Posted by: rcottrill | July 29, 2016

Whispering Hope

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Septimus Winner (b. Mary 11, 1827; d. Nov. 22, 1902)
Music: Septimus Winner

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

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.

Questions:
1) Is this a song that gives you comfort and encouragement? (How?)

2) How is the individual who loses hope affected?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 27, 2016

We Shall Shine as the Stars

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter (b. Dec. 5, 1855; d. July 17, 1939)
Music: Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Judson Van DeVenter was a hymn writer and, for awhile, professor of Hymnology at Florida Bible Institute, where he had a spiritual impact on a young student named Billy Graham. In 1899 he wrote a song about the future of the saints called We Shall Shine as the Stars.

It’s been around for more than two centuries, and is one of the best known nursery songs in the English language. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was written by poet Jane Taylor (1783-1824), and published in 1806. It actually has five stanzas, though only the first is used today.

“How I wonder what you are!” the song exclaims. A puzzle, perhaps, to a little child. But a scientist would explain what a star is: a self-luminous heavenly body, such as our own sun–as opposed to planets and moons which only reflect light from another source.

It’s estimated that the Milky Way galaxy, in which our planet is found, includes anywhere from a hundred billion to four hundred billion stars. And there may well be hundreds of billions of other galaxies spread across the dark reaches of the universe. We can see only a few thousand stars with the naked eye, but powerful telescopes have expanded our view in incredible ways.

We may be able to define what a star is scientifically, but it is still an incredible wonder to consider the vast expanse of God’s creation. Of the fourth day of the creation week we read:

“God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth;’ and it was so” (Gen. 1:14-15).

Gazing at the lights of heaven on a clear night is a humbling experience. We marvel with David:

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Ps. 8:3-4).

Yet, though we’re only tiny living specks in the vast expanse of space, we are not insignificant to God. He sent His beloved Son to die for us, and He has a wonderful plan for us. To all those who put their faith in Christ He has promised “that in the ages to come He [will] show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

And to these, the Lord’s blood-bought saints who walk in His ways, He also makes this remarkable promise:

“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).

The people of God are described as “wise,” as having spiritual understanding, and are therefore living accordingly. Part of that is by their words and conduct they’ll point others in a Godward direction. And their future destiny is to shine like the stars, to be resplendent in eternal glory. As the Lord Jesus puts it, “The righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).

When Christ briefly revealed His heavenly glory to three of His disciples, we read, “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2). It is that glory Christians will one day share. God has “called us to His eternal glory by [through] Christ Jesus” (I Pet. 5:10; cf. I Thess. 2:12). As Van DeVenter’s song puts it:

CH-1) We may tarry awhile here as strangers,
Unnoticed by those who pass by;
But the Saviour will crown us in glory,
To shine as the stars in the sky.

We shall shine as the stars of the morning,
With Jesus the Crucified One;
We shall rise to be like Him forever,
Eternally shine as the sun.

CH-2) We may never be rich in earth’s treasures,
Nor rise on the ladder of fame;
But the saints will at last be rewarded,
Made rich in Immanuel’s name.

CH-3) We may live in a tent or a cottage,
And die in seclusion alone;
But the Father who seeth in secret,
Remembers each one of His own.

Questions:
1) What makes a person a “star” in Hollywood terms?

2) How does this contrast with what the Word of God describes as the destiny of the redeemed?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 25, 2016

The Beautiful Garden of Prayer

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Eleanor Allen Schroll (b. ____, 1878; d. Jan. 8, 1966)
Music: James Henry Fillmore, Sr. (b. June 1, 1849; d. Feb. 8, 1936)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The song was written in 1920 by Eleanor Schroll. The Cyber Hymnal has a picture of her, and lists one other song she wrote. Other than that we know nothing about her. As well as being a composer, James Fillmore was a pastor, a singing school teacher, and a sacred music publisher, working in the latter with his brothers.

Nonsense poems can be clever and memorable, even when we don’t understand them. Take Lewis Carroll’s poem about the slaying of the Jabberwocky, in Through the Looking Glass. It begins:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Nonsensical, but somehow fascinating.

Some poems and songs make us laugh simply because they’re silly, like the one about “the grand old Duke of York,” who marched his men up a hill.

And when they were up they were up.
And when they were down they were down.
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.

It’s logical, but hardly profound.

Sentimental poems that are lacking in freshness and insight abound. “Roses are red, violets are blue.” Well, yes, they are. But that has become a stale cliché. Comparing people or relationships to flowers or gardens has been done before–many times. Three thousand years ago, Solomon described his betrothed as, “A garden enclosed” (S.S. 4:12). It was a poetic way of referring to the wonder of her chaste, pure love for him.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) took that thought at applied it, meaningfully, to the church:

We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot enclosed by grace
Out of the world’s wide wilderness.

That does make sense, biblically, as the Lord speaks of believers drawn to Himself as “His own special people” (I Pet. 2:9, “peculiar” is the word the old King James Version uses, not meaning odd, but unique).

In speaking of His future blessing of the nation of Israel, the Lord says: “Their souls [i.e. more precisely their lives] shall be like a well-watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all” (Jer. 31:12). It’s a picture of the freshness and vitality of daily life they can anticipate during the reign of their Messiah-King.

But the offering from Haldor Lillenas (1855-1959), called The Garden of My Heart, leaves these more profound applications and gets us close to sappy sentimentality. He describes times of prayer this way:

In the cool of the day He walks with me,
In the rose bordered way He talks with me;
In love’s holy union, and sacred communion,
In the garden of my heart.

Roses seemed to be a fascination, as well, for druggist turned gospel song writer Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946). In a still popular song from 1912 he writes:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses.

Miles is speaking of fellowship with the Lord. But what, or where the rose garden is he never tells us. It’s more flowery sentiment that is shallow, and rather corny.

This brings us to the present hymn, and yet another garden.

CH-1) There’s a garden where Jesus is waiting,
There’s a place that is wondrously fair,
For it glows with the light of His presence.
’Tis the beautiful garden of prayer.

Oh, the beautiful garden, the garden of prayer!
Oh, the beautiful garden of prayer!
There my Saviour awaits, and He opens the gates
To the beautiful garden of prayer.

A dozen times in this short song we hear about “the beautiful garden of prayer.” Why? Is the author saying that prayer is like a walk in a lovely garden? Then, say it and move on! Sometimes repetition in a gospel song emphasizes an important point. But speaking over and over about a make-believe garden comes too close to the “vain repetitions” of the heathen (Matt. 6:7). At the very least it’s a squishy sentiment that doesn’t enrich us much. The Lord isn’t waiting for us in a garden, He seated in glory at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3), yet present with us always (Matt. 28:20).

Not every hymn we sing has to be a masterpiece of poetry, but we do well to seek out ways to express our faith and worship with words that are clearly biblical and richly meaningful. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord” (Ps. 19:14).

Questions:
1) Can you think of other hymns or gospel songs that have shallow, trite poetry?

2) What important qualities do you hope to find in a hymn?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 22, 2016

The Hour of Prayer

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: The date of this hymn’s publication is uncertain, but early printings have a copyright date of 1907. A quick look at some hymns of Fanny Crosby yielded a dozen on the subject of prayer. One says:

‘Tis the blessèd hour of prayer,
When our hearts lowly bend,
And we gather to Jesus,
Our Saviour and Friend.

Another asks, pertinently:

Won’t you pray, won’t you pray,
For some loved one lost in sin’s dark way?
Won’t you pray, won’t you pray,
For some dear one who has gone astray?

The question is, if we won’t, why won’t we?

The horse and buggy days are no longer with us. They were phased out about a century ago. If you look at a photograph of the main street of a country town from those days, you’ll likely see a mixture. Some horses tethered in front of stores, and a scattering of Model T’s parked too. But soon the animals were gone. Do you want them back?

Antique stores, to some extent, trade in nostalgia, with their butter churns, spinning wheels, coal oil lamps and more. But would we really want to go back to churning our own butter, and spinning our own yarn? It’s easy to look back to those times with the proverbial rose-coloured glasses, and wish we were there. However, not everything about the good old days was good.

Women didn’t have the vote federally, in Canada, until 1918–aboriginal women were disenfranchised until 1960. Diseases that are now treatable were a fearful scourge. There was no penicillin, and no polio vaccine. In homes, there was no electricity, no central heating or air conditioning. There was no radio or television either–though some might argue the presence of those is a mixed blessing!

But surely some things we miss today were worthwhile. There are some things we wish could be brought back. It may be different where you are, but regular family times around the dinner table seem more of a rarity now. Leisurely times of conversation and, in Christian homes, times of family devotions, of prayer and reading the Scriptures, aren’t as common now. We each have our own schedules, things to do, places to go, and we often eat on the run.

Visiting in one another’s homes seems not to be as frequent, either. When I was young, rarely a week went by that we didn’t have folks in, or we visited elsewhere. Now, we’re all so busy, and our activities pull us apart. It’s a sad loss.

Another relic of the past, at least in some churches, is the mid-week Prayer Meeting. Does yours still have one? How many come? In many churches that have one, churches well attended on Sunday mornings, only a handful come to Prayer Meeting. I know of one pastor who renamed that meeting the Company of the Committed, which says a lot.

Where are the times of corporate prayer in which believers pray together with passion and purpose, where they storm the gates of heaven with an earnestness which cannot be denied (Jas. 5:16), where they pray about things that really matter (cf. Acts 4:29). Praying for Mrs. Snapgirdle’s gall bladder is fine, but what about the spiritual needs of those around us?

Prayer is one of the first things mentioned as an activity of the early Christians, after the church was born (Acts 2:42), and it comes up at least thirty times in the book of Acts.

The present hymn is yet another of Fanny’s which expresses delight in meeting with God’s people for prayer. Called The Hour of Prayer, it says:

CH-1) Glory to God for the joy to meet
Here at the hour of prayer;
Welcome the bliss of communion sweet
Here at the hour of prayer!

Nearer the gate to the soul’s bright home,
Nearer the vales where the faithful roam,
Nearer to God and the Lamb we come,
Here at the hour of prayer.

CH-3) Rich are the blessings that all may seek
Here at the hour of prayer;
Grace for the weary, the faint, the weak,
Here at the hour of prayer.”

“Men [and women too] always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). May we be those who unite regularly in “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18).

Questions:
1) What are some reasons why attendance at the mid-week Prayer Meeting has been declining?

2) What can be done to give a boost to the mid-week Prayer Meeting in your church?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Fanny Crosby)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 20, 2016

O Saviour, Precious Saviour

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Frances Ridley Havergal (b. Dec. 14, 1836; d. June 3, 1879)
Music: Munich, a 1693 tune harmonized by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. Feb. 3, 1809; d. Nov. 4, 1847).

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Miss Havergal put her faith in Christ in early childhood. She mastered several languages, and memorized most of the New Testament. An attractive woman, she received a number of marriage proposals, but chose to remain single. She authored many fine hymns, including Like a River Glorious, Take My Life and Let It Be, and Who Is on the Lord’s Side? The dedication to Christ expressed in many of her hymns was lived out in her daily life. It was her passion to win others to Christ, and encourage a deeper devotion to Him.

The last line of the first verse of this hymn seems to have been originally, “Our holy God and King.” It was likely changed to “Our holy Lord and King” to match the other stanzas. In that way the last four lines of each stanza could be printed as a repeated refrain. The tune of the present hymn (Munich) is also used with William Walsham How’s hymn O Word of God Incarnate. Produced in 1847, the music was one of the last pieces Mendelssohn worked on before his untimely death at the age of 38.

There are a number of possible reasons why something that exists cannot be seen. Some stars and planets in the heavens are too far away to be seen, except with a powerful telescope. Other things, such as the molecules that make up visible matter, are too small to be seen individually, except through an electron microscope.

Years ago, it was impossible to view something that was happening on the other side of the world. Until satellites and television shrank the world, people had to wait for the arrival of someone who had been there to find out about it. Or perhaps wait for a letter that would give them a written description. The journeys of Columbus, Drake, Hudson, Cabot, Cartier, and others, gave exciting accounts to Europeans of a “new world” far away.

The wind cannot be seen, but we can certainly observe its effects when it blows. In a way that’s similar to a whole host of human attitudes and emotions that are invisible until they affect behaviour. How we act, in a variety of situations, may demonstrate inner attitudes of love or anger, worry or wonder. It’s the same with covetousness or generosity.

The spirit world fits the category too–of things that are real but invisible. The holy angels and demons (evil angels) are at work around us, but we are not equipped to see them. Unless they choose to reveal their presence in some way, we must rely on the testimony of the Scriptures to learn about them. The Bible says God’s angels are spirits “sent forth the minister for [or serve] those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).

God is the supreme spirit Being, and invisible to us as well (I Tim. 1:17). In His spiritual essence, “no man has seen or can see” Him (I Tim. 6:16). But when God the Son came to earth, in His virgin-born humanity, He revealed God to us in a way we could better understand. “The Word [Christ] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).

However, we still have a problem today. The Lord was only on this earth in visible form for a few years. After His death and resurrection, He returned to heaven once more (Lk. 24:51). Now, though He promised to be with His followers in spirit (Matt. 28:20), He is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven (Heb. 12:2).

The Lord recognized this problem, and spoke of it to a disciple. “”Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). There is a special blessing for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, in His absence. It’s the Spirit of God who reveals Him to us, through faith. Jesus said, “He will testify of Me….He will glorify Me” (Jn. 15:26; 16:14).

Peter recognizes the rejoicing this brings to the hearts of believers, speaking of:

“Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory….To you who believe, He is precious” (I Pet. 1:7-8; 2:7).

Frances Ridley Havergal turned this into a beautiful hymn of worship in 1870.

CH-1) O Saviour, precious Saviour,
Whom yet unseen we love!
O name of might and favour,
All other names above!
We worship Thee, we bless Thee,
To Thee, O Christ, we sing;
We praise Thee, and confess Thee
Our holy God and King.

CH-3) In Thee all fullness dwelleth,
All grace and power divine;
The glory that excelleth,
O Son of God, is Thine;
We worship Thee, we bless Thee,
To Thee, O Christ, we sing:
We praise Thee, and confess Thee
Our glorious Lord and King.

Questions:
1) Why is the Lord Jesus especially “precious” to you today?

2) Will this be any different to what we find especially precious about Him in heaven?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 18, 2016

Life’s Railway to Heaven

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: M. E. Abbey (no data available; see note below)
Music: Charles Davis Tillman (b. Mar. 20, 1861; d. Sept. 2, 1943)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: There’s some uncertainty about the origin of this song. M. E. Abbey, a Baptist pastor in Georgia at the time, is credited with the words–at least of the refrain. And singing evangelist and music publisher Charles Davis Tillman composed the tune. Whether that is the full story is open to question.

Some suggest that Eliza Roxcy Snow Young (1804-1887), the polygamous wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young, may have supplied some of the text, but I’ve seen no conclusive evidence of that. Charles Tillman set one of Eliza Young’s poems (Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses) to the tune used later for the present hymn. The words by Young are completely different from those of the Railway Song, except that Abbey’s refrain is used in it. That may account for the confusion. Perhaps M. E. Abbey wrote the whole text of the railway song.

Fictional movie character Forrest Gump said it: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” It’s an apt description, at least of one aspect of our lives. The way unexpected things can happen to us.

Many others have tried to sum life up: “Life is like a mirror. If you frown at it, it frowns back. If you smile, it returns the greeting.” Or, “Life is like walking through snow. Every step shows.” Or, how about, “Life is like an eraser. It gets smaller and smaller after every mistake.” Then there’s, “Life is like a bar of soap. Once you think you’ve got a hold of it, it slips away.” Or, “Life is like a hot bath. It feels good while you’re in it, but the longer you stay in the more wrinkled you get.”

In the Bible, the emphasis in poetic descriptions of life is often focused on its brevity. Even when an individual lives eighty or ninety years, or perhaps beyond that, what is that span in comparison to eternity? “What is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14).

Others speak in a similar vein. Life is like: a flash flood, a short sleep, grass that sprouts and is quickly mowed down (Ps. 90:5-6), and like drifting smoke (Ps. 102:3). Job, in particular, in the midst of what seems almost unparalleled suffering, used a number of graphic metaphors. Life is like: a swift weaver’s shuttle (Job 7:6), a breath (7:7), a cloud that vanishes away (7:9), a speedy runner (9:25), a swift ship, a swooping eagle (9:36), a fading flower, and a passing shadow (14:2).

A more positive analogy is used frequently in both Old Testament and New. The life of the believer is said to be a pilgrimage. Even though it may seem long and painful, it’s brief in terms of eternity. It’s a time-limited journey through this sinful world, where we are aliens pilgrims, traveling on to our true and final home in heaven.

“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims [aliens and temporary residents], abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles [the unsaved]” (I Pet. 2:11-12; cf. Ps. 39:12; 119:19).

An interesting take on the pilgrimage imagery is found in the gospel song Life’s Railway to Heaven. Published in 1890, it describes the Christian life as a journey on a railroad, a trip that requires courage, and alertness to danger, as we travel toward our destination.

The song has been much recorded, even by secular artists. There’s no rich doctrinal content or deep devotional thought here. But even so, the lyrics are interesting, and no doubt have special meaning for those familiar with railroad jargon.

CH-1) Life is like a mountain railroad,
With an Engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

Blessed Saviour, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

CH-2) You will roll up grades of trial;
You will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
On this lightning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction,
Do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

Questions:
1) What are some good things and bad things about a train trip that could illustrate life?

2) Is there enough Bible truth in this song that you would use it with a congregation?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 15, 2016

Jesus, Before Thy Face We Fall

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: C. Medley (see note below)
Music: Germany, from Sacred Melodies, by William Gardiner (b. Mar. 15, 1770; d. Nov. 16, 1853.

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (William Gardiner)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)
Hymnary.org

Note: Some hymn books credit this hymn to Samuel Medley, but I’m not sure about that designation. Others have it written by “C. Medley,” whose details are totally unknown. You will note in many books that the hymn is written in the first person singular–I, me, and my. The version I will use below uses the first person plural–we, us and our–making occasional changes in the rhyme to fit that.

The tune, Germany, which is also used with Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness, poses something of a mystery for hymn historians. Gardiner himself said he thought it came from somewhere in the works of Beethoven, but he couldn’t recall where. You will see hymn books that credit Beethoven as the composer, but extensive research has never found anything like it in the great composer’s work. Another historian has noted a similarity to a piece by Mozart.

Sanctuary is a word used in several different ways. It can identify a place of refuge or safety, such as an area set aside as a wildlife sanctuary. It can also be a sacred or holy place set aside for a religious purpose. The auditorium in a church where the congregation gathers to worship is called the sanctuary.

The word is found more than one hundred and fifty times in the Bible. The people of Israel are called God’s sanctuary, as He promised to dwell in their midst (Ps. 114:2), and the land God gave to them also is called a sanctuary–being both a place set aside for them by God, and a place of God’s protection of His people (Exod. 15:17).

The tabernacle, Israel’s portable worship centre in the wilderness, is designated that way (Exod. 25:8), as is the later permanent temple in Jerusalem (I Chron. 22:19). The altar of sacrifice was nearby, where sacrificial offerings were made. At the four corners of the altar were horn-like projections. When an individual was accused of treason or murder, he could flee to the altar and grasp one of the horns. It became a place of sanctuary (safety) until his case was decided (Exod. 21:13-14; I Kgs. 1:50; 2:28).

In both structures, tabernacle and temple, there was a room set aside as the holy of holies, or the Most Holy place. That was where the Lord revealed the brightness of His glorious presence between two golden angels, above what was called the mercy seat (Ps. 80:1). That was a sanctuary separated from the rest of the tabernacle or temple by a heavy curtain or veil (Lev. 4:6).

The place where God dwells in heaven is also called His sanctuary (Ps. 102:19), and it is the sacred and eternal refuge of the saints. Then, in the most ultimate and final sense, God Himself is the sanctuary of the redeemed. John says concerning his vision of heaven, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:22; cf. Isa. 8:14).

This latter application of the word sanctuary to God Himself should be a comfort and encouragement to every believer.

¤ “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Ps. 9:9).
¤ “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
¤ “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust’” (Ps. 91:2).

There is a lovely hymn on that theme which is notable for two mysteries, one concerning the words, the other concerning the music, as mentioned above. In any event, this does not affect the message of the hymn. It says:

1) Jesus, before Thy feet we fall–
Our Lord, our life, our hope, our all!
For we have nowhere else to flee–
No sanctuary, Lord, but Thee.

2) In Thee we ev’ry glory view,
Of safety, strength, and beauty too:
‘Tis all our rest and peace to see
Our sanctuary, Lord, in Thee.

3) Whatever woes and fears betide,
In Thy blest presence we may hide;
And, while we rest our souls in Thee,
Thou wilt our Sanctuary be!

5) Apace the solemn hour draws nigh,
When we must bow our heads and die;
But O, what joy this witness gives–
Jesus, our Sanctuary, lives!

6) He from the grave our dust will raise,
We in the heav’ns will sing His praise;
And when in glory we appear,
He’ll be our Sanctuary there.

Questions:
1) Is there a particular trial from which you need sanctuary today?

2) How might you serve the Lord by being a sanctuary for some other person in need?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (William Gardiner)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 13, 2016

I Left It All with Jesus

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Ellen H. Willis (no data available)
Music: James McGranahan (b. July 4, 1840; d. July 9, 1907)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (James McGranahan)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Nothing much is known of the author and composer of this hymn. The Cyber Hymnal lists James McGranahan as the composer of the tune, and has the song originating in 1875. But there is a version of the hymn from a year earlier–with no mention of McGranahan.

The irregular metre of the earlier version of the words was different: 10.9.9.9.9.3.9.3 as opposed to 11.9.11.9.11.6.11.6 in the Cyber Hymnal’s version with McGranahan’s tune. (If you don’t understand what is meant by these metre numbers, check out the article About That “Metrical Index.” in the Topical Articles.)

Words were added, to fit McGranahan’s different tune, and one hymn book says the song was later “arranged and adapted by WJK.” To me, those initials suggest William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921). A comparison of the first three lines of stanza one will show how words have been added to fit another metre.

(1874 Version)
I left it all with Jesus long ago;
All my sins I brought Him, and my woe.
When by faith I saw Him on the tree…

(Cyber Hymnal’s 1875 Version)
Oh, I left it all with Jesus, long ago
All my sins I brought Him, and my woe.
When by faith I saw Him bleeding on the tree…

What I’m calling the earlier version used quite a number of different tunes through the years. But a composer that comes up several times is H. M. Warner, sometimes called Miss H. M. Warner, with the author of the text identified as Miss Ellen H. Willis–though one book has the latter as Mrs. Ellen H. Willis! Bottom line, nothing is certain here.

S ix hundred years ago they were using the expression: safe kepyng–which has evolved into safekeeping. It refers to that which is securely guarded, and cared for.

Many of us have a safety deposit box at the bank or credit union. Valuables and important documents, such as passports and wills, are given extra protection there. Those of us with computers use passwords to make it more difficult for hackers to get at our personal data. Experts warn us not to use passwords that are so obvious it would be easy to guess them. (Examples of laughably weak ones: password, or 123456.)

But even with elaborate safety measures, there are dangers. Banks are robbed, computers are hacked. Smart people design more protective measures, but there always seem to be even smarter people who find ways to circumvent them. With care–and often at some expense–we can have a reasonable assurance of security, but there is no absolute certainty that what we have guarded is completely safe.

The one exception to this uncertainty is things in God’s care. Missionary Amy Carmichael wrote, “We have proved that it is a very safe thing to trust in the Lord our God.” Pastor and author Charles Swindoll adds, “God never changes; so we are safe when we cling to Him.” David writes, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8).

The Bible has many such assurances of the watchful care and infinite protection of the Lord.

“The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Ps. 34:7). “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (II Chron. 16:9). The psalmist testifies, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:2-4).

These Old Testament texts assured the nation of Israel of God’s safekeeping in their land, if they would trust in Him. But there’s a wonderful New Testament passage guaranteeing the Christian’s spiritual and eternal safety.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet. 1:3-5).

The Lord has an inheritance reserved for us in what we might call the “safety deposit box” of heaven. We can be assured of its safekeeping and, by implication, the certainty that we will one day be able to claim it.

Miss Willis’s hymn begins by telling how, as sinners, we can entrust our sins to the Lord Jesus, who paid our debt to God, on the cross (Jn. 3:16; 5:24). Then it moves on to talk about believers putting themselves in the safekeeping of the Lord Jesus day by day (Prov. 3:5-6).

CH-1) Oh, I left it all with Jesus, long ago
All my sins I brought Him and my woe.
When by faith I saw Him bleeding on the tree;
Heard His still small whisper, ‘’Tis for thee!’
From my weary heart the burden rolled away;
Happy day! happy day!

CH-3) Oh, I leave it all with Jesus, day by day;
Faith can firmly trust Him, come what may;
Hope has dropped for aye her anchor, found her rest
In the calm, sure haven of His breast.
Love esteems it joy of heaven to abide
At His side! At His side!

Questions:
1) What is the result on human beings of the uncertainty of guarantees of protection in this life?

2) What is it makes you sure that the safekeeping of the Lord is absolutely certain?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (James McGranahan)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 11, 2016

I Have a Saviour

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Robert Harkness (b. Mar. 2, 1880; d. May 8, 1961)
Music: Robert Harkness

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Robert Harkness)
The Cyber Hymnal (Robert Harkness)
Hymnary.org

Note: In the first half of the twentieth century, Mr. Harkness was a gospel pianist for evangelist Ruben Archer Torrey, and a hymn writer with many compositions to his credit. In later years, he toured on his own, presenting the gospel in word and song.

It’s a sad and seemingly heartless procedure. When someone dies, there is usually a sorting and labeling of what are coldly called “the effects of the deceased.” Personal property is either distributed among family and friends–perhaps according to the terms of a will–or it is put up for auction. Some may even be thrown away.

In the classic 1941 motion picture Citizen Kane, we are given a stark look at this end-of-life routine as it relates to the very rich. In the story, Charles Foster Kane begins his adult life as an idealistic newspaper editor, but over time his goals deteriorate into an insatiable thirst for his own power and possessions. In his cavernous mansion, Xanadu, he houses an enormous collection of valuable statuary and paintings.

When he dies, these all have to be catalogued by a team of people, and we see this happening at the end of the film. What seems to be worthless junk is discarded. One item, a child’s sled, is thrown carelessly into the flames of a furnace. But this action thwarts the attempt to discover the meaning of Kane’s last word, “Rosebud.” It was the brand-name on the sled Charles played with as a boy, a symbol of a simpler and happier time.

For most of us, the accumulation of material things over a lifetime doesn’t really amount to anything like that. It’s all soon boxed and carried away. The Bible puts the things of this life in a proper perspective. God’s Word reminds us:

“What do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (I Cor. 4:7).

“We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (I Tim. 6:7-8).

The Lord Jesus encourages us to, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20). We are to invest our time, talents, and treasures in achieving eternal goals, living lives that are pleasing to God, and engaging in kingdom business (vs. 33). This will involve showing the love of Christ to others, and encouraging them to put their faith in Him (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 1:16).

No one is poor who has a Saviour. Think of it: God the Son took on our humanity that He–though sinless Himself–might take our place under the wrath of God. When we trust in what He did for us on the cross of Calvary, our debt of sin is canceled and we are welcomed into the family of God. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9).

Victor Hugo’s classic historical novel, Les Misérables (meaning The Wretched Ones), provides a heart-rending example of the self-sacrificing compassion infinitely found in Christ. Jean Valjean, a former convict, spends his life trying to atone for the wrongs he has done. Finally, in court, he takes upon himself charges against an innocent man. Victor Hugo describes this as a “simple and magnificent story of a man giving himself up that another might not be condemned.” And in the most perfect and profound sense, that’s exactly what Jesus did for us.

In 1937, hymnist Robert Harkness published a little song on the theme. His hymn says:

1) I have a Saviour, He died for me
In cruel anguish on Calvary’s tree.
I do not merit such love divine,
Only God’s mercy makes Jesus mine.

Jesus, my Saviour, I come to Thee,
In full surrender, Thine own to be.

2) I have a Keeper, He now prevails,
I fear no evil whate’er assails.
His arms enfold me safe and secure,
In His blest keeping, vict’ry is sure.

3) I have a Master, He bids me go
Rescue lost sinners from sin and woe.
I love to serve Him, this Master true,
Now I am willing His will to do.

Questions:
1) In material terms, what is the most valuable thing you own?

2) In spiritual terms, what is your greatest treasure? (And why?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Robert Harkness)
The Cyber Hymnal (Robert Harkness)
Hymnary.org

Posted by: rcottrill | July 8, 2016

Got Any Rivers You Think Are Uncrossable?

Graphic Bob New Glasses 2015HOW 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.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.

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

Words: Oscar Carl Eliason (b. Jan. 6, 1902; d. Mar. 1, 1985)
Music: Oscar Carl Eliason

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)
Hymnary.org

Note: Oscar Carl Eliason was a Swedish-American pastor and evangelist. He was also a poet and composer with fifty hymns to his credit.

No doubt about it, the building of the Panama Canal was one of the greatest engineering and construction feats in history. The French tried to do it in 1881, but abandoned the project as impossible. The Americans finally took on the mammoth job in 1904, completing the task ten years later.

Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the canal became a welcome short-cut for shipping, and it avoided the stormy hazards of going south around Cape Horn. The waterway is seventy-seven kilometres long (48 miles), and it takes a ships eight hours to pass through. Since 1914, nearly a million vessels have done so.

It’s not difficult to imagine that work on the canal, dangerous and difficult as it was, became a source of special pride to those involved. In 1912, poet Berton Braley wrote a song about it called, At Your Service: The Panama Gang. The workmen began singing it everywhere.

Bronzed by the tropical sun that is blistery,
Chockful of energy, vigour and tang,
Trained by the task that’s the biggest in history–
Who has a job for this Panama Gang?

But it was their boast, in the middle of the song, that caught the eye of a pastor decades later. They sang:

Got any river they say is uncrossable?
Got any mountains that can’t be cut through?
We specialize in the wholly impossible,
Doing things ‘nobody ever could do.’

Pastor Eliason was impressed by those four lines of the old song just quoted, but wanted to give them a Christian perspective. You’ll notice no mention is made of God. All the credit for the work accomplished was claimed by the men themselves.

It’s a dangerous thing to rule God out, to brag of being a “self-made man” (or woman). Who gave you existence, to begin with? Who gave you a mind to think with? Who gave your hands the skill to do things? Who gave you opportunities? Who helped you along the way? Even though these things may have been mediated by others, it is God who’s behind them.

The Lord dealt with the Israelites about that. “[When] you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth’…you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:17-18).

A heathen king had similar “I” trouble. Nebuchadnezzar was the powerful ruler of Babylon. He took on massive building projects, heightening his renown. Each brick used in building was stamped with his image. He boasted:

“Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” But, “While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!’” (Dan. 4:30-31). And it had–until he finally came to his senses and gave the Lord the credit He deserves (vs. 34-37).

In 1942, Pastor Eliason published words and music of a little chorus, a revised version of the lines from the song of the Panama Gang. To make it a full gospel song, Eliason later added three stanzas about Joshua, who led the Israelites across the Jordan and in the conquest of Jericho (cf. Josh. 3:7-8, 14-17).

1) ‘Be of good courage,’ God spake unto Joshua,
When o’er the river God pointed the way;
Jordan uncrossable! Things seemed impossible,
Waters divide as they march and obey.

Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible–
He does the things others cannot do.

A WONDERFUL BOOK. The Eliason family came for Sweden in 1908, settling in the lumber town of Cook, Minnesota, north of Duluth. In those days some incredible missionary work was being done by three men, among the wild and hardened lumberjacks of the vast forests there. They too tackled the impossible, and won, by the grace of God. Their amazing ministry is written up in The Last of the Giants, by Harry Rimmer. The book is available from Amazon (it’s free, if you have a Kindle). Highly recommended. Believe me, you’ve never read a book like it! It will astonish you, and challenge you with what God can do.

Questions:
1) What “impossible” things has the Lord helped you with (or through) over the past year?

2) What difficulty do you need to trust Him with these days?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)
Hymnary.org

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