“I Saw One Hanging on a Tree”

"Who…bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2.24)

     INTRO.: A hymn which points our attention to the fact that Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree is "I Saw One Hanging On A Tree." The text was written by John Newton (1725-1807). Originally in eight stanzas, the first beginning, "In evil long I took delight," which is now universally omitted, it was published in his Olney Hymns, Book II, of 1779. The tune (Hull or Remember Me) is attributed to Asa Hull, who was born in 1828. Hull helped compile several hymn collections, such as Vestry Chimes in 1864, The Golden Sheaf in 1874, and The Gem of Gems around 1881. Several melodies ascribed to Hull, including one used with "The Beautiful River," beginning "O have you not heard," by R. Torrey, Jr., were published around 1862. Very little information is available about the tune used with "I Saw One Hanging on a Tree," its date of origin, or the composer–not even the date of his death. Hull is also sometimes credited with a tune used with Mary James’s "All For Jesus."

     Among hymnbooks published during the twentieth century by members of the Lord’s church for use among churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1), and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. The tune was used as an alternate for "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?" in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 also edited by Jorgenson. The text was used with a tune (Green Hill), usually associated with "There Is A Green Hill Far Away" by Cecil Frances Humphrey Alexander, composed by George Coles Stebbins in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.  For "I Saw One Hanging on a Tree," many denominational books use a tune by Edwin Othello Excell.

     The song helps us better to appreciate what Jesus suffered on the tree.

I. Stanza 1 pictures Christ on the cross
"I saw One hanging on a tree, In agony and blood;
He fixed His languid eyes on me, As near His cross I stood."
 A. The author pictures himself as present at the crucifixion of Christ and seeing the events as they happened: Mk. 15.21-25
 B. It was when He was crucified that Christ shed His blood for our redemption: Eph. 1.7
 C. While we do not literally stand near His cross, we can and should hear the message of the cross: 1 Cor. 1.18

II. Stanza 2 pictures the look of Christ on the sinner
"Sure, never till my latest breath,  Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death, Though not a word He spoke."
[most of our books change the first word to ‘O’]
 A. It was a look from Jesus that reminded Peter of his failure: Lk. 22.61
 B. Though Jesus does not literally look at us from the cross, through the scriptures God still charges us with His death because He died for our sins: 1 Cor. 15.3
 C. It was prophesied that during His suffering Jesus would not speak out but be as a lamb led to the slaughter who opens not its mouth: Isa. 53.7

III. Stanza 3 pictures the consequences of that look
"My conscience felt and owned the guilt, And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt And helped to nail Him there."
 A. The purpose of the conscience is to help us in doing right as opposed to wrong: Rom. 2.15
 B. When we have done wrong, our conscience should plunge us "in despair" to the point of godly sorrow that leads to repentance: 2 Cor. 7.10
 C. This godly sorrow is the result of knowing that by our sins we have crucified the Son of God afresh: Heb. 6.6

IV. Stanza 4 pictures the change of heart
"Alas! I knew not what I did! But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid? For I the Lord have slain."
 A. Many sin because, as those for whom Jesus prayed, they know not what they do: Lk. 23.34
 B. While godly sorrow is essential, tears themselves are not enough but must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance: Matt. 3.8
 C. Thus, we must recognize that our only hope is that our trembling souls are hid in Christ: Col. 3.1-3

V. Stanza 5 pictures the Lord’s forgiveness
"A second look He gave, which said, ‘I freely all forgive.
This blood is for your ransom paid; I died that you may live."
 A. The very purpose for which Christ came was to make forgiveness of all sin possible: Mk. 3.28
 B. The reason that this is so is that Jesus’s blood paid the ransom for our sins: Matt. 20.28
 C. The result is that because He died we may have life: Jn. 10.10

VI. Stanza 6 pictures the relief the sinner can find in Christ
"Thus while His death my sin displays In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace, It seals my pardon too."
 A. Certainly the death of Christ does display sin in all its blackest hue: Rom. 8.3
 B. However, it was also the ultimate expression of God’s grace to sinful mankind: Tit. 2.11
 C. Therefore, it is by His death that our pardon or redemption is sealed: Heb. 9.15

     CONCL.: The final stanza of Newton’s hymn is sometimes used as a refrain after each of the other stanzas:
"O, can it be, upon a tree The Savior died for me?
My soul is thrilled, my heart is filled, To think He died for me!"
Donald Hustad wrote of this hymn that it "tells the story of the transformation in Newton’s life when he was converted. As such, it parallels ‘Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,’ another hymn by Newton."  No, I was not present when Jesus was crucified. But through the description of His crucifixion given in the scriptures, I can envision the scene in my mind’s eye as if "I Saw One Hanging On A Tree."


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