Posted by: rcottrill | February 18, 2010

Today in 1678 – Pilgrim’s Progress published

John Bunyan was a poor tinker (pot mender) who became a great Puritan preacher, and the renowned author of Pilgrim’s Progress, the classic Christian allegory. Bunyan wrote the book while serving time in prison for preaching without a license. The story concerns a pilgrim who is delivered from the City of Destruction and makes his way to the Celestial City. It teaches many lessons about the Christian life.

Graphic Pilgrim Fighting Apollyon.jpgIn the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the pilgrim is confronted by Apollyon (Satan), who rages,

“I am an enemy of the Prince [Christ]; I hate His person, His laws, and people. I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.”

And for about half a day there follows a fierce battle, vividly described by Bunyan, in which the devil hurls fiery darts “as thick as hail.” But by using the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (see Eph. 6:16-17), the pilgrim is victorious, and the devil leaves him for a season.

At one point in John Bunyan’s immortal tale, there is a conversation between Mr. Valiant for Truth, and Mr. Great Heart. The lines of verse found there were adapted in 1904 by  Percy Dearmer, and have become the hymn He Who Would Valiant Be.

He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound—his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

(2) Today in 1823 – James Burns Born
James Drummond Burns earned a Masters degree from the University of Edinburgh, and received his theological training from Dr. Thomas Chalmers. He served as a Free Church pastor at Dunblane, Scotland, but resigned three years later due to ill health. When his health improved, he engaged in pastoral ministry in two other churches. But when sickness troubled him once more, he traveled abroad to recover.

Though Drummond wrote a number of hymns, only one has remained in common use. Hushed Was the Evening Hymn is based on the story of the boy Samuel, serving in the tabernacle of Israel. (Not “the temple,” as the hymn has it. The temple structure was not built until King Solomon’s time, about a century and a half later.) At first, little Samuel thought the voice he heard in the night was Eli’s, the elderly priest of Israel. But he later realized, with Eli’s help, that it was the summons of the Lord.

The boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” (I Sam. 3:1-4)

James Burns’s hymn makes a personal application of Samuel’s readiness to hear and obey the Lord. We too should be alert to the voice of God communicated through His Word, and prompt to respond.

Hushed was the evening hymn,
The temple courts were dark;
The lamp was burning dim
Before the sacred ark;
When suddenly a voice divine
Rang through the silence of the shrine.

The old man, meek and mild,
The priest of Israel, slept;
His watch the temple child,
The little Levite, kept;
And what from Eli’s sense was sealed
The Lord to Hannah’s son revealed.

O give me Samuel’s ear,
The open ear, O Lord,
Alive and quick to hear
Each whisper of Thy Word,
Like him to answer at Thy call,
And to obey Thee first of all.

At times, the words are almost indistinguishable in this congregational use of the hymn. However, the video clip will give you a chance to become familiar with the tune, if it is unknown to you. (Both congregation and organ sound much better if you use good headphones.)


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