Posted by: rcottrill | June 14, 2013

Happy the Home

Words: Henry Ware, Jr. (b. Apr. 21, 1794; d. Sept. 25, 1843)
Music: St. Agnes, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Links:

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn exalting the godly Christian family was published in 1846. Its message is still relevant. In fact, we need strong families even more today, over a century and a half later. Two words in the hymn need a bit of explanation and comment.

The second line of CH-3 says that in the godly home “praise is wont to rise.” To say it’s their “wont” is to say it’s their habit or custom. I notice the Cyber Hymnal changes the line to: “And praise each day does rise,” Fine, but I don’t think a change is really necessary. “Wont” is a common enough word in poetry, and easy to learn.

More significantly, what is a happy home? Ask someone if he’s happy, and he’ll likely consider the mood he’s in, and the degree to which the circumstances of the moment are pleasant and enjoyable. Maybe most would think of the common ditty with its fourfold “Happy birthday to you,” often sung raucously, and off key, amid laughter and jokes about whether the person shows his age or not.

But is that what Henry Ware had in mind, a house full of laughter and fun? The giddier and goofier the better? No, not primarily. He’s using the word in the sense of favoured, or blessed–which is an acceptable connotation. But happy is not a word I would choose, because it’s easy to misunderstand, and because of its root meaning. It comes from “hap” which means by chance (think of the word haphazard), which is not what the author intends, either.

That the word “happy” can be misunderstood was noted by the committee that worked on a revision of the hymnal for the United Methodist Church, leading them, for a time, to exclude this song from the book. They wondered:

“Does it teach that unhappiness in a home (i.e. physical or mental impairment and illness, death, estrangement, violence) necessarily demonstrates a family’s lack of Christian commitment and God’s absence? (Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, p. 386)

This is a rather strange comment. Yes, the word happy can be misunderstood, as I’ve noted. Perhaps, therefore, for this hymn–which is in the public domain–the phrase could be altered to, “How blessed the home…” in line one of CH-1, 2 and 3.

But, regarding the committee’s comment, we must also make a clear distinction between illness and disability, on the one hand, and estrangement and violence on the other. The former can draw family members together in loving concern and mutual support. Such a home can be blessed with an even stronger sense of the presence and enabling grace of God.

The latter, describing division and conflict, is symptomatic of a lack of Christlike love on the part of one or more. Certainly, it’s possible, in the latter case, for individuals in the home who are walking in the Spirit, to sense the nearness of the Lord. But the home will not be characterized overall by His realized presence.

This concern is relevant to Mr. Ware’s thinking. Notice the emphasis in the hymn on Christian unity.

CH-1) Happy the home when God is there,
And love fills every breast;
When one their wish, and one their prayer,
And one their heav’nly rest.

This is continued in CH-2, where “Jesus’ name is sweet to ev’ry ear,” and in the prayer for unity in CH-4. We are to endeavour “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). It takes continuing effort, but it’s worth it. We are to love one another as Christ has loved us (Jn. 13:34). In truth, much that is said to the local church can also be applied to the Christian home. We should be:

“Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col. 3:13-15).

Parents are to set the example, in their love for Christ (CH-2), and in basing their conduct and decisions on God’s Word (CH-3). An important part of their responsibility as parents is to train their children to honour and obey the Lord (Josh. 24:15; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4) and, early on, to love and trust in the Saviour. Praying and praising God as a family will draw them all together in a special way.

Friends of ours have developed a large binder full of pictures of family and friends, as well as Christian workers around the world (hundreds of pictures). As part of family devotions each day they turn to a new page and pray for the individuals pictured there. That is the kind of thing Henry Ware had in mind!

CH-3) Happy the home where prayer is heard,
And praise is wont to rise;
Where parents love the sacred Word
And all its wisdom prize.

Questions:
1) What can you do to encourage and strengthen Christian families–your own, or those of others?

2) What effect would having a number of such families in your church have on its live and ministry?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. This is a precious hymn that we love to sing in family worship, as well as with the saints at church. I wonder if this kind of happiness can be obtained unless a family does worship together as the song eludes to (“where prayer is heard and praise is wont to rise”)? When “home” is a flophouse for individuals rather than a place of nurturing and mutual ministering, the happiness that Ware spoke of cannot exist. How blest it is to have a truly happy home in Christ!

    • Thanks for your excellent observations. I agree. This morning, at our Father’s Day Service, we had a baby dedication. (Very appropriate.) And I preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son, concentrating particularly on the love of the father. We had a great time, and we sang Happy the Home together. I too was impressed, as we sang the words, at what a wonderful picture of a Christian home the author give us. God bless.


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