Posted by: rcottrill | May 30, 2011

Standing at the Portal

Words: Frances Ridley Havergal (b. Dec. 14, 1836; d. June 3, 1879)
Music: St. Alban, by Franz Josef Haydn (b. Mar. 31, 1732; d. May 31, 1809)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Frances Havergal’s own tune, Hermas, works with this hymn too.

To some extent our calendars are a social convention. That is, there is nothing intrinsic that makes January 1st different from December 31st. The nation of Israel had two New Year’s Days. Their civil calendar began in the month Tishri (half each of our September and October), and their religious calendar began in Nisan (half each of our March and April). And each of us, of course, has a New Year’s Day that is personal to us, our birthday. A new year begins for us with that.

Having said these things, however, there is merit to having an internationally recognized calendar as we now have it (called the Gregorian calendar). For each of us, January 1st begins a new year. And Frances Havergal pictures it as a kind of portal, a doorway into the future. What will it bring us–personally, as families, as churches, as nations? What challenges and problems will we face? What dangers and discouragements?

It’s easy to become anxious about such things, as we look back on past months, and at trends and tendencies in today’s world. Sickness, financial difficulties, conflict, terrorism… How can we cope? Two little phrases in Second Corinthians come to mind. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:16). And we’d likely respond, “No one!” But then we have, “Our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 3:5). The daily supply of God’s grace that was sufficient for Paul (II Cor. 12:7-10), will be abundantly sufficient for us as well.

That is the subject of this beautiful hymn. The author only lived to the age of 43. But she was a deeply spiritual woman, and she knew her Bible well. Her hymns have been encouraging and challenging believers for over a century. The refrain of Standing at the Portal says: “Fear not…for His Word shall never, never pass away.” That is a promise God gives us a number of times.

“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words [the words of the Lord Jesus] will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35). “The word of God…lives and abides forever….the word of the Lord endures [stands] forever” (I Pet. 1:23, 25).

What are some Bible assurances, as described in Miss Havergal’s hymn? In CH-2 it is that God is with us, to strengthen and uphold us. In CH-3, we are reminded that God’s provision exactly suits our need. She concludes in CH-4 with the assurance that God is all sufficient (as II Cor. 3:5 says), and He will never forsake us. The latter, too, is a Bible promise (Heb. 13:3). The Greek language of this text makes the point with a powerful triple negative, rendered this way in the Amplified Bible:

“He (God) Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let [you] down, [relax My hold on you]–assuredly not!”

There are many unknowns ahead in the coming year. But it’s encouraging to remember that none are unknown to God. “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You [Lord] knew my path” (Ps. 142:3). As we move onward, we can rest on His sure word of promise, stepping through the “portal” with confidence.

1) What are some of the uncertainties and worries that you or those you know have, as you face the coming year?

2) Looking back, can you discern ways the Lord has helped you, or those you know, over the past year?

3) What are some Bible promises–either of those mentioned above, or others–that give you reassurance of the Lord’s care and provision?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


%d bloggers like this: