Posted by: rcottrill | October 1, 2014

Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: Henry Alford (b. Oct. 7, 1810; d. Jan. 12, 1871)
Music: Alford, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Early printings of this hymn have only the first three stanzas. Alford added the final several years later. The stirring tune Alford was written especially for this hymn, in 1875.

T his is a gloriously triumphant hymn, taking its content mainly from the book of Revelation. The images are so clearly drawn that it stirs the blood to read the words, let alone sing them with Dykes’s rousing tune. Albert Bailey’s criticism, in his book The Gospel in Hymns (p. 393), is both unfounded and uncalled for. He states that Dean Alford’s glorious picture is “all based upon Christian mythology.” He continues, writing in 1950:

“Our concepts of God, of Jesus, of salvation, of the universe shot through with gamma rays, cosmic rays and radio activity, have so changed within the last hundred years that modern man can find no place for such a heaven.”

Really? Then we must fault “modern man,” not the Bible. To dismiss the facts about heaven recorded in God’s Word as mere “mythology” is folly in the extreme. Granted that there are some visionary images in the book of Revelation, but we must avoid dismissing all the book as such. Consistent literal interpretation allows for figurative language, but we are not free to turn into symbols whatever we like.

The Reformation, and all the great revivals in history were rooted in the literal interpretation of God’s Word. In the classic definition of the term, we interpret the Scriptures literally by giving to each word its plain, natural sense, the same meaning it would have in normal use, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking. In other words, the language of the Bible works the way God designed all language to work.

Henry Alford, an eminent New Testament scholar, certainly understood Christ’s return and heaven that way. He died expecting that he would join the thronging saints on resurrection day. His wonderful hymn was sung at his memorial service and, according to his instructions, his grave marker was inscribed (in Latin) with the words, “The inn of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem.”

To deny the concrete reality of heaven is to reject the words of Jesus who told His followers, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2)–a place, not a state of mind. And to deny the concrete reality of heaven is to deny the full nature of man, “spirit, soul, and body” (I Thess. 5:23). Man has an immaterial part of his nature, but he also has a material part. God created us to exist in time and space. We won’t simply be incorporeal spirits, wandering in some blissful nothingness.

Let us turn from the unbelief of “modern man” to enjoy the thrilling picture Dr. Alford paints for us.

CH-1) Ten thousand times ten thousand in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light;
’Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.

The “ten thousand times ten thousand” comes from Revelation 5:11, the robes of the saints are mentioned several times in the book (Rev. 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:7-8). The gates of the heavenly city are described in Revelation 21:12-13, 15, 21, 25; 22:14). Though they are said to be gates of pearl, rather than gold, we know that the heavenly city is a city of gold (Rev. 21:18, 21), and a city of glorious light (Rev. 21:11, 23-24; 22:5). The idea of throwing open of the gates to admit this triumphal procession may be taken from Psalm 24:7-10).

CH-2) What rush of alleluias fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation and all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes a thousandfold repaid!

“Alleluia” is a cry we’ll no doubt hear many times (Rev. 19:1, 3, 4, 6). That is the Greek form of the Hebrew word hallelujah, a compound word meaning hallel (praise) + Jah or Yah (a contraction of Jehovah, or Lord). So, “Praise the Lord!” The “harps” of heaven are mentioned a number of times (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2). The Greek word for harp, kithara, gives us our English word guitar. This triumph of the saints, exalting our glorious King, is what history has been heading for all along.

CH-3) O then what raptured greetings on Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle, that brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.

When the Lord returns with His saints (I Thess. 4:14), to catch away His bride, the church (vs. 16-17), we will have a grand reunion with those who have gone on before us. There are so many that I’m looking forward to meeting–and the older I get, the more reunions there are to contemplate!

CH-4) Bring near Thy great salvation, Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of Thine elect, then take Thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations, Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heaven Thy promised sign; Thou Prince and Saviour, come.

Dr. Alford ends with a great prayer which actually has its roots in what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), as it will when Christ comes to reign.

He is “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), and the frequent use of that title in Revelation surely indicates that Christ is the central figure in the heavenly kingdom (Rev. 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1,3). Christ is also the “Desire of nations” (Hag. 2:7), the “Prince” of peace (Isa. 9:6-7) and the “Saviour,” a title used of Him many times (e.g. Lk. 2:11; Acts 5:31; Phil. 3:20; Tit. 2:13; I Jn. 4:14).

Questions:
1) What is the most thrilling thing to you, mentioned in Dr. Alford’s hymn?

2) What other hymns about heaven have been a special blessing to you>

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 29, 2014

We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: African American Spiritual, author unknown
Music: Jacob’s Ladder, unknown origin

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This folk song has become a standard, and has been recorded by secular artists who make no pretense of Christian faith. Many who sing it likely have no idea of its meaning or its origin. Even so, I was rather surprised to see hymn historian Kenneth Osbeck refer to it as a “delightful children’s song” (Amazing Grace, p. 97, italics mine)! Really? It may be called a number of things, but it’s certainly not that.

The song grew out of the American slave culture of about two centuries ago. Songs with the “ladder” motif have been traced back as far as 1824. It pictures an upward struggle to reach a better place and a better life.

No specific creator of either the words or the tune is known. Since songs were passed on orally, and not written down, it’s not surprising that many variations developed. Researcher John Wesley Work, in his book Folk Song of American Negro Spirituals (1915), comments humorously on the free-wheeling style of the black singer:

“He can run up and down the scale, make side trips and go off on furloughs, all in time and in such perfectly dazzling ways as to bewilder the uninitiated.”

The origin of the imagery in the present song is found in the book of Genesis. There we are told how scheming Jacob cheated his brother Esau, not once but twice! When Esau spoke of murdering Jacob (Gen. 27:41), the latter fled, planning to live for a time with his uncle Laban. All alone in the wilderness, he lay down to sleep with a stone for his pillow. And in the night God gave him a dream to encourage him.

“He dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: ‘I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you’” (Gen. 28:12-15).

In passing, let’s take note that Sarah Flower Adams also made use of this story (in much more detail) in her 1841 hymn Nearer, My God, to Thee. The nearness, and loving care of God in the wilderness of this world, is both a truth to be gleaned from the passage, and a theme of the two songs. It is also, applied in an extended allegory, John Bunyan’s classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678).

The providence of God is visualized by the ladder in the dream that connects earth and heaven. It shows also that there is constant correspondence between the two. Providence works in the circumstances of our lives gradually, and by steps. God, in His wisdom, is above, directing all that happens, bringing the blessing of His people, and His greater glory, a work in which the angels carry out His bidding (Heb. 1:14).

Notice the four great promises of vs. 15. In the context they apply to Jacob in his exile. But it is not difficult to support their secondary application to the Christian today.

1) God promises to be present with Jacob, wherever he goes. (This, in contrast to the common belief in ancient times, that the idol gods of the heathen were restricted to a particular territory.) For the Christian, see: Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5-6.

2) God promises to guide and protect him in his pilgrimage. For the Christian, see: Lk. 1:79; Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18.

3) God promises to bring him back again to the Promised Land of Canaan. There is no precise parallel to this for the church, since we have not been assigned an earthly territory. We are, however, called citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and can be assured of the successful completion of our pilgrimage there. For the Christian, see: II Cor. 5:1; II Pet. 1:11; Rev. 3:21.

4) God promises to fulfil His word to Jacob–expressed in the Abrahamic Covenant, restated to both Isaac and Jacob (vs. 13-14), including both blessings for the nation of Israel and, through them, blessings for the whole human family. Similarly, all of God’s promises to us, in Christ, are certain to be fulfilled. For the Christian, see: II Cor. 1:20; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:13-14; Heb. 6:18-19.

CH-1) We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

CH-3) Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
Soldiers of the cross.

CH-4) If you love Him, why not serve Him?
If you love Him, why not serve Him?
If you love Him, why not serve Him?
Soldiers of the cross.

Questions:
1) What do you believe the American slaves got out of the dream of Jacob?

2) What lessons are we to draw from the Genesis passage today?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 26, 2014

Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Holy Will

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: William Tidd Matson (b. Oct. 17, 1833; d. Dec. 23, 1899)
Music: Rimington, by Francis Duckworth (b. Dec. 25, 1862; d. Aug. 16, 1941)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: William Matson, an English clergyman, a significant spiritual transformation in 1853–whether a conversion to Christ, or a spiritual revival. He left the Anglicans, with whom he was associated, and joined the Congregationalists, going on to serve as the pastor of several churches. He wrote a number of books, and many hymns, though few of the latter are still in use.

Historian John Julian classes his hymns “far above the average,” but he also criticizes Matson’s poetry as “somewhat lacking in lyric energy” (Dictionary of Hymnology, p. 719). William Garrett Horder, in The Hymn Lover: An Account of the Rise and Growth of English Hymnody, calls the present song, “a very good hymn of an ethical type, but with a very weak ending” (p. 296). Be that as it may, the hymn is a worthy prayer for each of us who is a follower of Christ. The Cyber Hymnal gives the date of publication as 1866.

The hymn seems to take its inspiration from appeals such as that in Psalm 86:11, which says:

“Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name [i.e. give me an undivided heart, committed to doing Your will].”

CH-1) Teach me, O Lord, Thy holy way,
And give me an obedient mind;
That in Thy service I may find
My soul’s delight from day to day.

CH-2) Guide me, O Saviour, with Thy hand,
And so control my thoughts and deeds,
That I may tread the path which leads
Right onward to the blessèd land.

Teach me (or teach us) is a frequent prayer to the Lord in the Scriptures, particularly in the Psalms. Implied in it is a humble recognition of need, and the faith to believe that God can meet the need, by His grace. Here are a few examples:

¤ Faced with the prophesied birth of a son (Samson) Manoah his father prayed, “Teach us what we shall do for the child who will be born” (Jud. 13:8)–a wonderful prayer for any prospective parents.

¤ Elihu’s suggested prayer in Job 34:22 is, “Teach me what I do not see; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.” This is similar to David’s prayer, that the Lord would show him any sin hidden within (Ps. 139:23-24).

¤ In Psalm 119, a lengthy psalm about the Word of God, the psalmist repeatedly prays that the Lord will “teach me Your statues [Your decrees or ordinances, in other words, God’s Law]” (Ps. 119: 12, 26, 33, 64, 68, 124, 135, 171). Cf. “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe Your commandments” (vs. 66).

¤ “Teach me Your paths….On You I wait all the day” (Ps. 25:4-5). “Teach me Your way” (Ps. 27:11). “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness” (Ps. 143:10).

¤ “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom [i.e. live wisely]” (Ps. 90:12). We need to be aware of how little time we have on earth, and make good use of it, investing what the Lord has given us wisely (cf. Eph. 5:15-17).

¤ “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Lk. 11:1).

Put these together, and you can see the passion of a godly heart, to live to please God, to serve God, and have a life that brings honour and glory to Him. Pastor Matson’s hymn echoes many of the requests in the above prayers. This is one of those hymns that can be read meaningfully, as a simple prayer, in your daily devotions.

CH-3) Help, me, O Saviour, here to trace
The sacred footsteps Thou hast trod;
And, meekly walking with my God,
To grow in goodness, truth and grace.

CH-4) Guard me, O Lord, that I may ne’er
Forsake the right, or do the wrong;
Against temptation make me strong,
And round me spread Thy sheltering care.

CH-5) Bless me in every task, O Lord,
Begun, continued, done for Thee;
Fulfil Thy perfect work in me;
And Thine abounding grace afford.

Questions:
1) Why not try praying this prayer, thinking carefully about what you’re asking for?

2) What, in your own life right now, is the most significant request made in the hymn?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 24, 2014

O Dearest Jesus

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: Johann Heermann (b. Oct. 11, 1585; d. Feb. 17, 1647); English translation by Catherine Winkworth (b. Sept. 13, 1827; d. July 1, 1878)
Music: Herzliebster Jesu (Dearest Heart of Jesus), by Johann Crüger (b. Apr. 9, 1598; d. Feb. 23, 1662)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Johann Heermann)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The translation of this poem quoted in the Wordwise Hymns link is different from what is used here, this one having been done by Catherine Winkworth in 1863. As to the author, it will be helpful for us to consider the comments of eminent hymn historian John Julian, concerning hymn writer Johann Heermann. He says:

“As a hymn writer Heermann ranks with the best of his century, some indeed regarding him as second only to [Paul] Gerhardt….He marks the transition from the objective standpoint of the hymn writers of the Reformation period to the more subjective and experimental [meaning experiential] school that followed him. His hymns are distinguished by depth and tenderness of feeling; but firm faith and confidence in face of trial; by deep love to Christ, and humble submission to the will of God.” (Dictionary of Hymnology, Vol. I, p. 505)

The present hymn illustrates many of these characteristics. It is a strongly emotional expression of wonder at the sufferings of Christ, and a clear explanation of what has brought about those sufferings. It is, in fact, a rich theology lesson!

Because if the length of the hymn (fifteen stanzas in Catherine Winkworth’s translation), and because of the carefully laid out logical argument, all through, it’s difficult to omit any stanzas, and therefore, perhaps, the hymn is less used. It might be possible, though, to plan a whole service around this hymn, treating it as several hymns (e.g. CH-1-4, then 5-7, then 8-11, and finally 12-15), with appropriate Scriptures and brief comments between It’s impossible to deal with the hymn in full here. But it would be worthwhile for you to go to the Cyber Hymnal page and read it in its entirety.

Heermann begins by asking a question:

CH-1) O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken
That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?
Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession–
What dark transgression?

Then comes the shattering answer, it is because of my sin (cf. I Cor. 15:3; I Pet. 2:24):

CH-3) Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish;
Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,
This I do merit.

The substitutionary nature of Christ’s death is recognized. It is also seen as a paradox–those deserving of punishment are delivered, while the holy and sinless One bears the burden (cf. Isa. 53:5-6).

CH-4) What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.

The utter sinfulness of sin is confessed, and its due condemnation (cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18):

CH-6) There was no spot in me by sin untainted;
Sick with sin’s poison, all my heart had fainted;
My heavy guilt to hell had well-nigh brought me,
Such woe it wrought me.

There is a recognition that such a Saviour is worthy of our best, though even that is not enough to honour Him (Rom. 12:1).

CH-10) Yet unrequited, Lord, I would not leave Thee;
I will renounce whate’er doth vex or grieve Thee
And quench with thoughts of Thee and prayers most lowly
All fires unholy.

But even living a godly life escapes the author, as it does us, if we rely on our own strength. We must depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit to form the character of Christ in us (Gal. 5:16, 22-23):

CH-11) But since my strength will nevermore suffice me
To crucify desires that still entice me,
To all good deeds, oh, let Thy Spirit win me
And reign within me!

The hymn writer looks to the future, when in heaven with all the saints, he will give to the Lord unending praise (cf. Rev. 5:13; 19:5-6):

CH-15) And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee.

Questions:
1) What truths expressed in this hymn particularly impress you?

2) Is there any other hymn that deals with such depth and power with the work of salvation?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Johann Heermann)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 22, 2014

Jesus, Hail, Enthroned in Glory

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: John Bakewell (b. _____, 1721; d. Mar. 18, 1819)
Music: Austrian Hymn, by Franz Josef Haydn (b. Mar. 31, 1732; d. May 31, 1809)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Bakewell)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The names Abbey and Munger, associated by the Cyber Hymnal with the words of this hymn, are not those of the authors, but the publishers of a book in which the song was found. The hymn is described by hymn historian John Julian as an abbreviated form of a more familiar hymn by Bakewell, Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus.

The Cyber Hymnal also gives the tune Port-au-Prince from the above book. It is a fine tune, but I also think Austrian Hymn works well (commonly used with Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken). I notice that many old hymnals divide the stanzas in two. If you do that, I would recommend the tune Wycliff, by John Stainer (sometimes used with All for Jesus), or possibly Rathbun (used with In the Cross of Christ I Glory).

The worship of Christ in heavenly glory is the theme of this hymn. His ascension back into heaven is described for us several times.

“After the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19). “It came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Lk. 24:51). “When He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

The way this is worded–carried up, taken up, received–suggests a royal procession or honour guard, and a victorious entrance into the heavenly city. That seems to be prefigured or prophesied by David in Psalm 24.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7-9).

The Bible tells us where Christ is, in heaven, and something of what He is doing there. We learn that He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, on His [the Father’s] throne (Rev. 3:21). There He serves as our great High Priest, Intercessor, and heavenly Advocate (Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 1:3; 7:25; I Jn. 2:1-2). He is also Head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23), to which He assigns gifted men (Eph. 4:10-12), and He is preparing a place for the saints to dwell in eternally (Jn. 14:1-3).

CH-1) Jesus, hail! enthroned in glory,
There forever to abide;
All the heav’nly host adore Thee,
Seated at Thy Father’s side;
There for sinners Thou art pleading,
There Thou dost our place prepare;
Ever for us interceding,
Till in glory we appear.

The three disciples, Peter, James, and John, got a brief glimpse of Christ’s heavenly glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Matthew says “His face shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:2). Later, Paul (then called Saul) met the glorified Christ on the Damascus road and was blinded by the light (Acts 22:6, 11; 26:13). Finally, there was John’s experience, as recorded in the book of Revelation. John says, “His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength (Rev. 1:16). And he later describes the heavenly worship of Christ, “the Lamb.”

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honour and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honour and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:11-13).

CH-2) Worship, honour, power and blessing,
Thou art worthy to receive;
Loudest praises without ceasing,
Meet it is for us to give;
Help ye bright angelic spirits,
Bring your sweetest, noblest lays;
Help to sing our Saviour’s merits,
Help to chant Immanuel’s praise.

Questions:
1) What to you is the most important present ministry of Christ in heaven?

2) What other hymns do you sing that have to do with Christ’s ascension and heavenly glory?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Bakewell)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 19, 2014

Hosanna to the Prince of Light

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: All Saints, by Henry Stephen Cutler (b. Oct. 13, 1825; d. Dec. 5, 1902)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This is a lesser known 1707 offering by Isaac Watts, “the Father of English Hymnody.” In a day when his church sang only the Psalms, he argued that, good as they were, they were incomplete as to what they taught. Christians needed songs that spoke, for example, of the death and resurrection of Christ and its meaning. It is the latter that is the focus of this great hymn, published over three hundred years ago.

The tune All Saints is also used with the hymn The Son of God Goes Forth to War. It treats the hymn as consisting of three eight-line stanzas. The hymn is also sung with tunes appropriate for four-line stanzas. There are a number that might do (in Common Metre, 8.6.8.6), but it should be a one with some lift and life, not a slow meditative melody. Try Azmon, that is commonly used with O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.

Isaac Watts’s hymn is loaded with Scriptural references and allusions. A review of some of these will show just how solidly the song is rooted in the Word of God.

CH-1. “Hosanna is a Hebrew prayer, a cry to the Lord to “Save now!” (cf. Mk. 11:9). And a number of times Christ identified Himself as the Light (“the light of the world,” Jn. 8:12). So the gospel challenge is, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:14). Christ took on our humanity, clothing Himself in the same “clay” from which Adam was formed (Gen. 2:7). He became Man so that He might die to save us.

The reference to “the iron gates of death” likely comes from the words of Jonah, in the belly of the great sea monster. (“The earth with its bars has closed behind me forever,” Jon. 2:6). And Christ, by His omnipotent power “tore the bars away,” rising from the dead (Jn. 10:17-18; Matt. 28:5-7).

“The tyrant’s sting” speaks of the power of Satan to keep men captive to his will, and in fear of death if sin is not dealt with (I Cor, 15:55-57; cf. Heb. 2:14-15). Through His payment for sin, His own resurrection, and the gift of eternal life, Christ has rendered Satan powerless to destroy. “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15).

CH-1) Hosanna to the Prince of light,
That clothed Himself in clay,
Entered the iron gates of death,
And tore the bars away.
Death is no more the king of dread,
Since our Immanuel rose;
He took the tyrant’s sting away,
And spoiled our hellish foes.

CH-2 speaks of Christ’s ascension in triumph. “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (Ps. 24:7-8). And since Christ’s resurrection body still had the scars of His crucifixion (Jn. 20:27), and John in his heavenly vision, saw Christ pictured as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6), I believe Christ will have those “scars of honour in His flesh” for all eternity.

As Head of the church (Eph. 1:22), Christ is the source of many blessings for us (Eph. 4:11-12; Phil. 4:13, 19). The claim that “Jesus fills the middle seat” is a little strange. At His ascension, Christ was seated at the right hand of God the Father (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 10:12). He is actually seated on the Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21), awaiting the day when He will come again to this earth and claim His own, messianic throne, the throne of David (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33).

There is no “middle seat” involved. I suspect that Watts is proposing there is a seat for each Person of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we are never told that. Revelation 4:5 says, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” Commentators differ on the precise meaning, but there is a common belief that this speaks of the sevenfold (perfect) Holy Spirit, or the ministry of the Holy Spirit (cf. Isa. 11:2). In that case He is seen “before the throne.” Perhaps the seventh and eighth lines could be altered to read: “Our Jesus fills an honoured place / On the celestial throne.

CH-2) See how the conqueror mounts aloft,
And to His Father flies,
With scars of honour in His flesh
And triumph in His eyes.
There our exalted Saviour reigns,
And scatters blessings down;
Our Jesus fills the middle seat
Of the celestial throne.

CH-3 is a great call to praise, for what God has accomplished through our crucified, risen, and glorified Saviour, the “incarnate God.”

CH-3) Raise your devotion, mortal tongues,
To reach His blest abode;
Sweet be the accents of your songs
To our incarnate God.
Bright angels, strike your loudest strings,
Your sweetest voices raise;
Let heav’n and all created things
Sound our Immanuel’s praise.

Questions:
1) Is this a hymn you would use, either at a Communion Service, or on Easter Sunday?

2) What are some of the things Christ accomplished for us by His resurrection and ascension?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | September 17, 2014

Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: Joseph Simpson Cook (b. Dec. 4, 1859; d. May 27, 1933)
Music: Tempus Adest Floridum, is the tune for A Spring Carol, music published in 1582.

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Joseph Cook was a Canadian clergyman. He saw there was to be a competition for the best new Christmas poem, sponsored by the Christian Guardian magazine put out by the Methodist Church, in Canada. He wrote and submitted these lines of verse. His poem won, and was subsequently turned into a carol. It was published in 1919. John Mason Neale earlier used the same old tune for his carol Good King Wenceslas.

The Petersen’s Complete Book of Hymns suggests that Pastor Cook wrote his lines out of concern that most carols don’t pay enough attention to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus (p. 217). This does not seem to be his motivation, for a couple of reasons. First, this is not a carol about Mary. She gets two lines, but so do the angels. The shepherds and wise men are also mentioned. But the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned, or alluded to indirectly, in almost every line. The hymn is about Him!

Second, there are many of our carols that give as much attention to Mary as Cook does, or more. What Child Is This? refers to her at least twice (in some versions four times). Hark, the Herald Angels Sing tells us specifically that Christ is the “offspring of the virgin’s womb.” Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming speaks of Mary in the second stanza as “the virgin mother kind,” saying “she bore to men a Saviour.” Then, there are newer carols, after Cook’s time, where she is featured, such as Mary, Did You Know? and Mary’s Boy Child.

This is a carol about Christ, not one focused on Mary. Consider what we learn about Him.

¤ His humble birth (CH-1 and 3). He was born in Bethlehem, and laid in a manger, because there was no room for them (Mary and Joseph) in the local inn (Lk. 2:7).

¤ His sinlessness. CH-1 and 3 declare that He is “undefiled,” a word used in the Scriptures. He is “holy…undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26).

¤ His alien status and rejection. These seem to be hinted at with the repeated use of the word “stranger” (CH-1, 3). “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11).

¤ His saviourhood. This is raised as a question, and answered in CH-2. “Can He be the Saviour?” Ask those who have been saved through faith in Him. In Titus He is called “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13), in Second Peter, “our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).

CH-1) Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled, to the world a stranger:
Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favour.

¤ His glorification by angels. This comes up in CH-2. Whether they actually “sang” or not, a multitude of them praised God for the wonderful birth with these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Lk. 2:14).

¤ His visit from the shepherds. This comes in CH-2 as well. Having received the message from the angels, they “came with haste” to the manger (Lk. 2:16), later glorifying God, and going out to tell others what whey had seen and heard (Lk. 2:20).

¤ His visit from the wise men. This also comes in CH-2. Men who came from far away (likely Persia) and clearly announced that their purpose was to worship Christ (Matt. 2:2).

CH-2) Angels sang about His birth; wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth, glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, all the hills were ringing.

¤ His deity. This is strongly suggested in the final stanza, where He is called the Son of God, and the King of glory. Nathanael, in fact, combines both titles with, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn. 1:49).

There can be no doubt that the Jews considered the title “Son of God” an ascription of deity. It meant to them one having the very nature of God, and some considered Jesus a blasphemer who broke the Law by claiming it for Himself (Lk. 22:70; Jn. 19:7). As to the latter title, David asks, in Psalm 24, “Who is this King of glory?” and he answers that He is, “the Lord strong and mighty,” and “the Lord of hosts” (Ps. 24:8, 10).

CH-3) Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!

Questions:
1) What other Christmas hymns and carols do you know that clearly identify who Jesus is?

2) What is an appropriate place for Mary in our study of the Christmas story and afterward?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 15, 2014

The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: Thomas Kelly (b. July 13, 1769; d. May 14, 1855)
Music: St. Magnus, attributed to Jeremiah Clark (b. _____, 1659; d. Dec. 1, 1707)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The tune was named for St. Magnus Martyr Church, situated near the old London Bridge in that city. It is probably by Jeremiah Clark, the organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral and music-master to Queen Anne.

Thomas Kelly’s great 1820 hymn, in six stanzas, was based largely on a passage in Hebrews, though CH-5 seems to make reference also to II Timothy 2:12, “If we endure [persevere], we shall also reign with Him.” The verses in Hebrews say:

We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:9-10).

Angels are immortal and cannot die. But man, at least in his present sphere, is subject to death. In order to die for our sins, Christ had to fully identify with us, even unto death. “Perfect through sufferings,” of course, cannot mean that Christ was before that morally deficient. He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (I Pet. 2:22; cf. II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26). The statement means that Christ, through His suffering became a perfected, or perfectly adequate “Captain” (Author, Originator) of salvation. By His death, the Lord Jesus be an abundantly sufficient Saviour.

“He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

CH-1) The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty victor’s brow.

CH-2) The highest place that heav’n affords
Belongs to Him by right;
The King of kings and Lord of lords,
And heaven’s eternal Light.

It has been noted that Kelly must have been familiar with the writings of John Bunyan, as his first stanza echoes the latter’s “One Thing Is Needful (published around 1664).” Bunyan wrote:

The head that once was crowned with thorns
Shall now with glory shine;
The heart that broken was with scorns
Shall flow with life divine.

To those who love the Lord, both in heaven above and on earth below, He is a profound source of joy. “Believing, [we] rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8).

CH-3) The joy of all who dwell above,
The joy of all below,
To whom He manifests His love,
And grants His name to know.

CH-4) To them the cross with all its shame,
With all its grace, is given;
Their name an everlasting name,
Their joy the joy of heaven.

Though humanly speaking we would shrink from suffering, yet we understand that it is inevitable for Christians living in a godless world (II Tim. 3:12). “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12).

CH-5) They suffer with their Lord below;
They reign with Him above;
Their profit and their joy to know
The mystery of His love.

CH-6) The cross He bore is life and health,
Though shame and death to Him,
His people’s hope, His people’s wealth,
Their everlasting theme.

Questions:
1) What are some of the contrasts between how Christ was treated on earth, and how He is treated in heaven?

2) What is “the joy of heaven”?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 12, 2014

Thine Be the Glory

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: Edmond Louis Budry (b. Aug. 30, 1854; d. Nov. 12, 1932)
Music: Maccabeus, by George Frederick Handel (b. Feb. 23, 1685; d. Apr. 14, 1759)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Edmund Budry was a Swiss pastor who wrote some hymns. He also translated those in other languages into French. The present hymn was written in 1884, and translated into English in 1923. Handel’s wonderful tune comes from a rousing chorus in his oratorio Judas Maccabeus (“See, the conquering hero comes…”).

Sometimes the hymn title and the first line are given as, “Thine is the glory…” But this doesn’t make sense to me. Since the older form “Thine” is used, rather than “Yours,” to be consistent we should retain the word “be.” (Words such as raiment, and naught, argue for that “be” as well.) Further, there is a difference between “Thine is…” and “Thine be…” Both are appropriate, but they are not the same.

With the first, we are stating that the glory presently belongs to Christ. With the second, we are expressing the desire that glory be ascribed to Him now and eternally. Peter takes the second approach when, at the end of his second epistle, he speaks of “our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (II Pet. 3:18). Attempts to “modernize” the text of our hymns can be misguided and inconsistent.

The resurrection of Christ was a supremely transforming event. Ever since the fall in Eden, a dark cloud of sin had hung over the whole human family.

The Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to the solution, but could not, in itself, fully deal with sin’s condemnation (Heb. 10:4). The death of a sheep or some other animal illustrated the principle that the death of an innocent substitute was required if individuals were to be cleansed and forgiven. God accepted these sacrifices as a temporary covering for sin, however it was only a foreshadowing of the death of Christ, the Lamb of God, yet to come (Rom. 3:23-26).

But even then, His death alone would have been insufficient. A dead saviour is no saviour at all. If Christ is still in the tomb, we are still under condemnation for our sins and the ministry of the gospel is a sham (I Cor. 15:14). But thanks be to God, He is risen and has become the “firstfruits” and forerunner of all the saints, we who will be raised as He was raised (I Cor. 15:20).

As Man, He sacrificed Himself to die for sins; as God, He could not die (Acts 13:32-35). Christ claimed a power we do not have–that He was able both to lay down His life and to take it again (Jn. 10:17-18). His resurrection demonstrates His identity with certainty. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4).

CH-1) Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory, Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes where Thy body lay.

Thine be the glory, risen conqu’ring Son,
Endless is the vict’ry, Thou o’er death hast won.

The many meetings of Christ with His followers, after His resurrection, are compressed in the glorious declaration of CH-2: “Lo! Jesus meets us!” And in the realization of what had happened there is also the assurance that “death hath lost its sting.”

“The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:56-57).

CH-2) Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
Let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

Immediately after the crucifixion, the followers of Christ could well be characterized as fearful, doubting and despondent (Jn. 20:19). Jesus was dead. What now? Had it all been for nothing? But as He presented Himself alive, time and again, with “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3), doubts vanished like a mist at noonday, and His followers were filled with joy.

CH-3) No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee; aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors, through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above.

This great resurrection hymn should be used far more than it is. I encourage you to sing it on Easter Sunday morning, or perhaps as a closing hymn after the Lord’s Supper.

Questions:
1) What is the most important thing accomplished by the resurrection of Christ?

2) What other gospel songs and hymns about the resurrection have been a blessing to you?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 10, 2014

The Day of Resurrection

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Words: John of Damascus (b. _____, 675; d. Dec. 4, circa 749)
Music: Lancashire, by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Neale)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Many times when people refer to an “old hymn” they are speaking of something like The Old Rugged Cross. But that hymn appeared around 1915–less than a century ago. With The Day of Resurrection we have a truly old hymn, written first in Greek, about thirteen centuries ago! In addition to Lancashire, the tune Ellacombe fits the hymn nicely.

As well as being a hymn writer, John of Damascus was a prominent theologian, and late in life he became the bishop of the church in Jerusalem. Neale described him as, “The last but one of the Fathers of the Eastern Church, and the greatest of her poets.” Another of his hymns, also translated by John Mason Neale, is Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain. It too celebrates the resurrection of Christ. The present hymn says:

CH-1) The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.
From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,
Our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory.

The hymn begins by making a connection between what happened to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Jewish feast of Passover. The Bible does the same–in several ways.

The original Passover was instituted when the Israelites were in bondage in the land of Egypt (Exodus chapters 11 and 12). The Pharaoh of that time used them as free labour, as he undertook great building projects. As the treatment of the slaves became more harsh, the people turned to God and cried out for deliverance.

In response, the Lord provided a deliverer in the person of Moses. In a dramatic confrontation with Pharaoh, Moses and his brother Aaron called for the release of the people. Each time Pharaoh dug in his heels and refused, God visited a miraculous plague upon the land. The last and most devastating of these involved the death of the firstborn in every home.

But the Lord provided a means of deliverance from the plague. A lamb was to be slain for each household, and the blood of the lamb was to be applied around the doorway of the house. God promised that when the angel of death visited the land of Egypt that night, he would “pass over” those home where the blood had been applied, and the firstborn would be saved.

This provides what is sometimes called a type (an illustration) for which the New Testament provides the antitype (the fulfilment). Just as the firstborn was delivered by faith’s application of the blood of the lamb, so today faith can claim the shed blood of Christ, “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), and be delivered from eternal condemnation.

The connection of the Passover to Christ is underlined by the fact that it was at the time of the Jewish Passover that He was crucified. The meal that the Lord ate with His disciples, just before, was the Passover meal. And it was a part of that meal which the Lord set apart to be celebrated as the Lord’s Supper, until His return. Finally, the Word of God seals the connection by declaring, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7).

But unlike the lambs in Egypt, the Lamb of God did not stay dead. He rose again, triumphant over death and the grave. The risen Lord met His followers and cried, “All hail!” (Matt. 28:9, KJV), or “Rejoice!” (NKJV).

The resurrection of Christ has a continuing application to us. We serve a risen Saviour, and as our great High Priest, seated in heaven, He represents the children of God and bids them appeal to Him for mercy, and grace to help in time of need.

CH-2) Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright
The Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light;
And listening to His accents, may hear, so calm and plain,
His own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.

One further note on the final stanza of this joyful hymn. Many (though not all) hymn books capitalize the word “Joy” in the last line, treating it as a personification of Christ Himself. Jesus Thou Joy of Loving Hearts is another hymn in which that is done. It is a reminder that the source and substance of lasting joy is found in Christ alone.

CH-3) Now let the heavens be joyful! Let earth the song begin!
Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen, our Joy that hath no end.

Questions:
1) It was not simply the blood of the Passover lamb that delivered the firstborn in Egypt, but the blood applied. How does this fit the Christian gospel?

2) What do you have to rejoice in today, because of the living Christ?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Neale)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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