Having tackled the first and second verses of the James Montgomery hymn, “In the Hour of Trial,” we turn our attention to the third verse. As was mentioned at the outset of this series, the third and fourth verses of our common versions are substantially altered from Montgomery’s original. In fact, verse three of what we typically sing bears only a basic thematic connection to Montgomery’s text. We will be presenting both texts in due course. Montgomery’s text has the more direct biblical connection, with several clear references.
From James Montgomery’s Original Hymns (1853)
If, with sore affliction,
Thou in love chastise,
Pour thy benediction
On the sacrifice;
The idea of being chastised in love takes us directly to Hebrews 12, and particularly to verse 6: “For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” If we are God’s children, we will face suffering and sorrow; this is part of the refining process. James, in James 1.2–4, wrote to remind us of the benefit that comes from the testing of our faith.
But in that trial and sorrow, we still ask for God’s grace—His benediction. We pray for Him to deliver us from evil (Mt 6.13). We ask Him to lift those thorns in the flesh, even if His answer is, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12.8–9). We understand, ultimately, that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice “by the mercies of God” (Rom 12.1).
Then, upon Thine altar,
Freely offered up,
Though the flesh may falter,
Faith shall drink the cup.
Ultimately, our living sacrifice is a voluntary devotion. We choose to give our lives wholly to God. Paul wrote in some of his final words, “For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure has come.” Elsewhere, he spoke of being “poured out on the sacrifice and service of your faith.”
The flesh and faith contrast takes us once again to the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus said in Matthew 26.41, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Here, we are making the commitment that even though our flesh may be weak—we may not want to go through the hour of trial—we will have faith in God’s plan. The cup mentioned is the cup that Jesus spoke of in the garden, and the one that He asked James and John about in Matthew 20.22–23.
As in the second verse, Jesus is held up as an example to us. He endured chastisement for our sakes. God did offer some degree of mercy in the garden, as an angel strengthened Him (Luke 22.43). Though the flesh could be considered weak (“remove this cup”), ultimately the spirit in faith went through with the crucifixion (“not my will, but yours, be done,” Lk 22.42).
Taken from Godfrey Thring’s Church of England Hymn Book (1880), as it appears in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (2012).
Should Thy mercy send me
Sorrow, toil and woe,
Or should pain attend me
On my path below,
Again, while it addresses the same general topic, this version obscures the reference to Hebrews 12, and simply allows that our path may be filled with sorrow and pain. The idea of God’s mercy sending us sorrow, toil and woe sounds a bit odd. In fact, usually when the Bible talks about God’s mercy, it is usually in the lessening and/or removal of sorrow, toil and woe. And while God’s mercy and love are intertwined (thus bringing us back to Hebrews 12), I might suggest that God’s mercy sends us these things by a lessening of what we might otherwise deserve were it not for that mercy. This calls to mind the story of Job, wherein God restricted what Satan could do.
Grant that I may never
Fail Thy hand to see;
People generally have one of two responses to sorrow in this life. For many, the response is despair and a wondering of where God is in our sorrow. The question of why God allows suffering is one that has been debated for millennia. James 1 provides one answer. Another answer is in John 9, that through the relief of suffering (such as a man born blind receiving his sight), God may be glorified.
One of the reasons why people react that way to suffering is because we don’t see the full picture, and particularly God’s hand in our suffering (or the relative lack thereof). Consider God’s servant, Job. This is one of the rare glimpses we get into both sides of the story. On one hand, we see the human perspective, with Job losing everything except his life; his friends are accusing him of wickedness, and Job just doesn’t understand what is going on. But on the other hand, we are allowed to see also the heavenly perspective, where both of the times that Satan afflicts Job, (1) God has allowed it, and (2) God has limited it. Thus, what Job doesn’t see is all the things that might have happened had God not restrained Satan from the outset.
The same is true of our suffering and trials. We have the assurance of 1 Corinthians 10.13, that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear. Do we really appreciate that verse? All we ever see are the trials and temptations that do enter our lives. What about the ones that God has stopped? What about the ones that God, in His mercy, has not allowed Satan to put in our path. How many times has God interceded on our behalf in this? He ensures that the temptations we face are not guaranteed losses, but opportunities to win and grow.
The other response to sorrow—the one we need to have and the one suggested by these lyrics—is to focus on how God helps us and strengthens us through such difficult times and always to understand that God is active in His creation.
Grant that I may ever
Cast my care on Thee.
And because we understand that God is active in stopping temptation and in giving us strength to endure, we ought to have the faith to cast our cares on Him (1 Pet 5.7). We do not do this enough. We try to “go it alone” and “do it ourselves”; that’s not the way God intended for it to work. He cares for us. He loves us. He wants us to succeed. Do we love Him and trust Him enough to give Him all our cares?
Each of these versions reflects on a different aspect of daily trial. One is our resolve to faithfully endure suffering in life; the other is our realization that God is in our lives and working for our good. While I tend to prefer Montgomery’s original, either is worthy for our consideration and use.