Posted by: rcottrill | March 10, 2014

Hallelujah for the Cross

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.

Words: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: James McGranahan (b. July 4, 1840; d. July 9, 1907)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (James McGranahan)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This great gospel song, praising God for the efficacy of the finished work of Christ, was written in 1875. James McGranahan added his rousing tune seven years later.

To the grace of God that brought us salvation, we cry “Hallelujah!”

“After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honour and power belong to the Lord our God!’” (Rev. 19:1).

“Alleluia” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Hallelujah. The latter is a compound expression, made up of the Hebrew words halal (meaning to glory in, or boast of), and Yah (a shortened form of Yahweh, or Jehovah). Thus “Hallelujah!” repeated thirty times in this hymn (counting the refrains) means “Praise the Lord!”

During the nineteenth century, the winds of skepticism and unbelief were blowing. The Bible was being attacked by liberal scholars, and schools of theology were turning out pastors who no longer stood for the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures (II Tim. 3:16), or the fundamentals of the apostolic faith (cf. Jude 1:3).

“Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).

The church of Jesus Christ needed those who would proclaim the Word with clarity and power, and God raised up men who did just that. There might be spiritual drift and apostasy on the part of some, but God’s truth had not changed. The gospel of grace, and the saving power of the cross were needed as much as ever.

CH-1) The cross, it standeth fast–
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Defying every blast–
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
The winds of hell have blown,
The world its hate hath shown,
Yet it is not overthrown–
Hallelujah for the cross!

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah for the cross;
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
It shall never suffer loss!

Dr. Horatius Bonar was an evangelical pastor in Scotland, and a great hymn writer. (I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say is another of his hundreds of songs.) In the present one he exalts the cross of Christ. “It is the old cross still,”where by the grace of God “Christ, the blessed Son” atoned for our sins (CH-2).

“[Christ] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). “[He] made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). “God forbid that I should boast [the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew halal, to glory in] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

CH-2) It is the old cross still–
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Its triumph let us tell–
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
The grace of God here shone
Through Christ, the blessèd Son,
Who did for sin atone–
Hallelujah for the cross!

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6).

CH-3) ’Twas here the debt was paid–
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Our sins on Jesus laid–
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
So ‘round the cross we sing
Of Christ, our Offering,
Of Christ, our living King–
Hallelujah for the cross!

Questions:
1) Why has the cross been turned for many into a mere decorative symbol and little else?

2) What are your favourite hymns about the cross?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (James McGranahan)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | March 7, 2014

Give to the Winds Thy Fears

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.

Words: Paul Gerhardt (b. Mar. 12, 1607; d. May 27, 1678); translated by John Wesley (b. June 28, 1703; d. Mar. 2, 1791)
Music: Diademata, by George Job Elvy (b. Mar. 27, 1816; d. Dec. 9, 1893)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Wesley born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The progression of this hymn from its original to what is found in present hymnals is a matter of shifting numbers, subtraction and division. The 1656 original had twelve eight-line stanzas (96 lines in total). Wesley’s 1737 translation reduced this to sixteen four-line stanzas (64 lines). Present versions of the hymn select from these.

What is represented on this blog page is a slightly different combination than what is found in the Cyber Hymnal. In addition, I’ve chosen to use the tune Diademata (commonly associated with Crown Him with Many Crowns) which requires the combining of two stanzas to match the length. Is all of this worth the trouble? Yes, indeed! This is a great hymn by Pastor Gerhardt, and a wonderful work of translation by John Wesley.

Think of your troubles like a pile of dry leaves. Toss the leaves in the air on a gusty day, and they will fly away. That’s the imagery that introduces this gem. When they are given over to the power of a loving God, many difficulties scatter, or we are given the grace to deal with them and the Lord dispels our fears (Ps. 34:4). The hymn was inspired by the encouraging words of Psalm 37:5.

Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday” (Ps. 37:5-6).

The story behind the hymn illustrates this. Because of some conflict with the king, Paul Gerhardt was forced unfairly to leave the church where he had ministered for ten years in Berlin. With his wife and family, he made his way, on foot, back to Saxony, where he was born. It was a sad and wearying journey.

The family stopped at a little village inn to spend the night. Totally exhausted, his wife gave way to tears of grief. They had no home and no income. What were they going to do? The good pastor did his best to comfort her. Some say he quoted to her Proverbs 3:5-6, but I’m more inclined to believe it was Psalm 37:5 he used. He himself was greatly comforted by the words of the text, and he sat down and wrote the hymn we are considering.

Later that evening, two gentlemen entered the parlor of the inn. After some general conversation, it came out that they were on their way to Berlin to find Paul Gerhardt, the recently deposed pastor. Mrs. Gerhardt turned pale with alarm, fearing some new calamity was about to fall on the family. But her husband calmly told the travelers that he was the man they were looking for.

One of the men promptly gave him a letter from Duke Christian, of Meresburg, informing him that, in view of his unjust dismissal he was settling a pension on him. Gerhardt, in the joy of that moment, quietly turned to his wife, and passed her the hymn he had written, saying, “See! See how God provides!”

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:22). “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7). “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

1) Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope, and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs, and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.
Through waves and clouds and storms
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time, so shall the night
Soon end in joyous day.

2) Still heavy is thy heart?
Still sink thy spirits down?
Cast off the weight, let fear depart,
And every care be gone.
He everywhere hath sway,
And all things serve His mind;
His every act pure blessing is,
His path unsullied light.

Here’s a stanza not included in the Cyber Hymnal. It concludes the hymn with a humble and fitting prayer.

4) Thou seest our weakness, Lord,
Our hearts are known to Thee;
O lift Thou up the sinking heart,
Confirm the feeble knee.
Let us in life, in death,
Thy steadfast truth declare,
And publish with our latest breath
Thy love and guardian care.

Questions:
1) How is it possible to maintain our faith in severe trials, without it simply becoming blind optimism or wishful thinking?

2) What lines in this hymn are a particular blessing to you?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (John Wesley born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | March 5, 2014

Jesus, Where’er Thy People Meet

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.

Words: William Cowper (b. Nov. 15, 1731; d. Apr. 25, 1800)
Music: Malvern, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (William Cowper)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The Cyber Hymnal suggests several possible tunes for this hymn. It will not be difficult to find others. What is known as Common Metre (8.8.8.8) is well represented in our hymnody. I’d suggest as other possibilities: Hesperus (often used with Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts); Federal Street (used with Jesus, and Shall It Ever Be); or Germany (commonly associated with Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness).

I t’s sad that this wonderful Prayer Meeting hymn is omitted from so many hymnals. In the village of Olney, England, over two centuries ago, lived John Newton, a hymn writer (of, most famously, Amazing Grace). Newton was also the pastor of the local church. In the same village, and next door to the pastor, lived William Cowper (pronounced Cooper), who was recognized as one of England’s greatest poets.

Together, these two men produced a historic hymnal in 1779 called Olney Hymns. John Newton wrote 280 hymns for the book, and his friend William Cowper added another 68. The latter man struggled with emotional depression, but through his work with the good pastor he was encouraged and helped. His hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way is perhaps our greatest on the subject of divine providence.

Some years prior to the publication of their hymn book, Pastor Newton decided to move their mid-week prayer meeting out of the church and into homes. That may not sound too revolutionary to us today, but it certainly was back then. Many of the hymns that were later included in Olney Hymns were written for these spiritually rich meetings.

John Newton had about a thousand people in his wider parish, and he held two or three prayer meetings a week, to minister to them from the Word of God and unite them in prayer. William Cowper attended every one of these, however his shyness held him back from praying audibly. But eventually his love for the Lord conquered his unwillingness to draw attention to himself. He frequently had trouble beginning, but once started he seemed to pray with fervency, as though he was seeing the Lord, face to face.

“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

As numbers attending the meetings grew, it became clear that the small village homes couldn’t contain all the people who wanted to attend. But there was in town a house that was currently unoccupied. It was popularly called “The Great House,” because of its size. Newton looked it over, and calculated that they could fit over a hundred people in the huge parlor. When the date was set for prayer meetings to begin there, the pastor felt the need for a new hymn to be written in honour of the occasion. This is that hymn, which asks the Lord, in CH-5:

Come Thou, and fill this wider space,
And bless us with a large increase.

“Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).

CH-1) Jesus, where’er Thy people meet,
There they behold Thy mercy seat;
Where’er they seek Thee Thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground.

Some, no doubt, wondered whether it was the right thing to do, to hold church meetings in another place. After all, shouldn’t God’s people meet in the house of God, set aside for that purpose? But Cowper’s hymn reassures them with these words:

CH-2) For Thou, within no walls confined,
Inhabitest the humble mind;
Such ever bring Thee, where they come,
And, going, take Thee to their home.

Notice the understanding of the hymn writer as to what can be accomplished through prayer (CH-4). The power of God unleashed by faith-filled prayers can (among other things) strengthen our faith, encouraging us to depend on the Lord for still more and more. It can “sweeten care,” meaning it can bring peace and contentment, in the midst of our trials.

It can also realign our priorities and “teach our faint desires [for spiritual and eternal things] to rise.” And it can “bring all heaven before our eyes, as we see with new joy the future of our heavenly home in the presence of Christ.

CH-4) Here may we prove the power of prayer
To strengthen faith and sweeten care;
To teach our faint desires to rise,
And bring all heav’n before our eyes.

Questions:
1) How would you assess the vitality and practical usefulness of your own mid-week prayer meeting?

2) What can be done to further grow and enhance these corporate (group) times before God’s throne?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (William Cowper)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | March 3, 2014

For You I Am Praying

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.

Words: Samuel O’Malley Gore Cluff (b. _____, 1837; d. _____, 1910)
Music: Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Graphic Cluff TombstoneNote: Little is known of the author of this gospel song text. He was an Anglican pastor in Ireland, who eventually joined the Plymouth Brethren. According to the Cyber Hymnal he composed about a thousand songs, as well as some oratorios.

Based on information on his tombstone, he was married to Ruth Blake Edge, nine years younger. She died in 1922. The inscription identifies three children, Joseph, Ruth, and Thomas. (The tombstone, seen to the left, is near an iconic round tower that was part of a Celtic monastery site from the sixth century.)

The present song is called either For You I Am Praying, or I Am Praying for You. It was published as a poem in 1860. When Sankey saw it, in 1874, he set it to music. This was the second time Ira Sankey did that. The first poem he provided a tune for was The Ninety and Nine. Most hymn books use the first four stanzas of the present hymn. The fifth, which may seem a little redundant after the fourth, says:

CH-5) Speak of that Saviour, that Father in heaven,
That harp, crown, and robe which are waiting for you–
That peace you possess, and that rest to be given,
Still praying that Jesus may save them with you.

W e see the pleading Saviour in Revelation 3:20, standing at the door of the worldly Laodicean church, seeking entry. Whether this can be construed as an appeal to trust Him for personal salvation has been debated, but the verse does say, “if anyone…” And we know from John 1:12 that receiving Him is a way of describing putting one’s faith in Christ (cf. Col. 2:6).

This plea, an invitation to trust in the Saviour, is extended by believers, on the Lord’s behalf:

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God….We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain….Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 5:20–6:2; ).

CH-1) I have a Saviour, He’s pleading in glory,
A dear, loving Saviour though earth friends be few;
And now He is watching in tenderness o’er me;
And oh, that my Saviour were your Saviour, too.

For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
For you I am praying,
I’m praying for you.

CH-2) I have a Father; to me He has given
A hope for eternity, blessèd and true;
And soon He will call me to meet Him in heaven,
But, oh, that He’d let me bring you with me, too!

Paul asked the Ephesian Christians to pray for him, “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:19-20).

We see the urgency and zeal of that appeal in Paul, the converted Jewish Pharisee. He says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). He even goes to this extent, revealing his inner longing for the Jews: that, if it were possible, he would even give up his own salvation to see them come to Christ.

“I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:2-3).

How many of us labour regularly and passionately in prayer for the unsaved, especially for those whom we know personally? And what are we doing to present the gospel to them?

CH-4) When Jesus has found you, tell others the story,
That my loving Saviour is your Saviour, too;
Then pray that your Saviour may bring them to glory,
And prayer will be answered–‘twas answered for you!

Philip Bliss was not only a prominent gospel song writer, he had a wonderful singing voice and was involved in evangelistic meetings as a soloist. When he sang this song as an invitation hymn, he made it his own prayer that the unsaved who were present would come to Christ. He sometimes added a stanza of his own to the hymn and sang:

And Jesus is calling, how can you reject Him?
He says He loves sinners, so then He loves you.
O, friend, do believe it, arise and accept Him,
Give Jesus your heart while I’m praying for you.

Questions:
1) What are the strengths and weaknesses of evangelism in the twenty-first century?

2) How can we improve in the task of fulfilling the Great Commission?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | February 28, 2014

Christ Liveth in 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.

Words: Daniel Webster Whittle (b. Nov. 22, 1840; d. Mar. 4, 1901)
Music: James McGranahan (b. July 4, 1840; d. July 9, 1907)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This gospel song was published in 1891, under Major Whittle’s frequently used pen name, El Nathan.

T he key phrase of the hymn, repeated fifteen times counting the refrains, is taken from the old King James Version of Galatians 2:20. The Apostle Paul testifies:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Other Bible versions of the text can help us understand what God’s Word is saying about the nature of the Christian life.

I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Amplified Bible)

I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old “I,” but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live, I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and sacrificed himself for me. (J. B. Philips Paraphrase)

This verse describes a kind of paradox, in that the second part of the verse seems to contradict the first. How can a person “live” who has been crucified and no longer lives?

The answer is that Paul is describing the experiential outworking of a positional reality. When the sinner puts his faith in Christ, and the Spirit of God places him into Christ as to his legal position, God sees him as though he participated in Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). William MacDonald says, insightfully, of our participation in the death of Christ by faith:

“This means the end of me as a sinner in God’s sight. It means the end of me as a person seeking to merit or earn salvation by my own efforts” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 1880).

“I in Christ” is legally and positionally true in the eyes of God. “Christ [living] in me” is the parallel conditional and experiential truth. Someone has said, “A crucified man has no plans of his own.” It’s a way of describing the Christian walk as one of submission to the will of God. As he lives in obedience to God, and faith in God, the character of Christ is reproduced in the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit. That character is spoken of elsewhere in Galatians as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23).

This is a theme that Daniel Whittle dealt with in another gospel song two years later, called Moment by Moment. The first stanza of that hymn says:

Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
Living with Jesus a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

When the sinner is saved, through personal faith in Christ, he passes from death to life, from darkness to light (CH-1).

CH-1) Once far from God and dead in sin,
No light my heart could see;
But in God’s Word the light I found–
Now Christ liveth in me.

Christ liveth in me,
Christ liveth in me,
O what a salvation this–
That Christ liveth in me.

Whittle uses a lovely analogy to describe the transforming power of God in the believer’s life, comparing it to the recreating power of the sun.

CH-2) As rays of light from yonder sun,
The flow’rs of earth set free,
So life and light and love came forth
From Christ living in me.

It should be the controlling desire of every Christian, that what we are positionally in Christ, we become more and more in practical experience–so that when others look at us, they see more and more of Christ.

CH-4) With longing all my heart is filled,
That like Him I may be,
As on the wondrous thought I dwell
That Christ liveth in me.

Questions:
1) Is the difference between the believer’s position and condition (or standing and state) clearly taught in your church?

2) What other hymns do you know that deal well with these twin truths?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | February 26, 2014

Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme

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.

Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Manoah, from Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1851), published by Henry Wellington Greatorex (b. Dec. 24, 1813; d. Sept. 10, 1858)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Watts called this 1707 hymn “The Faithfulness of God in His Promises.” The original had nine stanzas; CH-1, 2, 6 and 8 are often used today. No specific author is identified for the tune. Manoah was the father of Samson.

There have been some word changes in the original (a few of these in Watts’ own later revision). In CH-2, “And the performing God” has been altered either to “And the fulfilling God,” or to “The love and truth of God.” (Performing now often has the sense of putting on an act, which is not what Watts would have intended.) The word “rase” (also spelled raze) in CH-4 is used in the sense of erase. A variant of the first two lines of CH-9 is: “Now shall my leaping heart rejoice / To know Thy favour sure.”

This hymn also provides a lesson in what happens when we try editing a fine hymn. When Augustus Toplady (author of Rock of Ages) published this hymn, decades after it was written, he decided to change the opening line to “Begin my soul.” That would normally be acceptable–though I fail to see the need. However, in this case, the whole hymn is about speaking, not souls! Notice: “speak” (CH-1); “tell,” “sound,” and “sing” (CH-2); “proclaim” (CH3), etc. Often it’s far better to leave well enough alone!

M any years ago, an old Yorkshire preacher named William Dawson announced the singing of this hymn, and commented:

“I was coming once through Leeds, and saw a poor little [mentally disabled] lad rubbing at a brass plate, trying to rub out the name; but the poor lad did not know that the harder he rubbed, the brighter it shone. Now, friends, let’s sing [CH-4]:

Engraved as in eternal brass
The mighty promise shines;
Nor can the powers of darkness rase
Those everlasting lines.

Satan cannot rub it off. ‘His hand hath writ the Sacred Word / With an immortal pen’ [CH-3].”

What is the purpose of music? The answer is it all depends on why the song was written, and how it is used. Among other things, there is music for relaxation and cultural enrichment. There are songs to march to, songs to dance to, and music to express patriotism, or to commemorate some special event.

Not all songs are Christian hymns, of course. There is a great deal of beautiful and wholesome music, which effectively serves other purposes. But without question the highest purpose to which our songs can be put is to be employed in the worship of God, and in a proclamation of truths about Him.

No wonder words such as “sing,” and “song,” and “music” are found hundreds of times in the Scriptures, especially in Psalms, the hymn book of the Bible. Infinitely above all others, the Lord is a subject worth glorifying in song. That is likely a major motivating factor behind most of the hymns that have ever been written.

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works!” (I Chron. 16:8-9). “My tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long” (Ps. 35:28). “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 89:1).

Our hymns are a response to the revelation of the person of God, and to our enjoyment of His blessings. When we sing our sacred songs, we both sing to the Lord, and to one another about Him (Col. 3:16). And “the Lord…is worthy to be praised” says the psalmist (Ps. 18:3).

The saints will sound His praises through all eternity. “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Rev. 4:11). He is forever worth singing about.

CH-1) Begin, my tongue, some heav’nly theme
And speak some boundless thing;
The mighty works, or mightier name
Of our eternal King.

CH-2) Tell of His wondrous faithfulness
And sound His power abroad;
Sing the sweet promise of His grace,
And the performing God.

CH-6) His every word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that rolls the stars along
Speaks all the promises.

Questions:
1) Why is it that so much of our comment and conversation is taken up with earthly themes?

2) How can we discipline ourselves (and encourage others) to talk more about “heavenly themes”?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | February 24, 2014

Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun

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.

Words: Thomas Ken (b. July ___, 1637; d. Mar. 19, 1711)
Music: Mainzer, by Joseph Mainzer (b. Oct. 21, 1801; d. Nov. 10, 1851)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Bishop Ken wrote this hymn in 1674 or earlier. It was later revised, likely by Thomas Ken himself. This may account for the many variations in the text and the stanzas used. Lyra Britannica, usually authoritative, has some stanzas the Cyber Hymnal does not, but the latter includes several missing from Lyra Britannica. The version I’ve used for this article is the 1709 revision.

The good bishop suffered from physical pain, day by day, and was troubled with insomnia at night. He had a timepiece which enabled him to discern the time by touch, in the dark. (It has been preserved as a significant artifact of his life.) He wrote of this watch in his poetry:

Pain keeps me walking in the night;
I longing lie for morning light;
Methinks the sluggish sun forgets
He this day’s course must run.
O heavenly torch! Why this delay
In giving us our wonted day?
I feel my watch, I tell my clock,
I hear each crowing of the cock.

Eminent hymn historian John Julian considered the present hymn among a handful of the greatest hymns in the English language. Others agree, placing Ken’s evening hymn (“Glory [or, all praise] to Thee, my God, this night”) in similar high esteem. The hymns were written for the boys of Winchester College (a school the bishop himself had once attended) with the instruction that they were to, “Be sure to sing the Morning and Evening hymn in their chamber devoutly.”

T his morning hymn is a summons to diligence and discipline in every area of life, living under the watchful eye of God. Picture the boys in their frigid dormitory rising at five in the morning–“with the sun,” or even before it broke the horizon. They are prodded by the hymn to “shake off dull sloth” to offer to the Lord their sacrifice of praise (I Thess. 5:8; Heb. 13:15).

“My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up” (Ps. 5:3).

CH-1) Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

CH-4) In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

It’s impossible to include a discussion of the entire fourteen stanzas of this great hymn in a short article, but you can read eleven of the stanzas in the Cyber Hymnal. Think of this concise prayer surely reflecting what it means to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25).

CH-9) Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Or consider these two stanzas (the first of which is not currently included in the Cyber Hymnal). They are based on the thought that heaven is heaven because God is there, and that the grandest employment of eternity will be the praise of God (cf. Ps. 61:8). That will be not only a life of quantity (i.e. endless) but of supreme quality. As the Lord Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3; cf. Jer. 9:23-24).

I would not wake nor rise again,
E’en heav’n itself I would disdain,
Were not Thou there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.

CH-7) Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.

The morning hymn, along with the bishop’s evening and midnight hymns, each ends with the familiar Doxology. The third line of this has, I think, been improved from the author’s earlier version which read: “Praise Him above y’ Angelick Host.”

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

These four lines have likely been sung in the English speaking church more than any others. They are a masterpiece of compactness and completeness. Repeated praise for all blessings, by all on earth and all in heaven, addressed to all of God (cf. I Chron. 29:11).

Questions:
1) What will be the character of a day that is lived by the code of CH-9?

2) In contrast, what will be missing from the day if CH-9 is not applied?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | February 21, 2014

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

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.

Words: Ira Forest Stanphill (b. Feb. 14, 1914; d. Dec. 30, 1993)
Music: Ira Forest Stanphill

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Ira Stanphill born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal (Ira Stanphill)

Note: This country style gospel song was published in 1950. William and Ardythe Petersen, in their book, The Complete Book of Hymns (Tyndale House Publishers, 2006) tell the story behind the song (pp. 397-398).

A pparently, as the Petersens tell it, in the late 1940’s, Stanphill’s wife left him and he went through a period of deep depression. He was tempted to give up Christian work completely. But one day the melody for a new song came into his mind, and he started fitting some words to it. Though he wrote about 400 gospel songs during his lifetime, he had gone through a long period where he produced nothing at all. But this song became a testimony to God’s faithfulness, and marked a new start for him.

I cannot judge Mr. Stanphill specifically, as I don’t know the circumstances regarding his wife’s departure. However, in general terms, an absentee father often creates serious difficulties for a family. For example, a man who must leave his wife and children for a tour of military duty discovers that. And traveling evangelists (which Stanphill became) do too.

In First Corinthians chapter 7, the Apostle Paul discusses the benefits of a single life for one who is engaged in the kind of itinerant ministry that he was. He saw the advantages of not having family responsibilities. However, he recognized that not all are given by the Lord the gift of celibacy (vs. 32; cf. vs. 7).

This must be balanced with the teaching of First Timothy that leaders in the church are to demonstrate their fitness for that responsibility by their home and family life (I Tim. 3:4-5). For further thoughts on this issue, check my article Doesn’t Ministry Begin at Home, about another evangelist whose wife left him.

As to the song, there are many things we do know about the future, on the basis of God’s Word. We know that, through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, we can be forgiven of our sins, and receive the gift of eternal life (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 1:7). We know that those who are saved can have the assurance that God will complete what He has begun in us (Jn. 10:28-29; Phil. 1:6).

Meanwhile, we know that He has provided all we need to live victorious and fruitful lives (II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 1:3-4). And we know that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again to gather His children to Himself (Jn. 14:3-4).

What we don’t know is the particulars of what tomorrow may bring, at the personal level. Nor can we be dogmatic about the day after that. It is folly to cast our plans in stone, and expect that what we have planned will come to pass without fail (Jas. 4:13-15). Jesus’ parable of the rich fool illustrates the point.

He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:16-21).

Rather than counting on material things, as we look to the Lord, we can trust Him to take the “all things” of life–whether of pains or pleasures–and weave them together into something that is ultimately good and beautiful, using them to make us more like the Lord Jesus.

“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:28-29).

By the sovereign providence of God, nothing will be allowed to touch the believers life that will not accomplish His good purpose. Though the details about tomorrow are shrouded from our own sight in the mists of time, “we know who holds tomorrow,” and we can walk hand in hand with Him, with confidence.

1) I don’t know about tomorrow,
I just live from day to day;
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies might turn to gray;
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said,
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand;
But I know who holds tomorrow,
And I know who holds my hand.

Questions:
1) What are some plans or prospects in your own life about whose outcome you are uncertain?

2) How will you live in the meantime, as you wait for the future to unfold?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Ira Stanphill born, died)
The Cyber Hymnal (Ira Stanphill)

Posted by: rcottrill | February 19, 2014

Hark, Ten Thousand Harps and Voices

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

Words: Thomas Kelly (b. July 13, 1769; d. May 14, 1855)
Music: Harwell, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Thomas Kelly died)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The hymn was published by the author in 1806. The original had seven stanzas. As of this writing, the Cyber Hymnal does not include the second stanza, and has somewhat changed the order of the others. Modern hymnals usually include only three or four stanzas–most often CH-1, 2, 5 and 6. The tune’s composer, Lowell Mason, added the refrain later.

Thomas Kelly was the son of a judge who lived in Kellyville, Ireland. In his early years, Thomas was burdened about his sin, but could find no deliverance and peace. In his distress, he tried various forms of self discipline and self punishment, in hopes of meriting God’s salvation. It wasn’t until his university years in Dublin that he learned about the gospel of grace. When he found the new and living way, through faith in Christ, he became a zealous preacher of the gospel.

While he preached in many places over the years, Dublin became home base where he served as a pastor for over six decades. Kelly was also a notable hymn writer, with 767 hymns to his credit. (Praise the Saviour, Ye Who Know Him, and Look, Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious are others.) Pastor Kelly was ushered into the presence of the Lord at the age of eighty-six. His dying words were, “Not my will, but Thine be done.)

T he present hymn deals with the Lord Jesus Christ as He is at the present time, seated upon His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21), at His right hand (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3), and worshiped by the angels of heaven. The original inspiration for the hymn was Hebrews 1:6, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” (This text, in turn, is a version of Psalm 97:7, which says, “Worship Him, all you gods [or angels].”)

Other passages in Revelation seem to be alluded to in the hymn. For example: “I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. And they sang as it were a new song before the throne” (Rev. 14:2-3). Or in another place:

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honour and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honour and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever” (Rev. 5:11-14).

(CH-1) Hark, ten thousand harps and voices
Sound the note of praise above!
Jesus reigns, and heav’n rejoices,
Jesus reigns, the God of love;
See, He sits on yonder throne;
Jesus rules the world alone.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Amen!

2) Well may angels, bright and glorious,
Sing the praises of the Lamb;
While on earth, He proved victorious;
Now He bears a matchless name.
Well may angels sing of Him:
Heav’n supplies no richer theme.

Though we will one day stand in the presence of the Lord, in glorified resurrection bodies, we can approach the throne of grace now, through faith. The hymn invites us to do just that.

CH-3) Come, ye saints, unite your praises
With the angels round His throne;
Soon, we hope, our God will raise us
To the place where He is gone.
Meet it is that we should sing,
Glory, glory, to our King!

Another thing that can give believers great joy is rehearsing the gospel story, and meditating on the matchless grace that brought the Lord Jesus from the glories of heaven to be our Saviour (cf. II Cor. 8:9).

CH-4) Sing how Jesus came from heaven,
How He bore the cross below,
How all power to Him is given,
How He reigns in glory now.
’Tis a great and endless theme
O, ’tis sweet to sing of Him.

CH-6) Saviour, hasten Thine appearing;
Bring, O bring the glorious day,
When, the awful summons bearing,
Heav’n and earth shall pass away;
Then with golden harps we’ll sing,
“Glory, glory to our King!”

Questions:
1) Kelly says, “heaven supplies no richer theme” for praise than the Person and work of Christ. What are some things about the Lord Jesus that will motivate praise?

2) What will be the difference between the praise offered by the angels, and that offered by the saints?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Thomas Kelly died)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | February 17, 2014

Go, Labour 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.


Words:
Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: Pentecost, by William Boyd (b. _____, 1847; d. Feb. 16, 1928)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Horatius Bonar born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Written in 1843, this hymn was the first Bonar wrote for adults. His previous songs were intended for the children in his Sunday School. This one was designed to challenge and encourage his fellow workers in the church at Leith, Scotland. Bonar called it, “The Useful Life.” All of the original eight stanzas of this wonderful hymn are worth a look, but hymn books today commonly use four or five: CH-1, 2, 4, 5, and 7.

There is an interesting history behind the tune Pentecost, which is also traditionally used for John Monsell’s hymn, Fight the Good Fight. Actually, the tune was written in 1864 for Charles Wesley’s hymn about the Holy Spirit, Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire–and appropriately named Pentecost, because of the coming of the Spirit then, and the birth of the church.

However, some years later, William Boyd, the composer, was accosted on a London street by his good friend Arthur Sullivan. Sir Arthur was in the process of editing a new hymn book, and he said to Boyd, “I’ve seen a tune of yours which I must have.” Boyd agreed for him to employ the tune.

He was paid for that, but Sullivan never informed him of the hymn the melody would be associated with. He says, “When I saw the tune [published in his hymn book] I was horrified to find that Sullivan had assigned it to Fight the Good Fight. We had a regular fisticuffs [a fight] about it.” But, when the composer saw the public acceptance of the new pairing, he accepted it.

T he present hymn is about Christian service, “labouring” for the Lord. That will mean putting a priority on living for Christ, and doing His will. Following the example of the Lord Jesus, the committed believer will say:

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me, while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work [i.e. when our opportunity is gone]” (Jn. 9:4).

Or as Paul assured the Corinthians, out of his love for them: “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (II Cor. 12:15). That describes the expenditure of personal resources for love of Christ, spending ourselves, and being utterly spent, holding nothing back.

CH-1. Service for Christ is “the Father’s will” (II Pet. 3:9), and the Lord Jesus (our Master) set us the example of servanthood (Lk. 19:10; Jn. 13:15).

CH-2. Sinners and this evil world will oppose us, not encourage us. “Men heed thee [not], love thee [not], praise thee not.” But we are assured of the praise (and later rewards) of the Lord (Jn. 15:18-21; cf. Matt. 5:11-12; Rev. 22:12).

CH-1) Go, labour on: spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?

CH-2) Go, labour on! ’tis not for naught
Thine earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises–what are men?

CH-4. It’s vitally important to realize that we are merely channels or conveyers of the transforming truth of God’s Word. We do not have the power in ourselves to affect spiritual change. “Your hands are weak, your knees are faint.” In the words of the Lord Jesus, “Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves…but our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 3:5; cf. I Cor. 2:3-5).

CH-5. We need a sense of urgency, realizing the shortness of the time before Christ’s return. “The world’s dark night is hastening on” (Jn. 9:4; cf. Jn. 12:35).

CH-4) Go, labour on! Your hands are weak,
Your knees are faint, your soul cast down;
Yet falter not; the prize you seek
Is near–a kingdom and a crown.

CH-5) Go, labour on while it is day:
The world’s dark night is hastening on;
Speed, speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.

CH-7. Service for the Lord will involve toil, and conflict, and it will require godly wisdom. We need to “watch and pray” (Matt. 26:41). And the servants of Christ must venture forth into “the world’s highway” and compel the wanderer to come in (Lk. 14:23).

CH-7) Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray,
Be wise the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.

Questions:
1) I have heard from representatives of various denominations and Christian agencies that it seems harder and harder to get young people to commit to full-time Christian service. Why might this be?

2) What makes labour for Christ difficult? What makes it a blessing?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Horatius Bonar born)
The Cyber Hymnal

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