Arguing By Illustration . . . .

debate  Making An Argument!

All of us have probably used a hymn story to illustrate a point, a text, a biblical concept, as a conclusion, for an introduction, or to drive the Big Idea.  There is nothing unusual about this common rhetorical technique of hymnody illustration.  And there is nothing unusual about the hymn which Alistair Begg chooses to use.  Many have called-up the same hymn and have shared the story behind it – usually to speak about going through a time of trial and finding the peace of God.

Begg is instructive in that he does what we may too often do not do.  I am not sure I have ever heard anyone use this hymn in the way he did, and with the content he selected.  What is instructive in Begg’s use of this well-known hymn is two-fold . . . .

  1. in what he calls-up /selects from the hymn
  2. how he argues from what he selects

Here is Alistair Beggs Clip from a message titled “True Forgiveness” . . . .


Link to clip –  (@ 16:50 – Of Full Message on True Forgiveness)


Luther did not have a personal assurance – did not have the personal joy of knowing that his sins were forgiven.


And he owed that discovery – humanly speaking – to his mentor – Johann von Staupitz – whom you will remember from your history books.


And Staupitz said to him – “Hey Martin – when Christ died for sins on the cross, He didn’t just die for Saul of Tarsus’ sins and He didn’t just die for Peter’s sins.  Martin, when Christ died upon the cross He died for your sins.”


And it was in that discovery – that the door of the Reformation swung wide on its hinges.  When Luther realized that he would know God, discover God – meet God – love God Then he discovered that his sins were forgiven and that actually his own stinky rotten little sins were forgiven.


All his thoughts

All his animosity

All his anger

All his spite

All of his stuff




That is why the best of hymns take us there – still a mystery to me – that the hymn that we most associate with the death of the man’s daughters – “When peace like a river attendeth my way and sorrows like sea billows roll” – It is still immense to me – that if it is true that he wrote that thing – on the boat – at the point – where his daughters drowned – that his second verse is the second verse – because what’s the second verse? – “my sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought – what are you coming up with this for – your daughters just drowned – there is only you and your wife left.


I know – he said – this is the great thing – “my sin” – “oh the bliss of this glorious though my sin – not in part – but the whole shooting match “is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more.”


And how he rejoiced in the fact that when Moody – the man were mentioning this morning – had preached in Chicago – before his lovely daughters got on board that vessel – he had called for men and women to accept God’s offer of forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ  – He had said to them in his characteristic emphasis . . . .


God’s gift does not become yours until you accept it.

God will not believe for you.

You must receive this gift.

You must receive this forgiveness.


And apparently Spafford’s daughters – each one of them – on that evening — trusted in Christ.
Do you realize – my friends and – family – that God’s forgiveness of our sins is absolute – it’s absolute.  He doesn’t forgive in degrees.  He doesn’t forgive you a wee-bit – I’ll forgive for last month, and we’ll see how we do – and then maybe I’ll forgive you for next month – and so on.   But His forgiveness is absolute.



#1) Alistair Begg is choosing to use the second stanza of the hymn.  I thought as I heard him do that, “How many other ‘second stanzas’ have we failed to consider?”  It is the use of the second stanza which adds change, variety, and greater impact – especially if the audience is expecting the typical!


#2) Alistair Begg is making an argument from the words of that second stanza.  His argument is this —

• How does a man who has just experienced such loss come to write these words?

• How does such a man think about “his sin?”

• How does a man who has lost all but his wife call up his sin and its forgiveness?

• Who thinks these thoughts when all is lost? – sin’s total forgiveness

• How does a man, who has just lost his two daughters  – by drowning due to an ocean collision of ships – now on a ship (to meet his wife, who survived, in France) and now a the point/place where the ship went down – come to write these words?


The answer and the argument are that there was more than the first stanza – It is well with my soul.  There was a reason it was well with his soul.  That reason was sins forgiven – all forgiven – and his two daughters knew that personal experience, as did Luther.


Alistair is not only calling-up a stanza which is non-typical but is . . .

– making an argument

– driving a point

– pushing that hymn’s truth

– establishing a reason

– point to the evidence as to why “It is well with my soul”

– pushing the emotional reality of his peace

. . . . from that particular stanza selection.



Please Also Note:  There are also some other insights worth noting as to what Begg is also accomplishing in his method of presentation.

√ Notice how he effectively calls attention to the point he is going to make by making these statements!  He holds the audience off from phrase to phrase, until he reveals his point!

  • still a mystery to me
  • It is still immense to me
  • that his second verse  – is the second verse
  • because what’s the second verse?
  • what are you coming up with this for?
  • I know (he said) this is the great thing – “my sin” . . . .


√ As he speaks about the experience of Luther, he is also telling his audience that there is joy and there is assurance which comes with forgiveness.


√ As he relates the words of Staupitz to Martin – he is also indicating to those listening

that He died for their sins

and that they could also know – discover – meet – and love God.

and that their sinful thoughts – animosity – anger – spite – stuff could be forgiven


√ As he relates the words of Moody on the night before the death of Spafford’s daughters, he is also telling those who are listening that . . . .

God’s gift does not become yours until you accept it.

God will not believe for you.

You must receive this gift.

You must receive this forgiveness.





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