For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
When Presbyterian pastor J. Wilbur Chapman wanted to introduce his stodgy congregation to new hymns written to stir Christians to missionary effort, his Consistory refused to allow it. Distraught, the young minister sought the advice of famed evangelist D.L. Moody, who told him to “print one or two Gospel Hymns on cards and slip them into pews; then have your choir or soloist sing one of them.” The result brought even the most vehemently opposed elder to tears, and the congregation adopted new hymnals—and a new evangelistic fervor—at once. It was the start of one of the most successful evangelistic campaigns in American history.
After Moody encouraged him to enter into full-time traveling evangelism, Chapman pioneered a new method of urban ministry, with several teams of evangelists and song leaders pairing up to hold several meetings simultaneously around the city. Chapman teamed up with world famous song leader Charles Alexander to lead the central event, with protegés—among whom was a young Billy Sunday—leading the other meetings.
Moody was right: introducing new gospel hymns through a song leader or choir proved a great way to inspire large crowds to reflect on the gospel. The preaching was central, but the lyrics of the hymns were often what stuck with those who came to these evangelistic meetings. Whenever one saw a great evangelist in the 19th and 20th centuries, a great song leader was sure to be near. Moody had Ira Sankey. Billy Sunday had Homer Rodeheaver. Billy Graham had George Beverly Shea.
Before J. Wilbur Chapman had Charles Alexander, he traveled with a young musician named Charles Marsh. It was to Marsh that Chapman handed the text of some poems he had written shortly after the death of his second wife (his first having died shortly after giving birth to their first child), to be set to music. This is the tune which, until recently, was most commonly associated with this hymn.
Here is a recording of the Dallas Christian Adult Concert Choir singing “One Day” with Marsh’s original melody:
Today, you are much more likely to hear this new version by Casting Crowns, which includes a few lines of new text at the end of each stanza:
One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my Example is He!
Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—O glorious day!
One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed Him to die on the tree;
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected:
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He!
One day the grave could conceal Him no longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door;
Then He arose, over death He had conquered;
Now is ascended, my Lord evermore!
One day the trumpet will sound for His coming,
One day the skies with His glories will shine;
Wonderful day, my belovèd one’s bringing;
Glorious Savior, this Jesus is mine!
It is no surprise that a hymn written during a period of mourning the death of a loved one should be filled with thoughts of the glorious blessings we have in Christ, and of the “One Day” when He will return for us! Because of this eager expectation in the lyrics, this hymn actually fits quite well during Advent, though it may not be one typically associated with this season.
As in most hymns written in verse/chorus form, the chorus conveys the lyrical content which the author most wants us to remember. In this instance, the hymn’s refrain simultaneously tells two of the most important stories from Scripture. One is the timeline of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. The other is the order of salvation, in which Christ first loves us, then removes our sin, declares us righteous, and keeps us until our glorification at his second coming.
Each of the four stanzas expands upon one phrase from the refrain. The first verse describes the great love which Christ showed for us when, though he was rich, he became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9), leaving the ceaseless praise of heaven (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8) and emptying himself to take the humble form of a man (Ephesians 2:7). Sin was indeed “as black as could be,” but whereas the people once walked in darkness (Isaiah 9:2), we can now rejoice, for unto us a child is born (Isaiah 9:6)! The Word became flesh, and dwelt among men (John 1:14), setting an example so that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
God showed his love for us not just by becoming one of us, but by dying for us (Romans 5:8). Thus he completed the mission for which he came to earth: revealing the glory of God in the salvation of lost sinners. And how did he accomplish this? By bearing our sins on the tree, healing us by his wounds (1 Peter 2:24). He bore those sins to the grave, carrying them far enough away—as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)—that our guilt can never be returned to us.
In his resurrection, Christ showed his power over sin and its consequences. He has ascended to the right hand of God, where he intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Because Christ the Righteous is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), we are credited with the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). This justification is given freely, and forever.
Though we are beneficiaries already of this great salvation, the best is yet to come! One day, the trumpet will sound (1 Corinthians 15:52), announcing the return of the King. When that wonderful day comes, we will be changed in an instant, and will be glorified as Christ is glorified (Romans 8:17). Death, pain, and sadness will be no more (Revelation 21:4), and we will be in the presence of the Lord forever. O glorious day!