Anne Steele knew grief well: “She lost her mother at age 3, a potential suitor at age 20, her stepmother at 43, and her sister-in-law at 45. She spent many years caring for her father until his death in 1769. For many years, she exhibited symptoms of malaria, including persistent pain, fever, headaches, and stomach aches,” according to Chris Fenner, writing for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s The Towers.¹ She peacefully found her refuge in the Lord when her own final moments came, expressing trust in Jesus, the Redeemer who lives.²
“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” was one hymn raised from her aching, trusting life into word. Below, following each verse of this hymn, are some of my notes and reflections on the themes she raises.
Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On thee when sorrows rise;
On thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.
My hope—the expression of it—is different from the hope, the truth. And when my expression of hope in Christ has been left nearly breathless underneath the rolling pounds of stormy grief, how blessed I have been to remember through this song that my soul may yet rely upon the source of hope and the originating cause for why I can, at all, express hope, Christ Himself.
To thee I tell each rising grief,
For thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.
How reserved I became in grief! During grief, I was sweetly reminded by a friend to express my grief to the Lord, how I could. The words of this song coordinated with that counsel to become an anthem of sorts for me—“To Thee I tell each rising grief.”
But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail
I fear to call thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail
And all my hopes decline.
After one experience of sweet relief from God’s Word is grief all resolved? Not for me. Help was continually needed. Further, some will be especially helped to read: “Springs of comfort seem to fail.” While God’s comfort doesn’t fail, it may require believing truths that could be challenging, at first, to accept.
I have wondered about the meaning behind the author’s fear in the second line of this stanza—my thought is that she feared to call the Lord hers because she considered Him worthy of a more faithful follower in suffering that she believed herself to be (for in the following stanza, she calls her Lord gracious).
Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cleave to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.
By the help of the Holy Spirit, I too have felt utterly unworthy of the Lord. In and of myself, I am an unworthy sinner. And more, I am unfathomably minuscule compared to the God of greatness; the Psalmist writes, “O LORD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?” (Psalm 144:3). If I stood as one worthy of or great enough for God, grace could not be grace—by definition, undeserved.
Hast thou not bid me seek thy face?
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?
Yet, God gives sustaining breath, life, and capability this day that I might seek Him. What will God’s answer be toward me, aching person in bare need of Him?
No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner's prayer;
O may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.
Yes, grace. He has opened a way to His everlasting, holy throne, apart from the law—apart from working for or being personally worthy of this access (Romans 3:28). The perfection of Christ provides admission. The One whose works on this earth were perfect—He is the way. Knowing this God of grace means that my dearest hope is, May I never lose Him!
Thy mercy-seat is open still;
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend thy will,
And wait beneath thy feet.³
What audacity for me, a sinner in and of myself, to come before God’s throne with confidence! This is a shocking thought: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). But it is an unalterable provision for those in Christ that can be trusted with joy; His perfect works have been credited to believers, and therefore, being made worthy by union with Him to draw near to God becomes a holy, joyous reality (Romans 4:5).
I find in Steele’s hymn the expression of a paradox; in humble hope, needy hope, that recognizes I can add nothing to a God who is fully satisfied in Himself and that accepts I have contributed nothing to gain my access to Him, I find ultimate confidence. This confidence comes to me from outside of myself, and is found in the Person of Christ.
God has chosen to give broken hearts access to Him based upon His own kindness. From this truth comes steadfast hope to wait with patience for Him—for the fulfillment of His plans for His people and His world—and to live for Him with gratitude in the wait.
With an unworthy soul and, simultaneously, a soul deemed acceptable to God through Christ—He is my dear refuge too, my gracious retreat. “To Thee I tell each rising grief,” confidently drawing near through Christ alone.
This post was originally published at Hope Mommies.