Posted by: rcottrill | December 22, 2017

The Day Is Gently Sinking

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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: Christopher Wordsworth (b. Oct. 30, 1807; d. Mar. 20, 1885)
Music: Nachtlied, by Henry Thomas Smart (b. Oct. 26, 1813; d. July 6, 1879)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Christopher Wordsworth)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Christopher Wordsworth was an evangelical Anglican clergyman, a Greek scholar, and author of note. He wrote a number of hymns, including the fine O Day of Rest and Gladness which, contrary to the view of many in his day, does not confuse the Jewish Sabbath with the Christian Lord’s Day.

What is the commonest topic of adult conversation? Without much doubt it’s the weather–perhaps because it’s experienced by all of us. What about the most unpopular and most avoided topic? One survey suggests it’s hell. But let’s expand that narrow theme. Very close in general disfavour is the subject of death.

Fear has something to do with this. There are all kinds of phobias. Some are afraid of spiders, some of dentists, some of heights. But while a few of these can be avoided, death is a universal experience. Comedian Woody Allen famously said, “I’m not afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But, of course, the last half of that statement implies the first half isn’t truthful.

The Bible has a great deal to say about the subject, unpleasant though it may be. Forms of the words death and die are found there over nine hundred times. But here’s the good news. Far more often (over twelve hundred times) the Word of God speaks about life and living. It gives us hope, promising that death need not be the end.

The Christian gospel declares what makes the difference. The Bible tells us that the Son of God came to this earth to “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3), and all who put their faith in Him are forgiven, and saved eternally. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

Death then is not the inevitable end. For the believer it’s a doorway to eternal joy. Of the saints in the heavenly kingdom we read, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death” (Rev. 21:4). Even Death itself, personified, will be destroyed, and be cast into the lake for fire (Rev. 20:14).

Clergyman and lauded poet, John Donne (1572-1631) wrote of death in one of his Holy Sonnents. Here are the first and last couplets.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

All of this is gloriously true. Yet facing death can still bring anxious fear, even for the child of God. But one thing should reassure us: the presence of God at that time. As David wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4).

When two disciples walked to Emmaus, the risen Lord met them. As they approached home we read that they said, “‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And He went in to stay with them” (Lk. 24:29). Similarly, we look to Him in prayer to abide with us in that final evening hour at the end of our earthly lives.

When the fearful disciples were caught in a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, Christ came to them, walking on the sea, and when He stepped into the boat, the wind and waves were calmed (Mk. 6:47-51). If the last storm we will face is death, we can be assured of His presence and care, even then.

That is the comfort of the hymn written by Christopher Wordsworth.

CH-1) The day is gently sinking to a close,
Fainter and yet more faint the sunlight
O brightness of Thy Father’s glory,
Thou eternal light of light, be with us now:
Where Thou art present darkness cannot be;
Midnight is glorious noon, O Lord, with Thee.

CH-2) Our changeful lives are ebbing to an end;
Onward to darkness and to death we tend;
O conqueror of the grave, be Thou our guide;
Be Thou our light in death’s dark eventide;
Then in our mortal hour will be no gloom,
No sting in death, no terror in the tomb.

CH-3) Thou, who in darkness walking didst appear
Upon the waves, and Thy disciples cheer,
Come, Lord, in lonesome days, when storms assail,
And earthly hopes and human succors fail;
When all is dark, may we behold Thee nigh,
And hear Thy voice, “Fear not, for it is I.”

Questions:
1) What can you do or say to bring comfort to a Christian who is facing the prospect of death?

2) What is the “sting” of death, and why do we not need to fear it (I Cor. 15:56-57)?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Christopher Wordsworth)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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