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Hymn: The Law Demands a Weighty Debt


Old ChapelJohn Berridge (1716-1793) was an Anglican pastor, traveling evangelist, and hymnist. He is cited by Charles Spurgeon as being both quaint and eccentric in his preaching and personality. Berridge remained single his entire life, traveling on horseback preaching throughout the countryside. Upon his death, he asked to be buried in a part of the Everton cemetery set aside for people who had no honor. He did this to show his humility in service and also to consecrate this part of the cemetery. This text has been scrutinized over the years regarding its authorship. Some give credit to John Bunyan, others to Ralph Erskine. Spurgeon, a lover and curator of hymns, gives writers credit to Berridge, and Im not one to punch at his shadow, so Ill go with Spurgeon.

Hymn Text

1. The law demands a weighty debt,
And not a single mite will bate;
But gospel sings of Jesus
And says it made the payment good.  

2. The law provokes men oft to ill,
And churlish hearts makes harder still;
But gospel acts a kindly part,
And melts a most obdurate heart.  

3. Run, John, and work, the law commands,
Yet finds me neither feet nor hands;
But sweeter news the gospel brings,
It bids me fly, and lends me wings.  

4. Such needful wings, O Lord, impart,
To brace my feet, and brace my heart;
Good wings of faith, and wings of love,
Will make the cripple sprightly move.  

5. With these a lumpish soul may fly,
And soar aloft, and reach the sky;
Nor fain nor faulted in the race,
But cheerly work, and sing of grace.

- John Berridge, 1838

Theological Application

The law/gospel paradigm is one of the most helpful frameworks in theology. The law was given to mankind for a multitude of reasons. It demonstrates the holiness of God, and reveals to his people the holiness that was demanded of them as his children. The law gives order and structure to the life of the people of God. It helps give insight in matters of church, home, work, life, relationships, ethics, and morality. The law is a gift, but the law cannot once and for all save mankind from sin.  What the law cannot do, the gospel does. While the laws melody brings instruction, the gospels song brings redemption. The gospel is Gods loudest word to us.  I feel the weight of the law in this hymn. I also taste the sweetness of the gospel. My prayer is that you do as well.

Matt Boswell is the worship pastor at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, and is the founder of Doxology & Theology.

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