"SUCH A WORM AS I"
By Wayne S. Walker
"But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people" (Psalm 22:6). Using language similar to the Psalmist, Isaac Watts wrote a well-known hymn of which the first stanza goes:
"Alas, and did my Savior bleed, And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?"
However, at least four hymnbooks in common usage among churches of Christ (Songs of the Church, Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., Songs of Faith and Praise, all edited by Alton H. Howard, and Hymns for Worship edited by Dane K. Shepard and R. J. Stevens) all follow what has apparently become a common practice in denominational hymnbooks and changed the last line to "For such a one as I."
William J. Reynolds, a Baptist hymnologist, defends the change in his book Hymns of Our Faith, saying, "Deleting the word ‘worm’ involves a literary expression and in no way implies any theological compromise." Well, I am not so sure. Steven Clark Goad made a good point when he wrote, "Why do we use antiseptic on our hymns and seek to sterilize our songs? Are we allowing a second cousin of political correctness to invade our thinking and our hymnals? Are we no longer…worms? Dare we admit that once upon a sinful time we were all but mere…worms without a snail’s chance in a salt mine of making anything of our lives apart from the Master? I don’t know about anyone else, but being reminded of what I was before Jesus came into my life helps me to enjoy the sense of His presence all the more." Well put!
The fact is that when we compare ourselves to God, we are forced to the conclusion that we are as worms (Job 25:6). The reason for this is that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Yet, in spite of our sins, God still loves us (John 3:16). To me that it would be better for songbook editors to leave their hands off great spiritual classics like this. Such changes actually seem to illustrate the very kind of pride condemned in the song. Ernest K. Emurian, in Living Stories of Famous Hymns, wrote, "While this generation substituted ‘sinners such as I’ for the original, confident that we are not worms, it is will to remember that a worm is the only thing in God’s world that can change into a butterfly." Good thought!