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Words: Sabine Baring-Gould (b. Jan. 28, 1834; d. Jan. 2, 1924)
Music: Merrial, by Joseph Barnby (b. Aug. 12, 1838; d. Jan. 28, 1896)
Note: This lovely 1867 hymn originally had eight stanzas, though most hymnals omit some of these. The Wordwise Hymns link provides biographical information on Sabine Baring-Gould, and on Joseph Barnby as well. (January 28th, the date of Baring-Gould’s birth and Barnby’s death, is a link between them). I’ve come to appreciatethe latter as a fine tune-smith.
CH-1) Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.
CH-3) Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With Thy tenderest blessing
May mine eyelids close.
We have a number of terms for the astronomical phenomenon called sunset. (Even though we learned in school that the sun doesn’t actually do that. It’s the earth turning beneath it that brings on sundown, or nightfall.) But scientific explanations aside, most of us enjoy the glorious colours that can suffuse the sky at that time.
Our sunsets can be ravishingly beautiful, especially here in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where so much of the sky is often visible. But day’s end sometimes can have a negative connotation too. We may look back with regret on a day of failure and loss. Or we may dread the coming night, if we know we’ll be tossing restlessly on a bed of pain, or crowding anxieties.
These mixed feelings can also accompany the twilight of life, as seniors face the sometimes forbidding prospects of more intrusive physical ills, and a shrinking independence. Gloaming, to use a Scottish word, is not necessarily glorious! (More of that in a moment.)
It will be seen that most of this hymn is actually a prayer. And, as well as praying for our own needs, we ought to bring others before the throne of God in prayer, as the hymn does. It is our privilege to bring our burdens, and those of others, to the Lord. He promises that when we do we’ll find “mercy, and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
CH-4) Grant to little children
Visions bright of Thee;
Guard the sailors tossing
On the deep, blue sea.
CH-5) Comfort those who suffer,
Watching late in pain;
Those who plan some evil
From their sin restrain.
Baring-Gould also makes an application of the sunset to the end of life, leading to the dawning of eternal day.
CH-7) When the morning wakens,
Then may I arise
Pure, and fresh, and sinless
In Thy holy eyes.
Consider this use of the imagery for a moment. How can fallen sinners hope to stand before a holy God without sins charged against them? The answer to that is the gospel of grace. “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3; cf. Jn. 3:16; Eph. 1:7). At the time of His first coming, the Lord Jesus was described as “the Dayspring [Dawn] from on high” (Lk. 1:78). When a person turns to Him in faith, a new spiritual light dawns in His life (cf. II Pet. 1:19). These things being so, when we put our faith in Christ, the light of His love not only shines in us, but through us (Phil. 2:15-16; Eph. 5:8).
To put it another way, what is it that can help us face the sunset of life, and the dawning of eternity, with peace and contentment, and assured hope? The Christian answers: it is a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul summed it up succinctly in his own testimony: “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
1) What are the most helpful things about the ending of day?
2) What are the most difficult things (for many) about the ending of day, and the coming of night?