HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.
Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.
Words: William Bingham Tappan (b. Oct. 24, 1794; d. June 18, 1849)
Music: Olive’s Brow, by William Batchelder Bradbury (b. Oct. 6, 1816; d. Jan. 7, 1868)
Note: Tappan’s date of birth is sometimes listed as October 29th. He wrote this beautiful hymn when he was twenty-eight.
For us today, “midnight” refers to 12:00 a.m., the time when one day turns into another. But the ancients usually marked time by the course of the sun through the sky. They had no more accurate measure. Midnight for them was the approximate mid-point between sunset and sunrise.
In the Bible, the word “midnight,” and the phrase “middle of the night” are used about a dozen times. We can add to this the nearly three hundred times the word “night” is found, which may well include the middle of those hours of darkness.
There was a marked difference between the way God’s people viewed the night hours, and how those following the heathen religions did. For example, in the Egyptian Hymn to the Aton, the darkness is dreaded because Aton (the sun) had left the sky and gone home. But at creation God made both the Day and the Night (Gen. 1:3-5). Those who trust in the Lord need not fear the night, because, as David wrote of the Lord, “the darkness and the light are both alike to You” (Ps. 139:12).
We can face the night hours, trusting in Him. As many have found, He “gives songs in the night” (Job. 35:10). That happened to two Christian missionaries named Paul and Silas. They came to the city of Philippi, and preached the gospel there, with some response. But when they delivered a slave girl from demonic possession, her owners had them arrested. The girl had brought them money by telling fortunes, and they were angry at the loss of this income (Acts 16:16-20).
The missionaries were beaten and thrown in prison, where their feet were fastened securely in stocks (vs. 22-24). No doubt the dungeon was a dark and fearful place, and their pain was great. The morrow was uncertain, but they continued to trust in the Lord. We read of them:
“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (vs. 25).
In that instance, their painful experience was followed by a great deliverance (vs. 26-29). But that was not so in another case. In the dark night hours, the trying time of Jesus was only beginning. After celebrating the Jewish Passover with His disciples, the Lord went to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives to pray. In His holy humanity, Christ recoiled from what lay before Him, but decisively submitted Himself to do the Father’s will (Matt. 26:39). “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
William Tappan has given us a hymn about that. Tappan was trained first as a clockmaker, in his youth. Later, he was licensed to preach, and had a fruitful evangelistic ministry in America. He also took special interest in the work of the Sunday School, and had a lifelong association with the American Sunday School Union. William Tappan published ten books of poetry, and a number of his poems were turned into hymns. Sadly, he died of cholera at the age of fifty-five.
A hymn of his that’s widely used today is ‘Tis Midnight and on Olive’s Brow, providing a stirring picture of Christ’s vigil in Gethsemane.
CH-1) ’Tis midnight, and on Olive’s brow
The star is dimmed that lately shone;
’Tis midnight, in the garden now
The suffering Saviour prays alone.
CH-2) ’Tis midnight, and from all removed
Emmanuel wrestles lone with fears;
E’en the disciple whom He loved
Heeds not his Master’s grief and tears.
It’s Luke’s account that tells us of the Saviour, in extreme distress, sweating blood. “Being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk. 22:44).
It’s also Luke who reports that there, in the garden, “an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (vs. 43). Tappan takes poetic liberty with his angel choir, in CH-4, but it captures the spirit of what the Father did for His Son in that hour–and it’s not impossible that something like that occurred.
CH-3) ’Tis midnight, and for others’ guilt
The Man of Sorrows weeps in blood;
Yet He who hath in anguish knelt
Is not forsaken by His God.
CH-4) ’Tis midnight, and from ether plains
Is borne the song that angels know;
Unheard by mortals are the strains
That sweetly soothe the Saviour’s woe.
1) As far as we can know this, what things caused the Saviour’s anguish in the garden?
2) In what circumstances have you wrestled intensely in prayer?