Posted by: rcottrill | January 3, 2010

Today in 1830 – Alexander Ewing Born

Alexander Ewing was a Scotsman. He studied law at Marischal College in his home town. And when the Crimean War broke out, Ewing joined the army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. But his greater interest was in music. He learned to play the violin, cello and cornet, and took a keen interest in choral music.

We know Alexander Ewing in hymnody for one contribution only, the hymn tune Ewing that is used with the hymn Jerusalem the Golden, a hymn about the heavenly kingdom, written around 1145 by Bernard of Cluny. Mr. Ewing was a member of the Harmonic Choir in Aberdeen, Scotland. He brought his new tune to choir practice one night, and that group was the first to sing it. (To see a little more about Ewing and the hymn mentioned, see Item #2 in post called Today in 1819.)

Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, O I know not, what joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare.

(2) Today in 1918 – Annie Hawks Died
Annie Sherwood Hawks wrote about 400 hymns during her lifetime, but only one is in common use today. I Need Thee Every Hour is a reminder of our total dependence on the Lord.

Permit me a brief personal reminiscence about this hymn. It was the signature song of a friend of our family named Ralph Hunter, perhaps the finest tenor soloist I ever heard in person. And he did not even sing solo’s until he was “discovered” by a neighbour, singing in his garden, and told that he should share his voice with the world. He was in his forties at the time.

Ralph Hunter was a humble man, a painter employed in a large International Harvester plant. My cousin Jack tells of being hired by them as a young man, and of his trepidation about his first day on the job. Would they mock his Christian faith? How would he be able to stand for Christ among the other men? But he says that as he entered the plant on that first day, he heard an amazing sound, a soaring tenor voice, from high in some scaffolding, singing a beautiful gospel song written by Alfred Ackley (with music by his older brother Bentley):

I am amazed that God could ever love me,
So full of sin, so covered o’er with shame;
Make me to walk with Him who is above me,
Cleansed by the pow’r of His redeeming name.

I am amazed that God would ever save me,
Naught but the cross could take away my sin;
Through faith in Christ, eternal life He gave me,
Now He abides forevermore within.

It was Ralph Hunter singing. And my cousin reports that the Lord used this testimony in song to give him courage and confidence in the workplace.

Many times, I heard Mr. Hunter sing Annie Hawks’s I Need Thee Every Hour. A special setting of the words was written for him, adapting a tune from Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. In the Lord’s time, I look forward to joining Ralph in the heavenly choir as we continue to sing the praises of God forever.

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Saviour,
I come to Thee.


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