Posted by: rcottrill | July 2, 2014

He Lifted Me

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

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

Words: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Aug. 18, 1856; d. Sept. 15, 1932)
Music: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Gabriel)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The hymn was first published in 1905, and the text was credited to Charlotte G. Homer, a pen name of Charles Gabriel’s. This social convention was followed by gospel song books for the next forty years, but now books dispense with it and give Gabriel credit by name for both words and music.

Mr. Gabriel’s contribution to gospel music, near the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, was extensive. The popularity of his songs was increased by their frequent use in Billy Sunday’s evangelistic meetings. The present song was a particular favourite because it provided a testimony of the transforming power of the cross.

The Petersens’, in their book The Complete Book of Hymns (p. 615), tell of a gentleman sitting on the platform before a congregation of five hundred, overwhelmed as he heard them sing this hymn with great feeling. He said, “I saw the glow in their faces and heard the passion of their voices, and I felt, ‘Here is the true Christian apologetic.’”

CH-1) In lovingkindness Jesus came
My soul in mercy to reclaim,
And from the depths of sin and shame
Through grace He lifted me.

From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me,
From shades of night to plains of light,
O praise His name, He lifted me!

With the poetic imagery of being “lifted,” there seems to be a connection with David’s testimony:

“[The Lord] brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth–praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD” (Ps. 40:2-3).

Not every saved sinner has this sense of being dramatically rescued from a slimy pit of wickedness and corruption, but converted ball player Billy Sunday certainly did. And we get another picture of a dramatic rescue, in a physical sense, with the experience of Peter when, at the Lord’s bidding, he tried to walk on the waters of the stormy Galilee to his Master:

Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased” (Matt. 14:27-32).

CH-2) He called me long before I heard,
Before my sinful heart was stirred,
But when I took Him at His word,
Forgiv’n, He lifted me.

CH-2 reflects the hardness of the sinful heart, and the patient and persistent calling of the Saviour. The Lord’s pursuit of the sinner is dramatically described in The Hound of Heaven, a lengthy poem by Francis Thompson (1859-1907):

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him.

CH-3 provides a picture of the substitutionary death of Christ, when He took the sinner’s place under the wrath of God (cf. I Cor. 15:3; Eph. 1:7; I Pet. 2:24).

CH-3) His brow was pierced with many a thorn,
His hands by cruel nails were torn,
When from my guilt and grief, forlorn,
In love He lifted me.

In CH-4 we have both the delight and confidence of the saved individual, and a confession that the workings of sovereign grace are beyond our capacity to fully understand.

CH-4) Now on a higher plane I dwell,
And with my soul I know ’tis well;
Yet how or why I cannot tell
He should have lifted me.

Questions:
1) What was your experience of the saving power of God?

2) What differences has Christ made in your life?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Gabriel)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | June 30, 2014

Footsteps of Jesus

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

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

Words: Mary Bridges Canedy Slade (b. Jan. 18, 1826; d. April. 15, 1882)
Music: Asa Brooks Everett (b. Sept. ___, 1828; d. Sept. ___, 1885)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: This 1871 hymn is called Footsteps of Jesus in the Cyber Hymnal. This does seem to be the most used title over the years, though several books I’ve seen use “Footprints of Jesus,” a phrase taken from the refrain.

CH-1) Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
Come, follow Me!
And we see where Thy footprints falling
Lead us to Thee.

Footprints of Jesus,
That make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus
Where’er they go.

The original song had seven stanzas, but only four are commonly used today (CH-1, 2, 3 and 7). The others may be of interest. Two of them speak of Gethsemane and Calvary, indicating that the summons to follow Christ will lead at times to suffering.

CH-4) Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,
We follow Thee;
Through the gloom of that place of weeping,
Gethsemane!

CH-5) If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,
We go again,
Up the slope of the hillside, bearing
Our cross of pain.

CH-6, the other stanza often missed, provides a concluding pair with CH-7. It pictures the joys of heaven in the fellowship of the saints, and in worship around the throne of God.

CH-6) By and by, through the shining portals,
Turning our feet,
We shall walk, with the glad immortals,
Heav’n’s golden street.

CH-7) Then at last when on high He sees us,
Our journey done,
We will rest where the steps of Jesus
End at His throne.

The call to “follow Me” is found many times on the lips of the Lord Jesus, in the Gospels. One of the things we discover is that following Christ is a personal and individual experience. Yes, there are common elements. But it’s evident that the Lord may lead one on a path whose particulars are different from another’s. It was Peter’s curiosity about John’s future that brought this rebuke from the Lord: “What is that to you? You follow Me” (Jn. 21:22).

But having said this, we can also see in the Gospel record many of the common components in following the Saviour.

1) “Follow Me” is a call to discipleship and learning from the master Teacher. That was a major purpose of the calling of the twelve, who heard His teaching for about three years. Among them was Matthew, or Levi. “He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me’” (Lk. 5:27).

2) “Follow Me” is a call to service for the Lord. “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men’” (Mk. 1:17). “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me” (Jn. 12:26).

3) “Follow Me” is a call to experience the Lord’s protection and provision as we trust Him as our Shepherd. “”My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27).

4) “Follow Me” is a call to identify with Christ, and to follow the path of sacrifice. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).

5) “Follow Me” is a call to adopt spiritual and eternal values and priorities. To the rich man who seems to have made a god of his wealth, Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Lk. 18:22). Another tried to excuse himself from serving the Lord, because of other duties: “He said to [him], ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God’” (Lk. 9:59-60).

6) “Follow Me” leads on past this life to our heavenly home. In words that speak either of death, or of life beyond the grave–perhaps both–Jesus had this exchange with Peter. “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward’” (Jn. 13:36).

Questions:
1) What are some of the things one who is a follower of Christ will be doing?

2) What are some things a follower of Christ will avoid doing?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | June 27, 2014

Follow On

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

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

Words: William Orcutt Cushing (b. Dec. 31, 1823; d. Oct. 19, 1902)
Music: Robert Lowry (b. Mar. 12, 1826; d. Nov. 25, 1899)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: William Cushing’s parents were Unitarians (a group that does not recognize the deity of Christ), and as a boy he was taught by the Unitarian clergyman in his town. However, as he began to study the Bible for himself, he became convinced of the deity of Christ and other orthodox doctrines.

At the age of eighteen, he began to prepare for the ministry and went on to serve many years as a pastor in several churches in New York State. He had an effective ministry, and was also a great supporter of the Sunday School movement.

In 1854 he married Hena Proper and she was a help to him in his work. But Mrs. Cushing’s health failed and, after a long illness, she died in 1870. Soon after that, Pastor Cushing was seized with what a biographer calls a “creeping paralysis,” and he was forced to retire from active ministry.

But in those days of suffering his prayer was, “Lord, still give me something to do for Thee!” And God did so, turning his attention to the writing of hymns. Over the years that followed he wrote over 300 of them. One of these, created in 1878 is Follow On, the tune being provided by Baptist pastor and hymn writer Robert Lowry.

CH-1) Down in the valley with my Saviour I would go,
Where the flowers are blooming and the sweet waters flow;
Everywhere He leads me I would follow, follow on,
Walking in His footsteps till the crown be won.

Follow! follow! I would follow Jesus!
Anywhere, everywhere, I would follow on!
Follow! follow! I would follow Jesus!
Everywhere He leads me I would follow on!

Follow. The word is used over 250 times in the Bible, in one form or another. And there is a sense in which each person in society can be categorized as either a leader or a follower. In truth, we’re often both at once, with our exact position depending on the particular sphere of activity in view. For example, a man may be a leader in his church, but he may be under the authority of a boss at his workplace.

Whether we are one or the other says nothing about our personal worth. It’s a matter of administrative rank. The man referred to above is not a better or more worthy person as a leader than he is as an employee. Nor is a woman somehow inferior to her husband, because she acknowledges his headship in the home, according to the biblical pattern (cf. Eph. 5:22-23). Someone has to lead at home, and God has designed that it should be the husband.

We see the clear distinction between rank and intrinsic worth illustrated by the Lord Jesus Christ. On earth, He willingly submitted Himself to the will of God the Father. In that sense, He was a Follower. But He didn’t stop being God the Son at His incarnation. His disciples submitted to Him as their Lord (Jn. 13:13), and He accepted the worship of others (Lk. 24:51-52; Jn. 20:28).

A godly spiritual leader will understand that he is only worthy to be followed to the extent that he himself follows the Lord. The Apostle Paul made that plain. “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ,” he said to the Corinthians (I Cor. 11:1). And “you became followers of us and of the Lord,” he said to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 1:6). The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). But, in the end, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ whom we’re to follow or imitate.

The New Testament uses several different Greek words translated “follow” in our English Bibles. When Peter tells us that Christ left us an example, that “[we] should follow in His steps” (I Pet. 2:21), it is the Greek word epakoloutheo, meaning to follow closely, to tread in Christ’s very footsteps.

Perhaps you recall the carol, Good King Wenceslas, in which the king asks his pageboy to follow him to the cottage of a poor man, so they can provide him with food and firewood. In John Mason Neale’s words, “In his master’s steps he trod, / Where the snow lay dinted.” Just so we are to follow Christ. Some days will be rich with delightful blessings. Others will bring trials and testing. But in either instance we can be reassured in Christ’s promise, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

CH-2) Down in the valley with my Saviour I would go,
Where the storms are sweeping and the dark waters flow;
With His hand to lead me I will never, never fear,
Dangers cannot fright me if my Lord is near.

CH-3) Down in the valley, or upon the mountain steep,
Close beside my Saviour would my soul ever keep;
He will lead me safely in the path that He has trod,
Up to where they gather on the hills of God.

Questions:
1) In practical terms, what does it mean to follow Christ?

2) What are the challenges and obstacles to consistently following the Lord?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | June 25, 2014

Constantly Abiding

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: Anne May Sebring Murphy (b. Nov. 11, 1878; d. Mar. 30, 1942)
Music: Anne May Sebring Murphy

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Graphic Anna SebringNote: Some sources give the first name as Anna. And some hymn books attribute this 1908 gospel song to Mrs. William L. Murphy (Anne Sebring’s married name). The couple was married in 1896. You can read a longer biography of her and her fascinating family on the Wordwise Hymns link.

This song is based on the promise of the Lord Jesus in Matthew:

“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Or, as the Amplified Bible has it, “I am with you all the days (perpetually, uniformly, and on every occasion), to the [very] close and consummation of the age.” The abiding presence of Christ is assured to all His followers.

CH-1) There’s a peace in my heart that the world never gave,
A peace it cannot take away;
Though the trials of life may surround like a cloud,
I’ve a peace that has come here to stay!

Constantly abiding, Jesus is mine;
Constantly abiding, rapture divine;
He never leaves me lonely, whispers, O so kind:
“I will never leave thee,” Jesus is mine.

As to “abiding” with us, the Lord has much to say about that in the Upper Room Discourse. There, some form of the word is used ten times, referring not to the Lord’s mere presence with us, but something more.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (Jn. 15:4-10)

“Abiding,” is variously translated continue, remain, endure, dwell. As the word is used here by the Lord Jesus, it seems to refer to our conscious and determined effort to maintain close fellowship with the Lord. We have His presence by a sovereign promise. But His “abiding” involves a continuing action on our part.

Since it is a command, it is something the believer is responsible to keep on doing. In vs. 4, “abide in Me” seems to speak of dependance or faith, while “I in you [i.e. let Me abide in you]” could have to do with submission or obedience, as we allow Christ to work out His will in us. (Compare “if…My words abide in you,” vs. 7, and see vs. 10.)

Abiding in Christ in this way provides enablement for life and for service (vs. 4-5). And it results in authority and effectiveness in prayer (vs. 7), as we pray for that will accomplish God’s will, to His greater glory (cf. 14:13). We bring glory to God by fruit bearing (vs. 8), and the reference in this case is to outward fruit, effective ministry in the lives of others (cf. vs. 16).

The inward fruit of Christlike character will also result (described in Gal. 5:22-23). And we will enjoy the love of God, as we walk in obedience to Him (vs. 9-10). The connection between love and obedience is emphasized in this Upper Room Discourse (13:34; 14:21, 24).

Some have taken vs. 6 to refer to a loss of salvation if the believer does not keep abiding in Christ. But the passage is not dealing with salvation but with fruitful service. The NIV renders the verse: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” A failure to maintain fellowship with the Lord can result in sin and carnality in the life. Such a person is unfit for service, and is disqualified from such. If there is no repentance, and if he dies in such a state, there will be a loss of heavenly rewards (cf. I Cor. 3:11-15).

As you will see in the Wordwise Hymns link, Mrs. Murphy retained the joy of the Lord, and a glowing testimony through difficult trials. The song reflects her joy, and looks forward to the time when she is taken into the presence of her Saviour.

CH-2) All the world seemed to sing of a Saviour and King,
When peace sweetly came to my heart;
Troubles all fled away and my night turned to day,
Blessèd Jesus, how glorious Thou art!

CH-3) This treasure I have in a temple of clay,
While here on His footstool I roam;
But He’s coming to take me some glorious day,
Over there to my heavenly home!

Questions:
1) Are you abiding in Christ today? (If not, what will you do about that?)

2) From your own experience, what are some of the blessings of abiding in Christ?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | June 23, 2014

Have I Done My Best for 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: Ensign Edwin Young (b. Jan. 3, 1895; d. July 22, 1980)
Music: Harry E. Storrs (b. _____, 1900; d. _____, 2000)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (E. Edwin Young)
Hymnary.org

Note: The remarkable story of a daring rescue that inspired this hymn is told on the Wordwise Hymns link. Though it happened in 1860, the song itself wasn’t written and published until 1924. The author was not a military “ensign;” that was his first name–though he usually went by E. Edwin Young.

Harry Storrs was a musician who composed the music for a number of gospel songs. With Bob Jones Sr., he edited and published the book Special Revival Hymns. The dates given for him are somewhat suspect. They seem too neat to me. But they can serve at least as an approximation.

The question raised by this song is an important one–and certainly convicting. But it is also fraught with the danger of misconceptions at several points.

1) I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus,
Who died upon the cruel tree?
To think of His great sacrifice at Calv’ry!
I know my Lord expects the best from me.

How many are the lost that I have lifted?
How many are the chained I’ve helped to free?
I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus,
When He has done so much for me?

1) Regarding that first line, we need to be sure to answer any implied “because” question correctly. The Bible is abundantly clear that salvation comes not through what we do for God–whether it’s our “best” or not–but on what He did for us. To be fair, I see no indication that Mr. Young was suggesting salvation was earned by our good works. But there are some who believe that.

Here is the place God’s Word gives to good works. Salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5). But “those who have believed…should be careful to maintain good works” (vs. 8, italics mine).

“By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

We are not saved by good works, but “for good works.” It is God’s plan and purpose that the saints invest their lives in His service.

2) The last line in the first stanza should also be questioned. Is it true that the Lord “expects the best from me”? In a way, perhaps. He is certainly worthy of not only our best, but of our all. However, here is what the Lord actually expects:

“Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).

These words were spoken to the apostles, after three years of intensive training. But they are not told, “You can do a little now.” It’s nothing. Only by drawing nourishment and strength from the Vine (the imagery Christ is using in the context), can we bear fruit for eternity. Only by the grace of God can we serve Him.

“Who is sufficient for these things?…Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 2:16; 3:5).

3) There is a third issue that comes to light in the refrain. And, again, let me say that I’m not accusing the author of the hymn of the misconception I’ll address. But I know it’s abroad in the hearts and minds of some. The refrain asks: “How many…how many…?”But there are definite dangers in the numbers game. Counting the proverbial noses and nickels in order to determine how successful a ministry has been will too often foster pride. King David got himself into grave trouble by numbering the people (I Chron. 21:1-30; cf. 27:23).

I know of missionaries who laboured for many years in a spiritually dark area, and either saw no converts come to Christ, or perhaps one. So was their work a failure? Not necessarily. While it’s helpful in some ways to keep track of the results of our labours, it does not begin to provide the full picture. We need to leave the counting and the ultimate assessment to the Lord.

The other emphasis of the hymn is that “He [Christ] has done so much for me” (refrain). There we can safely rest. The more we know of the sacrifice of Christ, and the extent of the work of salvation, the greater will be our wonder and worship. (And this will keep on growing, through the ages of eternity, as we learn more and more.)

In the book of Romans, Paul pleads with his readers, and us, to respond on the basis of “the mercies of God” (i.e. because of all that God has done for us) to become living sacrifices, offered up to Him.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

Questions:
1) Given the issues raised, would you use this song in your church?

2) What do you do when you find a hymn that contains unbiblical teaching–or teaching that could easily be misunderstood?

a) Do you sing it anyway, because people like it, and it has a catchy tune?
b) Do you simply discard the song and not use it?
c) Do you skip the questionable stanzas and sing the rest?
d) Do you explain why you don’t want to use the song, or don’t want to use some stanzas?
e) Do you change the words to something that seems more biblical?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (E. Edwin Young)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | June 20, 2014

God Who Touchest Earth with Beauty

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: Mary Susanne Edgar (b. May 23, 1889; d. Sept. 17, 1973)
Music: Bullinger, by Ethelbert William Bullinger (b. Dec. 15, 1837; d. June 6, 1913)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Mary Edgar)

Graphic Mary Edgar (left)Note: There is a biographical note about Mary Edgar in the Wordwise Hymns link. She was a Canadian author who published poetry, hymns, and plays, but she is chiefly known for her development of a camp for girls in Ontario. Edgar was the director of Camp Glen Bernard from its beginning in 1922 until her retirement in 1956. In this 1922 photograph, Mary is on the left. On the right is Canadian Women’s Golf Champion, Ada Mackenzie. The latter instructed the campers in golf.

The author’s great love for nature is evident in her hymn, published in 1925. It was submitted to a contest by the American Camping Association the following year, and won first prize.

As to the tune’ composer, Dr. Bullinger was a Hebrew and Greek scholar, and a musician. He developed The Companion Bible, with its extensive Hebrew and Greek notes. The tune Bullinger is also used with Frances Havergal’s hymn I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus. There was also a tune called Glen Bernard. It was written for the hymn in 1925 by James Edmund Jones (1866-1939).

1) God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
With Thy Spirit recreate me,
Pure, and strong and true.

Since God created all things in the natural world, it’s not surprising that the natural world reflects something of His nature, and that it is used in His Word to teach spiritual lessons. For example, the lazy person is told to “go to the ant” and learn lessons of discipline and conservation from that little insect (Prov. 6:6-8). And those who wait on God in prayer are told they will “renew their strength,” and “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31).

The parables of the Lord Jesus are full of such comparisons. He used simple objects such as coins, and familiar practices such as farming, to illustrate valuable lessons. And we can envision the folly of mending an old garment with a new piece of cloth that has not been pre-shrunk (Matt. 9:16), or the impossibility of a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle (Matt. 19:24). These analogies and many more convey spiritual insights to all willing to learn by them.

Matthew, Mark and Luke each record Christ’s parable about different kinds of soil (cf. Lk. 8:4-15). It was presented as a basic story teaching foundational truths (Mk. 4:13). In the parable, the seed being sown in a field is the Word of God being proclaimed to the multitudes. Some of the seed fell on the rocks, and some on the beaten path. These pictured hearts that were unreceptive to the truth. Other seeds fell among thorns or weeds, and the plants that sprouted were choked out. But some fell in good soil and bore lasting fruit. The latter portrays those who believe and faithfully apply the Word.

It is in this way that the poet uses what she no doubt saw all around her in her camping work, to teach spiritual lessons. See how, in her hymn, Miss Edgar draws analogies from various things in the natural world.

Stanza 2. She calls us to purity of heart, like springs of crystal clear water. And like great towering rocks we ought to be strong and sure–steadfast in our spiritual lives.

Stanza 3. Like waves dancing in the sunlight, the hymn calls upon us to live our lives in gladness and freedom. And like the straightness of the pines, to be upright in character.

Stanza 4. As the heavens arch overhead, we ought to lift our thoughts to higher things, and seek to express this higher perspective in “noble action” and loving service.

Stanza 5 is an echo of the opening stanza, but where the prayer at first is “make me” one who is pleasing in Your sight (cf. II Cor. 3:18), the conclusion of the prayer calls up upon the Lord to “keep me” as I ought to be (cf. Jude 1:24-25).

Though this hymn does not tell us anything about how to be delivered from sin’s crippling bondage, through faith in Christ, or how the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers the believer to to live and grow in Christlikeness, it is not incompatible with these essential truths. If they are taught by other means, this hymn can serve a worthwhile purpose.

The song can help to sensitize us to lessons God has provided all around us. We can learn from them ourselves, and point them out to others. This is particularly valuable as a way for parents to instill godly wisdom in their children. The Lord has created a beautiful world, and it points the way to His re-creating work in each of us.

Questions:
1) What illustrations from nature have been a help in your own spiritual life?

2) What other hymns do you know that provide good lessons from nature?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Mary Edgar)

Posted by: rcottrill | June 18, 2014

Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne

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: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748), altered by John Wesley (b. June 28, 1703; d. Mar. 2, 1791)
Music: Old Hundred, attributed to Louis Bourgeois (b. circa 1510; d. Aug. 25, 1572)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The original version of the hymn was written by Dr. Watts and published in 1719. It began with an entirely different stanza:

Sing to the Lord with joyful voice,
Let every land His name adore;
The British Isles shall send the noise
Across the ocean to the shore.

For obvious reasons, this nationalistic stanza has been omitted. John Wesley did an excellent job of revising the rest in 1737. It is Wesley’s version that is included here.

Today’s editors have changed the opening line, feeling that, in modern usage, the word “awful” has departed to far from its original meaning. (Wasn’t that an awful looking hairdo that Mabel had!”) As Wesley thought of the word, it meant filled with awe–that God’s throne is so glorious and majestic as to fill us with awe and reverence.

Abandoning the word, some have tried, “Before Jehovah’s awe-full throne;” others “Before the Lord Jehovah’s throne;” and still others “Before Jehovah’s Awesome Throne.” A simpler procedure, by far, would be for the service leader to explain the true meaning of the word “awful,” before the hymn is sung.

Various tunes have been suggested (the Cyber Hymnal currently lists three options). I have chosen instead Old Hundredth, the tune often used with All People That on Earth Do Dwell. (This tune doesn’t require a repetition of the last line of each stanza, as the Cyber Hymnal has it.)

This hymn is a paraphrase of some truths expressed in Psalm 100. Watts called it “Praise to the Lord from All Nations.” It provides a strong statement of the sovereign majesty of Almighty God.

“Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Ps. 100:1-5).

CH-1) Before Jehovah’s awful throne,
Ye nations, bow with sacred joy;
Know that the Lord is God alone;
He can create, and He destroy.

CH-2) His sovereign power, without our aid,
Made us of clay, and formed us men;
And when like wandering sheep we strayed,
He brought us to His fold again.

On one occasion, Charles Haddon Spurgeon held a service in the Music Hall in Surrey Garden, London, with a gathering of eight to ten thousand people. After the opening prayer, Spurgeon announced this hymn. He read the entire hymn through, announcing that they’d use the tune Old Hundredth in singing it. Then, he read each stanza separately, before it was sung. Describing the experience, one wrote:

“Most magnificent was the shout of praise that now went up. Not a voice was mute, save where occasionally someone’s nerves were overpowered by the massive rolling chorus that rose on every side. Never did we before realize what congregational singing might become. It was an uplifting of voice and heart such as one can hope to hear only a few times in a lifetime.”

Some form of the word “praise” is used 152 times in Psalms (NKJV), surely indicating a major theme of the book. And 44 of those times, the word appears in a verse with forms of either the word sing or song (e.g. Ps. 7:17; 28:7). There is no greater activity in which human beings can engage that in praising God. It will occupy the saints in eternity too (Rev. 19:5).

CH-3) We are His people, we His care,
Our souls, and all our mortal frame;
What lasting honours shall we rear,
Almighty Maker, to Thy name.

CH-4) We’ll crowd Thy gates with thankful songs,
High as the heavens our voices raise;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues,
Shall fill Thy courts with sounding praise.

CH-5) Wide as the world is Thy command,
Vast as eternity Thy love;
Firm as a rock Thy truth must stand,
When rolling years shall cease to move.

Questions:
1) See if you can list the things for which Watts and Wesley praise the Lord in this hymn?

2) What particular thing comes to mind that you personally can praise God for today?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | June 16, 2014

All Glory, Laud and Honour

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: Theodulph of Orleans (b. AD 760; d. AD 821); English translation, John Mason Neale (b. Jan. 24, 1818; d. Aug. 6, 1886)
Music: St. Theodulph, by Melchior Teschner (b. Apr. 29, 1584; d. Dec. 1, 1635)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber

Note: The Wordwise Hymns link will give you a biography of Theodulph. The hymn was written around AD 820, while Bishop Theodulph was in prison. There is also a legend about the way his own Palm Sunday hymn led to his release from prison (on a charge of treason).

The legend is that the emperor, Louis I, who had imprisoned Theodulph, was passing by the prison one Sunday, in grand procession. Suddenly, from the tower above, a voice was heard singing this hymn. The emperor was touched by the words, and asked who was singing. When he found out, he ordered Theodulph to be released, also commanding that the hymn be sung on Palm Sunday from then on.

So the story goes. And though it’s not likely true, it does, in a way, attest to the continuing popularity of the hymn.

In some hymn books, the first verse is used as a repeated refrain. Others simply use it as the first stanza. Because it seems less repetitious. I encourage you to use “All glory, laud, and honour…” as stanza one, rather than a refrain. You can use Teschner’s tune, or the tune Ellacombe (commonly associated with Isaac Watts’s I Sing the Mighty Power of God).

The last two stanzas of the hymn, as translated by John Mason Neale, are not used today. Surprisingly, what I’ve labeled stanza seven below was used until the seventeenth century. Today, it seems beyond quaint, and would likely bring great hilarity if it were sung by a congregation today!

7) Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,
And we the little ass;
That to God’s Holy City
Together we may pass.

8) Receive, instead of palm-boughs,
Our vict’ry o’er the foe,
That in the Conquerer’s triumph
This strain may ever flow.

These things aside, this is a thoughtful consideration of the events of Palm Sunday. What is called the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah that this was to be exactly how Israel’s Messiah would present Himself to them as their King.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9).

It is such a significant event that all for Gospel writers include it (Matt. 21:1-11; Mk. 11:1-10; Lk. 19:25-38; Jn. 12:12-19). Of course we know that, shortly after the excitement of that day, Christ was rejected and crucified. Long years of Israel’s spiritual blindness had led to a national rejection of their Messiah-King. After the Triumphal Entry, the Lord mourned over the city of Jerusalem with these passionate words:

“As He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Lk. 19:41-42).

Even so, we can do as Theodulph does, and identify ourselves with the praise of His followers on Palm Sunday.

All glory, laud and honour,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

CH-1) Thou art the king of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and Blessèd One.

CH-2) The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.

CH-3) The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.

CH-4) To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.

Questions:
1) Does your church celebrate Palm Sunday? What is the emphasis and message for today, if you do?

2) Why was there such a swift turn-around, a week later? (That is, what factors led to Jesus’ arrest and execution, in spite of His popularity with many?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber

Posted by: rcottrill | June 13, 2014

Earth Has Many a Noble City

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: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (b. AD 348; d. circa AD 413); English translation, Edward Caswall (b. July 15, 1814; d. Jan. 2, 1878)
Music: Stuttgart, by Christian Friedrich Witt (b. circa 1660; d. Apr. 13, 1716)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Edward Caswall)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Prudentius was born in what would later be known as Spain. He served as a provincial governor there. Then he was summoned by the emperor, Theodocius I, to fill a post as a lawyer and a judge in Rome itself. Meanwhile, at some point Aurelius Prudentius became a Christian. At first, he hoped that the Roman Empire would be an instrument in God’s hands to spread the gospel. After all, the Roman emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity a few years before. And Rome had many fine churches.

But Prudentius became disillusioned with the city’s excesses, and with his own worldliness. He wrote:

“May yet my sinful soul put off her foolishness; and if by deeds it cannot, yet, at least, by words give praise to God.”

The mighty city of Rome no longer held the fascination for him it once did. Prudentius retired from government work at the age of fifty-seven, becoming an ascetic. He spent his remaining days fasting, praying, and writing. He produced several books, and about 385 religious poems. At least two of these became fine hymns that are still in use. One is Of the Father’s Love Begotten.

The other is this Christmas hymn in which Prudentius seems to reflect on his earlier impressions of the city of Rome. The point of the hymn is to demonstrate something that the Word of God makes clear–that the little town of Bethlehem has a claim to greater significance than the “noble cities” of the world.

There are many great cities. In Canada we have Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. The United States has large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Worldwide, more than 300 cities have a population exceeding one million. Mexico City, including its surrounding municipalities, currently has over 20 million inhabitants. But numbers aren’t everything. Many cities are renowned for what takes place there, even if they are smaller. For example, Washington DC ranks 629th in size among the world’s metropolises, but it is the seat of a powerful government.

So what about Bethlehem? It is a very ancient community. We read about it back in Genesis (Gen. 35:19). And it became famous as the birthplace of King David (II Sam. 17:12). Even so, it was small and insignificant compared to the city of Jerusalem nearby.

Then, several centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Micah wrote, “You, Bethlehem, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler I Israel, whose goings forth hare from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). This One was none other than the Lord Jesus, who was later born in “the city of David which is called Bethlehem” (Lk. 2:1-7).

It’s possible to make a more personal application of the “little is much” principle. There are many godly Christian people who are faithfully serving the Lord in ways that bring no accolades, medals or parades. But God sees what they do, and one day they will be rewarded in a way far greater and grander than garnering the fleeting praise of men. It’s God’s assessment that counts, in the end.

CH-1) Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Lord from heaven
Came to rule His Israel.

CH-2) Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

CH-3) Eastern sages at His cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

CH-4) Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose,
Gold the King of kings proclaimeth,
Myrrh His sepulchre foreshows.

Questions:
1) What other Bible cities and towns have a special significance to the people of God?

2) What is the key to living in the world, but not becoming of the world (i.e. absorbing its values and lifestyle)?

Links:

Posted by: rcottrill | June 11, 2014

Watchman, Tell Us of the 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: John Bowring (b. Oct. 17, 1792; d. Nov. 23, 1872)
Music: Watchman, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Bowring (a Britisher) and Mason (an American) were true contemporaries. Each was born in 1792, and each died in 1872. Bowring wrote this beautiful, evocative hymn in 1825, and the tune was written for the hymn.

The song lends itself well to antiphonal singing, with two lines, each time, representing the call of the traveler, and the following two the response of the watchman. I can recall, many years ago, being invited to take part in the Christmas program of a local church of another denomination. The pastor and I sang this carol as a duet.

The inspiration for the hymn is taken from a somewhat obscure prophecy in the book of Isaiah. The prophet speaks of:

“The burden against Dumah [Idumea, the nation of Edom]. He calls to me out of Seir [another name for Edom], ‘Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?’ The watchman said, ‘The morning comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; Return [repent]! Come back!’” (Isa. 21:11-12).

In the context, a man from the nation of Edom, southeast of Israel, is calling to a “watchman” (a prophet) asking what he sees coming for his people. The answer is enigmatic. “The morning comes, and also the night.” It seems to mean that their present distress from the Assyrians will end, but they’ll be facing another “night” from the Babylonians. Their only hope is to repent of their sins and turn to God.

That is the historic significance of the prophecy. But Sir John Bowring uses it in a symbolic or figurative sense of something entirely different. Lowell Mason referred to the finished song as “A Missionary or Christmas Hymn.” As to missions, it could be a picture of the dawning of a new day, through the proclamation of the gospel (“See, it bursts o’er all the earth”).

But the application that is more familiar to us today is seen in Matthew’s account of the “glory beaming star” that guided the wise men to the newborn King (Matt. 2:1-12), who is described in the hymn (and in Scripture) as “the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and “the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14).

CH-1) Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes–it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

“The promised day of Israel” was the day of the Messiah’s coming. But He was rejected and crucified, and they missed their “day” (cf. Lk. 19:41-44). The restoration of Israel’s national glory awaits the return of Christ to set up His earthly kingdom (Isa. 60:1-3).

CH-2) Watchman, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
See, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Was the star only intended to light the way to King Jesus? No. It pointed to the light of Christ’s second coming which, in a broader sense, will illuminate the whole earth. As Malachi puts it, “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings [or beams]” (Mal. 4:2]. And the glorified Christ describes Himself as “the Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16).

CH-3) Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler! Lo, the Prince of Peace,
Lo, the Son of God is come!

No need for the watchman to stay at his post, since Christ has come, and His return is promised in the faithful Word of God. The future is secure. “Hie thee [hasten] to thy quiet home. The future is in the hands of the Prince of Peace, who is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. We may rest fully in that.

Questions:
1) What is there about the present that causes particular worry and anxiety?

2) What is there about the return of Christ that should reassure the saints, and give them peace?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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