Posted by: rcottrill | August 31, 2015

How Can It Be?

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: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11:1895; d. Jan. 14, 1985)
Music: John Willard Peterson (b. Nov. 1, 1921; d. Sept. 20, 2006)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Avis Christiansen)
Hymnary.org

Note: Avis lived in Chicago and was married to a vice president of Moody Bible Institute there. The present song was published in 1961. It seems to display echoes of Charles Wesley’s great hymn And Can It Be?

Star Trek, the television program, first broadcast in the 1960’s, was followed by a number of spin-off series and movies. Part of the fascination for these science fiction stories was that they explored strange new worlds, with creatures that were so different from human beings.

It was all fiction. But there is a world, far nearer to us, at our very feet, that can illustrate the same kind of strangeness and disconnect. We find the creatures of that world in our lawns and gardens–and sometimes, appearing as an unwanted nuisance in our homes. I’m speaking of ants.

Just as God created the stars in the vast reaches of space, He also created these tiny creatures. And He designed all He has made to teach valuable lessons (Job 12:7). For example, the Lord offers the busy labours of the ants to remind us to be industrious and hard working. As Proverbs bluntly puts it, “Go to the ant, you sluggard [you slothful, lazy person]! Consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).

But, let’s suppose for a moment that you wanted to talk to the ants. To converse with them in order to teach them about yourself, and maybe assist them in some way. You can see the problem. We are so far above them in size, and intellect. And finding a common language that we both could share seems beyond us.

What if you saw an ant at your feet, and told him you loved him, and were concerned about him. Think of how an ant would feel to see this enormous moving mountain towering above him, and hear an unintelligible sound thundering at him. Bewilderment, terror and flight would be the likely result. If only the ant could become a man or, failing that, if you could become an ant. Then perhaps you’d be able to relate to one another.

Apply that simple illustration to our relationship with God. How can the eternal and omniscient Creator of all things, the one whom the Bible says fills heaven and earth (Jer. 23:24) communicate in any intelligible way with us, puny little creatures that we are? The answer is that God had to become Man to do so most effectively (Jn. 1:1, 14). The incarnation of God the Son brought Him into our world.

During the time Christ was on earth, He spent many hours teaching people about spiritual things. And He related to them in a close and caring way. He healed many of disease, and reached out to the outcasts of society, even having time minister to little children. Finally, He went to the cross.

The Bible explains that this was an act of God’s love. There Christ, the sinless One, took upon Himself the debt of our sin.  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8). That’s the message of a familiar Bible verse, John 3:16. Yes, the Bible speaks of that love, but the Bible’s authors are hard pressed to explain the reason for it.

Why would God love us enough to suffer so terribly for us? How is it that He loves us at all? The answer, incomplete though it is, lies in the character of God. He is a loving (Rom. 5:8; I Jn. 4:16) and gracious God (Eph. 1:7: 2:5-8). He made us in His image (Gen. 1:27) as those who are capable of having a loving relationship with Him (I Cor. 1:9). A relationship He desires (Jn. 14:2-3; 17:24). Beyond that, all we can do in response is wonder and worship.

One hymn writer who pondered the question is Avis Christiansen. Over a period of sixty years, she wrote hundreds of gospel songs. One of them, called How Can It Be? expresses her marvel at the mystery of Christ’s loving sacrifice.

1) O Saviour, as my eyes behold
The wonders of Thy might unfold,
The heav’ns in glorious light arrayed,
The vast creation Thy hast made–
And yet to think Thou lovest me–
My heart cries out, ‘How can it be?’

How can it be? How can it be?
That God should love a soul like me,
O how can it be?”

I don’t know. But He does.

Questions:
1) What should be our response to the love that sent the Saviour to the cross of Calvary to pay our debt of sin?

2) What other hymns do you know and use that express the wonder of what the Lord did for us?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Avis Christiansen)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 28, 2015

He Is So Precious to Me

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Gabriel grew up on an Iowa farm, where he taught himself to play the family’s reed organ. He began teaching in singing schools by age 16, and went on to become a church music director, as well as a composer and publisher. He became one of the most prominent hymn writers of the early twentieth century. Evangelical hymn books still contain many of his songs. My Saviour’s Love; More Like the Master; O That Will Be Glory; and Send the Light, to name a few. As well as the lyrics, he wrote the tunes for his songs, also composing dozens of tunes for the songs of others.

Mr. Gabriel wrote and published the present song in 1902. At that time, the first stanza was somewhat different from what we use now. Actually, I rather like the original in some ways, though there’s nothing particularly wrong with the version that appeared several years later. The 1902 publication has:

1) I’m happy in Jesus, my Saviour, my King,
And all the day long of His goodness I sing;
To Him in my weakness I lovingly cling,
For He is so precious to me.

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the cringing, creepy Gollum lusts after the magic ring, which he speaks of as “my precious.” It’s recovery and possession was the obsession of his dark and depraved existence.

It’s startling to learn what’s precious to some individuals. We have precious metals, and precious gems, and our precious time. But every now and then on the news we see people afflicted with a passion for hoarding. With their distorted value system, it seems that everything is precious. Nothing can ever be thrown away. Their homes become a serious health hazard, filled from floor to ceiling with whatever comes their way.

Living a balanced life, with the ability to discern between what is mundane and what is extraordinary, between junk and jewelry, the trivial and the precious, depends on what measure we use to weigh their worth. In other words, it depends on our value system. It’s helpful to ask ourselves questions such as: What will I think of this a year from now? What will it mean to me ten years from now? And what will it mean in eternity?

The Lord Jesus discussed values in the Sermon on the Mount. He said:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal….Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:19-20, 33).

Years later, in his two epistles, the Apostle Peter lists several things that are “precious” in spiritual and eternal terms. Believers are “chosen by God and precious” (I Pet. 2:4), and their faith in God is a precious thing (I Pet. 1:7; II Pet. 1:1). The faithful promises of God are precious to us as well (II Pet. 1:4), and the Bible contains hundreds of them.

Most precious of all to Christians is the Lord Jesus, our Saviour. Applying the illustration of stones used in the erection of a building, Peter says, He was precious to God the Father, and became “the chief cornerstone” in the building God was constructing–meaning the church (I Pet. 2:6). “To you who believe, He is precious.” But to those who refuse to accept Him, Him He is “the stone which the builders rejected” (I Pet. 2:7).

Charles Gabriel wrote a fine gospel song about that called He Is So Precious to Me, which begins:

CH-1) So precious is Jesus, my Saviour, my King;
His praise all the day long with rapture I sing.
To Him in my weakness for strength I can cling,
For He is so precious to me.

For He is so precious to me;
For He is so precious to me.
’Tis heaven below, my Redeemer to know,
For He is so precious to me.

Then the author expresses a regret that the Lord had to wait so long to gain admittance to his heart.

CH-2) He stood at my heart’s door ’mid sunshine and rain,
And patiently waited an entrance to gain.
What shame that so long He entreated in vain,
For He is so precious to me.

Finally, he looks forward to the day when he can be in heaven with the Lord, in the place Jesus says He is preparing for His own (Jn. 14:2-3).

CH-4) I praise Him because He appointed a place
Where some day, through faith in His wonderful grace,
I know I shall see Him, shall look on His face,
For He is so precious to me.

Questions:
1) In addition to the Lord Jesus Christ, what spiritual treasures do you consider especially precious?

2) What is it about the things you mentioned that makes them precious to you?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 26, 2015

Christ Be Beside Me

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: attributed to Patrick (b. circa 387; d. circa 461); English adaptation, James Dominick Quinn (b. Apr. 21, 1919; d. Apr. 8, 2010)
Music: Bunessan, a Gaelic tune first published in 1888, in Lachlan Macbean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael.

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

Note: To Patrick, the famed missionary to Ireland, is attributed St. Patrick’s Breastplate, called a Lorica, or prayer for protection. (Hence the use of the word breastplate, a protection for the heart, as in Ephesians 6:14). The poem is contained in the ancient Book of Armagh, along with Patrick’s authentic confession.

In 1889, hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) produced a lengthy versification of the whole prayer (see St. Patrick’s Breastplate). James Quinn was a Jesuit scholar. In 1969 he wrote a more focused adaptation of one part of the original. The old melody Bunessan has also been used with Eleanor Farjeon’s hymn Morning Has Broken.

Patrick was the well known missionary from Britain, called of God to serve among the people of Ireland. He was at least a third generation Christian, the son of a church deacon. Early in his life, he did not follow his parent’s example. But when he was sixteen years old, God got his attention.

Fierce Irish raiders broke through the weak defenses of the Romans, and attacked Patrick’s town. He was carried away as a slave, then sold to a warrior chief, and sent to work in Ireland caring for a herd of pigs. Suffering from constant hunger, cold and loneliness, he turned to God for strength, becoming a man of prayer.

Eventually Patrick fled two hundred miles to a southeastern harbour, where he boarded a trade ship, and made it back to Britain. At home, it is said Patrick had a dream of the Irish people calling to him, “Please, holy youth, come and walk with us again.” The experience, if truly reported, echoes a vision the Apostle Paul had. In Paul’s vision, “a man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9). The apostle took it as a message from the Lord.

For Patrick’s part, his heart was moved for the needs of his former captors, and he decided to go back. He took seriously the Lord’s commission: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15, ESV).

When he arrived in Ireland, aside from a few small churches, most of the Irish were pagans, worshiping everything from plants to planets. Magic and even human sacrifice was practiced by the Druid priests. Patrick’s strategy was not to take away people’s beliefs in spirits, but to expose these as evil demons, showing that God’s power was greater. He met with stiff opposition, and was constantly in danger of being murdered by the Druids. However, he convinced a local king to tolerate Christianity, and when the king’s brother was converted, Patrick was granted land on which to build a church.

Soon he moved on to other unreached areas. When there was a group of new Christians, he would build a church. He planted many new churches, and baptized many converts. This in spite of the fact that he felt he was uneducated, compared to many with whom he worked, and was often extremely nervous speaking. Women played a large role in the ministry, though Patrick himself was careful not to even accept gifts from women, to avoid any mark on his reputation. He continued ministering for thirty years, and it’s said that Ireland became literate for the first time in his generation.

Patrick’s Confession, was his personal testimony. Calling himself “Patrick the sinner,” he wrote:

“I pray those who believe and fear God, that no one should ever say my ignorance accomplished any small thing that I did in accordance with God’s will. Judge, and let it be truly believed, that it was the gift of God.”

The poem of which he is possibly the author is mainly about the Lord’s protection. In it he prays to be surrounded by Christ. Several English paraphrases or adaptations have been made of all or part of the prayer, included Alexander’s mentioned above. James Quinn’s is more simple and direct.

1) Christ be beside me, Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me–King of my life.
Christ be within me, Christ be below me,
Christ be above me–never to part.

Notice the way the third stanza below expresses the hope that, when others look at him or think of him, the One they will truly be drawn to is the Lord Jesus, because “Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). It is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s declaration about Christ:

“He must increase, but I must decrease. [He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so]” (Jn. 3:30, Amplified Bible).

3) Christ be in all hearts thinking about me,
Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me,
In ears that hear me Christ ever be.

Questions:
1) In what ways do you see John’s words being fulfilled in your own life?

2) How do John’s words relate to the life of a local church?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | August 24, 2015

By Cool Siloam’s Shady Rill

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: Reginald Heber (b. Apr. 21, 1783; d. Apr. 3, 1826)
Music: Belmont, by William Gardiner (b. Mar. 15, 1770; d. Nov. 16, 1853)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Reginald Heber, William Gardiner)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Reginald Heber was a Church of England clergyman who served, briefly, as the bishop of Calcutta. (After three years, he died there of apparent sun stroke.) Though he wrote over fifty hymns, most of them were not published until after his death. He gave us Holy, Holy, Holy, and the missionary hymn From Greenland’s Icy Mountains, as well as the militant song The Son of God Goes for to War. But it is another hymn that gets our attention now.

Published in 1812, this is an interesting song that takes awhile to reveal its main subject and purpose. Is it about brooks and flowers? (No.) About children? (In part. But not completely.) It is an appeal to God’s sustaining grace and keeping power to enable us to live a life pleasing to Him, whatever our age. The rest is by way of analogy and illustration.

As the snows of winter begin to recede, and seed catalogues arrive in the mail, the thoughts of many turn to gardening. What will we plant this year? Some things for food, but perhaps also some flowers that will grace the fertile soil with the unique beauty God has prepared them to share.

The Lord loves gardens. He planted the very first one (Gen. 2:8). The Lord Jesus frequently used planting and harvesting illustrations in His parables (e.g. Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23). And He revealed Himself to Mary Magdelene, after His resurrection, in a garden (Jn. 19:41; 20:11-18). Apparently there will be gardens in heaven too. “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43) is a Persian word meaning a lovely park or garden.

We also have God’s promise of the faithful cycling of the seasons year by year (Gen. 8:22). In some ways the seasonal changes in a garden mirror the passing of our lives. There is a springtime of birth and anticipation, a summer of growth and beauty, an autumn of fruitfulness, and a winter of withering decline. Reginald Heber, one of our outstanding hymn writers, gave us a hymn about that.

It begins with a scene of seductive beauty and fragrant abundance.

CH-1) By cool Siloam’s shady rill
How fair the lily grows!
How sweet the breath, beneath the hill,
Of Sharon’s dewy rose!

Dr. Heber is merely setting a scene before us. His purpose in using it is much different from what we might expect. His own title for the hymn was, “Christ a Pattern for Children, Luke 2:40.” The verse refers to the boy Jesus, setting His example before us: “The Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” With this the hymn makes a comparison:

CH-2) Lo! such the child whose early feet
The paths of peace have trod,
Whose secret heart, with influence sweet,
Is upward drawn to God.

It all sounds lovely. But the writer now draws a stern lesson–so stern, in fact, that modern hymnals often omit the next two stanzas.

CH-3) By cool Siloam’s shady rill
The lily must decay;
The rose that blooms beneath the hill
Must shortly fade away.

CH-4) And soon, too soon, the wintry hour
Of man’s maturer age
Will shake the soul with sorrow’s power
And stormy passion’s rage.

It is a sobering truth, both in gardens and in our lives. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecc. 3:1-2). What, then, of the time in between? Heber reminds us that, through childhood, and beyond, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to trust in God and, by His grace, live to please Him, just as the Lord Jesus did.

CH-5) O Thou, whose infant feet were found
Within Thy Father’s shrine,
Whose years with changeless virtue crowned,
Were all alike divine.

CH-6) Dependent on Thy bounteous breath,
We seek Thy grace alone,
In childhood, manhood, age, and death
To keep us still Thine own.

It wasn’t the author’s purpose to carry things beyond that, but we can add a further note. Death is not the end. Through faith in Christ–the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25)–there is a wonderful prospect beyond the valley of the shadow. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (I Cor. 15:21).

Questions:
1) Is this a hymn you would use in your church? (Why? Or why not?)

2) What are some of the changing spiritual challenges of childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Reginald Heber, William Gardiner)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 21, 2015

Why?

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 McFarlane Moore (b. Sept. 1, 1925)
Music: John McFarlane Moore

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

Note: Born in Scotland in 1925, John McFarlane Moore put his faith in Christ at the age of sixteen. He went on to serve as the Assistant Superintendent of the Seamen’s Chapel, in Glasgow, and as a pastor. He later came to Canada, and became the pastor of a church in Willowdale, Ontario. Moore also wrote more than 150 hymns, including the popular Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary.

Why? It’s a question children ask all the time–sometimes to the bewildered frustration of adults? “Why does the sun look so bright?” Answer that question–“because it’s close to us”–and you may simply get another “why”! And responding, “Because God made it that way” won’t get you off the hook. Again, “Why?”

Such questions arise from the curious minds of the young. But when older children or teens ask it, it can sometimes be a challenge to parental authority. “Why can’t I go to the party?” Or, “Why can’t I get a tattoo?” Sometimes parents retreat behind the all-purpose “Because I said so.” But the underlying issues likely deserve a fuller and more helpful answer than that.

The “why” question appears in our English Bibles over four hundred times. Sometimes the Lord Himself asks it, in order to help us understand the root of our own actions and decisions. That’s the case with Scripture’s first “why,” when God confronts Cain. His brother Abel’s offering was received by the Lord, but Cain was enraged when his was rejected. “Why are you angry?” asks the Lord. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:6, 7).

Refusing to examine the evil in his own heart, and seething with fury, Cain killed his brother. The Apostle John later comments, in almost the last use of the word in the Bible, “And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (I Jn. 3:12). Philips paraphrases, helpfully, I believe: “It was because he realized the goodness of his brother’s life and the evil of his own.” But instead of following Abel’s example, Cain killed his brother.

Quite a few times, the question is raised with regard to the death of Christ. The demand of the Jews that He be crucified puzzled Pilate. “‘Why [he asked]?’ What evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, ‘Crucify Him!’” (Mk. 15:13-14). “Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no fault in this Man’” (Lk. 23:4). But in spite of this conclusion, for fear of a mob uprising, the morally weak governor ordered Christ’s death anyway.

The question of why Christ died still needs to be answered. The immediate motive for demanding Christ’s death was jealousy on the part of the Jewish leadership, and resentment at His growing popularity. But in the sovereign purposes of God, the reason was quite different. Why would God the Father allow His sinless Son to die a cruel death at the hands of His creatures?

The answer is: the Son of God died as our Substitute, under the wrath of God, to pay the penalty for our sin. The Lord Jesus Himself declared, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).

“[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree….For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Pet. 2:24; 3:18).

In 1953, Pastor Moore wrote both words and music for a gospel song simply entitled Why? It addresses the question regarding the purpose of Christ’s death this way.

Why did they nail Him to Calvary’s tree?
Why? Tell me, why was He there?
Jesus the Helper, the Healer, the Friend–
Why? Tell me, why was He there?

Echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah quoted above (Isa. 53:6), Moore answers the question:

All my iniquities on Him were laid–
He nailed them all to the tree.
Jesus the debt of my sin fully paid–
He paid the ransom for me.

It will be the eternal song of the saints, in heaven:

“You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Questions:
1) What are some other “Why?” questions that are commonly asked about God?

2) What answers can you provide for such questions?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | August 19, 2015

America the Beautiful

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: Katharine Lee Bates (b. Aug. 12, 1859; d. Mar. 28, 1929)
Music: Materna, by Samuel Augustus Ward (b. Dec. 28, 1847; d. Sept. 28, 1903)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The father and grandfather of Katharine Lee Bates were both Congregational clergyman. After graduating from Wellesley College, she taught high school for six years, then returned to Wellesley as a teacher, eventually becoming head of the English department. She served as either the author or editor of some twenty books.

The song has always had four stanzas, even back to the original 1893 poem, though these have undergone some revision, especially in the first couple of decades. The Cyber Hymnal uses only three stanzas, but I have included the second stanza as it’s found in the 1913 version.

Many nations have their national songs, and their official anthems. What exactly are they for? Some express best wishes for a leader or sovereign (as does God Save the Queen); some honour a significant event (as does The Star-Spangled Banner, which celebrates the American’s successful defense of Fort McHenry against the British).

National anthems can also take the form of prayers and aspirations for the nation. The last stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner does that. So does the little-used final stanza of O Canada. And we do need to pray for our nation and its leaders, “that we lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (I Tim. 2:1-4).

Notice how this Scripture deals with both physical safety and freedom of religion, both our personal well-being, and our right to honour our spiritual convictions. Though democratic governments strive to be tolerant in the area of religion, they are basically secular and irreligious. Yet it is still true that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). And “in every nation whoever fears [God] and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:35).

The call for divine aid in fulfilment of a people’s righteous vision, is expressed with great insight in stirring lines of verse, in America the Beautiful. If it be argued by my fellow citizens that we are Canadians, and this song belongs south of the border, it should be noted, first, that much of what it says applies to any nation. Second, do we not need to pray for the United States and its leaders? If so, then this song provides thoughtful direction for those prayers.

America has received a great deal of criticism over the years. Yes, some of it is justified. But it also seems the fashion to pick on whoever’s on top of the heap. As the saying goes, to take them down a peg or two. Surely balance is needed. America has given vital aid to many struggling people around the world. And if they have fallen short of Emma Lazarus’s moving words on the Statue of Liberty, it is still true that tens of thousands of “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” have found a new life there.

Which brings us to our hymn. One summer in 1893, Bates and a group of friends scaled the top of Pike’s Peak in the American Rockies. A New Englander, this was her first trip to the West. In her diary, she wrote: “Gazed in wordless rapture over the expanse of mountain ranges and sea-like sweep of the plains.” The grandeur of the scene, spreading out more than four kilometers below, inspired her to write her national song.

CH-1) O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.

2) O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

The words provide a worthy prayer that the citizens of Miss Bates’s country need to ponder carefully, and principles that should be addressed by our own nation of Canada too. She perceptively defines a nation’s true heroes:

CH-2) O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

Amen! And we all need God’s grace to do that (I Cor. 15:10; Heb. 4:14-16). The concluding stanza envisions “alabaster cities…undimmed by human tears.” Though this suits well the coming millennial reign of Christ, it will not be achieved before. However, having said that, these things are worthy of pursuit, even if they remain beyond reach. Liberty bounded by law, and gains that are pleasing to God. Noble aims indeed!

CH-3) O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

Questions:
1) What are the factors that keep a nation from achieving such great goals?

2) What can we do, as Christians, to have a positive influence on our nation?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 17, 2015

I Want to Be Like 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.
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 Obediah Chisholm (b. July 29, 1866; d. Feb. 29, 1960)
Music: David Livingstone Ives (b. _____, 1921; d. _____, 1987)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Thomas Chisholm born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal (Thomas Chisholm)
Hymnary.org

Note: Though Chisholm’s death occurred on February 29th, the year I created the almanac was not a leap year. I put information on Chisholm at the bottom of the page on February 28th.

Thomas Obediah Chisholm, an American hymn writer, got his early education at a small country school in Kentucky and, at the age of sixteen, began teaching at the school himself. At twenty-one he became the associate editor of the local newspaper. Chisholm put his faith in Christ six years after, and trained to become a pastor.

When ill health later led to his retirement from active pastoral work, he turned to writing devotional verse. A number of his poems were set to music, and found their way into our hymn books. Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and Trust in the Lord are two of these. In the providence of God, Mr. Chisholm likely has blessed many thousands more as a hymn writer than he could ever have reached as a pastor. The present hymn was published in 1945.

Hero worship, or the desire to be like one’s hero, is a fairly common phenomenon. If the object of adulation is a person of good character, the aspiration may have some benefit. But it can take a darker turn, if the one being emulated is morally corrupt.

Police have long been wary of what’s termed copycat crime. A crime is committed and receives sensational publicity. Then, after the sordid details are described in the media, other similar crimes may crop up. There are also examples of fictional crimes being enacted by copycats. Mystery writer Agatha Christie was appalled when her book, The Pale Horse, was found in the possession of a killer. He had copied her villain’s use of an almost untraceable poison named in the book.

It’s not uncommon for young people to try to dress like and act like popular movie or rock stars. Sadly, some of these individuals are not worthy examples to follow. They glory in rebelling against moral standards, and ridicule those who hold to them. In time, their wayward lives will reap what they have sowed. But by then the damage may have been done to a host of adoring fans.

If we’re looking for someone to imitate, we need a better example than that. The Bible presents the supreme pattern for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul repeatedly told others to do what he (Paul) was doing, but only insofar as he was acting in a Christlike way. He says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). On that basis he could exhort the Philippian Christians to “join in following my example” (Phil. 3:17).

Not only are we responsible to choose the best pattern to follow–that of the Lord Jesus. We ourselves are to then be an example to others, that they too will be drawn to reproduce the kind of conduct that’s pleasing to God. Paul told Timothy to “be an example to the believers” (I Tim. 4:12), and told Titus likewise “to be a pattern of good works” (Tit. 2:7).

But it all comes back to our ultimate exemplar, Christ. We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (Eph. 5:2). In the same chapter in Ephesians, this is applied to a husband’s behaviour toward his wife. We are told, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). What a high standard that is! With Paul, we cry, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:16), and we answer with him, “Our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 3:5).

Pursuing the goal of Christlikeness requires passionate commitment and the sacrifice of selfish ambition. That is not natural for us, it’s supernatural, a work of the Spirit of God within us. Our natural tendency, rooted in our old sin nature, is to want what pleases us and satisfies our fleshly cravings. Those motives are born in us.

I recall standing near the entrance of a large department store one day. Right near the entrance was a colourful display of children’s videos. Just then, a family came in, mom and dad, with a toddler. She spotted the display instantly and quickly  trotted toward it. Arm outstretched, finger pointing, she said, in a demanding voice, “I want that!”

It seemed to me at the time that we too often respond to our world in much the same way, “I want that…and that…and that!” Samson wanted a Philistine wife, even though his parents tried to dissuade him from marrying one of their heathen enemies. His reply says a lot about his character, and about the moral weakness that plagued his career as a judge in Israel. He simply said, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well” (Jud. 14:3).

If we are to become more and more like Christ, we will consistently need to say “No” to the flesh, and “Yes” to God. What pleases us above all else must be pleasing the Lord. That is the theme of Mr. Chisholm’s wonderful hymn.

1) I have one deep supreme desire,
That I may be like Jesus.
To this I fervently aspire,
That I may be like Jesus.
I want my heart His throne to be,
So that a watching world may see
His likeness shining forth in me.
I want to be like Jesus.

Questions:
1) What are the qualities that in particular make up the Christlike character and life?

2) What is the means by which these are attained and maintained?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Thomas Chisholm born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal (Thomas Chisholm)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 14, 2015

A Glorious Church

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: Ralph Erskine Hudson (b. July 12, 1843; d. June 14, 1901)
Music: Ralph Erskine Hudson

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Ralph Hudson born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This sprightly gospel song was first published in 1892. It has a similar theme to Henry Alford’s more poetically elegant Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand.

For years they were the laughing stock of the league. The New York Mets baseball team had never had a winning season–never finished higher than ninth place. Their manager in the early years, Casey Stengel, called them “the Amazin’ Mets,” not because of how well they played, but because they always seemed to come up with new ways to lose.

Until the 1969 season. That year, to the astonishment of many, they won the World Series. Battling their way to the top, all through the season, they became “the Miracle Mets,” a symbol for all time of those who endure a long struggle, and are finally victorious.

There is, in that, a faint picture of the church of Jesus Christ. Referred to in the Bible as the spiritual body of Christ, a body of which He is the Head (Eph. 1:22-23), it was formed on the Day of Pentecost in AD 30, by a mighty work of the Spirit of God. “About a hundred and twenty” believers were gathered (Acts 1:15) in a loft, above the home of Mark’s parents (cf. Acts 12:12), which he describes for us as “a large upper room” (Mk. 14:15). There Jesus had previously celebrated Passover with His disciples.

That group of 120 was the nucleus, the beginning of the Christian church which, in spite of times of persecution and of apostasy, has continued to grow. The statistics today are staggering. There are over two billion people in the world who identify themselves as Christians. They are composed of a wide spectrum of groups and sects–some of which we would not classify as biblically orthodox. Nevertheless, the truly born again saints of God number in the many millions.

In nearly every nation on earth, there is a Christian witness. But not all are able to live out their faith in peace. In many lands, conversion to Christianity is forbidden, and gatherings of believers are illegal. It’s estimated that about 160,000 professing Christians are martyred each year for their faith–a woeful horror that goes largely unreported in the secular media. It is a beleaguered but thriving body.

Is it a perfect church? No, far from it–because it’s made up of very imperfect people. To borrow Stengel’s term, it’s “amazin’” the number of ways we can find to foul up. Samuel Stone’s great hymn, The Church’s One Foundation, describes it this way:

With a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed.

Too often troubled by false doctrine, internal conflict and division, and more, it’s nonetheless heroic, and faces a glorious future. Through the sacrifice of Christ, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, the body of Christ is being prepared for what’s to come. Describing this, using the imagery of a suit of clothes in pristine condition, the Bible says:

“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

Ralph Erskine Hudson (1843-1901), an American Civil War veteran, was the author of many popular hymns. He was inspired by that wonderful future prospect to write the words and music of an encouraging gospel song about the church in heavenly glory.

CH-1) Do you hear them coming, brother,
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood washed, garments pure and white?

’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb;
’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Take heart, Christian. Through the grace of God, and the blood of Christ, God’s Lamb, we’ll one day be victorious–and glorious (Rev. 7:14; 12:11)!

CH-4) Wave the banner, shout His praises,
For our victory is nigh!
We shall join our conqu’ring Saviour,
We shall reign with Him on high!

Questions:
1) What do you believe is the greatest problem of the church today, its greatest hindrance to fulfilling its God-given mission?

2) What is “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26), and how does this prepare and equip the church for its present work?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Ralph Hudson born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 12, 2015

Now in a Song of Grateful Praise

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: Samuel Medley (b. June 23, 1738; d. July 17, 1799)
Music: (unknown. L.M. tune)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Samuel Medley)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The Cyber Hymnal has this hymn set to an anonymous tune from a Salvation Army compilation. Both Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos, and C.S.S.M.’s Golden Bells hymn books use another anonymous tune–the one with which I’m more familiar. Both are L.M. (Long Metre) tunes.

Medley’s father was a school teacher, and a friend of scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Young Samuel was apprenticed to an oil dealer but, abandoning that career, he joined the British Navy. After he was wounded in a battle with the French fleet, he was taken to the home of his godly grandfather to recuperate. The Lord used the prayers and witness of that good man, and the reading of a sermon by Isaac Watts, to bring Samuel Medley to faith in Christ.

Unfit for a physically active naval career because of the effects of his injury, and in the glow of his new-found faith, Medley trained for the ministry. When someone wrote and asked him in what town his church was situated, he responded with a rhyming couplet: “In one where sin makes many a fool, / Known by the name of Liverpool!”

By God’s grace his pastoral work was abundantly fruitful, and he also wrote dozens of hymns. Several of his songs continue to be used today: O Could I Speak the Matchless Worth; Awake My Soul to Joyful Lays; and I Know That My Redeemer Lives, in addition to Now in a Song of Joyful Praise.

How many times have you been disappointed and annoyed that something you purchased did not live up to expectations? No wonder we’re becoming cynical. We’ve learned to treat with skepticism advertisements that proclaim the worth of a particular product. They seem to imply that our lives would surely approach perfection, if only we had the right toothpaste or deodorant, cookware or cleaner, computer or car.

Personally, I can recall times when my wife and I had our expectations rudely dashed, once the product arrived, and we tried it out. There was a feeling that we had somehow been deceived and cheated. The experience has served to increase our wariness of claims that are made. We’ve come to treat the glowing speeches of our politicians the same way. Promises made are too often not promises kept.

However, that cannot be said of the Lord Jesus Christ, who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). As another said of Him, “He has done all things well” (Mk. 7:37). We have a praise hymn based on that last Scripture, over two centuries old, written by Samuel Medley. The phrase, “My Jesus has done all things well, based on Mark 7:37, is repeated in all ten stanzas of the hymn. It is a way of saying that the Lord fulfilled–is fulfilling, and will yet fulfil–all the promises made by Him or about Him. In modern terms we could say He is “As Advertised.”

CH-1) Now, in a song of grateful praise,
To my dear Lord my voice I’ll raise;
With all His saints I’ll join to tell–
My Jesus has done all things well.

CH-2) All worlds His glorious power confess,
His wisdom all His works express;
But oh! His love what tongue can tell?
My Jesus has done all things well.

Centuries before, Isaiah had prophesied about the coming Messiah’s power to heal (Isa. 35:5-6), and again the Lord Jesus did all that was promised and more (cf. Lk. 7:20-22). He demonstrated power over the demonic world (Mk. 1:27), over disease (Mk. 2:12), over the elements of nature (Mk. 4:41), and over death (Mk. 5:35, 41-42), proving again He was who He said He was (cf. Acts 2:22).

Not only in His deeds, but in His words, the Lord Jesus showed Himself to be infinitely above all others. In His daily teaching of the people, “[Jesus] taught them as one having authority” (Mk. 1:22). With utter confidence, He declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35), they are unfailingly true. No wonder a Roman officer said, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (Jn. 7:46).

CH-5) And since my soul hath known His love,
What blessings hath he made me prove!
Mercy, which doth all praise excel,
My Jesus has done all things well.

CH-10) And when to those bright worlds I rise,
And join the anthem with the skies;
Above the rest, this note shall swell,
My Jesus has done all things well.

Questions:
1) What disappointment have you had recently over something that did not live up to promises or expectations?

1) In what particular thing in your own life can you say with sincerity, “My Jesus has done all things well?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Samuel Medley)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 10, 2015

No Blood, No Altar Now

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: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: Trentham, by Robert Jackson (b. May ___, 1842; d. July 12, 1914)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Horatius Bonar born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal (Horatius Bonar)
Hymnary.org

Note: Dr. Bonar was a clergyman in the Free Church of Scotland. A thorough-going evangelical in his preaching, he was also an author of note, with many hymns to his credit. His more than six hundred hymns, both soundly doctrinal and devotionaly warm, earned him the title of “the prince of Scottish hymn writers.”

This hymn, which he called “The Finished Sacrifice,” was written in April of 1858. As of this writing, the Cyber Hymnal does not include it among the 10,600 hymns it covers. And it’s unfortunate that few hymn books carry it either. It reminds us of how the Old Testament sacrificial system has been left behind, and points us to the finality of the death of Christ. The tune Trentham is also used with the hymn Breathe on Me, Breath of God.

1) No blood, no altar now,
The sacrifice is o’er!
No flame, no smoke, ascends on high,
The lamb is slain no more.

2) We thank Thee for the blood,
The blood of Christ, Thy Son:
The blood by which our peace is made,
Our victory is won.

Some change comes quickly, other times it’s gradual and more complicated. When a football player suddenly shifts direction and heads the opposite way to avoid an opponent, we say he can “turn on a dime.” But an ocean liner can’t do that. With much churning of the waters, It takes some time to make the sweeping turn required.

In history, it is the same. The terrorist attacks of 2001 seemed to mark a sudden turning point in history. Things have been different every since. On the other hand, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly give all the slaves full equality with all the citizens of America. It took another century to bring in major civil rights legislation.

There are examples of this in the Bible too. The Israelites spent four decades wandering in the wilderness. Moses told them the purpose: “The Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deut. 8:2). But it was a painful and difficult process. Time after time they rebelled against God and doubted His promises.

At the other end of the scale is what happened at Passover in AD 30. There was a radical turning point in the history of the world. None greater. It took awhile for the affects to be realized and understood, but the change itself took place in an instant. The Gospel of John records it for us. As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, “He said, ‘It is finished!’ and bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (Jn. 19:30).

Think of the before and after. Since the fall, at the dawn of history, animal sacrifices had been offered, to be burned upon an altar. Thousands upon thousands of them. It was a practice ordained by God. And it provided a dramatic picture of the principle of substitution, the innocent dying in place of the guilty. The offerer placed his hand upon the sacrifice (Lev. 1:4), saying in effect, This is me; this animal is dying in my place.

When the sacrifice was offered in faith, God accepted it and forgave the sinner. But it was only of limited and temporary value. A beast couldn’t finally pay for the sins of a human being (Heb. 10:4). The practice, endlessly repeated, merely pointed forward to something far greater yet to come. At Calvary, the Son of God paid the full and final debt of our sin. That is why He is called “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).

He died once and dies no more (Rom. 8:9). He “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb. 10:12). That was a radical change. No other sacrifice is called for; none is needed. Now, all who put their faith in Christ are forgiven of their sins, and receive the gift of eternal life (Jn. 3:16). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

3) We thank Thee for the grace,
Descending from above,
That overflows our widest guilt,
The eternal Father’s love.

4) We thank Thee for the hope,
So glad, and sure, and clear;
It holds the drooping spirit up,
Till the long dawn appear;

5) We thank Thee for the crown
Of glory and of life;
‘Tis no poor with’ring wreath of earth,
Man’s prize in mortal strife.

That is God’s final answer for human sin, for all who will receive it.

Questions:
1) How must believers have felt when they understood that Christ had fulfilled the old sacrificial symbolism?

2) Why would it be difficult for some to leave the animal sacrifices behind?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Horatius Bonar born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal (Horatius Bonar)
Hymnary.org

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