Posted by: rcottrill | March 29, 2010

Today in 1739 – Christ the Lord Is Risen Today sung

My father worked as a foreman in a steel mill. And sometimes, when I was a small boy, he would take me to work with him for a few hours. It was an immense, dingy, dirty place, full of clanging noise. The smell of the chemicals used to process the steel is in my nose still, as I call those scenes to mind. But out of that cavernous mill came the stuff of gleaming automobiles and refrigerators and other useful things. It’s a reminder that good things can often have an unexpected and surprising origin.

A couple of centuries predating my childhood visits to that steel mill, there was an old iron foundry in London, England. It was taken over by the Wesleys and transformed into the first Wesleyan Chapel in the city, soon becoming known as the Foundry Meeting House. The building could not have been put to better use. It became a place of joyful worship, where the preaching of the gospel brought many from darkness to light.

The Wesleys published their own hymn book, called The Foundry’s Collection, containing, as the book said, “hymns set to music as they are commonly sung at the Foundry.” The first service was held there on Easter Sunday, in 1739. For the occasion, Charles Wesley wrote a rousing hymn of praise that he called “Hymn for Easter Day.” We know it by the first line, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.

The tune we use now was adopted later, and the “alleluias” ending each line were added to fit it. Alleluia (or hallelujah) is the English form of the Hebrew Halal Yah, meaning “Praise the Lord!” It will be part of the chorus of the heavenly throng: “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honour and power to the Lord our God!…Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (Rev. 19:1, 6). The hymn is also sung sometimes to the tune Mendelssohn (which we use for Hark, the Herald Angels Sing). In that case, the “alleluias” are omitted.

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!

(2) Today in 1788 – Charles Wesley Died
WGraphic Charles Wesleyith the passing of Charles Wesley additions to a great contribution to English hymnody ended. His over 6,500 hymns cover the breadth of Christian experience, and every major doctrine taught by the Methodists. Further, they are strong in their evangelistic and salvific emphasis. It is difficult to do justice to such an output in a brief blog. But here are three songs that Wesley has given us.

In Depth of Mercy the sinner struggles to realize and understand that a holy God is offering him salvation in Christ. All 13 stanzas are worth consideration, but here are a few:

Depth of mercy! Can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

There for me the Saviour stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

I Want a Principle Within has to do with the development of a sensitive conscience in the heart of the believer. (“The apple of an eye” is an old expression referring to the pupil of the eye. It pictures something that is precious and worth protecting.)

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
Help me the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire;
To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve,
Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make;
Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

A lesser known hymn of Wesley’s, Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, speaks of the Christian perspective on the workaday world, and attending to daily tasks. Notice the reference to “my calling’s snare,” a reminder that each vocation has its own temptations. Here is the hymn in part:

Forth in Thy name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only Thee, resolved to know
In all I think or speak or do.

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfil;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Preserve me from my calling’s snare,
And hide my simple heart above,
Above the thorns of choking care,
The gilded baits of worldly love.

3) Today in 1887 – Ray Palmer Died
One day in 1830, Ray Palmer realized his need of the Lord’s special help. In later years, he would go on to pastor several churches. He would also contribute to the music of the church, serving as the editor of a couple of hymn books, and would translate a Latin poem from the Middle Ages, turning it into two beautiful hymns. But all of that lay in the future.

At the age of 22, fresh out of college, Palmer took up his duties as a school teacher. His first year was discouraging. Battling illness and loneliness, he turned to God for comfort. He read a poem about a needy sinner, kneeling before the cross, and it inspired him to write some lines of verse himself, jotting them down in a little notebook he always carried with him.

He had no thought of doing anything further with them. But two years later he  happened upon a friend, walking along a busy street in Boston. The friend was hymn writer Lowell Mason. As they chatted Mason asked if he could suggest any songs that might be included in a hymn book he was compiling. Palmer says:

The little book containing the poem was shown to him, and he asked for a copy. We stepped into a store together, and a copy was made and given to him….Two or three days afterward, we met again on the street, when, scarcely waiting to salute me, he earnestly exclaimed, “Mr. Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best-known to posterity as the author of My Faith Looks Up to Thee.”

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Saviour divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

Here is a congregation, singing Palmer’s hymn, in four-part harmony, without instrumental accompaniment. Not perfect, but very nicely done. (I’d love to have been there to join in!)


Responses

  1. Regarding Christ the Lord is Risen Today, my hymnal uses the tune Orientis Partibus, sans the Alleluias, and sans the last phrase of this recording.

    The church where I grew up liked to sing this on the 2nd through 7th Sundays of Easter.

    BTW, have a blessed Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter season!

    • Thanks for the input, and may you too rejoice with God’s people on Resurrection Sunday.

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