting into heaven kept growing and growing. To me, this paper is just another effort on the part of some to exercise dominion over the faith of others.
From an Elder in Massachusetts:
I read your last Reflections article "The Definitive Church Exam" with great interest. Being a member of the Church of Christ branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement all my life (I'm now 73), I decided to take the exam ... and failed the test! Oh, where did I go "wrong"?! After all these years I discover that I am grouped with other believers in Jesus like the Baptists, Methodists, etc. who are all headed for the same place I am -- heaven! Thank you, Al, for your vigilance in seeking to open the eyes of all of us to see a better way, and in helping us to keep them open. May God's blessings continue to be with you and your family. Keep up the good work!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
There are multiplied thousands who love and respect you, Al, and who can't wait for your next week's Reflections, and that certainly goes for my wife and me. How blessed we are to have you for our Pulpit Minister and one of our Elders. What you have taught us over the past years has given us the joy of freedom in Christ and confidence in our salvation. The teachings of many years ago, prior to your coming to us, were really off the mark in those respects. What a blessing it is to now feel, over these past years, that we are now finally getting the truths of God's Word, and from our other teachers here as well. Again, brother, all our love to you and Shelly for all your hard work for Cuba Avenue. I know that a great many of us would find it very hard to be satisfied with anyone else. We love you both!
If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: