Posted by: rcottrill | April 23, 2014

Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

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.

Words: John Newton (b. July 24, 1725; d. Dec. 21, 1807)
Music: Austria (or Austrian Hymn), adapted from the melody of a Croatian folk hymn (Vjatvo rano se ja vstanem) by Franz Joseph Haydn (b. Mar. 31, 1732; d. May 31, 1809)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Franz Joseph Haydn)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Newton published his hymn in Olney Hymns, in 1779. He provided a number of footnotes, with Scripture references, showing the inspiration for particular lines.

Haydn’s tune was written for a patriotic song celebrating the birthday of the Austrian Emperor in 1797. It has been used for a number of patriotic songs since, including the Nazi’s Deutschland Über Alles (“Germany Above All”), and the current German national anthem. It was published as a hymn tune in 1802, and first became associated with Newton’s hymn in 1889.

The Cyber Hymnal includes a second possible tune, Abbot’s Leigh, by Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907-1991). It was written in 1941, and is considered one of the finest hymn tunes of the twentieth century. It is indeed a beautiful tune, though I think Austrian Hymn is better, especially to the triumphant mood of the present hymn. However, a reason for sometimes using this alternative is suggested by the following incident from the Companion to the United Church Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young (p. 354).

“This writer shall never forget the puzzled and pained expression on the face of Elie Wiesel, famed survivor of Hitler’s death camps, as the audience gathered in the spring on 1983 at Cannon Chapel, Emory University, and spiritedly sang the insensitively selected Newton hymn, prior to [Wiesel] receiving an honorary degree and giving a paper on “Remembering the Holocaust.” Music, like words, may hurt as well as heal.”

T he hymn’s original title was “Zion, or the City of God.” referencing Isaiah 33:27-28. (This seems to be an error, as there are only twenty-four verses in the chapter. Newton may have meant vs. 20-21, which does speak of Zion.) It is important to establish the identity of “Zion” and to understand Newton’s use of the name. Zion was originally a Jebusite stronghold in the southern part of what was to become the city of Jerusalem. David conquered it, and it became known as the City of David (I Chron. 11:5). Later, the name Zion came to be used as a synonym for Jerusalem as a whole.

Once, in the New Testament, the term “Mount Zion” is used of the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-24), “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2), the heavenly city where the throne of God is found. The writer of Hebrews uses this term to make a contrast between the Old Covenant (the Law of Israel) and the New Covenant established through the shed blood of Christ. Mount Sinai, where the Law was given, demonstrated the fearful separation of sinners from a holy God (vs. 18-21). But in the heavenly Jerusalem the redeemed are gathered with the angelic hosts, brought by grace into the presence of God.

So far so good. However, John Newton’s amillennial theology does not accommodate the earthly millennial reign of Christ. He seems to make Old Testament texts that refer to earthly Jerusalem symbolic of heaven. Historic and prophetic earthly Zion disappears from his view.

Consider the first line of CH-1. It is virtually a quotation of Psalm 87:3, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” It is a city that will be established by God Himself (vs. 5), where all nations gather to pay tribute to Him (Ps. 86:9). Other passages that Newton says apply are Psalm 132:13-14, and Isaiah 26:1–which await the second coming of Christ for their literal, earthly fulfilment. Thoroughly mixing his symbolism, Newton says the fourth line of CH-1 applies to the church, referencing Matthew 16:18! So, is his Zion heaven, or the spiritual body of Christ? (Confusing!)

It is the same with other stanzas. Line 2 of CH-2 references Psalm 46:4. However, the psalm clearly has to do with the millennial kingdom when the Lord brings wars to an end and is “exalted among the nations” (vs. 8-10). Line two of CH-3, concerning an overshadowing pillar of cloud and fire, references Isaiah 4:5-6, plainly describing the earthly millennium, when the Messiah-King reigns for a thousand years. Revelation 1:5-6 (cf. I Pet. 2:5, 9) speaks of the saints as they are, at the present time “kings and priests” of God (cf. line 4 of CH-4).

Even if one ignores where Newton thinks he got his inspiration, it is difficult to pin down what the author is speaking of. Is it the church in the present age, the spiritual body of Christ? Or is it the city of Jerusalem in the Millennium? (Not likely, given Newton’s theology.) Or is it heaven? It seems to be a little of each!

The hymn contains some fine poetry, set to a truly great tune. But if we don’t really know what we’re singing about, what is the point! One hymn book I have places the song in a section called “Fellowship and Faith;” another puts it in a section called “Praise and Worship;” several include it in hymns about “The Church.” Albert E. Bailey, in his book The Gospel in Hymns, suggests that may be the meaning, but he’s not sure.

“When we ask just what the author meant by it [the hymn] and when we try to visualize the city, we are baffled. It seems to be a conglomerate of many vague figurative elements” (p 128).

For a different reason, some have also called into question the opening couplet of CH-5.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am…

“If?” It’s been supposed that Newton’s Calvinism led him to some uncertainty as to whether he would prove to be one of the elect in the end. However, I don’t think that’s the point here. The “if” may be better understood in the sense of “since”–a word that is substituted by some editors.

CH-1) Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

Question:
1) If you use this hymn, what is your understanding of what “Zion” stands for in it?

2) What are some other hymns about heaven that contain mixed messages, or erroneous doctrine?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Franz Joseph Haydn)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 21, 2014

Fill Me 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.

Words: Elwood Haines Stokes (b. Oct. 10, 1815; d. July 16, 1895)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Elwood Stokes wrote this hymn in 1879. Dr. Stokes was a pastor, one of the founders of a religious community in New Jersey, and president of the Ocean Grove Campmeeting Association. He felt there was a lack of hymns on the work of the Holy Spirit, so he wrote Fill Me Now. The camp’s director of music at the time, John Sweney, supplied the tune, testifying that while he was on his knees in prayer, “God seemed to speak the melody right into my heart.”

F illed and fulfilled–there’s often a connection between them. When you fill a pitcher with milk, you are also enabling it to fulfil the purpose for which it was designed. The relationship is so close that the Greek of the New Testament has one word (pleroo) which can mean either or both. The Greek word is used to describe a net full of fish–with the net’s purpose thus being fulfilled (Matt. 13:37-38).

Knowing this provides valuable insight, when it comes to a ministry of the Spirit of God. The Old Testament and the New speak of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps some are inclined to think of that in spatial terms, seeing it as similar to filling a pitcher. So when the Spirit in us is somehow depleted we need to be “topped up” in some way. But that is not it at all. To begin with, the Holy Spirit has all the attributes of deity, and He is therefore omnipresent–fully present everywhere at once.

The term describes not a physical experience, but a spiritual work of God in the believer’s life. What’s implied in Stoke’s repeated plea that the Spirit of God “bathe his brow” (CH-1 and CH-4) tends to get us off the track with regard to the meaning, though this may simply be poetic imagery for the comfort of the Spirit.

The Spirit’s filling refers to His empowering, the enabling grace given to us so we can fulfil the purposes of God. A man named Bezalel was filled with the Spirit to give him skill as a craftsman to construct Israel’s worship centre (Exod. 31:2-5). Zacharias with filled with the Spirit so that he might prophesy (Lk. 1:67-68). And when the early church faced persecution, they prayed for boldness to continue preaching the gospel. It was the filling of the Holy Spirit that equipped them to do so (Acts 4:29, 31).

CH-1) Hover o’er me, Holy Spirit,
Bathe my trembling heart and brow;
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come and fill me now.

Fill me now, fill me now,
Jesus, come and fill me now;
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come, and fill me now.

What Christian has never felt a sense of inadequacy to do the will of God, and live consistently in a way that pleases Him? But there is a problem with these lyrics, though we can certainly appreciate the sentiment they express. The text is based on the holiness doctrine of the need to tarry and plead for a “second blessing.” The difficulty lies in the basic implication of the hymn that we must ask and urge the Holy Spirit to fill us. No one in the Bible ever does that, nor are we ever commanded to do so.

First of all, each and every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God (e.g. Rom. 5:5; 8:9, 11; I Cor. 2:12; 6:19; II Cor. 5:5; Gal. 4:6). As to pleading for Him, even the words of Ephesians 5:19, “Be filled with the Spirit,” might be translated, “Be being fulfilled by the Spirit.” In other words, make sure you are in tune spiritually, so you will be receptive to His fulfilling work.

That is sometimes described as “walking in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25). Our walk involves a consist life of obedience and faith. A step by step trust in the Lord, and obedience to His Word. If we sin, we are to confess our sin (I Jn. 1:9), and take up our obedient, faith-filled walk again. When these things are true of us, the Spirit of God is able to fulfil His purpose in and through us. As we walk, He fills. The result is successful Christian living.

CH-3) I am weakness, full of weakness,
At Thy sacred feet I bow;
Blest, divine, eternal Spirit,
Fill with power and fill me now.

The evidence that we are walking (living) in the fullness of the Spirit will be seen in our lives in a practical way. Recently, I wrote a blog on a hymn about revival. The characteristics of a revived believer will do nicely here to describe a Spirit-filled believer. He or she will exhibit the following:

¤ A repentance of sin, and a desire to live a holy life
¤ A love for the Lord, and a longing to know Him and serve Him
¤ An enriching study and application of God’s Word
¤ A love for the people of God and a desire to fellowship regularly with them
¤ An earnestness and power in prevailing prayer
¤ A love for the great hymns and gospel songs of the church, and for singing them with others
¤ A passion to witness for Christ, and see others come to know Him

Questions:
1) How is the Spirit of God fulfilling His purpose in you today (or this week)?

2) What other hymns about the ministry of the Spirit do you know and use?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 18, 2014

Come, Christians, Join to Sing

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.

Words: Christian Henry Bateman (b. Aug. 9, 1813; d. July 27, 1889)
Music: Madrid, an old Spanish melody of unknown origin, first published by Benjamin Carr in 1825, as a piano selection, and later arranged as a hymn tune

Links:

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The song was published in Scotland, in 1843, in Sacred Melodies for Children. Appropriately, the first line was originally, “Come, children, join to sing.” The hymn has been made more universally useful by the word change to “Christians.”

The Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (p. 287) claims that this hymn did not originate with Mr. Bateman, but was his reworking of an 1836 hymn beginning, “Join now in praise and sing,” by William Edward Hickson. Bateman’s version at first had five stanzas, but he later reduced these to the three we use today. The Wordwise Hymns link will give you a spectacular virtuoso piano performance of the hymn tune Madrid.

T his is a lively and inspiring little hymn. “Alleluia” (the Greek form of the Hebrew Hallelujah) means: Praise the Lord! “Amen” means truly, or so be it. In the context here “Amen!” expresses the confident belief that the Lord is infinitely worthy of our praise, both in time and eternity.

To express our praise to the Lord in song is also a universal practice, an activity of men and angels, throughout time and eternity. The book of Psalms, the hymn book of the Bible, refers specifically to singing fifty-nine times.

“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:6-7).

Many of the later psalms begin with an invitation to sing the praises of God. They are a call to the people of God to address the Lord with music.

“Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute” (Ps. 81:1-2; cf. 89:1; 92:1; 95:1; 96:1-2; 98:1; 101:1; 108:1; 147:1; 149:1).

In the New Testament, we have singing in the Gospels, by Jesus and the disciples (Matt. 26:30), in the book of Acts, by Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16:25), in the epistles (Col. 3:16), and all the way on to the book of Revelation, where men and angels join in song around the eternal throne of God (Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3).

CH-1) Come, Christians, join to sing
Alleluia! Amen!
Loud praise to Christ our King;
Alleluia! Amen!
Let all, with heart and voice,
Before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice.
Alleluia! Amen!

In the Colossians text noted above, Christians are exhorted:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

CH-2) Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
Let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
He is our Guide and Friend;
To us He’ll condescend;
His love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

The praise and worship of God is a logical corollary of faith. That is, when we believe and confess who the Lord is, and what He has done for us, praise is the natural outflow of that. He is infinitely worthy of it, and even eternity will not give us enough time to finish our songs of praise.

“I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised” (Ps. 18:3).

“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honour and power; For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created’” (Rev. 4:10-11).

CH-3) Praise yet our Christ again,
Alleluia! Amen!
Life shall not end the strain;
Alleluia! Amen!
On heaven’s blissful shore,
His goodness we’ll adore,
Singing forevermore,
“Alleluia! Amen!”

Questions:
1) What comes to mind for which you can praise the Lord today?

2) What are our finest hymns of praise and worship?


Links:

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 16, 2014

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

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.

Words: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11, 1895; d. Jan. 13, 1985)
Music: Harry Dudley Clarke (b. Jan. 28, 1888; d. Oct. 14, 1957)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Avis Christiansen)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Avis Christensen was one of the major gospel song writers of the twentieth century. She lived her whole life in the Chicago area. Harry Clarke was a Welshman who emigrated to America. He served as song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday and later became a pastor. This song (sometimes entitled What Must I Do?) was published in 1920. I’ve retained the original “thee’s” and “thou’s,” but this is one time they can be replaced by you and your (e.g. “And you shall be saved from sin,” CH-1) without disturbing the metre or the rhyme.

T his is a simple song about the simple gospel. It is based on an incident in Acts 16. Missionaries Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel at Philippi, when they ran afoul of some locals who were using a demon possessed girl as a fortune teller, and making a lot of money through her pronouncements (vs. 16). When Paul delivered her from demonic bondage in the name of Jesus Christ, her masters had the two missionaries arrested (vs. 18-19).

The accusation was, “These men exceedingly trouble our city,” and they teach customs which are against Roman law (vs. 20-21). This got the watching crowd stirred up, and the magistrates–likely fearing a riot–had Paul and Silas beaten and cast into prison, with their feet secured in stocks (vs. 22-24). The two had just suffered an unjust arrest, a painful beating, and had been thrown in jail, deprived of their freedom, their future uncertain. But what happened then?

“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (vs. 25).

What a wonderful demonstration of faith and courage! And we need to go back to an earlier persecution of the believers to understand the attitude of these faithful servants of the Lord. After others had been arrested and beaten we read, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41).

I don’t think the prayer meeting of Paul and Silas was a mournful affair, do you? In spite of the pain they were in, and being unsure of what would happen next, they were rejoicing in the Lord.

The prisoners must have enjoyed the concert. However the jailer didn’t. He was fast asleep (vs. 27). But the Lord was going to get his attention in a big way. There was a sudden and severe earthquake. The prisoner’s chains were shaken from their attachment to the walls, and doors of the prison were wrenched open (vs. 26). Jarred into wakefulness, the jailor panicked. He was sure the prisoners had all seized the opportunity to escape.

Under Roman law, he would be executed for that. So he determined to fall on his sword and die by his own hand (vs. 27). But Paul’s voice rang out, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (vs. 28). And what happened next calls for a bit of speculation. It seems to me that the encounter the jailer has with Paul at this point suggests that he knew something of the Christian message. He may have heard Paul preach, or Paul and Silas may have witnessed to him earlier. Clearly his concern is for more than his physical safety. He has been driven to consider his eternal destiny.

“Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household [that is, the same applies to those in your household as well]’” (Acts 16:29-31).

The apartment where the jailor lived seems to have been attached to the prison. He took the prisoners there, and kindly washed their wounds. After Paul and Silas preached the gospel to all who were present, each member of the household–perhaps including servants–put his or her faith in Christ, and they were all baptized (vs. 32-34).

I referred earlier to “the simple gospel.” It was not simple in the divine or cosmic sense. For God to plan, before we even came to be, that His Son would die for lost sinners (Rev. 13:8), and then to execute that plan, at just the right time (Gal. 4:4), through a complex series of events, was far from simple.

But something over a hundred times in the New Testament, we are told that the blessing of that salvation is received through simple faith in Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31; Jn. 3:16), receive or accept Christ as your personal Saviour (a synonym for believing, Jn. 1:12-13; Col. 2:6) and God will cleanse your sin and give you everlasting life. Good works are a loving response to God’s salvation, but they can do nothing to earn it (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:8; cf. Rom. 4:4-5)

CH-1) “What must I do?” the trembling jailer cried,
When dazed by fear and wonder;
“Believe on Christ!” was all that Paul replied,
“And thou shalt be saved from sin.”

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
And thou shalt be saved!

CH-2) What must I do! O weary, trembling, soul,
Just turn today to Jesus;
He will receive, forgive and make thee whole–
Christ alone can set thee free.

Questions:
1) Have you accepted God’s offer of a full and free salvation through the finished work of Christ?

2) What verses of Scripture give you the assurance of salvation?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Avis Christiansen)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 14, 2014

America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)

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.

Words: Samuel Francis Smith (b. Oct. 21, 1808; d. Nov. 16, 1895)
Music: America (composer unknown; the first appearance of the tune in Thesaurus Musicus, 1745)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This stirring and beautiful hymn is sometimes called simply America. The stories of how it came to be written in 1831 have varied. A likely version is told in the Wordwise Hymns link. The tune, of course, was already being used in Britain for God Save the King (or Queen). Though its origin is uncertain, it has been claimed that the English composer was Henry Carey (1685-1743). But its British use apparently wasn’t realized by Smith at the time he saw it. Greatly impressed by the melody, he says:

“I instantly felt the impulse to write a patriotic hymn of my own, adapted to the tune. Picking up a scrap of waste paper which lay near me, I wrote at once, probably within half an hour, the hymn America as it is now known everywhere.”

CH-1) My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!

T he song has been criticized because it does not represent in its imagery the full sweep of the continent. Samuel Smith was born and died in Boston. He might be enraptured by the “rocks and rills [brooks],” and the “woods and templed hills” of New England (CH-2), but America is much more than that. Missing are the towering western mountains and the endless vistas of open prairie, “the oceans white with foam” of God Bless America. And the “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain” of America the Beautiful.

But what has kept Smith’s hymn in use for nearly two centuries is its burning passion for freedom. America is a “sweet land of liberty,” so “let freedom ring.” The latter phrase was used with telling effect by Martin Luther King, in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Freedom is mentioned in four of the hymn’s five stanzas, and strongly implied in CH-3 (now omitted) which says:

CH-3) No more shall tyrants here
With haughty steps appear,
And soldier bands;
No more shall tyrants tread
Above the patriot dead–
No more our blood be shed
By alien hands.

The sentiment of the hymn reflects the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of the nation’s Declaration of Independence, and the throbbing passion of the lines by Emma Lazarus, found on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Though the song was born nearly a century before Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech in 1941, the theme is echoed there as well, with it’s call for freedom of speech, and of worship, and freedom from want, and from fear itself.

It’s a desire for freedom from political and religious tyranny that has driven many to the shores of the “New World,” and that is so ingrained in the nation’s psyche that it remains and the forefront of political discourse and debate. The question remains, however, as to how well America has fulfilled this self-proclaimed mandate. For Martin Luther King, in the 60′s, with a large percentage of the population disenfranchised and disadvantaged, it was still an unrealized “dream.”

Being a Canadian, I speak with some caution, of our good neighbours to the south. Our path to independence has been different, but the ideal of personal liberty is found here too, as is our struggle to sustain it. And given the nature of this blog, I also want to speak as a Christian. What of the believer’s freedom in Christ?

The Bible too talks of liberty. Christian liberty from sin and Satan’s tyranny (Col. 1:13), but also liberty in a deeper sense. The believer is reborn into the family of God, when he puts his faith in the merits of Christ’s sacrifice. In this way he is freed from the struggle to gain God’s acceptance by his own efforts. Saved by the grace of God, good works become a loving response to salvation, not a way to earn it (Eph. 2:8-10).

We have the further responsibility not to abuse this liberty. To “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1), and “not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh [the selfish sin nature], but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). We are to “beware lest somehow this liberty of [ours] become a stumbling block to those who are weak” (I Cor. 8:9).

Freedom for the Christian in society involves the ability to worship and serve God without governmental restraint, or the oppression and persecution those who disagree. To preserve this right, the Bible exhorts us to pray for our national leaders (I Tim. 2:1-4).

CH-5) Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King.

Questions:
1) Do you feel that religious freedom in your country is greater or less today than it was a generation ago?

2) What things can individual Christians and local churches do to strengthen national freedom?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 11, 2014

I Belong to the King

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.

Words: Ida Lilliard Reed (b. Nov. 30, 1865; d. July 8, 1951)
Music: Clifton, by Joseph Lincoln Hall (b. Nov. 4, 1866; d. Nov. 29, 1930)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This song was likely written in 1896 and published some years later. Both Reed and Hall used pen names. Some of her songs call her Ida Smith, and some of Hall’s compositions use the name Maurice Clifton.

Graphic Ida ReedCheck out the Wordwise Hymns link to learn more about this remarkable woman–remarkable because of her artistic output, in spite of a life of terrible suffering. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was an invalid. She was left to care for the farm, and help her mother, and become a mother herself to her younger siblings (whom she outlived).

Strenuous overwork led to a life of much pain and suffering. She was bedridden herself for many years, and used her poems to bring in a small income. As you can see from the picture, the lines of hardship and toil are etched in her face. She lived in poverty until ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) was made aware of her situation. In recognition of her substantial contribution to sacred music they provided her with a monthly pension, beginning in 1939.

Y et for all the hardship she faced, Ida Reed wrote some 2,000 hymns and gospel songs. (The Cyber Hymnal lists nearly 400 of them.) The present one was written from a hospital bed, but the mood is one of serenity, hope, and joyful anticipation. There are some Christians who are wealthy in terms of worldly possessions, but many more who are not. Yet all believers are rich beyond measure in what God has in store for them.

It’s God’s purpose “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). And if the Lord Jesus is indeed preparing “many mansions [or dwelling places]” for His own (Jn. 14:2-3), can we think that they will be less glorious and palatial than earthly riches have provided for the wealthy down here?

Further, each one of us has, as the Bible puts it, “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us]” (I Pet. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus exhorts His followers to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20). This suggests that we are able to act in such a way, here and now, as to multiply and augment our eternal wealth.

The latter truth, however, must not be misunderstood. We do not earn our salvation, or become God’s children, on the basis of our good works (Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible teaches plainly that we are saved through personal faith in the work of Christ on the cross, and that alone (Jn. 3:16). We enter the King’s family by the new birth, a spiritual birth that is a work of the Spirit of God (Jn. 1:12-13). “And if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

CH-1) I belong to the King; I’m a child of His love,
I shall dwell in His palace so fair,
For He tells of its bliss in yon heaven above,
And His children in splendours shall share.

I belong to the King; I’m a child of His love,
And he never forsaketh His own.
He will call me some day to His palace above;
I shall dwell by His glorified throne.

The Bible describes Christians as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We “belong to the King.” And we are repeatedly told that as the children of God–part of the Royal Family of heaven–we will have the privilege of reigning with Christ. We are a royal priesthood (I Pet. 2:9), “kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10).

“Blessed and holy is he who has a part in the first resurrection [“the resurrection of the just,” Lk. 14:14]. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6).

It’s touching that Ida Reed, with all of her lifelong troubles and trials, should speak with assurance, and say that “His mercy and kindness so free are unceasingly mine wherever I go” (CH-2). It reminded me of the words of the Apostle Paul:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (II Cor. 4:16).

CH-2) I belong to the King, and He loves me I know,
For His mercy and kindness so free
Are unceasingly mine wheresoever I go,
And my refuge unfailing is He.

CH-3) I belong to the King, and His promise is sure:
That we all shall be gathered at last
In His kingdom above, by life’s waters so pure,
When this life with its trials is past.

Questions:
1) What are some things that can help us, as Christians, to maintain a positive outlook, in spite of trials?

2) What are some verses of Scripture that have encouraged you in such situations?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 9, 2014

Where We’ll Never Grow Old

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.


Words:
James Cleveland Moore (b. May 2, 1888; d. June 1, 1962)
Music: James Cleveland Moore

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This gospel song was written around 1914. The Cyber Hymnal notes the peculiarity that both the words and the music are similar to those of another song from 1889, called That Beautiful Land. (The author and composer of the latter are different.) Sometimes it happens that a hymn on a particular theme is desired for publication, but copyright restrictions prevent its use. One solution is to write a different but similar song. Whether that was the case here, I don’t know, but the present song was written in response to a particular experience.

According to the Cyber Hymnal, James Moore served as the pastor of a number of churches. For for two years he was also president of the Georgia-Florida-Alabama Tri-State Singing Convention, and was president of the Southern Singers’ Association of Georgia. He estimated that he wrote over 500 songs; sales of his phonograph records ran into the millions.

T wenty-six year old Jim Moore was coming back to his home town in Georgia. He’d been away for years, first, working to earn enough money to go to college, then getting an education. Now he was to preach for the folks in his family’s little Baptist church. Jim’s father had directed the choir and led the singing in the church for many years. Now it was quite a thrill for him to do so before his own son was to speak.

But the thing that struck Jim Moore the most, as he gazed out over the congregation, was how different it was. The years had brought many changes. Some folks had died, others had moved away. Those that remained had grown older. Even Jim’s nine brothers and sisters had grown up since he’d been away.

C. R. Moore, Jim’s father, was reputed to be one of the finest gospel singers in Georgia. He had been trained by Anthony Showalter, a vocal music teacher and hymn writer (the author of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms). But Jim was struck by how the voice of the elder Moore had deteriorated. “I felt sorry for him,” he said. “He would lose his pitch and his voice would break.”

When the young man returned to graduate school, he thought about the inevitability of change, and of how age brings a loss of health, mobility, and various abilities.

This turned his attention to what the Bible says about heaven, and how sickness and death will be forever behind us. Not that there will be no passing of time in the heavenly kingdom. Eternity is not timeless, but consists of endless time. However, the infirmities and other problems of aging will be no more.

“I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful’” (Rev. 21:3-5).

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent [our body], is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (II Cor. 5:1-4).

“So when this corruptible [what is perishable] has put on incorruption [that which is imperishable], and this mortal [what is subject to dying and death] has put on immortality [that which is not subject to dying and death], then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (I Cor. 15:54).

CH-1) I have heard of a land on the far away strand,
’Tis a beautiful home of the soul;
Built by Jesus on high, there we never shall die,
’Tis a land where we never grow old.

Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old;
Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old.

CH-2) In that beautiful home where we’ll never more roam,
We shall be in the sweet by and by;
Happy praise to the King through eternity sing,
’Tis a land where we never shall die.

CH-3) When our work here is done and the life crown is won,
When our troubles and trials are o’er;
All our sorrow will end, and our voices will blend
With the loved ones who’ve gone on before.

Questions:
1) What other songs about heaven have been an encouragement to you?

2) Is there someone you could encourage with the message of Moore’s song this week?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 7, 2014

We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations

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.

Words: Henry Ernest Nichol (b. Dec. 10, 1862; d. Aug. 30, 1926)
Music: Message, by Henry Ernest Nicol

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Some books list the composer of the tune as Colin Sterne, but that is a pen name of Ernest Nicol (an anagram, based on rearranging the letters of Nicol and Ernest).

There is much in this 1896 hymn that is stirring, and commendable. However, the juxtaposition of the refrain does create a problem, and could at least lead to some misunderstanding.

Nichol says the gospel is “a story of peace and light, for the darkness shall turn to dawning…and Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth.” Individually, the statements are true. But the two are not cause and effect. By bringing them together in this way, the author is expressing a teaching of postmillennialism. Postmillennialists believe that the church is going to convert the world, and then Christ will return to set up His earthly kingdom. This view became less popular in the twentieth century, with war after war, and the obvious and increasing corruption of society.

Contrary to this view, the Bible says:

“The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:1-2).

“Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (I Tim. 3:1-4).

“All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (II Tim. 3:12-13).

So, yes, we have a story to tell to the nations (CH-1), the Bible’s account of how God the Son became Man, and died to save us. And we have a song to sing (CH-2)–the great hymns and gospel songs of the Christian faith that are the subject of this blog. We have a message to give (CH-3), and a Saviour to show to the world (CH-4), both through our lives and our verbal witness. We invest our time, talents and treasures in this work, for the glory of God.

Christ will come again according to the time set by a sovereign God. But apostasy and the pollution of sin will be such that the Lord Jesus raised the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:8). “Christ’s great kingdom” will not follow the transformation of the gospel, but will bring that transformation with it. It’s the return of Christ that will “shatter the spear and sword” (CH-2), not the present works of men (cf. Isa. 2:1-4).

CH-1) We’ve a story to tell to the nations
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light,
A story of peace and light.

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright;
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
The kingdom of love and light.

CH-2) We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
That shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
A song that shall conquer evil
And shatter the spear and sword,
And shatter the spear and sword.

CH-3) We’ve a message to give to the nations,
That the Lord who reigns up above
Hath sent us His Son to save us,
And show us that God is love,
And show us that God is love.

Questions:
1) How would you explain the essence of the gospel to a non-Christian (i.e. using what key Bible truths, and what verses of Scripture)?

2) What are the greatest missionary hymns in the English language?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 4, 2014

The Saviour Can Solve Every Problem

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.

Words: Oswald Jeffrey Smith (b. Nov. 8, 1889; d. Jan. 25, 1986)
Music: Bentley DeForest Ackley (b. Sept. 27, 1872; d. Sept. 3, 1958)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Oswald Smith)
The Cyber Hymnal (Oswald Smith, Bentley Ackley)

Note: According to Oswald Smith, the text for this song was written some time between 1913 and 1915, but it took awhile before it was turned into a song. Around 1931, Dr. Smith sent the poem to Bentley Ackley, who promptly set it to music, and published it the following year. Ackley was involved in a radio program at the time, and he says that they used the song for the opening and closing theme for awhile, adding, “The preacher weaves his morning message around the thought of this song.”

T he claim is a bold one: that the Lord can solve every problem. So is that true? Let’s think about several things.

1) God is omnipotent. God can do anything–as long as it doesn’t violate His essential character or His previously stated purpose. God cannot lie, for example (Tit. 1:2), because He’s a God of truth (Deut. 32:4). Otherwise, “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). And as Jeremiah confesses, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You” (Jer. 32:17).

2) We also know that the Lord will fulfil His purpose for us, as Christians. “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). He is determined to bring believers to maturity, and ultimately to exalt them to heavenly glory. And whatever happens in our lives becomes the raw materials that He employs to accomplish that (Rom. 8:28-30; Eph. 1:11-12).

3) Then what about our “problems”? The answer is it all depends. It depends on the cause of those problems, and on God’s purpose in the immediate situation. Sometimes a problem may be caused by personal sin. If so, the answer begins with confessing and forsaking the sin. Other times the problem may be the result of Satan’s opposition to the cause of Christ. In that case, we can pray for the Lord to help us, and He will.

Other problems may simply be the result of living in a fallen world that is under the curse of God. They are difficulties that all of us face in daily life, whether believer or unbeliever. And sometimes, as we pray, the Lord will reveal a natural and practical solution that involves the use of gifts He has already given us–but perhaps applied in a new and creative way. Or the Lord will send into our lives others who can help us to deal with the problem.

The Lord will not always remove difficult circumstances from our lives. Dealing with them becomes part of the maturing process, and a way that He can bring glory to Himself as we trust in Him. In all circumstances we can appeal to God for His daily grace and mercy.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Paul provides an example for us (II Cor. 12:7-10). We don’t know exactly what his physical malady was. There are possible clues that it had to do with his eyesight. But though he prayed on three different occasions for healing, it didn’t come. Instead, God said He would provide daily grace to deal with it.

“He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Cor. 12:9).

This appears to be the kind of problem-solving that Oswald Smith presents to us in his gospel song. We can see it in allusions to Paul’s experience with his physical ailment. And Dr. Smith said the song had also been an encouragement “to those who have marriage problems, financial problems, family and business problems.”

1) The Saviour can lift ev’ry burden,
The heavy as well as the light;
His strength is made perfect in weakness,
In Him there is power and might.

The Saviour can solve ev’ry problem,
The tangles of life can undo;
There is nothing too hard for Jesus,
There is nothing that He cannot do.

2) The Saviour can bear ev’ry sorrow,
In Him there is comfort and rest;
No matter how great the affliction,
He only permits what is best.

Questions:
1) In what kind of problem(s) in your own life have you recently found this to be true?

2) What other hymns do you know and love about God’s ministry to us in times of pain and difficulty?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Oswald Smith)
The Cyber Hymnal (Oswald Smith, Bentley Ackley)

Posted by: rcottrill | April 2, 2014

Tell It to 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.

Words: in German, Edmund Simon Lorenz (b. July 13, 1854; d. July 10, 1942); English translation, Jeremiah Eames Rankin (b. Jan. 2, 1828; d. Nov. 28, 1904)
Music: Edmund Simon Lorenz

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The German version of the song was published in 1876, and the English translation in 1880. (That same year, Rankin also gave us the song, God Be With You Till We Meet Again.) Both Lorenz and Rankin served as pastors in the United States. In addition, Edmund Lorenz founded the Lorenz Publishing Company in 1890, which has been administered by succeeding generations of the Lorenz family, and continues to produce a variety of church music to this day. (It’s now known as the Lorenz Corporation.)

As I note in the Wordwise Hymns link, this is one of the most repetitious gospel songs we have. Some two dozen times we’re told to “tell it to Jesus”–and you can add another one if you include the title! But there are certainly things that bear repeating, and this is one! So there may be merit to this song, simple and repetitious though it is. The Wordwise Hymns link also gives you a Bluegrass version of the song.

CH-1) Are you weary, are you heavyhearted?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you grieving over joys departed?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus,
He is a Friend that’s well known.
You’ve no other such a friend or brother,
Tell it to Jesus alone.

T he Bible is a book of prayer. The word itself is used over three hundred times, and that does not account for similar terms–beseeching God, calling on God, seeking God, and so on. Add to that all the times we read of individuals or groups actually praying. In his book All the Prayers of the Bible, author Herbert Lockyer lists over six hundred and fifty of them.

Prayer is both a privilege and a duty, both appropriate and helpful.

1) Prayer is a privilege. Almighty God, the Ruler of all the universe, gives us a gracious invitation to talk with Him, day or night, and bring our needs before Him, promising that He is a prayer-hearing, prayer-answering God (Ps. 50:15; Isa. 55:6; Jer. 33:3). Further, prayer is a privilege won for us at the cross. A new and living way into the presence of God was opened for us by our Saviour (Heb. 10:19-22).

2) Prayer is a duty. We have a responsibility to engage in prayer (Lk. 18:1). It is commanded in the Scriptures (I Thess. 5:17). And there are many who need our prayers (our intercession). Would we deny a cup of water to a thirsty soul, if it were in our power to give it? No, not if we have sensitivity to those around us. And many more needs can be met by the Lord, in answer to our prayers–even those of individuals on the other side of the globe can benefit (II Thess. 3:1).

3) Prayer is appropriate. There are many kinds of prayer. Because we are coming to the Lord God, prayers of worship, and of praise and thanksgiving are certainly appropriate (Ps. 34:1; 103:1-5). And since He is holy, and our lives are marred by sin, prayers of confession are also suitable and timely (I Jn. 1:9).

4) Prayer is helpful. For our own needs, and for our spiritual growth, we ought to pray. The resources of heaven are limitless, and we come to a God who is both loving and wise. He will answer according to what is best (Lk. 11:9-10; Heb. 4:15-16; Jas. 1:5; I Jn. 5:14). It is this area that is the main focus of the present song.

CH-1. Are you weary, or discouraged? Are you grieving some sense of loss? These are things you can talk to the Lord about.

CH-2. Do you sorrow over your own faults and failings? Do you have sins that perhaps only you know about? Then, talk to the Lord about these things, seeking His protection against them.

CH-2) Do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Have you sins that to men’s eyes are hidden?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

CH-3. Do you fret over sorrowful losses that may come up ahead? Are you anxious over the trials and troubles that tomorrow may bring? Then pray, tell the Lord all about it.

CH-3) Do you fear the gathering clouds of sorrow?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you anxious what shall be tomorrow?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

CH-4. Unless the Lord comes first, which He may, each of us will die. Does that bother you? Or are you longing for the Lord to come and usher in eternity’s cloudless day? Tell the Lord and seek His grace.

CH-4) Are you troubled at the thought of dying?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
For Christ’s coming kingdom are you sighing?
Tell it to Jesus alone.

Questions:
1) Which of the concerns mentioned above is particularly on your own heart today? Will you take it to the Lord in prayer?

2) Which of the concerned mentioned is a burden for someone you know? Can you bear them up in prayer today? And are you ready to become a partial answer to your own prayer, by offering a helping hand?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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