Friend of Sinners
Augustus Toplady has left the church with hymns that are still sung today; most famously he penned “Rock of Ages.” One of his lesser-known, but beautifully written songs is “Friend of Sinners” also known as “Redeemer, Wither Should I Flee?” This hymn of submission recognizes God’s ability to protect and shield and responds to that truth with a desire to be crucified with Christ and find satisfaction in Him alone. This song is a balm to those who feel lost or tossed about, because it is grounded in the gospel and feeds the soul solid truth about Christ’s sacrifice and the Christian life.
The verses of this song tend to follow a pattern of talking about the gospel in the first part of the verse and then responding with devotion or humility in the second half. Toplady recognizes that he has nowhere else to go but God, that he finds rest beneath the cross, that he would be united with Christ in His death, and that he receives life from the cross. In each verse his thoughts progress nearer the cross until he is united with Christ, ready to give all that he has to God and receive all that he needs from him. Though this song doesn’t explain the progression of the gospel as others might, it focuses almost entirely on the cross.
Names of God
Toplady only uses four names of God in this song: Redeemer, Jesus, Christ, and Lord. Though the names are not many, they clearly describe along with the imagery of the cross, the God of the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second halves of the verses are devoted to a heavenward perspective. The heavenward perspective shifts throughout the song from a request for God’s blessings to finding joy and life in God, to devotion in life and death to God, and ultimately to a humble devotion to God alone.
Theological vs. Doxological
Because of the back and forth between the gospel and devotion, this song serves to be both Theological and Doxological, though perhaps it leans more toward the doxological side of things.
Why Did it Get Its Score?
“Friend of Sinners” received a 98% from the “Is it Helpful? Chart.” This score is earned because of its gospel-centeredness, heavenward focus, and its clarity about God. This song comforts with depth and not superficialities, and that makes it stand out among its peers.
Utilizing it in a Service
I only know this song to a tune written by Jeff Koonce and Brian T. Murphy recently, and I really appreciate this new setting. I’m assuming that other tunes this text would be paired with might be equally calm and reflective. This song, of course, lends itself to a service that might address hurting or wandering from God, but it can also be a good reminder to anyone to daily lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel. It would work most effectively after the Word has been presented, so that hearts can respond to truth in humble devotion.