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Words: Oscar Carl Eliason (b. Jan. 6, 1902; d. Mar. 1, 1985)
Music: Oscar Carl Eliason
Wordwise Hymns (none)
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Note: Oscar Carl Eliason was a Swedish-American pastor and evangelist. He was also a poet and composer with fifty hymns to his credit.
No doubt about it, the building of the Panama Canal was one of the greatest engineering and construction feats in history. The French tried to do it in 1881, but abandoned the project as impossible. The Americans finally took on the mammoth job in 1904, completing the task ten years later.
Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the canal became a welcome short-cut for shipping, and it avoided the stormy hazards of going south around Cape Horn. The waterway is seventy-seven kilometres long (48 miles), and it takes a ships eight hours to pass through. Since 1914, nearly a million vessels have done so.
It’s not difficult to imagine that work on the canal, dangerous and difficult as it was, became a source of special pride to those involved. In 1912, poet Berton Braley wrote a song about it called, At Your Service: The Panama Gang. The workmen began singing it everywhere.
Bronzed by the tropical sun that is blistery,
Chockful of energy, vigour and tang,
Trained by the task that’s the biggest in history–
Who has a job for this Panama Gang?
But it was their boast, in the middle of the song, that caught the eye of a pastor decades later. They sang:
Got any river they say is uncrossable?
Got any mountains that can’t be cut through?
We specialize in the wholly impossible,
Doing things ‘nobody ever could do.’
Pastor Eliason was impressed by those four lines of the old song just quoted, but wanted to give them a Christian perspective. You’ll notice no mention is made of God. All the credit for the work accomplished was claimed by the men themselves.
It’s a dangerous thing to rule God out, to brag of being a “self-made man” (or woman). Who gave you existence, to begin with? Who gave you a mind to think with? Who gave your hands the skill to do things? Who gave you opportunities? Who helped you along the way? Even though these things may have been mediated by others, it is God who’s behind them.
The Lord dealt with the Israelites about that. “[When] you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth’…you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:17-18).
A heathen king had similar “I” trouble. Nebuchadnezzar was the powerful ruler of Babylon. He took on massive building projects, heightening his renown. Each brick used in building was stamped with his image. He boasted:
“Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” But, “While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!’” (Dan. 4:30-31). And it had–until he finally came to his senses and gave the Lord the credit He deserves (vs. 34-37).
In 1942, Pastor Eliason published words and music of a little chorus, a revised version of the lines from the song of the Panama Gang. To make it a full gospel song, Eliason later added three stanzas about Joshua, who led the Israelites across the Jordan and in the conquest of Jericho (cf. Josh. 3:7-8, 14-17).
1) ‘Be of good courage,’ God spake unto Joshua,
When o’er the river God pointed the way;
Jordan uncrossable! Things seemed impossible,
Waters divide as they march and obey.
Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible–
He does the things others cannot do.
A WONDERFUL BOOK. The Eliason family came for Sweden in 1908, settling in the lumber town of Cook, Minnesota, north of Duluth. In those days some incredible missionary work was being done by three men, among the wild and hardened lumberjacks of the vast forests there. They too tackled the impossible, and won, by the grace of God. Their amazing ministry is written up in The Last of the Giants, by Harry Rimmer. The book is available from Amazon (it’s free, if you have a Kindle). Highly recommended. Believe me, you’ve never read a book like it! It will astonish you, and challenge you with what God can do.
1) What “impossible” things has the Lord helped you with (or through) over the past year?
2) What difficulty do you need to trust Him with these days?
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