Posted by: rcottrill | August 20, 2018

One Sweetly Solemn Thought

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Words: Phoebe Cary (b. Sept. 4, 1824; d. July 31, 1871)
Music: Dulce Domum, by Robert Steele Ambrose (b. Mar. 7, 1824; d. Mar. 31, 1908)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Phoebe Cary was raised in a Universalist household, but she and her sister often attended Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist services and were friendly with ministers of all these denominations. Though the present 1852 hymn poem is not strong on orthodox theology, it presents truth that is in harmony with it. says it can be found in over 600 hymnals. Cary was also a champion of women’s rights.

In 1850, Charles Warner wrote: “Politics makes strange bedfellows,” meaning there are times when longtime political enemies will form an uneasy alliance to achieve a goal desired by both.

It’s a sly adaptation of a line from Shakespeare. In his play The Tempest, when shipwrecked Trinculo seeks shelter, reluctantly, beside a sleeping monster, he says, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud [cover myself] till the dregs of the storm be past.”

There can be unusual parings in other areas too. Sweet and salty snacks are quite common. And if you enjoy Chinese food, you’ve likely eaten sweet and sour chicken or pork. To our taste buds, sweetness and sourness are opposites, yet they seem to work well together. And reportedly some restaurants sell pickle-flavoured ice cream–but perhaps that’s going too far!

In daily life there are experiences that arouse conflicting feelings. For example, when a young person leaves home to attend college or take up employment in a distant place, parents may have what we could call a sad-glad reaction. Sad to realize the departing child will no longer be a daily part of the family circle, but glad that he or she is moving on to new challenges and accomplishments in life.

In the days of the early church, Christians faced a similar confliction of feelings. Before His return to heaven, the Lord Jesus had warned His followers that they would face persecution for their loyalty to Him. But He encouraged them to take the long-range view, to realize that victory and heavenly rewards would come in the end (Matt. 5:11-12; Jn. 15:18-21).

There came a day when the disciples were beaten for sharing the gospel and we read, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). There’s nothing pleasant about being beaten, imprisoned, or martyred for your faith in Christ. But even the Lord Jesus rejoiced in what He would accomplish through His death on the cross (Heb. 12:2).

The Apostle Paul faced his own sad-glad moment (Phil. 1:21-24). When he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, he faced the real possibility–one which eventually became a reality–that he would be executed. Sadly, this would deprive him of the opportunity to preach and teach others about the wonderful truths God was revealing through him. However, he rejoiced in the knowledge that death would mean he would “be with Christ, which is far better.”

Whether by persecution, natural causes, or something else, each of us faces the possibility of death. And every day we live brings our departure from this mortal life nearer. It’s a reality that American poet Phoebe Cary called a “sweetly solemn thought.”

Even for the Christian, this is so. The solemnity of death lies in the separation it brings for the living friends and family. If those loved ones are believers too, we can look forward to a reunion in heaven one day, but the loss of that individual is still painful. Also, with Paul, we may regret that they don’t have any more time to serve the Lord and do His work below.

However, we share with the apostle the sweet thought “to be absent from the body [means] to be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8). As the Lord promised the repentant thief crucified next to Him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). The sadness of death and the hope of eternal glory are indeed strange bedfellows.

Below is the poetic form of Phoebe Cary’s work. Minor changes have been made to accommodate several musical settings, including the one in the Cyber Hymnal.

CH-1) One sweetly solemn thought
Comes to me o’er and o’er;
Nearer my home today am I
Than e’er I’ve been before.

CH-2) Nearer my Father’s house,
Where many mansions be;
Nearer today, the great white throne,
Nearer the crystal sea.

CH-3) Nearer the bound of life
Where burdens are laid down;
Nearer to leave the heavy cross,
Nearer to gain the crown.

CH-4) But lying dark between,
Winding down through the night,
Is the deep and unknown stream
To be crossed ere we reach the light.

CH-7) Father, perfect my trust!
Strengthen my pow’r of faith!
Nor let me stand, at last, alone
Upon the shore of death.

CH-8) Be Thou near when my feet
Are slipping o’er the brink;
For it may be I’m nearer home,
Nearer now than I think.

1) What, to you, is particularly “sweet” about the coming end of your life on this earth?

2) What are some “solemn” aspects of this?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


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