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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.
Words: Joseph Anstice (b. Dec. 21, 1808; d. Feb. 29, 1836)
Music: Evening Hour, by Samuel Prowse Warren (b. Feb. 18, 1841; d. Oct. 7, 1915)
Note: Joseph Anstice was a remarkable man. A brilliant scholar, he graduated from Oxford with double first-class honours. At the young age of twenty-two he became Professor of Classical Literature at King’s College, London, a position he held for four years, until ill health forced his retirement. (Notice that he died in a Leap Year, on February 29th.)
Samuel Warren was an outstanding Canadian organist who first served a Presbyterian church in Montreal. He wrote a number of hymn tunes.
The continental divide of North America is a kind of geographical backbone running along the continent from north to south. Chief among the mountains that form this ridge is the Rocky Mountain range. And it is a significant watershed. Snow and ice that melt on the mountain peaks, flow either westward to the Pacific Ocean, or eastward across the continent, in the form of rivers and streams.
This will serve us as a picture of midnight, which poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes in one of his poems as “the watershed of Time.” And whether we retire to sleep precisely at midnight, or some earlier or later hour, the imagery is the same. We look back on what we have experienced that day, and forward with certain expectations for tomorrow.
It is God who made this great temporal divide of day and night at the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:3-5). And the Lord remains sovereign over both. As the Bible says, “The day is Yours, the night also is Yours” (Ps. 74:16).
Not only that; He is omniscient, knowing all that takes place in both. “The darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You” (Ps. 139:12). That should be a sobering concept to those who think darkness will hide their evil deeds (Jn. 3:19-20). But it is also a comfort to those who trust in the Lord. Dr. James Dobson has written:
“One of the most breathtaking concepts in all of Scripture is the revelation that God knows each of us personally, and that we are in His mind both day and night.”
As the psalmist puts it, “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4).
To return to the thought that the night hours are a kind of watershed between yesterday and tomorrow, those moments before we go to bed can be a time for looking back, evaluating what is past, and looking forward to what we could face tomorrow. For the Christian, that means these are also an occasion to reflect on God’s faithfulness through the day, and entrust Him with what is to come.
One who did that was Joseph Anstice. As you can see from the dates given above, he lived only to the age of twenty-eight, and the last two years involved intense suffering. But in this “valley of the shadow of death” he wrote a number of beautiful and deeply thoughtful hymns. Mrs. Anstice later explained: “The hymns were all dictated to his wife, during the last few weeks of his life.” It is then he composed the following hymn, published posthumously. (You can read the stanza on the Holy Spirit on the Cyber Hymnal link.)
CH-1) Father, by Thy love and power
Comes again the evening hour;
Light has vanished, labours cease,
Weary creatures rest in peace;
Thou, whose genial dews distill
On the lowliest weed that grows
Father, guard our couch from ill,
Lull Thy children to repose,
We to Thee ourselves resign;
Let our latest thoughts be Thine.
CH-2) Saviour, to Thy Father bear
This our feeble evening prayer;
Thou hast seen how oft today
We, like sheep, have gone astray;
Worldly thoughts, and thoughts of pride,
Wishes to Thy cross untrue,
Secret faults and undescried,
Meet Thy spirit-piercing view;
Blessèd Saviour, yet, through Thee,
Grant that we may pardoned be.
CH-4) Blessèd Trinity, be near,
Through the hours of darkness drear;
Then, when shrinks the lonely heart,
Thou more clearly present art;
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Watch o’er our defenseless heads;
Let Thy angels’ guardian host
Keep all evil from our beds,
Till the flood of morning rays
Wake us to a song of praise.
1) Is it your own practice to have a time of prayer at bedtime? (Or early in the morning, before the days activities begin?)
2) What topics does Mr. Anstice’s hymn suggest such prayers might cover?