Posted by: rcottrill | June 13, 2014

Earth Has Many a Noble City

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Words: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (b. AD 348; d. circa AD 413); English translation, Edward Caswall (b. July 15, 1814; d. Jan. 2, 1878)
Music: Stuttgart, by Christian Friedrich Witt (b. circa 1660; d. Apr. 13, 1716)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Edward Caswall)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Prudentius was born in what would later be known as Spain. He served as a provincial governor there. Then he was summoned by the emperor, Theodocius I, to fill a post as a lawyer and a judge in Rome itself. Meanwhile, at some point Aurelius Prudentius became a Christian. At first, he hoped that the Roman Empire would be an instrument in God’s hands to spread the gospel. After all, the Roman emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity a few years before. And Rome had many fine churches.

But Prudentius became disillusioned with the city’s excesses, and with his own worldliness. He wrote:

“May yet my sinful soul put off her foolishness; and if by deeds it cannot, yet, at least, by words give praise to God.”

The mighty city of Rome no longer held the fascination for him it once did. Prudentius retired from government work at the age of fifty-seven, becoming an ascetic. He spent his remaining days fasting, praying, and writing. He produced several books, and about 385 religious poems. At least two of these became fine hymns that are still in use. One is Of the Father’s Love Begotten.

The other is this Christmas hymn in which Prudentius seems to reflect on his earlier impressions of the city of Rome. The point of the hymn is to demonstrate something that the Word of God makes clear–that the little town of Bethlehem has a claim to greater significance than the “noble cities” of the world.

There are many great cities. In Canada we have Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. The United States has large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Worldwide, more than 300 cities have a population exceeding one million. Mexico City, including its surrounding municipalities, currently has over 20 million inhabitants. But numbers aren’t everything. Many cities are renowned for what takes place there, even if they are smaller. For example, Washington DC ranks 629th in size among the world’s metropolises, but it is the seat of a powerful government.

So what about Bethlehem? It is a very ancient community. We read about it back in Genesis (Gen. 35:19). And it became famous as the birthplace of King David (II Sam. 17:12). Even so, it was small and insignificant compared to the city of Jerusalem nearby.

Then, several centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Micah wrote, “You, Bethlehem, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler I Israel, whose goings forth hare from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). This One was none other than the Lord Jesus, who was later born in “the city of David which is called Bethlehem” (Lk. 2:1-7).

It’s possible to make a more personal application of the “little is much” principle. There are many godly Christian people who are faithfully serving the Lord in ways that bring no accolades, medals or parades. But God sees what they do, and one day they will be rewarded in a way far greater and grander than garnering the fleeting praise of men. It’s God’s assessment that counts, in the end.

CH-1) Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Lord from heaven
Came to rule His Israel.

CH-2) Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

CH-3) Eastern sages at His cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

CH-4) Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose,
Gold the King of kings proclaimeth,
Myrrh His sepulchre foreshows.

Questions:
1) What other Bible cities and towns have a special significance to the people of God?

2) What is the key to living in the world, but not becoming of the world (i.e. absorbing its values and lifestyle)?

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