History of Hymns: 'Freely, Freely (God Forgave My Sin)'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Freely, Freely (God forgave my sin)”
by Carol Owens
The United Methodist Hymnal, 389
For the words, see https://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/love/7_love853033.htm.
Carol Owens (b. 1931) is an Oklahoma native educated in California at San Jose State College (now University) in what has become Silicon Valley. In 1954, she married Jimmy Owens (b. 1930), a jazz band director and church musician in southern California. A part of the “Jesus Movement,” they composed contemporary Christian musicals and performed throughout California. The Owenses were involved in musical missions for evangelist Jack Hayford’s (1934–2023) Church of the Way in Los Angeles. They received the Christian Artists Music Achievement Award in 1986. Working with contemporary Christian artist Paul Baloche (b. 1962), they co-authored Words and Music: A Guide to Writing, Selecting and Enjoying Christian Songs (1984).
“Freely, Freely” is a song from one of the ten musicals composed by the Owens duo, Come Together: A Musical Experience in Love (1972). The original album (Light Records — LS-5592-LP) features Pat Boone. “Freely, Freely” is the final track on the first side during the worship section of the musical. The words came to Carol Owens one morning during a reading of the Gospels (Adams, 1992, p. 126).
The UM Hymnal editor Carlton R. Young, commenting on this song, finds its Scriptural roots in the Gospel of Matthew: “This gospel hymn expresses the obligation of those who have been forgiven and made new creatures in Christ to share freely (Matthew 6:12) that graceful gift to the lost and needy in the spirit of the great commission, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ (Matthew 28:19)” (Young, 1993, p. 150) The tagline “freely” comes from Matthew 10:8: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (KJV) Other words from the refrain paraphrase the key ideas of the great commission: “Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.”
The two stanzas reflect the simple sincerity of contemporary Christian songs of the early 1970s and have the feel of bridges to the refrain rather than fully developed verses. The first stanza focuses on being “born again” (John 3:7). Stanza 2, which begins with “All power is given in Jesus’ name, / in earth and heaven in Jesus’ name,” paraphrases Matthew 28:18.
The predominately step-wise melodic movement of the triple-meter musical setting is accessible to congregations. The diatonic harmonic setting is straightforward, allowing the song to adapt easily to various styles from folk guitar and country Western to traditional organ and piano accompaniment. The earliest hymnal to include the song was The New Church Hymnal (1976), edited by contemporary Christian pioneer and composer Ralph Carmichael (1927–2021). Subsequently, the song appears in twenty hymnals, primarily evangelical collections, including The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (1986), Baptist Hymnal (1991 and 2008 editions), The Celebration Hymnal (1997), Complete Mission Praise (1999), and Anglican Hymns Old and New (2008).
Jere Adams, ed. Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992).
Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.