Posted by: rcottrill | November 28, 2014

The Lord Is My Shepherd

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words:
James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Poland (or Koschat), by Thomas Koschat (b. Aug. 8, 1845; d. May 19, 1914)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 23 has been sung to a variety of tunes since it was written in 1822. Most familiar to me is Thomas Koschat’s Poland (which the Cyber Hymnal calls The Lord Is My Shepherd).

The stately flow of this melody suggests a serenity befitting the theme. (The tune requires a repeat of the last line of each stanza, which works as a means of emphasis.) The harmony of the alto part enhances it wonderfully and, at times, becomes a kind of counter melody. If it is still found on YouTube when you read this, you can find a rendition of it here.

One further note on the words. The Cyber Hymnal drops the word “the,” several times when I don’t believe it’s necessary–nor do most printings of the hymn do this. Lines where it is done: CH-2, line 1: “Through the valley of shadow;” CH-3, line 1: “In the midst of affliction;” and CH-4, line 4: “Through the land of their sojourn”

The work of shepherds with their flocks is a prominent subject in the Bible. Words such as shepherd, sheep, and flock are found over four hundred and sixty times within its pages.

There are several reasons for that. First, Israel was an agrarian society, and sheep provided both food and clothing for the people. Then there was the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Beginning with Abel (Gen. 4:4), many thousands of sheep–and other animals–were sacrificed upon ancient altars. They provided a picture of the innocent dying in place of the guilty, pointing forward to the great and final sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29).

In addition, the watchful care of the shepherd, and the proneness of sheep to wander and put themselves in danger, provides a wonderful picture of the Lord’s concern for us often wayward human beings.

It’s particularly the analogy to shepherd care that hymn writers have employed again and again. There are dozens of English hymns on the theme, some closely following the wording of Psalm 23, “The Shepherd Psalm.” Others are a paraphrase of it, or of other passages on the subject. Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us is an example, and He Leadeth Me, and The Ninety and Nine. Montgomery’s version is a paraphrase, though it follows the text quite closely.

CH-1) The Lord is my Shepherd, no want shall I know;
I feed in green pastures, safe folded I rest;
He leadeth my soul where the still waters flow,
Restores me when wand’ring, redeems when oppressed.

The Lord Jesus is called the Shepherd of His flock several times in the New Testament. He refers to Himself as “the good Shepherd,” who gives His life to save the sheep (Jn. 10:11). He is also “that great Shepherd of the sheep” who continues to work in the lives of believers, bringing spiritual growth (Heb. 13:20-21). As “the Chief Shepherd,” He will one day reward faithful servants who do His will (I Pet. 5:2-4).

CH-2) Through the valley and shadow of death though I stray,
Since Thou art my Guardian, no evil I fear;
Thy rod shall defend me, Thy staff be my stay;
No harm can befall, with my Comforter near.

CH-3) In the midst of affliction my table is spread;
With blessings unmeasured my cup runneth o’er;
With perfume and oil Thou anointest my head;
O what shall I ask of Thy providence more?

It’s not that the Christian will have no trouble in his life, no challenging obstacles, no distracting pain. But the Lord has promised sustaining grace through all these things (cf. Paul’s experience, II Cor. 12:7-10). Not only that, but we are assured of a happy ending. In all such things the Lord works continually for our good and His own glory.

CH-4) Let goodness and mercy, my bountiful God,
Still follow my steps till I meet Thee above;
I seek, by the path which my forefathers trod,
Through the land of their sojourn, Thy kingdom of love.

Questions:
1) What aspect of the Lord’s shepherd care is especially meaningful to you?

2) What hymns on the shepherd theme are particular favourites of yours?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | November 26, 2014

What Will You Do with Jesus?

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Albert Benjamin Simpson (b. Dec. 15, 1843; d. Oct. 29, 1919)
Music: Mary L. Stocks (no further information)

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

Note: This thoughtful hymn was published in 1891. (Surprisingly, Hymnary.org does not have it.) It seems to be little known in some circles, though a number of hymnals from the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond include it (e.g. Favorite Hymns of Praise (1967), Great Hymns of the Faith (1968), The New Church Hymnal (1976),  Praise–Our Songs and Hymns (1979), Living Hymns (2009), and Rejoice Hymns (2011), to name a few). As expected, it’s found in Hymns of the Christian Life (1962), the Christian and Missionary Alliance hymn book, since it was written by founder, Albert Simpson.

There is a brief biographical note on Pastor Simpson in the Wordwise Hymns link, but an extensive one on the Cyber Hymnal (over 1700 words), along with a list of more than two dozen of his hymns. Several of these have become popular beyond his own denomination.

There are a number of classic paintings depicting the time when the Lord Jesus stood before Pilate, after His arrest in Gethsemane. One of them, created in 1871 by Antonio Ciseri, pictures Jesus and Pilate standing on a balcony, looking over a parapet at the assembled multitude below. Christ, with a crown of thorns on His head, gazes out upon them. And Pilate, though looking at the crowd, has his hand extended in the Lord’s direction, as if speaking the words in John 19:5, “Behold the Man!”

Pontius Pilatus served as prefect of Judea, by the appointment of the Roman government, for ten years (AD 26-36). It was a difficult balancing act, to represent the iron fist of Rome, yet accede to the Jewish culture sufficiently to keep the peace. When the Jewish Sanhedrin brought Jesus before him, Pilate was faced with a most unwelcome dilemma.

If Christ was a revolutionary who threatened to lead a military uprising against his government, that was one thing. But everything he had heard suggested that the Lord was a teacher whose concern was more with the moral and spiritual state of the people. In an interview, Pilate asked pointedly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn. 18:33), and the Lord answered that He was indeed a king (vs. 37), but He said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (vs. 36).

The latter statement has sometimes been misunderstood. Christ was not saying that His kingdom had nothing to do with people on earth. More precisely, His statement means, “My kingship is not of human origin, my authority doesn’t arise from military might, nor is it based on some earthly political system.” And Pilate concluded that Jesus was no threat to Rome, that He was innocent of any wrongdoing, and that the charges against Him were bogus.

Pilate told the Jews, “I find no fault with Him at all” (vs. 38), and he hoped to release Jesus. Thinking perhaps a beating would satisfy the crowd, he submitted Him to the cruel abuse of some Roman soldiers (Jn. 19:1-3), then brought Him once more before the people, in the scene described above. “Behold the Man….What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Jn. 19:5; Matt. 27:22). But the response was swift and definite, “Let Him be crucified!”

And like many politicians since, Pilate ignored what he knew to be right, and what his conscience was telling him, bowing to the will of the crowd. Better one unjust death than the political unrest of all Judea. At least, that’s what he thought. In an attempt to evade any responsibility, Pilate symbolically washed his hands, proclaiming, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person,” then sent Christ off to be executed (Matt. 27:24, 26).

But, of course, our duty to do what’s right can’t be so easily shrugged off. And the question of dithering Pilate echoes down the centuries since. “What shall I do with Jesus?” Albert Benjamin Simpson produced a penetrating song based on that question.

1) Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall,
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all;
Hearken! what meaneth the sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be;
Some day your heart will be asking,
“What will He do with me?”

Then the author brings Pilate’s question up to date. We today can be false or faithful to Christ (CH-2). We can try to evade the issue, or choose Him as our Saviour (CH-3). We can deny Him and sit among the Christ rejecters–or not (CH4). The final stanza expresses faith’s commitment.

CH-2) Jesus is standing on trial still,
You can be false to Him if you will,
You can be faithful through good or ill:
What will you do with Jesus?

CH-5) “Jesus, I give Thee my heart today!
Jesus, I’ll follow Thee all the way,
Gladly obeying Thee!” will you say:
“This I will do with Jesus!”

Questions:
1) What are some things that motivate people to reject Christ?

2) What are some reasons people are drawn to Christ and put their faith in Him?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | November 24, 2014

What God Hath Promised

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Annie Johnson Flint (b. Dec. 24, 1866; d. Sept. 8, 1932)
Music: William Marion Runyon (b. Jan. 21, 1870; d. July 29, 1957)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This beautiful gospel song from 1919 (sometimes titled God Hath Not Promised) was written by a woman who knew great suffering for many years. Both her poetic skill and her spiritual depth can be seen in her books of verse. For a bit more about her, see the biographical note in the Wordwise Hymns link.

I don’t care for the oddly jumpy tune written by William Runyon. In 1952, Alfred Smith provided another tune in the old Favorites Four songbook, if you can find a copy. It is written as a duet, and works very well. I have a recording I made over fifty years ago, of a friend and his adult daughter singing it. A short time after, he would die of cancer, so the lovely rendering of the song has an added poignancy for me.

After the conquest of the Promised Land, elderly Joshua said to the people:

“You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed? (Josh. 23:14).

Centuries later King Solomon made a similar statement. The king said: “Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised” (I Kgs. 8:56).

These statements could just as easily be made today. God keeps His Word. In fact, that is a declaration that no one ever could accurately and honestly refute, down the ages of time since the beginning until today.

Almighty God is “a God of truth” (Deut. 32:4). He “cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2). His “Word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). “All the promises of God in Him [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen [true and faithful], to the glory of God through us” (II Cor. 1:20). Christ declared, “I am..the truth” (Jn. 14:6), and in Revelation He is called “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).

Since these things are abundantly and universally so, whenever we are disappointed in God, or believe He has not kept His Word, it is we who are mistaken. We have built up expectations that are not in accordance with His Word of promise. Or, we have failed to interpret the promises of Scripture properly, taking into account the historical context and so on.

The “Prosperity Gospel” folks do some of that, by claiming God wants us always to by healthy, wealthy and happy. So much Scripture, not to mention practical experience, refutes that, it is amazing that so many swallow it. Then, if the Lord doesn’t deliver, they will either shoulder the blame themselves (i.e. not enough faith) or become bitter because God has let them down.

This fine gospel song sets things right by comparing what the Lord has not promised us (in the stanzas), and what He has promised us (in the refrain).

God Has Not Promised…
Blue skies and flower strewn pathways, sunny days without storm clouds or rain (CH1). These are poetic images, but the last line explains that God has not promised we’ll never know sorrow or pain. Nor has He promised (CH-2) we’ll never experience “toil and temptation, trouble and woe,” or burdens, and the cares of daily life. Nor has God promised we’ll all have (CH-3) smooth, easy travel through life, with no rugged mountains to climb and no perilous rivers to cross. We’re not going to be able to get through it without our “Guide.”

CH-1) God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

CH-2) God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

CH-3) God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep.

What God Has Promised…
Annie Johnson Flint lists seven marvelous things that are promised to the believer in the Word of God. Let me provide a few Bible verses that relate to them. 1) II Cor. 12:9; 2) Matt. 11:28-30; 3) Ps. 119:105, 130; 4) Heb. 4:15-16; 5) Phil. 4:19; 6) Lam. 3:22-24; 7) Rom. 8:38-39.

But God hath promised [1] strength for the day,
[2] Rest for the labour, [3] light for the way,
[4] Grace for the trials, [5] help from above,
[6] Unfailing sympathy, [7] undying love.

Questions:
1) Which of the trials and difficulties the hymn mentions are you currently going through?

2) Which of God’s seven great provisions have you claimed and enjoyed today?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | November 21, 2014

The Name of Jesus

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Walter Clark Martin (b. Dec. 25, 1864; d. Aug. 30, 1914)
Music: Edmund Simon Lorenz (b. July 13, 1854; d. July 10, 1942)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: It seems appropriate that Walter Martin, the author of this 1902 hymn exalting the name of Jesus, should be born on Christmas Day! Pastor Martin served several churches in New England, as well as Florida, and he produced a number of hymns, several of which are still found in our hymn books.

CH-1) The name of Jesus is so sweet,
I love its music to repeat;
It makes my joys full and complete,
The precious name of Jesus!

“Jesus,” O how sweet the name!
“Jesus,” every day the same;
“Jesus,” let all saints proclaim
Its worthy praise forever!

Shakespeare’s Juliet asks, “What’s in a name?” Her point in the play is that it matters not to her that Romeo is a Montague, a family with whom her own Capulet kin have been carrying on a violent feud. For her, this is no barrier to their blossoming love. But as the drama unfolds we see that their family names do indeed matter, affecting their lives in a tragic way.

One’s name represents the person. It can summarize character and accomplishments–for good or ill–and identify a sphere of authority and influence. Hear the names Joan of Arc or Albert Einstein, Elvis Presley or Bill Gates, and for most of us a certain persona or cluster of qualities or achievements come to mind. The name of any man or woman who has put their stamp on the pages of history is more than a series of sounds or letters on a page. It stands for something.

That’s true to an infinite degree when it comes to the wonderful name of the Lord Jesus, whose name means more to Christians than all the rest put together. The remarkable nature of the name, and of the Person behind it can be seen even before He was conceived. An angel messenger named Gabriel told a young virgin named Mary that she would conceive and bear a Son, and “you…shall call His name JESUS” (Lk. 1:31). And Mary was told that He would one day reign over an eternal kingdom (vs. 33).

In Hebrew, the name Jesus is Yeshua (Yuh-SHOO,ah), and it is translated “salvation” in the Old Testament. It is interesting to ponder the prophetic implications of the word in such verses as the following:

“Indeed He [God the Father] says [to the Son], ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation [My Yeshua, My Jesus] to the ends of the earth’” (Isa. 49:6).

“The LORD [Jehovah] has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation [ the Yeshua, or Jesus] of our God” (Isa. 52:10).

These texts give even deeper meaning to the words of Simeon, when he held the baby Jesus in His arms and said, “My eyes have seen Your salvation [or Salvation]…a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:30, 32).

So much could be said about this One that it’s impossible to deal with it in one short article. He is God the Son, incarnate (Jn. 1:1; Tit. 2:13), the One who took on our humanity and died on the cross to bear the wrath of God, and pay our debt of sin (I Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:7). He is presently seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven (Heb. 1:1-3), and is one day returning to reign as King of kings, and Lord of lords (I Tim. 6:14-15).

“To you who believe, He is precious [One to be reverenced and held in high honour],” says Peter (I Pet. 2:7). Precious because, through faith in Him and His sacrifice on Calvary, our sins are forgiven, and we receive the gift of eternal life (Jn. 3:16). And precious because, even now, in heaven, He understands our struggles and cares for His own. We pray in His name–on His authority (Jn. 16:24)–and find mercy, and grace to help us in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16).

CH-2) I love the name of Him whose heart
Knows all my griefs and bears a part;
Who bids all anxious fears depart,
I love the name of Jesus!

CH-4) No word of man can ever tell
How sweet the name I love so well;
O let its praises ever swell,
O praise the name of Jesus!

Questions:
1) When did the name of Jesus first become especially meaningful to you?

2) What is the most precious thing about your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | November 19, 2014

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Traditional Polish carol found in Spiewniczek Piesni Koscielne; English paraphrase by Edith Margaret Gellibrand Reed (b. Mar. 31, 1885; d. June 4, 1933)
Music: W Zlobie Lezy (In Manger Lying) origin unknown, arranged by Edith Reed

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

Note: Edith Reed was an organist, and the editor of a number of music publications. She lived an unusually active and athletic life in England, hiking, sailing, swimming, camping. (She walked all the way around most of the coastline of England and Wales!)

In 1921, in Music and Youth, she gave us Infant Holy, Infant Lowly. This tender and beautiful carol began as a Polish song of unknown origin called W Zlobie Lezy (meaning In Manger Lying). It may date from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, though apparently it wasn’t published until 1908. The original Polish version–for those who can read it–says:

W żłobie leży! Któż pobieży
Kolędować małemu
Jezusowi Chrystusowi
Dziś nam narodzonemu?
Pastuszkowie przybywajcie
Jemu wdzięcznie przygrywajcie
Jako Panu naszemu.

My zaś sami z piosneczkami
Za wami pospieszymy
A tak Tego Maleńkiego
Niech wszyscy zobaczymy
Jak ubogo narodzony
Płacze w stajni położony
Więc go dziś ucieszymy.

The word “crescendo” comes from the Latin word for grow. In music, it describes a steady increase in the volume of a particular selection. This is intended to stir a growing excitement in listeners, and an anticipation of the coming climax.

Something similar happened in Bible prophecy with regard to the coming of Christ. In Genesis 3:15 we get the first hint of the coming One who would crush Satan under His heel. In Genesis 12:3 we learn that the whole human family would be blessed through the Seed of Abraham, a promise that is later explained to refer to Christ (Gal. 3:16). As time went on, excitement grew. It was through the tribe of Judah in Israel that He was to come (Gen. 49:10), though His coming was still far off (Num. 24:17).

Later a promise to David indicated Christ would come from his family (II Sam. 7:16; cf. Matt. 1:1). Still later, the birthplace of the coming One was then identified as Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). His deity and coming reign were also declared (Isa. 7:14; 9:6-7). The role of John the Baptist as the forerunner, the announcer of Christ’s coming was revealed also (Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 11:10).

All of these (and many more) pronouncements must surely have stirred in the people of God a growing excitement and an anticipation of what God was going to do. Then, finally, the day came, and we have the climactic announcement of the angels:

“‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was 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!’” (Lk. 2:10-14).

Though it is brief, the carol Infant Holy, Infant Lowly creates a kind of crescendo effect in the last two lines of each stanza. The short phrases and rising pitch in line three in each case lead us to the thrilling and joyful declaration of the last lines: “Christ the Babe is Lord of all,” and “Christ the Babe was born for you.”

CH-1) Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

CH-2) Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Questions:
1) What are the most exciting things about the Christmas season for you?

2) Do you (or would you) use this simple carol in your church?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | November 17, 2014

The Light of the World Is Jesus

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Philip Paul Bliss (b. July 9, 1938; d. Dec. 29, 1876)
Music: Philip Paul Bliss

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Philip Bliss died)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: According to the Cyber Hymnal, this hymn was published in 1875, a year before Bliss’s tragic death. However, Hymnnary.org shows it in a book five years before that. There is an incident in Bliss’s life which suggests the later date is the correct one. Perhaps the hymn book date is a printing error.

One day in the summer of 1875, in the Blisses home in Chicago, he was walking down the hall to his bedroom when the idea for a new song came to him. We cannot know for certain, but it could well be the light in the hall–or lack of it–that turned his thoughts in that direction. Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb lay several years in the future, so Mr. Bliss was likely relying on a lamp or a candle. He immediately thought of Christ’s great statement that He is “the light of the world.” And out of that experience Philip Bliss created both words and music for the present song.

CH-1) The whole world was lost
In the darkness of sin,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Like sunshine at noonday,
His glory shone in.
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus!

A dozen times this simple gospel song tells us that the Lord Jesus is the Light of the world, reiterating what He Himself said (Jn. 8:12).

Various forms of the words light and dark are found all through the Word of God (over two dozen times each in the New Testament epistles alone). Sometimes they speak of the physical light and darkness of day and night. But when the words are used in a symbolic way, they are used to contrast the following things (cf. Ps. 36:9; 119:105, 130; Prov. 4:18; Jn. 8:12; 12:46; I Jn. 1:5-7):

¤ Light – righteousness, purity, truth, honesty, life, salvation
¤ Darkness – sin, impurity, ignorance, deceit, death, condemnation

There are many kinds of man-made lights in the world. Human ingenuity and exertion has produced some amazing things. But compared to the eternal glory of God, the lights of man are darkness, and the world is “a dark place” (II Pet. 1:19). That’s even more true spiritually. Nor can we, spiritually, by human effort, gain the light of life, make ourselves acceptable to God, or gain an entry into heaven.

The Lord Jesus came to this earth to bring light. He says, “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). The gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ, is meant to “turn [individuals] from darkness to light” (Acts 26:18). Through personal faith in Christ as Saviour we receive that light, and Christians are able to say, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13; cf. I Pet. 2:19).

In the world of nature, the sun is the source of light; the moon has no light in itself, but reflects the light of the sun. Similarly, though the Lord Himself is the Source of spiritual light, a number of texts speak of believers as being given that light, bearing and sharing God’s light (Matt. 5:16; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 2:15).

CH-2) No darkness have we
Who in Jesus abide;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
We walk in the light
When we follow our Guide!
The Light of the world is Jesus!

CH-3) Ye dwellers in darkness
With sin blinded eyes,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Go, wash, at His bidding,
And light will arise.
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Questions:
1) Why is light a good symbol for the list of six things given above?

2) Why is darkness a good symbol for the six things listed above?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | November 14, 2014

What a Gathering

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This gospel song was published in 1887. The tune was written by D. L. Moody’s music director, Ira Sankey. The sprightly melody matches well the joyful theme, and cascading lines of poetry that demonstrate the author’s skill with words, and her understanding of Scripture. It’s a little surprising that more hymn books don’t include this fine song.

Hymnary.org shows only three books that do, when they sometimes have dozens that include a song. However, they don’t mention Ira Sankey’s massive Sacred Songs and Solos which, not surprisingly, includes it. Nor do they mention two books edited by hymn writer John Peterson, Great Hymns of the Faith, and the Crowning Glory Hymnal, both of which have it.

I know of no story behind the writing of the words. But Fanny’s penchant for seizing the moment and turning it into a song certainly suggests one. In the many camp meetings, and evangelistic rallies she attended, it seems quite possible that someone–perhaps her friend Ira Sankey–looked over the swelling crowd of people and exclaimed, “What a gathering!”

The word “gathering” is used fifteen times in the hymn (including the repeated refrain). It’s a word Paul uses when he refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (II Thess. 2:1). In Sankey’s hymnal he heads the song with:

“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10, KJV).

This is believed by many commentators to be a messianic promise. However, modern versions, including the New King James Version, translate the Hebrew yiqqahah as “obedience,” rather than “gathering.” Nevertheless, “what a gathering” that will be!

This is a hymn that is simply loaded with quotations from Scripture, or allusions to the prophetic truths it contains.

In CH-1 we have the coming of “the Son of Man” in His glory. This is promised by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24:30, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The inclusion of those “from every clime and nation is reflected in the heavenly song of the redeemed, “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

CH-1) On that bright and golden morning, when the Son of Man shall come,
And the radiance of His glory we shall see;
When from ev’ry clime and nation He shall call His people home,
What a gath’ring of the ransomed that will be!

What a gath’ring, what a gath’ring,
What a gath’ring of the ransomed in the summer land of love!
What a gath’ring, what a gath’ring,
Of the ransomed in that happy home above.

In CH-2 there is a reference to those who “sleep in Jesus,” which comes from First Thessalonians 4:14, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus [i.e. Christians who have died before the rapture].” Our celestial (heavenly) resurrection bodies are described as being like the glorified body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). To be fitted for the eternal kingdom “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (I Cor. 15:53). Our meeting in the skies occurs at the rapture of the church:

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:16-17).

CH-2) When the blest, who sleep in Jesus, at His bidding shall arise
From the silence of the grave, and from the sea,
And with bodies all celestial they shall meet Him in the skies,
What a gath’ring and rejoicing there will be!

In CH-3 we have the heavenly city, variously called “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22), and “the holy city, New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2), with its “mansions” or dwelling places for the saints (Jn. 14:2-3), and the crystal purity of the river of life (Rev. 22:1).

CH-3) When our eyes behold the city, with its many mansions bright,
And its river, calm and restful, flowing free;
When the friends that death hath parted shall in bliss again unite,
What a gath’ring and a greeting there will be!

In CH-4 we have the One who is coming identified as “the King” (Rev. 19:16), and the instant transformation of mortal saints at Christ’s return “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (I Cor. 15:51-52). The imminence of Christ’s return is hinted at with “the time is drawing nigh” (cf. Jas. 5:9; Rev. 22:12) and the prospect that, when He comes, “we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17).

CH-4) O the King is surely coming, and the time is drawing nigh,
When the blessèd day of promise we shall see;
Then the changing “in a moment,” “in the twinkling of an eye,”
And forever in His presence we shall be.

What an amazing compendium of prophetic Scriptures in a single hymn!

Questions:
1) Other than seeing the Saviour, what is the most exciting expectation you have about Christ’s return and what follows?

2) Can you say with confidence that you will be included in “our gathering together to Him”? (If not, please check out the Plan of Salvation.)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | November 12, 2014

How Great Our Joy

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Traditional 17th century German carol, translated by Theodore Baker (b. June 3, 1851; d. Oct. 13, 1934)
Music: Traditional German tune, arranged by Hugo Richard Jüngst (b. Feb. 26, 1853; d. Mar. 3, 1923)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Theodore Baker)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This Christmas carol sometimes goes by the name While by the Sheep (or While by Our Sheep). In his book Amazing Grace (p. 378), Ken Osbeck offers a different closing line to CH-4 that I believe has merit: “Jesus, our Lord Emmanuel.” That clearly identifies who the Baby is–and it rhymes with “well,” which the word “fill” does not.

This is a carol of effervescent and exuberant joy, as suggested by the six-fold repetition of that word in the refrain.

Words such as “joy” and “rejoice” are found in the Bible over four hundred times. It’s hardly surprising that this divinely tuned gladness of heart is often associated with the coming of Christ, and with His salvation.

When a heavenly messenger appeared to some shepherds near Bethlehem, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Lk. 2:10-11).

CH-1) While by the sheep we watched at night,
Glad tidings brought an angel bright.

How great our joy! Great our joy!
Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

For the wise men who journeyed to find the newborn King, the Lord provided a star to guide them. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him” (Matt. 2:10-11).

The death of Christ was a day of fear and dark despair for His followers, but it was soon to give way to an occasion for great rejoicing. Visiting His tomb, some women were confronted by an angelic being who announced:

“‘He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead’….So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” (Matt. 28:6, 8-9).

Even the Lord’s ascension back into heaven, though it meant the loss of His physical presence, did not dim their joy. “He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk. 24:51-52).

For the Christian, there is cause for rejoicing in Christ. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4; cf. Acts 13:52; 15:3; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22; I Pet. 1:8). There is also joy in the ministry of the gospel. After Pentecost, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them,” a ministry that was accompanied by powerful miracles. The people of that city responded to the message and “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:5, 8; cf. Acts 20:24; I Thess. 2:19-20).

There is a problem with the verb tenses of CH-2 and 3. The angel’s announcement is made to predict the birth of the Saviour as something coming up ahead. But in Scripture the news is of an event that has already happened (Lk. 2:11). Instead of “there shall be born,” “There has been born would be better. And instead of “There shall the Child lie,” “There is a Child laid…” would be more precise. But beyond that, it is plain that the message of Christmas is a message of joy!

CH-2) There shall be born, so He did say,
In Bethlehem a Child today.

How great our joy! Great our joy!
Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

CH-3) There shall the Child lie in a stall,
This Child who shall redeem us all.

CH-4) This gift of God we’ll cherish well,
That ever joy our hearts shall fill.

Questions:
1) What are some of the reasons we rejoice in Christ’s coming?

2) What are some reasons we rejoice in serving Him?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Theodore Baker)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | November 10, 2014

The Haven of Rest

Graphic Bob and Christmas Book (2)HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Henry Lake Gilmour (b. Jan. 19, 1836; d. May 20, 1920)
Music: George D. Moore (no information available)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: As you will see in the Cyber Hymnal’s biographical note, Henry Gilmour, a dentist by profession, became a gospel musician who contributed to many song books during his years of ministry. But of George Moore there seems to be no further information beyond his name.

CH-1) My soul in sad exile was out on life’s sea,
So burdened with sin and distressed,
Till I heard a sweet voice, saying,
“Make Me your choice”;
And I entered the “Haven of Rest”!

I’ve anchored my soul in the “Haven of Rest,”
I’ll sail the wide seas no more;
The tempest may sweep over wild, stormy, deep,
In Jesus I’m safe evermore.

There’s a centuries-old proverb that says, “Any port in a storm,” meaning that when you are in desperate trouble, you’ll take whatever help you can get. But there’s an even older proverb from a fable about a fish that jumped “out of the frying pan into the fire.” Sometimes the refuge we seek turns out to be no refuge at all.

The abuse of drugs and alcohol provides an example. Troubles may seem to disappear in a fog of blissful oblivion, but the addict soon finds he has simply heaped another grievous trial on things he struggled with before. Tempting though it is for some, that’s not a safe harbour for a troubled soul.

Especially in the days before air travel, the imagery of trying to escape a tempest at sea was a common one. A passage in Psalms describes “those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters” (Ps. 107:23). There the ancient mariners see stormy waves “mount up to the heavens [and] go down again to the depths” (vs. 25-26), and “they [the sailors] reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits end” (vs. 27).

In the New Testament, Luke, the author of Acts, gives a whole chapter to a graphic portrayal of the perils of sea travel (Acts 27). Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem, accused by the Jews of acting and speaking in ways contrary to the Law of Israel (21:28). But he appealed to Caesar (in effect, the supreme court of the empire), and was transported to Rome to stand trial (25:12). On the way there he and his companions faced a terrible storm at sea. However, though the ship was lost, all 276 of the passengers and crew escaped (27:37, 44).

The earlier of these passages stresses the importance and value of calling upon God for help in the desperate hour. As the waves rose mountain high, we read, “Then they cry out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses….He guides them to their desired haven” (Ps. 107:28, 30). A “haven” is a harbour, a place of shelter and safety (cf. Acts 27:8). It provides a lovely metaphor for the spiritual refuge that is offered to the sinner, like the invitation to trust in Christ for salvation: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

CH-2) I yielded myself to His tender embrace,
In faith taking hold of the Word,
My fetters fell off, and I anchored my soul;
The “Haven of Rest” is my Lord.

CH-3) The song of my soul, since the Lord made me whole,
Has been the old story so blest,
Of Jesus, who’ll save whosoever will have
A home in the “Haven of Rest.”

It’s not a matter of, “Trust God and all your troubles are over.” But there’s an inner peace and confidence that can be ours when we look to Him. Even so, sometimes that’s the last thing we do. Author George MacDonald writes perceptively:

“How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource! We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go. And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us, not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven.”

CH-5) O come to the Saviour, He patiently waits
To save by His power divine;
Come, anchor your soul in the “Haven of Rest,”
And say, “My Belovèd is mine.”

Questions:
1) In what distress have you recently found the Lord to be a safe haven?

2) Is their someone you can encourage, today, to seek haven in Christ?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | November 7, 2014

Welcome, Happy 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (b. circa 530; d. circa 609); English paraphrase of the Latin by John Ellerton (b. Dec. 16, 1826; d. June 15, 1893)
Music: Hermas, by Frances Ridley Havergal (b. Dec. 14, 1836; d. June 3, 1879)

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

Note: The Latin original of this resurrection hymn was written around AD 590, making it more than fourteen centuries old. John Ellerton’s fine paraphrase was produced in 1868. The tune I’m most familiar with is Hermas (named after an acquaintance of Paul’s, Rom. 16:14). Miss Havergal wrote Hermas for her hymn Golden Harps Are Sounding, but it has also been linked to the present hymn text for over a hundred years. (Notice that Hermas requires a slightly longer refrain than the tune Fortunatus, used in the Cyber Hymnal.)

The original hymn includes two stanzas (CH-2 and 3) specifically about the coming of spring–which coincides with the Easter season. The thought is that in spring’s renewal, all of nature celebrates Christ’s victory over death. Just as we welcome the signs of new life in the earth, so we rejoice in Christ’s resurrection and the new spiritual life that comes through faith in Him. Hymnals often omit one or both of these stanzas.

CH-2) Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring,
All fresh gifts returned with her returning King:
Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,
Speak His sorrow ended, hail His triumph now.

There is always, for me, something encouraging–and yes, even thrilling–about reading or using a hymn whose origin takes us back so many centuries. To think of Christians in other lands, and other far-off times, celebrating the resurrection of Christ–it gives me a sense, both of the unity of the body of Christ and of its immensity. These early believers are all gone now, but still we are connected with them. The Bible speaks of Christ, “from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:15).

CH-1) “Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished, heav’n is won today!”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!

“Welcome, happy morning!”
Age to age shall say.
“Hell today is vanquished,
Heav’n is won today!”

When the United States entered the Second World War, many (including Churchill) exulted that the victorious outcome of the war for the Allies was certain. They remembered what had happened when the Americans joined the conflict in World War One. What Roosevelt called the “righteous might” of his nation would win the day. This hymn treats the resurrection of Christ similarly. Though the final chapter has yet to be written, the ending is not in any doubt: Hell is vanquished, heaven is won, through Christ.

In CH-4 Venantius Fortunatus states the identity of his Subject in an unmistakable way. He is both Maker and Redeemer (Col. 1:16; Job 19:25), and a member of the Trinity (Jn. 5:23; Heb. 1:8) who became incarnate Man to deliver us (Heb. 2:14-15). CH-5 proclaims Him the Author of life (Jn. 11:25; 14:6), and the True and Faithful One (Rev. 19:11).

CH-4) Maker and Redeemer, life and health of all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,
Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,
Mankind to deliver, manhood didst put on.

CH-5) Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfil Thy Word;
’Tis Thine own third morning; rise, O buried Lord!

Jerome of Prague, one of the early reformers, was an admirer of Wyclif and Hus. But when imprisoned and pressured, weak and sickly, he recanted, going so far as to say that he approved of Hus having been burned at the stake. Later, greatly troubled over what he had done, he recanted. At his trial, he eloquently defended himself against the charge of his own heresy. Nevertheless, he was condemned to be burned at the stake as Hus had been. On May 30, 1416, he died and, as the fire began to blaze around him, he sang this hymn.

Questions:
1) What does it mean that hell was vanquished and heaven won at Christ’s resurrection?

2) Why is Christ’s resurrection an absolutely essential element of the gospel?

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

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