Posted by: rcottrill | July 17, 2017

If You Cannot on the Ocean

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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: Ellen Maria Huntington Gates (b. Aug. 12, 1835; d. Oct. 22, 1920)
Music: Beecher, by John Zundel (b. Dec. 10, 1815; d. July ___, 1882)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Ellen Gates was the author of several popular pieces in the American Mission and Sunday School hymn books. Of these several have passed from those books into Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos.

The saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it” was coined by Tom Fitzgerald, an employee of Walt Disney, for a ride at the Epcot Center theme park. Similar maxims have been around for a long time, exhilarating expressions of vision and aspiration. But a moment’s thought will show it’s ridiculous. You can dream you’ll be able to fly like Superman, but don’t put on tights and a cape and try it! Not every dream can become a reality.

God is infinite, we’re not. Not even close. We are finite creatures, limited–confined and restricted–by certain boundaries. Time and space both limit us. We have only a little time allotted to us on this earth, and we are confined to one geographical spot at a time. We can’t be everywhere at once. Our mental and physical powers are finite too. And human laws and conventions tend to restrict us further.

However, having recognized the boundaries we live within, we must not abandon either dreaming or doing. Sometimes limitations become an excuse for abdicating responsibility. Because some cannot do all that’s required, they do nothing. Because the job looks extremely difficult, they resign themselves to sitting, soaking and souring. That will not do.

Great things have been accomplished by men and women who dared both to dream and to do. And small contributions count too, they contribute to the whole (cf. Lk. 21:1-4). Clergyman and author Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) said it well.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

An incident in the Gospels is pertinent (Mk. 14:3-9). An unnamed woman anointed Jesus’ feet with costly oil. Some complained that was a waste, that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But the Lord called what she did “a good work,” adding, “She has done what she could” (Mk. 14:8). “I can do something,” said Hale, and she did that.

Christian leader John Wesley (1703-1791) put it even more forcefully:

“Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.”

One afternoon in the winter of 1860, Ellen Huntington Gates (1835-1920) gazed through the window of her home, watching the falling snow. She had written a number of poems and hymns. And she thought of an idea for another, along the lines of what’s being discussed here. Taking a slate, she jotted down the words as they came to her, entitling the result Your Mission.

She said later, “The poem was only a simple little thing, but somehow I had a presentiment that it had wings, and would fly into sorrowful hearts, uplifting and strengthening them.” Though not a true hymn, it does present a biblical principle: that even those who cannot accomplish the big things can contribute something of value to a good cause. Each stanza describes some large task we perhaps cannot do as individuals, and what we might be able to do to contribute.

CH-1) If you cannot, on the ocean,
Sail among the swiftest fleet,
Rocking on the highest billows,
Laughing at the storms you meet,
You can stand among the sailors,
Anchored yet within the bay,
You can lend a hand to help them,
As they launch their boats away.

CH-2) If you are too weak to journey
Up the mountain steep and high,
You can stand within the valley,
While the multitudes go by;
You can chant in happy measure,
As they slowly pass along;
Though they may forget the singer,
They will not forget the song.

CH-3) If you have not gold and silver
Ever ready to command;
If you cannot toward the needy
Reach an ever open hand;
You can visit the afflicted,
O’er the erring you can weep;
You can be a true disciple,
Sitting at the Saviour’s feet.

As to those “wings” Mrs. Gates mentioned, in February of 1865 there was a meeting of the Christian Commission, organized to care for wounded and sick soldiers of the Civil War. During the proceedings, gospel musician Philip Phillips sang Ellen Gates’s song. President Lincoln who was  present was so touched by it he asked that it be sung again. For his part, Phillips was so blessed by the response he decided to leave other business endeavours and focus full time on a music ministry for the Lord. His example later inspired soloist Ira Sankey to do the same, and Sankey went on to aid Dwight Moody in his evangelistic work on both sides of the Atlantic.

1) What small things have you done lately that could help a larger cause?

2) What could you do this week that the Lord might use for His glory?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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