Posted by: rcottrill | June 9, 2014

O Day of Rest and Gladness

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Christopher Wordsworth (b. Oct. 30, 1807; d. Mar. 20, 1885)
Music: Mendebras, a German melody arranged for this hymn by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Christopher Wordsworth was the nephew of the well-known poet William Wordsworth. Having written it in 1862, the author simply called the hymn “Sunday.” Most hymnals now use CH-1, 2, 5 and 6, of the original six stanzas.

One Sunday morning there was a visitor to the home of Bishop Wordsworth, a man who was to lead the service in church that day. Wordsworth put his arm around him and said, “Come upstairs with me. The ladies are going to sing a hymn to encourage you in your labour for the day.” So they went, and heard this hymn, copied on slips of paper. It wasn’t until several days later that the visitor found out that Christopher Wordsworth himself had written the song.

This hymn suffers mildly from a common malady in our hymnody, the virtual equating of the Saturday Jewish Sabbath with the Sunday Christian Lord’s Day. There is not a verse of Scripture to support such a view. Nor is Sunday ever declared to be a day of rest for Christians, as the Sabbath was for Israel (Exod. 20:8-11). The two days are quite distinct in their meaning and purpose. For a fuller discussion of this point, see my article Sunday Sabbath.

I’ve said this is a milder example of the error because it is only in the first and final stanzas that Wordsworth refers to Sunday being a “day of rest.” On the other hand, his second stanza beautifully captures a threefold significance of the Lord’s Day.

CH-1) O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness, most beautiful, most bright:
On Thee, the high and lowly, through ages joined in tune,
Sing “Holy, holy, holy,” to the great God Triune.

CH-2) On Thee, at the creation, the light first had its birth;
On Thee, for our salvation, Christ rose from depths of earth;
On Thee, our Lord, victorious, the Spirit sent from heaven,
And thus on Thee, most glorious, a triple light was given.

Notice the three things mentioned that give particular import to the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week.

¤ “The light first had its birth.” On the first day of the creation week, “God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3-5). (It’s worth noting that this was a day of work for the Lord, not a day of rest, as the seventh day was, Gen. 2:2.) How fitting that the Lord Jesus Christ should take this symbol of life, purity and truth to Himself, saying, “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12).

¤ “Christ rose from depths of earth.” It was “the first day of the week” that was resurrection day. “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb” (Matt. 28:1), and found it empty. In response to their bewilderment, an angel announced, “He is not here, for He is risen as He said” (vs. 6). Notably too, the day of His resurrection was for Christ not a day of rest, but of ceaseless activity.

¤ “On Thee, our Lord, victorious, the Spirit sent from heaven.” It was at Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, which was another Sunday, that the Spirit of God began His Church Age ministry, and the church was born (Acts 2:1-6). For the early church as well, that first Sunday was a day of action, not of rest.

In these historic roots the Lord’s Day finds its significance. While the Jewish Sabbath looked back to creation, and was to be a day of rest for Israel, the Christian Lord’s Day celebrates the resurrection of Christ and the birth of the church. It was given that significance not by divine (biblical) law, but apparently by a consensus of the early Christians, who chose it as an appropriate day to assemble for worshiping the Lord Jesus, through whom we have the light of life.

In stanzas 3 to 5, Christopher Wordsworth uses various poetic images to describe what the day is like: a port in the storm, a garden of paradise, a cooling fountain, a mountaintop from which to view our heavenly home, and a time to receive heavenly manna. He concludes CH-4 by calling it:

A day of sweet reflection, thou art a day of love,
A day of resurrection from earth to things above.

Having said these things about the distinctions of the Lord’s Day, let me contradict myself, slightly. It is, or can be a “day of rest” in the sense that we take a break from the usual routine and make it a day of Christian ministry and fellowship. But how we spend the day is by choice and personal conviction, not by some law of God. Further, we recognize that in our modern world some will be limited by employment duties in their use of the Lord’s Day. They must find their times to get together with God’s people elsewhere.

1) How do you spend the Lord’s Day?

2) What blessings to you find in it for you and others?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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