Posted by: rcottrill | November 3, 2014

From Every Stormy Wind

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Words: Hugh Stowell (b. Dec. 3, 1799; d. Oct. 8, 1865)
Music: Retreat, by Thomas Hastings (b. Oct. 15, 1784; d. May 15, 1872)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Hastings’ tune, Retreat, was written for this hymn in 1842. It fits the text and the mood of the hymn very well.

T he “mercy seat” was that holy place in the tabernacle (and later, the temple) where God revealed His presence in Israel. It is where the high priest went, on the Day of Atonement, to apply the shed blood of the sacrifice. In order to recall the significance of this, I encourage you to go to the Wordwise Hymns link, where I’ve spent some time on it.

Sufficient to say, here, that Hugh Stowell is using the mercy seat to represent the place of prayer, for the Christian. For us, it is more exactly what the Bible calls “the throne of grace” in heaven (Heb. 4:16), the place where we make our appeal to God, on the basis of the shed blood of Christ, our Saviour, and our heavenly great High Priest.

CH-1) From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
’Tis found beneath the mercy seat.

In CH-2 Stowell refers to “the oil of gladness.” This is mentioned in a Royal Psalm, Psalm 45, regarding the crowning of a king–which is easily given a prophetic application to Israel’s future Messiah-King, the Lord Jesus Christ. When a new king took the throne, he was anointed with holy oil, and the occasion was one of great joy and celebration (cf. I Kgs. 1:39-40). The application to Christ is confirmed in the book of Hebrews.

“To the Son He [God the Father] says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions” (Heb. 1:8-9).

The companions of the Lord Jesus in this case may be His Jewish brethren, spoken of in the next chapter (Heb. 2:10-11). As to this oil being “shed…on our heads,” perhaps the author is indicating the ready welcome we receive as those who belong to the royal family. We are “a royal priesthood” before God (I Pet. 2:9).

CH-2) There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads;
A place than all besides more sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy seat.

CH-3) There is a scene where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend;
Though sundered far, by faith they meet
Around one common mercy seat.

CH-4) Ah, whither could we flee for aid,
When tempted, desolate, dismayed,
Or how the hosts of hell defeat,
Had suffering saints no mercy-seat?

The second line of CH-5 below seems to have troubled editors since it was written in 1828. gives us dozens of hymn books, dating back to 1829. The original line was “And sin and sense seem all no more.” It’s difficult to imagine that sin seems to cease to exist when we go to God in prayer, since one of the reasons we go to Him is to confess our sins!

A number of early books (1847, 1855) try this: “And sense and sin becloud no more.” (Notice the reversal of sin and sense. I like that, I think it works better poetically.) The point then would be that, in intimate fellowship with the Lord, the things that would intrude through our physical senses (touch and taste, and so on) recede into the background and, because of God’s forgiveness, sin doesn’t hinder our fellowship either, once it is confessed (I Jn. 1:9).

Other books have “And sense and sin molest no more”–though “molest” is perhaps a little strong for what our senses do. The Cyber Hymnal settles on “And time and sense seem all no more.” (This version seems to have appeared around 1888.) That is, the physical world, and the passing of time go unnoticed in times of earnest prayer.

I mention these variations to show how hymn writers and editors are conscious of the words, and want to get things right–in tune with the truths of the Word of God. We should be just as careful when we sing, to be sure what we sing is right, and that we are expressing what is in our hearts. Let’s keep in mind that the Lord Himself is present when we gather for worship.

CH-5) There, there, on eagles’ wings we soar,
And time and sense seem all no more;
And heaven comes down, our souls to greet,
And glory crowns the mercy seat.

1) Is this a hymn you could explain and use in your church?

2) What other great hymns of prayer do you treasure?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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