The words of Elvina Mable Hall's Jesus Paid it All are timeless truths that ought to be often sung by Christians. The first stanza explains why.
I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”
"Child of weakness" is a derogatory term for those who rely on their own efforts for salvation; it is the claim that we are weak and needy people, unable to perform spiritual tasks without aid. Yet, it is an integral part of the gospel. Our need for salvation is directly related to our sense of sinfulness. If we were to see ourselves as better than children, without the plague of weakness, we would not see Christ as our all in all. Therefore, we must embrace the humbling reality that we are not as great as we wish to be, and are desperately in need of finding our all in Christ.
This sentiment has echoed throughout the history of Christianity. John Newton, toward the end of his life, said, "Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior." Martin Luther, on his deathbed, concluded, "We are beggars. This is true." D.T. Niles notably stated, "Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread."
Of course, having this mentality sets Christians in stark contrast from the world. Nowadays, one is supposed to think positive, empowering, and uplifting thoughts. If we are to thrive (according to the world), we are to focus on the good and saturate ourselves with inspirational and motivational people. The prescription they give to cure our sinfulness is that we must find anything good we can within ourselves and promote it. In all actuality, they desire for all to reach some level of civility and carry out acts of common virtue towards one another. The problem with this is that they have not dealt a death blow to sin.
The gospel message says quite the opposite of the world. It tells us that we are sinners through and through, incapable of doing anything truly virtuous. We find that even our good actions are not pleasing to God. Sure, they may be beneficial for the good of all, yet they are not pleasing to God because they proceed from a heart that is contrary to him. The gospel proclaims that we have nothing good within that could be drawn out and focused on in order to overcome the bad. It tells us we all carry a banner over our heads which states, "Child of weakness." We truly are beggars.
If asked if this is good for us, the answer is a resounding yes. As Christians, we are called to forsake our pride and embrace humility. We are to think not only of ourselves but of others, for this is the mind of Christ (Phil 2:4-5). To embrace a beggar’s mindset is beneficial for us because it causes us to depend not on ourselves but on Christ. It will not cause us to sink into despair but will cause peace, hope, joy, and a host of good things to permeate our thoughts since our eyes will not be on ourselves, but on Christ in whom all blessing is found (Eph. 1:3).
The church, however, is still prone to adopt the mentality of the world with all its motivational and inspiring quotes. However, if we are to stay the gospel course, such frivolities must be put away. We must not see ourselves as better than we actually are, for such is anti-gospel. Mark Dever explains this in his book The Church: The Gospel Made Visible:
"If a church's teaching depicts people as merely spiritually sick, not spiritually dead, the gospel has been distorted. If congregants are regarded as consumers rightly expectant of a spiritual upgrade, not as rebels before a holy judge, then the gospel has probably been forgotten."
Our understanding of sin is directly related to the gospel. Indeed it is part of the gospel. If the hymn is true (which it most certainly is) that Jesus paid it all, we must conclude that we are in dire need of salvation. If Jesus paid it partially, we would conclude that Jesus is only an addition to our goodness. Therefore, we must hold that we are utterly sinful, and Christ is our total savior.
Christians, then, are those who never trust in themselves but are constantly denying themselves, killing their sin, and trusting wholeheartedly in Christ. The reality of sin permeates their lives, for they now see just how sinful their hearts are, and how desperately they need Christ. For them, if Christ is not fully savior, they perish. Indeed, if he is not fully savior, all perish. Their eyes have been opened to the depth of their sin, and so to trust in themselves is to build their house upon the sand (Matt. 7:24-27).
The question may still be asked, is this necessary? I mean, this sounds like a depressing way to live, why would anyone want to think this way? Again, the answer is found where we find our hope and joy. If we search for hope and joy 'under the sun,' we will put away any notion of our sin and try only to focus on the good in us and others. However, if our joy and hope lie in God, we must look away from the earthly things towards heavenly things. We will embrace the reality of our sinfulness because we understand the totality of our salvation in Christ. We will not trust in ourselves for anything good, but we will trust in God.
Augustine captured this thought in his Confessions when he was struggling to be content in his present circumstance. He wrote, "And [contentment] smiled on me with a challenging smile as if to say: 'Can you not do what these young men and maidens can? Or can any of them do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand in your own strength, and so stand not? Cast yourself on him; fear not. He will not flinch and you will not fall. Cast yourself on him without fear, for he will receive and heal you.'"
On our own, we are children of weakness. Our strength, indeed, is small. Jesus must pay all our debt. These words we sing are not just a formality, nor are they tradition. It is the gospel. It is our only hope, and it is our only plea before God.