In a recent post, we reviewed Joyce Nolt’s edition of an 1883 story by Isabella Alden. Probably because she had revised the book, she appears to have given it a new name—A Charge to Keep. This title was based upon a hymn by Charles Wesley, which had appeared 121 years before the novel’s publication, in Short Hymns on Select Passages of Holy Scripture.
Isabella Alden’s book was the source which first introduced our family to the hymn A Charge to Keep I Have. For some reason, while we were learning it, some of us got the first line confused in our minds, and were singing it “A charge to keep have I,” which of course did rhyme with the second line, although not with the third as it was supposed to. I must admit that changing the words has been difficult, once we learned them the other way!
For those of you who have been interested in our series on the Hymns of American History, A Charge to Keep fits into the Colonial Era (Part Five). It was one of the “many others by Charles Wesley” which we didn’t have space to include in detail.
Here is the full hymn, which is also included in the published book A Charge to Keep:
A Charge To Keep I Have
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my master’s will!
Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!
Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.
The title for the book A Charge to Keep is an allusion to this hymn, although the hymn itself is not included until the end of the story. If you are reading A Charge to Keep aloud, especially as a part of history or english studies, it would be a great idea to read and discuss the hymn before reading the story.
Charles Wesley describes a number of points which characterize the Christian’s charge. He also highlights several actions the believer can take to help them fulfill this charge.
Make a short list of these descriptions before you start reading. Then keep track, either on paper or verbally, of the ways in which Reuben illustrates these points throughout the story.
Examining hymns is not only an effective way to expand on a book during lesson time – it is also a powerful way to bring godly hymns home to our daily life.
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