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Words: Baron Friedrich Rudolph Ludwig von Canitz (b. Nov. 27, 1654; d. Aug. 11, 1699); translation by Henry James Buckoll (b. Sept. 9, 1803; d. June 6, 1871)
Music: Haydn, by Franz Josef Haydn (b. Mar. 31, 1732; d. May 31, 1809)
Note: Buckoll was an English schoolmaster at Rugby. There have been several translations and versions of this hymn, including one by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). The metre of the text is so odd (188.8.131.52.4.7, rhyming a.a.b.c.c.b), that only the two tunes suggested by the Cyber hymnal will fit it. (If you’re unsure of what a hymn’s metre is, see About That Metrical Index.)
Baron Friedrich von Canitz was a nobleman in Berlin three centuries ago who, in spite of the temptations of his power and prestige, lived a devout Christian life. The hymn, one of several he wrote, is the only one translated into English. Author Albert Edward Bailey (1871-1951) speaks glowingly of Canitz’s hymn, and I tend to agree:
“One is tempted to say that this is the finest rule of life ever put into a hymn. It is joyful, courageous, stimulating, challenging, a call to action, to self-control, to obedience” (The Gospel in Hymns, p. 329).
The baron’s piety can be seen in the last morning of his life. When the dawn broke into his sick chamber, he asked that he might be supported to the window, and might look once again upon the rising sun. After looking steadily at it for some time, he cried out, “Oh! if the appearance of this earthly and created thing is so beautiful and quickening, how much more shall I be enraptured at the sight of the unspeakable glory of the Creator Himself.” In that moment, he fell back, exhausted, and died.
It’s a phrase that has been around for over two thousand years. Carpe diem [pronounced CAR-pay DEE-um] is Latin for: “seize the day.” The words come from a work by the Roman poet Horace.
The full line translates approximately as, “Seize the present; trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may.” It’s an exhortation to live life to the fullest, getting the most out of each individual day. That applies logically to each day’s hours and minutes too. Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) wrote: “Sometimes you will not know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
We must “seize the day!” But that will mean different things to different people. To the pleasure-seeker, it means getting as much fun out of each day as possible. In the extreme, that’s represented by the morally unrestrained libertine who craves more and more selfish gratification, whatever the cost.
Then there are those who see each new day as an opportunity to do business, and climb the ladder of corporate success. Either to make money and acquire more of the things of this life, or to gain power over others, or simply to enjoy the notoriety and fame such things bring.
King Solomon tried all of this and more. He was a man with great God-given wisdom, but he drifted away from God, and too often failed to follow the wisdom he taught others. The book of Ecclesiastes, written near the end of his life, seems almost to be a confession, and it implies a return to where true meaning and fulfilment in life is to be found.
Without factoring in our responsibility to God and an eternal destiny up ahead (Ecc. 12:13-14), this mortal life is “vanity”–a word meaning empty and futile, that Solomon uses twenty-nine times. The king tried pleasure (Ecc. 2:1-2), but it brought no lasting joy and satisfaction. It was the same with his acquisition of incredible wealth (Ecc. 5:10). Prestige and popularity were fleeting and meaningless too (Ecc. 2:9; 4:16).
The Amplified Bible’s expanded version of Ecclesiastes 12:13 is almost a treatise on what Solomon finally realized gave life true value.
“All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man.”
For the Christian, the aim of each day should be to live each moment to the honour and glory of God, and in service for Him. “Serve the LORD with gladness” (Ps. 100:2; cf. Lk. 2:37; II Tim. 1:3). That will include praising Him, and rejoicing in the new day. “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). And it’ll involve living according to the wisdom of His Word. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:15-16; cf. Ps. 119:105, 130).
CH-1) Come, my soul, thou must be waking!
Now is breaking
O’er the earth another day:
Come, to Him who made this splendour,
See thou render
All thy feeble powers can pay.
CH-3) Pray that He may prosper ever
When thine aim is good and true;
But that He may ever thwart thee,
And convert thee,
When thou evil wouldst pursue.
CH-4) Think that He thy ways beholdeth;
Every fault that lurks within;
Every stain of shame glossed over,
And discern each deed of sin.
CH-5) Mayst thou, then, on life’s last morrow,
Free from sorrow,
Pass away in slumber sweet;
And, released from death’s dark sadness,
Rise in gladness,
That far brighter Sun to greet.
1) Do you begin the day with this kind of prospect and hope?
2) What gives you the greatest difficulty in achieving it? (What can you do about that?)