Posted by: rcottrill | November 24, 2017

We Saw Thee Not

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Words: John Hampden Gurney (b. Aug. 15, 1802; d. Mar. 8, 1862)
Music: Knowles Shaw (b. Oct. 31, 1834; d. June 7, 1878)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John Gurney was a British pastor. He is credited with publishing the final version of the hymn in 1851. The Cyber Hymnal says it’s a revision of a poem by Anne Rigby Richter, who died in 1857. However, W. J. Limmer Sheppard, in his book Great Hymns and Their Stories (1923) says the original was a poem by an unknown American poet, later revised in 1834 by a Mrs. Carus-Wilson, then still later by Gurney. Evangelist and song writer Knowles Shaw who composed the tune is best known for Bringing in the Sheaves.

How much of this old world’s history have you lived through? Twenty or thirty years? Seventy or eighty years? That’s not much of the totality of recorded history. It goes back thousands of years. Wouldn’t it be amazing to travel back through time and witness some events of the past?

Novelists have frequently made use of that theme. The Time Machine (1895), by English author H. G. Wells, became not only a popular book but a Hollywood film. In it, the central character actually moves forward in time, and he’s discouraged to find a dark and dangerous society up ahead. Madeleine L’Engle’s award winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time (1962), was a children’s adventure about time travel. And Jack Finney’s classic book, Time and Again (1970) is a romantic adventure about traveling back to New York City, in the 1880’s.

But these books and others like them are all fiction. What about seeing and hearing real history? In the nineteenth century the means of taking still photographs and, later, movies, were invented. Experimental sound recording began in 1860, and movies with sound in 1900–though it took more than two decades for the latter to become workable at a commercial level. Of earlier times than this we have only written records.

Of special significance to Christians is the fact that we have no photographs of the Lord Jesus, or sound recordings of His teaching. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did!) But we do have the trustworthy record of the Bible, particularly the four Gospels that describe His days on this earth, books that include some extended times of teaching, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7).

But there’s something unusual about those four biographies that some may not have noticed. Though they cover the entire time Christ was on earth, all the way from before His birth to His ascension back into heaven again, much of the Gospel record deals with a single week of His life. In all, nearly a third (32.75%) of the Gospels is taken up with the Passion Week, from Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, to His death and resurrection a week later.

There was an incident at the time of Jesus’ resurrection that illustrates the issue of not being personally present to experience or confirm a historical event. The Lord appeared to His disciples at a time when one of them, Thomas, was absent, perhaps purchasing food or doing some other errand. When he returned, the others excitedly told him they had seen the risen Christ. But Thomas said he could not believe it.

“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Jn. 20:25).

Then, days later, Christ visited the disciples once more, when Thomas was present. He was then convinced (vs. 27-28). But the Lord gently chided him for his reluctance to believe, saying, ““Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (vs. 29)–which includes each one of us, today.

We were not actually there. Separated by nearly two thousand years from those events, we know about them through the inspired record. We’re those who, Jesus says, “will believe in Me through their words” (Jn. 17:20). Among the New Testament authors, Peter and John were witnesses of those long-ago events.

“We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty [at His Transfiguration]” (II Pet. 1:16).

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life [Christ]…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you” (I Jn. 1:1, 3a).

The present hymn is based on the Lord’s comment to Thomas in John 20:29. The song describes different events in Jesus life, saying, “We saw Thee not…but we believe.”

CH-1) We saw Thee not when Thou didst come
To this poor world of sin and death;
Nor yet beheld Thy cottage home,
In that despisèd Nazareth.
But we believe Thy footsteps trod
Its streets and plains, Thou Son of God.

CH-2) We did not see Thee lifted high,
Amid that wild and savage crew;
Nor heard Thy meek, imploring cry,
“Forgive, they know not what they do!”
Yet we believe the deed was done,
That shook the earth and veiled the sun.

CH-3) We stood not by the empty tomb,
Where late Thy sacred body lay;
Nor sat within that upper room,
Nor met Thee on the open way.
But we believe that angels said,
“Why seek the living with the dead?”

May we be among those who see Him, by faith and, “though now [we] do not see Him [physically], yet believing, [we] rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8).

1) Other than Christ’s death and resurrection, which scene during His earthly stay would you most wish you had witnessed?

2) Is there a special way we are blessed by having to trust in God’s Word, rather than being there to see Christ at the time?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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