I wonder how many times in my life I have sung “I dare not trust the sweetest frame.” Hundreds, I’m sure.
But what on earth is “the sweetest frame?”
I encountered several opinions online. The word frame has multiple definitions, including a body, a structure that gives security, or a frame of mind.
One writer noted that a modern version of the song has changed the line to “no merit of my own I claim.”
A reader from South Carolina emailed these thoughts after last week’s introductory post.
Is the Sweetest frame maybe I – myself? I love and understand and protect myself because it is me and selfishly, a sweet comfortable place I feel most comfortable in being.
I place a lot of trust in my FRAME “he knows our frame” . . .
Here is the best definition I found for frame:
- ARCHAIC the structure, constitution, or nature of someone or something…”we have in our inward frame various affections”
And perhaps the best way to understand Mote’s definition is the simplest: looking at the context. Maybe the reason I accepted the phrase at face value my whole life is that the author’s meaning comes out quite clearly in the company of the surrounding words of commitment and trust.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.-Edward Mote
Edward Mote wanted to trust Jesus alone, not a “sweet frame.”
From the context, I conclude that Mote meant he dared not trust anything that claims to be fully satisfying and all-powerful outside of his Savior. It might be himself, or another person, or aspects of life around him. It might even be a good feeling about life.
Perhaps for Ed Mote, this “thing” was his cabinet shop. “Dare not trust the sweetest frame” for him might have meant the temptation to believe that if he made a lot of money, his life would be secure.
Or maybe, the cabinet shop provided him with a reputation that he felt he trusted too much. “I can’t give up my shop. People respect me because I’m the street urchin who made a good use with his life.” Interestingly, the record reads that he did leave the shop in later life to become a pastor.
Perhaps it was his health and ways to attempt controlling it. If I drink this physic every morning, I won’t get sick. If I can just keep from a serious illness, everything will be fine.
In short, it seems likely that Edward Mote was tempted to trust some of the same sweet frames we are tempted to trust today: money, reputation, and health.
As a younger person, I viewed trusting God backwards. I wanted more than anything to escape from difficulty. I thought (even if it was subconscious) that if I trusted God I would surely be relieved from my current stress and have health, a good name, and a comfortable life. From the advanced age of 40, it seems possible that trust is learned best in the context of illness or poverty or reproach from others. If life is Facebook-fantastic and we have abundant health, praise, and money, how would we ever learn to trust?
I’ve started to hesitate in my prayers and think about rewording them. Yes, I want Anina to get past her swallowing problem. It would be nice to have the house remodeled perfectly. I do want people to like me.
But I wonder if God’s best work in me isn’t in the situations that make me uncomfortable. When I dig below the discomfort, I find in myself uncertainty and helplessness. Along with that, I detect the grotesque desire to be in control of my life, to have things work out the way I imagined they would, even to have things better than other people.
And then I think, how did I miss this before? And it’s as if God is telling me, “I’m addressing it right now. That’s why you have to go through this. Learning to trust me through this is the magic. Being delivered out of it would be easy and would not help you.”
Let me dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Next week I’ll have a look at the phrase that got me started thinking about this song: “when all around my soul gives way.”
I’ll continue to include the virtual choir version of The Solid Rock for those who missed it or who, like me, just want to hear it again.