Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bring Christ Your Broken Life

Praise for the Lord #67

Words: Thomas O. Chisholm, 1935
Music: Lloyd O. Sanderson, 1935

This is another product of the fruitful collaboration between these two gentlemen; for a discussion of their work together, see my post on "All things work together for good." Like that lesser-known song, "Bring Christ your broken life" was first published in Christian Hymns by the Gospel Advocate in 1935. Along with these two songs, Chisholm and Sanderson also filed copyrights in that year for "I would see God in ev'rything," "The way that seemeth right," "I love Thee, Lord Jesus," and "A new creature" ("Buried with Christ").(US Copyright Office)

Sanderson's autobiographical statement said of this song:

I had written the music but could not by myself come up with acceptable lyrics. I sent the music to T.O. Chisholm and asked him to see what he thought most appropriate for words. This poem was the result. This has become a much-used song, an exhortation and an appeal to one and all as to the faithful Savior who can handle any situation.
They had a similar experience with their collaboration, "Be with me, Lord;" and though writing lyrics to the tune is probably not the preferred method of operation, it certainly worked well for these close friends.

Stanza 1:
Bring Christ your broken life, so marred by sin,
He will create anew, make whole again;
Your empty, wasted years He will restore,
And your iniquities remember no more.

The genius of Chisholm's first stanza is the graphic description of what sin has done to our lives. "Broken." "Marred." "Empty." "Wasted." King David was a man keenly aware of his own sinfulness, as expressed in Psalm 31:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.(v. 9-12)
Have you ever felt that sense of brokenness? It is crushing when it is finally realized. C. S. Lewis rightly said in Mere Christianity that one of our chief problems with repentance is that we want to be "nice people" when God wants to make us "new creatures." Why is ministry in prisons so often fruitful, and going door-to-door in "nice neighborhoods" so often not? People who have hit bottom in worldly life can sometimes awaken to their spiritual condition, recognizing the source of their problems; but "good people" are hard to be convinced that they might be sinners after all.

But, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saves such as be of a contrite spirit."(Psalm 34:18)  King David also knew that only through this realization of sin, and confession, and repentance, could he enter into God's mercy:

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ... For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.(Psalm 51:8-10,16-17)
Perhaps it is not making too much of the metaphor to notice that verse 8 says God had broken David's bones. We know that when the bones of the physical body grow incorrectly (or heal incorrectly after a break), it is sometimes necessary to break them so that they can be put right. It is tremendously unpleasant to think of a surgeon deliberately breaking your bones, but to leave them as they are might lead to a lifetime of disability that could be avoided. 

In the same light, consider Peter after his denial of Christ. He was a broken man, but much of what had been broken was his pride and self-righteousness. Only after Peter had been humbled and given a realistic sense of his own weakness did Christ give him the solemn commission, "Feed My sheep."(John 21)

Stanza 2:
Bring Him your every care, if great or small--
Whatever troubles you--O bring it all!
Bring Him the haunting fears, the nameless dread;
Thy heart He will relieve, and lift up thy head.

The first stanza promises that Christ can fix the brokenness in our lives caused by sin; now, the second stanza promises that He can remove other burdens and obstacles from which we may suffer, perhaps through no fault of our own. He is, after all, the Master who said,

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.(Matthew 11:28-30)
Which is not to say there are no burdens in the Christian life; but these burdens are ultimately for our good, where those of a worldly life are ultimately to our undoing. And whatever burdens we bear as Christians, we are not bearing alone.

Sometimes, of course, we question why we are forced to bear a particular burden. The story of Job is a caution to us, that we not be too quick to judge the reasons for misfortunes (of our own, or of others). But Paul's "thorn in the flesh" is also an example to consider. Paul said himself that it was given to him (whatever it was), "to keep me from becoming conceited."(2 Cor. 12:7) It was a serious burden; Paul, no stranger to hardship and discomfort, admits that he "pleaded" with God three times for it to be removed.(2 Cor. 12:8) But which was worse, a thorn in the flesh, or becoming consumed with pride?

And what did Paul gain from the experience? In verses 9-10 of 2 Corinthians 12 he summed up the lesson he learned from bearing that burden:

But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
If a burden causes us to realize our weakness and dependence upon God, and serves as a safeguard against pride or spiritual carelessness, we may find in the end that "God meant it for good."(Genesis 50:20)

But what about that "haunting fear" and "nameless dread?" The greatest fear and dread is already taken away, when we obey Christ's gospel and are born again into His family; certainly He can help us with the lesser fears as well. Jesus gave us chronic worriers a great deal to think about in that wonderful paragraph on worry from the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 6:25-34. He does not tell us that the things we fear are not real, but aims instead to shift our perspectives so that they are no longer feared. And finally, the admonition, "Sufficient to the day is its own trouble," admonishes us that He is far better able to clear our path ahead of us than are we--not to mention that our worry hinders, rather than helps, that process.

Stanza 3:
Bring Him your weariness, receive His rest;
Weep out your blinding tears upon His breast;
His love is wonderful, His pow'r is great,
"And none that trust in Him shall be desolate."

Have you ever come to tears without knowing why? There are plenty of things in this life over which to weep, even if we can avoid the natural tendency to magnify our own sorrows. It is no accident, I suppose, that an entire book of the Bible is titled "Lamentations." The story of this world is a tragedy, and even the triumph of God's love came through the sorrows of Gethsemane and Calvary.

You may have known from childhood that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35--"Jesus wept." Is there any greater reassurance of His love for us, than the fact that He felt our sorrows and cried tears just as we do? Psalm 56:8 asks confidently of God, "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" We can be sure that God knows every tear that falls. We can rejoice even more that the Bible promises, more than once, that someday "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes."(Revelation 21:4)

I have known this hymn for as long as I can remember, but have never looked up the passage in quotation marks. It is taken almost verbatim from Psalm 34:22 in the King James Version: "The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants: and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate." (Verse 18 of this psalm, noted above, might have been the starting point of the 1st stanza as well.) It is a fine, noble thought; we may sorrow, but we need not be desolate from sorrow.

Stanza 4:
Blest Savior of us all! Almighty Friend!
His presence shall be ours unto the end.
Without Him life would be how dark, how drear!
But with Him morning breaks--and heaven is near!

The final stanza begins with a rousing burst of praise, reflecting on what Christ has done. He has mended our broken lives, He has taken up our burdens and made them bearable, He has sympathized with our tears and promised that someday they will be no more. Why would we not come to Him in repentance? Why would we ever leave Him?

About the music:

To me, this is Sanderson's style at its best--simple, unpretentious, and singable. The first two phrases are virtually the same, differing only in their final chords as they create a musical period (phrases joined into a question-answer formal structure). Phrases three and four (the second period) are likewise very similar. Finally, the two pairs of phrases are unified by the fact that phrases 3 and 4 begin with an ascending chord outline, a reversal (though not exact) of the descending chord outline beginning phrases 1 and 2. The rhythm is simple and repetitive, but before one criticizes Sanderson for that it is worth noting that Verdi's famous "La donna e mobile" from Rigoletto uses the same rhythm with just as much repetition.

There is one particular flaw, though, in this otherwise very commendable invitation hymn, which is really Chisholm's fault. In the final line of the third stanza, the rhythm of the melody dictates an unnatural stress of the last syllable of "de-so-LATE." Since we know that Chisholm had the tune before him as he wrote the words, I can only attribute this to a rare slip of technique from this consistently fine hymn poet.


U.S. Copyright Office. Catalog of copyright entries, v. 30/1 (1935), Musical compositions, pt. 3.

Sanderson, Lloyd Otis. "'The Lord has been mindful of me:' an autobiography of L.O. Sanderson."


  1. This coming Lord's Day, November 22, 2015, I am going to preach on, "Bring Christ Your Broken Life," and I wanted to do some research on the song and find the lyrics so that I could copy and paste them into my outline without having to retype them myself. I came across this blog. Wow, you gave a lot of great information, not only on the writing of this song, but also your insightful comments proved profitable.

    Thanks for your research on the song.

    Don Ruhl

  2. Although I was going to copy and paste the lyrics, I decided to retype them for my sermon outline, just to help me get the message of the song more into my mind and my heart.