Posted by: rcottrill | May 8, 2017

How Are Thy Servants Blest

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Words: Joseph Addison (b. May 1, 1672; d. June 17, 1719)
Music: Praetorius from the Harmoniae Hymnorum Scholae Gorlicensis, a book of Latin and German hymns published in 1599

Wordwise Hymns (Joseph Addison)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Addison was the son of an English clergyman, and briefly considered becoming one himself. Instead he turned his gifts to politics and journalism. He is considered one of the most gifted writers of his time. In 1711 he founded a newspaper called the Spectator. He included essays of his own in the publication, sometimes concluding these with a poem he had written. This hymn is one of those, set to music. He also gave us When All Thy Mercies, and The Spacious Firmament.

The original of the present hymn had ten stanzas. As of writing this, I see the Cyber Hymnal does not include them all. I’ve printed below the ones that particularly deal with the storm, and Addison’s reaction to it, and I’ve numbered them as they come in the full hymn.

Have you ever been scared stiff–so frightened you couldn’t even move? Or scared out of you wits–not even able to think straight? We have a number of terms like that to describe overwhelming terror. One of these is to say the person is scared to death.

It’s an intentional exaggeration to make a point. If a person tells us they were “scared to death” in some situation, they were obviously didn’t die from it. So is it even possible to be scared to death? Apparently it is–especially if the person has a weak heart to begin with.

It’s called the Baskerville effect, after a Sherlock Holmes story published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1905. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the great detective investigates the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, after, apparently, a giant and ghostly looking hound has frightened him to death. (I won’t spoil the mystery by telling you whether the dog had help.)

It can happen in real life too, though it’s unusual. In North Carolina, there was a bank robber on the run from the police, who broke into the house of an elderly woman to hide. She was so terrified that she had a heart attack and died. When the robber was caught, he was charged with first degree murder. In that state, if someone causes the death of another while committing a felony (such as robbery), the criminal can be charged with homicide.

As someone has said, most of the things we fear never actually happen. It’s true that planes do fall from the sky, and ships do sink–the Titanic did! But compared to the millions of miles clocked by tens of thousands of planes and boats, it’s relatively rare. That being said, even a near miss can be harrowing.

That happened to newspaper editor Joseph Addison in December of 1700. He was traveling by boat in the Mediterranean, along the east coast of Italy, when a dreadful storm arose. The peril seemed so great that the captain gave the ship up for lost. He clutched at a monk on board, and began confessing his sins, certain he was about to die.

Joseph Addison was frightened too but, as a Christian, he began to pray that the Lord would give him inner peace, and help him through the storm. The Lord had brought him safely thus far on his travels–even through a hair-raising adventure on an Alpine glacier, and an epidemic in the city of Rome. As he prayed, he was able to entrust himself once again into the hands of God.

Addison’s hymn, looking back on the tempest afterward, is called How Are Thy Servants Blest, O Lord. Several stanzas have to do specifically with the storm he’d come through safely, but we can apply them to the many and varied storms of life we each face.

4) Think, O my soul, devoutly think,
How with affrighted eyes
Thou sawest the wide-extended deep
In all its horrors rise!

5) Confusion dwelt on every face,
And fear in every heart;
When waves on waves, and gulfs on gulfs,
O’ercame the pilot’s art.

6) Yet then from all my griefs, O Lord,
Thy mercy set me free,
When in the confidence of prayer
My soul took hold on Thee.

7) When by the dreadful tempest borne
High on the broken wave,
They know Thou art not slow to hear,
Nor impotent to save.

8) The storm is laid, the winds retire,
Obedient to Thy will,
The sea, that roars at Thy command,
At Thy command is still.

9) In midst of dangers, fears and death,
Thy goodness we adore;
We praise Thee for Thy mercies past,
And humbly hope for more.

God’s Word assures us He is fully able to help us in and through the storms of this life, of whatever kind we have to face.

“The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea” (Ps. 93:4). “He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107:29-31).

1) Why does the Lord allow storms to touch our lives?

2) What other hymn(s) can you think of that use storm imagery?

Wordwise Hymns (Joseph Addison)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Question 2: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Master, the Tempest is Raging,” and “My Anchor Holds.”

    • Good choices. And I was just getting an article on Throw Out the Lifeline ready for my newspaper column. There’s also Let the Lower Lights Be Burning–based on a true incident on Lake Erie. Of course the Navy Hymn, “Eternal Father, strong to save…” fits too. Lots of them. In the days before air travel, long journeys usually involved a sea voyage, and the perils were well known. It made a great metaphor for the storms of life, and the Lord’s deliverance. Great to hear from you. God bless.


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