Malan is justly recognized as one of the greatest of the French hymn writers. Like Isaac Watts in England he in France made hymn singing a popular addition to church worship. Like John and Charles Wesley in England, in France his hymns were the result of religious fervour in the revival of evangelical truth. He is reputed to have written over one thousand hymns. The writing of those hymns covered a period of over forty years.
Julian, the hymnologist referred to his hymns as follows:
"The spirit of Malan's hymns is perpetuated in the analysis of christian experience, the never-wearied delineation of the hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows of the believer's soul, which are still the staple of French Protestant hymns". French criticism has pronounced his hymns unequal and full of literary defects; but their unaffected freshness and fervent sincerity are universally allowed. He set his hymns to his own melodies.
Only one of his hymns is included in 'Spiritual Songs', no. 68 —
Thou, Lamb of God, didst shed Thy blood
Thou didst our load of misery bear,
And hast exalted us to share
The rank of kings and priests to God.
To Thee we render evermore
The honour, glory, praise that's due:
Might, power and glad obedience too
And in our hearts we Thee adore.
Amen! Amen! O Lord, Amen!
Malan was an earnest seeker for souls and led many to the Lord. Julian relates that Malan visited an old man who drew from under his pillow a copy of Malan's hymn-book, "Chants De Sion, 1841". The old man told him how he had prayed to see the author of it before he died, so his prayer was answered.
Cesar Malan belonged to a family whose forebears suffered much through persecution. Some died because of their faithfulness to the truth. The young Cesar was brought up in Geneva where Unitarianism reigned and he was affected by this teaching. In his early life apparently his mother instilled into him the belief in the Deity of the Son of God. Malan's remarks about his theological training are very pointed. "Were I to go back to my recollections of theological teaching, I should fail to find a single instance in which instruction was given me on the divinity of our Saviour, man's fallen nature or the doctrine of justification by faith". Ordained to the christian ministry at the age of twenty-three, it was six years before the knowledge of salvation came to him. He was reproved by a godly minister because of a sermon he preached. It was obvious to the godly clergyman that Malan was unconverted and he told him that he would need to get saved himself before attempting to reach others. In 1816 the Lord blessed him through the reading of Romans 6:10 and Ephesians 2:8. He was able to repeat with joy and assurance, "I am saved! I am saved!"
After his conversion he became an ardent evangelist. His preaching provoked animosity towards him and eventually he was expelled from the church in which he served. This did not hinder him in his service for his Lord. In his own garden he built a chapel in which he preached for 43 years. Many were blessed through his godly efforts.
The Scottish evangelist Robert Haldane was influential in helping Malan in deepening his spiritual life. D'Aubigne, the famous author of the History of the Reformation, was one of his friends, and C.H. Spurgeon knew him and was grateful to Malan for welcoming him to Geneva in 1860. Another friend was the Earl of Roden, whose home was in what is now called Tolleymore Park, County Down, Northern Ireland. He wrote to Malan and said, "Day after day, brother, in family worship and in private prayer, I offer my humble but earnest intercession for you and your work".
The story is often told how Charlotte Elliott told Malan that she did not know how to come to Christ. He told her to came just as she was, and not long afterwards she found peace and rest in Christ. This incident in her life was used by the Lord to inspire her to write her famous hymn, "Just as I am without one plea". The actual writing of the hymn was when she was ill in bed. Julian writes that Malan had a great influence in Charlotte Elliott's spiritual life.
Malan was a man of God and will be remembered for his faithfulness to His Lord, his energy in the Gospel, and the depth of his convictions.
It is not death to die
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.
It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake in glorious repose
To spend eternal years.
It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.
It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust,
And rise in strong exulting wing
To live among the just.
Jesus, Thou Prince of Life!
Thy chosen cannot die;
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife,
To reign with Thee on high.
Trans. by G.W. Bethune.