Posted by: rcottrill | January 8, 2010

Today in 1792 – Lowell Mason Born

Lowell Mason was interested in music from his earliest years. In fact, by the age of 16, he was a choir leader and a teacher of singing classes. However, for many years, he seemed to see music as something to do on the side, rather than as the basis for a career. Mason worked as a bank clerk and did not consider music a profession.

However, all of this changed with the publication of a book he assembled called Collection of Church Music. Over the next 30 years it ran through 17 editions and sold more than fifty thousand copies, establishing Lowell Mason’s reputation. He is now considered “the father of American church music.” Not only that, he was the first to teach music in an American public school, and the first to receive a Doctor of Music degree from an American Institution.

Mason composed over 1,600 pieces of sacred music, including dozens of hymn tunes. One of these is Boylston, used with Charles Wesley’s hymn, A Charge to Keep I Have.

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfil:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

(2) Today in 1861 – Ada Habershon Born
Ada Ruth Habershon, a gifted Bible teacher, was born in England. There are few women, certainly in the nineteenth century, who had the level of orthodox biblical scholarship she demonstrated. She produced many books that are still worth studying today, writing with clarity, logic, and a profound knowledge of the Bible. Purchase a copy of her Study of the Types, and you will be blessed by her ability to tie Old Testament and New together. Habershon was a close friend of Dwight Moody and Charles Spurgeon.

Ada Habershon visited the United States at Moody’s invitation, to deliver lectures on the Old Testament. Later, gospel musician Charles Alexander asked her to write some gospel songs, Within a year, she presented him with 200! Among them are the songs He Will Hold Me Fast, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

It is certain that few people today actually know the latter song–though they may think they do. There is a toe-tapping bluegrass version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? that has been recorded by many artists, such as this informal rendering by the Waymasters.

But this lyric by Alvin Carter has been denuded of the gospel echoes of the original, and simply pictures the sad parting death brings, with only a vague hope of something better up ahead. Ada Habershon’s original (1907) song carries more spiritual conviction. She speaks of believers who have died and who are now with the Lord. The question of the refrain then becomes more pointed, implying that if we do not know Christ as Saviour the family circle will indeed be broken.

There are loved ones in the glory,
Whose dear forms you often miss;
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss?

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, [Lord,] by and by?
In a better home awaiting
In the sky, [Lord,]in the sky?

In the joyous days of childhood,
Oft they told of wondrous love,
Pointed to the dying Saviour
Now they dwell with Him above.

(3) Today in 1888 – Mary Demarest Died
Mary Augusta Lee Demarest’s mother died when she was a baby. She was cared for by her Scottish grandfather and a Scottish nurse. From these Mary learned to love the songs of Scotland, and became familiar with the Scottish dialect.

Years before her time, a man named John Macduff left Scotland with his young bride, and came to America. But though he was successful in business, it soon became evident that Macduff’s wife was homesick for their homeland. “John,” she said, “I am wearying for may ain [my own] countrie.” His heart was filled with compassion for her as she pined away, and finally he took her back home to Scotland, were she revived and thrived.

At the age of 23, Mary Demarest heard of this incident, and wrote her immortal hymn, My Ain Countrie, making a spiritual application to the saint’s longing for heaven. Here is a bit of her wonderful hymn. (There are two more stanzas.) If there are words you can’t understand, perhaps you can find someone with a Scottish background to interpret it for you.

I am far frae my hame, an’ I’m weary aftenwhiles,
For the langed for hame bringin’, an’ my Father’s welcome smiles;
An’ I’ll ne’er be fu’ content, until mine een do see
The gowden gates o’ heav’n an’ my ain countrie.
The earth is fleck’d wi’ flowers, mony tinted, fresh an’ gay
The birdies warble blithely, for my Faither made them sae:
But these sights an’ these soun’s will as naething be to me,
When I hear the angels singin’ in my ain countrie.

I’ve His gude word o’ promise that some gladsome day, the King
To His ain royal palace his banished hame will bring;
Wi’een an’ wi’ hert rinnin’ owre, we shall see
The King in His beauty, in oor ain countrie.
My sins hae been mony, an’ my sorrows hae been sair,
But there they’ll never vex me, nor be remembered mair;
For His bluid made me white, and His hand shall dry my e’e,
When He brings me hame at last to my ain countrie.

William MacEwan was a famed Scottish street singer at the turn of the twentieth century, singing the gospel into seeking hearts on the streets of Glasgow. He made a recording of this song in 1911. For a unique experience, click on #20 here, and you will hear MacEwan sing Demarest’s song. (And #13 is the original version of Ada Habershon’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken?)


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  1. […] Wordwise Hymns (Lowell Mason) The Cyber […]


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