Upon A Life I Did Not Live
- Horatius Bonar
- Kevin Twit
1. Upon a Life I have not lived,
Upon a Death I did not die,
Another’s Life; Another’s Death,
I stake my whole eternity.
2. Not on the tears which I have shed,
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears; Another’s griefs,
On these I rest, on these alone.
O Jesus, Son of God, I build on what Thy cross has done for me;
There both my death and life I read, my guilt, and pardon there I see.
3. Lord, I believe; O deal with me,
As one who has Thy Word believed!
I take the gift, Lord, look on me,
As one who has Thy gift received. (Chorus)
©2012 Kevin Twit Music (ASCAP)
I ran across this quote years ago, attributed to C.H. Spurgeon, “Upon a death I did not die, upon a life I did not live, I stake my whole eternity.” I loved the succinct statement of the imputation of our sin to Christ and His righteousness to sinners that is at the heart of the gospel, and used the quote regularly in my preaching. But around 2011 I discovered that this Spurgeon quote was actually a snippet of a hymn by Horatius Bonar! (This is not the first time I have found a Spurgeon quote which I later discover is actually him quoting someone else. In fact, as Spurgeon once said, “He who never quotes is never quoted.”) It was after we had released “Joy Beyond The Sorrow: Indelible Grace VI” that my friend Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia told me that “Upon A Life” was actually an abridgement of an even longer hymn by Bonar published in his “Communion Hymns.” The full version of the text is below and I encourage you to try out some of the other verses in conjunction with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
When I discovered that this quote I had been using for years was actually a hymn text I knew that I wanted to set it to music. I felt the tune needed to be an anthem of sorts, but it couldn’t be self-confident or the music would undermine the point of the text – that it is another’s life and another’s death that is our hope. This is what Peter writes in 1Pet 1:3-4 – we have an inheritance which can never perish, spoil, or fade, and which is kept in heaven where we can never get at it to screw it up! This is what Luther, in his Commentary on Galatians, calls an “alien righteousness” and it is the glorious freeing truth that sets the heart to singing!
I still remember playing this song for the first time for Ian Fitchuk sitting outside of Cason’s studio in the backyard. Ian has a way of closing his eyes and just taking in the song and he really encouraged me about the song from the first time he heard it. I thought I had found the proper key for Sandra to sing it and we went ahead and laid down piano, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Ian played the piano and drums with such feel and it was sounding great. We later added electric guitar and Jordan Gudmestad added a background vocal on the chorus. But when I brought Sandra in to sing the lead vocal we discovered that the key was a little too high for her! She suggested getting someone else to sing it but I was pretty adamant that it needed to be her song. So with the help of Jeff Pardo we redid the bass, and added a cool Mellotron sound and electric piano. We ran the electric guitar through a plugin to lower the pitch and it gave it kind of a cool eerie sound. But we had to lose the original piano part along with Jordan’s bgvs. In this clip you can hear what the original version sounded like. I love how the song turned out, but I do miss Ian’s wonderful piano part. This is one of the hymns from the record that has caught on with churches right away. I am very proud of how the production turned out. We tried our best to avoid making it sound like a power ballad while making it clear that it is a song for corporate worship.
I think that the idea brought out by verse 2 is an important, but often neglected, truth. “Not on the tears which I have shed, Not on the sorrows I have known, Another’s tears, another’s griefs, On these I rest, on these alone.” The self-justifying bent of the human heart is such that we can even look at our suffering and our tears as something that earns us favor with God. But as Isaiah 53 says, it is by His wounds that we are healed. In our suffering we must beware the self-righteousness that seeks to convince us that since we have suffered we deserve God’s grace. Christ’s suffering is what qualifies us to receive grace. Period. But His suffering is sufficient for us to be received by our Father into His embrace. It is only upon His death and His life that we can build our lives. When we remember that this was originally written as a communion hymn we realize that the “gift” spoken of in the last verse refers to the body and blood of Christ. This is the gift that assures us of His sufficient grace, and calls us to build upon it a life of grateful response shown in the good works that should adorn the lives of those captured by the gospel.
UPDATE: For the longest time I thought that the refrain from this hymn was just a quote by Spurgeon. After many years of quoting "Spurgeon" I discovered that Spurgeon was quoting a hymn by Horatius Bonar. After we recorded this song for Indelible Grace 6, Bruce Benedict brought to my attention that our text is part of a longer communion hymn by Bonar. I have added the full version "Christ For Us" from Bonar's volume of Communion Hymns and thanks to Bruce benedict for sending this to me.