Posted by: rcottrill | June 14, 2010

Today in 1837 – William Dix Born

We are indebted to William Chatterton Dix, the manager of a marine insurance company in Glasgow, for a couple of fine Christmas carols: What Child Is This? and As with Gladness Men of Old (see Today in 1898). But he wrote other hymns as well. One of these is a hymn for the Lord’s Supper–which in the song is called “the Eurcharistic feast.” (The Greek word eucharisteo means to give thanks, as Jesus did at the meal, I Cor. 11:24.) The hymn is Alleluia! Sing to Jesus, and it says in part:

Alleluia! sing to Jesus! His the sceptre, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood.
Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by His blood.

Alleluia! King eternal, Thee the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluia! born of Mary, earth Thy footstool, heav’n Thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

Come Unto Me, Ye Weary (based on Matt. 11:28), a lesser known creation of William Dix, came to him in 1867, when he was, as he describes himself, ill and depressed. He says, “I had been ill for ma­ny weeks and felt weary and faint….Soon af­ter its com­po­si­tion I re­cov­ered, and I al­ways look back to that hymn as the turn­ing point in my ill­ness.”

“Come unto Me, ye weary, and I will give you rest.”
O blessèd voice of Jesus, which comes to hearts oppressed!
It tells of benediction, of pardon, grace and peace,
Of joy that hath no ending, of love which cannot cease.

“Come unto Me, dear children, and I will give you light.”
O loving voice of Jesus, which comes to cheer the night!
Our hearts are filled with sadness, and we had lost our way;
But He hath brought us gladness and songs at break of day.

“Come unto Me, ye fainting, and I will give you life.”
O cheering voice of Jesus, which comes to aid our strife!
The foe is stern and eager, the fight is fierce and long;
But Thou hast made us mighty and stronger than the strong.

“And whosoever cometh I will not cast him out.”
O welcome voice of Jesus, which drives away our doubt,
Which calls us, very sinners, unworthy though we be
Of love so free and boundless, to come, dear Lord, to Thee.

(2) Today in 1901 – Ralph Hudson Died
Hudson had a widely varied career. He was a nurse during the American Civil War. Then after the war he taught music at a college. In addition, he was a licensed preacher with the Methodist Episcopal denomination, was an evangelist, a singer, song writer, and compiler of the songs of others. Usually, he composed the tunes. But he occasionally wrote lyrics too, as he did for the song I’ll Live for Him.

My life, my love I give to Thee.
Thou Lamb of God who died for me;
Oh, may I ever faithful be,
My Saviour and my God!

Hudson also formed his own publishing company. A busy life! But he is not without his critics. He liked to take traditional hymns and turn them into gospel songs, by giving them an upbeat tune and adding a refrain. In so doing, he sometimes forgot that the music needs to suit the mood and subject of the words. The most painful example that comes to mind is his treatment of Isaac Watts’s great hymn of worship, Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed?

With eloquent passion, Watts pictures himself standing before the cross, wondering at the love that led Christ to die for “a worm” such as he was. (Notice especially the first stanza below, omitted from hymn books today.) He writes:

Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine–
And bathed in His own blood–
While the firm mark of wrath divine
His soul in anguish stood.

Was it for crimes that I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

When the usual tune (Martyrdom) is used, this becomes a worshipful meditation on the reason for Christ’s terrible agony on the cross. But Ralph Erskine Hudson felt the hymn needed some adjustment. He gave it a new tune, with a jolly, bouncing chorus:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away (rolled away).
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

Congregations may enjoy singing Hudson’s creation, but I believe it does grave injustice to the song’s purpose! It minimizes our confrontation with the horrific nature of crucifixion, requiring, as it does, an almost impossible 180 degree emotional turn each time singers move from the chorus to the next stanza. And the text of the chorus isn’t even biblical, at that! Even Jesus wasn’t “happy all the day!”

In my view, Mr. Hudson should have left well enough alone. But having said that, singing Hudson’s version with extreme slowness could help. Just how that would go over with most congregations, I’m not sure, but here’s the Gaither Vocal Band singing it that way. (For me, a little less emotional grimacing and posing would have been preferable. But that’s not to suggest they aren’t singing sincerely, just that there may be a lot of theatrics in this presentation.)


Responses

  1. The notion of ‘happiness’, though a pleasant thought, is not, in my opinion, what Jesus all about.
    Indeed, we all want some happiness in life, yet is that the main desire God has for us? I think not.
    For instance, there is another Christian song that has the phrase ‘proclaiming news of happiness’ in regards to the good news of Christ’s coming. In reality Christ’s coming was to proclaim news of RIGHTEOUSNESS and how, in Christ, the sinful human soul can be forgiven and infused with the character of the Alpha and Omega…Jesus Christ!
    Perhaps a measure of happiness can be a side effect of this wonderful transaction accomplished by God, but even then it seems too man focused.

    • The King James Version does use the word “happy” here and there. In most cases it seems to mean blessed by the Lord, and the modern versions often render it that way. For example, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (KJV) becomes, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you” (New King James Version).

      Quite a few hymns seem to use the word in that richer and more spiritual sense. Welcome Happy [Blessed] Morning is a hymn about the resurrection nearly 1500 years old. In other hymns there are lines such as “Happy [blessed] the home when God is there,” and “Christians awake! Salute the happy [blessed] morn” (about the birth of Christ).

      In general, though, I agree that it is best to make a distinction between happiness that is an emotional response to pleasant happen-ings, and the joy of the Lord that is the fruit of the Spirit’s work within us (Gal. 5:22). Nothing wrong with being happy, in itself. But there is something deeper and richer in the Christian experience. Circumstances are irrelevant to joy of the Lord, and therefore it can even be experienced in times of severe trial.

      When the followers of Christ sang praises to the Lord in prison, after having been severely beaten (Acts 16:23-25), they were certainly not happy about their pain! But they rejoiced in knowing God, and in being counted worthy to serve Him (cf. Acts 5:40-41).

  2. The refrain seems to take the focus off of Christ’s suffering and places it on the reader/singer/author (however you want to look at it, just not on Jesus).

    Thanks for the missing verse. I don’t know why it is left out of many hymnals. In my denomination, we are not afraid of word pictures such as this! Perhaps there was a lack of due diligence. Sometimes a hymn is ushered in the same way it was presented two hymnals ago!

    Also, I like the use of blessed to convey that unique joy and happiness we have in Christ. It separates it from that happiness I get when I have a pastry.

  3. Personally, I prefer the original tune MARTYRDOM.

    http://www.hymnpod.com/2009/03/22/alas-and-did-my-savior-bleed/

    Did you know that Fanny Crosby was reported converted whilst this hymn was being played?

    • Yes, I prefer the Martyrdom tune as well. As I tried to indicate, Ralph Hudson did us no favour with Watts’s hymn.

      As to Fanny Crosby’s conversion experience, it’s actually more than a second hand “report” that the hymn Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed? was involved. It was her personal testimony, in Fanny’s book Memories of Eighty Years, published in 1906. With the congregation singing of the last stanza, “Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do,” she says, “[I] felt my very soul flooded with celestial light….For the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other.” Years later, she added, concerning that day, “The Lord planted a star in my life and no cloud has ever obscured its light.”

      It’s interesting to me to notice how, as a blind woman, she pictures the experience in visual terms–as new light shining in her soul.

  4. I am with you there, Christopher! It is the tune I know it to best.

    The African-American tradition has an ornamented setting of this tune for the text, “Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee.”

    The ornamented setting should translate pretty well for an a capella, solo piece.

    You can find the ornamentation lined-out in the supplement, Songs of Zion (from Abingdon Press, which I believe is a Cokesbury imprint).

  5. […] gospel tune, and added a refrain. (This was not always an improvement! See the second item under Today in 1837.) The praise song Blessed Be the Name was written by William H. Clarke, of whom we know nothing. […]

  6. […] Robert Lowry added a refrain, and turned the above into a jubilant gospel song, but Watts’s version, using the traditional tune St. Thomas, should not be abandoned. And speaking of gospel song arrangements of great hymns, I have dealt elsewhere with Ralph Hudson’s mutilation of Isaac Watts’s Alas, and Did My Saviour Bleed? […]

  7. […] (2) Today in 1918 – Bertram Luard-Selby Died Bertram Luard-Selby served as an organist at Rochester Cathedral, in England. He composed mostly organ music, but also wrote three sonatas, service music, large-scale chamber music, two operas and three cantatas. He composed the hymn tune Adoration, that can be used with the hymn Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. (For more on this hymn and the author of the words, see Today in 1837.) […]

  8. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  9. […] Note: Unfortunately, the Cyber Hymnal tries to combine the simple version of this hymn (set to the tune Martyrdom) with the reworked version of Ralph Hudson. The latter is more accurately called At the Cross. And though it’s popular in some circles, its trite and jaunty refrain completely ignores the sombre message of the text. For my further comments on this uncalled for mutilation of a great hymn, see here. […]

  10. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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