This simple hymn of invitation has endured for over 250 years because it strikes a chord of hope in the hearts of people who have given up hope:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.
The sinners’ expectation is that Jesus is ready to pound them with righteous judgment, but instead, the hymn reveals, he is ready to save out of his pity, love and power.
The author, the Rev. Joseph Hart, a popular London preacher of the mid-eighteenth century, had spent his early life as a son of privilege. He received a classical education, wrote poetry and translated some of the works of Greek and Latin philosophers. He had much to be proud of, and proud he was. For a while, he distanced himself from the faith of his parents and even wrote a pamphlet against John Wesley, entitled The Unreasonableness Of Religion. But one day the Lord caused him to see the emptiness of the life he was leading, and he received Christ as his Savior. Can you imagine what it took for this accomplished young man to realize that he was only a “sinner, poor and needy”?
Other stanzas of the hymn show how big a step this was for him:
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
He, like many others, tried to “tarry” till he was “better,” till he had more to offer the Lord, but then he realized he may “never come at all.” People who are waiting to feel good enough for salvation will wait all their lives:
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
How can you judge your “fitness” for salvation? Here’s the only criterion: Do you “feel your need of him”? Then you are fit.
Once Joseph Hart acknowledged that he was a “sinner, poor and needy” and recognized that Jesus was not condemning him, but inviting him, he responded in the spirit of the refrain, which is sung after every verse:
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
If the words of this hymn have touched you, don’t “tarry” till you’re better, don’t “linger” because of your bad conscience. Say right now “I will arise and go to Jesus.” Go ahead, say it out loud. You’ll never be more ready than you are now, and Jesus has always been ready to save you
— Pastor George Van Alstine