Posted by: rcottrill | October 1, 2010

Today in 1807 – Roswell Park Born

Born in Connecticutt, Mr. Park was trained at Union College and West Point Military Academy, serving for a time in the United States Engineer Corps. He was also professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, he studied theology, and began service as a clergyman in the Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1852, he beame the president of Racine College, in Wisconsin. In 1863 he founded a school in Chicago, where he remained until his death in 1869.

The hymn Jesus Spreads His Banner O’er Us is taken from a book of poems Dr. Park published in 1836. Originally entitled simply The Communion, it is a hymn intended for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In the Song of Solomon, the bride extols her husband saying, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (2:4). Mr. Park takes this as a picture of the church’s praise of Christ.

Jesus spreads his banner o’er us,
Cheers our famished souls with food;
He the banquet spreads before us,
Of His mystic flesh and blood.
Precious banquet, bread of heaven,
Wine of gladness, flowing free;
May we taste it, kindly given,
In remembrance, Lord, of Thee.

In Thy holy incarnation,
When the angels sang Thy birth;
In Thy fasting and temptation,
In Thy labors on the earth,
In Thy trial and rejection,
In Thy sufferings on the tree,
In Thy glorious resurrection,
May we, Lord, remember Thee.

These two stanzas are usually all that are used. But Roswell Park included an opening stanza which relates to the practice of some congregations to close the service and dismiss the congregation before the Lord’s Supper. The idea is that non-Christians, or backslidden believers are unfit to partake at the Lord’s Table, so they should leave! (“The sons of earth [all those sinners]” need to be “retiring” now, so we, the chosen few, can continue.)

I’ve always been uncomfortable with this. For one thing, it can tend to feed the pride of those who remain. And I believe little is gained–and much can be lost–by forcing those who choose not to participate (for whatever reason) to publicly humiliate themselves. It’s surely sufficient to explain that the Communion is for Christians, and leaving individuals to decide whether to partake of the elements or pass them by when they are distributed. Anyway, that is the background of the following stanza of the hymn:

While the sons of earth retiring,
From the sacred temple roam;
Lord, Thy light and love desiring,
To Thine altar fain we come.
Children of our heavenly Father,
Friends and brethren we would be;
While we round Thy table gather,
May our hearts be one in Thee.

HISTORICAL ISSUES. Over the centuries, there have been various points of debate regarding sacred music. Whatever personal convictions we have, these differences have affected the music we use to this day. Here are five historical issues to consider.

(2) Today in 1942 – George Webster Died
George Orlia Webster was the son of a Baptist minister, and he became a pastor himself. But we was more ecumenical than his father. In over 50 years of ministry he most often served in non-denominational settings, or in churches that combined congregations from several denominations. He wrote several hundred hymns and other songs, but few survive today.

One that does grew out of his conviction that Christians needed to get together more, instead of remaining hostile to one another, crouched behind denominational walls. He said he was sitting on the porch of his cottage one afternoon, thinking how foolish it was for Christians to be unhappily divided. “After all,” he said to himself, “we all need Jesus.” And looking into his own heart he confessed, “I need Jesus.” It was then the song was born.

We might not entirely agree with Pastor Webster’s ecumenical views. It is especially bad when churches compromise ethical standards or key biblical doctrines, just for the sake of some kind of organizational togetherness. But we can certainly espouse the sentiment of his hymn, admitting our own need of Christ. When many deserted the Lord Jesus, He asked His disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter’s insightful response was, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:67-68). Christ alone is the answer to our soul’s deepest need. As Webster’s hymn says:

I need Jesus, my need I now confess;
No friend like Him, in times of deep distress;
I need Jesus, the need I gladly own;
Though some may bear their load alone
Yet, I need Jesus.

I need Jesus, I need Him to the end;
No one like Him–He is the sinner’s Friend;
I need Jesus, no other friend will do;
So constant, kind, so strong, and true–
Yes, I need Jesus.


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