Posted by: rcottrill | July 27, 2012

Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid?

Words: John Mason Neale (b. Jan. 24, 1818; d. Aug. 6, 1886)
Music: Stephanos, by Henry William Baker (b. May 27, 1821; d. Feb. 12, 1877)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This excellent seven stanza hymn of Mr. Neale’s was inspired by a Greek text of Stephen the Sabaite [SA-bay-ite] (A.D. 725-794), also known as Stephen of Mar Saba (a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley, east of Bethlehem). He was placed in the monastery at the age of ten, and remained there until his death.

Neale was struck by Stephen’s phrase: “rest in Jesus,” and decided to expand upon it. The result is this beautiful song. (On the Cyber Hymnal page there is a touching story of how the message of the hymn, sung by “an angel in clogs,” cheered a sick and discouraged woman.) “Languid” means weak and lacking vitality. In some hymnals, editors have changed the opening line to “Are you weary, heavy laden.” The last line of the hymn has also been altered from the original: “Angels, martyrs, prophets, virgins” (see below).

Henry Baker’s tune uses the Greek form of Stephen for its name. In the New Testament, the Greek word stephanos refers to the garland placed on the head of a winner in the ancient Olympic Games (much as medals are awarded today). Usually translated “crowns,” these will also be given to believers by the Lord Jesus Christ, in recognition and reward for their victories in the Christian life. For example, Paul says, near the end of his life:

“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown [stephanos] of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Tim. 4:8; cf. I Cor. 9:25; Jas. 1:12; I Pet. 5:4; Rev. 2:10).

There seem to be three categories of these heavenly rewards: the saint’s crowns, the servant’s crowns, and the sufferer’s crowns. For a more complete discussion of this subject, see the Bible study The Church in Glory. In the book of Revelation, “elders” (rewarded saints) are seated before the throne of God, wearing their crowns. As an act of worship, and in recognition that all the glory belongs to God alone for whatever they accomplished, they will cast their crowns at His feet (Rev. 4:4, 10).

Even this connection to the hymn’s theme of our Christian pilgrimage is appropriate. We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). In fact, the hymn may call to mind John Bunyan’s classic allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. John Neale’s question-and-answer structure offers a kind of dialogue between a pilgrim (P) who is uncertain of the path ahead, and a guide (G) who points the way.

The guide begins by asking the pilgrim, “Art thou weary, art thou languid, art thou sore distressed? ‘Come to Me,’ saith One [meaning the Lord Jesus, Matt. 11:28], “and coming, be at rest.” Then, the conversation continues:

[P] “Hath He marks to lead me to Him, if He be my Guide?
[G] In His feet and hands are wound-prints, and His side.

[P] If I find Him, if I follow, what His guerdon [reward] here?
[G] Many a sorrow, many a labour, many a tear.

[P] Hath He diadem, as monarch, that His brow adorns?
[G] Yes, a crown in very surety, but of thorns.

[P] If I still hold closely to Him, what hath He at last?
[G] Sorrow vanquished, labour ended, Jordan passed.

[P] If I ask Him to receive me, will He say me nay?
[G] Not till earth and not till heaven pass away.

[P] Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is He sure to bless?
[G] Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs, answer, “Yes!”

1) What is the most challenging or difficult thing about being a Christian pilgrim?

2) What is the greatest blessing or aid given to the Christian pilgrim?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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