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Words: Septimus Winner (b. Mary 11, 1827; d. Nov. 22, 1902)
Music: Septimus Winner
Note: Septimus Winner. Winner was best known in his day for creating popular novelty songs such as Listen to the Mocking Bird, and Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone. His foray into hymnody was not notable for the clarity or depth of it spiritual message, but the present song has remained popular for a century and a half.
In 1962, a vinyl record with the title Whispering Hope was made by Gordon MacRae and Jo Stafford. Two gifted popular artists, their duets of a number of hymns are well done. Their melodious blend and evident musicality created a memorable LP. It’s worth hunting for in used record stores. You can hear them sing Whispering Hope on the Wordwise Hymns link.
We live in a noisy world–something I’ve discussed before in these articles. Most of the loud sounds we have to deal with are man made. But the loudest natural sound on earth was likely the one caused by the volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa, in August of 1883.
The terrifying thunder of that explosion, traveling across the earth at the speed of sound, was heard four hours later 4,800 kms (3,000 miles) away. The captain of a ship only 64 kms (40 miles) away from the blast later reported that the eardrums of his crew were ruptured by the sound, and he himself was convinced that the Day of Judgment had come. Resulting monster tsunamis wiped out dozens of coastal villages in their path.
There are many man made sounds loud enough to do damage to the ears if exposure is prolonged. But of course a sound does not have to be that loud to have a powerful effect. In 1837, philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote a poem called Concord Hymn, that described the first shot fired in the American Revolutionary War as “the shot heard round the world.” It was, in the sense that in began a conflict that led to the founding of a great nation which continues to have a worldwide influence.
When we discuss the Bible’s record of sounds and their effects, the experience of the prophet Elijah may come to mind. Elijah took a courageous stand against the prophets of Baal that had infested the land of Israel (I Kgs. 18:20-40). This angered wicked Queen Jezebel–a leading Baal worshiper–and she vowed to kill him. At the news, the prophet fled for his life (I Kgs. 19:1-3)
At this point, many Bible commentators seem to condemn Elijah for his cowardice. But such a conclusion fails to reckon with human frailty. Rather than condemning him, the Lord encouraged him, and gave him time to rest and recover from an emotionally draining and physically exhausting experience (I Kgs. 19:4-8).
Then God had a memorable meeting with Elijah (I Kgs. 19:11-12). At first, the Lord announced His coming with three powerful elemental forces. First, “a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces…and after the wind an earthquake…and after the earthquake a fire.” But it was not in any of these loud and spectacular ways that God communicated with His prophet, but rather in a “still small voice [a gentle whisper].”
One lesson in this is that the omnipotent God can deal with us in powerful ways, but He can also seem to murmur comfort to our hearts in a gentle, soothing, healing way. And if we fill our lives day by day with the raucous noises of the world, we may miss His whispered messages to our souls.
This leads to some thoughts on a song that only flirts with the borders of Christian truth. There’s not much sound doctrine communicated by it, but what it says, it says rather nicely. In 1868, Septimus Winner wrote words and music for this semi-religious song. The point of the text is that in the midst of life’s dark and stormy trials the Lord can whisper a message of hope to our souls.
CH-1) Soft as the voice of an angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the shower is gone.
Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.
It’s only when we get to the last stanza that we have a vague reference to Christ’s resurrection, the true foundation of the Christian’s hope (I Cor. 15:19-20; Heb. 6:19-20). Bottom line: It’s a pretty song, but not clear enough to be widely useful. Nonetheless, we can be greatly comforted by the Lord’s loving whisper in times of trial.
CH-3) Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come, glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory,
Never, O never depart.
1) Is this a song that gives you comfort and encouragement? (How?)
2) How is the individual who loses hope affected?