Posted by: rcottrill | February 16, 2015

When I Can Read My Title Clear

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Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Pisgah, a religious folk tune of the early nineteenth century

Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Mount Pisgah, for which the tune is named, is a mountain on the east of the Jordan River, from which Moses was allowed to view the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1). The Cyber Hymnal says the tune is of Scottish origin, but it first appeared in 1816, in Kentucky Harmony, credited to Joseph Lowry–though he may simply have been the arranger.

Isaac Watts called the hymn “The Hope of Heaven Our Support Under Trials on Earth.” That reassures us that the opening line is not intended to cast doubt on the destiny of the child of God. It’s not as though Watts were saying that he hasn’t been able to “read his title clear” as yet. Rather, it’s, in effect, “Because I’m able to read my title clear in God’s Word, day by day…” The meaning of this beautiful hymn is further illuminated by a note in Nutter and Tillet’s book, The Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church: An Annotated Edition of the Methodist Hymnal (p. 231)–a note you can find on the Cyber Hymnal link.

Throughout time God has used sacred music to convey truth and provide a means of worship and witness. Countless times our hymns have brought comfort in trials. “God…gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10). So it was for missionaries Paul and Silas.

“When they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:23-25).

An incident in the American Civil War shows again the power of a hymn to inspire faith and lift the spirit.

In the Battle of Shiloh, a Christian captain was shot through both thighs and lay dying on the battlefield, sodden by the falling rain. A little pool of muddy water formed nearby, and he tried desperately to reach it, to quench his burning thirst, but he was unable to. He said, “I never felt such disappointment before–so needy, so near, and yet so helpless.”

As time wore on, the clouds cleared and the stars shone brilliantly overhead. The wounded man says, “I began to think of the great God who had given His Son to die a death of agony for me, and that He was up there, above the scene of suffering, and above those glorious stars. I felt that I was going home to meet Him, and praise Him there.”

This meditation stirred his heart to try and sing, through parched lips, the present song:

CH-1) When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes, and wipe my weeping eyes
I bid farewell to every fear, and wipe my weeping eyes.

There was another soldier in the bush nearby who took up the strain, and beyond him another, and another, all over the battlefield. They made that place of suffering ring with hymns of praise to the Lord.

Isaac Watts’ original text (CH-2) spoke of Satan’s “hellish darts.” This has been changed in most hymn books to “fiery darts,” in keeping with Ephesians 6:16. In either case, the armour of God can protect us from the devil’s malice. To see a detailed study of the Christian’s armour as described in Ephesians, click on Christian Armour.

CH-2) Should earth against my soul engage, and hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, and face a frowning world.
And face a frowning world, and face a frowning world,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, and face a frowning world.

The third stanza seems to apply graphically to the soldiers at Shiloh in their pain and desperate need. And what a metaphor for heavenly blessing in CH-4, “There shall I bathe my weary soul in seas of heav’nly rest”!

CH-3) Let cares, like a wild deluge come, and storms of sorrow fall!
May I but safely reach my home, my God, my heav’n, my All.
My God, my heaven, my All, my God, my heave’, my All,
May I but safely reach my home, my God, my heaven, my All.

CH-4) There shall I bathe my weary soul in seas of heav’nly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll, across my peaceful breast.
Across my peaceful breast, across my peaceful breast,
And not a wave of trouble roll, across my peaceful breast.

1) What hymns have been a special comfort and encouragement to you, in times of pain and distress?

2) Is there someone in need today with whom you could share this blessing?

Wordwise Hymns (Isaac Watts)
The Cyber Hymnal

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