Posted by: rcottrill | March 5, 2010

Today in 1778 – Thomas Arne Died

Englishman, Thomas Augustine Arne, was a prominent composer of theatre music during the eighteenth century. He wrote the music for about 100 stage works, and is considered one of the best composers of his era. Among other longer works, Arne wrote an oratorio entitled The Death of Abel, and an opera called Artaxerxes about the Persian king of that name. It is from the latter that the hymn tune Arlington comes, which we use with Watts’s hymn, Am I a Soldier of the Cross?

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

ABOUT BETTER SINGING.  I’ve been asked a number of times how we can improve the congregational singing in our churches. I believe churches would be well served by conducting workshops geared to teaching the basics of singing, and sight reading. The more that learn to sing in harmony, the more beautiful and more enriching will be their experience Sunday by Sunday. Take a look at the article on this subject below–Singing in Harmony. (This does assume that there are hymn books in the pews, with notes in them. Please don’t get rid of the hymnal!) And as to teaching singing, Bob Jones University has produced a fine program called The Singer, which includes teacher’s and students’ manuals, and a demonstration CD. Though it is geared to children, it could be adapted for all.

(2) (Data Missing) – One Sweetly Solemn Thought
Robert Steele Ambrose wrote the tune Dulce Domum used with Phoebe Cary’s hymn One Sweetly Solemn Thought. He was born sometime in March of 1824, but the date is uncertain. [Note: the Cyber Hymnal has March 7 as the date of his birth.] The hymn is a sobering reminder that we do not know how close we are to the time of our departing this life. I’m including a bit about the song here because it has several personal connections.

Though born in England, Mr. Ambrose spent his later years in my home town of Hamilton, Ontario. He was the organist at a church in Hamilton (as my own father was, more than a century later). He also taught at a Wesleyan Bible college in Hamilton. As for Phoebe Cary, who died in 1871, there was a Mrs. Cary who sometimes sang at our church, when I was a boy. My father told me she was related to the hymn’s author, and I think I recall him saying also that he was a cousin of Mrs. Cary’s.

The sobering consideration that we are nearer our eternal destiny today than we were yesterday filled the thoughts of Phoebe Cary one Sunday morning in 1852. In fact, she thought, “I am nearer home today than I’ve ever been before.”

That year, Miss Cary, along with her older sister Alice, had moved from their rural western home into the buzzing metropolis of New York. It was a bold venture for two women to make in those days, and they depended very much on each other. Both Alice and Phoebe were gifted authors, and they produced some fine devotional poetry.

On the Sunday morning spoken of, Phoebe climbed the stairs to her humble third-floor bedroom, meditating on the theme of the morning service. Then, sitting down, she composed a poem to express her thoughts. Though it was not originally intended as a hymn, the Moody-Sankey evangelistic meetings popularized a musical version, and it has since found its way into a few hymn books. She entitled her poem “Anticipation of Heaven,” but it has since been identified by the opening words of the first line, One Sweetly Solemn Thought. At the link below you can hear a very early recording of Metropolitan Opera star Alma Gluck singing Phoebe Carey’s hymn as a duet with Louise Horner.

And if I may add one more personal recollection, I was a member of a men’s choir in the early ‘60’s that frequently sang Phoebe Cary’s stirring hymn. Here are the words in the arrangement of the song sung by the Ambassador Male Chorus.

One sweetly solemn thought
Comes to me o’er and o’er,
I am nearer home today
Than I’ve ever been before.
Nearer my Father’s house,
Where many mansions be,
Nearer the great white throne,
Nearer the crystal sea.

Nearer the bounds of life,
Where we lay our burdens down,
Nearer leaving the cross,
Nearer gaining the crown.
But lying darkly between,
Winding a-down through the night,
Is the silent unknown stream
That leads at last to the light.

Father, be near when my feet
Are slipping o’er the brink,
For it may be I am nearer home,
Nearer now than I think.

For a remarkable story about the impact of this hymn’s message, see the Cyber Hymnal.

(3) Today in 1889 – Joseph Denham Smith Died
Joseph Denham Smith studied at the Dublin Theological Institute, and became a Congregational clergyman in 1840. He worked in missions and in pastoral work in Ireland. Late in life he decided to focus his ministry on evangelism, but his health failed before he could do so.

Pastor Smith has given us a fine hymn on the subject of abiding in Christ. The Lord Jesus discusses that subject in John 15. Nine times He uses some form of the word “abide” there. It refers to the intimate and consistent fellowship the believer is to have with the Lord, maintained by faith in Him and obedience to His Word. The product of “abiding” is spiritual fruitfulness–both the inward fruit of Christlike character, and the outward fruit of effective service (cf. vs. 16)

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (Jn. 15:4-10)

Abide in Thee, in that deep love of Thine,
My Jesus, Lord, Thou Lamb of God divine;
Down, closely down, as living branch with tree,
I would abide, my Lord, my Christ, in Thee.

Abide in Thee, my Saviour, God, I know
How love of Thine, so vast, in me may flow:
My empty vessel running o’er with joy,
Now overflows to Thee without alloy.

Abide in Thee, nor doubt, nor self, nor sin,
Can e’er prevail with Thy blest life within;
Joined to Thyself, communing deep, my soul
Knows naught besides its motions to control.

Abide in Thee, ’tis thus alone I know
The secrets of Thy mind e’en while below;
All joy and peace, and knowledge of Thy Word,
All power and fruit, and service for the Lord.


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  2. […] Wordwise Hymns (on Isaac Watts, and see Thomas Arne) The Cyber […]


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