Posted by: rcottrill | December 20, 2017

Onward Christian, Though the Region

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Words: Samuel Johnson (b. Oct. 10, 1822; d. Feb. 19, 1882)
Music: Wilmot, by Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (b. Nov. 18, 1786; d. June 5, 1826)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: American clergyman Samuel Johnson was the pastor of an independent church in Massachusetts for nearly two decades. In 1846 he published A Book of Hymns, working with Samuel Longfellow, the brother of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The present hymn is one that challenges believers to keep on following the Lord, in spite of what may confront them. Johnson tended to adhere to Unitarian beliefs, but this hymn says some good things in spite of that.

Usually, with city driving, the streets are orderly and well labeled. Finding our way can be relatively simple. But occasionally there are complications. One way streets, dead end streets, or streets that seem to end at a park, only to continue (unknown to us) on the other side of it. And out in the country, where not all roads are marked, there can be other difficulties.

Some years ago I set out to visit a man who lived alone in a remote rural area. I got directions to follow, but there was a problem. The final turning I expected wasn’t there. I drove back and forth, looking for even a rough lane to his house, but to no avail. On inquiring, I learned there was none! To reach my destination I had to turn into a field, with no path to follow, and keep going until I saw his cottage. I did get there, but with difficulty.

In the spiritual realm, there is a right path and a wrong path, one marked out for us by God (cf. Prov. 3:5-6; II Tim. 3:16-17), and the other path that leads to eternal ruin. As Proverbs puts it, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). On the other hand, the Lord Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few [relatively speaking] who find it” (Matt. 7:14).

In truth, Christ Himself is the only way to life. He said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6; cf. 3:16).

And what about the one who does trust in the Saviour? Does the road get easy then? Is it a smooth and comfortable path from then on? No it isn’t.

The believer still faces the challenges common to every human being, but also has spiritual opposition on the new path. Near the end of His time on earth, Christ warned His followers:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you…A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:18, 20).

We need only consider the book of Acts and the epistles to see the reality of this. Service for Christ was often difficult and dangerous. But the believers kept on in spite of it. When the apostles were beaten, and forbidden to preach the gospel…

“They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).

Paul presents a long litany of trials he’d experienced. He felt foolish speaking about himself, but he wanted his readers to know how it was (II Cor. 11:23-28). He later writes from prison of his coming execution (II Tim. 4:6-7). And Peter’s first epistle was written to encourage Christians who suffer for their faith. Some form of the word “suffer” is found in the book sixteen times, and he also speaks of the opposition of “your adversary the devil” (I Pet. 5:8).

Pastor Johnson’s hymn says

CH-1) Onward, Christian, though the region
Where thou art be drear and lone;
God has set a guardian legion
Very near thee; press thou on.

CH-2) By the thorn road, and none other,
Is the mount of vision won;
Tread it without shrinking, brother,
Jesus trod it; press thou on.

CH-3) By thy trustful, calm endeavour,
Guiding, cheering, like the sun,
Earthbound hearts thou shalt deliver;
O, for their sake, press thou on.

CH-4) Be this world the wiser, stronger,
For thy life of pain and peace;
While it needs thee, oh, no longer
Pray thou for thy quick release.

CH-5) Pray thou, Christian, daily rather
That thou be a faithful son,
By the prayer of Jesus, “Father,
Not my will, but Thine, be done.”

1) What are some of the things that God can accomplish (or teach us) when he takes us through a time of trial and suffering?

2) Is there an experience of your own that illustrates this?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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