Hymns of the Cross: My God, I Love Thee

I think the Catholic notions of perfect and imperfect contrition can be very helpful to us Protestants, even though we would reject such aspects of those notions as touch on the nature of grace and justification, etc. But the basic definitions do clarify for us the nature of true repentance.

Imperfect contrition is a sense of guilt and regret based on a fear of the negative consequences, both temporal and eternal, our sin may entail. Perfect contrition flows from a recognition of who God is and how we have offended His great goodness. This is the essence of Isaiah’s “woe is me” moment. Not, Oh no, I’m going to hell and I don’t want that! Rather, Oh no, I’ve lost God and nothing else is worth wanting! Hear the difference?

Similarly, this doctrine gives us a perspective on properly loving God. Do we love Him because we think He’ll do good things for us? Or do we love Him because there is none other like Him, He is God, and He loves us despite ourselves?

Having begun to understand these things, we begin, I think, to realize how even our own salvation is not about us, but, ultimately, Him.

“My God, I Love Thee,” which our church choir first sang a couple years ago now (this version, available here–although there are probably hymnals that contain various versions), was one of the influences that helped me see from this perspective more clearly. Not surprisingly, it seems to have a Catholic pedigree. While the original author is, I believe, unknown, it was translated from the Latin by Edward Caswall (who happens to have written a great Christmas hymn as well) some time prior to 1849. Please take time to consider it.

My God, I Love Thee

My God, I love Thee; not because
I hope for Heav’n thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
May eternally die.

Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace.

And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
E’en death itself; and all for man
Who was Thine enemy.

Then why, O blessèd Jesus Christ
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the hope of winning Heaven,
Nor of escaping hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Nor seeking a reward,
But as Thyself hast lovèd me,
O everlasting Lord!

E’en so I love Thee, and will love,
And in Thy praise will sing,
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my eternal King.

~from the Latin, Translated by Edward Caswall

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