When I was growing up in church in northwestern Kansas, we often sang William Cowper’s “There is a Fountain filled with blood.” Cowper was a well-known British poet and writer of hymns who struggled mightily with severe depression, and worse. After one of his serious spells of “insanity,” he recovered and wrote the words to this famous hymn. You can read about Cowper’s “madness” when you link to the lyrics of the hymn.
The second verse of Cowper’s poem especially caught my eye today:
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he (emphasis mine), washed all my sins away. Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
The dying thief referred to by Cowper surely is one of the criminals who was crucified alongside Jesus. In fact, just last week I preached a sermon on these words of Jesus spoken to the repentant thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Near the end of my sermon I said of the thief, “Here is a man, repenting from the cross, who gets forgiven. This man may never have heard of or ever read the Hebrew Scriptures, may never have gone to the synagogue much, likely never made amends to all those he had wronged, and perhaps never prayed a single prayer in his entire life — until now. But somehow knowing there must be a future, in the dark moments of his impending death, he says to Jesus: “Remember me.” Don’t let me slip your mind, falling into oblivion. Don’t forget me.”
And Jesus answers him, saying: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I’m particularly taken with the line in Cowper’s poem: “And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.” Cowper’s right. We don’t rank sins — what sins are worse than others or who is the worst sinner ever. The Apostle Paul already took the title: “Chief of sinners.” That position is not open to us. As has been often said, and is worth often repeating: “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
[If you are interested, today’s Lenten devotion in the Biola University’s outstanding Lenten Project centers on our redemption through the blood of Christ, and is really worth the read.]