Posted by: rcottrill | September 1, 2014

When His Salvation Bringing

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 King (b. _____, 1789; d. Sept. 12, 1858)
Music: Tours, by Berthold Tours (b. Dec. 17, 1838; d. Mar. 11, 1897)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The authorship of this hymn was disputed early on. One source ascribed it to “a certain Mr., Mrs. or Miss Rooker” (English Hymns: Their Authors and History, p. 594). Another came closer to the truth with Joshua King. Evidence now seems to favour English clergyman John King. The date of 1830 for its original publication is generally accepted, but it may have appeared as early as 1817.

T his is a lovely Palm Sunday hymn, addressed particularly to children. It concerns the participation of the children in the aftermath of Christ’s Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 21:7-9). Matthew tells us:

“When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to Him, ‘Do You hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise”?’” (Matt. 21:15-16).

The reference to the stones crying out (CH-3) comes from the words of Jesus in Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry. This was the official presentation of Israel’s Messiah-King, prophesied long before (Zech. 9:9-10). The event was so significant in God’s sight that it simply had to be recognized.

“Some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out’” (Lk. 19:39-40; cf. vs. 41-42).

Regarding the use of the term “Zion.” Mount Zion was a rocky escarpment which became part of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Eventually, the entire city came to be referred to as Zion. “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” (Ps. 87:2-3). The name is also applied in one New Testament text to the heavenly city where the throne of God is, the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-24).

CH-1) When, His salvation bringing,
To Zion Jesus came,
The children all stood singing
Hosanna to His name;
Nor did their zeal offend Him,
But, as He rode along,
He let them still attend Him,
And smiled to hear their song.

After alluding the the Lord’s acceptance of praise from the children on this particular occasion, John King broadens his application to children in the present. The hymn thus becomes useful at all occasions, not just on Palm Sunday.

One minor point concerning the sixth line of CH-2. Christ is not presently seated upon “His throne,” according to Revelation 3:21, but is seated next to God the Father on the Father’s throne. Christ will not be seated on His own throne, the Davidic throne, until He returns to reign over the earth (cf. Lk. 1:31-33).

CH-2) And since the Lord retaineth
His love for children still,
Though now as King He reigneth
On Zion’s heavenly hill,
We’ll flock around His banner
Who sits upon His throne,
And cry aloud, “Hosanna
To David’s royal Son!”

The idea of the stones crying out in praise to the Lord (Lk. 19:40) is the ultimate insult to the self-righteous Pharisees. It suggests that inanimate nature understood more about who the Lord was and what He was doing than His critics did. (In modern slang we might express it as, “You guys are dumber than a rock!”) No wonder they seethed with hatred, and wanted to kill Him (vs. 47).

There is also a sad ironic application of Christ’s words in vs. 40. He warned the nation of judgment to come, that an enemy would destroy the city and their beautiful temple, “And they will not leave in you one stone upon another” (vs. 44). This prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70, by the armies of Titus. And today, those fallen stones continue to testify to the truth of Jesus’ words.

CH-3) For should we fail proclaiming
Our great Redeemer’s praise,
The stones, our silence shaming,
Would their hosannas raise.
But shall we only render
The tribute of our words?
No; while our hearts are tender,
They too shall be the Lord’s.

Questions:
1) What did the Lord Jesus mean when He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Lk. 18:17)?

2) Praising the Lord can so easily become a matter of mere form or ritual. What can we do to prevent this?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 29, 2014

It Pays to Serve 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.

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

Words: Frank Claude Huston (b. Sept. 12, 1871; d. Nov. 14, 1959)
Music: Frank Claude Huston

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This simple gospel song was written in 1909. Mr. Huston was one of those individuals who had a varied career. He taught school for a year, then became a singer who traveled in evangelistic work. He later served as a pastor in a number of churches in Indiana. Huston also founded a publishing company, that produced both secular and gospel songs.

As Christians, we are called to serve the Lord, and we are promised heavenly rewards for our service. The Lord Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). Even a cup of water given in service for Christ will be duly rewarded (Mk. 9:41).

Frank Huston wrote this gospel song about that entitled, It Pays to Serve Jesus. It was written in two stages. First, the musician composed a melody. Thinking it might be useful in the future, he jotted down the notes on a piece of paper, folded it up and put it in his pocket.

Weeks later, he was asked if he could write a song about how it was rewarding to serve the Lord. He was paying a visit to a friend, 82 year-old M. E. Mick. During their conversation, Mr. Mick suddenly said to Huston, “Brother Huston, you have written so many good songs, won’t you write one for me on the subject we have just been discussing, and call it, ‘It Pays to Serve Jesus’?” Frank interrupted to remind him that there was already a published song bearing that title, whereupon Mick replied, “I know there is, but I think you can write a better one.”

Pondering the possibilities, he thought of the tune he’d created earlier. Pulling the paper from his pocket, he set it on the piano, and the words to fit it seemed to follow easily.

CH-1) The service of Jesus true pleasure affords,
In Him there is joy without an alloy;
’Tis heaven to trust Him and rest on His words;
It pays to serve Jesus each day.

It pays to serve Jesus, it pays every day,
It pays every step of the way,
Though the pathway to glory may sometimes be drear,
You’ll be happy each step of the way.

CH-2) It pays to serve Jesus whate’er may betide,
It pays to be true whate’er you may do;
’Tis riches of mercy in Him to abide;
It pays to serve Jesus each day.

CH-3) Though sometimes the shadows may hang o’er the way,
And sorrows may come to beckon us home,
Our precious Redeemer each toil will repay;
It pays to serve Jesus each day.

The song says, “It pays to serve Jesus each day.” And it certainly does. Our work will be rewarded later, before the Judgment Seat of Christ. But Christian ministry also is rewarding here and now. I can personally testify to that. In the present world, service for Christ brings many joys.

¤ The joy of pleasing our Commander (Acts 20:24; Col. 1:10; II Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7).

¤ The joy of making an eternal investment in fulfilling work (Matt. 6:19-20; Phil. 3:12-14; cf. Heb. 12:2).

¤ The joy of fellowship in the gospel with other servants of Christ (Phil. 1:3-5; II Tim. 1:4).

¤ The joy of seeing people blessed, and lives transformed through our service (Phil. 2:2; I Thess. 1:2-3; 2:19-20; III Jn. 1:4).

But there is another side to it. Apart from any reward a gracious God might give us, He is worthy of our service, and fully deserving of all we can offer to Him, just because of who He is. It’s a question of balance. We ought to serve the Lord Jesus simply because He is deserving of all we can render Him. He has granted us the privilege of holy service, and we do so first of all as an act of homage, to His honour and glory.

“Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it….What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 10:14, 12). “When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Lk. 17:10).

It does pay to serve the Lord. But the Lord is worthy of our faithful service simply because He is the Lord.

Questions:
1) How are you serving the Lord these days?

2) Why do you serve the Lord?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 27, 2014

Ten Thousand Angels

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: Ray Overholt (b. July 24, 1924; d. Sept. 14, 2008)
Music: Ray Overholt

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

Note: This gospel song, written in 1958, has an unusual story related to it.

Ray Overholt was a popular singer song-writer over a period of several decades. He even had his own television show for a time. He married his wife Millie in 1956, and she continued to sing with him and accompany him, over the years.

By his own admission, in the mid-1950’s Ray’s life was not a happy one. Working the nightclub circuit, he was drinking heavily and doing other things that he himself felt were wrong. Finally he told his wife he wanted to clean up his life. He wasn’t exactly sure how to do that, but he knew people were praying for him.

Mr. Overholt had written many secular songs, but one day he decided to try his hand at writing something in a religious vein. He took up a Bible to get some ideas–a book he had seldom opened before–and his eye fell on the scene in the garden of Gethsemane.

After taking part in the Passover meal with His disciples, Christ made His way to the garden to pray. Leaving most of the men behind, He took Peter, James and John with Him a little further. Then the Lord proceeded alone to a place where He could pray about the momentous events ahead of Him. In His agony, He submitting Himself to the will of God the Father.

“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39).

Shortly after, when Judas, the betrayer, brought an armed contingent to arrest the Lord Jesus, Peter drew a sword, determined to defend his Master (Jn. 18:10). We’re often critical of Peter. Yet that was a bold impulse–though a futile one. All he managed to do was to cut off one man’s ear. And Christ said to him:

“Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword….Do you think that I cannot now pray My Father, and He will provide Me with more that twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:52-53).

In other words, the Lord was not helpless, either in His own Person, or because of the mighty angelic hosts at His command. He submitted to His captors for a higher purpose. He was going to the cross willingly, to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins (I Cor. 15:3; I Pet. 2:24).

As to the reference to “legions of angels,” Roman legions were composed of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 men. If that is what the Lord had in mind, it suggests that 72,000 powerful spirit beings were accessible for His defense. Ray Overholt didn’t know at the time what a legion was, but the scene impressed him deeply. More particularly, the person of Christ made an impression on him, and he began reading the Gospels to learn more about Him.

Though still not a believer, based on what he discovered, the musician wrote the song he entitled Ten Thousand Angels.

1) They bound the hands of Jesus
In the garden where He prayed;
They led Him through the streets in shame.
They spat upon the Saviour so pure and free from sin;
They said, “Crucify Him; He’s to blame.”

He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels,
But He died alone, for you and me.

Some time later, Ray Overholt was asked to sing at a church. I have no idea why a church would want an unsaved nightclub singer to perform there, but that is what happened. The question was, what could he sing for the little congregation? He decided on the only religious song in his repertoire, Ten Thousand Angels.

After Ray Overholt sang, the pastor preached a clear gospel message, and the Spirit of God convicted Ray that he needed saving. He says, “I knew I needed Christ, so I knelt there and accepted, as my Saviour, the One whom I had been singing and writing about.”

Mr. Overholt had been converted, at least in part, by the message of his own song. The tables had turned. The One he had been vaguely seeking and learning about had sought and found him! He went on to many years of ministry, preaching and singing about his Saviour.

4) To the howling mob He yielded;
He did not for mercy cry.
The cross of shame He took alone.
And when He cried, “It’s finished,”
He gave Himself to die;
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done.

Questions:
1) Contrast the attitude and feelings of Christ’s followers: at the Triumphal Entry, at the cross, at the empty tomb. What can we learn from this?

2) The Bible says, “This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (I Jn. 5:11). Are you confident today that you are saved? If not, please check out the article God’s Plan of Salvation.

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

Posted by: rcottrill | August 25, 2014

We Rest on Thee

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

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

Words: Edith Gilling Cherry (b. Feb. 9, 1872; d. Aug. 29, 1897)
Music: Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius (full name, Johan Julius Christian Sibelius (b. Dec. 8, 1865; d. Sept. 20, 1957)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Edith Gilling Cherry was a remarkable young woman, and a gifted poet. She died at the age of twenty-five–and much of her poetry was written before she was fifteen. Jean Sibelius was a Finnish composer of the Romantic period. His music is well known and still performed. The dramatic melody from Finlandia is also used for the hymn Be Still, My Soul.

The Wordwise link will give you a lovely congregational rendition of this hymn, and also a documentary about its link to the martyrdom of the five missionaries in Ecuador, in 1956. Through Gates of Splendor (taken from CH-4), became the title of Elisabeth Elliot’s book recounting this incident.

In my view, this is a truly great hymn. It has passion and power, doctrinal depth and many biblical allusions. It’s a wonder to me that it isn’t know, loved, and frequently sung by many more congregations.

The song was written around 1895. The phrase, “We rest on Thee” is taken from the account in the King James Version of how King Asa of Judah sought the help of the Lord, when a huge Ethiopian army came against Judah.

“Asa cried out to the LORD his God, and said, ‘LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!’” (II Chron. 14:11, italics mine).

CH-1) We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.

Let me pick out a few of the allusions to Scripture in these lines. There is a triple identification and association mentioned in the hymn. Believers go forward: in the name (authority) of the Lord (CH-3; cf. Ps. 124;8; Col. 3:17), in the strength of the Lord (CH-1; cf. Exod. 15:2; Ps. 71:16), and in the keeping of the Lord (Exod. 23:20; Ps. 91:11).

Many times the Lord is referred to as the believer’s Shield (e.g. Ps. 3:3; 18:30, 35), and his Defender or defense (e.g. Ps. 62:6; 68:5). He is the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6; cf. I Cor. 1:30), and our Foundation (I Cor. 3:11). He is also our glorious Prince (Isa. 9:6; Acts 3:15) and our coming King (Rev. 19:16).

CH-2) Yes, in Thy name, O Captain of salvation!
In Thy dear name, all other names above;
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.

CH-3) We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.”
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.”

We recognize “our own great weakness,” and our constant need of daily grace (II Cor. 12:9; cf. 2:16 and 3:5). We encourage our hearts with the fact that “the battle is the Lord’s (I Sam. 17:47). Though we struggle now, in weakness, we’re assured of ultimate victory. Through Christ, and by the power of God, we are victors (I Cor. 15:57; cf. I Chron. 29:11). We look forward to the day when we will be ushered in triumph, through the pearly gates (Rev. 21:21), into the heavenly city.

CH-4) We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender!
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendour,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.
When passing through the gates of pearly splendour,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Questions:
1) What, to you, is the most encouraging thing about this hymn?

2) What can you do to encourage the study of this hymn and its wider use? (You may find some helpful ideas if you click on the article linked near the top of this page, 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing.)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 22, 2014

Sun of My Soul

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 Keble (b. Apr. 25, 1792; d. Mar. 29, 1866)
Music: Hursley, by an unknown composer.

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: John Keble was elected to the Poetry Professorship at Oxford University, in 1831. His skill as a poet can be seen in this beautiful hymn, written in 1820. It is part of a fourteen stanza poem entitled “Evening.” And while the hymn is wonderful as it is, it gains some force by noting the initial stanza of the poem which speaks of the actual sun in the sky.

‘Tis gone! That bright and orbéd blaze
Fast fading from our wistful gaze;
Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight
The last faint pulse of quivering light!

Keble’s point is that the physical sun may pass from view, and night descend, but Christ the “Sun of my soul” gives eternal light.

Various compilations of hymns list this one among the top ten in the English language. And the very useful Hymnary.org tells us they found it in 1,184 hymn books. That surely attests to its popularity over the years.

Graphic Hursely ChurchAs to the tune, John Keble and his wife selected it for this hymn, and named it Hursley, as that was the parish in England where Keble was vicar for thirty years. (The church is pictured.) The tune was found in the Katholisches Gesangbuch (German Catholic Songbook), where it was the setting for the German Te Deum.

The Cyber Hymnal includes some interesting comments by composer Herbert Oakeley, who considered this tune inadequate and vulgar. (His words.) He calls it “a lively tune, unsuitable to sacred words, [which] often had the effect of driving me out of church.” Really? The tune can hardly be called “lively,” unless it is sung rapidly–which would be totally unsuited to the words.

Further, it is a beautifully crafted melody. Notice how the rising pitch of the second line perfectly suits the urgency of the words in the last couplet of each stanza. Oakeley’s own tune for the hymn (Abends) is fine, but it lacks that dramatic structure. For me, it’s not an improvement.

The hymn was inspired by Luke 24:29. Reference to this incident on the road to Emmaus, and the request that the Lord “abide” with us, is found in CH-3

“They constrained Him [Christ], saying, ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And He went in to stay with them” (Lk. 24:29).

However, poetic imagery of Christ as the sun comes from the prophet Malachi, who prophesies of the coming Messiah:

“The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2).

CH-1) Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear,
It is not night if Thou be near;
O may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes.

CH-2) When the soft dews of kindly sleep
My wearied eyelids gently steep,
Be my last thought, how sweet to rest
Forever on my Saviour’s breast.

There is a marvelous, and thoroughly biblical, contrast in CH-3. “Without Thee I cannot live…without Thee I dare not die.” It reminds me of Paul’s declaration, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Without Christ, life on a spiritually and eternally rewarding plain is impossible, and death is a fearsome prospect. But if to live is Christ, then to die can only be gain.

CH-3) Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without Thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without Thee I dare not die.

After pleading the necessity of the presence of the Lord in his own life, the author turns his attention, in prayer, to others. There is a prayer for backslidden believers (CH-4), and for those who are sick, or in mourning (CH-5).

The hymn moves to a glorious conclusion with CH-6, when the believer in eternity is lost–in the positive sense of being submerged in and surrounded by the ocean of God’s love.

CH-6) Come near and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take,
Till in the ocean of Thy love
We lose ourselves in heaven above.

Questions:
1) What is it about the physical sun and sunlight that provides a picture of what Christ means to us?

2) One commentator wrote, “Sun of My Soul is one of the finest examples in our language of what a true prayer hymn should be.” Do you agree, or disagree? (And why?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 20, 2014

Calm on the Listening Ear of Night

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 18, 2014

Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by: rcottrill | August 15, 2014

Jesus Spreads His Banner O’er Us

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 13, 2014

Jesus Is the Sweetest Name I Know

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | August 11, 2014

Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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