The year was 2009 and I was at a metal concert at Cincinnati’s Bogart’s. I can’t for the life of me recall what band I was there to see, but what I do remember is hearing the opening act. They were a couple of young and basic looking dudes who were actually sounding pretty good in comparison to pretty much every other opening act I had ever heard before. They were a metal band, so I couldn’t make out most of their lyrics; however, right in the middle of one of their songs there was a bridge and I distinctly remember hearing the lead singer melodically sing “Jesus paid it all; All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow.” In that moment I was surprised. I never expected to hear such a Christ centered gospel song in the middle of a pack of a few hundred moshing misfits! The name of the band was “Wolves at the Gate,” and they happened to be students at that time at my alma mater- Cedarville University. I ended up being really good friends with the lead guitarists younger brother, and they ended up being a really good band. I had heard Bad Religion and Senses Fail bash Christians on stage, but Wolves at the Gate was the first band I ever heard share the Gospel explicitly with a group of the misfits of society; it was a beautiful juxtaposition for me to see that happen and I was thankful for the bands’ evangelism.
Rewind the clock about a year before the Wolves at the Gate concert and that would be the first time I heard the hymn, “Jesus Paid it All.” This was the first hymn I heard played from the worship band immediately following my conversion to Christ. The preacher had preached a message on Matthew 28:19 and the necessity for disciples of Christ to evangelize to those from “all nations.” I realized I was not a follower of Christ, but I wanted to be. This was the moment that the blindfold was taken off my eyes by God’s grace; I understood my own personal rebellion against God and I turned to Christ in faith. The very next thing that happened was the guitar riff began, and the voice of the female lead singer was unlike any voice in any song I had ever heard before, because I made the lyrics to the song my own prayer.
“I hear the Savior say, thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all
Cause Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow”
To this day, whenever I hear this song I am reminded of my moment of conversion when I was justified before God, because Christ’s blood purchased me from sin and death and I have been washed as white as snow. God has used this song as a means of grace in my life. Some might say it has had a peculiar influence on me– I believe God moves in mysterious ways and He uniquely provides help to His children, and well this song has been oddly helpful for me in my Christian walk.
The writing of the hymn actually has an odd story behind it. In the 1800’s, a woman named Elvina Hall was sitting in her chair in the church choir while the preacher prayed. The story goes that the pastoral prayer lasted for an unusually long time, and the woman couldn’t pay attention, so she wrote a poem. Hall thought about the power of the cross of Christ, and His one-time sacrifice for all sins of all time and as she pondered the theological truth of her Lord, she wrote. When the preacher finally stopped praying and the service was over Hall handed the poem she wrote to her pastor. The pastor read the words and God reminded Him of a tune composed by the church organist, John Grape. The pastor then put the words to the tune, and was surprised to discover the words fit the tune absolutely perfectly. Some may call these things a coincidence, but I know God the Holy Spirit directed the organist, the pastor, and Elvina Hall to work together in writing a hymn that would be used for generation after generation to praise the name of Christ, and glorify His work on behalf of sinners.
Here are the rest of the lyrics:
“Lord, now indeed I find thy power and thine alone
Can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone
Cause Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
My sin had left this crimson stain, he washed it white as snow
And when before the throne I stand in him complete
Jesus died my soul to save
my lips shall still repeat”
Whenever we hear a hymn like this we should thank God for giving us theologically accurate and rich praises. The song is often sang with the bridge, “O praise the one who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.” There may be some oddities swirling around my favorite hymn, but this shouldn’t surprise Christians, because God does work in ways that are mysterious and beyond our comprehension. I may not fully grasp all the reason why this hymn has meant so much to me in my life, but I thank God for using it to direct my gaze on him as it encourages my spiritual walk and I’m beyond thankful for the theological truths contained in its lyrics.