by Julia H. Johnston (1911)
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
Yonder on Calvary’s mount out-poured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide,
What can avail to wash it away!
Look! there is flowing a crimson tide;
Whiter than snow you may be today. [Refrain]
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe;
You that are longing to see his face,
Will you this moment his grace receive? [Refrain]
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Aren’t you glad that God’s grace extends beyond the scope of your sin? I know I am! It doesn’t matter what you have done, the blood of Christ is sufficient to wash it away. We read in the Bible of murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, thieves, religious leaders, and many more who received forgiveness of their sins. Sadly, we also read about some who reject God’s gift of salvation and chose to go their own way.
What about you? Have you experienced the joy that comes from knowing your sins have been forgiven? I mean all of them—past, present, and future! That doesn’t give us a license to sin, but it does mean that we can be assured that our salvation is settled in heaven. It’s a done deal. Once you become a child of God, you cannot be disinherited from that family. The family of God is a forever-family. Just look at what Jesus Himself said when He walked on this earth:
John 10:27-30 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.
So you see, when you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, you become doubly secure, for you are held in His hand, and God’s hand is wrapped around Jesus’ hand, so that no one can take you away from Him. Now that is security!
So What Is Grace?
I’m glad you asked. This hymn talks about grace a lot. “Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within…” Okay, so what is grace? I’ve heard it explained like this:
Ephesians 2:7 That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross, paying the penalty for all our sin, so that we could enjoy all the riches of heaven with Him as fellow-heirs of the heavenly kingdom. Because Jesus paid the debt of our sin, we can enter into the presence of a holy God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Spilled or Shed?
The words in verse 1 have been debated rather hotly in some churches I have attended. In fact, some people refuse to sing any songs or hymns that suggest that Jesus’ blood was spilled because they think it makes the shedding of His blood sound like an accident. I will have to agree that the meaning of the word has changed over the decades since many of these songs were written, but let’s give some grace to the songwriters. They meant absolutely no disrespect to our Lord when they chose the word spilled (or spilt, in this case). This hymn was written in 1911, and during this time, the word spilled would have been defined as follows, from the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
1. To suffer [allow] to fall or to run out of a vessel; to lose; to suffer to be scattered. Thus, we spill water from a pail; we spill spirit or oil from a bottle; we spill quicksilver or powders from a vessel or a paper; we spill sand or flour.
2. To suffer to be shed; as, a man spills his own blood.
3. To cause to flow out or lose; as, a man spills another’s blood.
As you can see from this definition, the use of spill was almost entirely a deliberate action, where the spilling was allowed to happen. The only accidental spilling was in the first use of the word, where it meant “to lose.” Somehow over the years, that aspect of the meaning gained in popularity, and the word came to mean “to lose.” But this is absolutely not what the hymnwriters meant when they said that Jesus’ blood was spilled. They understood that He gave His life. No one took it from Him.
John 10:17-18 Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father.
But there is another reason to accept the use of the word spilled in reference to the blood of Christ, and that reason is found in the Bible. I’m going to share a few verses with you. Note the words that are in bold and underlined….
Matthew 26:28 For this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Mark 2:22 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.
John 2:15 And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables.
Shed, spilled, poured out… all three of these words and phrases are translated from the same Greek word, εκχεω [ekcheo], which literally means “to pour forth.” This makes their meaning close enough as to be totally unworthy of the attention they have received in recent years. Although I must commend those dear saints for their desire to sing only songs that bring honor and glory to the Savior, they truly should do some study before throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Hopefully this has helped to clarify the matter for some so that you may sing this wonderful hymn with a clean conscience, knowing that you are not doing our Lord any disservice by saying that His blood was spilled. And if a twinge of guilt still remains, please be assured that God’s grace is greater than that guilt as well!
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Information from hymnary.org
Photo taken in Milton, FL, 2018.