HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.
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: David D. Nelson (b. Sept. 24, 1793; d. Oct. 17, 1844)
Music: Shining City, by George Frederick Root (b. Aug. 30, 1820; d. Aug. 6, 1895)
Note: Nelson studied medicine first, and became a surgeon. Then he changed careers, studied for the ministry, and became a Presbyterian pastor.
Rivers can fascinate us. They can be an important source of food and water, and provide a means of livelihood. They can also be a watery road that carries people and products from one place to another. On the other hand, they form a barrier to those wanting to travel across their breadth, often leading to the use of ferries, or the construction of bridges leaping from bank to bank, or tunnels crawling darkly beneath.
Rivers also illustrate life’s process and change, sometimes flowing quietly by, other times thundering with roiling white water. And along their banks is an ever-changing scene. Anything from gray rocky crags, to lush green beauty, or from a lonely wilderness to a bustling metropolis. In temperate climates, rivers reflect the changing seasons, from the frozen immobility of winter to the rapid run-off a spring thaw.
Poets have seized upon the nature of these water courses as a metaphor, and frequently use rivers as an image of passing time. Poet Linda Ori wrote:
The river of time keeps on flowing
O’er wishes and dreams gone unknown.
Not surprisingly, our hymn writers (who are poets too) have made use of the river motif in many songs. In 1696, Nahum Tate published a paraphrase of Psalm 42 which uses “cooling streams” as a picture of refreshing fellowship with God (cf. Ps. 42:1):
As pants the hart for cooling streams,
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for Thee
And Thy refreshing grace.
Nearly two centuries later Frances Havergal gave us a picture of God’s gift of inner peace and tranquility: “Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace” (cf. Phil. 4:6-7). And Horatio Spafford provides his statement of faith with:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Then in his hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past, Isaac Watts speaks of the inevitability of death (cf. Ps. 90:4-5).
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
A lesser known hymn fits our theme too. It was written by an American pastor named David Nelson. In his early years he owned a plantation worked by slaves. But he heard a talk on the immorality of slavery and completely changed his views. He disposed of his plantation, declaring he “would live on potatoes and salt rather than own slaves.”
His abolitionist zeal brought down on him the wrath of his slave owning neighbours. He was driven from his home, and hunted for three days and nights through the surrounding woods and swamps. Finally, he emerged on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he managed to communicate with friends across the river about his desperate situation.
Plans were put underway to rescue him. But meanwhile the manhunt continued. He heard the angry voices of his pursuers all around him, some even thrusting their guns into the very clump of bushes where he was hidden. Lying there, gazing at the flowing waters of the river not far away, he thought of the words for a new hymn, and scrawled them on the back of a letter he had in his pocket.
CH-1) My days are gliding swiftly by;
And I, a pilgrim stranger,
Would not detain them as they fly,
Those hours of toil and labour.
For, oh! we stand on Jordan’s strand;
Our friends are passing over;
And, just before, the shining shore
We may almost discover.
CH-4) Let sorrow’s rudest tempest blow,
Each cord on earth to sever:
Our King says, ‘Come,’ and there’s our home,
Forever, oh! forever.
As evening came, friends crossed over in a canoe, on the pretense of fishing. When he saw them, Pastor Nelson raced down the to waters edge and they spirited him away to safety.
1) Have you experienced the seemingly rapid flow of life recently? (If so, how?)
2) What does this fleeting and temporary quality of our days mean to our plans and behaviour?