Ichabod Spencer was a Presbyterian pastor who served in Brooklyn for decades in the 19th century. His two-volume work, A Pastor’s Sketches, continues to aid pastors today as they seek to shepherd souls faithfully and biblically.
In one of his sketches, Spencer told of a quiet, contemplative young woman whose simplicity of heart caught his attention. She attended the weekly evening lecture for young people that Spencer delivered. He reported, “I labored to unfold to her the character of God, his law, the nature of sin, the state of her own heart, and aimed to impress truths of this kind upon her feelings and conscience. She assented to all. I urged upon her the necessity of immediate repentance, her lost condition as a sinner, and her indispensable necessity of the atoning blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, to save her from merited condemnation. She assented to all this. I explained to her, again and again, the whole way of salvation for sinners, the grace of God, and the willingness of Christ to save her. She said she believed it all….But it all seemed to be ineffectual. She remained, apparently, in the same state of mind; and continued that way for several weeks. She gained nothing, and lost nothing.”
One day, Spencer paid her visit, though he had little hope that any good would come of it. After some conversation, he said to her:
Ichabob: Mary, I can do you no good; I have said to you everything appropriate to your state that I can think of. I would aid you most willingly if I could; but I can do you no good.
Mary: I do not think you can.
I: All I can say to you is, I know there is salvation for you; but you must repent, you must flee to Christ.
Spencer and Mary then walked together to the evening lecture that was to take place in a few minutes. He commenced the lecture by reading aloud the hymn of Dr. Watts.
There is a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred word:
“Ho, ye despairing sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord.”
To the dear fountain of Thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my sinful soul
From crimes of deepest dye.
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my All.
Then they sang the hymn together and the service was conducted in its usual manner. The next day Mary went to visit Ichabod. She had news and she could scarcely wait to share it with him.
Mary: Sir, the way of salvation all seems to me now perfectly plain. My darkness is all gone. I see now what I never saw before. I have never been so happy before! All is light to me now!
Ichabod: And how is this? What has brought you to this state of mind?
M: I do not know how it is, or what has brought me to it. But when you were reading tht hymn last night, I saw the whole way of salvation for sinners perfectly plain, and wondered that I had never seen it before. I saw that I had nothing to do but to trust Christ:
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall.
I sat all the evening just looking at that hymn. I did not hear your prayer. I did not hear a word of your sermon. I do not know your text. I thought of nothing but that hymn; and I have been thinking of it ever since. It is so light and makes me so contented. I now know what to do. I must trust in Jesus Christ, and I believe God will enable me to do so.
I: Just that, Mary; precisely that. Faith in Jesus Christ to save is the way to heaven.
Isaac Watts, the author of this hymn, has been referred to as the greatest name among hymn-writers. This can hardly be disputed. His published hymns number more than 800.
What a kindness it is of the Lord that he has given the church spiritual songs as this one and that he would use them to draw helpless sinners to Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The sheep hear my voice, and I call my own sheep by name and I lead them out. When I have brought out all my own, I go before them, and my sheep follow me, for they know my voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:
May you hear the voice of sovereign grace and trust upon the Lord. He is our strength and righteousness. On his kind arms we fall. For more stories about the hymns of our faith, check out Hymn Stories, a weekly podcast.