Posted by: rcottrill | August 19, 2013

A Thousand Years Have Come and Gone

Words: Thomas Toke Lynch (b. July 5, 1818; d. May 9, 1871)
Music: Noel, a traditional tune arranged by Arthur Seymour Sullivan (b. May 13, 1842; d. Nov. 22, 1900)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Because the hymn was published in 1868, the opening line is correct for the time. It wasn’t quite two thousand years since the birth of Christ. However, twenty-first century congregations can update the line by rendering it: “A thousand years have come and gone, and still a thousand more.”

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s tune is also used sometimes with the carol It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, and it can be used with Edmund Sears other Christmas hymn, Calm on the Listening Ear of Night.

Eminent hymn historian, John Julian, in his Dictionary of Hymnology, calls Pastor Lynch’s hymns “a valuable contribution to cultured sacred song,” and says this about his poetical style:

“Lynch’s hymns are marked by intense individuality, gracefulness and felicity of diction, picturesqueness, spiritual freshness, and the sadness of a powerful soul struggling with a weak and emaciated body” (p. 706).

There is certainly a quaint charm in many phrases found in this hymn. For example, the author gives us: “happier light from heaven…a joy most joyful stirred” (CH-1); “angels on their starry way…meek mercy’s rising light” (CH-2); and “on wintry earth a summer change began” (CH-3);

Thomas Lynch’s influence reached far beyond his own small congregation, not only because of his hymns and other writings, but because of his preaching. Many visited his church to sit under his ministry and witnessed to the freshness and spiritual power of his sermons. However, as Julian notes, he was troubled by ill health. From 1856 to 1859 he had to withdraw from ministry because of this, but resumed his pastoral duties in 1860 and continued this until his death in 1871 at the age of fifty-three.

The hymn draws our attention to the two millennia that have passed since the coming of Christ. (This is mentioned again in CH-4). We can roughly mark the two thousand years before His coming with two key evens: the birth of Abraham around 2000 BC, and the birth of David around 1000 BC–both of whom are prominent in the earthly ancestry of the Saviour (Matt. 1:1).

The birth of Christ thus becomes a great dividing line in the midst of these four millennia. And Thomas Lynch notes the transforming power of the incarnation, and makes it both a focus both of joyful praise and hopeful promise.

CH-1) A thousand years have come and gone, and near a thousand more,
Since happier light from heaven shone than ever shone before:
And in the hearts of old and young a joy most joyful stirred.
That sent such news from tongue to tongue as ears had never heard.

CH-2) Then angels on their starry way felt bliss unfelt before,
For news that men should be as they to darkened earth they bore;
So toiling men and spirits bright a first communion had,
And in meek mercy’s rising light were each exceeding glad.

By “news that men should be as they” Lynch is not suggesting that we’ll all turn into angels. Angels are spirit beings, while humans are a unique combination of the material and the spiritual. The author may be speaking of our incorruptible resurrection bodies, of the day when we’ll be like Christ, and perfected in holiness (I Cor. 15:42-44; I Jn. 3:2; Rev. 22:11).

CH-3) And we are glad, and we will sing, as in the days of yore;
Come all, and hearts made ready bring, to welcome back once more
The day when first on wintry earth a summer change began,
And, dawning in a lowly birth uprose the Light of man.

With the birth of Christ “the Light of the world” appeared (Jn. 8:12), and with His ascension back into heaven we have One, seated at the Father’s right hand, who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, since He shared in our experiences, though without sin (Heb. 4:15). What a great witness will be borne, not only through the years of time, but for all eternity, praising God for deliverance from sin (Rev. 5:9-10; 13).

CH-4) For trouble such as men must bear from childhood to fourscore,
He shared with us, that we might share His joy forevermore;
And twice a thousand years of grief of conflict, and of sin,
May tell how large the harvest sheaf His patient love shall win.

This stanza calls to mind CH-3 in Edmund Sears’ carol It Came Upon the Midnight Clear:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The lovesong which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

It’s unfortunate that many are unfamiliar with Pastor Lynch’s hymn. It appears in very few non-denominational hymn books. A Thousand Years Have Come and Gone is a different kind of Christmas carol. It looks at the big picture, and the reason for Christ’s coming, rather than simply focusing on those long ago events.

1) What other carols best help us to see God’s purpose in the birth of Christ?

2) How would this kind of emphasis help to make our praise at Christmas more meaningful?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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