Posted by: rcottrill | May 25, 2011

One Sweetly Solemn Thought

Words: Phoebe Cary (b. Sept. 4, 1824; d. July 31, 1871)
Music: Dulce Domum, by Robert Steele Ambrose (b. March ___, 1824; d. Mar. 31, 1908)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn poem, as posted on the Cyber Hymnal, has eight four-line stanzas. It has been somewhat modified (and shortened) for use as a congregational hymn, or a concert piece. You can see (and hear) examples on the Wordwise Hymns link. There, also, I refer to several personal connections I have with the song. Here are CH-1 and 2.

One sweetly solemn thought
Comes to me o’er and o’er;
Nearer to my home today am I
Than e’er I’ve been before.

Nearer my Father’s house,
Where many mansions be;
Nearer today, the great white throne,
Nearer the crystal sea.

Solemn–yet “sweetly solemn.” It is a sobering thing to consider that, unless the Lord returns first for His own, each of us will face death. Will it be soon? Or some years away? Are we ready for that day? Or are there things we must make sure to attend to first? And have we properly provided for our loved ones after we’re gone? Such questions–and many more–come to us as we consider that “the valley of the shadow” lies ahead.

However, for the Christian, the contemplation of death need not be dismal and depressing. It’s a door to a glorious eternity, as we’re ushered into the presence of God. As Paul put it, he had “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). In that we can rejoice and take sweet comfort. Heaven will be a fulfilment of our most blessed anticipations. Therefore, we can say,“My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord” (Ps. 104:34, KJV). “My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Lk. 1:47).

What lies ahead for the believer, as CH-3 points out, is a release from earthly burdens, and the reception of heavenly rewards. These are spoken of a number of times in the New Testament as “crowns,” laurel wreaths to be awarded to the victors in the race of life (e.g. II Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12).

Nearer the bound of life
Where burdens are laid down;
Nearer to leave the heavy cross,
Nearer to gain the crown.

Yet before that, unless we are those who are “alive and remain,” when Christ comes for His church (I Thess. 4:13-18), there is “the deep and unknown stream” of death to be crossed (CH-4). And it is drawing ever nearer…nearer…nearer. Miss Cary’s repetition of that word is purposeful. Consider, I’m “nearer now than I think.” Yes, the believer has the assurance that the Lord will be with him at that time, and take him safely through (Ps. 23:4; Heb. 13:5). Even so, it is natural that there is some apprehension of our journey from this world to the next.

But lying darkly between,
Winding down through the night,
Is the deep and unknown stream
To be crossed ere we reach the light.

We ought to live now so that if we were to be instantly called into the presence of God, we would not have to hang our heads in shame. A number of times, the Word of God connects the end of this earthly life with the need for holy living now. (e.g. Tit. 2:11-13; II Pet. 3:11-12; I Jn. 3:2-3). A desire to finish well, is reflected in the closing stanzas–CH-7 and 8–of Phoebe Cary’s hymn:

Father, perfect my trust!
Strengthen my power of faith!
Nor let me stand, at last, alone
Upon the shore of death.

Be Thee near when my feet
Are slipping over the brink;
For it may be I’m nearer home,
Nearer now than I think.

Questions:
1) What kinds of things should be attend to, given that we do not know whether today will be the day of our departure from this life?

2) How would you comfort and encourage a believer who seems to be facing imminent death?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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