The audience probably had among it Baptists, Lutherans, Independents, Nazarenes, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Free Methodists and maybe several other Christian groups. But on that day a song seemed to bond us as one people.
Early in the service a man stepped to the stage, the pianist played a simple introduction, and in a rich baritone voice the man began to sing:
One thing I of the Lord desire
For all my paths have miry been,
Be it by water, or by fire,
O make me clean, O make me clean.
That was as many as 60 years ago. The song’s effect seemed to fall on the gathered body like an invisible mist. It was arresting in a spiritual way. We listened with awe.
I can think of several reasons why that simple song would register so deeply with a company of people from different communions who didn’t even know one another.
Mainly, because all Christians believe the song’s central message that God is pure. God is presented as pure in both Old and New Testaments. Not so the gods of Israel’s neighbors — the Philistines to the west or the Moabites to the east. Their gods were vile and loathsome. At the same time, the prophet, Habakkuk, in that dark environment addressed Israel’s God saying, Your eyes are too pure to look on evil (Hab 1:13). The purity of our God is our heritage.
The Apostle John sees God’s purity even more clearly. He writes, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). John had been with Jesus and in doing so had seen the glorious light.
And the Apostle Paul’s great salvation passage says we must believe with the heart in order to exercise saving faith (Romans 10:9,10). At every stage of our journey purity of the heart is a goal.
But the requirement for purity of heart does not end when faith first blossoms. We are challenged to engage continually. Paul exhorts believing Christians: Since we have these promises (to be made sons and daughters of God) Let us cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
There is much moral and spiritual darkness in our world despite the brilliance of our street lights and business districts. It is a darkness of the heart. Jesus is the light of the world and he assures us that only when our hearts are pure will we see God.
The need for inner purification is universal. One young man presented his need to me in street language: I need to be rid of this crud inside, he confessed.
Being cleansed of all darkness and wrongdoing is a glorious possibility. After nearly 60 years the soloist of long ago goes on singing in my memory, and I with him:
So wash me Thou, without, within
Or purge with fire, if that must be.
No matter how, if only sin
Die out in me, die out in me.
Photo credit: Jeff Hitchcock (via flickr.com)