Posted by: rcottrill | August 29, 2010

Today in 1809 – Oliver Wendell Holmes Born

Oliver Wendell Holmes was the son of a Congregational clergyman. He taught anatomy and physiology at Harvard Medical School–and eventually became a dean there. His son, who was also given the names Oliver Wendell, became an American Supreme Court justice. The father was not only a medical man, but also a distinguished author. Along with other outstanding New England writers he helped found the Atlantic Monthly.

We would not likely consider Oliver Wendell Holmes an evangelical Christian. He was an admitted free thinker, though he attended church regularly. In explaining this habit, he said ambiguously, “There is a little plant called ‘reverence’ in the corner of my soul’s garden, which I love to have watered once a week.”

Nevertheless, Holmes is credited with writing possibly the finest hymn we have about the omnipresence of God. (“‘Do I not fill heaven and earth,’ says the Lord,” Jer. 23:24.) Produced in 1848, the song says, in part:

Lord of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Centre and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!

Lord of all life, below, above,
Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love,
Before Thy ever blazing throne
We ask no luster of our own.

Grant us Thy truth to make us free,
And kindling hearts that burn for Thee,
Till all Thy living altars claim
One holy light, one heavenly flame.

(2) I Won’t Have to Cross Jordan Alone (Data Missing)
The famed motto of the U.S. Postal Service says, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The saying is not new, but paraphrases what was said by Herodotus of Roman messengers some 25 centuries ago. Even so, it remains true. And, in spite of occasional complaints, most of us greatly appreciate the dependable delivery of the mail.

Charles E. Durham was a mail carrier in rural Texas in the early years of the twentieth century. He also wrote gospel songs. And he took paper and pencil each day on his route, in case a sudden inspiration came to him for a new hymn. He eventually wrote over a hundred of them in this way, going on to publish song books and organize gospel quartets.

Durham became friends with Virgil Stamps, a great promoter of Southern Gospel music, and in 1934 he published a song and dedicated it to Stamps. (Thomas Ramsey is also listed as contributing, at least in part, to the lyrics.) Recorded by Johnny Cash and many other gospel artists, it is called, I Won’t Have to Cross Jordan Alone.

The Jordan River in the Holy Land figures prominently in biblical history, and has become a symbol of death to what is past, and the anticipation of a new beginning. The postman’s song was his testimony of faith in Christ, and the assurance that the Lord would carry him safely through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4), and on to the eternal day.

When I come to the river at the ending of day,
When the last winds of sorrow have blown;
There’ll be somebody waiting to show me the way,
And I won’t have to cross Jordan alone.

I won’t have to cross Jordan alone,
Jesus died all my sins to atone;
When in the darkness I see,
He’ll be waiting for me,
And I won’t have to cross Jordan alone.

Though the billows of sorrow and trouble may sweep,
Christ the Saviour still cares for his own;
Till the end of my journey, my soul he will keep,
And I won’t have to cross Jordan alone.

Here is a fine choral arrangement of Durham’s song, a medley with bits of other hymns added in. Well done.


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