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: Andrew of Crete (circa b. _____, 660; d. _____, 732); English translation John Mason Neale (b. Jan. 24, 1818; d. Aug. 6, 1886)
Music: St. Andrew of Crete, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)
Note: I debated for some time whether to include this hymn at all. In the end, I decided to do so, with qualifications, because it is historically important. It is a very early hymn, and Andrew of Crete made significant contributions to early church hymnody. Hymnals such as the Worship and Service Hymnal (Hope Publishing, 1957) do include Dr. Neale’s version, so what I’ll say here may not be agreeable to all. However, a blog is an opinion vehicle, so here goes.
Knowing the background of the hymn should prompt a more careful examination of the text. Andrew was a monk, and his monastic views linger beneath the surface. For one thing, he advocated the veneration of images. This hymn was written for the time of the Great Fast of Lent, in the weeks before Easter. It is redolent with the asceticism and self-mortification often admired by the Church of Rome, which raised Andrew to their official sainthood in 1984.
In the damp and dark of his cell, which he calls “holy ground” (CH-1). Andrew may well have been near fainting with hunger in the Great Fast. As he wrestled with temptation and demonic assaults, he would look to the rough crucifix on his wall for help (“The strength that cometh, by the holy cross,” CH-1). That is the background of this hymn, though it isn’t always obvious on the surface.
A perfect game in baseball is one of at least nine innings in which no opposing batter reaches first base. Twenty-seven up to bat, and twenty-seven down. However, there may still be errors made. For example, suppose the third baseman fumbles a foul ball, preventing an out from being registered. That does not count against the perfect game, if the batter is struck out subsequently.
Whether we’re thinking of things such as sports, symphonies, inventions, battles, or computer programs, true “perfection” is in very short supply. The same thing goes for the hymns of the church. Yes, they’re usually (or should be) based on the infallible Word of God, and often exalt the sinless perfections of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, they were written by fallible human beings.
Perhaps the author espoused teaching that is not biblical. Or wrote in such a way that the truth is obscured or distorted. In evaluating our hymns we must first ask: Is it biblical? Does it represent an expression of orthodox doctrine? As the Lord instructs the prophet Isaiah, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
The question then arises, what shall we do with hymns that miss the mark? John Calvin’s answer was that we should only sing the Scriptures themselves, specifically the Psalms. But his contemporary, Martin Luther, not only believed in using songs produced later, he wrote some of them himself.
Two centuries further on, Isaac Watts grew up in a Psalms-only church. But he argued that for a congregation to confine themselves to these, wonderful though they are, was to miss a great deal of important New Testament truth. He eventually won the argument, and wrote about six hundred new songs.
Hundreds of hymn writers have followed in his wake, and though their contributions are sometimes sublime, they are not perfect. If we determine to discard them on that basis, we will be driven back almost entirely to using only the Psalms, the hymn book of the Bible. But the situation is not quite that bleak.
To begin with, many editors of our modern, evangelical hymnals have weeded out those hymns that consistently depart from what the Bible teaches. Or they have omitted stanzas that do so. And if there is much in a hymn to recommend it, with the exception of a few lines, the editors will sometimes alter those lines to conform to more widely accepted Christian doctrine.
Much of this can also take place at the local level. And it’s important. In our hymns, we are praising God, and teaching one another. Hymn singing is not a mindless ritual. It has a purpose. If we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace [thanksgiving and praise] in [our] hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16), we must guard against error.
There are definitely problems with Andrew’s hymn. Stanza two speaks of struggling with inner temptations to sin, and the original says we are to, “Smite them by the virtue of the Lenten Fast!” Where is such a notion found in Scripture? (It is not.)
In CH-4, Andrew consoles himself in his life of penance and hardship by having the Lord Jesus say to him: “Thou art very weary, I was weary, too; but that toil shall make thee some day all Mine own.” But the Bible is quite clear that it is not by good works, or self denials, however arduous, but by simple faith in Christ that we enter God’s family and become “His own” (Jn. 3:16; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).
Two decades after Dr. Neale wrote his translation, a revised version of the hymn dropped the fourth stanza, and changed a few phrases in the first three (Hymns of Praise, with Tunes, 1884). You can compare it with Neale’s version on the Cyber Hymnal. Personally, if I were to consider using this hymn at all, it would have to be in such an altered version.
1) Christian, does thou see them, how thy foes abound,
How the powers of darkness rage, thy steps around?
Christian, up and smite them, counting gain but loss,
In the strength that cometh from our Saviour’s cross.
2) Christian, does thou hear them, how they speak thee fair?
Tempt thee give up watching, cease from praise and prayer?
Christian, answer boldly: “While I breathe I’ll pray;”
Peace shall follow battle, night shall end in day.
3) Christian, does thou feel them, how they work within,
Striving, tempting, luring, goading on to sin?
Christian, never tremble, never be downcast;
Trusting in Thy Saviour, trust Him to the last.
1) Is there enough good in this hymn that you would consider using it?
2) What is the biblical means of dealing with temptation to sin?