Posted by: rcottrill | January 18, 2012

Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain

Words: John of Damascus (b. _____, 675; d. Dec. 4, c. 749)
Music: St. Kevin, by Arthur Seymour Sullivan (b. May 13, 1842; d. Nov. 22, 1900)

Wordwise Hymns (John Neale, Arthur Sullivan)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John of Damascus (or John Damascene) was the last of the Greek Church Fathers. Little is known of his personal history. He was born in Damascus of Christian parents, he became a gifted theologian, and wrote extensively. His book The Fount of Knowledge was a summation of the theology of the Eastern Church, as Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologie summed up Latin theology five centuries later. John is also considered a great early hymn writer.

Two prominent English hymnists of the nineteenth century gave us our hymn. John Neale translated the words in 1859, and Arthur Sullivan wrote the tune commonly used with it in 1872. Dr. Neale’s rendering of the Greek original is as close to a precise translation as he could come. He confessed the difficulty of the task. The ancient Greek hymns were written in prose, with no poetical metre, so he had to create this to suit the style of our English hymns.

The hymn skillfully weaves together two great events, Israel’s miraculous deliverance through the Red Sea, and Christ’s triumph over death and the grave. The most dramatic and transforming event in human history could well be the resurrection of Christ (rivaled only by the incarnation and the death of Christ, with which it is inseparably linked). The dramatic announcement of the angel on Easter morning has echoed down the centuries: “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said” (Matt. 28:5-6). So, how is that connected with events in Exodus?

Under Moses, the Israelites came out of Egypt and began their journey to the Promised Land (Exod. 12–14). Soon afterward Pharaoh, believing they’d foolishly trapped themselves at the Red Sea, sent the Egyptian army after them, with 600 chariots. But the Lord told Moses to lift his rod over the sea. As he did so, the waters rolled back, to the left and to the right, revealing a smooth path through the sea. At God’s command, the Israelites crossed over to safety. When the Egyptian chariots pursued, the waters closed in upon them and they were all drowned.

CH-1) Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought His Israel into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.

Appropriately, the miraculous path through the sea has been used as a picture of the second great event, the death and resurrection of Christ, by which our salvation was provided. Think of the parallels.

The Israelites were in bondage in Egypt, as the sinner is in bondage to sin and Satan. The crossing of the Red Sea is an apt picture of death and resurrection. For Israel, death to the old life, and deliverance from the Hebrews’ oppressors, after which a new life opened to them. Similarly, our participation, by faith, in Christ’s death and resurrection, opens the door to new life (Rom. 6:3-10; I Pet. 2:24). It should not be surprising that these two great liberating miracles are brought together (cf. Rev. 15:3).

CH-2) ’Tis the spring of souls today; Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom we give laud and praise undying.

CH-5) “Alleluia!” now we cry to our King Immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son, God the Father praising,
“Alleluia!” yet again to the Spirit raising.

1) Moses says of God’s deliverance, “He brought us out from there [from Egyptian bondage] that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore to our fathers” (Deut. 6:23). How does this parallel salvation in Christ?

2) After their deliverance, the Israelites failed to trust God and refused to go in a possess what He had given them (Num. 13:26–14:38). How does this parallel the experience of some Christians?

Wordwise Hymns (John Neale, Arthur Sullivan)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Robert, you visited my blog and commented on my post on John of Damascus. If you have no problem with my doing so, I’d like to link to this post for future years’ commemorations.

    • No problem at all. And drop by any time. 🙂


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