Music for Lent: Not What My Hands Have Done

Today I’m posting a very powerful song, which though it’s an old hymn, is new to me.  I just discovered this last week, but it is quickly becoming a favorite, and these are words I need to keep listening to and remembering this Lent.  The version I’ve posted is an adaptation of a hymn originally written by Horatius Bonar in 1861.  How I love that so many musicians and churches are breathing life into wonderful old hymns for a new generation!

This version is by Brian Moss, from the 2006 album Not What My Hands Have Done, available at iTunes.

Here are the lyrics:

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.

I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
’Tis He who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.


Some interesting background to the hymn can be found here.  Here’s an excerpt:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Tit. 3:5
st. 2 = Eph. 1:7, Eph. 2:8-9, Heb. 9:11-12
st. 3 = John 14:19, 1 John 4:10,

The famous Scottish preacher and hymn author Horatius Bonar (b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1808; d. Edinburgh, 1889) wrote this text in twelve four-line stanzas, each beginning with the line “Not what these hands have done.” He first published the text in his Hymns of Faith and Hope (2nd series, 1861). The Psalter Hymnal collates the most popular stanzas and includes minor textual changes.

Bonar subtitled the text “Salvation through Christ alone,” and that is surely its theme: my salvation is entirely due to the grace of God, my own works have no merit at all, and nothing but the blood of Christ will do (st. 1-2); my natural response, then, is praise, for “my Lord has saved my life” (st. 3)!

=> The original full twelve stanza version of the hymn may be found here.  (Hymn 175)


Worship leader Aaron Keyes also has an excellent worship song based on this hymn, however it’s a much looser adaptation, not following the original lyrics as closely as the version posted above.

This is from Aaron Keye’s great 2010 album Not Guilty Anymore, which I highly recommend.


For a traditional arrangement of this hymn, you can find it on the album “What a Friend We Have in Jesus, 50 Acappella Hymns” by the London Fox Singers.

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