History of Hymns: 'Because Thou Hast Said'
By Mykayla Turner, Guest Contributor
“Because Thou Hast Said”
by Charles Wesley
The United Methodist Hymnal, 635
Because thou hast said:
“Do this for my sake,”
the mystical bread
we gladly partake;
we thirst for the Spirit
that flows from above,
and long to inherit
thy fullness of love.
John (1703–1791) and Charles (1707–1788) Wesley are perhaps best known for forming a bridge between Moravian and Anglican expressions of faith. Since the brothers took a “middle of the road” approach resulting in Methodism, it may come as a surprise to know that they sometimes rejected Moravian ideals. For instance, one of Charles’ hymns, “Because Thou Hast Said,” originally consisted of four stanzas appearing at the end of a tract written by John to combat “quietism,” a Moravian belief that those who seek faith should not receive Communion. The original first stanza, no longer in use, addresses this controversy directly:
Come, Lord, to a soul
that waits in thy ways,
that stays at the pool*
expecting thy grace:
to see thy salvation,
and prove all thy will,
with sure expectation
I calmly stand still.
*A reference to the Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the blind man (John 9:1–11).
The brothers combatted this idea by taking Jesus’ instruction to “do this for my sake” in Luke 22:19 literally. As the original title of the hymn suggests, “Thou meetest those that remember Thee in Thy Ways,” and in their view, God’s “ways” refer to the Communion elements first introduced by Jesus (Dixon, n.d.). This original title appeared alongside a reference to Isaiah 64:5, which reads, “You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed” (Young, 1993, p. 231). While the first two lines very clearly connect to the hymn’s title, the third and fourth lines nearly undermine their argument by suggesting that God hides from those who sin rather than extending grace to them.
“Because Thou Hast Said” only makes a handful of appearances in songbooks over the last forty years. Though the size of the hymn is reduced by half of its stanzas, several phrases still allude to the debate out of which it was born. For instance, by communicating in the final line that “all things are owing to Jesus’ grace,” Charles removes an individual’s burden of proving worthiness to receive Communion; forsaking all notions of quietism, the hymn suggests that everyone may “gladly partake” of the “mystical bread.” In its appearances in Hymns and Psalms (1983), Singing the Faith (2011), and The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), “Because Thou Hast Said” also retains Jesus’ call to “do this for my sake.” By placing the hymn in the “Eucharist (Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper)” section, editors of The United Methodist Hymnal boldly encourage congregations to respond to Jesus’ words without reservation, thus aligning themselves with the same “theology of the open table” that characterizes the work of contemporary United Methodist liturgical scholars such as Mark W. Stamm (2006).
In addition to removing the first two stanzas of “Because Thou Hast Said,” contemporary Methodists seem to favor corporate language rather than the personal pronouns with which Charles first wrote the text. Although his characteristically emotive language and engagement of the senses remain evident through phrases like “We thirst for the Spirit that flows from above,” the intimate act of receiving Communion takes place in the company of others. Ironically, this dual affirmation of the individual and the community finds its historic roots in the Moravian tradition. Although their dispute over quietism put them at odds for a time, early Methodists readily borrowed from Moravians when it came to encountering God on an individual level while still committing themselves to a body of believers (Campbell, 2019, pp. 226–28). In this regard, the switch to corporate language in contemporary instances of “Because Thou Hast Said” makes sense; it is not merely an individual who “grasp[s]” at God’s mind and seeks God’s image, but a community working together towards this end: “’Tis here we look up and grasp at thy mind, / ’tis here that we hope thine image to find.”
Further linking themselves to Moravians, who regularly held Singstunde services with frequent sung references to the blood of Christ, the Wesley brothers and their followers valued embodiment and often linked this idea with singing hymns (Campbell, 2019, pp. 234–35). In the words of United Methodist scholar and pastor Erika K. R. Stalcup, “Hymns were not, of course, the only catalyst for transformative experiences—rather they worked in tandem with the other ‘means of grace’ (such as prayer, receiving Holy Communion, engaging in ‘holy conversation,’ etc.)” (Stalcup, 2019, p. 221). Evidently, there was agreement between Methodists and Moravians about what to do, but there was conflict over who could participate in these activities. Although Stalcup contends that “Charles displayed a greater ecumenical openness through his willingness to reconcile theological differences with the Moravians and the Calvinists, while John appeared to take conflicts much more personally, showing little flexibility for those who did not share his viewpoints,” it seems that neither brother was willing to compromise on their theology of the open table (Stalcup, 2019, p. 212). It seems especially appropriate that Charles wrote a hymn text to argue against quietism since singing is anything but a quiet activity. Indeed, according to Nicholas Temperley, “unlike the music of the established church, Methodist singing was ‘free, informal, lively, well led, and open to all’” (Temperley, 2010, p. 5). Whether making music or receiving Communion, Methodist communities were radically inclusive.
Although the Wesley brothers were raised in an Anglican household with a great deal of music surrounding them, neither was a skilled musician. Charles receives undying recognition for his extensive hymn repertory, but he almost exclusively wrote texts rather than tunes. For this reason, most hymnal editors set “Because Thou Hast Said” with an eighteenth-century tune that falls within the same general period as Charles’ career but does not otherwise relate to him. PADERBORN bears the name of a cathedral between Hanon and Essen. Written in triple meter, PADERBORN exudes a sense of triumph through its strong downbeat and ascending melody, which might seem unusual for a eucharistic text, but its strong character makes sense in the context of winning an argument against Moravians and expressing the hope and gladness that comes from approaching God’s table without shame or reservation. While moments of tension form through the “crunch” of an occasional secondary chord, each of these instances resolves into a strong, satisfying conclusion. This tune also features four-part harmonies, which Charles “approved. . . without question” in contrast to his brother (Stalcup, 2019, p. 213). It seems, then, that even though polemical texts like “Because Thou Hast Said” do not receive nearly as much recognition as other Wesleyan hymns, they still shed a great deal of light on the birth of this movement, its earliest leaders, and the relevance of historic struggles for contemporary Methodists.
Neal Campbell, “Nikolaus von Zinzendorf and Moravian Song” in Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions, edited by Mark A. Lamport, Benjamin K. Forrest, and Vernon M. Whaley, vol. 2, From Catholic Europe to Protestant Europe (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019), 226–39.
Neil Dixon, “Because Thou Hast Said,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/b/because-thou-hast-said. (accessed September 1, 2023).
Erika K. R Stalcup, “The Wesleys: Charles and John” in Hymns and Hymnody: Historical and Theological Introductions, ed. Mark A. Lamport, Benjamin K. Forrest, and Vernon M. Whaley, vol. 2, From Catholic Europe to Protestant Europe (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2019), 210–25.
Mark W. Stamm, Let Every Soul Be Jesus’ Guest: A Theology of the Open Table (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006).
Nicholas Temperley, “John Wesley, Music, and the People Called Methodists,” in Music and the Wesleys, ed. Nicholas Temperley and Stephen Banfield (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 3–25.
Carlton R. Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mykayla Turner holds a Master of Sacred Music with a Liturgical Musicology concentration. She recently obtained her A.C.C.M. in Piano Performance from Conservatory Canada, and she is currently completing a Master of Theological Studies. Mykayla has presented research at conferences in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Apart from her academic work, she is an active church musician and liturgist. She works as a worship coordinator for a Mennonite congregation in rural Ontario.