Posted by: rcottrill | September 5, 2016

Be Strong

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Words: Maltbie Davenport Babcock (b. Aug. 3, 1858; d. May 18, 1901)
Music: Harold, by Carl Fowler Price (b. May 16, 1881; d. Apr. 12, 1948)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Maltbie Babcock)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Tall and handsome, Babcock was not only a good student at university, but a fine athlete, competing in baseball and swimming. When he took up pastoral ministry at a church in Baltimore, where he also became a spiritual counselor at Johns Hopkins University in that city. He wrote our hymn This Is My Father’s World, but it’s a lesser known song we’ll consider now. In spite of his good physical condition, Pastor Babcock died of brucellosis (likely from eating infected milk or meat) during a trip to the Holy Land. He was only forty-three.

For three years in a row, American weight lifter Brian Shaw has won the World’s Strongest Man competition. He may be the strongest man in modern history–certainly since accurate records have been kept. He’s lifted well over half a ton (or 200 kgs), many times. Brian is a giant of a man. He’s six foot eight, weighs four hundred and forty pounds, and needs to consume ten thousand calories a day to maintain his strength and conditioning.

But there are other kinds of strength. There’s the strength of determination and courage, the strength of faithfulness and love–strength of character in other words.

I was standing with a friend one day when we saw Jack, a thin, gray-haired gentleman we both knew, walking down the street some distance away. “There,” said my friend, “goes one of the princes of the earth.” When I asked what he meant, he told me that Jack had cared for his disabled wife for many years, lovingly, gently, day after day, without impatience or complaint. That’s strength indeed! And, aware that Jack was a committed Christian, I knew that he looked to the Lord for the daily grace needed to continue his labour of love.

In the Bible, some form of words such as strong or powerful are used over seven hundred times. And there’s a double-sided truth that comes up. That it’s a fine thing to be healthy and strong physically, but moral strength and spiritual strength are far more important. “Bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (I Tim. 4:8). To deal with the challenges of life we need the inner strength that only God can give (Eph. 6:10).

The poster boy for the contrast between these two is Samson. He was a judge in Israel around 1050 BC. Before he was born, the Lord decreed that he was to be a lifelong Nazirite (Jud. 13:5; cf. Num. 6:1-8), living out a vow of strong moral character and uncompromising dedication to God. Then, when he reached adulthood, the Spirit of God endowed him with incredible strength.

Samson’s amazing feats of physical strength, including slaying a lion with his bare hands (Jud. 14:5-6), are described for us in Judges chapters 14 through 16. But we also learn there that the man’s character was seriously flawed. Sometimes he used his power in frivolous ways, with actions that fed his own ego. And he repeatedly consorted with immoral women. His moral folly eventually brought him down, robbing him of his God-given strength. The Bible says “the Lord…departed from him” and he didn’t even realize it (Jud. 16:20). Sadly, he ended his days as a blind slave of the Philistines (vs. 21).

A physically strong man–a well-conditioned athlete–of more recent times is Maltbie Babcock. But he had strength of character too. Called simply Be Strong, the present hymn reflects his own fierce love of God, and his unflagging determination to stand firm and do the will of God. The song is not a summons that will appeal to weak-willed, compromising, Sunday-only Christians. One commentator describes it as “a rugged hymn, knotted like the muscles of a torso of Hercules.”

CH-1) Be strong!
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do and loads to lift;
Shun not the struggle, face it, ’tis God’s gift.
Be strong! Be strong! Be strong!

CH-2) Be strong!
Say not the days are evil–who’s to blame?
And fold the hands and acquiesce–O shame!
Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God’s name.
Be strong! Be strong! Be strong!

CH-3) Be strong!
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day, how long;
Faint not, fight on! Tomorrow comes the song.
Be strong! Be strong! Be strong!

Questions:
1) Who is the physically strongest person you know?

2) Who is the strongest spiritually or in terms of character? (How is this seen?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Maltbie Babcock)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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