Posted by: rcottrill | January 2, 2013

When He Shall Come

Words: Almeda J. Pearce (b. _____, 1893; d. _____ 1966)
Music: Almeda J. Pearce

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)

Note: I didn’t include this hymn in the Almanac portion of the blog, since I have no information on the exact dates of either Mrs. Pearce’s birth or death. The Cyber Hymnal does not include it because of the song’s more recent date which means it’s still under copyright. But meditating on this striking 1934 hymn seemed a great way to start the new year.

Almeda Pearce’s husband Rowan was a Bible teacher who often spoke on prophetic subjects. But it was a personal experience that particularly drew Mrs. Pearce to the theme of this song. She suffered from haemophilia, a condition in which the blood has an insufficient clotting factor, resulting in excessive and dangerous bleeding problems.

There was some hope that transfusions of her husband’s blood would help, but his was the wrong type. In her discouragement Almeda felt the nearness of death, but the Lord gave her a sense of His presence, and peace returned. It was her renewed vision of the glories of the eternal kingdom, in contrast to “this veil of night” in which we live, that inspired her hymn. Finally, a blood donor was found that could help her, and she lived to the age of seventy-three.

Before I comment on the message of the song, I want to say a couple of things about the music. If you’ve ever listened to some celebrity sing The Star-Spangled Banner at a sporting event, you know the trouble they have reaching either the lowest notes or the highest ones, depending on what key the song is in. When He Shall Come presents a similar difficulty for congregational singing, as it covers approximately an octave-and-a-half range. Even so, it’s worth the attempt.

The harmony is lovely, but it’s the melody that I find most wonderful. It begins in the lower register, then climbs and climbs through the first two thirds of the song. It begins:

“When He [Christ] shall come, resplendent in His glory, / To take His own [the melody beginning to climb] from out this veil of night [higher, and higher yet again, on that last word, lifting us up to a kind of exaltation; then higher still with] O may I know the joy at His appearing– [and dropping to a serene and hopeful longing] Only at morn to walk with Him in white.” (You can hear this beautiful hymn sung here.)

It’s a skillfully designed setting for the text. The more so because the same soaring notes suit the second stanza also, where we sing of “white-robed pilgrims” and, on the triumphant higher notes, of “Earth’s martyred saints and blood-washed overcomers.” Then comes:

3) When He shall call, from earth’s remotest corners,
All who have stood triumphant in His might,
O to be worthy then to stand beside them,
And in that morn to walk with Him in white.

Now, having looked at the music, let’s consider the text of the song. The thoughts it expresses are taken from the book of Revelation. That the saints will be clothed in white robes in the heavenly kingdom is mentioned many times. For example, “I [John] looked, and behold a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes” (Rev. 7:9; cf. 3:5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:13-14; 19:14).

The white robes are a symbol of holiness and righteousness, both in character and conduct.

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife [the church] has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8).

The Amplified Bible renders vs. 8 as follows: “She has been permitted to dress in fine (radiant) linen, dazzling and white–for the fine linen is (signifies, represents) the righteousness (the upright, just, and godly living, deeds, and conduct, and right standing with God) of the saints (God’s holy people).”

Almeda Pearce mentions the saints’ worthiness of this honour, in her final stanza. The Greek word (axios) carries the sense of weight, something weighty and therefore of great value. Think of the life of Belshazzar, a ruler in Babylon, whom God declared was “weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Dan. 5:27). It’s a way of saying that his life didn’t measure up in the sight of God, and he was therefore worthy only of divine judgment.

As to our own worthiness before God, we need to consider two different aspects of that. There is certainly the Christian’s worthiness of rewards. Those who have lived for God, and served the people of God, or have sought to evangelize the lost, as well as those who have borne painful trails and remained faithful to Him, will all receive their just reward (cf. I Cor. 3:11, 14; Rev. 22:12).

But in the ultimate sense, we are only worthy to be a part of the eternal kingdom through what Christ has done for us. I think it’s in recognition of that that we see the white-robed elders around God’s throne casting their crowns (symbols of their rewarded achievements) before Him (Rev. 4:4, 10).

In Revelation, more than focusing on human worthiness, the emphasis is upon the worthiness of God the Father and of the Lamb (Christ). I believe the scroll in the hand of God (Rev. 5:1) represents the title deed to the earth. Who then, is worthy to take the scroll and claim that place of dominion? John weeps because no one on earth qualifies (Rev. 5:2-4). But then Christ is declared worthy to take the scroll (vs. 5-7), and this leads to great rejoicing in the heavenly kingdom (vs. 8-12).

Questions:
1) How does “worthiness” relate to our present conduct as Christians (Eph. 4:1; I Thess. 2:12)?

2) Would you ever use this song–either as a congregational hymn or special number?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (none)


Responses

  1. I love this song…o that I may be worthy to walk with Him in white


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