Not What These Hands Have Done

Representative Text

1 Not what these hands have done
can save this guilty soul;
not what this 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.

2 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 the dark unrest,
and set my spirit free.

3 Thy grace alone, O God,
to me can pardon speak;
Thy pow'r alone, O Son of God,
can this sore bondage break.
I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
and with unfalt'ring lip and heart,
I call this Savior mine.

Source: Psalms and Hymns to the Living God #325

Author: Horatius Bonar

Horatius Bonar was born at Edinburgh, in 1808. His education was obtained at the High School, and the University of his native city. He was ordained to the ministry, in 1837, and since then has been pastor at Kelso. In 1843, he joined the Free Church of Scotland. His reputation as a religious writer was first gained on the publication of the "Kelso Tracts," of which he was the author. He has also written many other prose works, some of which have had a very large circulation. Nor is he less favorably known as a religious poet and hymn-writer. The three series of "Hymns of Faith and Hope," have passed through several editions. --Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A. 1872… Go to person page >


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)! Bonar was a staunch Calvinist; in writing this hymn he stood resolutely behind John Calvin in the Calvin-Arminius controversy (see the introduction to the Canons of Dort in the Psalter Hymnal for a brief explanation about Calvin's and Arminius's teachings).

Bonar was educated at the University of Edinburgh. At the age of thirty he became a preacher in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a church that underwent a schism "the Disruption"– in 1843. A major question in the controversy was whether a minister could be forced on a congregation by an aristocratic sponsor. Many church leaders and the government agreed that he could, but one-third of the ministers, including Bonar, disagreed, and in 1843 this group formed the Free Church of Scotland. Bonar was a prolific, popular author of tracts, sermons, and hymns (even though his congregation sang exclusively psalms during much of his life). One of Bonar's great interests was biblical prophecy and the return of Christ, an interest reflected in some of his hymns. He published several hundred hymns in collections such as The Bible Hymn Book (1845), Hymns of Faith and Hope (1857,1861), and Hymns of the Nativity (1879). Many were written casually, illustrating very little interest in poetic finesse, but a few have had staying power and are still found in many modern hymnals.

Liturgical Use:
Service of confession and forgiveness-either sing all three stanzas without interruption (since the hymn basically moves through confession/forgiveness/response) or intersperse spoken words between the stanzas.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook


Not what these hands have done. H. Bonar. [Salvation through Christ alone.] Published in his Hymns of Faith and Hope, 2nd Ser., 1861, in 12 stanzas of 4 lines. In its full form it is not in common use; but the following centos are in several hymnals in Great Britain and America:—
1. Not what these hands have done. In the Congregational Church Hymnal, 1887, and others.
2. Not what I feel or do. Beginning with stanza ii. in the American Baptist Hymn and Tune Book, Philadelphia, 1871, &c.
3. I bless the Christ of God. Opening with stanza vii. This is the most popular of the centos, and is given in a great number of hymnbooks in Great Britain and America.
4. I praise the God of grace. This begins with stanza ix., and is in several collections.
Through these various forms this hymn is in extensive use.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)



George William Martin (b. London, England, 1825; d. London, 1881) composed LEOMINSTER, named for a town in the county of Hereford and Worcester (formerly Herefordshire), England. The tune was first published in The Journal of Part Music (vol. 2, 1862), in which it was titled THE PILGRIM'S SONG. Mart…

Go to tune page >

ST. ANDREW (Barnby)



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