"WHAT DID HE DO?"
"…To make reconciliation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2.17)
INTRO.: A hymn which emphasizes that Jesus Christ came to make reconciliation for the people is "What Did He Do?" (#385 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #146 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text is usually ascribed to James Martin Gray (1851-1935). It is dated 1903. Sacred Selections, and Stamps-Baxter’s Favorite Songs and Hymns from which Sacred Selections apparently copied the song, both have changes in the wording, give "Anon." for "Anonymous" in the place where the author’s name should be, and put "alt." meaning "altered" after it. I have not been able to find out who made these alterations. However, an arrangement copyright in 1949 by John T. Benson Publishing Company, owned by John T. Benson, Jr., and published in Songs of Inspiration, does contain these same changes.
Each of the two Benson books in my collection, the All American Church Hymnal of 1957 and The American Service Hymnal of 1968, attributes both words and melody to the composer of the tune (Deemster), William Owen, who was born on Dec. 12, 1813 (some sources say 1814), at Bangor in Caernarvonshire, Wales, where from the age of ten he worked, as had his father, in the famous Penryhn slate quarries of Bethesda but also enjoyed a local reputation as a fine singer. At the age of eighteen he produced his first tune for a then-popular hymn text. However, he was criticized for his daring and told to write new tunes to new texts. Yet, from 1852 to 1854 Owen compiled and published Y Perl Cerddorol (The Pearl of Music; some sources give the publication date of 1866). The work contained a number of his compositions, most of them anthems and hymn tunes, though under the penname Prysgol, and probably included this melody, usually dated 1852. The popularity of this book soon prompted further editions in 1886 and 1892. His best-known tune, called Bryn Calfaria, appeared in the second edition of 1886. A resident of Caeathraw and the conductor of several choirs, Owen was also song leader at the Caeathraw Chapel near Caernarvon where he died on July 20, 1893 (some sources say 1883).
Wonder Hymns of Faith, published by the Standard Publishing Co., says that the text was "alt. by J. M. G." and that the song was "used by permission of O. F. Pugh." Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1938/1944 (New) Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song reminds us of what Jesus did to make our salvation possible.
I. Stanza 1 says that He came to this earth
"O listen to our wondrous story: Once we dwelt (orig. Counted once) among the lost,
Yet, Jesus came (orig. One came down) from heaven’s glory, Saving us at awful cost!"
A. Once we dwelt among the lost because all have sinned: Rom. 3.23
B. Yet, Jesus came down from heaven’s glory: Phil. 2.5-7
C. His purpose in this was to save us: Matt. 1.21
II. Stanza 2 says that He died on the cross
"No angel could our (orig. His) place have taken, Highest of the high though He;
Nailed to the cross, despised (orig. The loved One on the cross), forsaken, Was one of the Godhead three!"
A. Since Jesus died for us, no angel could have taken either His place or our place, because He is so much better than the angels, who are but ministering servants: Heb. 1.4, 13-14
B. Therefore, the price for our sins could be paid only by having the sinless Son of God nailed to the cross: Eph. 2.16
C. And though He was despised and forsaken, He was one of the Godhead
three: Matt. 28.19, Col. 2.9
III. Stanza 3 says that He became our High Priest who interceeds for us
"And yet this wondrous tale proceedeth, Stirring heart and tongue aflame!
As our High Priest in Heav’n He pleadeth, And Christ Jesus is His Name!"
A. The story of Christ does not end with His death but proceeds with His resurrection and ascension: Eph. 1:20-23
B. Therefore, He now sits at God’s right hand and ever lives as our High Priest to make intercession for us: Heb. 7:24-25
C. It is in His name that salvation is offered to sinful mankind: Acts 4:12
IV. Stanza 4 says that He commanded us to bow to Him
"Will you surrender to this Savior? Now before Him (orig. To His scepter) humbly bow.
You, too, shall come to know His favor; He will save and (orig. you,) save you now."
A. Surrendering to this Savior and bowing before His scepter symbolize our obedience to Him: Rom. 6.17-28
B. Only then can we come to know His favor because all spiritual blessings are in Christ: Eph. 1.3
C. Thus, when we obey His commands in the gospel we can be saved since
the gospel is God’s power unto salvation: Rom. 1.16
CONCL.: The somewhat antiphonal chorus seems to be based on Rom. 8.34:
"Who saved us from eternal loss? (Who but God’s Son upon the cross?)
What did He do? (He died for you!) Where is He now? (Believe it thou), In heaven interceding."
We can be so thankful that, concerning the fact that mankind is lost in sin and needed the Lord to do something to make it possible for us to have salvation, there is an answer in the scripture to the question, "What Did He Do?"