What does sweetest frame mean?

What does sweetest frame mean? February 22, 2024

The old meaning of “frame” is a state of mind or emotions, the internal experience of our heart. It can be good or bad, sweet or unpleasant.

What does the hymn mean by this:

“I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus name”

This phrase is found in the old hymn My hope is build on nothing less and is also used in the modern Cornerstone–  by Hillsong. It is an archaic word that most people today would not understand without explanation, but simply saying “frame of mind” would make it understandable to most.

The hymn was also quoted in a Spurgeon reflection I shared recently “It’s not your faith that saves you.

The following two quotes from older writers demonstrate that the hymn writer was talking about our frame of mind or emotions.

The writer is saying that no matter how sweet an experience of God is, no matter how happy your encounter makes you feel, do not trust it.  For as Spurgeon explained we must not trust anything that happens within our own hearts.


It is important for us to be aware of these experiences but we shouldn’t rely on them.

Of course the flip side of this is that if you have NOT had much of an experience of God if your feelings have not been greatly stirred, you can still have confidence in Jesus and his hold on you to save you!

One of the other verses speak of those times when darkness seems to hide the face of God, that would be a bad frame of mind brought about by bad experiences, but again that does not change the love of God for us!

These words offer some help to those who are suffering with mental health challenges. We may well still need professional help, but even when we are feeling low we can still trust in Jesus.

AW Tozer explains

“A Christian brother will say to me in private: “Brother Tozer, I believe I am a Spirit-filled man. My all is on the altar as far as I know. But I need advice and help about my weakness—I don’t always have the same degree of feeling and spirituality. Sometimes I am up and sometimes I am down! What can I do about it?”

I am forced to reply in frankness: “I wish you could tell me because I do not know the answer! I do not know of any truly honest Christian that can get up and say, ‘I live at a consistently high level! I fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet all the way!’ “

. . .I mean to say that we are men and women who are to live according to the high logic of spiritual truth, not according to our feelings and moods.

Some of the old fathers in the faith talked about a frame—they would put an entry in their diary: “Was of a very happy frame this morning.” Perhaps later there was an entry: “Was of a very low frame this morning. Felt very depressed.” Nothing has changed except their “frame.” We say it a little differently, for we say “frame of mind.” The song writer was actually saying: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame of mind, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name!

. . . some would not want me to put it like that; they would call it a very unspiritual doctrine. “You have got to be blessed all the time,” they say. Happy, happy, happy! But if they would just quit fibbing and tell the truth, they would admit that there are days when they are not as “happy, happy” as they were the day before. The great remedy for us all is to remember the abundant mercy of God, read God’s Word and pray, sing a song and take the means of grace and we will find ourselves satisfied in the Lord, as we ought to be!”

Tozer, A. W. (1991). I Call It Heresy!: And Other Timely Topics From First Peter (pp. 48–50). WingSpread.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains this further in his excellent book on Ephesians 6

“There are many Christians who, because they have not put on the breastplate of righteousness, are very unhappy; the devil has ‘got’ them, and has defeated them simply because they have never known exactly what it means to put on this breastplate.

I am referring, primarily, to moods and variations in our feelings and sensibilities. We must all have discovered long since that feelings come and go; and the devil, of course, is well aware of that. So his special strategy at this point is to try to make us rely unduly upon our feelings and sensations and sensibilities. He persuades many people to base the whole of their Christian position upon them. They had some wonderful feelings on a certain occasion and they have based everything upon that experience . . . Then, for some reason or another, their feelings seem to desert them. They are aware of a dryness and a coldness; they do not feel any longer what they used to feel; and their whole position is shaken. The devil suggests to them that they are not Christians at all, that they have never been Christians . . .

The danger arises because feelings are a part, indeed a vital and essential part, of the true Christian experience . . .
A man who has a real knowledge of the truth we have been describing is a man who is deeply moved by it. It must be so. You cannot truly realize the presence of God and remain unmoved . . .

Now it is just here that the breastplate of righteousness is all-important; indeed at this point it is the only adequate protection. The saintly man who wrote in his hymn ‘I dare not trust the sweetest frame’, did so because he knew how fallible these ‘frames’ are, as they used to be called.

It is quite a good term. We talk about ‘a frame of mind’. Well, you can have a ‘frame’ of feeling and of emotion, of the affections, in exactly the same way.

. . . I am thinking, rather, of people who . . . are very much concerned about their feelings; and their danger is to put their feelings in the foremost place and to rely upon them. And so they often find themselves like poor William Cowper crying out in agony, ‘Where is the blessedness I knew, when first I saw the Lord?’ It has gone.

This is a very common condition. Every pastor, every physician of souls, will have met this with greater frequency than perhaps anything else. People complain ‘I cannot feel anything any longer; I used to, but I cannot now’. They are dejected and downcast, and querying whether they are Christians at all. The answer to all that is, ‘Put on the breastplate of righteousness’. It is the only answer. So let me complete the quotation from the hymn:

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name;
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Your highest frames, your best feelings, can be most treacherous, and may desert you at any moment; and then, the thing on which you were leaning entirely having vanished, you wonder whether you are a Christian at all. The only remedy is ‘the breastplate of righteousness’. While we are to enjoy feelings, they are to be subservient to, and the outcome of, our standing on the basis of justification by faith only. It is ‘the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith’ that saves me, not any feelings we may have with respect to it.

. . . The true Christian is the man defined in Romans 6:17: ‘But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed [by the will] from the heart [affections, emotions] that form of doctrine which was delivered you’ [to your mind]. There you have the intellect, the heart, and the will; and they must all be engaged, and in that order.”

Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1977). The Christian Soldier: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10–20. (pp. 234–237). Banner of Truth Trust.


Read More

Experiencing the risen Christ a free chapter from my book

Baxter: “Preacher, Mind Your Frame!”

Bunyan: Our Sin + The Saviour = The Sweetest Frame

Slow Down to Meet God

Jesus Commands: Receive the Spirit

Spurgeon: “Faith Doesn’t Save You”

Hope in Suffering

Can a Christian get depressed?


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