Posted by: rcottrill | April 13, 2012

Holy Bible, Book Divine

Words: John Burton Sr. (b. Feb. 26, 1773; d. June 24, 1822)
Music: Aletta, by William Batchelder Bradbury (b. Oct. 6, 1816; d. Jan. 7, 1868)


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: With its original publication, this hymn’s authorship was identified simply as “Nottingham–J.B.” (Mr. Burton living in Nottingham, England, at the time). Later, he married and moved to Leicester. In subsequent publications of the song his name is given as John Burton Senior. This was to distinguish him from another author with the same name–though John Burton Junior was not his son.

This excellent hymn is about the Bible, and some of the things it teaches. To put it in its historical context, we need to consider something important that was happening around the time it was written in 1803. (A longer version of the following is found here.)

Robert Raikes, an Anglican layman, is credited with founding the Sunday School movement. His heart went out to the ragged children of the slums, worn down by slave labour , running wild, and exposed to all kinds of vice. Most of them were illiterate. There were no state schools of any kind back then, and Mr. Raikes believed that a good education would give children a much better start in life, so he started a school.

His “Sunday School” began in the kitchen of a home, in Gloucester, in July of 1780. At first it was for boys only, but soon girls came too. Since the children worked in the factories six days a week, Raikes decided to hold his school on Sundays. The Bible was used as the textbook, and church attendance was part of the Sunday program.

Strong discipline was needed to control the children Raikes worked with. But it was administered in an interesting way. When a child was disruptive and disobedient, Mr. Raikes would take the offender home, and have parents administer chastisement to “the seat of learning.” Then, he would bring the student back to school again.

Robert Raikes certainly had his early detractors, who said “Raikes’ Ragged School” was a violation of the Lord’s Day, when Christians shouldn’t be working. But Methodist founder John Wesley supported the work enthusiastically. In spite of its critics, the movement continued to grow. In four years, there were 250,000 pupils, as schools sprang up all over the country. By 1831, there were 1,250,000 attending Sunday School (about a quarter of the population of Great Britain at that time).

John Burton himself was one of the Sunday School teachers. He wrote and published songs for the Sunday School, and music greatly helped in the teaching and training of those who attended. Committing songs such as this one to memory enabled illiterate children to get their first grasp on eternal truth. Praise the Lord for men such as Robert Raikes and John Burton!

CH-1: The Bible teaches us where we came from–that we are a creation of God–and what we are–the crown of God’s creation (Gen. 1:26-28). CH-2: Through God’s Word we are convicted of sin and chastised by a loving God, when that is needed (Rom. 3:20; 7:7; Heb. 12:5-6). Not only does its teaching guide and guard us through life (Ps. 119:105, 130), it provides “comfort in distress” (CH-3; cf. Ps. 119:49-50), and shows the way to gain life eternal (Jn. 3:16). CH-4: The destiny of lost sinners, and the eternal joys of the saints are made known in its pages (Matt. 25:34, 41).

CH-1) Holy Bible, book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine;
Mine to tell me whence I came;
Mine to teach me what I am.

CH-4) Mine to tell of joys to come,
And the rebel sinner’s doom;
O thou holy book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine.

1) Suppose you were Robert Raikes, designing a curriculum for the children he sought to reach. What key truths would you begin with? And why?

2) What makes the Bible a “precious treasure” to you, personally?


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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