Text: George Matheson (1842-1906) Tune: George W. Martin (1825-1881) Leonminster
1 Make me a captive, Lord, And then I shall be free. Force me to render up my sword And I shall conqueror be. I sink in life's alarms When by myself I stand; Imprison me within thine arms, And strong shall be my hand.
2 My heart is weak and poor Until it master find; It has no spring of action sure, It varies with the wind. It cannot freely move Till thou hast wrought its chain; Enslave it with thy matchless love, And deathless it shall reign.
3 My pow'r is faint and low Till I have learned to serve; It lacks the needed fire to glow, It lacks the breeze to nerve. It cannot drive the world Until itself be driv'n; Its flag can only be unfurled When thou shalt breathe from heav'n.
4 My will is not my own Till thou hast made it thine; If it would reach a monarch's throne, It must its crown resign. It only stands unbent Amid the clashing strife When on thy bosom it has leant, And found in thee its life.
REFLECTIONS One of the paradoxes of the Christian life is the bondage we have to sin as we try to assert our freedoms. Luther, in his great work The Bondage of the Will, pointed out that our bondage to our own freedom, is a great captivity. We can only find freedom when we submit to the will of God and his amazing grace. Then we are free. Matheson’s hymn on this paradox warmed the heart of many, especially Bernhard Christensen, the long time president of Augsburg College and Seminary. He could never get over this amazing paradox and preached it over and over again since Christian freedom was his great theme throughout his life.
The opera on the life of Hans Nielsen Hauge, Fange og Fri/Captive and Free by Britt G. Hallqvist and Egil Hovland is centered on that theme, vividly portrayed as Hauge is suffering from the deprivation he suffered the first months of his ten year long imprisonment because he preached throughout Norway and Denmark without benefit of clergy. In the opera Hauge almost loses his mind as he hears the devil, through his jailor, taunt him. But finally he claims the truth of the Christian faith that it is in Christ that there is freedom. Hauge comes to his senses with 2 Corinthians 3:17: "Where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. I am a prisoner in Jesus/I am Christ’s prisoner.” Then he hears friends outside singing to him. They don't know if he can hear him or even if he is alive. He takes the candle and lifts it up to signal he has heard. It is the most dramatic moment in the opera and the anthem they sing, "Stay with Us/Bli hos oss, has become one of the more popular of Hovland's works. Hear the National Lutheran Choir sing it here.
Kari Tikka’s opera Luther dramatizes the debate on the Bondage of the Will as its central scene. Luther is arguing with Erasmus against whom he wrote the Bondage of the Will. Erasmus is arguing that human beings participate in their salvation by doing good. Luther responds with the central aria of the opera, now a favorite hymn, "Grace Song." For by grace we have been saved and even faith is not our own. It's the gift of God for us … It is an incredibly powerful moment. See it here:
This paradox that I am not free until I have given over my will to my creator seems contrary to human understanding. How is it that I become free when I surrender all to Jesus? The humblest Christian knows this is true and revels in it.
It makes sense that our creator wants the best for us in a way that we, curved in upon ourselves as we are, cannot create on our own. So to be in him, and discover how everything works together for good in him is to break forth in singing. As Matheson has it, “Enslave it with your matchless love and deathless it shall reign.”
This brings me to the language of Scripture urging us to rest in the Lord. Over the years of the pandemic people who are most fearful and worried about the virus are not free, they seem captive to their fear—not simply because they choose not to be part of normal society, or isolate themselves because of their fear---but because their fear focuses them in on their insufficiencies, their own lack of power. Fear narrows our vision of what is possible, and so we are trapped. When we know that Christ is the one who imprisons us within his arms, then we are truly free to be what we were created to be.
“My will is not mine own/till thou hast made it thine!” Matheson has given us words to rejoice in during these difficult days. No matter what, the Lord Jesus will set you free to live. It is what our faith is all about. Jesus came to give us the abundant life. Seize the day!
HYMN INFO George Matheson, a brilliant student and pastor, lost his sight while still a young man. Born in Glasgow, he attended the University of Glasgow where he achieved firsts in classics, logic and philosophy. Despite his infirmity, he continued his schooling and in 1879 was granted an honorary D. D. from Edinburgh University and in 1890 became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Although he had been engaged, when his fiancé heard he was going blind and would not recover, she rejected his suit and left him. He continued to write and lecture and received many honors for his work, including an offer to be court chaplain, which he rejected. This hymn, along with "O Love that Wilt not let me Go," are considered treasures in the Scottish Hymn tradition. There are several tunes written for it, the most popular, maybe, Leonminster by Martin. An early musical prodigy he sang in the boys' choir at both St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey which sang at the coronation of Queen Victoria. He early on became a professor of music. In 1860 the National Choral Society was founded under his direction and was known for his ability as a conductor of youth choirs. He won prizes for his madrigal compositions, but his alcoholism ended his career.
Scottish Festival Singers
Westminster Chapel congregation
HymnSite sings the hymn to the tune Crown Him with Man Crowns