Posted by: rcottrill | August 20, 2014

Calm on the Listening Ear of Night

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

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

Words: Edmund Hamilton Sears (b. Apr. 6, 1810; d. Jan. 14, 1876)
Music: Bethlehem, by Gottfried Wilhelm Fink (b. Mar. 8, 1783; d. Aug. 27, 1846)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The Cyber Hymnal suggests several tunes for this fine 1834 carol. Bethlehem is also commonly used with Thy Word Is Like a Garden, Lord. The main drawback with St. Agnes (used also with Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee) is that it requires splitting each stanza of Sears hymn (as the Cyber Hymnal has it) in two, and that would become quite repetitious if all five (ten!) stanzas were sung.

It should also be noted, however, that in the many versions found in old hymnals (see Hymnary.org) the hymn was printed in a four-line version until around 1875. But these books also omitted much of the hymn, using only two or three of the eight-line stanzas. The longer melody works better, in my view.

The tune Carol, which is used for Sears’ more familiar Christmas hymn, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear almost fits this hymn as well. Almost–but it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. (E.g. “Calm ON the listening ear of night,” and “Glo-REE to God, the lofty strain.” If you can abide this slight problem, the tune does have the advantage of being very familiar.

Most would not class Edmund Sears as an orthodox Christian. He was an adherent of the heretical teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and pastored in several Unitarian churches. We would disagree with some of his theology, but he has given us two Christmas carols, the more familiar It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and, sixteen years earlier, the present song that he called simply “A Christmas Song.”

The hymn is couched in exceptionally fine poetry. Read the full version in the Cyber Hymnal to see. Oliver Wendell Holmes said it was “one of the most beautiful poems ever written.” Whether we would agree with that high praise, it is a beautiful carol. And there is nothing in it that flies in the face of orthodoxy.

Two millennia ago, some shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were watching over their flocks (Lk. 2:8-20). In that pre-industrial time, the clarity of the star-spangled sky could be seen without a veil of smog, or competing lights from the town. A sighing wind, and the bleating of sheep, may have mingled with low conversation. But none of that seemed to intrude upon the stillness of the scene. Then it happened.

First, “an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (vs. 9). Notice the Bible does not say he was floating in the sky, as he is pictured on some Christmas cards. He “stood before them.” And they were naturally frightened by his sudden appearance, and by the unearthly glow around him. But he spoke reassuringly: “Do not be afraid…I bring you good tidings of great joy….there is born to you…a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord” (vs. 10-11).

Just as suddenly, there appeared “with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (vs. 13-14). A multitude. It’s a word sometimes used of the crowds that followed the Lord Jesus during His years of ministry. It suggests a large number.

Whether the angels actually sang or not, is debated. But the word “praising” can legitimately be translated singing praises. And their message certainly interrupted the quiet vigil of those who listened. Immediately, “they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger” (vs. 16).

Though the words of the angels were heard by only a handful of humble shepherds that night, they have resounded unceasingly around the world, ever since. They joyfully proclaimed the coming of the Saviour who would one day die on the cross to save us from our sins (Jn. 3:16).

CH-1) Calm on the listening ear of night
Come heaven’s melodious strains,
Where wild Judea stretches forth
Her silver mantled plains.
Celestial choirs from courts above
Shed sacred glories there,
And angels, with their sparkling lyres,
Make music on the air.

CH-2) The answering hills of Palestine
Send back the glad reply;
And greet, from all their holy heights,
The Dayspring from on high.
O’er the blue depths of Galilee
There comes a holier calm,
And Sharon waves, in solemn praise,
Her silent groves of palm.

CH-5) This day shall Christian tongues be mute,
And Christian hearts be cold?
Oh, catch the anthem that from heaven
O’er Judah’s mountains rolled.
When burst upon that listening night
The high and solemn lay:
“Glory to God, on earth be peace,”
Salvation comes today!

Questions:
1) Is this a carol you use at Christmas? (If not by singing it, could you do so as a reading?)

2) What is there about this carol that makes it superior to It Came Upon the Midnight Clear?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 18, 2014

Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

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

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

Words: Bernard of Clairvaux (b. _____, 1091; d. Aug. 21, 1153); English translation, Ray Palmer (b. Nov. 12, 1808; d. Mar. 29, 1887)
Music: Hesperus (also called Quebec), by Henry Baker (b. June 6, 1835; d. Feb. 1, 1910)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Bernard of Clairvaux)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The hymn was written around 1150. It is not absolutely certain that Bernard wrote it. However, evidence is sufficient that most hymnals recognize him as the author. There are a number of tunes that suit this beautiful hymn–several mentioned in the Cyber Hymnal. One not found there, which also works well, is Rimington.

A little information on Bernard can be found on the Wordwise link, and on the other links as well. The hymn is taken from the lengthy poem of forty-two four-line stanzas titled, Jesu Dulcis Memoria. Ray Palmer’s translation of the Latin original was published in 1858. Much credit goes to Dr. Palmer for his selection of stanzas to be used and the ordering of them (stanzas 4, 3, 20, 28 and 10 of the original), and for his fine paraphrasing of them.

This is a truly great and passionate hymn. Historian Philip Schaff calls it “the sweetest and most evangelical hymn of the Middle Ages.” It is the kind of expression we would expect from Bernard, who loved Christ passionately. He wrote, “If thou writest, nothing therein has savour to me unless I read Jesus in it.”

In CH-1 and 3, Bernard’s hymn gives the Lord Jesus Christ a number of significant titles (identified with capital letters). They are each supported by Scripture. He is the Joy of loving hearts (I Pet. 1:8), the Fount of life (Jn. 11:25)), the Light of men (Jn. 1:4; 8:12), the living Bread (Jn. 6:51), and the Fountainhead (Jn. 7:37-38).

CH-1) Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

The Lord Jesus said, “I am…the truth” (Jn. 14:6), the embodiment of truth, both about God, and about God’s ideal for man. He was also the great Communicator of God’s truth. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17), and the Word of God is just as truly the Word of Christ (Col. 3:16). In believing the truth revealed, there is salvation and abundant and joyful life in Him. Jesus said, ““These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn. 15:11).

CH-2) Thy truth unchanged hath ever stood;
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee Thou art good,
To them that find Thee all in all.

Christ is the Christians supreme Resource, by the will of God the Father, and the agency of the Holy Spirit. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’” (Jn. 6:35). And we’re promised, “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

CH-3) We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:9). “Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8). Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers, “That Christ may dwell in [be welcome, and settle down and be at home in] your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17).

CH-4) Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.

The Lord Jesus Himself promised His continuing presence with us. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). In Christ, there is abiding spiritual light. “He [God the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13)–who said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).

CH-5) O Jesus, ever with us stay,
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed over the world Thy holy light.

Questions:
1) What is it about this outstanding hymn that most impresses you?

2) Have you found in Christ this kind of joy and fullness? (If not, why not?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Bernard of Clairvaux)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 15, 2014

Jesus Spreads His Banner O’er Us

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

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

Words: Roswell Park (b. Oct. 1, 1807; d. July 16, 1869)
Music: Autumn, by François Hippolyte Barthélémon (b. July 27, 1741; d. July 23, 1808)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This Communion hymn (entitled “The Communion”) was written in 1836. You can learn a bit more about the author in the Wordwise link.

In its use, since it was written, the hymn has been divided in various ways. In general, the first stanza is omitted entirely. This says:

While the sons of earth retiring,
From the sacred temple roam;
Lord, Thy light and love desiring,
To Thine altar fain we come.
Children of our heavenly Father,
Friends and brethren we would be;
While we round Thy table gather,
May our hearts be one in Thee.

The author’s thought was that this was to be the signal for any unsaved present (or backslidden believers perhaps) to leave–“the sons of earth retiring”–so that the more spiritual folks could participate in the Lord’s Supper. Of course it isn’t usually put quite that way. Robert McCutchan says:

“Dr. Park had in mind those churches where the members of the congregation not wishing to partake of the Lord’s Supper are given an opportunity to retire before the invitation [to the Table] is extended” (Our Hymnody, pp. 419-420).

Some churches actually end the worship service, Benediction and all. After that, some leave, and others stay for Communion. I attended a church, when I was a boy, where this was done, and offer a personal opinion of the practice in the Wordwise link.

Sometimes, the remaining stanzas are split in two. With a tune used that accommodates four-line stanzas, CH-1 becomes one and two, then either the first half, or sometimes the latter half, of CH-2 becomes the third and final stanza. (Actually, the last four lines of the omitted stanza above would work as an opening stanza in this case.)

If you use the shorter stanzas, many metrical 8.7.8.7 tunes will fit. You could try Evening Prayer (used with Saviour, Breathe an Evening Blessing); Rathbun (used with In the Cross of Christ I Glory); or Wycliff (sometimes used with All for Jesus.).

The fourth line of CH-1 speaks, “Of His mystic flesh and blood.” If this comes too close to the doctrine of consubstantiation, or transubstantiation for you (which many, including myself, do not believe is biblical), you could alter the line to “Symbols of His flesh and blood.” (I’ve changed the line in that way, below.)

This is a service of “remembrance” (I Cor. 11:24, 25), not of some mystical transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Those who believe the latter, do so on the basis of Christ’s words at the Passover meal when the Lord’s Supper was instituted.

“Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Matt. 26:26-28, italics mine).

But the Lord Jesus was not offering His body and blood for them to eat. And there are other examples in Scripture of the word “is” identifying a symbol. For example, in explaining the meaning of the parable of the sower (Lk. 8:4-15), Jesus says that “the seed is the word of God” (vs. 11, italics mine). He doesn’t mean the seeds turn into Bibles. He means the seed sown in various kinds of soil represents God’s Word sown in hearts–hearts variously prepared to receive it. (For other examples of “is” used in the sense of represents or pictures, see Rev. 17:18; 19:8).

With the omissions and changes described, I believe this is a reverent and meaningful Communion hymn. I would personally use four four-line stanzas as they are below, sung thoughtfully, probably set to the tune Wycliff.

Children of our heavenly Father,
Friends and brethren we would be;
While we round Thy table gather,
May our hearts be one in Thee.

CH-1) Jesus spreads his banner o’er us,
Cheers our famished souls with food;
He the banquet spreads before us,
Symbols of His flesh and blood.

Precious banquet, bread of heaven,
Wine of gladness, flowing free;
May we taste it, kindly given,
In remembrance, Lord, of Thee.

CH-2) In Thy trial and rejection,
In Thy suff’rings on the tree,
In Thy glorious resurrection,
May we, Lord, remember Thee.

Questions:
1) What do you do (or what does your church do) to make the Lord’s Supper meaningful to participants, and not simply a dry ritual?

2) What other hymns are particularly appropriate to this ceremony?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 13, 2014

Jesus Is the Sweetest Name I Know

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

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

Words: Lela B. Long (b. _____, 1896; d. _____, 1951)
Music: Lela B. Long

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The refrain of this touching gospel song is more widely known than the full text, but it’s good to see that all of it has been included in a number of hymn books. The song has a personal connection to me–albeit a remote one. Dr. Peter Philpott (1865-1957), a fundamentalist pastor, was one of the founders of the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada, an evangelical denomination with which I served for many years. I heard him preach on one occasion, when he was in his eighties.

We know virtually nothing about Lela Long, other than the incident that inspired this hymn. But it is certainly worth recounting.

In 1924 P. W. Philpott was serving as pastor of the great Moody Church in Chicago. One night he was awakened from sleep by a call to come and help a young woman staying at a hotel in the city. He arrived to find her in the company of two family members. The woman, whose name was Lela Long, was gravely ill and in great distress. Dr. Philpott prayed for her physical needs, and had the privilege of leading her to faith in Christ that night.

Late the next day, he phoned the hotel to see how she was doing, only to learn that the three had checked out. He wondered what had become of them, but had no way of getting in touch. For a long time, it remained an unfinished story, but it’s a story that came to a wonderful conclusion.

Several years went by after the events described above. By that time, Peter Philpott was serving as pastor of a large church in Los Angeles. At the close of one service, who should come up to him but the three people he had met in Chicago five or six years previously. They had seen his picture in a church advertisement and had come to meet him.

An emergency had necessitated their rapid departure from Chicago, and they apologized for not getting in touch. The young woman thanked him for pointing her to the Saviour, saying that her life was wonderfully changed, and that she was now using her musical talent to serve the Lord. She handed Pastor Philpott a copy of her song Jesus Is the Sweetest Name I Know, written in 1924, shortly after her conversion. She said, “I have written this especially for you, in remembrance of the day that you introduced me to the most wonderful Person I have ever known.”

The name “Jesus” appears in the New Testament nearly a thousand times, beginning with the first verse of Matthew, and ending with the last verse of the book of Revelation. Can there be any doubt that He is the central theme, the One the writers want to present to us above all.

The name Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, means Jehovah [the Lord] is salvation. It was what Joseph was instructed to call the Baby, because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:18). It’s a name particularly associated with His saving work (Acts 16:31; I Thess. 5:9; I Tim. 1:15; II Tim.. 2:10; 3:15).

But there is something more. The name “Jesus” is also connected to His incarnation, and His earthly life and ministry, in a broader sense. About two thirds of the times it is used are found in the four Gospels. Thus it is the name of His humble condescension, and of His close friendship and fellowship with us. It still has that feeling for many of us. Though I most often prefer to call Him the Lord Jesus, as believers often did in the days of the early church (e.g. Acts 1:21; 4:33; 7:59; 9:17, 29, etc.), the name “Jesus,” by itself, still has a warmth of intimacy.

In the Song of Solomon, the Shulamite maiden says of her beloved, “Your name is ointment [or perfume] poured forth” (S.S. 1:3). The bridegroom in this romantic poem is King Solomon, and he is often seen as a type or illustration of Christ, with his betrothed providing a picture of the church. Drawing on that secondary application of this oriental poetry we could say that to speak the name of Jesus is like filling the air with fragrant perfume.

It’s interesting that the Word of God tells us that Christ’s sacrifice is, to God the Father, “a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). And when Christians proclaim the gospel message, and tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ, they too are permeated with this spiritual fragrance attached to the person and work of Christ.

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (II Cor. 2:14-15).

CH-1) There have been names that I have loved to hear,
But never has there been a name so dear
To this heart of mine, as the name divine,
The precious, precious name of Jesus.

Jesus is the sweetest name I know,
And He’s just the same as His lovely name,
And that’s the reason why I love Him so;
Oh, Jesus is the sweetest name I know.

Lela Long has used the word “sweet” in one of its accepted meanings–pleasing to the ear. It can also mean lovely, or admirable, as seems to be the sense in many other hymns (e.g. Sweet Hour of Prayer, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds).

Questions:
1) “Sweet” is perhaps not a word many would use to describe Jesus today in conversation. If you’re not comfortable with it, what word would you use instead?

2) How can you be an effective “fragrance of Christ,” today?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 11, 2014

Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning

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

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

Words: Reginald Heber (b. Apr. 21, 1783; d. Apr. 3, 1826)
Music: Morning Star, by James Proctor Harding (b. May 19, 1850; d. Feb. 21, 1911)

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

Note: Heber’s text was first published in 1811. It seems he borrowed one of his children’s copy books from school to jot down the lines. The original poem is found on pages amid geometry problems! The lovely tune most frequently associated with it now was composed in 1892. As the dozens of hymnals in Hymnary.org will show, the carol was set to a variety of tunes over the first eighty years. It was in The Church Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church, published in 1892, that Harding’s tune appears.

Reginald Heber’s carol has not been without its critics. There are those who object to the opening stanza in which the wise men are pictured as calling upon the star to guide them to the Christ-child. In Heber’s words they say, “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning! / Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid.”

To some, this seemed too close to praying to the star, or even worshipping the star! However, most are willing to accept the image as a literary device, and not quibble about it. I can recall driving an old car up a steep hill, patting the dashboard and saying, “Come on, Betsy, you can make it!” Was I “praying” to the car? No, of course not. And Bishop Heber certainly intended no hint of idolatry. Ironically, he wrote concerning his hymns:

“No fulsome [excessive] or indecorous [tasteless] language has been knowingly adopted; no erotic addresses to Him whom no unclean lips can approach; no allegory, ill-understood and worse applied.”

Whether or not he completely achieved his aim with the present hymn, it remains a beautiful carol. It offers a touching portrayal of the manger scene, where lies the “Maker, and Monarch, and Saviour of all (CH-2), and “the great Mediator” (CH-5, cf. I Tim. 2:5), yet One born in such a lowly setting.

CH-1) Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

CH-2) Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Saviour of all!

Christmas is a time of gift-giving. But when God the Father sent His Son, that was the greatest Gift of all. “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa. 9:6). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).

The Babe was born in poverty, but He received from those who came to Him both gifts and ardent adoration. Matthew records how some wise men travelled from an eastern land to pay homage to the newborn King. “We have seen His star in the East,” they said, “and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). It is this event that is commemorated in the carol.

But it raises a question for which Heber’s carol offers an answer. What is a gift fitting for the One destined to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords? In a way, a material gift makes little sense. The Lord Jesus made all things (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16-17), and they all belong to Him in the first place (Ps. 24:1; Rom. 11:36). When we give our gifts to Him as the wise men did, we are giving Him something of His own (I Chron. 29:14).

Material gifts, however, do have a purpose. They are tokens that can testify to our heart’s praise and worship–as was the case with the wise men. Further, in our day, they are the means of supporting the ministry of the church and the proclamation of the gospel. These things being said, there is one gift we can offer to the Lord that is only ours to give, and that is our love and allegiance, our willing service (Rom. 12:1), and our faith-filled prayers.

CH-3) Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
Odours of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?

CH-4) Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favour secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Questions:
1) What do you think of the criticism that Heber’s hymn amounts to praying to a star?

2) Is this a carol that you include in your Christmas worship?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | August 9, 2014

For Interested Publishers

About ten years ago I began writing a weekly newspaper column on the subject of the hymns and gospel songs of the church. Over the years, it has appeared in half a dozen papers in Western Canada. The articles, each about 650 words long, are evangelical, but I’ve tried to avoid denominational distinctives as much as possible. To date, I have completed over 725 of these, and they continue to be well received.

In addition, for several years I have also been building a blog called Wordwise Hymns (http://wordwisehymns.com/). The site has an Almanac, indicating what happened relative to hymn history on each day of the year. Other posts are Reflections, devotional articles on the biblical meaning of the hymns. In all, these two sections cover over a thousand hymns. More than 415,000 visitors have come to the site, from most of the countries of the world.

IDEA #1. As an extension of the newspaper material, I’ve grouped together articles on several themes, preparing them for publication as a set of books. To this point, there are manuscripts ready for three volumes, with a fourth in the works. Each covers about 65 hymns, with Scriptures and commentary to suit. The four are:

Discovering the Songs of Christmas
Discovering the Songs of Comfort
Discovering the Songs of Calvary
Discovering the Songs of Christ’s Coming

The book of Christmas hymns and carols was published five years ago by a small publisher in the United States. That business has since gone bankrupt and ceased to operate. They turned the full rights of publication over to me. Ideally, I would like to see that book republished, and formatted as one of the set.

IDEA #2. I believe the almanac material, in particular, could be used for a 365-day flip calendar. A condensed note about the hymn writer, or the circumstances of writing, with perhaps a key Bible verse, or a short quotation from the song, would give the user a growing appreciation for this wonderful heritage.

If you are interested in conferring with me about either of these ideas, please e-mail me at robert@wordwise-bible-studies.com

Robert Cottrill

Posted by: rcottrill | August 8, 2014

Jesus Is a Friend of Mine

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: John Sammis wrote over a hundred hymns, the best known, by far, being Trust and Obey. In addition, appearing in some hymn books is Jesus Is a Friend of Mine, also known as He’s a Friend of Mine (both lines coming from the refrain). The song was written in 1910.

The friendship of the Lord Jesus is mentioned a couple of times in the Gospels. He Himself said to His disciples, “ I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (Jn. 15:15).

That suggests the level of fellowship and intimacy that is experienced between friends. We share our secrets with our friends, because we know they have our best interests at heart, and we’re confident we can trust their loyalty. We value their opinions and seek their counsel. We meet with our friends, and communicate with our friends, and share our lives with them, willing not only to share the good times, but go through the hard times together. Think of how these qualities apply to our greatest Friend of all.

American clergyman Henry Ward Beecher added another significant thought: “It is one of the severest tests of friendship to tell your friend his faults.” Proverbs puts it this way: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance [the person] of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). Sharing with one another, even when it may occasionally involve constructive criticism, brings new knowledge, understanding and growth. Of course, in this case, there is nothing in Christ to be corrected, but the thought works well the other way, as we are taught by the Word of God.

The other reference to the friendship of Christ grew out of a criticism of something He apparently did commonly. The rigid, rule-keeping Jewish leaders observed, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:2)–meaning that Jesus welcomed the opportunity to meet with sinners and have fellowship with them.

A couple of things should be noted about these “sinners,” however. First, they were so labelled by the self-righteous Pharisees. We mustn’t conclude that they were all corrupt and wicked–though some may have been. Most got that designation (as did Jesus Himself, Jn. 9:24) because they did not live up to the warped view of righteousness held by their critics.

The second thing we should note is that these were not blatant Christ-rejecters (as were so many of the scribes and Pharisees) but sincere seekers. These sinners sought Him out (Matt. 9:10), and “drew near to Him to hear Him” (Lk. 15:1), and they “sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him [became His followers]” (Mk. 2:15).

Out of arrogant jealousy the same critics had rejected John the Baptist because he was more austere and distant, and didn’t make a practice of sitting down to meals with the people to whom he ministered. Now the Lord is in the wrong because He does so. Here is Christ’s cutting comment:

“John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Matt. 11:18-19).

As Christians, we own Christ as both Lord and Saviour. But He is also one who has promised to be with us (Matt. 28:20). He cares about us, sympathizing with us in our struggles, and promises to help us (Heb. 4:14-16). Is that not a Friend? It is a thrilling thing to know that “Jesus is a Friend of mine!”

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

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

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

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

Questions:
1) What aspects of the friendship of the Lord have been a special blessing to you?

2) The Cyber Hymnal lists 58 hymns under the topical heading Christ the Friend. How many of these do you know and use?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 6, 2014

It Is Glory Just to Walk with Him

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

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

Words: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11, 1895; d. Jan. 14, 1985).
Music: Haldor Lillenas (b. Nov. 19, 1885; d. Aug. 18, 1959)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Encouraged by her godly grandmother, Avis wrote her first poem at the age of ten. Then, beginning in 1916, and for 60 years afterward, she wrote dozens of fine gospel songs. She lived her entire life in the city of Chicago, and was married to Ernest Christiansen, a vice president of Moody Bible Institute. The couple had two daughters. In 1918 Avis Christiansen wrote a hymn about walking with the Lord that reflects something of the delight she found in that.

Early on in the Bible “walking” with the Lord is used to describe one who lives according to the will of God, and lives in fellowship with Him, day by day. It is a life of consistent faith and obedience toward God. Both Enoch (Gen. 5:22) and Noah (Gen. 6:9) are said to have walked with God.

In the era covered by the four Gospels, Christ was on earth, and it was possible for His followers to walk with the Lord in a physical sense. There we read of the experience of a couple on the road to Emmaus, after Christ’s death and resurrection. “So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them” (Lk. 24:15). Their later response, looking back, is revealing: “They said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” (vs. 32).

Today, it’s different. We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7). But through faith we are able to fellowship with the Lord, in His Word, and by prayer. “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8).

CH-1) It is glory just to walk with Him whose blood has ransomed me;
It is rapture for my soul each day.
It is joy divine to feel Him near where’er my path may be.
Bless the Lord, it’s glory all the way!

It is glory just to walk with Him,
It is glory just to walk with Him,
He will guide my steps aright
Through the vale and o’er the height,
It is glory just to walk with Him.

Most of us enjoy a pleasant walk, over relatively easy terrain, on a sunny, warm day, with the beauty of nature all around us, and perhaps a friend to enjoy the experience with us. But it wouldn’t be so enjoyable in a violent wind storm, a crashing thunderstorm with torrents of rain, or when feeling our way in the dark along a narrow ledge over a towering precipice. What if you’re walking into possible danger?

What I’m trying to illustrate is the difference in daily experience between good times and bad, between pleasurable days and painful days, delightful days and difficult days. It’s easier to imagine the Lord is with us when “skies above are clear,” as Mrs. Christiansen puts it. But what about “when the shadows fall.” We have His faithful word of promise that He will not abandon us, even then.

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).

The Greek for the word “never” in that verse is ou me. It is a very strong expression, meaning: not under any circumstances, not under any conditions. Here is what the Amplified Bible does with it.

“He [God] Himself has said, ‘I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!].’”

CH-2) It is glory when the shadows fall to know that He is near.
O what joy to simply trust and pray!
It is glory to abide in Him when skies above are clear.
Yes, with Him, it’s glory all the way!

Finally, in heaven, we look forward to the joy of walking with the Lord forever. It’s then “the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them [the saints] and lead them to living fountains of waters” (Rev. 7:17). And as David declares, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

CH-3) ’Twill be glory when I walk with Him on heaven’s golden shore,
Never from His side again to stray.
’Twill be glory, wondrous glory with the Saviour evermore,
Everlasting glory all the way!

Questions:
1) What circumstance have you faced in the last week for which it’s encouraging to know the Lord has been with you?

2) What do you do when it doesn’t feel as though He’s near?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 4, 2014

In the Hour of Trial

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

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

Words: James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Penitence, by Spencer Lane (b. Apr. 7, 1843; d. Aug. 10, 1903)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Montgomery first published this hymn in 1834. It has undergone many alterations since, in some cases by Montgomery himself.

As noted in the Wordwise Hymns link, the original first line, “Jesus, pray for me,” has been considered problematic, since many have indicated there is no Bible text suggesting that Jesus prays for us in heaven. The text that inspired the hymn refers to Christ’s prayer ministry while he was on earth.

“The Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Lk. 22:31-32).

But that is during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, not after He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Nor is the Cyber Hymnal’s “Jesus, plead for me” necessarily better. His advocacy (I Jn. 2:1-2) may simply consist of His presence in heaven, as the glorified Conqueror of sin and death. It is inconceivable that He has to argue the Father into forgiving us! A later manuscript in Montgomery’s handwriting has “Jesus stand by me.” Other emendations have been tried: “Jesus help Thou me,” or “Saviour strengthen me.”

The fourth stanza has also received varied treatment. Some hymnals simply omit it. Others have changed it considerably. Montgomery’s original read:

When, in dust and ashes, to the grave I sink,
When heaven’s glory flashes o’er the shelving brink,
On Thy truth relying, through that mortal strife,
Lord, receive me, dying, to eternal life.

Another has tried the opening line of the last stanza as:

When my lamp low burning sinks to death’s last pain;
Earth to earth returning, dust to dust again;
On Thy truth relying, in that hour of strife,
Jesus, take me, dying, to eternal life.

Frances A. Hutton (1811-1877) changed this to what is found in the Cyber Hymnal:

CH-4) When my last hour cometh, fraught with strife and pain;
When my dust returneth to the dust again;
On that truth relying through that mortal strife,
Jesus take me, dying, to eternal life.

Likely it is because this reference to dying and turning to dust is considered rather morbid that some elect simply to drop the last stanza.

Dying is the fourth great challenge covered by this hymn. The other three stanzas deal with three basic problems every Christian faces: persecution, sinful pleasures, and pain.

CH-1 prays for aid in times of testing, when we are tempted to turn from following the Lord. That seems to relate particularly to Peter’s experience, and what the Lord mentions in the Luke passage. Peter had boasted, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matt. 26:33). Then fear caused him to deny the Lord (vs. 69-75).

CH-1) In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me,
Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall,
Nor for fear or favour suffer me to fall.

In CH-2 the author asks for God to remind him of all Christ endured in Gethsemane and at Calvary, when a desire for comfort and ease might cause him to abandon the will of God or spiritual values, adopting instead this world’s passing pleasures of sin (cf. Moses, Heb. 11:24-26).

CH-2) With forbidden pleasures would this vain world charm,
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane,
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary.

CH-3 deals with the “sorrow, toil and woe,” and the “pain” that attends every life lived out on earth. Whether it’s cancer or the common cold, we are all subject to such things. What a blessing to know that God has His good purpose in it all (Rom. 8:28), and we can cast our cares upon Him (Ps. 55:22; I Pet. 5:7).

CH-3) Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil and woe,
Or should pain attend me on my path below,
Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee.

Questions:
1) What is it that you personally struggle the most with? Will you seek the Lord’s help today for this?

2) Is this a hymn used with understanding by your church? If not, could you suggest that?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 1, 2014

In Tenderness He Sought 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.

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

Words: William Spencer Walton (b. Jan. 15, 1850; d. Aug. 26, 1906)
Music: Clarendon, by Adoniram Judson Gordon (b. Apr. 13, 1836; d. Feb, 2, 1895)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Mr. Walton was a career missionary in South Africa. He wrote a number of books, particularly about his experiences, and the Cyber Hymnal lists three hymns of his. Published in 1894, the present one is by far the best known. It is an excellent gospel song, revelling, as it does, in the joy of salvation from sin, through the grace of God and the finished work of Christ.

T he word tender (or tenderness) is perhaps not one we commonly use today to describe human feelings and motivations. (We’re more likely to use the term of a good steak!) But the psalmists speak frequently of the “tender mercies” of God.

“The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works: (Ps. 145:9).

“Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight” (Ps. 119:77)

Frequently such prayers involve a plea for God’s compassion and mercy in the light of former sinfulness.

“Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions” (Ps. 25:6-7).

“Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O LORD; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up” (Ps. 40:11-12).

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1).

“Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low” (Ps. 79:8).

In light of this emphasis, the words of Zacharias in the New Testament become powerfully significant. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:67), he spoke of the coming birth of the Saviour and said:

“Through the tender mercy of our God…the Dayspring [dawning] from on high has visited us (vs. 78).

This is reminiscent of the messianic promise of Malachi that “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise” (Mal. 4:2), and of the glorified Christ speaking of Himself as “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). The Dayspring is the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Christ, who is “the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12) comes into our lives, a new day dawns, and the darkness is dispelled. Through faith in Christ, God has cleansed us of our sins (Eph. 1:7; I Jn. 1:7), and “delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13; cf. Acts 26:17-18). That is tender mercy indeed!

CH-1) In tenderness He sought me,
Weary and sick with sin;
And on His shoulders brought me
Back to His fold again.
While angels in His presence sang
Until the courts of heaven rang.

Oh, the love that sought me!
Oh, the blood that bought me!
Oh, the grace that brought me to the fold,
Wondrous grace that brought me to the fold.

CH-2) He washed the bleeding sin wounds,
And poured in oil and wine;
He whispered to assure me,
“I’ve found thee, thou art Mine;”
I never heard a sweeter voice;
It made my aching heart rejoice!

Not only do we have light now, through Christ, we look forward to the dawning of eternity, when all that is sinful and corrupt will be wiped away forever.

CH-5) So while the hours are passing,
All now is perfect rest,
I’m waiting for the morning,
The brightest and the best,
When He will call us to His side,
To be with Him, His spotless bride.

Questions:
1) In what way have you experienced the tender mercies of God today?

2) In what way is darkness a good symbol for sin?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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