Posted by: rcottrill | July 9, 2012

I Will Sing the Wondrous Story

Words: Francis Harold Rowley (b. July 25, 1854; d. Feb. 14, 1952)
Music: Banneux, by Peter Philip Bilhorn (b. July 22, 1865; d. Dec. 13, 1936)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: When he wrote this fine gospel song, Francis Rowley was a Baptist pastor in Massachusetts in 1886. His original first line was “Can’t you sing the wondrous story?” But when Ira Sankey published it he altered that to the more positive statement we know now. Mr. Sankey apparently made other changes without the author’s knowledge. (In some instances I prefer Pastor Rowley’s original.) Here, for example is the author’s version of CH-2 and 3.

I was lost: but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Raised me up and gently led me
Back into the narrow way.

Faint was I, and fears possessed me,
Bruised was I from many a fall;
Hope was gone, and shame distressed me:
But His love has pardoned all.

There is a story connected with the writing of Mr. Bilhorn’s tune as well. He was converted in a gospel meeting of Dr. Pentecost and musician George Stebbins, two of D. L. Moody’s associates. When Peter Bilhorn came to Brooklyn, Mr. Stebbins invited him to say in his home until he could find a place of his own. It was there he wrote his first gospel song melody–for I Will Sing the Wondrous Story. George Stebbins harmonized it for him, since Bilhorn hadn’t yet studied harmony.

Some form of the word sing is four 166 times in our English Bibles, with another 94 uses of the word song or songs (many of these in the book of Psalms). Here are the first and the last of these references:

“Then [after their deliverance at the Red Sea] Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: ‘I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!’” (Exod. 15:1).

“They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!’” (Rev. 15:3).

And if “the song of Moses” in Revelation refers to the earlier incident, it neatly ties together all 260 instances mentioned. Both Judaism (Ps. 104:33) and Christianity (I Cor. 14:15) are without question singing religions! And the most wonderful theme for our song is the great redemption wrought for us on the cross of Calvary (a redemption that can certainly be seen in type, in the crossing of the Red Sea). Not only will Christ and His saving work be the preeminent subject of our singing now, but on through the endless ages of eternity

CH-1) I will sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me.
How He left His home in glory
For the cross of Calvary.

Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
Gathered by the crystal sea.

Francis Rowley’s hymn clearly describes the sinner’s and the saint’s condition:

The sinner is: in CH-2, lost (Lk. 19:10), astray (I Pet. 2:25); in CH-3, spiritually bruised (Isa. 1:5-6), and without strength (Rom. 5:6), blind (Eph. 4:18) and full of fear (Heb. 2:15; 10:31).

The saint: has “days of darkness” and sorrow, but he rejoices in the comforting presence of the Saviour, and His daily guidance (CH-4). Further, He rests in the keeping power of the Lord, and in the confidence that he will safely reach his heavenly home (CH-5).

CH-5) He will keep me till the river
Rolls its waters at my feet;
Then He’ll bear me safely over,
Where the loved ones I shall meet.

1) Eighteen times the psalmist says, “I will sing” (cf. Ps. 92). Beyond what is mentioned above, what do believers have to sing about?

2) How does this compare with the songs of the godless world (i.e. what do they so often sing about)?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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