Why Is He Calling? A brief close-up of Crosby’s “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour”
This old church hymn by prolific writer Fanny Crosby kept coming back to me. The melody, composed by W.H. Doane, is a very pleasant one and lacks the harshness that some of the melodies of old hymns possess (such as “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story,” just to name one). Then I thought: What is the hymn about actually? Why is He calling? Does the one who pleads want to be taken from earth? Ready for heaven? I didn’t know.
In the chorus we have the following words: Saviour, Saviour, Hear my humble cry; While on others thou art calling, Do not pass me by. The Saviour is doing something for others (by calling), helping them in some way. The petitioner wants to be included.
Crosby uses the British spelling of Saviour. Perhaps this was by preference (elegance?) or for the reason that spelling in the United States in general had not been “Americanized” yet. The first verse gives us no information that, after considering the chorus, is new. So, we must go to the second.
The second verse has these words: Let me at thy throne of mercy/Find a sweet relief; Kneeling there in deep contrition, Help my unbelief.
The petitioner, addressing the Saviour, of course, needs relief. She or he resorts to repentence in order to find that relief. Also, the petitioner admits there has been unbelief in the past. That could stem from arrogance or, simply, youth and inexperience. What we presume at the time of this address to the Saviour is that there are now doubts about this past unbelief. There is a resolution to end the doubt.
The third verse has these words: Trusting only in thy merit, Would I seek thy face; Heal my wounded, broken spirit, Save me by thy grace.
Here the petitioner has decided to trust and put her/his faith (blind faith? Fanny was blind) in the Word and words of the Saviour: in the promises of the Saviour, which are many. The petitioner needs healing and saving. He or she is not whole but in pieces and, thus, will “seek” the Saviour for repair. Grace is what saves one, we learn here. (This means the Saviour saves us by choice, by His dying for us, by the shedding of His blood.) Crosby has gone into the territory of theology now. She knows a lot; she’s a veteran lyricist and, we’re quite sure, reader of the Bible).
Have we learned, now, at this stage of examination, what the song is about? Have we learned what is being distributed by the Saviour? Or what it is that the petitioner desires? I think we have. I think we can see the petitioner desires the comfort, the relief, the assurance and peace that she or he observes to have been given to others due, in part, to their belief. Thus, the petitioner assesses his or her own status of belief.
The fourth verse has these words: Thou the Spring of all my comfort, More than life to me, Whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heav’n but thee?
The petitioner now is in the Saviour’s hands, we might say. There is a feeling that reconciliation has been made (accomplished) and that the petitioner knows his or her “place,” thus, will stray no more, of course, or will at least give it a good try. Actually, if Crosby wrote Spring and Saviour with capital letters, she should have written thee, thy and thou with capitals, I think. It seems she didn’t. I use a hymnal called New Baptist Hymnal here published by Broadman Press in 1926. (As I said, old hymn) Crosby also should have written, in the fourth verse, besides thee instead of “beside thee” since besides means other than and beside means at the side of. That is a minor infraction, however.
Now I am satisfied with the meaning and intent of the hymn. I’d thought the Saviour’s calling had to do with death or “the transition” (time to go). No, it refers to the bestowal of benefits, of salvation by grace, comfort, relief from suffering, etc. all at the will of the Saviour. Hope you enjoyed reading this brief close-up.