Lessons From the Hymns: “Rescue the Perishing”

By Dennis C. Abernathy

Rescue the Perishing was written by Fanny J. Crosby. She was the famous blind American poetess. She was known as the queen of gospel song writers, although she did not begin to write gospel songs until she was forty-four years old. By the time she died at age ninety-five, she had written thousands of hymns.

Fanny Crosby was only six weeks old when an incorrect poultice was placed on her eyes and she became permanently blind. When she was eight years old, she made a decision that would affect her entire life. Of this decision she wrote:

Oh, what a happy soul am I

I am resolved that in this world

Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy

That other people don’t.

To weep and sigh because I’m blind

I cannot, and I won’t.

Fanny J. Crosby said that she did not ask God to make her smart, or make a wonderful man fall in love with her, or help her become rich or popular or famous, or for all the clothes she could want, as if it could repay her for being blind. She did not even ask for a special task, but she did ask God for “a way to serve him the best way she could.” She did not consider this too much to ask. Doors were opened to her as she was able to attend a fine college for the blind. She met and married a fine man, and was loved so much as a song writer that, on one occasion, she was invited to Washington D.C. and addressed the Congress of the United States. They gave her a standing ovation. Fanny Crosby wrote many songs and at the age of forty-four someone suggested that she write sacred songs and hymns.

“Rescue the Perishing “

This seemed to be the turning point in her life as she wrote many of the now famous hymns of praise. She wrote over 8,000 hymns and songs in her life span of ninety-five years. Some of her songs and hymns are:

“All the Way My Savior Leads Me” – “Blessed Assurance” – “I Am Thine, O Lord” – “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling” – “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” – “Praise Him, Praise Him” – “Tis the Blessed Hour of Prayer” – “Near the Cross” – “He Hideth My Soul” – “Redeemed” – “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” – “Jesus Will Give You Rest” – “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet” – “Will Jesus Find Us Watching?”

These are great accomplishments for one who asked only to serve! Rescue the Perishing was written in 1869 after an experience in a New York Mission. In a speech one night to New York’s derelicts, Mrs. Cosby said, “There may be someone present that must be rescued this very night or not at all.” An 18 year old boy spoke up and said, “Do you mean me?” They worked with that young boy and helped him to turn his life around.

Fanny J. Crosby, in telling the story of the writing of this song said that a few days before this incident, W.H. Doane had sent her a theme for a song entitled “Rescue the Perishing.” The theme was based on Luke 14:23. She said, “While sitting in that Mission house that evening, the line, ‘rescue the perishing and care for the dying,’ came to me. After that, I could think of nothing else that night. After I arrived home, I went to work on the song and finished the lyrics before retiring for the evening.” The song was published in 1870.

We Must Rescue the Perishing

Paul said, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

The word “rescue” means “to free or save from danger, imprisonment, evil, etc.” Some synonyms of this word are “deliver, redeem, ransom, and save.”

Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying,

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.

Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,

Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

We must reach out and rescue those who are perishing and dying in sin! Many are drowning in the sea of iniquity. They are in desperate need of the gospel lifeline. Will you throw it to them? Jesus said: “I tell you nay, but, except ye repent, ye shall all like wise perish” (Lk 13:3). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20).

We must rescue the perishing because it is not the Lord’s desire that a single soul perish in sin (Ezek. 33:11). Peter said, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

We show how much we care for those dying in sin by snatching them in pity from sin and the grave. Jude 23 says: “And others save with fear, snatching them out of the fire.’.’ So, we must rescue the perishing because we fear they will be eternally lost (2 Thess. 1:7-10f). It is imperative that we try to snatch them out of the fires of hell! We should want to do this because we pity them or have compassion on them.

If we were cooking a steak and it fell in the fire we would pull it out. We would even pull a hamburger out of the fire wouldn’t we? We would not pass by a burning house and fail to heed the pleas of those who were trapped inside. How then, can be be so calloused and fail to snatch men in pity from sin and its terrible consequences?

Involved in rescuing the perishing is “weeping o’re the erring one. ” When men sin they err. They miss the mark. They step over God’s line or limit. That is the literal meaning of the word “sin” as found in 1 John 3:4. Read this verse in the various translations and it will be enlightening to you.

How often do we weep over a lost and dying world? What about some individual, friend or loved one? Does it really bother you? I am afraid that we shed few tears because we are not totally convinced that the world is really lost. We just do not see clearly the lostness of this world. Perhaps we do not understand the exceeding sinfulness of sin!

Paul wept for the lost (Phil. 3:18-19). Jesus had compassion and showed it with tears (Matt. 9:36-37; Lk. 19:41-44). We’ll not be successful in rescuing the perishing without compassion and tears. The Psalmist said, “They that sow in tears will reap with joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing in his sheaves with him” (Psa. 126:5-6).

Also involved in rescuing the perishing is “lifting up the fallen. Many have fallen under life’s crushing loads. We ought to help bear these burdens (Gal. 6:2,10). Many have fallen prey to temptation and have been overcome. These erring brethren need to be restored (Gal. 6:1). Many have become discouraged and have fallen. We must be ready to lift up the hands that hang down and give strength to the feeble knees (Heb. 12:12). Many brethren have, through the deceit of sin, wandered from the truth, but we ought to do our best to turn them around and bring them back (Jas. 5:19-20).

We can rescue the perishing and lift up the fallen, by telling them of Jesus’ the mighty to save. Our Lord is all-powerful. He can reach down and pull us out of the muck and mire of sin. He can help us overcome temptation. He can lighten the crushing loads of life. He can give us sweet rest and peace. Therefore, the Christian can say: “I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

Yes, the Lord is mighty to save, and “therefore he is able to save completely (to the uttermost), those who come to God, through him” (Heb. 7:25).

From the second verse of this song we learn, that though men slight Christ, he still patiently pleads and waits.

Tho’ they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,

Waiting the wandering child gone astray.

Plead with them earnestly; Plead with them gently:

He will forgive if they trust and obey.

John says, “He came to his own and his own received him not” (Jn. 1:11). In John 5:40, Jesus said, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” The marvel of marvels and wonder of wonders is the fact that Christ still reaches out his nail-scarred hands to those who have knowingly and willingly rejected him! Can you explain it?

The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, teaches us that the Lord stands waiting and willing to receive us, if we will but come to him. That son came back with a penitent heart and his father threw his arms around him and eagerly received him home. Though the son only wanted to be received as a servant, his father received him as full-fledged son! What about you my friend? Are you rejecting the Lord?

In rescuing the perishing, we must plead earnestly and gently. To plead earnestly is to compel by use of persuasion and entreaty. In Luke 14:23, the Lord told his servants to “compel them to come into his house.” Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade (compel, or entreat) men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

But, our pleading and persuading must be done gently. We must “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Yes, our preaching is to be with firmness and conviction, yet we must be longsuffering (2 Tim. 4:2). Christians who have gone astray in error, or have been overtaken in a fault, need to be restored, but, it must be in the spirit of meekness and gentleness (Gal. 6:1).

Dear friend, please remember one thing though. Whether you are saint or sinner, you must trust and obey the Lord. Christ cannot and he will not forgive those who will not trust and obey him. But at the same time, he is “the author of eternal salvation to all that obey him” (Heb. 5:9).

From the third verse of this song we learn that we must come to grips with the fact that Satan wants to crush and destroy our hearts.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,

Feelings lie buried that grace can restore.

Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,

Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Satan would blot out the truth of heaven’s interest in a lost world, from the pages of inspiration. He would wrest from humanity the last vestige of hope. He would do away with the marvelous plan of salvation, so that the vultures of despair would build their nests in our hearts. “Despiseth thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4) Satan wanted to crush Peter’s heart. Jesus told Peter that Satan wished to have him that he may sift him as wheat (Lk. 22:31). Remember Job? Satan tried the same thing with him.

Satan seeks to bury feelings like love, joy, happiness, peace and zeal. Sin will indeed bury such feelings. But thank God, grace can restore them! God’s favor, his great love, goodness and kindness, can take those dying embers in the heart and stir them into a flame again. God can do that because he offers to us what we truly need instead of what we really deserve.

The grace of God can work through Christians when we show love and kindness towards those who are perishing. The noble poet, James Whitcomb Riley, aptly said:

When over the fair frame of friend or foe,

The shadow of disgrace shall fall, instead

Of words of blame, or proof of so and so,

Let something good be said.

Forget not that no fellow human being yet,

May fall so low but that love may lift its head;

Even when the cheek of shame with tears is wet,

If something good be said.

No generous heart may vainly turn aside

In ways of sympathy; no soul so dead

But may awaken strong and glorified,

If something good be said.

And so I charge ye, by the thorny crown,

And by the cross on which the Savior bled,

And by your own soul’s hope of fair renown,

Let something good be said.

If we will treat those who are perishing in sin, be they alien sinners or erring brethren, in this fashion, chords once broken may vibrate again. What a wonderful thing it is to behold one, once steeped in sin and iniquity, as he rises to new heights and begins to live again, yes, truly live again!

From the last verse of this song, it is suggested what the Bible so clearly teaches, and that is, that it is our duty to rescue the perishing.

Rescue the perishing, Duty demands it;

Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide.

Back to the narrow way, patiently win them

Tell the poor wanderer, a Savior has died.

Isn’t that what Christ told us to do (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15)? Yes, the Great Commission tells us to rescue the perishing. We are to labor and God will take care of the rest, and we ought to let him (1 Cor. 3:5-8).

In rescuing the perishing, we must lead them to the narrow way (Matt. 7:13-14). It will do little good to try to effect the rescue of the perishing, if we do not lead them to the right place.

We must patiently win them. Winning souls is not something you can do in a hurry. It takes time. We live in the age of “instant” this and “instant” that, but soul winning is not one of them. Very few things that are worth while are done in a brief span of time. We must be a people who will continue patiently in well doing (Gal. 6:9). As a result we will receive glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life (Rom. 2:7). Teaching and turning people from sin to the Lord, requires much patience. Don’t become discouraged and give up.

Finally, in rescuing the perishing, we must tell them that a Savior has died. That involves preaching the gospel to them (1 Cor. 15:1-4). This is what Philip did for the Ethiopian. “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture, and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Without the dying Savior, there is no rescue and we all would perish. We must tell about the Christ and his shed blood in our behalf.

Are you perishing? Are you drowning in your own sins and iniquities? I plead with you right now, to reach out and grab hold of Christ and his gospel. Obey him today by faith, repentance, confessing him as God’s Son, and being baptized in water, for the remission of your sins (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:37; Acts 2:38). Are you a Christian? Are you perishing again, after you were once rescued? You need to repent and confess your sins (1 Jn. 1:7-9).

Brethren, do you feel any obligation to rescue the perishing? When you see those who are not Christians, do you see them as perishing in sin? Do you pray for them? How many who perish in sin now, would be led to the Lord, if all were like you? Have you been praying to God that he will find a way to use you to rescue the perishing, and have you, yourself, sought such opportunities?

Lead me to some soul today,

Oh, teach me, Lord, just what to say;

Friends of mine are lost in sin,

And cannot find their way.

Few there are who seem to care,

And few there are who pray;

Melt my heart and fill my life,

Give me one soul today.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV; 9, pp. 274-276
May 3, 1990