In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, my text for my sermon this past Sunday, Jesus said "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15.7).
The joy of repentance and forgiveness has been expressed in many ways in Christian music. One the most beautiful examples is that of a hymn written by Philip Doddridge in England in the seventeen hundreds. Doddridge’s grandfather had been a Lutheran pastor who fled from Prague because of persecution. Doddridge, who also became a pastor, went on to write 400 hymns. One of those hymns was titled “O Happy Day,” which included the refrain, “O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away. He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day. Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.”
If that sounds a little familiar, it’s probably because of what laterhappened to that old hymn. In 1967 Edwin Hawkins wrote a Gospel version of the refrain and recorded being sung by his church choir in a service. A local disk jockey heard it and began playing it on the radio. By 1968 the hymn had become one of the most popular songs in America. The song rose to number five in the pop charts and won a Grammy. It was the first time a hymn had crossed over. Hawkins changed it from 3/4 time to 4/4, dropped the verses and used only the chorus.
Doddridge's hymn, O Happy Day, was often used at baptisms and confirmations as you can understand by the lyrics below. The opening words "O happy day, that fixed my choice On Thee..." point to an Arminian view of conversion (that we cooperate with God). But I find the phrase in the third verse interesting: "Charmed to confess the voice divine." This could be taken as a more Biblical interpretation of conversion... That I have been called, led by the Holy Spirit, to repent and to confess my faith in Christ.
Philip Doddridge also wrote: “And Will the Judge Descend,” “Great God We Sing Thy Mighty Hand,” “Hark the Glad Sound, the Savior Comes,” “O God of Jacob, By Whose Hand,” “Our Children Jesus Calls,” and “The Savior Kindly Calls.” One of his most popular books was "The Rise and Progress of Religion of the Soul." Wilberforce said that it led to his conversion. Spurgen referred to it as "that holy book."
O happy day, that fixed my choice On Thee, my Savior and my God! Well may this glowing heart rejoice, And tell its raptures all abroad.
Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away! He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day Happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away.
O happy bond, that seals my vows To Him Who merits all my love! Let cheerful anthems fill His house, While to that sacred shrine I move.
’Tis done: the great transaction’s done! I am the Lord’s and He is mine; He drew me, and I followed on; Charmed to confess the voice divine.
Now rest, my long divided heart, Fixed on this blissful center, rest. Here have I found a nobler part; Here heavenly pleasures fill my breast.
High heaven, that heard the solemn vow, That vow renewed shall daily hear, Till in life’s latest hour I bow And bless in death a bond so dear.