Posted by: rcottrill | October 22, 2014

How Brightly Beams the Morning Star

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Johann Adolf Schlegel (b. Sept. 17, 1721; d. Sept. 16, 1793); English translation by Catherine Winkworth (b. Sept. 13, 1827; d. July 1, 1878)
Music: Wie Schön Leuchtet (How Beautiful Shines), by Philipp Nicolai (b. Aug. 10, 1556; d. Oct. 26, 1608)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Catherine Winkworth)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The Cyber Hymnal credits Johann Schlegel with the text. However, what he produced was a reworking of the original by Philipp Nicolai. Thus, the latter man was largely responsible for both words and music. The tune, as it was first composed in 1599, was adapted by Nicolai for his purpose. There are many variations and adaptations of this hymn’s text. William Mercer (1811-1873) produced another English version. It is worth going to the Cyber Hymnal to read Catherine Winkworth’s full translation.

The Cyber Hymnal seems to give us the original tune, with its strange variations in the rhythm. Lines begin slowly, but suddenly speed up. (It gave me the sensation of a scurrying motion, like a startled mouse racing to its secure hole!) The versions harmonized by Bach and Mendelssohn even out the rhythm making the hymn tune what is called isorhythmic. To my mind, this gives the text a more suitable frame, suggesting stately majesty.

P hilipp Nicolai wrote the hymn at a time of great suffering in his town. In 1597, Unna, in Westphalia, was stricken by a deadly plague. Fourteen hundred people died. Nicolai, the Lutheran pastor, saw a steady stream of funeral processions past his window. This deluge of death turned his thoughts to the glorious future awaiting the saints, through Christ. This became the inspiration for the present hymn and one other one. One author describes the experience in this way:

“One morning in great distress and tribulation in his quiet study, he rose in spirit from the distress and death which surrounded him to his Redeemer and Saviour, and while he while he clasped Him in ardent love, there welled forth from the inmost depths of his heart this precious hymn of the Saviour’s love and of the joys of heaven. He was so entirely absorbed in this holy exaltation that he forgot all around him, even his midday meal, and allowed nothing to disturb him in his poetical labours till the hymn was completed–three hours after midday.” (Dictionary of Hymnology, by John Julian, Vol. I, p. 806)

Pastor Nicolai called the text, “A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly Bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David.” If you look at the psalm, you’ll see that it is actually attributed to “the sons of Korah” (temple musicians), not to David (though it’s not impossible that David wrote it and dedicated it to them).

Psalm 45 is a royal wedding psalm. And given that Christ was to come from the house of David, it is appropriate to see a prophetic application to Him and His heavenly bride, the church. It is the Lord Jesus Himself who says, “I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). He is “the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory” (Heb. 1:3).

CH-1) How brightly beams the Morning Star!
What sudden radiance from afar
Doth glad us with its shining,
Brightness of God that breaks our night
And fills the darkened souls with light
Who long for truth were pining!
Thy Word, Jesu, inly feeds us,
Rightly leads us, life bestowing;
Praise, oh praise such love o’erflowing.

“Here my comfort, there my crown” (CH-2) reminds me of the refrain of Lydia Baxter’s Precious Name (“Take the name of Jesus with you”) which calls our Saviour the “Hope of earth and joy of heaven.” Or John Monsell’s Fight the Good Fight, which says, “Life with its way before us lies, / Christ is the path and Christ the prize.” The Son of God, in His Person does not change (Heb. 13:8), but our perspective will. With cleansed and renewed vision “we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2).

CH-2) Thou here my comfort, there my crown,
Thou King of heav’n, who camest down
To dwell as man beside me;
My heart doth praise Thee o’er and o’er,
If Thou art mine I ask no more,
Be wealth or fame denied me;
Thee I seek now; none who proves Thee,
None who loves Thee finds Thee fail him;
Lord of life, Thy powers avail him!

CH-5) All praise to Him who came to save,
Who conquered death and burst the grave;
Each day new praise resoundeth
To Him the Lamb who once was slain,
The Friend whom none shall trust in vain,
Whose grace for aye aboundeth;
Sing, ye heavens, tell the story
Of His glory, till His praises
Flood with light earth’s darkest places.

Questions:
1) What is for you the greatest blessing described in this wonderful hymn of worship?

2) Is this a hymn you could use in your church?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | October 20, 2014

No Night There

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: John Ralston Clements (b. Nov. 28, 1868; d. Jan. 1, 1946)
Music: Hart Pease Danks (b. Apr. 6, 1834; d. Nov. 20, 1903)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This 1899 hymn is sometimes listed as The City Foursquare. A biography of Mr. Clements, and an account of how he came to write the song, can be found on the Wordwise Hymns link. As well as sporting a most impressive moustache (see the picture on the Cyber Hymnal), Mr. Danks also wrote the music, in 1873, for an extremely popular ballad, Silver Threads Among the Gold. Morbid though its sentiments may seem today, it has been recorded by many artists, and is still a popular barbershop quartet number.

Darling, I am growing old,
Silver threads among the gold,
Shine upon my brow today,
Life is fading fast away.

But consider John Clements beautiful song. It begins:

CH-1) In the land of fadeless day,
Lies “the city foursquare,”
It shall never pass away,
And there is “no night there.”

God shall “wipe away all tears”
There’s no death, no pain, nor fears;
And they count not time by years,
For there is “no night there.”

There are many beautiful cities across North America and around the world. But there’s none that isn’t struggling with a variety of problems. Housing is one, particularly affordable housing for those on a lower or fixed income. Efficient transportation is another, and the pollution caused by thousands of vehicles on the move each day. Then there’s often a deterioration of the inner city, with slums that tend to breed violence and racial tensions. And where will the money come from to deal with such things?

The Bible has a great deal to say on the subject of cities, with the word “city” or “cities” found there more than eleven hundred times. The first recorded city was founded by Cain, the man who murdered his brother Abel (Gen. 4:17). The last city mentioned is the heavenly city of God, New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14, 19). There is quite a contrast between the two. The first was built by an unbeliever in rebellion against God, the second by God Himself (Heb. 11:10).

God understands the problems cities face–that “the dying groan in the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out” (Job 24:12). And “by the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked” (Prov. 11:11). “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, who establishes a city by iniquity!” (Hab. 2:12). And the Lord sees and knows when promiscuous women standing “by the highest [most conspicuous] places of the city,” seek to lure foolish men to their destruction (Prov. 9:13-18).

Mentioned over seven hundred times in Scripture, the earthly city of Jerusalem, was given by God to His people Israel, as the seat of her kings and the centre of her worship. As such, its welfare is of special concern to Him. Jesus wept over the city, knowing the unbelief of the people, and of the judgment to come upon them (Matt. 23:37-39). It is still a troubled place, and we ought to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:6).

But, like Abraham of old, the saints today should be looking forward to dwelling in the city “whose builder and maker is God,” where the Lord is preparing a wonderful place for us to live with Him forever (Jn. 14:2-3). It is called, “[the heavenly] Mount Zion…the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 13:22), and “the holy city, New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2). The book of Revelation has much to say about this heavenly city. There’s space here to mention only a few of its features.

The city is laid out as a square, fifteen hundred miles in each dimension (“the city lieth foursquare,” Rev. 22:16 KJV). Since this dimension is also applied to its height, some have suggested that it is a pyramid, with the throne of God at the apex. We’ll have to wait and see. But we do know the throne of God is there (Rev. 21:3; cf. 4:1-2). And that it is a city of gold, and a city of light (Rev. 21:21, 23), and a city where there is no more pain, sickness or death (21:4).

CH-3) All the gates shall never close,
To “the city foursquare,”
There life’s crystal river flows,
And there is “no night there.”

CH-4) There they need no sunshine bright,
In “that city foursquare,”
For the Lamb is all the light,
And there is “no night there.”

Questions:
1) Other than the presence of Christ there, what to you is the most outstanding feature of the heavenly city?

2) What other hymns do you know and use about heaven?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | October 17, 2014

Bring Them In

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Alexcenah Thomas (1857 – circa 1910)
Music: William Augustine Ogden (b. Oct. 10, 1841; d. Oct. 14, 1897)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (William Ogden)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Alexenah Thomas was Supervisor of Drawing in the local public schools of Atlantic City, New Jersey. As you can see on the Cyber Hymnal note, she wrote many gospel songs, but this is the only one that seems to be found in most hymn books today. It was published in 1885.

Of the author of the text, we know almost nothing. One reviewer refers to Alexcena as a man, but the name seems feminine. (Alexina is definitely a girl’s name.) Miss (or Mrs.) Thomas also wrote a Christmas carol (“Hail, hail, hail, the blessed Christmas morn!”), published in 1889, which gives us an approximate time frame for when she lived, but it’s likely we’ll never know more, this side of heaven.

If you look at the early publication of the hymn on Hymnary.org, you will see that some changes have been made. It was clearly written to urge an outreach to children. The “sheep who’ve gone astray were “lambs” in the original. The second stanza begins:

Who’ll go and help this Shepherd kind,
Help Him the little lambs to find?

The refrain, instead of finishing with the words, “Bring the wandering ones to Jesus,” as it does now, used to end, “Bring the little ones to Jesus.” In the large collection posted by Hymnary.org, it’s not until 1907 that the song was revised to use the more inclusive word “sheep.”

As to presenting the gospel to children. I certainly believe in it. The gospel of grace can be understood by quite young children. I was only seven years old when I realized that I was a sinner, and that Jesus died to take sin’s punishment for me. I trusted Him as my Saviour, literally at my mother’s knee.

Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932) was one of America’s greatest devotional poets. Two of her poems, God Hath Not Promised, and He Giveth More Grace have become beloved hymns. She lost both her parents before the age of six, and was committed to the care of a childless couple named Flint. During those years, and while still a small child, she trusted Christ as her Saviour at a Methodist revival meeting. In adulthood Annie Johnson Flint would strongly disagree with any who said a child cannot grasp spiritual truths. She knew they could, from her own experience.

That is not to say child evangelism is without its unique problems. Though the gospel message is simple (cf. Acts 16:30-31), we must not oversimplify it to the point that we leave a child with false assumptions.

Nor must we pressure children to make a decision, or expose them to peer pressure. An example of this would be saying in a children’s meeting, “Everyone who wants to become a Christian, raise your hand.” Either to please the adult leader, or to win the favour of friends who are there, the child may act without understanding. It’s better to say, “If you’d like to learn more about what it means to become a Christian, please speak to me afterwards.”

These things being said, we know the Lord loves and cares for the welfare of the young. In the Gospels that parents brought their children to the Lord Jesus that He might bless them (Matt. 19:13-14). The disciples tried to discourage it, but the Lord welcomed them. Old or young, what a privilege and a blessing to bring folks to Jesus! All, like sheep have gone astray, but Christ has borne the penalty for our sin (Isa. 53:6; I Jn. 2:2).

CH-1) Hark! ’tis the Shepherd’s voice I hear
Out in the desert dark and drear,
Calling the sheep who’ve gone astray
Far from the Shepherd’s fold away.

Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring them in from the fields of sin;
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring the wand’ring ones to Jesus.

The proclamation of the gospel of grace involves both seeking and bringing. In some circles, this is construed to mean bring them to church. That, of course, has its place. But Alexcena Thomas wasn’t referring to bringing people to the house of God, but bringing them to the Saviour, and in so-doing bringing them into the fold or family of God.

While it’s possible to bring a friend to church, this seeking and bringing ministry can be carried on in our homes, over the backyard fence, in a coffee shop, or wherever folks in need are to be found. On behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians are to seek out those in spiritual need and bring them to the Saviour. That is, we’re to introduce them to Him, and invite them to trust in Him.

CH-2) Who’ll go and help this Shepherd kind,
Help Him the wand’ring ones to find?
Who’ll bring the lost ones to the fold,
Where they’ll be sheltered from the cold?

Questions:
1) Do you believe in presenting the gospel to children? If so, what precautions do you take?

2) What have you found to be an effective approach in personal evangelism (either to young or old)?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (William Ogden)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | October 15, 2014

The Call for Reapers

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: James Oren Thompson (b. June 9, 1834; d. Sept. 28, 1917)
Music: James Bowman Overton Clemm (b. Feb. ___, 1855; d. Nov. 21, 1927)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This lovely, lilting missionary hymn, published in 1885, is the only one we have from James Thompson. James Clemm was the cousin of Virginia Clemm, the wife of author Edgar Allan Poe.

The hymn is based on two particular passages of Scripture. Particularly in the last verse, which describes the joy of workers returning with the harvest, we can see an allusion to Psalm 126:5-6.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

In the context, this psalm refers to the Jews returning to the Holy Land after the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity (vs. 1-2). There was great rejoicing in the return. However, they found the land in poor condition. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and their temple had been destroyed. And the fields, not cared for over many years, were a tangle of weeds. But, as they went to work, often in tears, they made progress, and eventually had the joy of seeing a crop gathered in.

A  secondary or illustrativ3e application of this text can be made to Christian workers today. Serving the Lord is not easy. There is difficult toil involved. But what a joy to see those whose lives bear fruit, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and their response to the Word of God.

A second passage, more directly relevant to service for Christ, is Matthew 9:37-38.

“Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”

There are several things of note in that passage.

1) The Compassion of the Lord. His love for struggling humanity. Do we share His concern for the spiritual needs of those around us? It ought to motivate us to take action in His name. In another place, it says of Jesus, “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). The same should be said of us.

CH-1) Far and near the fields are teeming
With the waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers!
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather
Ere the harvest time pass by.

2) The Custody of the Lord. Twice Jesus brings that to our attention. God is “the Lord of the harvest;” it is “His harvest.” It is not we who save souls, or build up believers. That is God’s work. But we are privileged to be instruments in His hands. We can be channels through whom His blessing can flow. What a privilege! As Paul says,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase….Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow workers” (I Cor. 3:6-9).

3) The Command of the Lord. Christ could have directed His hearers to work in the harvest field. But they were already doing that. He had enlisted them to be His disciples. Yet they were so few. What they needed was more in the company of the committed to expand their ministry. How often do we remember, when we’re short of workers, to ask the Lord to provide them?

We have various ways we recruit workers in the church–and not every way is a good way! We may collar a willing person who is immature, or not gifted for the job (cf. I Tim. 3:6). We may try to be “lone rangers” and do it all ourselves. The need is great, and perhaps (in our view) urgent. But nothing is so urgent that we don’t have time to pray.

The Lord can prepare the workers needed, and give them a desire to be involved. Pray with the hymn writer, “Lord of harvest, send forth reapers!” Just be aware that sometimes–though not always–the Lord will call the one praying to be His servant in meeting the need. We may become part of the answer to our own prayers.

CH-2) Send them forth with morn’s first beaming,
Send them in the noontide’s glare;
When the sun’s last rays are gleaming,
Bid them gather everywhere.

CH-3) O thou, whom thy Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves of gold;
Heav’nward then at evening wending,
Thou shalt come with joy untold.

Questions:
1) What are the implications, since the harvest field in which we work is God’s?

2) Is there some need in your own church for which you could be praying for workers?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | October 13, 2014

We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Julia Bulkley Cady Cory (b. Nov. 9, 1882; d. May 1, 1963)
Music: Kremser, by Eduard Kremser (b. Apr. 10, 1838; d. Nov. 27, 1914)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: A little about Julia Cory is found in the Wordwise link, as well as the account of how she came to add a Christmas stanza to this hymn, later. It alludes to the truth of John 3:16, stating that God sent His Son in love for us, and Christ died to saved us. The stanza says:

Thy love Thou didst show us, Thine only Son sending,
Who came as a babe and whose bed was a stall,
His blest life He gave us and then died to save us;
We praise Thee, O Lord, for Thy gift to us all.

The hymn is certainly not exceptional poetry, but it does fit the tune, for which it was written at the request of Arthur Gibson, the organist at Mrs. Cory’s church. Some have supposed it was another English translation of the Dutch Thanksgiving hymn We Gather Together, but that is not the case. It’s a completely different song, created to be used with the tune of the latter hymn.

This simple hymn can be analyzed in terms of eight activities of the saints (chiefly praise and thanksgiving), and eight activities of the Saviour–though some of them may well overlap.

CH-1) We praise Thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator,
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring;
We lay it before Thee, we kneel and adore Thee,
We bless Thy holy name, glad praises we sing.

Activities of the Saints:
1) Praise (CH-1), and eternal praise–“to Thee…forever be praise” (CH-3, cf. Rev. 19:5-6)
2) “Grateful devotion” (CH-1), or wholehearted thanksgiving
3) Bringing tributes to the Lord (CH-1), presumably our offerings, but perhaps covering time and talents, as well as treasures (cf. Matt. 2:11)
4) Kneeling (CH-1) which recognizes the sovereign majesty of God, and expresses submission to Him (cf. Ps. 95:6)
5) Adoration (CH-1) which the dictionary defines as “deep love or esteem”
6) Worship (CH-1) an expression of the worth-ship of God
7) United (CH-3), which would suggest the activity of a group
8) Singing (“anthems”) (CH-3), praising God in song (Ps. 9:2)

CH-2) We worship Thee, God of our fathers, we bless Thee;
Through life’s storm and tempest our Guide hast Thou been;
When perils o’ertake us, escape Thou will make us,
And with Thy help, O Lord, our battles we win.

Activities of the Saviour:
1) He is the Redeemer (CH-1). “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25)
2) He is the Creator of all (CH-1)
3) He is the “God of our fathers” (CH-2), suggesting His faithfulness in the past. “Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them” (Ps. 22:4; cf. Acts 13:32-33)
4) He is our Guide through the storms of life (CH-2)
5) He is our Deliverer, enabling us to “escape” temptation (CH-2, cf. I Cor. 10:13)
6) He is our Defender in the “battles” with the evil one (CH-2)
7) He is our great Jehovah (CH-3). Jehovah or Yahweh (usually rendered “LORD” in capital letters, in the King James Version) connotes a number of things: that He is self-existent, that He is the Redeemer of man, and that He is the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God (cf. Jer. 31:31-32).
8) He is the ever Present One (CH-3)–“our God is beside us” (Matt. 28:20).

CH-3) With voices united our praises we offer,
To Thee, great Jehovah, glad anthems we raise.
Thy strong arm will guide us, our God is beside us,
To Thee, our great Redeemer, forever be praise.

Questions:
1) Which of the above activities of the saints have you specifically engaged in this week?

2) Which of the above activities of the Saviour has been especially meaningful to you this week?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | October 10, 2014

We May Not Climb the Heavenly Steeps

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: John Greenleaf Whittier (b. Dec. 17, 1807; d. Sept. 7, 1892)
Music: Serenity, by William Vincent Wallace (b. Mar. 11, 1812; d. Oct. 12, 1865)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: In 1856, Whittier published a poem with thirty-eight stanzas, called “Our Master” (considered his best work). This hymn uses the fifth stanza, and the thirteenth through the sixteenth of the poem. The hymn Immortal Love, Forever Full, is taken from the same poem, simply beginning with its opening stanza:

Immortal Love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!

The tune, Serenity, is the melody of a love song by William Wallace (“Ye winds that waft my sighs to thee…”) Uzziah Burnap (1834-1900) adapted part of Wallace‘s the music to make a hymn tune.

Whittier was a Quaker, and he was not completely orthodox in doctrine. He said:

“I see the good in all denominations and hope that all will be…not wasting strength and vitality on spasmodic emotions, not relying on creed and dogma, but on faithful obedience to the voice of God in the soul.”

This ecumenical spirit finds its expression in the fifth stanza of the present hymn, which declares (dubiously, I believe) that Christ is Lord of us all “whate’er our name or sign.” It is true that the Christian’s allegiance is first of all to Christ, but that does not invalidate all creeds or dogmas (doctrines) of the church. If they express and summarize accurately the teachings of the Word of God, they have their place.

CH-5) O Lord and Master of us all,
Whate’er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine!

In spite of this vague Quaker sentiment, there is enough truth in what he wrote that this, and his hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, are found in many hymnals.

CH-1) We may not climb the heavenly steeps
To bring the Lord Christ down;
In vain we search the lowest deeps,
For Him no depths can drown.

Man’s search for God can be futile and frustrating. How can we grasp the infinite and eternal? “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven–what can you do? Deeper than Sheol [the grave]–what can you know?…As for the Almighty, we cannot find Him? (Job 11:7; 37:23). Even Job himself, a great saint who had a deep personal relationship with God, said, “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him!” (Job 26:14).

The bad news is that applying mere human energy and human intellect to it, we’ll never get to know God. But the good news is that the transcendent God has reached down and revealed Himself to us in ways that are within reach. Speaking of the wonderful blessings God has in store for us, Scripture says, “God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:10). With the eyes of faith, enlightened by the Spirit of God, the believer discovers the Lord is near.

When faith reaches out to Him, we find, “Faith has still its Olivet, / And love its Galilee.” In other words, just as the Lord Jesus, during His time on earth, taught people by the shores of Galilee (Mk. 2:13), or from the slopes of the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:3), so He’s willing and able to teach us today, by His Spirit.

CH-2) But warm, sweet, tender, even yet
A present help is He;
And faith has still its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.

Further, Whittier testifies to the present restorative ministry of the Lord. Whether by natural or medical means, or by a supernatural touch, God is still able to help us in times of pain and distress. Taking his inspiration from the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s robe in faith and found healing, as many crowded around Him (Matt. 9:20-22), the poet assures us of the Lord’s power to heal.

CH-3) The healing of the seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch Him in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole again.

Questions:
1) What, in your view, is the purpose and value of the great creeds of the church (such as the Apostles Creed)?

2) How is the presence of Christ in your life a blessing to you today?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | October 8, 2014

Hark, What Mean Those Holy Voices

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 Cawood (b. Mar. 18, 1775; d. Nov. 7, 1852)
Music: Bethany (or Smart) by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)

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

Note: The Cyber Hymnal lists no fewer than seven possible tunes for this hymn. Not all of them seem suitable to the joyous mood of the carol. Further, treated in a four-line format it seems truncated, and becomes repetitious if all six stanzas are used. Some books I’ve seen use three eight-line stanzas (as below) sung to Henry Smart’s superior tune. Click on it (♬) in the Cyber Hymnal link and you’ll see how well it works.

John Cawood was the son of a poor English farmer, who was unable to provide an education for his son. But in spite of this, the son mastered the classics and graduated from Oxford, serving as a clergyman in the Anglican Church for many years. His Christmas hymn, which he entitled simply, “For Christmas Day,” is one of seventeen hymns he wrote. It was first published either in 1819 or 1816.

1) Hark! what mean those holy voices,
Sweetly sounding through the skies?
Lo! the angelic host rejoices
Heavenly hallelujahs rise.
Listen to the wondrous story,
Which they chant in hymns of joy;
“Glory in the highest, glory;
Glory be to God most high!”

If Jesus were a mere human being, simply a wise teacher, an itinerant rabbi who lived and died long ago, then the motivation for His coming would have rested with Joseph and Mary. In other words, if His was a natural birth, then He did not choose to be born. His presence on earth was not His doing but theirs. But the Bible will not allow us to come to that conclusion.

The conception of Christ was not natural, but supernatural. The Lord sent a message to Joseph that, “that which is conceived in her [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit….‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us” (Matt. 1:20, 23). Jesus’ life did not begin at conception. The prophet was able to say of Him that “His goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).

From the beginning, “the Word [Christ] was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Yet He “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). (The word “robbery” there means clutching onto something, the way a miser clings to his gold.) The Bible is saying that the Lord Jesus did not cling to all the honour eternally His as a member of the triune Godhead. He willingly set His heavenly glory aside, in order to take upon Himself our humanity.

But why? Here is the answer the Word of God gives us over and over.

Jesus said of Himself that he came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3), “nor is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). “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). That is precisely why the angel’s message at His birth was “good tidings of great joy” (Lk. 2:10). The good news was, “There is born to you this day…a Saviour who is Christ the Lord” (vs. 11).

2) Peace on earth, good will from heaven,
Reaching far as man is found;
Souls redeemed, and sins forgiven;
Loud our golden harps shall sound.
Christ is born, the great Anointed;
Heaven and earth His praises sing:
O receive whom God appointed,
For your prophet, priest and king.

What response can we give to such a unique and wonderful event? So much about the Christmas season has been usurped by the world. Not that decorating the house, having parties, and giving gifts is wrong. Not that we can’t enjoy the fictional stories such as Dickens’ classic work about Scrooge. But there is a tendency for the birth of Christ to get lost or downplayed in it all. More than anything, Christmas ought to be a time when Christians praise and worship God for the coming of our Saviour.

3) Hasten, mortals to adore Him;
Learn His name and taste His joy;
Till in heav’n you sing before Him,
Glory be to God most high!
Let us learn the wondrous story
Of our great Redeemer’s birth;
Spread the brightness of His glory
Till it cover all the earth.

Questions:
1) What is the most wonderful thing about Christmas for you and your family?

2) What can you do to help make Christmas more a time of worship and praise, in your home?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | October 6, 2014

Thank You, Lord

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Seth Sykes (b. _____, 1892; d. _____, 1950) and Bessie Sykes (b. _____, 1905; d. _____, 1982)
Music: Seth and Bessie Sykes

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

Note: Many know this song from 1940 simply as a little chorus (“Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul…”), though it is actually a gospel song with three stanzas, as well as the refrain. Along the way, someone–not the Sykes, as far as I know–added a useful second part to the chorus:

Thank You, Lord, for answering prayer;
Thank You, Lord, for lifting my care;
Thank You, Lord, for giving to me
Faith and assurance, and victory.

Some form of the word “thank” or “praise” is found in our English Bibles 400 times. In a similar vein an old gospel song says, “Count your blessings; name them one by one.” That’s a healthy exercise. Taking the time to ponder some of the ways the Lord has blessed us, and to praise Him, is uplifting and encouraging, as well as honouring to Him. As the people of God, we should abound in thanksgiving, and be vigilant to saturate our prayers with it–something that will be part of our lives for all eternity (Rev. 7:12).

“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6-7). “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thess. 5:18).

And if we were to think of prioritizing the things for which we’re grateful to God, certainly His great salvation, provided by our Saviour, should rank at or near the top. With the psalmist we say:

“My soul shall be joyful in the LORD; it shall rejoice in His salvation” (Ps. 35:9). “Let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The LORD be magnified!’” (Ps. 40:16).

A couple of God’s servants who praised Him for that, and preached the good news of it to others, were Scottish evangelists Seth and Bessie Sykes. Mr. Sykes began his working life with Glasgow Corporation Tramways, where he was a conductor and motorman. He was also Secretary of the Tramway Christian Association, and received permission from the department’s chairman to hand out Christian literature and Bibles.

In 1929 Sykes left his job to become a full-time evangelist. He traveled around Britain and abroad with his wife Bessie, preaching and telling stories from the Bible. The latter were illustrated with lantern slides (a novelty in those days). Old-timers from Glasgow and from the Channel Islands speak of how they, or their parents, were saved under the ministry of the Sykes.

Bessie is reported to have been a warm Christian woman, with a powerful singing voice. She also played a small portable reed organ (erroneously called a barrel organ in some of the literature). The Sykes made at least one recording–which includes the song “Thank You, Lord.” (If you know where I can get a copy of the recording, please let me know.)

That song describes our salvation as first and greatest among many things to be thankful for.

1) Some thank the Lord for friends and home,
For mercies sure and sweet;
But I would praise Him for His grace–
In prayer I would repeat:

Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul,
Thank You, Lord, for making me whole;
Thank You, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.

Another gospel song from the pen of Seth Sykes, in 1926, is Love, Wonderful Love. Once again, though it has three stanzas, the refrain has been used by itself as well. The third line, containing the phrase “wide, wide as the ocean,” may perhaps have contributed to the mistaken idea that the Sykes also wrote the chorus by that name. But Wide, Wide as the Ocean was written by Austin Miles. The refrain of Mr. Sykes song says:

Love, wonderful love, the love of Christ to me,
Love, wonderful love, so rich, so full, so free;
Wide, wide as the ocean, deep, deep as the sea,
High, high as the heav’ns above, His love to me.

Questions:
1) What are some reasons to thank the Lord for His great salvation?

2) What are some other things for which you can thank the Lord, today?

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

Posted by: rcottrill | October 3, 2014

We Bid Thee Welcome

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: Keble, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The tune by Dykes is a fine one. Another that is sometimes used with this hymn is Missionary Chant, by Heinrich Christoph Zeuner (1795-1857)–who took the name of Charles Zeuner, when he came to America. His tune is also used with Ye Christian Heralds. I personally like a newer tune called Smolan, by Eldon Burkwall (1928- ). The tune is found with the present hymn in the hymnal Great Hymns of the Faith. If your congregation is familiar with the hymn O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee, you could use its tune, Maryton, by Henry Percy Smith (1825-1898). It works very well with this hymn.

Montgomery produced the hymn in 1825, and his heading tells you the purpose he intended. He called it “Induction of a Minister”–later published with the heading “On the Appointment of a Minister.” Since this is something most local churches face at some time or other, the hymn is worth noting. It goes, stanza by stanza, through various duties of a pastor. The original had six stanzas, though only three or four are commonly used today.

T he coming of a new pastor to a local church is a major event. And one of the things it is wise to point out, early on, is what the expectations are–both of the pastor and his family, and also those of the congregation he will serve. My first pastorate was in a little country church, and I didn’t learn until my first winter there that the pastor was expected to come over about 3:00 a.m. each Sunday morning, to get the three wood stoves fired up. (Fortunately for me, the congregation soon after voted to put in central heating!)

Expectations. Or, we might use the word perceptions. What role do people expect the pastor to fulfil? How do they perceive what his ministry will be? James Montgomery’s hymn takes us through six of these that are worthy of our thought and study: a servant, a shepherd, at teacher (cf. Exod. 17:8-13), an angel (see note below), a watchman (cf. Ezek. 33:6-7), and a messenger.

CH-1) We bid thee welcome in the name
Of Jesus, our exalted Head.
Come as a servant, so He came,
And we receive thee in His stead.

The ascended (“exalted”) Lord Jesus Christ is Head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23). The pastor comes as a representative of Christ, and he is there to serve, as was the Lord Jesus on earth (Mk. 10:45). Of course each of us is the be a servant of God (Rom. 12:1, 11), but this is especially emphasized with regard to pastors who are “serving as overseers” (I Pet. 5:1). The word “minister” that we used to refer to a pastor means servant.

CH-2) Come as a shepherd–guard and keep
This fold from harm of earth and sin;
Nourish the lambs and feed the sheep;
The wounded heal, the lost bring in.

As you will see, there is some overlap in these roles. The “shepherd” encompasses a number of them. “Shepherd the flock,” says Peter (I Pet. 5:2), a form of the Greek word poimen, which means shepherd or pastor. As pastors, we are to guard and keep the flock given into our charge. Montgomery’s original says we’re to keep them “from hell and world and sin.” However, if they are truly part of God’s flock, He has already delivered them from hell. I noticed that Great Hymns of the Faith has changed this to what I have above.

CH-3) Come as a teacher–sent from God,
Charged His whole counsel to declare.
Lift o’er our ranks the prophet’s rod
While we uphold thy hands with prayer.

CH-4) Come as an angel–hence to guide
A band of pilgrims on their way,
That, softly walking at thy side,
We fail not, faint not, turn nor stray.

In giving John messages for each of seven churches listed in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, John is told to write “to the angel” of each church (e.g. Rev. 2:1). It is the Greek word aggelos, frequently translated “angel.” However, in a number of other places it is rendered “messenger” (cf. Lk. 7:24; Jas. 2:25), and I think that is the meaning here. These are the messengers from each church, each one representing the congregation, perhaps referring to the pastors.

CH-5) Come as a watchman–take thy stand
Upon the tower amidst the sky,
And when the sword comes on the land,
Call us to fight, or warn to fly.

CH-6) Come as a messenger of peace,
Filled with the Spirit, fired with love;
Live to behold our large increase
And die to meet us all above.

Questions:
1) Which of these roles do you think is most significant, or most important for a pastor?

2) Which of the six do you believe is the most difficult for most pastors?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | October 1, 2014

Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand

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 “Donate” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Henry Alford (b. Oct. 7, 1810; d. Jan. 12, 1871)
Music: Alford, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Early printings of this hymn have only the first three stanzas. Alford added the final several years later. The stirring tune Alford was written especially for this hymn, in 1875.

T his is a gloriously triumphant hymn, taking its content mainly from the book of Revelation. The images are so clearly drawn that it stirs the blood to read the words, let alone sing them with Dykes’s rousing tune. Albert Bailey’s criticism, in his book The Gospel in Hymns (p. 393), is both unfounded and uncalled for. He states that Dean Alford’s glorious picture is “all based upon Christian mythology.” He continues, writing in 1950:

“Our concepts of God, of Jesus, of salvation, of the universe shot through with gamma rays, cosmic rays and radio activity, have so changed within the last hundred years that modern man can find no place for such a heaven.”

Really? Then we must fault “modern man,” not the Bible. To dismiss the facts about heaven recorded in God’s Word as mere “mythology” is folly in the extreme. Granted that there are some visionary images in the book of Revelation, but we must avoid dismissing all the book as such. Consistent literal interpretation allows for figurative language, but we are not free to turn into symbols whatever we like.

The Reformation, and all the great revivals in history were rooted in the literal interpretation of God’s Word. In the classic definition of the term, we interpret the Scriptures literally by giving to each word its plain, natural sense, the same meaning it would have in normal use, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking. In other words, the language of the Bible works the way God designed all language to work.

Henry Alford, an eminent New Testament scholar, certainly understood Christ’s return and heaven that way. He died expecting that he would join the thronging saints on resurrection day. His wonderful hymn was sung at his memorial service and, according to his instructions, his grave marker was inscribed (in Latin) with the words, “The inn of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem.”

To deny the concrete reality of heaven is to reject the words of Jesus who told His followers, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2)–a place, not a state of mind. And to deny the concrete reality of heaven is to deny the full nature of man, “spirit, soul, and body” (I Thess. 5:23). Man has an immaterial part of his nature, but he also has a material part. God created us to exist in time and space. We won’t simply be incorporeal spirits, wandering in some blissful nothingness.

Let us turn from the unbelief of “modern man” to enjoy the thrilling picture Dr. Alford paints for us.

CH-1) Ten thousand times ten thousand in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light;
’Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.

The “ten thousand times ten thousand” comes from Revelation 5:11, the robes of the saints are mentioned several times in the book (Rev. 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:7-8). The gates of the heavenly city are described in Revelation 21:12-13, 15, 21, 25; 22:14). Though they are said to be gates of pearl, rather than gold, we know that the heavenly city is a city of gold (Rev. 21:18, 21), and a city of glorious light (Rev. 21:11, 23-24; 22:5). The idea of throwing open of the gates to admit this triumphal procession may be taken from Psalm 24:7-10).

CH-2) What rush of alleluias fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation and all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes a thousandfold repaid!

“Alleluia” is a cry we’ll no doubt hear many times (Rev. 19:1, 3, 4, 6). That is the Greek form of the Hebrew word hallelujah, a compound word meaning hallel (praise) + Jah or Yah (a contraction of Jehovah, or Lord). So, “Praise the Lord!” The “harps” of heaven are mentioned a number of times (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2). The Greek word for harp, kithara, gives us our English word guitar. This triumph of the saints, exalting our glorious King, is what history has been heading for all along.

CH-3) O then what raptured greetings on Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle, that brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.

When the Lord returns with His saints (I Thess. 4:14), to catch away His bride, the church (vs. 16-17), we will have a grand reunion with those who have gone on before us. There are so many that I’m looking forward to meeting–and the older I get, the more reunions there are to contemplate!

CH-4) Bring near Thy great salvation, Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of Thine elect, then take Thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations, Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heaven Thy promised sign; Thou Prince and Saviour, come.

Dr. Alford ends with a great prayer which actually has its roots in what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), as it will when Christ comes to reign.

He is “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), and the frequent use of that title in Revelation surely indicates that Christ is the central figure in the heavenly kingdom (Rev. 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1,3). Christ is also the “Desire of nations” (Hag. 2:7), the “Prince” of peace (Isa. 9:6-7) and the “Saviour,” a title used of Him many times (e.g. Lk. 2:11; Acts 5:31; Phil. 3:20; Tit. 2:13; I Jn. 4:14).

Questions:
1) What is the most thrilling thing to you, mentioned in Dr. Alford’s hymn?

2) What other hymns about heaven have been a special blessing to you>

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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