If there’s one hymn I’d like sung at my funeral, this is it. When you get a diagnosis of cancer or you are persecuted because of your biblical worldview of marriage, how do you find joy and comfort in God? How does God use the sufferings and persecutions you experience to sanctify you and draw you closer to Him? That’s the subject of the 19th-century hymn, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” by Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847).
Often sung to the tune, ELLESDIE (by Mozart)—or more recently to the Indelible Grace version by Bill Moore (meter 8787)—the hymn is presented in six stanzas, each capturing various facets of the Christian’s endurance and joy amidst suffering. The hymn moves from the general statement of Jesus’ calling to take up our cross and follow Him, through differing aspects of that affliction in this life, to a final portrait of our heavenly glory, where “hope shall change to glad fruition; faith to sight, and prayer to praise.”
Matthew 16:24 provides the biblical backdrop of the hymn: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (cf. Matt. 10:38). A disciple of Jesus must deny himself—his will, his sin, his selfish ambitions—and then take up his cross to follow Jesus. Taking up one’s cross is recognizing the difficult (and often painful) consequences and implications of following Christ. This is the cost of discipleship: ridicule, slander, imprisonment, fines, torture, and even death. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14).
But we should expect the way to be difficult. Indeed, this is what Jesus taught: “[B]ecause you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:19, 20). The reason why Christians are hated today is because Christ was hated, and they belong to Him. As the hymn states: “Let the world despise and leave me; they have left my Savior too.” Paul also taught the certainty of such persecution: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Jesus said something rather surprising in the Sermon on the Mount—that those believers who suffer for His sake are blessed: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:10, 11). Rejoice and be glad? Yes.
Though the “way is hard that leads to life,” the believer can find joy and comfort in such a journey by clinging to the Savior, meditating upon God’s promises in His Word, communing with Him in prayer, and being strengthened by God through the Lord’s Supper. These are the means of grace that God has established to sanctify us and draw us to Himself. But He will often refine us by removing the dross of sin, which can be painful. And as our heavenly Father, He disciplines us because He loves us (Heb. 12:6). Sometimes He will remove something in our lives that we love too much or take us through the valley of the shadow of death so that we might know that He is with us and that He is enough for us. Indeed, His grace is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:9).
The message of the hymn is that such suffering and persecution drives the believer to the greatest Joy and Treasure of his soul—God Himself: “Man may trouble and distress me, ‘twill but drive me to Thy breast.” It adds: “Go, then, earthly fame and treasure; Come disaster, scorn, and pain; In Thy service, pain is pleasure; With Thy favor, loss is gain.” The early disciples certainly understood this. After being unjustly arrested and beaten, Luke tells us, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
I love how many older hymns end with a vision of our future glory in heaven. “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” is no different:
Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee;
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days.
Hope shall change to glad fruition;
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
Henry Lyte understood (rightly) the believer to be a pilgrim in this world—not belonging to the world or the things in it. He also understood that, while we are in the world, we have a mission, a purpose, and a chief end. But, one day, that mission will come to an end. One day, the sufferings and persecutions we endure will cease. One day, our hope will change to glad fruition. For the Suffering Servant, our Savior, will return and make all things new.
But until that day, may we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.