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Words: Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (b. June 14, 1811; d. July 1, 1896)
Music: Consolation (or Mendelssohn), by Felix Mendelssohn (b. Feb. 3, 1809; d. Nov. 4, 1847)
Notes: American abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe is well known for her best-selling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1852, It’s depiction of the harsh realities of slavery awakened many to that monstrous evil. The daughter of a pastor, and the sister of another pastor, she also wrote a number of hymns.
While I hesitate to go against the work of Mendelssohn, a great composer (see more about him here), I believe there is a better tune for this hymn than Consolation. If you use Mendelssohn’s tune, I encourage you to smooth out the rhythm and not make it as jerky as it’s played on the Cyber Hymnal. But try Alverstoke, by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896). Far superior, in my view. You can listen to it on the Cyber Hymnal, and also download the sheet music from there.
Beside me as I write this is a silver-coloured object, small enough to be held in the palm of my hand, or be put in my pocket. But it has powers far beyond my own. With the flip of a tiny switch on it, and the turn of a dial, I can listen to music or hear the news, not only from elsewhere in Canada, but from other countries too.
Radios are amazing. But they do not create the sounds coming from their speakers. Those sounds are all around us, all the time, everywhere we go. Our human ears are simply not able to hear them. Even if they were able, we’d still have a problem. The broadcasts of dozens of stations, maybe hundreds, are creating a veritable blizzard of sounds around us. If we could detect that, it would only be to us a confusing racket, a senseless noise.
But radios do another thing for us. They not only give us access to those unheard and unhearable sounds. They’re also able to tune in to one broadcast or another specifically. To prioritize the one, sorting out what belongs to it, while rejecting what does not. As I say, radios are amazing.
In a way, the Bible does that for us in the spiritual realm. It brings to our awareness important things to which we’d otherwise be totally insensitive. God does not want us to simply feel our way through life, relying on our own senses.
There’s a philosophy that says, if it feels good, do it! Or, in the words of a popular song of another generation, “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?” But that is a dangerous road to travel. Our emotions can be manipulated, or upset by irrelevant things. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther wrote (in German):
Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God–
Not else is worth believing.
Long before Luther, God made this promise to Jacob: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go….I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (Gen. 28:15). Before He returned to heaven for a time, the Lord Jesus made a similar promise of His continuing presence to His followers, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). And the writer to Hebrews tells us, “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5; cf. Deut. 31:8).
But how do we know that? After all, the disciples could see the Lord Jesus. They walked with Him, talked with Him, and ate with Him. Now He is gone–yet He is still here. That does not seem to make sense. Or does it? If our sensitivity to spiritual things is as limited as our physical ears are to those radio waves, how can believers tell that the Lord is present with us now, and “always”?
The answer is as simple as it is profound. We’re to take God at His word. Similar to what the radio does in one realm, the Bible does in another. It provides a way we can hear the voice of God, separating it out from other voices. And it’s message is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
One of Stowe’s hymns, appearing three years after her famous novel, celebrates, with beautiful imagery, the wonderful truth that God is with us. A very early riser, the author used to go for walks at 4:30 in the morning, communing with God, knowing He was present with her on the basis of His promises. Her song says:
CH-1) Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.
CH-5) When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.
CH-6) So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.
1) What are some of the blessings coming from the Lord’s constant presence with us?
2) What other hymns do you know that speak of the Lord’s nearness to us?