There is always a catch. You’ve gotten the letters, phone calls and emails just as I have. There is always someone wanting to offer us something, but things are never as they seem. There is always a catch. You can have a wonderful vacation in Hawaii, but you’re responsible for paying for your own accommodations and it can only be at this or that overpriced hotel. You can get a free barbecue but first you need to sit through a three hour presentation on summer cottages. You can get a free iPod, but only if you first sign up for a high-fee bank account. People are always giving, but at the same time always taking. There’s always the catch.
I was thinking about this this morning when my iPod began playing Matthew Smith’s rendition of “Come, Ye Sinners,” a hymn written by Joseph Hart sometime in the mid eighteenth century (you can see it and hear a clip here). While there seem to be a couple of versions of it, the one Smith sings goes like this:
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus, ready, stands to save you,
Full of pity, joined with power.
He is able, He is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.
Come ye needy, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.
Without money, without money
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.
Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended;
Pleads the merit of His blood.
Venture on Him; venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.
I was gripped by a few of those lines. It occurred to me that the offer of salvation could easily be the greatest catch of all. Come to Jesus but only once you have tidied yourself up and dusted yourself off. Come to Jesus but only once you really feel you need Him. Come to Jesus when you are good and ready. But as Hart says, “If you tarry ’til you’re better, You will never come at all. Not the righteous, not the righteous; Sinners Jesus came to call.”
So if God does not require that we improve ourselves before we come to Him, if He does not require prior righteousness, what is He after? Hart answers, “All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.” In other words, we have to desire God and come to Him in repentance. But how can a sinner who is “poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore” desire anything as holy and as good as God? Why would we ever feel our need of Him? We would never clean ourselves up and dust ourselves off enough to feel worthy of Him–worthy of entering His presence.
Ah, but God knows this and has provided for us. “All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him. This He gives you, this He gives you, ‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.” And how does He do this? Joseph Hart answers in another of his hymns, this one called “Free Grace.”
Free grace has paid for all my sin
Free grace, though it cost so much to Him
Free grace has freed even my will
Free grace to the end sustains me still.
God’s free grace frees the will. God changes the will so that it desires what is good. The restless soul suddenly and finally finds it rest in God. It turns to Him. And now we can say, with Hart:
It’s not for good deeds,
good tempers nor frames
From grace it proceeds,
and all is the Lamb’s
No goodness, no fitness
expects He from us
This I can well witness,
for none could be worse.
There’s no catch. It’s an offer of free grace. God asks much, but provides all that is needed. All that he requires he also provides. It’s really and truly free.