Posted by: rcottrill | September 13, 2013

Jerusalem the Golden

Words: Bernard of Cluny (also known as Bernard of Morlaix) 12th century
Music: Ewing, by Alexander Ewing (b. Jan. 3, 1830; d. July 11, 1895)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Alexander Ewing)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Little is known of Bernard (who is often confused with Bernard of Clairvaux). It is said that he was born of English parents in Morlaix, Brittany, in France. The precise years of his birth and death are unknown. If I had to make a guess, I’d say approximately 1095-1155. He entered the monastery at Cluny some time after 1122, and apparently remained there until his death.

Graphic Cluny MonasteryIn that era, Cluny’s monastery was the most powerful of them all, in some ways rivalling even Rome itself in its influence. It had the largest and most magnificent church in all of France. (The church is on the left, in this drawing made from a study of the ruins.) However, it did not escape the contamination of the world, forcing the highly regarded abbot of Bernard’s time, Peter the Venerable, to institute reforms.

The long Latin poem from which the hymn comes was written around 1145. Called De Contemptu Mundi (On the Contemptibleness of the World) it condemned the evils of the age, both in society and the Church of Rome, and contrasts the corrupt and fading glory of this world with the eternal glory of the heavenly kingdom, “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2), concerning which “gold” is mentioned a number of times in Revelation (e.g. Rev. 21:21).

Bernard’s poem was 2,966 lines long, and written in a difficult dactyllic hexameter, with a complicated rhyming scheme. John Mason Neale (1818-1886) translated part of the poem in 1851. The Cyber Hymnal includes a longer section of Neale’s work, but only the first four stanzas are customarily used for this hymn. Because the original was so complex as to be untranslatable into English, Dr. Neale’s work became more of a paraphrase.

Though Ewing is the tune commonly used with this hymn, Samuel Wesley’s Aurelia (used with The Church’s One Foundation) was also written for use with Bernard’s hymn, and fits it well.

The subject of the hymn is heaven. But Bernar’s imagery is sometimes borrowed from the Old Testament, and descriptions of the land of Israel. That can be seen in the opening line. It is Canaan that’s described a number of times as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (e.g. Exod. 3:8). The phrase was intended to encourage the Israelites with the abundance to be enjoyed in the Promised Land. Whether there will be milk and honey in heaven, we do not know, but it will be abundant in every way.

CH-3 places “the throne of David” in the heavenly city, but David’s throne is associated with earthly Zion (Jerusalem), not heaven (cf. I Kgs. 2:11; Jer. 13:13; 17:25). Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, on the Father’s throne (Rom. 8:24; Heb. 1:3; 12:2). He has not yet come into His earthly messianic throne, to reign as the descendant of David (Rev. 3:12). That will happen at His second coming (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33).

However, with these exceptions, the hymn expresses a longing for heaven, identifying some of the glories to be experienced by the saints that are described particularly in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. There is a “radiancy of glory” (Rev. 21:23), and “bliss beyond compare” (CH-1) awaiting us. The atmosphere will be “jubilant with song,” “the Prince” (Christ) is there (Isa. 9:7), and those martyred for their faith in the Tribulation (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:13-14), as well as the holy angels, (CH-2; Rev. 5:11-12).

“Clad in robes of white,” we shall certainly be “from care released” (Rev. 21:4), and there will be feasting at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (CH-3; Rev. 19:7-9). CH-4 is an appeal to the Lord to bring us one day to this beautiful heavenly land, “the home of God’s elect” (Eph. 1:5; 2:7; I Pet. 1:2) prepared for those who are redeemed (Jn. 14:2-3; Col. 3:4).

CH-1) Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, O I know not, what joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare.

CH-2) They stand, those halls of Zion, all jubilant with song,
And bright with many an angel, and all the martyr throng;
The Prince is ever in them, the daylight is serene.
The pastures of the blessèd are decked in glorious sheen.

CH-3) There is the throne of David, and there, from care released,
The shout of them that triumph, the song of them that feast;
And they, who with their Leader, have conquered in the fight,
Forever and forever are clad in robes of white.

CH-4) O sweet and blessèd country, the home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessèd country, that eager hearts expect!
Jesus, in mercy bring us to that dear land of rest,
Who art, with God the Father, and Spirit, ever blessed.

Questions:
1) What impresses you particularly about Bernard’s passionate description of heaven?

2) What other hymns do you know and use that show the same passionate longing for home?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Alexander Ewing)
The Cyber Hymnal


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