Go Tell It on the Mountain

Day 5: Jesus Paid It All

Isaiah 1:18, Mark 10:45, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 Peter 1:18-21, Revelation 5:11-14


Whenever I imagine the writing of a hymn, I picture a Victorian-era man with mutton chops and mussed up hair, scribbling by the flickering light of a lantern. His fingers are smudged with ink as he prays and pens and receives inspiration. A piano sits nearby, where he taps out a tune to adorn his words. It’s a very holy, solitary affair.

Perhaps other hymns were written this way, but “Jesus Paid It All” was not. Of the hymn’s origin, one author put it this way: “An obscure woman scribbles a poem on the flyleaf of her hymnal, an amateur church musician unknowingly creates a matching tune, an unknown pastor provides encouragement, and another hymn is born.”

Written in 1865, this hymn about the total sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work on the cross was not a solitary affair, but a fruit of His church. Partially inspired by William Bradbury’s hymn by the same name, this version was written by Elvina M. Hall, while she sat listening to a sermon from the choir loft of Monument Street Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. She jotted the lyrics on the inside of her hymnal and shared them with her pastor after the service.

Nothing might have become of those lyrics had John T. Grape not also attended Hall’s church.

Thirty years earlier, Grape served as organist and choir director, during which time he composed a tune titled “All to Christ I Owe.” After hearing the music, the pastor was reportedly “unimpressed,” and set it aside. Thankfully, that same pastor recalled Grape’s tune as he read Hall’s words some three decades later. He believed they would make a great match, and history has proven him right.

The story of “Jesus Paid It All” is a marvelous exhibit of God assembling various talents over time to orchestrate something beautiful and powerful: a song of our complete redemption.

essay by Sharon Hodde Miller

Jesus Paid It All
by Elvina M. Hall

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small,
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

And when, before the throne,
I stand in Him complete,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat.

Sources listed here.