Posted by: rcottrill | May 8, 2013

Our Blest Redeemer, Ere He Breathed

Words: Harriet Auber (b. Oct. 4, 1773; d. Jan. 20, 1862)
Music: St Cuthbert, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Miss Auber’s actual first name was Henriette, but she was called Harriet, through her life. The English poetess wrote many hymns. This one was created in 1829. The original hymn had seven stanzas, of which I’ve seen all but CH-2 and 3 used. These two, usually omitted, speak of the ministry of the Spirit of God at Jesus’ baptism, and later at Pentecost.

First, just a word about CH-3. At Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came to begin His new Church Age ministry, His presence was manifested or accompanied by the sound of a “rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2), picturing the animating, empowering presence, and the spiritual life He brings, as the very breath of God (Jn. 6:62; Gal. 5:25).

We read also that tongues of fire sat upon each of those present (vs. 3). In the Old Testament, the glory light of God shone forth from the central tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-35), and later the temple in Jerusalem (I Kgs. 8:10-11; Ps. 80:1). It was a sign of His presence. But now, in the church, the presence of God isn’t localized in that way. Instead, He comes upon and permanently indwells each believer, personally and individually (Jn. 14:17; Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 6:19; II Cor. 1:21-22).

CH-3) He came in tongues of living flame
To teach, convince, subdue,
All pow’rful as the wind He came
As viewless too.

Hymns become famous for many reasons. But this one has a unusual claim to fame regarding how and where it was written. It was Whitsunday in the Anglican Church, the seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the birth of the church at Pentecost. And coming home from the church service, Harriet Auber sat by her bedroom window, meditating on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, then and now.

What happened next has been questioned by some as merely a tall tale, but there seem to have been many witnesses to the fact later on. Inspired to write the present hymn, the author slipped a diamond ring off her finger and scratched the words on the window pane! It’s said that thousands came to see that window, over the years that followed.

Seventeen years after Harriet Auber’s death, Reverend Dawson Campbell occupied the house where she’d lived. He reported that the hymn was still there, on the window, in his time. He asked the landlord for permission to remove the pane so it could be preserved, but the request was refused. (Perhaps because it was a tourist attraction, and brought business to the town.) Later someone replaced it with another piece of glass, and the original has been lost.

This form of “manuscript” is unusual, but it’s not unique. Scottish poet Robert Burns borrowed a diamond ring from a friend, and wrote some verses of a song on the window of a house where he stayed overnight. That pane of glass was later preserved in the house at Dumfries, Scotland, where he died in 1796.

To return to the present hymn, though it was later copied into a notebook, there seems to be something appropriate to a song in praise of the Holy Spirit being written where it was at first.

¤ A clean window perhaps speaks of purity, and it becomes a fitting symbol for the Holy Spirit. (The third Person of the Trinity is called that nearly a hundred times in Scripture–cf. Matt. 28:19.)

¤ And a clean window can be virtually invisible, which the Spirit of God is, unless He chooses to reveal Himself in some visible way (as He did at Jesus’ baptism, Matt. 3:16). The Lord Jesus compares Him to the wind (Jn. 3:8). We do not see the wind, though we can see what it does.

¤ Finally, a window reveals what would otherwise be unseen. Set in a solid wall, the window enables us to see what is beyond. And in His discourse in the Upper Room, Christ emphasizes the teaching ministry of the Spirit, whom He calls our Comforter or Helper (Jn. 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15; cf. I Cor. 2:9-10).

CH-1) Our blest Redeemer, ere He breathed
His tender last farewell,
A Guide, a Comforter, bequeathed
With us to dwell.

CH-4) He came sweet influence to impart,
A gracious, willing Guest,
While He can find one humble heart
Wherein to rest.

CH-7) Spirit of purity and grace,
Our weakness, pitying, see:
O make our hearts Thy dwelling place
And worthier Thee.

1) What ministries of the Holy Spirit are especially meaningful to you?

2) What other hymns about the Spirit do you especially appreciate?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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