I was recently a part of a wonderful worship service. Unfortunately, it was interrupted by the hymn “Are Ye Able” (#530 in the United Methodist Hymnal). The hymn was sung in a setting where people should have been more aware of the theology that is being expressed by the hymn, but people seemed to be unaware of what they were singing.
Here is the first verse:
Are ye able, said the Master, to be
crucified with me? Yea, the sturdy dreamers
answered, to the death we follow thee.
Lord, we are able. Our spirits are thine. (etc.)
It gets worse in verse three:
Are ye able, when the shadows close
around you with the sod, to believe that spirit
triumphs, to commend your soul to God?
Lord, we are able…
As one of my seminary professors succinctly put it, this is heresy. Christians have long understood a basic part of the gospel message to be that we are not able to save ourselves, we are saved by God’s astonishing, undeserved grace. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. So, the basic problem with this hymn is that every time the hymn asks “Are ye able?” the answer the hymns gives is “yes,” but it should be “No!” We are not able. But the good news is that God is able.
Frankly, the idea that when we die, we are able to commend our souls to God is nearly as far as we can get away from the Christian understanding of salvation by grace through faith. “It is the gift of God and not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The next time the United Methodist Church revises the Hymnal, I would be delighted to discover that this hymn was no longer included in our hymnal.
We are not able, it is not about us or our ability. May we quit singing songs that help us feel more comfortable in our own sufficiency.