Posted by: rcottrill | May 22, 2015

Lord of All Being, Throned Afar

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (b. Aug. 29, 1809; d. Oct. 7, 1894)
Music: Louvan, by Virgil Corydon Taylor (b. Apr. 2, 1817; d. Jan. 30, 1891)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Holmes was an American medical doctor, and professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard. His son (also named Oliver Wendell Holmes) became a supreme court justice. The father was a Unitarian, but not narrowly so. He greatly loved the evangelical hymns of the church. He summed up his faith by saying he “believed more than some and less than others.”

The present hymn’s ecumenical spirit should not distract us from the profound vision it presents of Almighty God. The author called it a hymn “to the Source of the light we all need to lead us, and the warmth which alone can make us all brothers.” The hymn was published in 1848.

B igness is sometimes difficult to grasp, perhaps because it’s so relative. To an ant, we must appear to be very big. But to an elephant, not so much so. To a small child, a dollar may seem a considerable amount. But to adults grappling with a mortgage, and trying to comprehend a national debt of billions (or trillions!), it’s insignificant.

Considered one way, planet earth is big, but not in comparison to the vastness of space. One source says current scientific theory estimates that the universe is about 92 billion light years across–a light year being the distance light can travel in that time, flashing through space at 186,000 miles per second.

It’s difficult to get our minds around that! And when we turn to spiritual things, we are faced with even more mind-boggling truths. In the Bible, the Lord asks rhetorically, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer. 23:24). That’s mighty big! In truth, “heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him” (II Chron. 2:6). And being God, He’s not partly here, and partly on Mars or Venus, or some place else, but is completely present everywhere at once.

The amazing thing is that this infinitely great God has stooped to show compassion on us, small, pitifully weak creatures that we are. Not only that, but He desires to communicate with us and fellowship with us. And when sin got in the way of that, He sent His Son to take sin’s punishment in our place (I Cor. 15:3), so we might be fitted for an eternal and intimate relationship with Him. Holmes has given us at least a glimmering of this paradox–of the bigness and remoteness of God, contrasted with His nearness and accessibility.

You won’t find many doctrinal specifics here, but the hymn gives us a sense of the immensity of God, and His transcendent glory. In a series of poetic metaphors, the author stretches our thinking to behold, at least in terms finite beings can grasp, something of the infinite.

CH-1) Lord of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Centre and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!

CH-2) Sun of our life, Thy quickening ray,
Sheds on our path the glow of day;
Star of our hope, Thy softened light
Cheers the long watches of the night.

CH-3) Our midnight is Thy smile withdrawn;
Our noontide is Thy gracious dawn;
Our rainbow arch, Thy mercy’s sign;
All, save the clouds of sin, are Thine.

Finally, Holmes envisions the sublimation of self-will, and any attempt to feed our own pride, as we “ask no lustre of our own,” but simply offer ourselves as “living altars” aflame for God (cf. Rom. 12:1).

CH-4) Lord of all life, below, above,
Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love,
Before Thy ever blazing throne
We ask no luster of our own.

CH-5) Grant us Thy truth to make us free,
And kindling hearts that burn for Thee,
Till all Thy living altars claim
One holy light, one heavenly flame.

Questions:
1) What feelings do you have of God and yourself, when you read the stirring words of Holmes’s hymn?

2) What would you answer sometime who asked: Why would an infinite God give attention to weak and finite creatures such as we are?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 20, 2015

Jesus, Priceless Treasure

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Johann Franck (b. June 1, 1618; d. June 18, 1677); English translation by Catherine Winkworth (b. Sept. 13, 1827; d. July 1, 1878)
Music: Jesu, Meine Freude, found in Praxis Pietatis Melica, 1653; harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Mar. 21, 1685; d. July 28, 1750)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Johann Franck was a lawyer in Germany. After his father died, when he was only two years old, Franck was adopted by an uncle who served as a judge. In that environment, his interest in the law blossomed. During his lifetime, the Thirty Years War raged in Europe. From university, Franck returned to his home town of Guben, at his widowed mother’s request. Their town was a hot spot in the war, and frequently ravaged by Saxon and Swedish troops. There he pursued his legal profession. Franck also wrote a number of hymns, including this one, written in 1653. (What I’ve designated as the fourth stanza is different from that in the Cyber Hymnal.)

CH-1) Jesus, priceless treasure, Source of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish shall my spirit languish,
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee, naught I ask beside Thee.

From time to time we hear of a piece of art selling for a million dollars or more. The works of the masters–Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn and others–are great treasures. But there are other things that are valued beyond price. Personal things, though perhaps these may seem mundane to some. That family photo album, lost in a house fire, that stolen memento of lovers’ meeting. Priceless.

In the Word of God, there are quite a number of things that are spoken of as being of special worth. In Proverbs 31:8-31, the author describes “a virtuous wife” (a woman of noble character) and says “her worth is far above rubies” (vs. 10). Job declares the same thing concerning godly wisdom (Job 28:10), and says its foundation is “the fear [reverence] of the Lord” (vs. 28).

The Lord Jesus tells His listeners that one’s eternal soul is of more value that all the world’s wealth. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36).

The Apostle Peter has a word that he uses a number of times that relates to our theme. It’s the word “precious.” It identifies something that is (or should be) held in high honour and esteem. That is how he rates the promises of God (II Pet. 1:4). Since He is a God of truth, and cannot lie, and since He has all the power necessary to fulfil His Word, His promises to us are of incredible worth. Also our faith as “more precious than gold” (I Pet. 1:7; II Pet. 1:1). In sovereign grace, God has given us the power to trust in Him and be saved. That’s precious indeed!

Peter uses his word again with reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is precious in His person: “to you who believe He is precious” (I Pet. 2:7). Then there is the incredible value of His provision for lost sinners: we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:18-19). Since the sacrifice of Christ has the power to cleanse from sin all who believe on Him (Jn. 3:16; I Jn. 2:2), it fully qualifies as that which is beyond price.

CH-2) In Thine arms I rest me; foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking, every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash;
Yet, though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me.

4) Hence, all earthly treasure! Jesus is my pleasure;
Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory! What to me thy story
Told with tempting voice?
Pain or loss or shame or cross
Shall not from my Saviour move me, since He chose to love me.

CH-5) Hence, all thought of sadness, for the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
Those who love the Father, though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whatever we here must bear,
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure!

Questions:
1) What are some of the things you value most in life?

2) What evidence is there in your daily conduct that you prize Christ, and your relationship with Him, above all else?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 18, 2015

Hushed Was the Evening Hymn

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: James Drummond Burns (b. Feb. 18, 1823; d. Nov. 27, 1864)
Music: Samuel, by Arthur Seymour Sullivan (b. May 13, 1842; d. Nov. 22, 1900)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This beautiful hymn was published in 1857. James Burns was a Scottish pastor. He struggled with ill health, and died when only forty-one years of age. Burns wrote a number of hymns but there is only one in common use today. It deserves to have a much wider use than it has presently.

As we get older, many of us experience a deterioration in our sense of hearing. But even at its very best, human hearing is far down the scale when compared to that of the animals. Not only is the ability to hear astonishing in some creatures, but so is their skill in interpreting and using the data their senses gather.

In less than a hundredth of a second, an owl can not only hear a mouse creeping on the forest floor, but can determine its speed and direction. The mouse stands little chance! Elephants can hear sound frequencies twenty times lower than we can. And scientists have discovered a species of moth that can hear frequencies fifteen times higher than human beings can.

Both bats and dolphins use a system of sonar to find their way in virtual darkness. They emit a series or chirps or clicks, and when the sound bounces back to them, they quickly gather information from it. They almost instantly know an object’s size and makeup, and its direction of movement, if any. With this animal radar, given by our Creator, a dolphin can distinguish something the size of a coin seventy metres away.

The matter of how well we hear, and what we’ll do about it has a spiritual application. A number of times we read of the Lord Jesus issuing a challenge, after a time of teaching, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (e.g. Matt. 13:9). He wasn’t referring to the problem of physical deafness. The Amplified Bible helps us by expanding the meaning: “He who has ears to hear, let him be listening, and let him consider and perceive and comprehend.”

When God speaks to us, perhaps through our reading of the Bible, or through the pastor’s Sunday sermon, we need to employ our minds to analyze the information, and evaluate it in our hearts, applying a valid spiritual value system to the communication. A study of God’s Word requires answers to several basic questions: What does it say? What does it mean (in its historical context)? And what does it mean to me, today?

In Hushed Was the Evening Hymn. Burns makes a devotional application of something that happened to the prophet Samuel as a boy.

The boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, ‘Here I am!’ So he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ And he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ And he went and lay down. Then the LORD called yet again, ‘Samuel!’ So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ He answered, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.) And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. Then he arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you did call me.’ Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears”’” (I Sam. 3:1-9).

Samuel did as he was bidden, and was given a message from the Lord. That was only the beginning. He went on to become an influential prophet, and the greatest of Israel’s judges, in that era. God spoke to him, and through him to the people, many times. And he not only heard with his ears, but understood with his mind, and grasped the import and passion of his message with a servant’s heart.

By means of a fine hymn, Pastor Burns calls upon each of us, likewise, to respond appropriately to the Word of God. It’s worth checking the Cyber Hymnal link to read the entire hymn. For the sake of space, I’ve omitted a couple of stanzas  here.

CH-1) Hushed was the evening hymn, the temple courts were dark;
The lamp was burning dim before the sacred ark;
When suddenly a voice divine rang through the silence of the shrine.

CH-3) O give me Samuel’s ear, the open ear, O Lord,
Alive and quick to hear each whisper of Thy Word,
Like him to answer at Thy call, and to obey Thee first of all.

CH-4) O give me Samuel’s heart, a lowly heart, that waits
Where in Thy house Thou art, or watches at Thy gates;
By day and night, a heart that still moves at the breathing of Thy will.

Questions:
1) What will characterize a believer’s life if he/she has an ear like Samuel’s?

2) What difference will it make to have a heart like Samuel’s?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 15, 2015

He’s a Friend of Mine

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: John Henry Sammis (b. July 6, 1846; d. June 12, 1919)
Music: Daniel Brink Towner (b. Apr. 5, 1850; d. Oct. 3, 1919)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: There is sometimes confusion over this hymn because the title in various hymn books is either He’s a Friend of Mine, or Jesus Is a Friend of Mine. There is a different song, published by Avis Christiansen in 1921, called Jesus Is a Friend of Mine, but the present one is by John Sammis. He was an American business man, and later a Presbyterian pastor and Bible teacher. This faithful servant of God also wrote a number of hymns. For example, he gave us the text of the gospel song Trust and Obey. A less common offering from Pastor Sammis is his 1910 song, He’s a Friend of Mine.

I’ve told the following story before on this blog, but it fits the theme so beautifully I’ll repeat it.

Art Rogers was a pro ball player in his younger years. Tough, profane, and hot tempered in those days, he was the complete opposite of what he’d become when I knew him. Now, decades later, with his thinning white hair, and slower step, Art was the epitome of gentleness and kindness to all.

What had brought about this dramatic transformation? God had intervened in his life in a powerful way. Art had responded to the gospel, and put his faith in Christ. Daily he radiated the joy of the Lord in his ready smile.

We worked together in an advertising firm, creating commercial displays for stores, conventions and so on. One day, the two of us were asked to go to an exhibition site, where we were to help with the setting up of a display for the Ontario Provincial Police. A couple of electricians, strangers to us, had also been called in to take care of the wiring. As the others worked, it seemed to me that almost every sentence was punctuated with some kind of vulgarity. And time and again one or the other would take the Lord’s name in vain.

Art and I continued to work away on our part of the job. But then, almost casually it seemed, Art said to the other men with a smile, “I see you know a Friend of mine.” The comment was met with puzzlement. They could not recall any person they’d mentioned by name. But Art explained, “It sounds like you know Jesus. You sure talk about him a lot.” And he preceded to give his testimony as to how the Lord had saved him.

That happened about fifty years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. What a powerful witness! There was no sense of outraged spiritual superiority, no preachiness. He spoke in kindness, with personal warmth, but there was no mistaking his purpose.

Does it bother you when others treat the name of the Saviour with disrespect? Does it grieve you when television programs seem so ready to allow vulgar language, and the denigration of the Lord’s name. It should, if you belong to Him. Jesus said to His followers, “I have called you friends” (Jn. 15:15), and Peter observes, “To you who believe, He is precious” (I Pet. 2:7).

What have you done about others profaning of the Lord’s name? Have you used it as an opportunity for a gracious word? Or written to a television network to voice your concern? I’ve done both, from time to time. If Jesus is our Friend, we should stick up for Him!

CH-1) Why should I charge my soul with care?
The wealth of every mine
Belongs to Christ, God’s Son and heir,
And He’s a friend of mine.

Yes, He’s a friend of mine,
And He with me doth all things share;
Since all is Christ’s, and Christ is mine,
Why should I have a care?
For Jesus is a friend of mine.

CH-3) He daily spreads a glorious feast,
And at His table dine
The whole creation, man and beast,
And He’s a friend of mine.

What a privilege to be able to call the Lord Jesus our Friend! Think of what it’ll be like when He returns to summon those who love Him into His presence forever. There are wonderful things about the heavenly kingdom that we are told in the Word of God. There are many more we’ll learn about when the time comes. John Sammis calls attention on that great day in his last stanza.

CH-4) And when He comes in bright array,
And leads the conqu’ring line,
It will be glory then to say,
That He’s a friend of mine.

Questions:
1) What does it mean to have Jesus as our Friend?

2) What can you do to graciously speak to others about honouring the Lord’s name?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 13, 2015

Come, for All Things Are Ready

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (b. June 28, 1851; d. Apr. 24, 1920)
Music: William James Kirkpatrick (b. Feb. 27, 1838; d. Sept. 20, 1921)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Eliza Hewitt)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The hymn was published in 1900, under the name L. H. Edmunds. Lidie H. Edmunds was a pen name of Eliza Hewitt. Miss Hewitt was a school teacher in the city of Philadelphia for about half a century, and she worked in her church’s Sunday School for the same period.

It may lack the pompous dignity of a butler pronouncing through his nose, “Dinner is served,” but a cheerful call from the kitchen, “Come and get it!” works just as well. Both are an announcement that preparations are complete; it’s time to gather around the table for a meal.

Mealtimes should be a time for conversation and sharing, a time for listening and learning. But in the last half century that intimate family time has slowly been eroded–at least in North America. The coming of television in the early 1950’s, and the invention of the prepackaged “TV dinner” around the same time, has often replaced family interaction with passive watching of whatever’s on the tube.

Add to that such things as work responsibilities, and recreational options outside the home, both of which have multiplied, causing individual members of the family to set their own schedules. Meals when the whole family gets together have become more and more rare.

Surveys have shown that one of the biggest factors in the current popularity of the television cop show Blue Bloods, is that each episode shows the family gathered around the table for a meal. It’s interesting that many fans say that’s their favourite part of the program. There we see family members expressing concern for one another. And we see a kinship around spiritual values. (How many shows do you know where a family is often seen asking God’s blessing on a meal?) Their family time is dynamic, and plays a part in molding attitudes and changing behaviour.

In the Bible, banquets and feasting are used many times as a metaphor for enjoying the blessings of God. We see it in the beloved Psalm 23.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul” (Ps. 23:1-3).

Later, the Lord Jesus identifies Himself as the spiritual food we need, saying, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35). And “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink’” (Jn. 7:37).

What we call the Communion Service, or the Lord’s Supper, is a symbolic representation of the death of Christ on the cross, pointing backward to Calvary, and onward to His promised return. “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes? (I Cor. 11:26). In eternity, the saints will feast with Him. “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb [meaning Christ]!” (Rev. 19:9).

Christ’s parable of The Great Supper, pictures for us the gospel invitation. The master told his servant, to “say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready’” (Lk. 14:17). In 1900, this gospel song appeared, based on that theme. The reference in CH-2 to “the cup of salvation” comes from Psalms.

“What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me? I will take up [lift up, in praise and thanksgiving] the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Ps. 116:12-13).

CH-1) Come, for all things are ready! ’Tis a banquet of love;
Here’s a free invitation from the Master above:
It is written in crimson, drawn from Calvary’s flood,
From the wonderful fountain of the soul cleansing blood.

Oh, what fullness in Jesus!
Oh, what gladness to know,
Though our sins be as scarlet,
He’ll make them as snow.

CH-2) Come, for all things are ready! Heaven’s bounty is spread;
Take the cup of salvation, take the life giving bread:
Come, though poor and unworthy, come, though sinful and weak;
’Tis the hungry and thirsty whom the Master doth seek.

Questions:
1) What is there about a banquet that makes it an appropriate symbol of God’s salvation?

2) What other hymns do you know that use the banquet symbol?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Eliza Hewitt)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 11, 2015

God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Maria Straub (b. ___, 1838; d. ___, 1898)
Music: Providence, by Solomon W. Straub (b. ___, 1842; d. Sept. 2, 1899)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The two Straubs were brother and sister, born in Indiana. Maria seems best known for her temperance songs. Solomon wrote mainly tunes, and the publishing company the Straub’s founded, S. W. Straub and Company, put out a monthly musical periodical called The Song Friend, as well as other music.

An example of Miss Straub’s temperance songs is Fight the Battle at the Polls. We may smile indulgently at the quaintness of this sentiment, but in a day before women even had a vote, it took great courage to stand against the male-dominated liquor industry. In the nineteenth century, preaching moderation or outright abstinence, the temperance movement had some success in lessening the destructive effects of alcohol abuse on the lives of individuals and families.

Sparrows. They are the commonest of birds, around both winter and summer. Species of these small, brown and gray creatures are found in many countries of the world. They’re primarily seed-eaters, and it’s not unusual for my wife and I to see dozens of them fluttering around our feeder in the yard.

Because they’re so familiar and seemingly ordinary, sparrows have become a symbol of that which is of relatively little value. In Bible times, they were the food of the poor. (Not much meat on a sparrow!) You could buy two sparrows for a small copper coin called an assarion (Matt. 10:29), perhaps like a nickel in modern terms. And if you bought a dime’s worth, the seller would throw in an extra one (Lk. 12:6).

The Lord Jesus used this common commodity to assure His hearers of His heavenly Father’s care. Sparrows may be insignificant on earth, but “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Lk. 12:6).

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?,” Jesus asked. “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-31).

Shakespeare was fully aware of these passages and their meaning, as he shows in his plays. He has Hamlet comment, “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” And a character in As You Like It says, “He that doth the ravens feed, yea providentially caters for the sparrow, be comfort to my age.”

The providence of God (literally, His before-seeing) marks the ability of the Almighty to foresee what lies ahead, and work sovereignly through all events and circumstances to fulfil His purpose, meeting the needs of human beings, and of all His creation. It’s with that confidence that Christians can say, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

In 1878, Maria Straub wrote this lovely children’s hymn about the tender care of God. She wrote over two hundred hymns, but only this one remains in common use. Taking her theme from the words of the Lord Jesus, the author reasons from the lesser to the greater–called, in logic, an a fortiori argument. If it is true that our Creator cares for little insignificant sparrows, it can surely be argued with even greater certainty that He will care for human beings, His special creation, made “a little lower than the angels, and…crowned…with glory and honour” (Ps. 8:5).

That is a lesson we can learn from the lowly sparrow, couched in simple terms so that a child can understand it. We all surely need its assurance.

CH-1) God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets His tender view;
If God so loves the little birds,
I know He loves me, too.

He loves me, too, He loves me, too,
I know He loves me, too;
Because He loves the little things,
I know He loves me, too.

In her second stanza, Staub borrows a thought from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:28-33), “Consider the lilies of the field” (vs. 28).

CH-2) He paints the lily of the field,
Perfumes each lily bell;
If He so loves the little flow’rs,
I know He loves me well.

CH-3) God made the little birds and flow’rs,
And all things large and small;
He’ll not forget His little ones,
I know He loves them all.

Questions:
1) What evidence do you see in nature of the wise and sufficient care of God?

2) What does it mean to you that God knows the number of hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30)?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 8, 2015

There’ll Be No Dark Valley

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: William Orcutt Cushing (b. Dec. 31, 1823; d. Oct. 19, 1902)
Music: Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Though this 1896 song’s text is credited to Cushing, in reality he provided only an idea of the theme to Ira Sankey, who wrote both words and music. (Sankey says only the first line was Cushing’s.) The song has the feel of a traditional Spiritual, using repetition effectively to emphasize the truth of Revelation 21:4. There is more information about the hymn on the Wordwise link.

CH-1) There’ll be no dark valley when Jesus comes,
There’ll be no dark valley when Jesus comes;
There’ll be no dark valley when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

To gather His loved ones home,
To gather His loved ones home;
There’ll be no dark valley when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

In the natural world, valleys can often be beautiful, and appealing. But as a metaphor they are sometimes used to represent life’s darker perils.

Coming to mind is Tennyson’s famous poem about the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. “Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred.” The best known biblical instance, though with quite a different mood, is found in the familiar twenty-third Psalm, where David declares, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You [Lord] are with me” (vs. 4). What made the difference for David was the presence and loving care of God, his “Shepherd” (vs. 1).

Descending from the pleasant sunlit peaks of daily experience into the shadowy unknowns of the future can be a daunting thing. What will tomorrow hold, of loss and pain? How will we cope? The Lord doesn’t promise us a smooth and sunny path through all of life. But when we trust in Him, and acknowledge His presence, as David did, we can be assured of His sustaining power and daily provision. “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” the Lord says (Heb. 13:5). And in the struggles of time we must not forget the dawning of eternity. For the Christian, the afflictions of today ultimately will give way to unending blessing.

The prophet Ezekiel got a glimpse of future blessing in a God-given vision concerning the future of Israel. In his vision, Ezekiel found himself in a valley that was full of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1-2). Then the Lord asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (vs. 3). The answer proved to be that they could, by the power of God (vs. 4-5). The meaning, explained to the prophet, was that his people, then in bondage in Babylon, would one day be revived and restored, and that forever (vs. 21-23).

For the Christian, there is the promise of resurrection glory, at the second coming of Christ. “I will come again,” said the Lord to His followers, “and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:3). To which we can say with confidence, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). In short, no more valleys!

CH-2) There’ll be no more sorrow when Jesus comes,
There’ll be no more sorrow when Jesus comes;
But a glorious morrow when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

CH-3) There’ll be no more weeping when Jesus comes,
There’ll be no more weeping when Jesus comes;
But a blessèd reaping when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

In my audio library I have a scratchy recording of the song, made about two years after it was written. The soloist is Mr. Sankey himself. In ill health, the ravages of time having greatly depleted the power and richness of his voice, he still sings with the firm assurance, “ There’ll be no dark valley when Jesus comes / To gather His loved ones home.”

CH-4) There’ll be songs of greeting when Jesus comes,
There’ll be songs of greeting when Jesus comes;
And a joyful meeting when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

Questions:
1) What dark valleys of soul or body are you facing at the present time?

2) Is there someone else going through a dark valley that you can encourage with this song?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 6, 2015

The Wonder of It All

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: George Beverly Shea (b. Feb. 1, 1909; d. Apr. 16, 2013)
Music: George Beverly Shea

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Bev Shea)
Hymnary.org

Note: Born in Winchester, Ontario, Bev Shea became an internationally renowned gospel singer who recorded approximately 500 vocal solos on more than seventy albums. He was nominated for ten Grammy Awards, winning on March 15, 1966. Bev could easily have had a popular music career–indeed, was offered one, early on–but turned away from that to spend his life serving the Lord. The Wonder of It All was written in 1955, and there’s an interesting story behind it.

The year 2013 saw the passing of the greatest gospel singer of the twentieth century, when he was over a century old. Not only did George Beverly Shea have an amazing voice. He had a unique ability to communicate the message of a song to the hearts of his listeners. A truly humble man, without fanfare or attention-getting gimmicks, he simply sang.

Over the past little while, I’ve written articles on a number of the songs he used, and some of the stories he told about them. It seemed fitting to end with one that Bev Shea wrote himself. The best known of his songs, one that became a kind of personal signature, was I’d Rather Have Jesus. Mr. Shea wrote the music for that one, but not the words. However, for the song we’ll look at now, Bev wrote both.

In 1955, Bev Shea was on board an ocean liner, heading for Britain. The Billy Graham team was to hold an evangelistic crusade in Glasgow. On the deck one evening, with his six-year-old son Ronnie, Bev recognized the president of a New York publishing company which also published music. Though the man wasn’t a Christian, he spoke of his enjoyment of the hymns of the church. He asked what went on in their crusade meetings, and Bev shared a bit about that, exclaiming, “Oh, sir, if you could see it, the wonder of it all!”

The man reached into his pocket, pulled out a envelope, and wrote something on it in big letters. When he held it up, Bev read, “The Wonder of It All,” and the gentleman said, “I challenge you to write a song with this title.” That night, Bev did so. In fact, about two in the morning his puzzled wife whispered, “What are you doing?” He replied, “Oh, just working on a little music.” The result was a simple but beautiful hymn, The Wonder of It All.

In our age of mounting superlatives, when every product on the market must be called the most stupendous, the most fabulous, the super giant edition, the ultimate, and more, “wonderful” may seem a little tame. But it’s still useful, identifying something that fills us with admiration and amazement, and perhaps with awe.

In the Bible, the word is frequently (though not always) used to describe a miracle, a supernatural work of God. When the Lord told Moses He wanted him to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God promised, “I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he [Pharaoh] will let you go” (Exod. 3:20). And after Christ’s ascension, Peter said to the people, “Jesus of Nazareth [was] a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22).

However, there are many wonders that fall short of contravening the regular functioning of nature. They are not miracles, in that stricter sense, but they are still wonderful, and often we can see the imprint of the hand of our Creator on them. “He does great things past finding out, yes, wonders without number” (Job 9:10). Sailors at sea have witnessed many of these. “They see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep” (Ps. 107:24).

Then, there are wonderful things that happen in the spiritual realm. Bev Shea saw it, over and over, in the evangelistic meetings he shared with the Billy Graham team. Through faith in Christ, individuals were made new, and despair turned to joy, with the understanding that God loved them enough to send His Son to die for their sins (Jn. 3:16).

1) There’s the wonder of sunset at evening,
The wonder as sunrise I see;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
Is the wonder that God loves me.

O the wonder of it all, the wonder of it all–
Just to think that God loves me!
O the wonder of it all, the wonder of it all–
Just to think God loves me!

Questions:
1) What is it about the Christian life that most fills you with “wonder”?

2) If you own recordings of Mr. Shea’s, which song stands out as your favourite?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Bev Shea)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 4, 2015

Singing I Go

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Eliza Edmunds Hewitt (b. June 28, 1851; d. Apr. 24, 1920)
Music: William James Kirkpatrick (b. Feb. 27, 1838; d. Sept. 20, 1921)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Eliza Hewitt)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The present hymn was published 1898. For a list other songs by Miss Hewitt that appear in many evangelical hymnals, check the Wordwise Hymns link.

CH-1) The trusting heart to Jesus clings,
Nor any ill forebodes,
But at the cross of Calv’ry, sings,
Praise God for lifted loads!

Singing I go along life’s road,
Praising the Lord, praising the Lord,
Singing I go along life’s road,
For Jesus has lifted my load.

Some of us old-timers, I’m sure remember Jimmy Durante, who was both a capable comedian and a skilled musician. In the early thirties, Durante wrote a song that became identified with him. It began, “Ya gotta start of each day with a song, / Even when things go wrong.” Even though we may experience dark days when that seems virtually impossible, there is some wisdom in the song’s advice all the same. The right songs can cheer us, lift our spirits, and brighten our day.

In the Word of God, King Saul of Israel illustrates that. In times when a black mood gripped his soul, young David would come and play his harp for the depressed king. When he did so, we read, “Then Saul would become refreshed and well [cheerful], and the distressing spirit would depart from him” (I Sam. 16:23).

Missionaries Paul and Silas provide another example. For their ministry for Christ, they were beaten, and cast into a prison cell in Philippi, with their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:23-24). But even in that awful place, they found joy in serving the Lord. “At midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (vs. 25). Truly, God “gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10).

Over the centuries since the New Testament era began, something like a million Christian hymns have been written. Some of these describe incidents recorded in the Bible. Others teach the doctrines found there–particularly proclaiming the gospel of grace, and salvation through Christ. And still others are actually the personal testimonies of the song-writers themselves. They tell of God’s faithfulness in bringing them through trying times.

When we sing Fanny Crosby’s All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, we are joining her in praise for how the Lord met a financial need in an amazing way. When we sing Joseph Scrivien’s What a Friend We Have in Jesus, we are sharing what he discovered of the comfort of the Saviour, after his fiancee drowned on the eve of their wedding.

Eliza Hewitt was a school teacher in Philadelphia. She also wrote hundreds of fine gospel songs. Many have a joyful tone, though she struggled for years with a painful back injury. The joy of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as her Saviour, and of having an opportunity to serve Him brightened her days.

The present song reflects this, speaking of the privilege and blessing of prayer (cf. Heb. 4:15-16).

CH-2) The passing days bring many cares,
“Fear not,” I hear Him say,
And when my fears are turned to prayers,
The burdens slip away.

CH-4) When to the throne of grace I flee,
I find the promise true,
The mighty arms upholding me
Will bear my burdens too.

A couple of decades after the song was introduced, it was adopted for a rather unusual use in the home of another great gospel musician. Billy Graham’s longtime soloist, Bev Shea, tells of what his home was like, growing up as a boy in Winchester, Ontario. On school days, when it was time for the six children to rise, his mother would sound a chord on the piano and sing the refrain of this song. Then she would call out, cheerfully, “Get up, everybody. One hour till school!” Bev called the song “mother’s alarm clock.”

It remained a favourite of his, and one he recorded. Years later, he hosted a radio program called Club Time, that used Singing I Go as its theme song. On the program each week, Bev featured the favourite hymn of some famous person. Baseball’s Babe Ruth’s was God Is Ever Beside Me; popular songstress Kate Smith’s favourite was I Love to Tell the Story; and opera and concert star John Charles Thomas’s was Softly and Tenderly. We have many songs of praise that can brighten life’s path.

Questions:
1) Is there a particular hymn you often find yourself humming or singing at various times during the day?

2) Does your family often sing a hymn together during family devotions?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Eliza Hewitt)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | May 1, 2015

How Long Has It Been?

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 “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Thomas Mosie Lister (b. Sept. 8, 1921; d. Feb. 12, 2015)
Music: Thomas Mosie Lister

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Mosie Lister)
The Cyber Hymnal (Mosie Lister)
Hymnary.org

Note: Mr. Lister died a mere four weeks ago, as of the time of writing this post. Southern Gospel music has lost a prolific champion. Another of his songs, Till the Storm Passes By, is covered on the Wordwise Hymns link. The Hymnary.org link gives virtually no information, except listing a couple of books that include the present song. The Country and Western Gospel Hymnal (Singspiration, 1972) is another where it is found.

This song, challenging us about our need for prayer, is similar in theme to the older one by Mary Kidder’s from 1876, Did You Think to Pray?  Each asks a penetrating question?

One time my wife and I were invited to join a number of others at a special banquet. Among those present was a couple we knew in our Bible college days, but whom we hadn’t seen for more than forty years. There were more gray hairs to be seen, of course, but we certainly recognized each other. Soon there was happy conversation and good fellowship between us.

That’s a common human experience. Reunions with friends, or perhaps even family members, that we haven’t seen for a long time. And often there’s the thought, “I wish we’d been more faithful in maintaining contact. I’ve missed something by not doing that.” Having regular communication could have been an enriching experience on both sides.

Think of that as it applies to our relationship with the Lord. First I must ask whether you have a personal relationship with Him? Are you a Christian? There are many who, if you asked them, would claim to be Christians. But the Lord Jesus Christ does not seem to be a present reality in their lives.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw once. It pictured a man shaking hands with the pastor on his way out of church Sunday morning. To the preacher he complains, “Whenever I come you’re talking about the birth of Jesus.” Very revealing! It’s pretty clear that the only time he thought of coming to the house of God was at Christmas! That’s not going to be much spiritual help.

The same thing applies to prayer. If we’re truly people of faith, we’ll want to pray. And not just when someone takes seriously ill, or we lose our job. The Bible says we are to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). Not that we do nothing but pray 24/7. The expression was used in Bible times of things like a chronic and persistent cough. That’s the idea. We need to pray persistently and habitually, living our daily lives with a sense of God’s presence.

God is not only the Lord who rules over all, He wants to be our Friend and Companion (cf. Rev. 3:20). Any time is a good time for prayer. James Montgomery wrote that “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air.” David tells us his determination: “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray” (Ps. 55:17).

Nehemiah was another great man of prayer. He not only spent long periods talking to the Lord (Neh. 1:4), he also sent up flash prayers in crisis situations (Neh. 2:4). And prayer is more than telling the Lord what we need, though it will often be that. Prayer also involves such things as praying for others, worshiping God and thanking Him for His blessings, and confessing our sins, when we know we’ve displeased Him.

Mosie Lister was deeply concerned for those who had drifted away from the Lord, and grown cold in their spiritual lives. Realizing their need to reconnect with God, he wrote the song, How Long Has It Been? Lister says, “All of a sudden I realized that this was what I needed to say. I just started writing as fast as I could.” (An exercise that took him only ten minutes!)

Published in 1956, the song was often used with great effect by Billy Graham’s soloist, Bev Shea. The song asks:

How long has it been since you talked with the Lord
And told Him your heart’s hidden secrets?
How long since you prayed? How long since you stay
On your knees till the light shone through?

Can you call Him your Friend?
How long has it been
Since you knew that He cared for you?

All good questions!

Questions:
1) So…How long has it been for you? Do you need to take some time right now to talk with the Lord?

2) What are your favourite hymns about prayer?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Mosie Lister)
The Cyber Hymnal (Mosie Lister)
Hymnary.org

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