Text: Charles Wesley (1707-1788) Tune: Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
1 A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify;
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky;
2 To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfil;
Oh, may it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will.
3 Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And oh! Thy servant, Lord, prepare,
A strict account to give.
4 Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall forever die.
As Jesus nears the cross, his parables on judgment and accountability grow more and more urgent. This one, at first blush, does not fit with our picture of a Lord who is kind and good, always forgiving and tolerant. It does, however, need to be pondered. His ferocity comes from his love for us, he wants us to take notice so we can live with him forever.
A master on leaving for parts unknown entrusts his servants with monies of varying amounts, for reasons we cannot tell. These are trusts, the servants have done nothing to deserve the money, they simply received it from the master. He gives them no instructions as to what to do with their trust. They, however, do know what to do with it, at least the first two. They work to increase it, not knowing when the Lord will return. They double the amount. The third one, who gets only one talent, simply hides the money where it will not increase or decrease. Upon his return, the master goes to each one and asks them what they have done with the gift. The third one, bitter and hard, accuses the master of being sinful. This tactic we have seen from the very first. Adam accused God of causing him to sin: the woman you gave me…. One can even hear in his accusations the kind of language many use today against God. If there were a God, I would have succeeded. No reflection on our failure, only God's.
There is no reflection from the one talent man on what he might have done wrong. The first two gladly go out and increase their gift. The third, churlish and self-centered, hides it. We can see this in our lives right now. Those who are good stewards of their gifts seem to increase in gifts. The busy person will always get more done than the one who nurses every hurt and resentment, and dares not risk anything to increase it.
God gives each one something. We have all received something: grace, talents, etc. from God. We did not create these gifts on our own. The question in this parable is how are you using the gifts entrusted to you in order to increase the wealth of your community?
The one talent man, who has done nothing to risk the gift, gets thrown out into outer darkness. In a way, that is hardly punishment for him. It is what he seems to prefer. He had a chance to let the gift flow out of him, but he kept it festering away in his darkness. A reward of happiness and light would have only irritated him. Let him stay there. As Dorothy Sayers, the writer and translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy said, Heaven is filled with people who have said to God, Thy will be done. They live happily ever after. Hell is filled with people who have said to God, My will be done and will spend eternity bitterly blaming God for their fate when all the time it was in their hands to do something with.
As Wesley writes in one of his most quoted hymns, “A charge to keep I have/A God to glorify.” And then he prays that God will “Arm me with jealous care,/As in Thy sight to live;/And oh! Thy servant, Lord, prepare,/A strict account to give.” Jesus wants us to show “jealous care” so we are ready to give “a strict account” to him one day.
Based on the words of Leviticus 8:35, “Keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not,” this hymn by Charles Wesley has been much quoted over the centuries. It was first published in 1762 in Wesley’s volume Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures, Bristol: 1762.
Lowell Mason’s tune Boylston is probably the most popular, but there are others. Mason, considered the Father of American church music, dominated church music in America during the 19th century. He studied in Europe and learned to take old tunes and songs from the tradition and make them sturdy and simple enough for congregations to sing. Although his star has faded some, many of his hymn tunes like Nearer, My God, to Thee, remain at the top of the favorite hymns lists. The African American church has made this hymn one of their own.
The Master’s Seminary Chorus, Grace Community Church
John Rogers acapella Gospel Hymns
Sing unto the Lord/a meditation and brief history of the text
Washington Choral Arts Societ
Troy Ramey and the Soul Searchers
***These sonnets on the life of Jesus for the entire year would be a good Christmas gift for friends and family.