A CHARGE TO KEEP I HAVE
A Big Responsibility
Much of life consists of an array of responsibilities we must discharge. Duties the circumstances of life, and our own choices, have thrust upon us. As citizens of Canada, we are responsible to abide by the laws of the land. We may also have certain obligations to an employer, and to our family, and more. But if we are Christians, our greatest responsibility is to obey and serve God. The Bible calls on His people to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11). Across our land, there are many who have taken up that charge. Many faithful servants of God, some well-known, many more known only to a few. People of whom it may be said, "From the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:24).
To a large extent the law protects our freedom to do that. However, that has not always been the case. One of the most powerful works of God in history was accomplished by the Methodists in England, in the mid-eighteenth century. That was a time when the nation was virtually a spiritual wasteland. There was a coarseness in society, and violence was widespread. Drunkenness was rampant. And with few exceptions, the clergy of the time were part of the problem, not part of the solution. They did no more than was absolutely necessary, preferring to spend their time fox hunting, playing cards, and guzzling alcohol like their parishioners.
Against that tide of immorality God launched the dynamic ministry of John and Charles Wesley. But it was not easy going. The two men often faced strong opposition in their service for Christ. And similar abuse was vented on their converts. It was a costly thing to identify yourself as a follower of Christ in those days. One writer says, "they were outrageously treated--stoned, mauled, ducked [in water until nearly drowned], hounded by bulldogs, threatened, [their] homes looted, businesses ruined. Anyone who walked through a town could pick out, by their ruinous condition, the homes where the Methodists lived."
"Commitment" to serving God back then was far more than a word. It involved the sacrifice of a life upon the altar of sacred duty. One day in 1762, Charles Wesley (1707-1788), was pondering this truth. He read in Scripture of the responsibility assigned to the Levites in Israel to guard the door of the tabernacle. God's command was, "You shall stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting...and keep the charge of the Lord" (Lev. 8:35). They were to see that no unauthorized person entered, and that nothing offensive to a holy God was done there. Later, the Lord said, "The Levites shall camp around the tabernacle...that there may be no wrath on the congregation...and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle..." (Num. 1:53).
As his meditation continued, Wesley consulted a Bible commentary written by a man named Matthew Henry. That author said, "We shall every one of us have a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, one generation to serve." These glowing phrases became the basis for Charles Wesley's hymn,
A Charge to Keep I Have.
It reads (slightly amended): "A charge to keep I have-- / A God to glorify, / Who gave His Son my soul to save, / And fit it for the sky." And also, "To serve the present age, / My calling to fulfil; / O may it all my powers engage, / To do my Master's will." Of King David the Lord was able to say, "He...served his own generation by the will of God" (Acts 13:36). No greater charge and challenge confronts us.