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

Posted by: rcottrill | September 8, 2014

Dear Little Stranger

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: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Aug. 18, 1856; d. Sept. 15, 1932)
Music: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Gabriel)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This 1899 Christmas carol seems to have been written for children in the Sunday School. The gentle lilting melody gives it the feel of a lullaby.

When the Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth, He did not exhibit the splendour and majesty attending Him from all eternity. He was born to a peasant woman, in impoverished circumstances, and His first cradle was a manger. A Roman edict had brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, but a sovereign providence was behind this.

“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:6-7).

Relatively few recognized who He was (and is). To some He remained “the carpenter’s son” from Nazareth (Matt. 13:55; 21:11). To the Jewish leaders He was scorned as a blasphemer. They certainly denied His deity (Jn. 10:33). In that sense He was a “stranger” to them.

“He came to that which belonged to Him [to His own—His domain, creation, things, world], and they who were His own did not receive Him and did not welcome Him” (Jn. 1:11, Amplified Bible).

Quite a few gospel songs build on the thought that Jesus was a stranger to the world. They did not know or appreciate who He truly is. For example, there is The Stranger of Galilee, by Lelia Morris; Let Him In (“There’s a Stranger at the door…”), by Jonathan Atchinson; Gentle Mary Laid Her Child (“To the world a Stranger…”), by Joseph Cook; and Robert MacGimsey’s modern-day Spiritual, Sweet Little Jesus Boy (“We didn’t know who You was.”).

Charles Gabriel’s carol calls Christ a Stranger, but he leaves no doubt as to the identity of this One who was born long ago in Bethlehem. To Christians he is “dear.” The hymn writer would agree with Peter when he wrote:

“[He is the One] whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8).

CH-1) Low in a manger, dear little Stranger,
Jesus, the wonderful Saviour, was born.
There was none to receive Him, none to believe Him,
None but the angels were watching that morn.

Dear little Stranger, slept in a manger,
No downy pillow under His head;
But with the poor He slumbered secure,
The dear little Babe in His bed.

The incarnation of the Son of God was revealed to some shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. Many of their sheep were no doubt destined to be offered as sacrifices on the temple altar in nearby Jerusalem. But to them the coming of the Lamb of God was announced by angels (Lk. 2:8-14), and they glorified and praised God to learn about Him (Lk. 2:20).

CH-2) Angels descending, over Him bending,
Chanted a tender and silent refrain;
Then a wonderful story told of His glory,
Unto the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain.

In his final stanza, Charles Gabriel clearly declares the identity of this “Stranger.” He is the “Maker and Monarch and Saviour of all.” This is exactly what the Bible tells us. (Note the repeated use of the word “all.”)

¤ He is the Maker. “All things were made through Him” (Jn. 1:3; cf. Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:2).

¤ He is the Monarch. “He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36; cf. Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 7:13-14; Mic. 5:2; Lk. 2:11)

¤ He is the Saviour. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6; cf. Jn. 1:29; I Tim. 2:5-6).

CH-3) Dear little Stranger, born in a manger,
Maker and Monarch, and Saviour of all;
I will love You forever! Grieve You? No, never!
You did for me make Your bed in a stall.

Questions:
1) What are some reasons why the Lord Jesus is still a “stranger” to many?

2) What can you do to help introduce Him to others?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Gabriel)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 5, 2014

When I See My Saviour

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: Maud Fraser Jackson (dates unknown)
Music: Robert Harkness (b. Mar. 2, 1880; d. May 8, 1961)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Robert Harkness was a well known pianist and gospel song writer in the early part of the twentieth century. He served as pianist in the evangelistic meetings of R. A. Torrey (the preacher) and Charles Alexander (Torrey’s song leader). As I’ve noted elsewhere, my father introduced me to Mr. Harkness when I was a small boy, so he’s one of our hymn writers that I’ve actually met personally.

But of Maud Fraser Jackson we know surprisingly little. I say surprisingly because she wrote many hymns. The Cyber Hymnal lists 141 of them, and Whom, Having Not Seen, I Love is another, not listed there–with music by Charles Gabriel. On the Wordwise Hymns link, I speculate about a Maud Fraser who may be the hymn writer, but it’s only a possibility. At a guess, she likely lived around 1875 to 1945.

The present gospel song was written in 1911. It expresses the author’s overwhelming gratitude and heartfelt worship as she considers the sufferings of Christ.

CH- 1) When I see my Saviour, hanging on Calvary,
Bearing there for sinners bitterest agony.
Gratitude o’erwhelms me, makes mine eyes grow dim,
All my ransomed being captive is to Him.

There were many people near the cross that day, watching the Saviour in His dying hours. Others, of course, are not named or identified. We do not know, for example, whether Simon of Cyrene, who bore Jesus’ cross the last of the way to Calvary (Matt. 27:32; Mk. 15:21), remained to watch what happened. Others were merely passers by, who blasphemed the Lord, mocked Him and went on their way (Matt. 27:39-40; Mk. 15:29-30). But there are still others the gospels mentions particularly.

¤ The disciples. In the garden of Gethsemane, at the time of Christ’s arrest, the disciples “forsook Him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). But at the time of His crucifixion they seem to have watched from a distance (Lk. 23:49). Only John (identified as “the disciple whom He loved”) came near enough to speak with the Lord. This is mentioned by John himself, as it relates to the later care of Mary (Jn. 19:25-27).

¤ The women. Some of these were faithful individuals who sometimes traveled with the Lord, serving in various ways. Several women are mentioned by name, including Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matt. 27:55-56; Mk. 15:40-41; Jn. 19:25).

¤ The Jewish leaders. They were avowed enemies of Jesus, having insisted that Pilate execute Him. Now they mocked and ridiculed Him (Matt. 27:41-43; Mk. 15:31-32). They objected to the sign posted over Jesus’ head, which said, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS,” wanting it to be altered to, “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews,’” but Pilate refused (Mk. 15:19, 21).

¤ The Roman soldiers. For them, the three executions were was likely a distasteful job that had to be done. They gambled over Christ’s clothing, unknowingly fulfilling prophecy (Matt. 27:35), then sat down to watch Him die (Matt. 27:36). The soldiers too mocked the Lord (Mk. 15:36-37). But one of them was a centurion (an officer with a hundred men under him). He was very impressed with Christ, and after His death declared, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54; Mk. 15:39), and “a righteous Man” (Mk. 15:47).

¤ The two criminals. The two were crucified with Jesus. At first, they both joined in ridiculing the Saviour (Matt. 27:44). But one finally expressed a desire to be with Christ in His kingdom, and his desire was granted (Mk. 15:39-43).

Reviewing what is said about each of these, and by them, you will see represented such attitudes and feelings as: arrogant hatred and careless indifference, disappointment and doubt, grief and fear, faith and loyalty, love and affection. In some ways it is a kind of microcosm of the various ways people respond to Christ today.

However, missing from the mix is the kind of passionate gratitude expressed in Maud Fraser Jackson’s hymn. His followers loved the Lord, and grieved for what had happened to Him but, at the time, there was no real appreciation of the fact that this was an essential part of God’s sovereign plan. His death seemed to them as the death of hope, and the end of everything. How could they be grateful for such a disaster? That was to come later, after His resurrection (Lk. 24:25-26, 44-48; Acts 2:22-24). Today, we rejoice with this hymn’s author in what the sufferings of Christ accomplished, and are able to praise and thank Him.

CH-2) I can see the blood drops, red ’neath His thorny crown,
From the cruel nail wounds now they are falling down;
Lord, when I would wander from Thy love away,
Let me see those blood drops shed for me that day.

CH-3) “Why hast Thou forsaken?” List to that sad, sad moan!
Oh, His heart was broken, suffering there alone;
Broken then that mortals ne’er need cry in vain
For God’s love and comfort, in the hour of pain.

Questions:
1) In your view, what is the predominant attitude toward Christ today?

2) What things characterize your own attitude toward Christ?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 3, 2014

Go to Dark Gethsemane

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: James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Redhead 76, by Richard Redhead (b. Mar. 1, 1820; d. Apr. 27, 1901)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Montgomery’s text was first published in 1820, then he revised and republished it, five years later. This accounts for a number of the differences in some hymnals. Preeminent hymn historian John Julian has printed both versions in his massive two-volume Dictionary of Hymnology (pp. 430-431). Here are both the 1820 and 1825 versions of CH-4, so you can see some of the changes the author made.

(1820)
Early to the tomb repair,
Where they laid His breathless clay;
Angels kept their vigils there:
Who hath taken Him away?
“Christ is risen,” He seeks the skies;
Saviour! Teach us so to rise.

(1825)
Early hasten to the tomb,
Where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom–
Who hath taken Him away?
Christ is risen–He meets our eyes;
Saviour, teach us so to rise.

The tune is sometimes called Redhead 76, because it is number 76 in the composer’s Church Hymn Tunes. As well, you may find it with one of several other names: Ajalon, Gethsemane, Petra, or simply Redhead.

Years ago, a pastor visited Gethsemane with some others. Later he wrote of the moving experience:

“We sat down on a rock overlooking the garden. The moon was still bright, and the venerable olive trees were casting dark shadows across the sacred ground. The silence of the night increased the solemnity. No human voice was heard, and the stillness was only broken by the occasional barking of dogs in the city. We read, by the light, [Bible] passages bearing on the agony, and James Montgomery’s solemn hymn.” (Two Hundred Hymn Stories, by Ellen Jane Lorenz, p. 38).

In its four stanzas, this very fine hymn calls our attention to: Christ’s agony in Gethsemane; His illegal trial; His crucifixion; and His resurrection. From these Montgomery draws a lesson for the Christian, stated in the last line of each stanza. From Christ we learn to pray, to cling to God in times of distress and need, and to submit ourselves to the will of God (Mk. 14:36).

CH-1) Go to dark Gethsemane,
Ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see,
Watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

We learn to bear the cross (CH-2), to identify with Christ and follow Him at any cost (Matt. 16:24).

CH-2) See Him at the judgment hall,
Beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss;
Learn of Christ to bear the cross.

We learn to die (CH-3). Here, perhaps Montgomery means that we gain a sense of peace in death, confident that, even then, we are in the hands of a loving God (Lk. 23:46). Finally, we learn to rise (CH-4). That we learn that Christ’s resurrection gives us the assurance that those in Christ, by faith, will one day be raised to dwell with Him (Lk. 24:26; cf. I Cor. 15:20-23). May we, as believers, learn to say with Paul, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The lessons are important for us. And the hymn impels us onward with a series of action words. These vary slightly with revisions, but here they are in James Montgomery’s 1825 version:

¤ Go to dark Gethsemane
¤ Follow to the judgment hall
¤ Calvary’s mournful mountain climb
¤ Early hasten to the tomb

Questions:
1) Which of the four lessons mentioned by Montgomery is hardest for you to learn?

2) What other Easter hymns do you know that make a personal application in this way?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | September 1, 2014

When His Salvation Bringing

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 King (b. _____, 1789; d. Sept. 12, 1858)
Music: Tours, by Berthold Tours (b. Dec. 17, 1838; d. Mar. 11, 1897)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The authorship of this hymn was disputed early on. One source ascribed it to “a certain Mr., Mrs. or Miss Rooker” (English Hymns: Their Authors and History, p. 594). Another came closer to the truth with Joshua King. Evidence now seems to favour English clergyman John King. The date of 1830 for its original publication is generally accepted, but it may have appeared as early as 1817.

T his is a lovely Palm Sunday hymn, addressed particularly to children. It concerns the participation of the children in the aftermath of Christ’s Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 21:7-9). Matthew tells us:

“When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to Him, ‘Do You hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise”?’” (Matt. 21:15-16).

The reference to the stones crying out (CH-3) comes from the words of Jesus in Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry. This was the official presentation of Israel’s Messiah-King, prophesied long before (Zech. 9:9-10). The event was so significant in God’s sight that it simply had to be recognized.

“Some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out’” (Lk. 19:39-40; cf. vs. 41-42).

Regarding the use of the term “Zion.” Mount Zion was a rocky escarpment which became part of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Eventually, the entire city came to be referred to as Zion. “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” (Ps. 87:2-3). The name is also applied in one New Testament text to the heavenly city where the throne of God is, the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-24).

CH-1) When, His salvation bringing,
To Zion Jesus came,
The children all stood singing
Hosanna to His name;
Nor did their zeal offend Him,
But, as He rode along,
He let them still attend Him,
And smiled to hear their song.

After alluding the the Lord’s acceptance of praise from the children on this particular occasion, John King broadens his application to children in the present. The hymn thus becomes useful at all occasions, not just on Palm Sunday.

One minor point concerning the sixth line of CH-2. Christ is not presently seated upon “His throne,” according to Revelation 3:21, but is seated next to God the Father on the Father’s throne. Christ will not be seated on His own throne, the Davidic throne, until He returns to reign over the earth (cf. Lk. 1:31-33).

CH-2) And since the Lord retaineth
His love for children still,
Though now as King He reigneth
On Zion’s heavenly hill,
We’ll flock around His banner
Who sits upon His throne,
And cry aloud, “Hosanna
To David’s royal Son!”

The idea of the stones crying out in praise to the Lord (Lk. 19:40) is the ultimate insult to the self-righteous Pharisees. It suggests that inanimate nature understood more about who the Lord was and what He was doing than His critics did. (In modern slang we might express it as, “You guys are dumber than a rock!”) No wonder they seethed with hatred, and wanted to kill Him (vs. 47).

There is also a sad ironic application of Christ’s words in vs. 40. He warned the nation of judgment to come, that an enemy would destroy the city and their beautiful temple, “And they will not leave in you one stone upon another” (vs. 44). This prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70, by the armies of Titus. And today, those fallen stones continue to testify to the truth of Jesus’ words.

CH-3) For should we fail proclaiming
Our great Redeemer’s praise,
The stones, our silence shaming,
Would their hosannas raise.
But shall we only render
The tribute of our words?
No; while our hearts are tender,
They too shall be the Lord’s.

Questions:
1) What did the Lord Jesus mean when He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Lk. 18:17)?

2) Praising the Lord can so easily become a matter of mere form or ritual. What can we do to prevent this?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 29, 2014

It Pays to Serve 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: Frank Claude Huston (b. Sept. 12, 1871; d. Nov. 14, 1959)
Music: Frank Claude Huston

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This simple gospel song was written in 1909. Mr. Huston was one of those individuals who had a varied career. He taught school for a year, then became a singer who traveled in evangelistic work. He later served as a pastor in a number of churches in Indiana. Huston also founded a publishing company, that produced both secular and gospel songs.

As Christians, we are called to serve the Lord, and we are promised heavenly rewards for our service. The Lord Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). Even a cup of water given in service for Christ will be duly rewarded (Mk. 9:41).

Frank Huston wrote this gospel song about that entitled, It Pays to Serve Jesus. It was written in two stages. First, the musician composed a melody. Thinking it might be useful in the future, he jotted down the notes on a piece of paper, folded it up and put it in his pocket.

Weeks later, he was asked if he could write a song about how it was rewarding to serve the Lord. He was paying a visit to a friend, 82 year-old M. E. Mick. During their conversation, Mr. Mick suddenly said to Huston, “Brother Huston, you have written so many good songs, won’t you write one for me on the subject we have just been discussing, and call it, ‘It Pays to Serve Jesus’?” Frank interrupted to remind him that there was already a published song bearing that title, whereupon Mick replied, “I know there is, but I think you can write a better one.”

Pondering the possibilities, he thought of the tune he’d created earlier. Pulling the paper from his pocket, he set it on the piano, and the words to fit it seemed to follow easily.

CH-1) The service of Jesus true pleasure affords,
In Him there is joy without an alloy;
’Tis heaven to trust Him and rest on His words;
It pays to serve Jesus each day.

It pays to serve Jesus, it pays every day,
It pays every step of the way,
Though the pathway to glory may sometimes be drear,
You’ll be happy each step of the way.

CH-2) It pays to serve Jesus whate’er may betide,
It pays to be true whate’er you may do;
’Tis riches of mercy in Him to abide;
It pays to serve Jesus each day.

CH-3) Though sometimes the shadows may hang o’er the way,
And sorrows may come to beckon us home,
Our precious Redeemer each toil will repay;
It pays to serve Jesus each day.

The song says, “It pays to serve Jesus each day.” And it certainly does. Our work will be rewarded later, before the Judgment Seat of Christ. But Christian ministry also is rewarding here and now. I can personally testify to that. In the present world, service for Christ brings many joys.

¤ The joy of pleasing our Commander (Acts 20:24; Col. 1:10; II Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7).

¤ The joy of making an eternal investment in fulfilling work (Matt. 6:19-20; Phil. 3:12-14; cf. Heb. 12:2).

¤ The joy of fellowship in the gospel with other servants of Christ (Phil. 1:3-5; II Tim. 1:4).

¤ The joy of seeing people blessed, and lives transformed through our service (Phil. 2:2; I Thess. 1:2-3; 2:19-20; III Jn. 1:4).

But there is another side to it. Apart from any reward a gracious God might give us, He is worthy of our service, and fully deserving of all we can offer to Him, just because of who He is. It’s a question of balance. We ought to serve the Lord Jesus simply because He is deserving of all we can render Him. He has granted us the privilege of holy service, and we do so first of all as an act of homage, to His honour and glory.

“Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it….What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 10:14, 12). “When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Lk. 17:10).

It does pay to serve the Lord. But the Lord is worthy of our faithful service simply because He is the Lord.

Questions:
1) How are you serving the Lord these days?

2) Why do you serve the Lord?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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