Alright grab some stones to throw at me. I’m about to tip one of those sacred cows and share an unpopular opinion….
I don’t like Blessed Assurance.
I might have survived that first barrage of stones, but I’m not finished…
Not only do I not particularly like Blessed Assurance, I think it’s a bit dangerous and wouldn’t recommend singing it in church.
As soon as you are through pelting me, hear me out. Have you ever actually thought through the lyrics and compared them to your own walk with Christ? When have you had perfect submission? Ever experienced perfect delight, this side of glory? All is at rest? Really?
This isn’t my story and this isn’t my song. I wouldn’t mind it to be my story or my song. And I certainly wish that I was praising my Savior all the day long. But I’m not and I don’t. And I shouldn’t belt out such lies in church. And so while ya’ll sing this song as if it really is your experience I’m mourning the fact that it really isn’t mine.
Fanny Crosby co-wrote this with Phoebe Palmer who was deeply steeped in Keswick theology and Higher-Christian life teaching. This is why she talks about perfect submission and perfect delight. The theology which undergirds this hymn is a theology which believes that Christians, if they perfectly surrender their flesh really can experience this perfect delight. Dan Phillips outlines the problem with this theology about as well and succinctly as I’ve read:
The effect of all this was that I was constantly taking my spiritual pulse, constantly checking within, freezing up, paralyzed, spiraling down into deeper and deeper morbid introspection and depression. In the name of “looking to Jesus” (revealed in His Word) I was constantly looking to myself, within myself. (Phillips, The World-Tilting Gospel, 251-52)
I’ve outlined more on the dangers of Keswick theology. Here, I just want to focus on this particular hymn. Imagine with me that you are in your church on a Sunday morning. You are hungry for more of Christ and you’ve been battling depression for a couple weeks now. (Not hard for me to imagine). As you start singing this hymn what is it calling you to do? What are the implications of the words?
If I’m not in perfect delight and if all is not rest what is the problem according to this hymn? Well, it’s that I’m not in perfect submission. I haven’t surrendered everything to God yet. Now, that’s likely true because I doubt I’ll ever be perfectly surrendered or submitted this side of full redemption. This hymn drives me into myself. It calls me to analyze myself and try to surrender even more and submit even more.
Is this what the Scriptures do, though? Do they drive me to self and say, “surrender more” or do they draw us to Christ? What would this hymn say to Job? What’s your problem, Job? Why aren’t you at rest? Why aren’t you in perfect delight? The hymn would sound a bit like Job’s counselors, wouldn’t it?
And so I don’t really care for this hymn because it forces people to either sing something that isn’t true of their experience or it encourages folks to wish that something was more true of their walk with Christ all the while providing medicine which would prove to be dangerous to their spiritual growth. I’d rather sing something like Andrew Peterson’s The Silence of God. This fits what I see in the Scriptures (and my own experience) a bit more:
This provides me more comfort and assurance than Blessed Assurance ever has. This drives me to a suffering Savior who has also experienced the silence of heaven. This causes me to look outside of myself and rest in Christ. Here I find rest. Here I find answers even in silence. Here I do like Job and cover my mouth, repent in dust and ashes, and weep for the ache. But it’s here that I start to see the sun shine and hope come in the morning. Because I know Christ has conquered—and this even though my submission stinks at times.
Don’t misunderstand. We need songs which talk about joy in Christ and the happiness of heaven. To only sing songs like The Silence of God would leave us ignorant of a whole side of the Christian life which is also very true of our experience with the Lord. There are times when the Lord plays the flute and we dance. But sometimes he plays a dirge and it isn’t because I’m not perfectly submitted.
Photo source: here