How Sweet and Aweful is the Place
Isaac Watts, Bill & Karen Itzel
How sweet and aweful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
Lord, why was I a guest?
Partaker in Your rest?
Lord, nothing from me would suggest
A worthy soul to bless
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice
And enter while there's room
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”
’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin
Pity the nations, O our God
Constrain the earth to come
Send Thy victorious Word abroad
And bring the strangers home
We long to see Thy churches full
That all the chosen race
May with one voice and heart and soul
Sing Thy redeeming grace
Lord why was I a guest?
Partaker in Your rest?
Lord, nothing in me to impress
Or call me as a guest
But You called me as a guest
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is one of the best known hymn writers in all of Christendom. He is credited with over 750 hymns such as “Joy to the World”, “Come Ye that Love the Lord”, “O God Our Help in Ages Past”, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, and “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed”. This year, as I read a biography of Watts, I was impressed by one song in particular that I had never heard before.
“How Sweet and Aweful is the Place” is the kind of hymn name that one in this day and age would easily skip over, but one would also miss out on a great song with great truths. The line that grabbed me was “Lord, why was I a guest?” I couldn’t get it out of my head, so Karen and I eventually wrote a chorus for the song and plan on recording it on our next CD. Therefore, at this point there are no YouTube link for the complete song with chorus, but here is is the link to the original hymn so you can hear the beautiful melody. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkE8Ou8iw-A
How sweet and aweful is the place with Christ within the doors. First, don’t let the word aweful throw you. “Aweful” means full of awe; it doesn’t mean “Awful” as in terrible. Any place where Christ is, is not only sweet because of His presence, but aweful because of His presence. This sets up a picture of the King (in this case, the King of kings) having a feast and calling undeserving people off the street to be His guests. While everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores. God’s amazing love is greater than anything we can ever find anywhere else.
While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cry with thankful tongues, “Lord, why was I a guest?” We are the homeless, lost, poor, needy whom the King calls in. Watts describes a rightful feeling of confusion as to why we are there? We are not worthy, but the King has brought us in to dine with Him. I wanted to expand this impression of unworthiness in the chorus: Lord, why was I a guest? Partaker in Your rest? Lord, nothing from me would suggest a worthy soul to bless. As Jesus calls us into His place of rest, we are constantly reminded that we are unworthy and unfit to be there.
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice and enter while there's room when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come?” This is a question that I can’t fathom an answer. I see so many around me who willingly choose to pay for their own sins for eternity in the lake of fire, even though they have been warned of their impending doom, and yet God has saved me, of all people. Again, “Lord, why was I a guest?” ’Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in. Else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin. We are so blessed that God showed His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
After viewing the personal salvific work of God, Watts evangelistically turns to a longing for the salvation of the people of the world. Pity the nations, O our God. Constrain the earth to come. Send Thy victorious Word abroad and bring the strangers home. We should have a burning desire for the lost to be saved. It would be very selfish for us to eat at the table, casually gaze at those freezing out in the cold, and not want to compel them to come in. We long to see Thy churches full that all the chosen race may with one voice and heart and soul sing Thy redeeming grace. We have the great blessing and responsibility to preach the gospel and make disciples. What a loss it will be for us if we shirk our duty to call those dying in their sin, to come and dine.
Lord why was I a guest? Partaker in Your rest? Lord, nothing in me to impress or call me as a guest, but You called me as a guest. There is nothing in us, no deeds we have done, no amount of good in our souls that would trigger God to draw us in. It was His love and mercy and goodness that called us as a guest. Praise God every day and call others to join in the goodness of our Lord and King.
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for over 30 years and is based in Westminster, MD. His family tours and leads worship around the country. Bill and his family attend Belcroft Bible Church in Bowie, MD. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.