Not What My Hands Have Done

Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

God’s children are not called to come before God’s throne with a list of accomplishments, or merits or goodness; they are called, says Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 26, to come with the humility that “…offers nothing but our need for mercy.” Such a cry for mercy comes from our “dying-away of the old self” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 88) which expresses that we are “genuinely sorry for our sin and more and more…hate and run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 89).

The gifts of renewal and pardon come only “through true faith” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 20) and are “gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 21). The very act of faith is to plead for his mercy.

Additional Prayers

A Prayer of Reassurance
With you, wonderful God, we enjoy peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. You have pardoned us through his precious blood. You have erased our sin. You have made our spirits whole. Resting in your love, we give you thanks and praise, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
— Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Tune Information

D Major
Meter D

Hymn Story/Background

The famous Scottish preacher and hymn author Horatius Bonar wrote this text in twelve four-line stanzas, each beginning with the line "Not what these hands have done." He first published the text in his Hymns of Faith and Hope (2nd series, 1861).
Bonar subtitled the text "Salvation through Christ alone," and that is surely its theme: my salvation is entirely due to the grace of God, my own works have no merit at all, and nothing but the blood of Christ will do (st. 1-2); my natural response, then, is praise, for "My Lord has saved my life" (st. 3)! Bonar was a staunch Calvinist; in writing this hymn he stood resolutely behind John Calvin in the Calvin-Arminius controversy.
George William Martin composed the tune, LEOMINSTER, named for a town in the county of Hereford and Worcester (formerly Herefordshire), England. The tune was first published in The Journal of Part Music (vol. 2, 1862), in which it was titled THE PILGRIM'S SONG. Martin was editor of that publication from 1861 to 1862.
Arthur S. Sullivan later arranged and harmonized the tune and labeled it as an "Old Melody" in his Church Hymns with Tunes (1874). LEOMINSTER's many repeated tones in lines 1 and 3 give way to the more dramatic shape oflines 2 and 4. The tune's simplicity allows for bringing in harmony, perhaps with stanza 2 unaccompanied. Accompany stanza 3 with a bright and strong organ registration.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Horatius Bonar (b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1808; d. Edinburgh, 1889) was educated at the University of Edinburgh. At the age of thirty he became a preacher in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a church that underwent a schism "the Disruption"—in 1843. A major question in the controversy was whether a minister could be forced on a congregation by an aristocratic sponsor. Many church leaders and the government agreed that he could, but one-third of the ministers, including Bonar, disagreed, and in 1843 this group formed the Free Church of Scotland. Bonar was a prolific, popular author of tracts, sermons, and hymns (even though his congregation sang exclusively psalms during much of his life). One of Bonar's great interests was biblical prophecy and the return of Christ, an interest reflected in some of his hymns. He published several hundred hymns in collections such as The Bible Hymn Book (1845), Hymns of Faith and Hope (1857,1861), and Hymns of the Nativity (1879). Many were written casually, illustrating very little interest in poetic finesse, but a few have had staying power and are still found in many modern hymnals.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

As a boy, George William Martin (b. London, England, 1825; d. London, 1881) was a chorister in St. Patrick's Cathedral. He taught music at the Normal College for Army Schoolmasters in Chelsea and at St. John's Training College in Battersea. In 1849 he became organist at Christ Church, Battersea. Well-known for his skill in training children's choirs, Martin also conducted mass choirs, such as the Metropolitan Schools Choral Society. He composed glees, madrigals, and part-songs, and edited oratorios of Handel and Haydn.
— Bert Polman