History of Hymns: "Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine"
By C. Michael Hawn
“Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine”
by Charles Wesley;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 606.
Come, let us use the grace divine,
And all with one accord,
In a perpetual covenant
Join ourselves to Christ the Lord;
Give up ourselves, through Jesus’ power,
His name to glorify;
And promise, in this sacred hour,
For God to live and die.
The Wesleys used hymns to highlight specific occasions and theological concepts. Charles Wesley’s “Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine” has regularly been used for the annual Covenant Renewal Service, in both England and the United States, usually taking place on the first Sunday of the year. The United Methodist Book of Worship includes a copy of that service (pp. 288-94). Though this is a natural use for this hymn, there is no direct evidence that this was its intended use by the Wesleys.
This hymn is from the collection, Short Hymns on Select Passages of the Holy Scriptures (1762), originally published in three, eight-line stanzas. Later, it was included in the primary hymn source compiled by John Wesley, A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780) under the section “For the Society Praying.” A signature hymn of the Wesleys, it has appeared in virtually all nineteenth- and twentieth-century Methodist hymnals. Except for very minor changes in a few phrases for the sake of improving prosody, the hymn comes to us virtually intact from its original publication.
The hymn was based on Jeremiah 50:5, “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” (KJV) Scripture so permeated the lives of the Wesleys that their hymns contain many allusions to, and sometimes direct quotations from, the Bible. The first stanza is a direct quotation of key words from this passage.
Romans 14: 8 – “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's . . . ” (KJV) – may have influenced the final lines of the first stanza:
Give up ourselves, thru Jesus’ power,
His name to glorify;
And promise in this sacred hour,
For God to live and die.
Joshua 24:16 – “And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods . . .” (KJV) – inspired the beginning of stanza two:
The covenant we this moment make
Be ever kept in mind;
We will no more our God forsake,
Or cast these words behind.
Hebrews 13:20-21 – “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.” (KJV) – resonates well with lines from the final stanza:
To each covenant the blood apply
Which takes our sins away,
And register our names on high
and keep us to that day.
This covenant is one of individuals made within a Christian community. It is a solemn promise that we will “no more our God forsake” and “never will throw off the fear of God who hears our vow.” (Stanza 2) The final line of stanza two petitions God to “come down and meet us now” if God is pleased with our promise. Such language goes against the grain of many in popular culture where allegiances seem to be few and fleeting.
For those who keep this covenant, the final stanza states that Christ’s “blood appl[ies]” and “takes our sin away.” The phrase “blood apply” is a favorite of Charles Wesley. As Methodist scholar Paul Chilcote has noted, for Charles Wesley, to say “blood applied” is virtually synonymous with another favorite Wesleyan phrase, “grace applied.” As is often the case in Charles Wesley’s hymns, the ultimate reward is found in heaven where Christ “will register our names on high and keep us to that day!”
The first covenant service was held, according to John Wesley, on Monday, August 11, 1755, in London with 1800 people present! Wesley actually attributes the original prayer (now lost) to English Puritan Richard Alleine (c. 1610-1681). Though lost, Wesley may have preserved the intent and basic content of the Covenant Prayer in a pamphlet Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God (1780). Regardless of the original intent of the hymn, it provides an excellent companion to the traditional form of the Wesley Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.