Posted by: rcottrill | January 30, 2017

We Speak of the Realms of the Blest

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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: Elizabeth King Mills (b. _____, 1805; d. Apr. 21, 1829)
Music: Green Fields (or Edson) by Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Mar. 21, 1685; d. July 28, 1750)

Links:

Wordwise Hymns (Johann Sebastian Bach)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: As you can see, Mills only lived to the age of twenty-four. She wrote several hymns, including We’ll Work Till Jesus Comes. The Cyber Hymnal has four eight-line stanzas of the present hymn. These can be split, as some versions have done, into eight four-line stanzas.

Hymnary.org shows several different tunes used with the hymn. I don’t particularly like Green Fields–unless it’s adapted. The dotted quarter notes at the beginning of each phrase of the text sometimes put the em-PHA-sis where it doesn’t belong, on words such as “that,” “and,” and “but.” It can be smoothed out, and works better that way, in my view.

Change is a word with shades of meaning, and a variety of applications to life. It can mean: to make different, or transform, or it could refer to a substitution or exchange of one thing for another.

Some changes are more permanent. When we have our tonsils out, they’re out. Other changes may happen several times, such as attending a different school, or getting a different job. Still other changes, such as changing our clothes, take place more frequently.

There can be pleasant changes, like going on a picnic. There can be exciting ones, too–like winning a prize. But we all know there are changes that are disappointing, because the result isn’t what we expected.

Also there are the changes associated with the stages of life. Most describe five of these; others identify a dozen or more. You can see how it gets complicated by considering childhood as a stage in life. Early on, each year brings noticeable alterations.

From a Christian perspective, we can add a couple more stages to the commonly cited five. First, God treats babies as living individuals, even before they’re born. This is seen in many passages, and because of the secular notion that life doesn’t begin at conception, let me list a few examples of God’s attention to babes in the womb:

¤ Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:21-23)
¤ David (Ps. 22:9; 139:13)
¤ Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5)
¤ Christ (Isa. 49:1, 5)
¤ John the Baptist (Lk. 1:41)
¤ Paul (Gal. 1:15-16)

Thus, based on Scripture, we begin with: 1) Life in the womb. Then, 2) Infancy; 3) childhood; 4) adolescence; 5) adulthood; 6) old age. And finally, there is, 7) our eternal destiny to be included. And for our purposes here, let’s think of the difference between this mortal life, and what comes afterward, particularly for the Christian. There are big differences between the two.

The Bible lists four changes contrasting believers mortal bodies and our bodies after the resurrection (I Cor. 15:42-44). 1) The first (our present body) is subject to “corruption” (disease and death), the second is not. 2) The first is prone to dishonour by sinfulness, the second is not. 3) The first is weak, the second will have new powers.

4) Finally, calling the resurrection body “spiritual” does not mean we’ll all be ghosts, but that our physical bodies will be so transformed as to be suited for heaven. Christ’s resurrection body wasn’t ghostly. He was able to eat with his disciples (Lk. 24:38-43), and our bodies will be like His (Phil. 3:20-21).

Of the changes to come in that heavenly kingdom God promises: “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). What a wonderful prospect!

It thrilled English hymn writer Elizabeth Mills. The young bride of a member of Parliament, she was reading in a Bible commentary about Psalm 119. The author quoted verse 44, “So shall I keep Your law continually, forever and ever.” From that he envisioned his obedience to God’s Word going on into eternity, even though there would be many changes between this life and the next. “We speak of heaven,” he wrote, “but oh! to be there!”

That last phrase captivated Mills’s imagination and she wrote a hymn about it.

CH-1) We speak of the realms of the blest,
That country so bright and so fair,
And oft are its glories confessed–
But what must it be to be there!
We speak of its pathway of gold,
Its walls decked with jewels so rare,
Its wonders and pleasures untold–
But what must it be to be there!”

CH-2) We speak of its freedom from sin,
From sorrow, temptation and care,
From trials without and within–
But what must it be to be there!
We speak of its service of love,
Of the robes which the glorified wear,
Of the church of the firstborn above–
But what must it be to be there!”

In the final stanza Elizabeth Mills adds, “And shortly I also shall know / And feel what it is to be there.” A few weeks later she died and was taken to her heavenly home.

Shortly before his death in 1895, gospel musician Philip Phillips referred to her hymn and said:

“You see that I am still in the land of the dying. Why I linger so long is to me a problem. The precious Saviour is more to me than I ever expected when I was well. The lines that come so often to me are these: “We speak of the land of the blest….But what must it be to be there!” Blessed be God! I shall soon know. What a singing time we will have when we get there!”

Questions:
1) “What must it be to be there”–what do you think it will be like?

2) What will the biggest or most noticeable change be when we reach heaven, by God’s grace”


Links:

Wordwise Hymns (Johann Sebastian Bach)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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