Posted by: rcottrill | July 25, 2018

Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By

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Words: Emma Frances Riggs Campbell (b. ___, 1830; d. Feb. 25, 1919)
Music: Las Palmas, by Theodore Edson Perkins (b. July 21, 1831; d. ___, 1912)

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Note: Emma Campbell was a school teacher in New Jersey, long ago. She wrote a book of poems, commenting on many events in her world (including the assassination of President Lincoln), and including the gospel song Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By. We may perhaps dismiss her stern warning as too melodramatic. But her message is biblical. The door of opportunity to trust in Christ and be saved will not be open forever.

It’s the cry of the snake oil huckster, “Step right up! Hurry, hurry, hurry! Once in a lifetime offer! Uncle John’s famous ointment for half price! Cures just about anything that ails you! You won’t want to miss it.”

Once in a lifetime–in other words, it’s an extremely rare and fleeting opportunity. The phrase has been traced as far back as 1851, the era when the medicine shows traveled the hinterland, entertaining people with acrobats, musclemen, magicians, dancers, ventriloquists, trained animals, sharp shooters–anything to draw a crowd. Then they’d fleece the gullible by offering potions for sale promising miracle cures–Chambers’s Herb-O-Lac, or Hamlin’s Wizard Oil, or Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment (which actually contained no snake ingredients).

Once in a lifetime. As to our mortal lives on this earth, we are physically born only once, and we only die once (Heb. 9:27). Further thought will indicate that there may be events in our lives that, if we only knew, provide opportunities that’ll never come our way again. Poet James Russell Lowell wrote:

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side.

Emma Campbell attended revival meetings in Newark and was especially blessed. One of the speakers preached on Christ’s healing of blind Bartimaeus. He described how the multitude swept by on the road, surrounding the Lord, and when Bartimaeus asked what was happening, “They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by” (Lk. 18:37).

Learning that, the blind beggar cried out for mercy, and the Lord healed him (vs. 40-43). The speaker in Newark took the phrase–“Jesus of Nazareth passeth by” (KJV), and applied it to the spiritual crisis we face when the Spirit of God convicts us of sin, and points us to Christ. Is it a once in a lifetime opportunity? We have no way of knowing–which should move us to respond readily to God’s call. (And He is no snake oil salesman! His Word is true.)

When Emma Campbell heard the sermon, she not only responded herself, making a new and deeper spiritual commitment. She also wrote the words of a hymn, based on the experience of blind Bartimaeus. In future years it was greatly used of God, when sung by Ira Sankey, in Dwight Moody’s evangelistic meetings.

CH-1) What means this eager, anxious throng,
Pressing our busy streets along?
These wondrous gatherings day by day,
What means this strange commotion, pray?
Voices in accents hushed reply,
“Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.”

CH-7) Ye sin-sick souls, who feel your need,
He comes to you, a Friend indeed;
Rise from your weary, wakeful couch,
Haste to secure His healing touch;
No longer sadly wait and sigh,
“Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.”

None of us knows whether we’ll have another opportunity to reach out to the Lord in faith. That’s why the Bible urges, “Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2, NIV). Campbell’s hymn concludes, sternly:

CH-10) But if you still this call refuse,
And dare such wondrous love abuse,
Soon will He sadly from you turn,
Your bitter prayer for mercy spurn,
“Too late! too late!” will be the cry–
“Jesus of Nazareth has passed by.”

The Lord Jesus spoke in similar terms of coming judgment on the Jews, and of a lost opportunity.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38).

Once in a lifetime–perhaps. Since none of us knows whether the gospel call is the last one we will ever hear, it is important to respond to God promptly, committing ourselves to believe and obey His Word.

1) Have you responded to God’s call to trust in Christ for salvation? (If not, why not today. See the article God’s Plan of Salvation.)

2) Why do we not seem to hear messages with such strong warnings today, as in former years?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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