We owe again to William Cowper for this wonderful hymn, which he contributed to Olney Hymns in 1772 – 1773, a collaboration with John Newton; it is found in the third book of the Olney Hymns, hymns on “The Spiritual Life”. Cowper drew his subject matter for this hymn from his own meditation on Romans 3. Surely he drew from others subconsciously, as well as from his own experience, but he published a reference to Romans 3:31, along with this text, in the Olney Hymnal. Romans 3:19-20 says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”1 I did find some song versions of this song I liked, however the words are so powerful that they are worth meditating on alone. Enjoy!
No strength of nature can suffice
To serve the Lord aright:
And what she has she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the Law I lay
In bondage and distress;
I toiled the precept to obey,
But toiled without success.
Then, to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do;
Now, if I feel its power within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose His ways.
‘What shall I do,’ was then the word,
‘That I may worthier grow?’
‘What shall I render to the Lord?’
Is my inquiry now.
To see the law by Christ fulfilled
And hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.