Posted by: rcottrill | May 2, 2014

I Must Have the Saviour With 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: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1999)

Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby’s conversion)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This gospel song was first published in 1884. The last line of CH-4 is sometimes written as, “Till I gain the other side [i.e. of the river of death].”

 The song provides a tender confession of weakness and human need, along with an expression of confident faith in theGraphic Fanny Crosby 2 Lord. It is rendered all the more poignant when we remember that Fanny was blind from the time she was six weeks old (due to the mistreatment of an eye ailment).

Though she was amazingly independent, and accomplished many wonderful things, not the least of which is the creation of nearly 9,000 hymns, yet she needed help and guidance to get along in many situations. Without that, she was bound to lose her way, or stumble dangerously.

It was a simple matter for her to draw upon this fact and apply it to her daily walk in a spiritual sense. Think of that as you consider this hymn.

CH-1) I must have the Saviour with me,
For I dare not walk alone,
I must feel His presence near me,
And His arm around me thrown.

Then my soul shall fear no ill,
Let Him lead me where He will,
I will go without a murmur,
And His footsteps follow still.

Two or three Scripture texts fit this hymn beautifully.

“We walk by faith, not be sight” (II Cor. 5:7).
“Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 1:5).
“Lo, I [Jesus] am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Yet, many of us would confess with Fanny that our “faith at best is weak” (CH-2). With that father in the Gospels, who sought the help of the Lord Jesus for his son, we cry, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). In the Amplified Bible it’s, “Lord, I believe! [Constantly] help my weakness of faith!”

CH-2) I must have the Saviour with me,
For my faith, at best, is weak;
He can whisper words of comfort,
That no other voice can speak.

We each face a variety of circumstances. There are life’s bright, sunny days. But there are also life’s storms to deal with. And we need the Lord “through the tempest and the sunshine.” We need His help in dealing with “the battle and the strife” in our lives. Satan still stalks the land, like a roaring lion, seeking to devour the weak and vulnerable (I Pet. 5:8).

CH-3) I must have the Saviour with me,
In the onward march of life,
Through the tempest and the sunshine,
Through the battle and the strife.

We need the presence of the Lord all the way to the end. When we face “the valley of the shadow of death,” the Bible assures us that He will be with us still, to bear us safely to our heavenly home (Ps. 23:4).

CH-4) I must have the Saviour with me,
And His eye the way must guide,
Till I reach the vale of Jordan,
Till I cross the rolling tide.

I have mixed feelings about Fanny’s use of the Jordan River to represent death. It’s imagery that is common to a number of our hymns. For example, there is Samuel Stennett’s I Am Bound for the Promised Land.

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

With the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites were finally delivery from enslavement in Egypt, and the crossing of the Jordan, about forty years later, represented the completion of the picture, as they entered into the Promised Land. But Canaan makes a very poor picture of heaven. There were still battles to fight and foes to conquer in Canaan. That certainly won’t be true of heaven!

The crossing of the Jordan is better used as an image of the abundant Christian life, a life of abundant fruitfulness and spiritual victory (in the present world), as we walk in the Spirit. As long as we understand that it is a very weak and limited picture of death and the eternity beyond, I suppose it’s all right–and we won’t likely be successful in getting hymn lovers to abandon the symbolism.

1) Are there situations you have faced recently, when the assurance that the Lord is with you always was a special encouragement?

2) Is there someone you could encourage today with the words and message of this hymn?

Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby’s conversion)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 30, 2014

Here, O My Lord, I See Thee

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

Words: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: Morecambe, by Frederick Cook Atkinson (b. Aug. 21, 1841; d. Nov. 30, 1896)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Bonar’s original had ten stanzas. Hymn books now select four or five of these for modern use, though all are worthy of our meditation. One book uses: CH-1, 3, 4, 6, and 7, another has: CH-1, 3, 2, 7 and 8. The Cyber Hymnal lists several possible tunes for this hymn. I prefer Morecambe (which is also used for Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart).

T he resurrection of Christ was something His followers struggled to believe. Thomas declared, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Jn. 20:25). And the Lord graciously provided him with the opportunity to do just that (vs. 27). But that was followed by this gentle rebuke:

“Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (vs. 29).

Those who have not see–that certainly includes each of us. We were not privileged, as the disciples were, to see the risen Christ, to be taught by Him after the resurrection, for forty wonderful days, receiving “many infallible proofs” that He was indeed alive (Acts 1:3). We participate now in the reality of these things through our study and meditation upon the written Word, and we “see” Him today, only with the eyes of faith.

Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8).

One day, “we shall see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). One day, either by death, or by the rapture of the church, we shall “depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), and “always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17), worshiping and rejoicing in His physical presence. But for now, we see Him but dimly.

The disciples gathered for the Passover meal, and He was there. They talked with Him, and He with them. Now, in the Lord’s Supper, inaugurated at that time (I Cor. 11:23-26), He is present still (Matt. 18:20; 28:20), but it is an invisible, spiritual presence. Real, yet undetected by our senses. We can only pray that the Spirit of God will enlighten our souls to perceive Him in a new way as we gather at His Table. And that is the prayer of this wonderful hymn.

CH-1) Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

CH-2) This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heavenly table spread for me;
Here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
The hallowed hour of fellowship with Thee.

As we gather at the Table of the Lord, we sense our own weakness and inadequacy. At the same time, we rejoice in Christ’s abundant sufficiency.

CH-4) I have no help but Thine; nor do I need
Another arm save Thine to lean upon;
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in Thy might, Thy might alone.

CH-5) I have no wisdom save in Him who is
My Wisdom and my Teacher both in One;
No wisdom can I lack while Thou art wise;
No teaching do I crave save Thine alone.

And at the Table we confess our sinfulness. The reason the Saviour came is to pay our debt of sin (I Cor. 15:3). His sacrifice was sufficient payment for all the sins of all men, for all time (I Jn. 2:2). And through faith in Him, at conversion, a divine transfer takes place. Our debt of sin is charged to His account, and His righteousness is credited to ours (II Cor. 5:21).

CH-6) Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness:
Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace;
Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God!

It is sad indeed if we’ve come to view the Communion Service as a dry ritual, as something to be got through, so we can head for home. If our hearts are in tune with the Lord, and our spiritual vision is, at least for a brief time, refreshed and clarified, we will regret the end of the service. We will, in the leaving, anticipate with joy the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when the church, His heavenly bride, will be gathered to Him forever (Rev. 19:7-9).

CH-7) Too soon we rise; the symbols disappear;
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone.
The bread and wine remove; but Thou art here,
Nearer than ever, still my Shield and Sun.

CH-8) Feast after feast thus comes and passes by;
Yet, passing, points to the glad feast above,
Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb’s great bridal feast of bliss and love.

1) Are you able to enjoy and revel in the Lord’s Supper, the way Dr. Bonar describes it?

2) If not, are there ways you can increase your appreciation of this service?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 28, 2014

Hark, Hark, My Soul

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

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

Words: Frederick William Faber (b. June 28, 1814; d. Sept. 26, 1863)
Music: Pilgrims, by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Faber was an Anglican, later turned Roman Catholic, who hoped to provide the Catholic Church with an array of hymns to sing, as men like Newton and Wesley had done for Protestants. Faith of Our Fathers is one of these (now edited to remove specifically Catholic sentiments), and There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy is another give to us by Faber.

The present hymn was published in 1854. He called it “Pilgrims of the Night,” and Henry Smart named his tune for it Pilgrims, accordingly. Commonly used today, of the author’s original seven stanzas, are CH-1, 3, 4, and 7.

CH-1) Hark! hark, my soul! angelic songs are swelling,
O’er earth’s green fields and ocean’s wave-beat shore:
How sweet the truth those blessèd strains are telling
Of that new life when sin shall be no more.

Angels of Jesus, angels of light,
Singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night!

T his is a song that has been roundly criticized for its vagueness and sentimentality. It seems to be about dying and going to heaven. But its flowery words of poetry that obscure the truth more than illuminate it.

Hymn writer John Ellerton (1826-1895) said of the hymn, “We inquire in vain into the meaning of the ‘Pilgrims of the Night.’ He claimed congregations are merely “carried away by the rhythm and musical ring of the lines.” Albert E. Bailey, in The Gospel in Hymns, wrote:

“Sentiment has got the better of thought. We seem to be in that state of semi-consciousness which often precedes dying, and we experience a pleasing hallucination.”

Salvation Army Commissioner, George Scott Railton (1849-1913), went so far as to take the framework of the hymn and totally recast it into a militant Salvationist song, calling for a commitment to the battle for the right. His version says, in part:

Hark, hark, my soul, what warlike songs are swelling
Through all the land and on from door to door;
How grand the truths those burning strains are telling
Of that great war till sin shall be no more.

Onward we go, the world shall hear our singing:
Come guilty souls, for Jesus bids you come;
And through the dark its echoes, loudly ringing,
Shall lead the wretched, lost and wandering home.

The Cyber Hymnal provides still another attempt, by Henry Allon (1818-1892) to take the pattern of Faber’s hymn and give it some kind of clearer evangelical meaning. You can judge the result for yourself, here.

J. R. Watson, in his book An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (p. 298) is a little more positive about Faber’s hymn, though guardedly so. He writes:

“Faber’s emotionalism, and his uninhibited use of such imagery, demonstrates his love of a sentiment that comes close to sentimentality. But his sentiment, however excessive it may seem, touches a tender spot.”

But let’s turn from these comments, and the attempts of others to make a better hymn out of Faber’s, and consider the original. Frederick Faber pictures this life as dark and dangerous. There is a kind of bleak pessimism in some of the stanzas. For example:

CH-2) Darker than night life’s shadows fall around us,
And like benighted men we miss our mark:
God hides Himself, and grace hath scarcely found us,
E’er death finds out his victims in the dark.

From this discouraging view, the author points us to Christ and the Christian gospel, and for the most part the hymn looks forward to the brighter day of eternity. But serious questions about the meaning of some lines may leave seekers bewildered. For instance, what on earth are “faith’s moonbeams” (CH-6)?

The voice of Jesus may sound like distant bells (CH-3), and there may be some kind of “music of the gospel” (CH-4), but what precisely is the message? And what are these angels’ songs the author repeatedly tells us about?

If we cannot learn how it is that Christ provides the answer for sin’s condemnation, through faith in His finished work on Calvary, what hope is there for us?  The heart of the gospel is, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I Jn. 1:7; cf. Jn. 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 1:7; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18).

CH-4) Onward we go, for still we hear them singing,
“Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come;”
And through the dark, its echoes sweetly ringing,
The music of the gospel leads us home.

CH-6) Cheer up, my soul! faith’s moonbeams softly glisten
Upon the breast of life’s most troubled sea,
And it will cheer thy drooping heart to listen
To those brave songs which angels mean for thee.

As the Apostle Paul says, in another context, “If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, whowill prepare for battle?” (I Cor. 14:8).

1) Can you overcome the sentimentality of this hymn, and find blessing in it?

2) What other hymns better express our hope of eternal blessing, through Christ?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 25, 2014

God Is Love, His Mercy Brightens

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: John Bowring (b. Oct. 17, 1792; d. Nov. 23, 1872)
Music: Cross of Jesus, from The Crucifixion, by John Stainer (b. June 6, 1840; d. Mar. 31, 1901)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Sir John Bowring (knighted by Queen Victoria), also the author of In the Cross of Christ I Glory, was one of the greatest geniuses of the nineteenth century. He has also been called “an evangelical Unitarian,” his theology being closer to orthodoxy than to strict Unitarianism. You can read more about his accomplishments on the Wordwise Hymns link.

The Cyber Hymnal lists several tunes that can be used for this 1825 hymn. However, a very fine tune I think works even better is Cross of Jesus, by John Stainer. You can hear his tune here. Also worth checking is Wellsley, a tune often used with There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy. Either of these has the kind of smooth serene flow that I believe Bowring’s lovely hymn merits.

T he opening phrase of the hymn is taken from First John.

“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love….And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (I Jn. 4:8, 16).

In the context it’s made clear that the love of God was revealed in the sacrifice of God the Son. Christ bore the wrath of God, paying the price for our sins at Calvary.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn. 4:9-10; cf. Jn. 3:16).

The wisdom of God, which John Bowring pairs with His love in the last line of each stanza, is also displayed all through the Scriptures. It is “manifold [complex, many-sided] wisdom” (Eph. 3:10).

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).

And what is it that a wise and loving God does for those of us who belong to Him through the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ? First, we are reminded that He brightens life’s pathway, bringing joy and lightening our woeful burdens. (In Bowring’s original version, CH-1 was repeated as a fifth stanza. Later publications dropped this repetition.

CH-1) God is love; His mercy brightens
All the path in which we rove;
Bliss He wakes, and woe He lightens:
God is wisdom, God is love.

In the midst of “chance and change,” (excellent phrase) the uncertainties of life, we face the limitations of deteriorating physical powers, and a world of giddying and escalating change. But God’s mercy is unchanging toward us.

CH-2) Chance and change are busy ever;
Man decays and ages move;
But His mercy waneth never:
God is wisdom, God is love.

When we pass through the most difficult of human experiences, when the way ahead is shrouded in misty gloom, even then we can experience the Lord’s changeless goodness, and the bright beams of His love still shine upon us.

CH-3) E’en the hour that darkest seemeth
Will His changeless goodness prove;
From the mist His brightness streameth:
God is wisdom, God is love.

“Earthly cares” are the common experience of the human family. But the child of God will find hope and comfort in the midst of pain and loss. Like the sunlight bursting through dark clouds, the glorious love of God shines on us even in the darkest hour. The people of God have testified to this over and over.

CH-4) He with earthly cares entwineth
Hope and comfort from above;
Everywhere His glory shineth:
God is wisdom, God is love.

1) What experience of the love and wisdom of God have you had in the last week?

2) Is there someone going through a dark time for whom you can be a channel of God’s love today?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 23, 2014

Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

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: John Newton (b. July 24, 1725; d. Dec. 21, 1807)
Music: Austria (or Austrian Hymn), adapted from the melody of a Croatian folk hymn (Vjatvo rano se ja vstanem) by Franz Joseph Haydn (b. Mar. 31, 1732; d. May 31, 1809)

Wordwise Hymns (Franz Joseph Haydn)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Newton published his hymn in Olney Hymns, in 1779. He provided a number of footnotes, with Scripture references, showing the inspiration for particular lines.

Haydn’s tune was written for a patriotic song celebrating the birthday of the Austrian Emperor in 1797. It has been used for a number of patriotic songs since, including the Nazi’s Deutschland Über Alles (“Germany Above All”), and the current German national anthem. It was published as a hymn tune in 1802, and first became associated with Newton’s hymn in 1889.

The Cyber Hymnal includes a second possible tune, Abbot’s Leigh, by Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907-1991). It was written in 1941, and is considered one of the finest hymn tunes of the twentieth century. It is indeed a beautiful tune, though I think Austrian Hymn is better, especially to the triumphant mood of the present hymn. However, a reason for sometimes using this alternative is suggested by the following incident from the Companion to the United Church Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young (p. 354).

“This writer shall never forget the puzzled and pained expression on the face of Elie Wiesel, famed survivor of Hitler’s death camps, as the audience gathered in the spring on 1983 at Cannon Chapel, Emory University, and spiritedly sang the insensitively selected Newton hymn, prior to [Wiesel] receiving an honorary degree and giving a paper on “Remembering the Holocaust.” Music, like words, may hurt as well as heal.”

T he hymn’s original title was “Zion, or the City of God.” referencing Isaiah 33:27-28. (This seems to be an error, as there are only twenty-four verses in the chapter. Newton may have meant vs. 20-21, which does speak of Zion.) It is important to establish the identity of “Zion” and to understand Newton’s use of the name. Zion was originally a Jebusite stronghold in the southern part of what was to become the city of Jerusalem. David conquered it, and it became known as the City of David (I Chron. 11:5). Later, the name Zion came to be used as a synonym for Jerusalem as a whole.

Once, in the New Testament, the term “Mount Zion” is used of the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-24), “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2), the heavenly city where the throne of God is found. The writer of Hebrews uses this term to make a contrast between the Old Covenant (the Law of Israel) and the New Covenant established through the shed blood of Christ. Mount Sinai, where the Law was given, demonstrated the fearful separation of sinners from a holy God (vs. 18-21). But in the heavenly Jerusalem the redeemed are gathered with the angelic hosts, brought by grace into the presence of God.

So far so good. However, John Newton’s amillennial theology does not accommodate the earthly millennial reign of Christ. He seems to make Old Testament texts that refer to earthly Jerusalem symbolic of heaven. Historic and prophetic earthly Zion disappears from his view.

Consider the first line of CH-1. It is virtually a quotation of Psalm 87:3, “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” It is a city that will be established by God Himself (vs. 5), where all nations gather to pay tribute to Him (Ps. 86:9). Other passages that Newton says apply are Psalm 132:13-14, and Isaiah 26:1–which await the second coming of Christ for their literal, earthly fulfilment. Thoroughly mixing his symbolism, Newton says the fourth line of CH-1 applies to the church, referencing Matthew 16:18! So, is his Zion heaven, or the spiritual body of Christ? (Confusing!)

It is the same with other stanzas. Line 2 of CH-2 references Psalm 46:4. However, the psalm clearly has to do with the millennial kingdom when the Lord brings wars to an end and is “exalted among the nations” (vs. 8-10). Line two of CH-3, concerning an overshadowing pillar of cloud and fire, references Isaiah 4:5-6, plainly describing the earthly millennium, when the Messiah-King reigns for a thousand years. Revelation 1:5-6 (cf. I Pet. 2:5, 9) speaks of the saints as they are, at the present time “kings and priests” of God (cf. line 4 of CH-4).

Even if one ignores where Newton thinks he got his inspiration, it is difficult to pin down what the author is speaking of. Is it the church in the present age, the spiritual body of Christ? Or is it the city of Jerusalem in the Millennium? (Not likely, given Newton’s theology.) Or is it heaven? It seems to be a little of each!

The hymn contains some fine poetry, set to a truly great tune. But if we don’t really know what we’re singing about, what is the point! One hymn book I have places the song in a section called “Fellowship and Faith;” another puts it in a section called “Praise and Worship;” several include it in hymns about “The Church.” Albert E. Bailey, in his book The Gospel in Hymns, suggests that may be the meaning, but he’s not sure.

“When we ask just what the author meant by it [the hymn] and when we try to visualize the city, we are baffled. It seems to be a conglomerate of many vague figurative elements” (p 128).

For a different reason, some have also called into question the opening couplet of CH-5.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am…

“If?” It’s been supposed that Newton’s Calvinism led him to some uncertainty as to whether he would prove to be one of the elect in the end. However, I don’t think that’s the point here. The “if” may be better understood in the sense of “since”–a word that is substituted by some editors.

CH-1) Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

1) If you use this hymn, what is your understanding of what “Zion” stands for in it?

2) What are some other hymns about heaven that contain mixed messages, or erroneous doctrine?

Wordwise Hymns (Franz Joseph Haydn)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 21, 2014

Fill Me Now

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: Elwood Haines Stokes (b. Oct. 10, 1815; d. July 16, 1895)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)

Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Elwood Stokes wrote this hymn in 1879. Dr. Stokes was a pastor, one of the founders of a religious community in New Jersey, and president of the Ocean Grove Campmeeting Association. He felt there was a lack of hymns on the work of the Holy Spirit, so he wrote Fill Me Now. The camp’s director of music at the time, John Sweney, supplied the tune, testifying that while he was on his knees in prayer, “God seemed to speak the melody right into my heart.”

F illed and fulfilled–there’s often a connection between them. When you fill a pitcher with milk, you are also enabling it to fulfil the purpose for which it was designed. The relationship is so close that the Greek of the New Testament has one word (pleroo) which can mean either or both. The Greek word is used to describe a net full of fish–with the net’s purpose thus being fulfilled (Matt. 13:37-38).

Knowing this provides valuable insight, when it comes to a ministry of the Spirit of God. The Old Testament and the New speak of the filling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps some are inclined to think of that in spatial terms, seeing it as similar to filling a pitcher. So when the Spirit in us is somehow depleted we need to be “topped up” in some way. But that is not it at all. To begin with, the Holy Spirit has all the attributes of deity, and He is therefore omnipresent–fully present everywhere at once.

The term describes not a physical experience, but a spiritual work of God in the believer’s life. What’s implied in Stoke’s repeated plea that the Spirit of God “bathe his brow” (CH-1 and CH-4) tends to get us off the track with regard to the meaning, though this may simply be poetic imagery for the comfort of the Spirit.

The Spirit’s filling refers to His empowering, the enabling grace given to us so we can fulfil the purposes of God. A man named Bezalel was filled with the Spirit to give him skill as a craftsman to construct Israel’s worship centre (Exod. 31:2-5). Zacharias with filled with the Spirit so that he might prophesy (Lk. 1:67-68). And when the early church faced persecution, they prayed for boldness to continue preaching the gospel. It was the filling of the Holy Spirit that equipped them to do so (Acts 4:29, 31).

CH-1) Hover o’er me, Holy Spirit,
Bathe my trembling heart and brow;
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come and fill me now.

Fill me now, fill me now,
Jesus, come and fill me now;
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come, and fill me now.

What Christian has never felt a sense of inadequacy to do the will of God, and live consistently in a way that pleases Him? But there is a problem with these lyrics, though we can certainly appreciate the sentiment they express. The text is based on the holiness doctrine of the need to tarry and plead for a “second blessing.” The difficulty lies in the basic implication of the hymn that we must ask and urge the Holy Spirit to fill us. No one in the Bible ever does that, nor are we ever commanded to do so.

First of all, each and every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God (e.g. Rom. 5:5; 8:9, 11; I Cor. 2:12; 6:19; II Cor. 5:5; Gal. 4:6). As to pleading for Him, even the words of Ephesians 5:19, “Be filled with the Spirit,” might be translated, “Be being fulfilled by the Spirit.” In other words, make sure you are in tune spiritually, so you will be receptive to His fulfilling work.

That is sometimes described as “walking in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25). Our walk involves a consist life of obedience and faith. A step by step trust in the Lord, and obedience to His Word. If we sin, we are to confess our sin (I Jn. 1:9), and take up our obedient, faith-filled walk again. When these things are true of us, the Spirit of God is able to fulfil His purpose in and through us. As we walk, He fills. The result is successful Christian living.

CH-3) I am weakness, full of weakness,
At Thy sacred feet I bow;
Blest, divine, eternal Spirit,
Fill with power and fill me now.

The evidence that we are walking (living) in the fullness of the Spirit will be seen in our lives in a practical way. Recently, I wrote a blog on a hymn about revival. The characteristics of a revived believer will do nicely here to describe a Spirit-filled believer. He or she will exhibit the following:

¤ A repentance of sin, and a desire to live a holy life
¤ A love for the Lord, and a longing to know Him and serve Him
¤ An enriching study and application of God’s Word
¤ A love for the people of God and a desire to fellowship regularly with them
¤ An earnestness and power in prevailing prayer
¤ A love for the great hymns and gospel songs of the church, and for singing them with others
¤ A passion to witness for Christ, and see others come to know Him

1) How is the Spirit of God fulfilling His purpose in you today (or this week)?

2) What other hymns about the ministry of the Spirit do you know and use?

Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 18, 2014

Come, Christians, Join to Sing

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: Christian Henry Bateman (b. Aug. 9, 1813; d. July 27, 1889)
Music: Madrid, an old Spanish melody of unknown origin, first published by Benjamin Carr in 1825, as a piano selection, and later arranged as a hymn tune


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The song was published in Scotland, in 1843, in Sacred Melodies for Children. Appropriately, the first line was originally, “Come, children, join to sing.” The hymn has been made more universally useful by the word change to “Christians.”

The Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (p. 287) claims that this hymn did not originate with Mr. Bateman, but was his reworking of an 1836 hymn beginning, “Join now in praise and sing,” by William Edward Hickson. Bateman’s version at first had five stanzas, but he later reduced these to the three we use today. The Wordwise Hymns link will give you a spectacular virtuoso piano performance of the hymn tune Madrid.

T his is a lively and inspiring little hymn. “Alleluia” (the Greek form of the Hebrew Hallelujah) means: Praise the Lord! “Amen” means truly, or so be it. In the context here “Amen!” expresses the confident belief that the Lord is infinitely worthy of our praise, both in time and eternity.

To express our praise to the Lord in song is also a universal practice, an activity of men and angels, throughout time and eternity. The book of Psalms, the hymn book of the Bible, refers specifically to singing fifty-nine times.

“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:6-7).

Many of the later psalms begin with an invitation to sing the praises of God. They are a call to the people of God to address the Lord with music.

“Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute” (Ps. 81:1-2; cf. 89:1; 92:1; 95:1; 96:1-2; 98:1; 101:1; 108:1; 147:1; 149:1).

In the New Testament, we have singing in the Gospels, by Jesus and the disciples (Matt. 26:30), in the book of Acts, by Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16:25), in the epistles (Col. 3:16), and all the way on to the book of Revelation, where men and angels join in song around the eternal throne of God (Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3).

CH-1) Come, Christians, join to sing
Alleluia! Amen!
Loud praise to Christ our King;
Alleluia! Amen!
Let all, with heart and voice,
Before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice.
Alleluia! Amen!

In the Colossians text noted above, Christians are exhorted:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

CH-2) Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
Let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
He is our Guide and Friend;
To us He’ll condescend;
His love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

The praise and worship of God is a logical corollary of faith. That is, when we believe and confess who the Lord is, and what He has done for us, praise is the natural outflow of that. He is infinitely worthy of it, and even eternity will not give us enough time to finish our songs of praise.

“I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised” (Ps. 18:3).

“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘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. 4:10-11).

CH-3) Praise yet our Christ again,
Alleluia! Amen!
Life shall not end the strain;
Alleluia! Amen!
On heaven’s blissful shore,
His goodness we’ll adore,
Singing forevermore,
“Alleluia! Amen!”

1) What comes to mind for which you can praise the Lord today?

2) What are our finest hymns of praise and worship?


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 16, 2014

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

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: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11, 1895; d. Jan. 13, 1985)
Music: Harry Dudley Clarke (b. Jan. 28, 1888; d. Oct. 14, 1957)

Wordwise Hymns (Avis Christiansen)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Avis Christensen was one of the major gospel song writers of the twentieth century. She lived her whole life in the Chicago area. Harry Clarke was a Welshman who emigrated to America. He served as song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday and later became a pastor. This song (sometimes entitled What Must I Do?) was published in 1920. I’ve retained the original “thee’s” and “thou’s,” but this is one time they can be replaced by you and your (e.g. “And you shall be saved from sin,” CH-1) without disturbing the metre or the rhyme.

T his is a simple song about the simple gospel. It is based on an incident in Acts 16. Missionaries Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel at Philippi, when they ran afoul of some locals who were using a demon possessed girl as a fortune teller, and making a lot of money through her pronouncements (vs. 16). When Paul delivered her from demonic bondage in the name of Jesus Christ, her masters had the two missionaries arrested (vs. 18-19).

The accusation was, “These men exceedingly trouble our city,” and they teach customs which are against Roman law (vs. 20-21). This got the watching crowd stirred up, and the magistrates–likely fearing a riot–had Paul and Silas beaten and cast into prison, with their feet secured in stocks (vs. 22-24). The two had just suffered an unjust arrest, a painful beating, and had been thrown in jail, deprived of their freedom, their future uncertain. But what happened then?

“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (vs. 25).

What a wonderful demonstration of faith and courage! And we need to go back to an earlier persecution of the believers to understand the attitude of these faithful servants of the Lord. After others had been arrested and beaten we read, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41).

I don’t think the prayer meeting of Paul and Silas was a mournful affair, do you? In spite of the pain they were in, and being unsure of what would happen next, they were rejoicing in the Lord.

The prisoners must have enjoyed the concert. However the jailer didn’t. He was fast asleep (vs. 27). But the Lord was going to get his attention in a big way. There was a sudden and severe earthquake. The prisoner’s chains were shaken from their attachment to the walls, and doors of the prison were wrenched open (vs. 26). Jarred into wakefulness, the jailor panicked. He was sure the prisoners had all seized the opportunity to escape.

Under Roman law, he would be executed for that. So he determined to fall on his sword and die by his own hand (vs. 27). But Paul’s voice rang out, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (vs. 28). And what happened next calls for a bit of speculation. It seems to me that the encounter the jailer has with Paul at this point suggests that he knew something of the Christian message. He may have heard Paul preach, or Paul and Silas may have witnessed to him earlier. Clearly his concern is for more than his physical safety. He has been driven to consider his eternal destiny.

“Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household [that is, the same applies to those in your household as well]’” (Acts 16:29-31).

The apartment where the jailor lived seems to have been attached to the prison. He took the prisoners there, and kindly washed their wounds. After Paul and Silas preached the gospel to all who were present, each member of the household–perhaps including servants–put his or her faith in Christ, and they were all baptized (vs. 32-34).

I referred earlier to “the simple gospel.” It was not simple in the divine or cosmic sense. For God to plan, before we even came to be, that His Son would die for lost sinners (Rev. 13:8), and then to execute that plan, at just the right time (Gal. 4:4), through a complex series of events, was far from simple.

But something over a hundred times in the New Testament, we are told that the blessing of that salvation is received through simple faith in Christ. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31; Jn. 3:16), receive or accept Christ as your personal Saviour (a synonym for believing, Jn. 1:12-13; Col. 2:6) and God will cleanse your sin and give you everlasting life. Good works are a loving response to God’s salvation, but they can do nothing to earn it (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:8; cf. Rom. 4:4-5)

CH-1) “What must I do?” the trembling jailer cried,
When dazed by fear and wonder;
“Believe on Christ!” was all that Paul replied,
“And thou shalt be saved from sin.”

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
And thou shalt be saved!

CH-2) What must I do! O weary, trembling, soul,
Just turn today to Jesus;
He will receive, forgive and make thee whole–
Christ alone can set thee free.

1) Have you accepted God’s offer of a full and free salvation through the finished work of Christ?

2) What verses of Scripture give you the assurance of salvation?

Wordwise Hymns (Avis Christiansen)
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 14, 2014

America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)

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

Words: Samuel Francis Smith (b. Oct. 21, 1808; d. Nov. 16, 1895)
Music: America (composer unknown; the first appearance of the tune in Thesaurus Musicus, 1745)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This stirring and beautiful hymn is sometimes called simply America. The stories of how it came to be written in 1831 have varied. A likely version is told in the Wordwise Hymns link. The tune, of course, was already being used in Britain for God Save the King (or Queen). Though its origin is uncertain, it has been claimed that the English composer was Henry Carey (1685-1743). But its British use apparently wasn’t realized by Smith at the time he saw it. Greatly impressed by the melody, he says:

“I instantly felt the impulse to write a patriotic hymn of my own, adapted to the tune. Picking up a scrap of waste paper which lay near me, I wrote at once, probably within half an hour, the hymn America as it is now known everywhere.”

CH-1) My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!

T he song has been criticized because it does not represent in its imagery the full sweep of the continent. Samuel Smith was born and died in Boston. He might be enraptured by the “rocks and rills [brooks],” and the “woods and templed hills” of New England (CH-2), but America is much more than that. Missing are the towering western mountains and the endless vistas of open prairie, “the oceans white with foam” of God Bless America. And the “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain” of America the Beautiful.

But what has kept Smith’s hymn in use for nearly two centuries is its burning passion for freedom. America is a “sweet land of liberty,” so “let freedom ring.” The latter phrase was used with telling effect by Martin Luther King, in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Freedom is mentioned in four of the hymn’s five stanzas, and strongly implied in CH-3 (now omitted) which says:

CH-3) No more shall tyrants here
With haughty steps appear,
And soldier bands;
No more shall tyrants tread
Above the patriot dead–
No more our blood be shed
By alien hands.

The sentiment of the hymn reflects the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of the nation’s Declaration of Independence, and the throbbing passion of the lines by Emma Lazarus, found on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Though the song was born nearly a century before Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech in 1941, the theme is echoed there as well, with it’s call for freedom of speech, and of worship, and freedom from want, and from fear itself.

It’s a desire for freedom from political and religious tyranny that has driven many to the shores of the “New World,” and that is so ingrained in the nation’s psyche that it remains and the forefront of political discourse and debate. The question remains, however, as to how well America has fulfilled this self-proclaimed mandate. For Martin Luther King, in the 60’s, with a large percentage of the population disenfranchised and disadvantaged, it was still an unrealized “dream.”

Being a Canadian, I speak with some caution, of our good neighbours to the south. Our path to independence has been different, but the ideal of personal liberty is found here too, as is our struggle to sustain it. And given the nature of this blog, I also want to speak as a Christian. What of the believer’s freedom in Christ?

The Bible too talks of liberty. Christian liberty from sin and Satan’s tyranny (Col. 1:13), but also liberty in a deeper sense. The believer is reborn into the family of God, when he puts his faith in the merits of Christ’s sacrifice. In this way he is freed from the struggle to gain God’s acceptance by his own efforts. Saved by the grace of God, good works become a loving response to salvation, not a way to earn it (Eph. 2:8-10).

We have the further responsibility not to abuse this liberty. To “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1), and “not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh [the selfish sin nature], but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). We are to “beware lest somehow this liberty of [ours] become a stumbling block to those who are weak” (I Cor. 8:9).

Freedom for the Christian in society involves the ability to worship and serve God without governmental restraint, or the oppression and persecution those who disagree. To preserve this right, the Bible exhorts us to pray for our national leaders (I Tim. 2:1-4).

CH-5) Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King.

1) Do you feel that religious freedom in your country is greater or less today than it was a generation ago?

2) What things can individual Christians and local churches do to strengthen national freedom?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Posted by: rcottrill | April 11, 2014

I Belong to the King

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: Ida Lilliard Reed (b. Nov. 30, 1865; d. July 8, 1951)
Music: Clifton, by Joseph Lincoln Hall (b. Nov. 4, 1866; d. Nov. 29, 1930)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This song was likely written in 1896 and published some years later. Both Reed and Hall used pen names. Some of her songs call her Ida Smith, and some of Hall’s compositions use the name Maurice Clifton.

Graphic Ida ReedCheck out the Wordwise Hymns link to learn more about this remarkable woman–remarkable because of her artistic output, in spite of a life of terrible suffering. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was an invalid. She was left to care for the farm, and help her mother, and become a mother herself to her younger siblings (whom she outlived).

Strenuous overwork led to a life of much pain and suffering. She was bedridden herself for many years, and used her poems to bring in a small income. As you can see from the picture, the lines of hardship and toil are etched in her face. She lived in poverty until ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) was made aware of her situation. In recognition of her substantial contribution to sacred music they provided her with a monthly pension, beginning in 1939.

Y et for all the hardship she faced, Ida Reed wrote some 2,000 hymns and gospel songs. (The Cyber Hymnal lists nearly 400 of them.) The present one was written from a hospital bed, but the mood is one of serenity, hope, and joyful anticipation. There are some Christians who are wealthy in terms of worldly possessions, but many more who are not. Yet all believers are rich beyond measure in what God has in store for them.

It’s God’s purpose “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). And if the Lord Jesus is indeed preparing “many mansions [or dwelling places]” for His own (Jn. 14:2-3), can we think that they will be less glorious and palatial than earthly riches have provided for the wealthy down here?

Further, each one of us has, as the Bible puts it, “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us]” (I Pet. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus exhorts His followers to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20). This suggests that we are able to act in such a way, here and now, as to multiply and augment our eternal wealth.

The latter truth, however, must not be misunderstood. We do not earn our salvation, or become God’s children, on the basis of our good works (Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible teaches plainly that we are saved through personal faith in the work of Christ on the cross, and that alone (Jn. 3:16). We enter the King’s family by the new birth, a spiritual birth that is a work of the Spirit of God (Jn. 1:12-13). “And if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

CH-1) I belong to the King; I’m a child of His love,
I shall dwell in His palace so fair,
For He tells of its bliss in yon heaven above,
And His children in splendours shall share.

I belong to the King; I’m a child of His love,
And he never forsaketh His own.
He will call me some day to His palace above;
I shall dwell by His glorified throne.

The Bible describes Christians as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We “belong to the King.” And we are repeatedly told that as the children of God–part of the Royal Family of heaven–we will have the privilege of reigning with Christ. We are a royal priesthood (I Pet. 2:9), “kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10).

“Blessed and holy is he who has a part in the first resurrection [“the resurrection of the just,” Lk. 14:14]. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6).

It’s touching that Ida Reed, with all of her lifelong troubles and trials, should speak with assurance, and say that “His mercy and kindness so free are unceasingly mine wherever I go” (CH-2). It reminded me of the words of the Apostle Paul:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (II Cor. 4:16).

CH-2) I belong to the King, and He loves me I know,
For His mercy and kindness so free
Are unceasingly mine wheresoever I go,
And my refuge unfailing is He.

CH-3) I belong to the King, and His promise is sure:
That we all shall be gathered at last
In His kingdom above, by life’s waters so pure,
When this life with its trials is past.

1) What are some things that can help us, as Christians, to maintain a positive outlook, in spite of trials?

2) What are some verses of Scripture that have encouraged you in such situations?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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