Posted by: rcottrill | July 23, 2012

Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve

Words: Philip Doddridge (b. June 26, 1702; d. Oct. 26, 1751)
Music: Christmas, by George Frederick Handel (b. Feb. 23, 1685; d. Apr. 14, 1759)

Wordwise Hymns (Philip Doddridge)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The hymn was published posthumously in 1755. Handel’s tune is arranged from a melody frequently used with the carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.

A few days after I post this blog, the Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin in England, and this is a hymn that makes use of the imagery of an athletic contest, applying it to the Christian life. The Apostle Paul did that too. The hymn was written by Pastor Philip Doddridge to be sung after his sermon on Philippians 3:12-14, where the Paul also has the ancient games in view. His sermon, and the hymn in its original printing, was entitled, “Pressing on in the Christian Race.” The text says:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

CH-1) Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
And press with vigour on;
A heavenly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown.

Running a race requires that the athlete be forward looking. Time enough afterwards to analyze any mistakes. Looking back to see where he stumbled momentarily, or see how the competition is doing, will simply slow him down, and make stumbling more likely. In the Christian race it’s the same. Yes, there are times to take inventory and review what is past, but that can’t be our focus. The goal is up ahead, not back at the starting line.

Looking at the hymn, we can see that Philip Doddridge alluded to other Scriptures as well as the passage above. From this we can get some idea of how he dealt with the subject in his sermon. CH-2 is based upon Hebrews 12:1-2.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

CH-2) A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way.

The “witnesses” in Hebrews are likely the Bible characters the writer speaks of in Chapter 11. Contrary to the hymn writer’s idea that the word “witness” is used in the sense of watching what takes place, they are likely meant to refer to saints who testify to us. As though in a courtroom setting, they rise up to bear testimony (by how they lived) to the value and importance of living by faith, trusting in the Lord day by day.

It is the Lord Himself who summons us to the race, and He is the One who will present the prize at the end, as CH-3 declares. And in a stanza not included in the Cyber Hymnal (at the time I’m writing this), the hymn looks forward to the glorious ending of the race in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blest Saviour, introduced by Thee,
Have I my race begun;
And, crowned with vict’ry at Thy feet,
I’ll lay my honours down.

1) What are some ways in which our life and service for Christ resembles an athletic contest?

2) What are some differences?

Wordwise Hymns (Philip Doddridge)
The Cyber Hymnal


%d bloggers like this: