“Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go”

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster           Presbyterian Church

As discussed in other posts, vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

After the reading of the Scripture and sermon in the central part of the service—Listening for the Word—the last part was devoted to Responding to the Word. Two hymns and a choral anthem aided us in doing just that.

The anthem was “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go”[2] with these moving words of Charles Wesley:

  • “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue; thee, only thee, resolved to know in all I think or speak or do.
  • The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.
  • Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.
  • Thee may I set at my right hand whose eyes my inmost substance see, and labor on at thy command and offer all my works to thee.
  • Give me to bear thy easy yoke, and every moment watch and pray, and still to things eternal look,
  • And hasten to thy glorious day; for thee delightfully employ whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given.
  • And run my course with even joy, and closely walk with thee to heaven.”

The anthem clearly treasures the every-day vocations of the hymnist and everyone else.

It also recognizes the dark side of daily labor with these words, “Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.” In other words, being involved in the everyday world often leads to idolizing the rewards of the secular world (“the gilded baits of worldly love”), which are the seductions of my daily labor (“my calling’s snare” and the “thorns of choking care”). (Emphasis added.)

The same thoughts are found in the hymn “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord” that was sung earlier in the service. Its second verse says, “If worldly pressures fray the mind And love itself cannot unwind Its tangled skein of care: Our inward life repair.”

Another hymn is brought to mind by the first phrase of Charles Wesley’s line (“my calling’s snare“). It reminds us of the third verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace: “Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…and Grace will lead us home.” (Emphasis added.)

The word “snare” is not much used today so I looked it up. Snares” originally were anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits. More generally the word means something by which an unwary person is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded.

Thus, “my calling’s snare,” for me, means the traps that are commonly associated with my calling or profession. As a former lawyer who personally knew at least three lawyers who were convicted of crimes and served time in prison, I can say that “my calling’s snares” include embezzlement of funds entrusted to the attorney, being involved in promoting or concealing fraudulent activities of others, trading securities based on undisclosed inside information and lying or shading the truth of factual representations.

The Lord’s Prayer speaks directly to these snares or traps when it says, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.” And the verse of “Amazing Grace” quoted above clearly acknowledges that God’s grace, rather than our own efforts, is the reason why so far we have survived the “dangers, toils and snares.”

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was an English Anglican clergyman and a leader of its Methodist movement that subsequently became the independent Methodist Church. He was the son of Samuel Wesley, an Anglican clergyman and poet, and the younger brother of John Wesley, also an Anglican clergyman and a co-leader of the Methodist movement.

Both Wesley brothers were graduates of Oxford University’s Christ Church College, where in the early 1960’s I attended lectures and saw their portraits in the College’s beautiful dining hall.

Many years later I was walking near St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London and saw the Aldersgate Flame sculpture marking the spot where John Wesley on May 24, 1738, “felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

The music for the anthem was a Scottish melody arranged by Howard Helvey. Born in 1968, he is a composer, arranger and pianist and also serves as the organist and choirmaster of Calvary Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, Ohio.


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service with the words to the anthem is available online along with the text and audio recording of the sermon as well as a video recording of the service. Prior posts have discussed this service’s (a) Prayer of Confession; (b) an anthem beginning with the words “God be in my head;” (c) passages from the Bible’s book of Acts and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments concerning the vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul; (d) a passage from Paul’s epistle from a Roman prison and the sermon’s drawing on them for comments about the preacher’s and her people’s vocations; (e) a hymn, “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord;” and  (f) another hymn, “Give Thanks, O Christian People.” Clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

[2] This same anthem was sung by the Westminster Choir in April 2013, and a prior post reviewed that performance.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Older Brother

In my teenage years as a dutiful only child, I identified with the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.[1] He remained at home working on the farm while his younger brother was dissipating his advance inheritance in a far country. Yet their father throws a big party for the younger brother when he returns home.  Like the older son, I just could not understand the totally unjustified favorable treatment of the wayward younger son. Like the older son, I was angry with the father and the younger brother over this injustice.

Many years later, however, I could see myself as the younger son in the Parable. As a college freshman I began rebelling against organized religion and the spiritual life. During my subsequent 24 years in a distant country, I clung “to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink . . . . It’s almost as if I want[ed] to prove to myself . . . that I did not need God’s love, that I could make a life on my own, that I want[ed]to be fully independent. Beneath it all was the great rebellion, the radical ‘No’ to the Father’s love . . . .”[2]

When I came to my senses and returned home, my rebellion and other sins were forgiven by God, who was waiting, saw me when I was still a long way off and ran to welcome me home. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.”[3]

Each of us often experiences life as a succession of unrelated events. Such events, however, are the raw material of our spiritual pilgrimage. Discernment of the spiritual significance of these events requires us to pause to reflect on how God appears in our lives. We can aid this task by putting ourselves into the stories of the Bible and by allowing the words of great hymns to speak to us.


[2] Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son at 38-39 (1992).

[3]  John Newton, Amazing Grace Lyrics, http://www.constitution.org/col/amazing_grace.htm.