Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fanny Crosby and the "Raptured Soul"

From Songs of Devotion for Christian Associations (New York: Biglow & Main, 1871)

In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever;
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.

-- Fanny Crosby, "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross" (1869)

This popular old hymn is sung very widely among Churches of Christ, and as far as I have ever heard, the only widespread controversy about it is over the exact notes to be sung in the last phrase of the melody (let the reader understand). But I must thank my sister Laura for setting me puzzling again about another question that has occurred to me and probably others over the years--was Fanny Crosby's "raptured soul" referring to "The Rapture" as that term is used in Premillennial doctrine?

The Rapture and the Hymnal

The majority of Churches of Christ rejected this teaching several decades ago as impossible to reconcile with several plain, straightforward Scriptures. I recognize that this will surprise some readers who may assume that any group as conservative as we (generally) are would share the "end times" views of most fundamentalists. To put this as briefly as possible: Paul teaches that the faithful living will not leave this world with Christ before the resurrection of the faithful dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), and Jesus teaches that the resurrection of the faithful will occur along with the resurrection of the unfaithful in a common judgment (John 5:28-29). The simplest solution is that all of this occurs at once, when Jesus comes again--"and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him" (Revelation 1:7). What about Matthew 24:40-41, where "one shall be taken, and the other left"? We already know from 1 Thessalonians 4 that the faithful living and the faithful dead will "meet the Lord in the air," a blessing not promised to the unfaithful. The emphasis of the Matthew 24 passage is that judgment will come suddenly, in the midst of life, separating the righteous from the wicked as the judgment begins. By way of contrast, and I mean this kindly, compare this straightforward explanation to the labyrinth of frequently contradictory doctrines that have arisen from Premillennialism.  For further study on this topic, I recommend Don Blackwell's video presentation "No one left behind" as a good, clear summary.

But did we let something slip past us in the hymnal? I have never encountered a serious objection to this hymn myself, but it has been altered in several hymnals down through the years. A search of the available instances in shows that the most common alteration is simply to say "ransomed soul" instead of "raptured soul," as found in Tabernacle Hymns no. 4 (Chicago: Tabernacle Publishing, 1960), The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (Nashville: Word Music, 1986), The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991 and Lifeway, 2008 editions), The New Century Hymnal (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1995), The African American Heritage Hymnal (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2001), Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2006), and the Celebrating Grace Hymnal (Macon, Ga.: Celebrating Grace, 2010). The alteration of this single word in the refrain suggests that as the Rapture doctrine became more widely talked about in the late 20th century, at least some people wanted to avoid that implication. Interestingly, among the hymnals used by the churches of Christ, I have not found one that used this alteration--even Sacred Selections uses "raptured soul," and if any editor were going to change the words, it would have been Brother Crum! From a practical standpoint, though, "ransomed soul" is a neat solution, and many people would not notice the difference.

The Changing Meanings of "Rapture": The Verb

The Oxford English Dictionary,
1989 edition (Wikipedia)
Regardless of modern sensibilities about the word, what did Fanny Crosby mean when she wrote it in the chorus of this hymn? This makes an interesting study in the history of doctrines and the changing meanings of words. To understand what Mrs. Crosby meant by a "raptured soul," we need to know first what common usage was when the hymn was written in 1869. The Oxford English Dictionary is the most thorough and scholarly descriptive dictionary of the English language (20-plus massive volumes in the print version), and has the useful feature of tracking the history of a word through the centuries. The entry for "rapture" as a verb indicates that one might be "raptured," in the sense of being carried away with excitement, as early as 1636:
If he heare a strange Preacher, he at his comming down, as raptur'd with his Doctrine, salutes him with a cringe. --T. Heywood True Disc. Two Infamous Upstart Prophets
By contrast, the use of this verb in the Premillennial sense ("to cause (believers) to ascend into heaven as part of the rapture of the Church," OED) is first quoted from 1865:
To rise from the carnal with so little memory of earth--to be raptured as a blessed babe through the gates of Paradise. --J. H. Carroll in G. Hallock, History of the South Congregational Church
The OED is careful to note that in this instance, however, it may only mean "to cause to ascend into heaven after death." A clearer occurrence of the term in its specific, modern usage comes from 1899:
We shall in glory, by and by . . . Be raptured up; then as thy own Blood-purchased Bride, wilt share thy throne. --J. H. Garratt, Coming Judgment
This is a definite use of the word in connection with being physically taken up from this earth, obviously referencing 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Though the verb "to rapture" does not appear in any major English Bible translations, we find that in the Latin Vulgate, "will be caught up" in verse 17 is "rapiemur," the participle of which is "raptura" from which we derive our English word. (It should be noted, of course, that the Catholic Church has never taught a Premillennial Rapture.) It is likely that the influence of the Latin text led to the later use of "raptured" and "rapture" in reference to the teaching in this passage. The Rheims Bible of 1582 uses another form of this Latin root in 2 Corinthians 12:2, as Paul describes his experience of paradise: "I know a man in Christ above fourtene yeres agoe (whether in the body, I know not: or out of the body, I know not: God doth know) such a one rapt even to the third heaven." In the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage, however, the Rheims translators used "taken up" (English Hexapla).

The Changing Meanings of "Rapture": The Noun

As for the use of "rapture" as a noun, it obviously has a long history in describing "a state, condition, or fit of intense delight or enthusiasm" (OED), a definition that need not concern us here, and a more recent history in describing a specific eschatological event--"the transport of believers to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ." (Note that even the OED dodges the question of "pre-tribulation," etc.!) The OED's earliest cited example of the noun "rapture" in this context, complete with capital "R," is from 1768:
We have determined likewise, from the Circumstance of the Rapture of the Saints , . . that the Air or Atmosphere will be the Place of the Judgement. -- T. Broughton, Prospect of Futurity iii. viii. 357
This is not a Premillennial Rapture; read in context, Broughton placed the Rapture at the time of the general Judgment of all humanity. And though Broughton's writing is notable for using "the Rapture" repeatedly as a concept-word, he was not the first. Joseph Mede (1586-1638), a controversial Cambridge professor, used the the term "Rapture" in the early 17th century, but placed it after a Millennial reign of Christ on the earth:
Suppose therefore this Rapture of the Saints into the Aire be to translate them to Heaven; yet it might be construed thus, The dead in Christ (that is, for Christ, namely, the Martyrs) shall rise first; afterwards, (viz. a thousand years after) we which are alive and remain shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, and meet the Lord in the Aire, and so (from thenceforth) we shall ever be with the Lord (Works, book 4, epistle 22; italics in original).
Matthew Henry's commentary on the New Testament letters, published after his death in 1714, also uses the term "rapture" in his discussion of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.
Those that shall be found alive will then be changed. They shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, v. 17. At, or immediately before, this rapture into the clouds, those who are alive will undergo a mighty change, which will be equivalent to dying.
Henry, a prominent Postmillennialist, also placed the Rapture at the same time as the Judgment (Blaising, Gentry, Strimple 18). A similar use of the word by an early U.S. writer may be found in Samuel Blatchford's sermon "The excellency of the Scriptures," published in Albany, New York in 1811, though it is also possible that it might just refer to a state of ecstasy:
Where but in the sacred scriptures is the veil torn asunder, which concealed from mortals the great consummation of all things? The dissolving heavens--the melting elements--the burning globe--the resurrection of the dead--the erection of the throne of judgment--the assembling of the universe--the rapture of the saints as they pass through the portals of celestial glory--and the groans of the damned as they sink under the sentence of their God into the prison of despair? (Blatchford 25)
The Origins of the Capital-R "Rapture" in the Premillennial Context

The next instance given by the Oxford English Dictionary, however, is definitely describing "the Rapture" as it is spoken of today:
I am not aware that there was any definite teaching . . . that there would be a secret rapture of the saints at a secret coming (W. Kelly, Rapture of Saints, 1903).
John Nelson Darby (Wikipedia)
It is important to note, for sake of clarity, that Kelly was in fact quoting someone with whom he disagreed, though he does not identify the source of the quote. Kelly defended the concept of the Premillennial Rapture, and was speaking of the history of the doctrine within the Plymouth Brethren, and in the teachings of John N. Darby (1800-1882) in particular, of whom more in a moment. In this case the limited space of any dictionary, even the mighty OED, could lead to the incorrect conclusion based on the Kelly quote that the Premillennial Rapture was an invention of the last decades of the 19th century. As much easier as that would make the task of my inquiry, it should be noted that the concept of a Premillennial Rapture was taught in some circles, at least in the British Isles, considerably before the time Fanny Crosby wrote the hymn under discussion.

David Malcolm Bennett tells that Morgan Edwards (1722-1795), a Welsh Baptist who later settled in the American colonies, wrote of this concept in the 18th century (Origins, 172ff.). Edwards did not, however, use the term "Rapture" in his writings. The earliest clear usage of "Rapture" in a Premillennial context is apparently an essay in the September 1830 issue of Edward Irving's Morning Watch, written by one "T.W.C." (likely T. W. Chevalier), who describes the "rapture unto the Lord in the air" (T.W.C. 590). At this point the terminology seems to have stuck; a search of for the phrase "rapture of the saints" yields several instances from the 1830s, primarily from the press of John Nisbet, an Irving associate. One of the most dramatic evidences of this rise in popularity of the term and of the concept of a Premillennial Rapture is found in William Cuninghame's Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets of the Apocalypse; from the second edition of 1817 to the third edition of 1832, Cuninghame added a new chapter: "On the order of the events connected with the Second Advent of Our Lord," with a subsection on "The sudden advent of our Lord--the rapture of the saints" (491 ff.; cf. 2nd ed. contents, 3rd ed. contents)

It was not Irving and his immediate circle, however, who would popularize the concept of a pre-Tribulation Rapture as the doctrine is understood by its adherents today; Irving's embrace of tongue-speaking, new revelations, and especially his controversial views on Christ's humanity, placed him too far outside the mainstream (Landow). The torch of Premillennialism would be picked up instead by the Anglo-Irish minister and scholar, John N. Darby (William Kelly's article cited above goes to considerable lengths to argue against the direct influence of Irving on Darby). Darby was naturally most influential in the British Isles, but he also traveled to the United States and Canada in 1859, 1865-65, 1866-68, 1870, 1872-73, and 1874 (Schaff-Herzog). His influence apparently grew only slowly within the mainstream of American Evangelical thought, however, and did not begin to make inroads until the 1870s. The slower acceptance of this teaching in the U.S. might have been caused by the lingering impact of the "Great Disappointment" of 1844, when William Miller's widely publicized prediction of Christ's return failed to materialize (Court 122-123). Darby did however receive speaking invitations from such luminaries as Dwight Moody, who was certainly influenced by him (Schuck 517). Despite its relatively slower start, Premillennialism was in the air in the post-Civil War United States. Beginning with an informal meeting in New York in 1868, leaders from various denominations began to meet to discuss prophecy, leading to an annual meeting called the Niagara Prophecy Conference. With the publication of the 1878 "Niagara Creed," Premillennialism was undeniably an established movement in the United States (Stone 507-508).

Fanny Crosby and Her Theological Circle

Portrait of Fanny Crosby and songwriter
Ira Sankey (Wikimedia Commons)
But what was Fanny Crosby's relationship to such doctrinal issues, and to the people who espoused them? At this point it is useful to note a quote attributed to Crosby after her death by journalist William Hale Beckford: "I have never thought much about theology. The two all-important things, it seems to me, are character and kindness" (Beckford 247). Whether Crosby was really so theologically naive is debatable, but it fits with her generally non-doctrinaire hymns and personal associations. She was raised a "Calvinistic Presbyterian" (Crosby Memories 28), but an experience at a Methodist revival meeting in 1850 was the spiritual turning point in her life (Memories 96). One of the leading lights among New York City Methodists during this time, who no doubt influenced and reinforced Crosby's conversion, was Phoebe Palmer, author of The Way of Holiness and a founding theologian of the Wesleyan Holiness movement in the U.S. (Blumhofer 108ff.). (Palmer was the mother of Phoebe Palmer Knapp, composer of the music for "Blessed Assurance"). Crosby however still "frequently attended" the Dutch Reformed Church on 23rd Street (Memories 114).

In the course of writing Fanny Crosby's Story of Ninety-Four Years, her nephew Samuel Trevena Jackson asked Crosby to tell him about the great ministers she had known (chapter 9, "My notable preachers"). Her response to this prompt reveals a distinguished list of acquaintances among the Methodist leadership of her day, as well as a smattering of prominent Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians:
Randolph S. Foster
J. O. Peck
James M. Buckley
Charles Cardwell McCabe
Thomas Bowman
Edward Andrews
John P. Newman
John Fletcher Hurst
Phillips Brooks
Charles H. Fowler
Matthew Simpson
Henry Ward Beecher
Richard Salter Storrs
John Hall
Howard Crosby
Adolphus J. F. Behrends
Theodore L. Cuyler
Given the state of flux on the question of the Millennium among Evangelicals at the close of the 19th century, it is risky to say that none of these ever held Premillennial views. I can say at least that I found no evidence that any of these men did hold to those doctrines, and in some cases could show that they did not. Behrends, for example, said in The World for Christ (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1896):
It is equally clear that social and institutional changes are most directly and powerfully affected through changes in moral ideals and religious convictions. The process may be too slow for enthusiastic reformers who would bring in the millennium at a stroke, but it is the only steady and sure one. The Gospel is like leaven, working from within outward and leavening the whole lump (65).
This was classic Postmillennialism, a more common 19th-century view that looked for the return of Christ after a "Christian millennium" in which the gospel would convert the whole world. (That some Restoration Movement leaders believed the same is evident from Alexander Campbell's well known journal title Millennial Harbinger.) The same view is apparent in "The Second Coming of Our Lord" (Homiletic Review 21:1, 46-50) by Presbyterian John Hall, who takes Premillennialism to task kindly but firmly. Gillis Harp's biography of Phillips Brooks, yet another of Crosby's favorites, notes that his eschatology was defined in part by his reaction against Premillennialism during the 1870s (Harp 187). John Fletcher Hurst's Outline of Church History also treats the Premillennial movement as a disruption of Presbyterian unity.

Looking at the question from a different angle, we can know at least by 1878 who the leading lights were in Premillennialism. The Prophetic Conference held that year in New York City was thoroughly documented in a published record of the minutes, including a list of 114 clergy who endorsed the conference. Of this number, only six were Methodists, Fanny Crosby's own denomination; the majority were Presbyterians and Baptists. Premillennialism was just not that prominent in mainstream Methodism, either then or now. Not surprisingly, none of the churchmen Crosby listed for her nephew were involved, though the Prophetic Conference list does include Daniel W. Whittle (author of "I know Whom I have believed"), with whom Crosby was friends (Crosby Memories 137).

From Welcome Tidings (New York: Biglow & Main, 1877)
Another factor to consider is that Crosby saw herself as much as a crusader for social reform as a hymnwriter. She supported the Women's Christian Temperance Movement in songs such as "Onward! Onward! Temperance Band!" and "Cold Water Army" in 1870 (Blumhofer 195), and became a well known figure in the Bowery and other blighted neighborhoods of New York through her speaking engagements and one-on-one efforts to reach out to the physically and spiritually destitute (Blumhofer 285ff.). These "social gospel" efforts toward reforming the sinful world fit in with the older tradition of Postmillennialism, which saw the church reaching toward a golden Millennial age before the return of Christ. They were more or less at odds, however, with Premillennialism's apocalyptic view of the approaching end times, when the world would get worse and worse (Deichmann 104).  It certainly appears that Crosby, though she probably never made a public statement one way or the other, identified with the more traditional views espoused by the leading clergy she mentions in her biography.

There remains one significant influence to be accounted for--Dwight Lyman Moody. There is no question that the famous evangelist became convinced of Premillennialism; as noted above, he encountered John Darby during the 1870s and invited him to speak in his pulpit (Schuck 517), and was preaching Premillennialism himself by the end of the decade (Findlay 250). For the purposes of assessing Fanny Crosby's view of the Rapture doctrine in 1869 at the time of writing "Near the Cross," these facts are not especially relevant; Moody did not yet embrace the doctrine himself at that time. But it is worth asking--why did Crosby not list the most famous evangelist of the day among the luminaries recounted to her nephew at his prompting? Yes, there is a chapter devoted to Moody and Sankey in her Memories of Eighty Years, titled "Two Great Evangelists," but most of the chapter is devoted to the songleader Ira Sankey, whom Crosby clearly counted as a dear friend. By contrast her description of Moody is rather brief, though admiring. Then there is this interesting statement: "Dwight Lyman Moody was a wonderful man; and he did his own work in a unique way, which was sometimes no less daring than original" (Memories 131). It is possible to read too much into the statement, but is there a hint of ambivalence?

Fanny Crosby's Use of the Words "Rapture" and "Raptured" in Her Hymns

Turning back now to the more concrete question of how Crosby actually did use the term "rapture" in her hymns, we need to establish a baseline for the use of the word in general. In the broadest view, the Google Books Ngram Viewer shows that out of the billions of words indexed in Google Books, "rapture" or "raptured" occured in about .001% of American English publications in the very early 1800s, gradually declining through the century and then dropping off more sharply in the early 20th century to their present level at about .0002%. "Rapture" is the blue line, and "raptured" is the red line.

Click here to view the Ngram Viewer page (WARNING: HIGHLY ADDICTIVE!)
Using the graphing function at, we see hymns using the terms "rapture" and "raptured" experienced a similar decline when viewed as a percentage of the entire database of hymns (depicted in the red line and shaded area). The blue line is the number of actual instances of "rapture" in the indexed hymnals; the peak around 1880-1899 simply reflects the larger overall number of texts in the database from the late 1800s through the early 1900s.

But the bigger story told by these numbers is the percentage of hymns using the word "rapture" compared to the percentage of overall publications seen in the Google Books Ngram--the usage in hymns is dramatically higher, ranging from 1%-4%. Hymnwriting is to some extent an insular field, separated even from the broader field of poetry, and one supposes that the influence of previous generations holds greater sway--a supposition worth further study at another time.

The graph below shows the use of any form of "rapture" as a percentage of hymns in dating from the 1860s, when Crosby began her professional career in hymnwriting, to her death in 1915. Both the mean and median of these percentages round off to 2.5%. Of the 2,955 hymns by Fanny Crosby indexed in full text by, there are 90 hymns that use some form of the word "rapture," about 3.1% of her indexed total. This is higher than the overall average usage by her contemporaries, but only by 0.6%, and the average usage represented in the graph below actually met or exceeded Crosby's average in the periods 1866-1870, 1881-1890, and 1901-1905.

From this it appears that Crosby's use of the word "rapture" was in line with that of her contemporaries; certainly there was nothing unusual in her choice of the word. It remains now only to survey her hymns using the word "rapture" in its various forms and meanings, to see if she ever employed it in an eschatological context. provides 90 full-text hymns by Fanny Crosby that include some form of the word "rapture." Reviewing the possible meanings of the word discussed in preceding sections, most instances are clearly using "rapture" in the common sense of excitement (or "raptured" in the sense of being caught up in excitement). Some of the better known examples follow:

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending, bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Only the most rabid hobbyist (and I have known a few) could coax out an eschatological meaning from "Blessed assurance;" the "visions of rapture" are even explained in the succeeding lines, as the blind poet imagines "angels descending" and "whispers of love." The overwhelming joy is rooted in the here and now, as expressed in the refrain:

This is my story, this is my song; 
praising my Savior all the day long.

Or consider this stanza from "A Wonderful Savior":

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns, 
and filled with His fullness divine, 
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God 
for such a Redeemer as mine!

Unless this is looking forward to singing during the actual process of Rapture, the obvious meaning is that the speaker, being in a state of rapture or heightened emotion, is singing praises. Common sense also must prevail in the reading of the following stanza of this well known song:

Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus,
no language my rapture can tell
I know that the light of His presence
with me doth continually dwell.

Even in songs that do speak of the transition to the future life, there are abundant examples such as "After the mist and shadow" in which Crosby obviously speaks of "rapture" in its common usage:

After the pilgrim journey,
Rapture that ne’er shall cease,
Over the silent river,
Rest in the land of peace.

The timing of the event is perhaps viable, but a "rapture that ne'er shall cease" hardly matches the popular eschatological doctrine. The examples could go on and on--in other texts Crosby speaks of "heights of rapture," "the rapture of pardon," "the rapture of redeeming love," "heights of sacred rapture," and "songs of rapture." These songs use "rapture" in its common sense of an intense state of joy, as it would most likely be understood by within the poetic style of the time, and really need no further comment.

There remain some two dozen texts that use the term "rapture" in connection with the end times, which deserve a closer look. Again, most of these upon examination are clearly not referring to the capital-R Rapture.

"Behold, the dawn is breaking." The third stanza speaks of the "dawn of rapture," but the context of the hymn is clearly the final revelation of Christ to all the earth in the Second Coming: "When all the earth awaking / At Jesus' name shall bow."

"There's a Friend that abides." The final stanza includes the lines:

O, the song that will break,
when to rapture I wake,
and in glory with Him I shall be!

"Waking" to the eschatological Rapture seems an odd expression, whereas "waking from the sleep of death" (that is, in resurrection) to see Jesus will certainly be an event of rapturous joy. The same situation exists in the next hymn.

 "The near tomorrow." The "rapture, holy rapture" is found in the final stanza:

When our pilgrim life is ended,
and we view the setting sun,
when the labors of the harvest
we have finished one by one.

Oh the rapture, holy rapture;
Oh the shout of glad surprise,
in the near and bright tomorrow
when we ope our waking eyes.

Again the singer speaks of waking from sleep, the common Christian metaphor for death; the fourth line also indicates that it is a rest from labors that "we have finished one by one," reinforcing the context of individual death and then a common resurrection.

"Home at last." Crosby uses the unusual phrase "holy rapture" in this song as well, in the context of a song heard from the saints we meet on the other side:

Hark the song of holy rapture,
hear it break from yonder strand
where our friends for us are waiting,
in the golden summer land.

The songs of heaven are by nature "rapturous" in the emotional sense, but it hardly seems likely that Crosby referenced an imagined song about the Rapture event.

"O morn of bliss eternal." This hymn starts out with a "rapture" reference, but rather soon clarifies the setting. The eschatology is actually rather traditional.

O morn of bliss eternal,
what will our rapture be,
when clothed in power and glory,
our blessed Lord we see.

When He in clouds descending
shall come to claim His own
and gather all, both great and small,
around His Father's throne.

There are some of Crosby's texts in which the meaning is uncertain, at least once the question is in mind. What Crosby intended will have to be judged on the preponderance of the evidence about her own beliefs on the subject, as we are attempting to ascertain.

"The midnight cry." This little known text builds on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), and includes the lines:

Then, with rapture complete, 
our Beloved we shall meet,
when midnight shall echo the cry.

Obviously the question is, does this mean "when the Rapture is complete," or "with complete rapture as an emotional state." How one reads it depends on one's beliefs. The parable beginning Matthew 25 is read in context of Matthew 24, and often figures in debates within the Premillennial community over the nature of the Rapture. If I were a believer in the Rapture doctrine, I might well read this text in that meaning.

"In my Father's dwelling above." The passage in question is the refrain:

O the rapture, O the rapture,
when I reach my Father’s dwelling bright and fair!
O the rapture, O the rapture,
when the King shall receive me there.

I take this also as "a state of rapturous joy," because reading it as referring to the Rapture event makes it sound a little unnatural. Once again, however, I am not sure how much my own bias is reflected.

"O the bliss, the holy rapture!"

Again I am strongly inclined to read this at face value--an equating of "bliss" and "holy rapture," especially after the use of "holy rapture" in that context in other hymns mentioned above. The title phrase is used at the beginnings of the first and final stanzas, as well as in the refrain.

O the bliss, the holy rapture when from earth we glide away
to the realms of endless splendor, to the soul’s eternal day;
to the golden fields of Eden with the pure and blest above,
where the saints of all ages sing of His redeeming love.

O the bliss, the holy rapture!
when array’d in garments fair,
we shall dwell amid the glory
of the King who bro’t us there.

O the bliss, the holy rapture, when we see Him on His throne,
in the land where death and sorrow shall forever be unknown;
Nevermore will clouds oppress us, nevermore will shadows come,
for eternal day surrounds us in that everlasting home.

Again, if I knew that Fanny Crosby believed in the Rapture doctrine, I might be inclined to take her language in that sense. Her connection to that belief being unproven, and even shown to be unlikely, I can only say that I believe these songs are not likely to have been intended in that sense.

The final few songs to examine are those that actually use the phrase that started this inquiry in the first place, "raptured soul." In addition to the ubiquitous Crosby favorite "Jesus, keep me near the cross," there are four other songs in which she uses this expression.

"I know not what a day may bring." This little known Crosby song has much to recommend it, speaking as it does of daily faith in the face of a life of difficulty. The line in question here occurs in the final stanza:

I know not if my waking eyes
another day may see;
but angel wings will quickly bear
my raptured soul to thee.

The writer seems to speak not of a Rapture in the midst of life, but of death and the transport of the soul to paradise. The expression "waking eyes" implies contrast with the "sleep" spoken of in other songs already mentioned.

"Once more at rest." This hymn was published with music by Ira Sankey in Sacred Songs No. 2, in 1899. The physical and financial difficulties of Crosby's later years are apparent in the lyrics. The passage in question is in the final stanza:

Once more at rest, I view the silent river,
whose placid waves Thy love will bear me o’er;
there, home at last, my raptured soul for ever
will fold her wings, where sorrow comes no more. 

The "silent river" is a common metaphor for death. The soul is "raptured" in the sense of experiencing bliss on the other side, but cannot refer to a Premillennial Rapture.

"Lord, abide with me." Here also we find a "raptured soul" in heaven following death, in the final two stanzas:

When the shades of death prevail,
Father, let me cling to Thee;
when I pass the gloomy vale,
Lord, abide with me.

Then, O then, my raptured soul
heav’n’s eternal rest shall see;
there, while endless ages roll,
live and reign with me.

"On joyful wings." This hymn speaks of "our raptured souls" in the context of a desire to depart for heaven:

On joyful wings our raptured souls
would mount and spread their flight,
and from Mount Pisgah’s top behold
the land of pure delight.

"Keep me ever close to Thee." For the last of these examples, we have a hymn in which "raptured" is used in two different contexts, one eschatological and one not:

There in holy, sweet communion
with Thy Spirit day by day,
faith to realms of light and glory
bears my raptured soul away.

Close to Thee, O Savior, keep me,
till I reach the shining shore,
till I join the raptured army,
shouting joy forevermore.

The second of the two stanzas speaks of joining a "raptured army" in heaven. Nothing in this stanza alone seems to point toward either interpretation. The prior stanza, however, uses "raptured soul" in an obviously figurative sense and in the context of the here and now: the soul's departure to heaven (by whatever means) is not spoken of until the final stanza. In the preceding stanza, the writer speaks of our "day by day" walk with the Spirit, and says that "faith... bears my raptured soul away... to realms of light and glory." The "bearing away" of the soul is purely figurative, and the adjective "raptured" can hardly mean other than a state of joy.

A Final Point of Comparison

In addition to the hymns of Fanny Crosby herself, it is interesting to look at the use of such terms as "raptured soul" in the hymns that preceded her body of work.

Charles Wesley, "A hymn for midnight" (1739). Crosby's Methodist faith makes Wesley particularly important. Here is an example of the phrase "raptured soul" from the founding hymnist of that tradition himself:

Aid me, ye hovering spirits near,
angels and ministers of grace;
who ever, while you guard us here,
behold your heavenly Father’s face!
gently my raptured soul convey
to regions of eternal day.

Whether "raptured" here means full of joy, or carried off to heaven (either makes sense in context), Wesley was certainly not Premillennial in his views.

Samuel Stennett, "On Jordan's stormy banks" (1787). Here is a more obvious usage, from a perennial favorite :

Filled with delight my raptured soul
would here no longer stay;
though Jordan's waves around me roll,
fearless I'd launch away.

Not only does the writer contemplate death rather than capital-R Rapture, but his "raptured soul" is a present, not future, state of being.

Philip Doddridge, "Eternal and immortal King" {1755, posthumous publication). Here the "raptured soul" is a response to contemplation of the Almighty:

Then every tempting form of sin,
shamed in Thy presence, disappears;
and all the glowing raptured soul
the likeness it contemplates, wears.


From all the above it appears obvious that there is little reason to suppose that Fanny Crosby believed in a Premillennial Rapture, or that she referred to this in her songs. Hopefully this inquiry demonstrates, however, some of the issues surrounding the difficulty of determining the intent of hymn lyrics, and some strategies for approaching the question.

In the end however, we have to admit that even clear, everyday communications between friends can be misinterpreted; much more the poetic stylings of more than a century ago, when the author is unavailable for comment! Let us always be thoughtful about the words we sing in worship, and let us be reasonable in our judgment when we find fault.


"Rapture, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 6 July 2015.

"Rapture, v." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 6 July 2015.

Kelly, William. "The Rapture of the Saints: who suggested it, or rather on what Scripture?" The Bible Treasury, New Series, volume 4, pages 314-318; also published by T. Weston, 1903.

Court, John M. Approaching the Apocalypse : A Short History of Christian Millenarianism. London: I.B. Tauris, 2008.

"Darby, John Nelson." The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1909-1914, volume 3, pages 356-357.

Stone, Jon R. "Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century American Millennialisms." The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. Oxford University Press, 2011, pages 492-514.

Schuck, Glenn R. "Christian Dispensationalism." The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. Oxford University Press, 2011, pages 515-528.

Beckford, William Hale. "Memories of a great singer: Fanny Crosby-Van Alstyne." Book News Monthly volume 36, number 3 (March 1918), pages 247-248.

Findlay, James F., Jr. Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1969.

Behrends, Adolphus. The World for Christ. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1896.

Gillis J. Harp. Brahmin Prophet: Phillips Brooks and the Path of Liberal Protestantism. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Hall, John. "The Second Coming of Our Lord." Homiletic Review volume 21, number 1 (January 1891), pages 46-50.

Hurst, John Fletcher. Outline of Church History, revised edition. New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1886.

Prophetic Conference (New York City : 30 October-1 November, 1878). The Second Coming of Christ: Premillennial Essays of the Prophetic Conference. Chicago: F. H. Revell, 1879.;view=1up;seq=7

Deichmann, Wendy J. "American Methodism in the Twentieth Century: Reform, Redefinition, and Renewal." The Cambridge Companion to American Methodism New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, pages 97-118

Blatchford, Samuel. The Excellency of the Scriptures: a sermon delivered before the Albany Bible Society. Albany: Websters and Skinner, 1811.

Mede, Joseph. The Works of the Pious and Profoundly Learned Joseph Mede, B.D., Sometime Fellow of Christ's Colledge in Cambridge, edited by John Worthington.;view=fulltext

The English Hexapla: Exhibiting the Six Important English Translations of the New Testament Scriptures: Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, Genevan, Anglo-Rhemish, Authorised. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1841.

Broughton, Thomas. A Prospect of Futurity in Four Dissertations on the Nature and Circumstances of the Life to Come. London: T. Cadell, 1768.

Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Whole Bible. Volume 6: Acts to Revelation. Online edition by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Blasing, Craig A., Kenneth L. Gentry, Robert B. Strimple. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.

Bennett, David Malcolm. Origins of Left Behind Eschatology. [Florida?]: Xulon Press, 2010.

T.W.C. "On the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Gathering of His Elect." Morning Watch, volume 2, (September 1830), pages 587-593.

Cuninghame, William. A dissertation on the seals and trumpets of the Apocalypse, 2nd ed. London: Cadell & Davies, 1817.

Cuninghame, William. A dissertation on the seals and trumpets of the Apocalypse, 3rd ed. London: Cadell, 1832.

Landow, George P. "Edward Irving and the Catholic Apostolic Church." The Victorian Web. 2005.

Blumhofer, Edith L. Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005.

Crosby, Fanny J. Memories of Eighty Years. Boston: James H. Earle, 1906.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Father, Whate'er of Earthly Bliss

Praise for the Lord #148

Words: Anne Steele, 1760
Music: NAOMI, Johann Nageli, 1836, arr. by Lowell Mason, 1836

Anne Steele (1717-1778) was a leader among the first generation of English hymn writers to follow in the tradition begun by Isaac Watts, and was the most prominent woman hymn writer in the English language during her era (Watson). Julian rated her, in fact, "by far the most gifted Baptist hymn-writer of this period" (112). The landmark Ash & Evans Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship (1769), also known as the "Bristol Hymnal," included 62 hymns by Steele out of 412 (%15), under her pen name "Theodosia." The only authors to exceed this number were Philip Doddridge (87) and of course Isaac Watts (122); no one else came even close. This was all the more unusual in an era when women did not yet commonly publish on religious topics (Aalders 23). Her continuing importance to English Baptists is reflected in the 27 hymns included in Gadsby's Hymns, a 19th-century collection that is still in use among some churches, and 13 hymns in the American Baptist hymnal published by Judson Press in 2012--an impressive feat after 250 years. Steele published the majority of her works in the 1760 collection Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (vol. 1vol. 2), to which her friend and champion Caleb Evans added the posthumous Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse and Prose (Watson).

Despite the obvious importance of her contributions, Anne Steele's reputation as a hymnwriter was long a victim of her own admirers. Dr. Cynthia Aalders hits the nail right on the head in the introduction of her excellent study of Steele:
Prior to recent scholarly advancements in the study of hymnody, hymns were treated as a kind of folk genre; writing about hymns typically was limited to stories related to the circumstances or personalities behind the composition of particular hymns. For this reason, perhaps, the biographical stories typically relayed about Steele tend to capitalize on the dramatic, despite dubious archival evidence... It would seem that the approach most often taken toward the telling of Steele's life story has had more to do with hagiography than biography (8-9).
A typical summary of Steele's biography often includes her retiring nature, a weak physical condition that left her nearly an invalid, and the tragedy that changed her life when her fiance drowned on the morning of their wedding day. Not only are those items exaggerated (and the last one demonstrably false), they make her story into a sympathetic tale of the "brave little woman," as though her accomplishments were not sufficient on their own. Perhaps there was even some tendency to make her an oddity, a gifted recluse whose art grew out of intense suffering, instead of recognizing that she was simply a woman who wrote hymns better than most men of her generation. (The same could be said of much that is written about Fanny Crosby--she was not a remarkable songwriter "for a blind woman," she was a remarkable and influential songwriter, period.)

Michael Dixon and Hugh Steele-Smith made a study of Anne Steele's health on the basis of contemporary letters and diaries, concluding that she likely suffered from malaria, with other complications multiplying in her later years, that frequently left her weak and unable to be as active as she wished (353). But her health did not enter a serious decline until the last decade of her life (Aalders 107), well after the publication of her first volume of hymns. There was even greater exaggeration of the star-crossed lovers trope. The basic facts of the death of James Elcomb of Ringwood by drowning on May 23, 1737 are accurate as given by the earliest Baptist historians (Ivimey 4:312), but Dixon and Steele-Smith found a letter written to Anne's father by James Manfield, a family friend, reporting the event as follows:
I heartily wish the Subsequent part of my letter may not be an Unseasonable surprize to any of your Family and therefore tis with very great concern that I acquaint You that this Evening our dear friend Mr Elcomb was unfortunately drown'd in the River . . .
I submitt to your Prudence to Communicate this Unhappy Accident to the rest off your Family in a Suitable manner & not knowing how far he may have prevail'd in the Affections of Miss Steele I send my Man on purpose to prevent any Shock that may attend her hearing It in too sudden a manner (352). 
Elcomb therefore had at least paid court to Anne; but surely such a thoughtful friend of the family would have known had they actually been engaged to marry the next day! In fact there is no evidence that Anne Steele reciprocated Elcomb's feelings, and she later turned down at least two other offers of marriage (Aalders 21 n.51). (One of these, coincidentally, was from Benjamin Beddome, author of the hymn "God is the fountain whence.")

The reality of Anne Steele's life was far from that of the "wounded dove." She was the daughter of a well-to-do merchant in Broughton, Hampshire whose family connections included many prominent thinkers among the Dissenters, and as was the custom of the day for her social circle, Anne and her relations spent extended visits in their homes in neighboring towns (Aalders 10-13). Though she lost her mother at age 3, she had a reasonably good relationship with her stepmother, who supported her father's decision to let Anne go to school. In addition to a formal education, Anne Steele benefited from the wide range of intellectuals she encountered through visits and among her parents' guests (Aalders 18-20). And though she had great difficulties later in life and was never in robust health, most of the personal tragedies she encountered were after the bulk of her written work was done: her stepmother passed in 1760, months after the publication of her two-volume collection (Whelan), followed by her father in 1769 and her half-sister in 1772 (Aalders 12). Though these losses hit her hard, they could not in themselves have been an influence on the bulk of her hymns.

The hymn "Father, whate'er of earthly bliss" was adapted from the last three stanzas (out of ten) in Steele's poem titled "Desiring Resignation and Thankfulness," the first line of which is "When I survey life's varied scene." Its first appearance in its current form was in Augustus Toplady's Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship (1776) (Julian 1269). The famed opponent of John Wesley apparently did not find Steele's language sufficiently Calvinist for his taste, altering "Thy sovereign hand" to "Thy sovereign will" in the first stanza, and changing "let me live to Thee" to "make me live to Thee" at the end of the second stanza. Toplady also changed the second line of the third stanza from "My path of life attend" to the more sobering "My life and death attend," but perhaps that is attributable to his illness at the time (which did in fact lead to his death in 1778) (Bennett).

The omitted stanzas of Steel's poem follow:

When I survey life's varied scene,
Amid the darkest hours,
Sweet rays of comfort shine between,
And thorns are mix'd with flowers.

Lord, teach me to adore thy hand,
From whence my comforts flow;
And let me in this desert land
A glimpse of Canaan know.

Is health and ease my happy share?
O may I bless my God;
Thy kindness let my songs declare,
And spread thy praise abroad.

While such delightful gifts as these,
Are kindly dealt to me,
Be all my hours of health and ease
Devoted Lord to thee.

In griefs and pains thy sacred word,
(Dear solace of my soul!)
Celestial comforts can afford,
And all their power control.

When present sufferings pain my heart,
Or future terrors rise,
And light and hope almost depart
From these dejected eyes:

Thy powerful word supports my hope,
Sweet cordial of the mind!
And bears my fainting spirit up,
And bids me wait resign'd.

The preceding stanzas are the context, and the hymn is just the summary. In the first stanza, Steele proposes to examine both "thorns and flowers" in life, referencing that timeless irony so often made the subject of poetry and song. Both are part of every life, and the presence of one does not take away from the other. Neither does their presence in various combinations negate the fact that God remains sovereign. As Job said to his wife's remonstration against his continuing faith, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10). Though his understanding of the situation was incomplete, his attitude was right. He had earlier said,
Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked shall I return.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
(Job 1:21)
It was not the Lord who had taken everything away, but Job was correct in his long-range view: we bring nothing into this life, we are promised nothing while we are here, and we will take nothing away from it. Humanity has long asked, "Why is there so much evil?" but we may as well ask, "Why is there so much good?" Anne Steele reminds us to look at both sides.

The next stanza introduces the Biblical image of God's hand, providing for his people. Steele calls up the image of God's provision for His people in the Sinai wilderness, where they were became dependent on Him alone, traveling through a land that could not sustain such a multitude by natural means. As David said generations later, "You open your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Psalm 145:16). Additionally, the "hand of God" suggests His authority, as in Psalm 123:2, where the servant of God waits on His good time.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD our God,
Till He has mercy upon us.
This image ties into the original wording of the first stanza of the hymn, "Thy sov'reign hand," which perhaps unfortunately was altered by Toplady.

The third and fourth stanzas of Steele's original poem promise gratitude for the good times. She would have us remember to be thankful, and "making the best use of the time" (Colossians 4:5). It is an odd but widely understood truth, that it is harder to be grateful during times of plenty than when we are in need. The fifth, sixth, and seventh stanzas examine the times of "griefs and pains," and the less specific but often more troubling "future terrors." How often is the fear of what may happen, worse than the bad things that actually do! In these Steele encourages us to find solace in Scripture, which gives "hope" in the midst of these troubles and can "all their powers control." Though we cannot live here without sorrows, we can find that help that Paul promised in Romans 15:4, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." These stanzas not included in the modern hymn conclude with another reference to "waiting on the Lord," that hopeful and patient attitude that appears throughout the Psalms and Prophets, even in the darkest of circumstances.

Now to the hymn as we have it:

Stanza 1:
Father, whate'er of earthly bliss
Thy sov'reign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace,
Let this petition rise:

This stanza needs careful reading. The first two lines alone might cause us to think this is another of those hymns which expound on the author's suffering in life in a sort of self-congratulatory manner that implies, "Yes, Lord, I am suffering so much! But I'm not complaining." I confess that I have long overlooked the quality of this hymn by just such an assumption, and by not knowing more of Anne Steele's quality of hymn-writing. Having seen the stanzas that originally preceded this, however, it is obvious that self-pity or self-righteousness is the furthest thing from her intent. She has acknowledged that both good and ill are our lot in life, in different measures and at different times, and accepts it as God's will.

In this stanza, however, she poses a direct request. Regardless of whatever else she may be denied in this life ("whate'er of earthly bliss / Thy sov'reign will denies"), she asks that "this petition" (the requests detailed the final two stanzas) be "accepted at Thy throne of grace." She has narrowed down her list of wants to those things a Christian needs, and asks boldly for God's will to grant them. It recalls the beautiful statement of David in the 27th Psalm:
One thing have I asked of the LORD,
That will I seek after:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
And to inquire in his temple.
(Psalm 27:4)
We find our wants and needs easily confused, especially in wealthy countries where even a middling income allows luxuries that would have made us fabulously rich a few generations ago. It is often necessary for circumstances to force us to rethink our needs and realize what is truly necessary. During the recent hurricane in southern Texas a picture made the rounds, showing a dog named Otis carrying a bag of dog food in his mouth. I believe I understand its popularity. Not only did people recognize Otis as a survivor, they also saw in him an illustration of the pragmatism that takes over in a time of need. Otis could only carry one thing in his mouth, and he chose wisely. He might have liked to carry his bed, or a favorite toy, but he would definitely need that bag of food. Human beings in similar circumstances found themselves equally concerned with the basics of food and shelter. At that moment, the rich and poor alike saw the value of a cup of hot soup and a warm bed.

There are needful things on the spiritual level as well, as necessary as food, clothing, and shelter. People seek them in many places, and find as many disappointments, but keep looking. The final two stanzas are Anne Steele's conclusions about what these spiritual needs truly are.

Stanza 2:
Give me a calm, a thankful heart,
From ev'ry murmur free;
The blessings of Thy grace impart,
And let me live to Thee.

The first line of this stanza could serve as a paraphrase for Paul's reminder to the Colossians, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful" (Colossians 3:15). For someone who saw so much conflict in his life, Paul spoke a great deal of his peace; yet following the Hebrew concept of shalom, a Christian's peace is not an absence of external conflict, but the presence of an internal wholeness and balance. It is not a passive state; we must pursue peace (Romans 14:19, 2 Timothy 2:22), and the writer of Hebrews even calls us (counter-intuitively!) to "strive for peace" (12:14). This active, deliberate quality is "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding," that "will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

Thankfulness is intertwined with this frame of mind in at least two ways; it is enabled by the peace of mind just described, and it reinforces it at the same time. It is all too easy--and I know this too well--to count our sorrows instead of our blessings. The losses and hurts of this life are real. But if we would not be consumed by them, we need to learn thankfulness for every good thing, great and small. Thankfulness for small things is the opposite of the "murmuring" described in the second line of the stanza. This word recalls the Exodus (two-thirds of the instances of "murmur" in the King James Version are found from Exodus through Deuteronomy, and many of the remaining third look back to that period). The open rebellions against Moses and Joshua were relatively few; it was the slow burn of low-key but persistent complaining that dragged things down. (Parents of small children will understand.)

What if we could do the same thing, but with thanksgiving? What if we could train ourselves to give thanks for every small blessing that comes our way? "Lord, thank you that I can get out of bed this morning" (as I listen to the various creaks and pops that accompany that action). "Lord, thank you for coffee" (this is not humorous). "Lord, thank you that I have a job to go to, and that I got here safely in that traffic." This won't solve all our problems, but perhaps a constant practice of giving thanks for the good things that happen day by day will keep us from dwelling on the disappointments.

Paul's ever-present wish for his readers was "Grace and peace," as expressed at the beginning of nearly every letter, and Steele counts the blessings of God's grace as needful things to the Christian. It may be no accident that Paul always speaks of grace first, and then peace, for there is no true peace before God's grace is received. God's grace first provided a means of salvation: "redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). His grace continues to sustain the Christian, as the Hebrews writer says, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16). Paul shared this lesson that came from his thorn in the flesh, when God's answer to his pleas for help was "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is the life--at peace, thankful, and dependent on God's grace day to day, that is "lived to the Lord" (Romans 14:8).

Stanza 3:
Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey's end.

The final thing that Steele's petition asks is for hope. Hope, of course, is an intangible. "For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (Romans 8:24-25). Just because it has not yet arrived, however, does not mean that it is of no present use. The present effect of hope is very real. In Paul's figure of the Christian armor, the "hope of salvation" is the helmet (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is a necessary protection every day. Setting that hope as our focus is part of "preparing [our] minds for action, and being sober-minded" (1 Peter 1:13). It is a chief part of our motivation: "For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

It is also worth noting that the Christian's "hope" is a far cry from a mere "wish." We may hope in that sense for things in which we have little assurance, such as fair weather or a good seat on the bus. The Christian's hope is backed up by the unchanging character of God himself:
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:17-18).
Our "blessed hope" is in "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), a return promised by Christ himself. It is a hope "laid up for you in heaven," in the keeping of One whose bank will never fail, with a written guarantee in "the Word of Truth" (Colossians 1:5). This is a hope that sustains through "life and death," as Steele says, providing the strength and energy for each passing day and "crowning the end" with serenity that can only be found in such assurance. No wonder it was so often part of Paul's prayers for the saints:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:16-18).
Cynthia Aalders has well noted the underlying strength and joy of Steele's hymn, in spite of the serious tone of the subject matter:
Despite her prolonged meditations on earthly suffering and human inarticulacy--despite her perception of God as ineffable--Steele's hymnody remains essentially hopeful, enabling her to make affirmations about God and the spiritual life . . . Steele's confidence that a sovereign God deals both joy and sorrow persuades her that the appropriate spiritual posture is consistently one of thankfulness and calm acceptance, whether life is characterized by "health and ease" or "griefs and pains" (Aalders 159, 161).
About the music:

Hans Georg Nägeli (1773–1836) was a German Swiss composer, music publisher, and music educator of considerable importance in his time. He was contemporary to Beethoven, and was the first publisher of Beethoven's op. 31 piano sonatas, groundbreaking works in that composer's famed middle period. Nägeli's compositions were primarily choral music and solo songs, prefiguring the rapid expansion of the latter genre in the hands of his younger contemporary Franz Schubert (Grove).

Nägeli was firm believer in "music for the masses," and did much to found the Liederkranz tradition ("singing circle," more or less) in Switzerland. These were men's (sometimes women's) amateur choirs, and in an age in which clubs and societies were very popular to begin with, they became a fixture of middle-class entertainment. The music was essentially popular but made occasional forays into the classical realm, and was a mixture of sacred and secular works. A somewhat similar tradition in the United States is the glee club and the barbershop chorus.

Lowell Mason, the great "improver of public taste" and founding father of American music education, took a great deal of inspiration from Nägeli's theories about music education. On his 1837 trip to Europe he carried a letter of introduction to the Swiss composer, and traveled to Zurich specifically to meet him. Unknown to Mason, Nägeli had passed away prior to his arrival. Mason's travel journal reports that he bought all of Nägeli's published works that he did not already possess (Mason, 9). He also met with Nägeli's widow and son to offer his condolences. The son gave Mason a copy of one of his own songs (Mason, 96), and Eva O'Meara's 1971 report on the Lowell Mason collection at Yale University indicates that Mason acquired over fifty titles in all from Nägeli's family (O'Meara, 200). It is possible that some of these materials worked their way into hymns that Mason attributed to Nägeli. Given the difficulty of unraveling Mason's attributions even with composers whose works are thoroughly studied (how exactly is ANTIOCH arranged from Handel?), this may remain unresolved.

The hymn tune which Mason named NAOMI first appeared in his periodical Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes, issue no. 3 (1836).

This is considerably altered in its next appearance, in Mason's Carmina Sacra, or, Boston Collection (Boston: Wilkins & Carter, 1841).

Given the degree of alteration from the first to the second arrangement--a complete change of the rhythmic foot in the opening line, and a revision of the cadence ending the second phrase--Mason certainly took a free hand in his arrangements.


Aalders, Cynthia Y. To Express the Ineffable: The Hymns and Spirituality of Anne SteeleStudies in Baptist History and Thought, no. 40 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2009).

Ivimey, Joseph. A History of the English Baptists, 4 volumes. London, 1811-1830.

Wilkinson, John. "The Farming of Hampshire." Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society volume 22 (1861), pages 239-371.

Dixon, Michael F. & Hugh F. Steele-Smith, "Anne Steele's Health: A Modern Diagnosis." Baptist Quarterly 32:7 (July 1988), 351-356.

Watson, J. R. "Steele, Anne (1717-1778)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition. Oxford University Press, 2005, viewed 12 May 2016.

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology, 2nd revised edition (1907). New York: Dover, 1957.

Benson, Louis FitzGerald. The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship. New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1915.

Whelan, Timothy. "Steele, Anne Cator--Biography." Nonconformist Women Writers, 1650-1850. Accessed 11 September 2017. 

Hadden, James Cuthbert. "Steele, Anne." Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1895-1900.,_Anne_(DNB00)

Bennett, Henry Leigh. "Toplady, Augustus." Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1895-1900.,_Augustus_Montague_(DNB00)

"Nägeli, Hans Georg." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. London: MacMillan, 1980.

Mason, Lowell. A Yankee Musician in Europe: The 1837 Journals of Lowell Mason, ed. Michael Broyles. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1990.

O'Meara, Eva. "The Lowell Mason Library." Notes, Second Series, vol. 28, no. 2 (Dec., 1971), pp. 197-208.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Father, Hear Thy Children's Call

Praise for the Lord #147

Words: Thomas B. Pollock, 1870
Music: GOWER'S LITANY, John H. Gower, 1890

Thomas Benson Pollock (1839-1896) and his brother James Samuel Pollock (1834-1895) were well known in the Church of England of their day for their work at St. Alban the Martyr, Birmingham, ministering to the poor of this large industrial city. James was also a prolific writer on the doctrinal issues of the day (see a list of his works). Thomas, however, has had a more lasting popularity as an author through his contributions to the Anglican liturgy in the form of litanies.

The Pollock brothers grew up in the Isle of Man, sons of a prominent army officer from the Napoleonic wars (Anonymous 3). Both studied at Trinity College of Dublin, where Thomas received his B.A. degree in 1859 and his M.A. in 1863. He was also awarded with the Vice-Chancellor's Prize for English verse. Though Thomas had trained to become a doctor, eventually both brothers took Anglican orders (Anonymous 7-8). Within a few years the elder brother James was taken with the idea of a mission chapel for a largely unchurched area of sprawling Birmingham. Thomas came to join him "for a fortnight," as James once described it, "that has extended to twenty-five years" (Anonymous 11-12). Their anonymous biographer described them as follows:
Men of high intellect, culture, and refinement, more fitted, seemingly for the quiet of a cathedral close or a university quadrangle than for Mission Priests, must have found much that was uncongenial in the grimy slums of Vaughton's Hole. But none could have guessed it, for the heart of each was in S. Alban's (48).
The beginning of their work was not easy, for the Pollock brothers were very much part of the Oxford Movement, which aimed to reinvigorate the Church of England by reconnecting it to its pre-Reformation roots. Some in the community viewed this as returning to Roman Catholicism (which in the famous case of John Henry Newman actually happened). The Pollocks at first faced violent opposition to their more "high church" services in Birmingham, sometimes even to the point of riots, though the fervor eventually died down (Wakeling 261).

With his background in medicine, Thomas was kept busy tending to the sick, and championed sanitation and public health reform (Anonymous 50ff.). But writing seems to have been a compulsion for him, and his witty rhymed "prologues" reviewing the past year's doings in the parish were a highlight of the Christmas season (Anonymous 55). His brother James described Thomas as often walking around the house humming tunes, working out lyrics, to the point that the older brother teasingly warned the younger about the dangers of insanity brought on by compulsive rhyming (Anonymous 80). And if Thomas Pollock was not actually "the inventor of the metrical litany," as his anonymous biographer credited him (72), he was certainly a prominent modern exponent of the form; John Julian called him "a most successful writer," whose works "have greatly enriched modern hymn-books" (2:900). For Julian, this is high praise, and the hymnologist listed no fewer than eleven of Pollock's litanies in his article on the subject (1:677ff.). But Pollock described himself thus: "I am only a rhymer, and I do not profess to be more than a mechanical builder up of lines" (Anonymous 72). The present hymn and other selections provided by his biographer certainly call this humble assessment into question!

The word "litany" may be better known to the general public today through its appropriation as a term for a lengthy list of troubles or complaints, but the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon shows that λιτανεία (litaneíaLSJ) derives from the verb λιτανεύω (litaneúō), to make an entreaty (LSJ). Its ancient roots are in the very serious business of begging the favor of a ruler (Odyssey 7:145) or a god (Iliad 2:23:196). In the Koine Greek era, the term was used by the author of 2 Maccabees to describe the Jewish nation's prayers to God for deliverance from enemies (3:20, 10:16). The litany as a lengthy listing of supplications, however, is a Christian invention; it emerged in the first few centuries of the church in the form of a prayer in which the leader would make a number of requests of God, each of which was followed by a repeated phrase from the congregation affirming their agreement with what was said (Alexopoulos). (Mershman points to the 135th Psalm as a possible inspiration for this practice, with its retelling of God's deeds punctuated by the phrase "For His mercy endures forever.") An early example of the Christian litany is found in the "Clementine Liturgy" of the 4th-century Apostolic Constitutions, in which each line of a prayer by the deacon is followed by the congregational response, "Lord, have mercy" (Alexopoulos). Litanies came to be used in both the Orthodox and Roman liturgies for special feast days, and in this function became associated with processionals (Mershman).

With the separation of the Church of England during the reign of Henry VIII came an official English language liturgy, developed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1544. This included a litany drawn partly from existing English Catholic traditions, the Orthodox litanies, and from Martin Luther's modifications of Roman Catholic litany tradition. This litany was incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer (Wohlers). During the ebb and flow of "high church" and "low church" squabbles in the Church of England, the lengthy and elaborate litany was often omitted from services, but the Oxford Movement of the 19th century reinstated it a central feature, and in time even more litanies were added. Julian states:
The Metrical Litanies of the modern hymn-books began in 1854 with one or two in rhythmical prose on the Childhood and Passion of Jesus . . . By slow degrees these have been increased . . . until provision has been made for most of the Fasts and Festivals of the Church. . . . 
Amongst the the earliest writers of Metrical Litanies were Dr. F. G. Lee, Dr. Littledale, and G. Moultrie; and amongst the later Bp. H. E. Bickersteth, Sir H. W. Baker, and T. B. Pollock (1:677ff.) 
Pollock's litanies were published in two volumes: Metrical Litanies for Special Services and General Use (1870), and the Litany Appendix (1871). Five of these (and parts of another) were included in the 1875 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, making up fully half of the "Litanies" section at the back of the hymnal. "Father, hear Thy children's call" appears as Hymn 465, the first of two Litanies of Penitence, and appears in three sections: 9 stanzas followed by an Amen, 6 stanzas followed by an Amen, and 9 more stanzas followed by an Amen. Though some of the more liturgical traditions have kept the entire litany in its three sections, over the years most hymnal editors have adapted it into a single hymn by selecting a group of stanzas. Looking over the instances available for view at, it is actually fairly difficult to find two hymnals that have the same set of stanzas.

Though it is often intriguing to examine omitted stanzas, in this case I will just cover those five stanzas that are used in Praise for the Lord (in the original litany: part 1, stanzas 2, 3, 7, and 8, and part 2, stanza 6). This reduced version was introduced to the churches of Christ, so far as I can discover, with Jorgenson's 1921 Great Songs of the Church, and remained in this form in the hymnals that adopted it next, such as Majestic Hymnal (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1959) and Songs of the Church (West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing, 1971). From the latter, and through the various incarnations of Great Songs, it came down to Praise for the Lord in the 1990s, though it was omitted from Howard Publishing's Songs of Faith and Praise.

Stanza 1:
Father, hear Thy children’s call;
Humbly at Thy feet we fall,
Prodigals, confessing all:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Pollock's litany begins with an appeal to the Heavenly Father from His children. It is well worth considering: we address the God who created the cosmos, who has existed from all eternity, as our Father. To address Him by this name is so frequently done, in fact, that there is a risk of forgetting the startling claim made by this simple word. It takes no thought at all to use this word of my earthly father; it is a simple statement of biology and relationship. Yet even on this human level we know it really is more complicated. I can also call Patrick Hamrick (1684-1784) my "father" in the sense of the origin of my family line in this hemisphere, but I have no personal relationship with that individual. His day-to-day impact on my life is limited to an often misspelled surname. The contrast with my actual father could not be greater, for (as we jokingly say) I have known him all my life. Though I do not resemble him much physically, I bear the stamp of his influence throughout my life, in my beliefs, character, attitudes, and interests. Being a father in that sense is much more than a biological or a legal relationship.

It was this human relationship that Jesus chose to describe our relationship to God. The Hebrew Testament does not often speak in this way, though the occasional passage does appear, as in Deuteronomy 32:6b, "Is not He your father, who created you, who made you and established you?" But in most of these instances, the Fatherhood of God is mentioned only briefly, and often in connection with other metaphors that portray the relationship in different lights (for example, the "Father" metaphor in Jeremiah 3:19 is followed immediately by a comparison to the husband/wife relationship in the following verse). By contrast, Jesus referred to God as "Father" in some 165 instances in the gospel accounts. Not only was this markedly different from the practice of the ancient Scriptures, it was out of the ordinary for the religious thought of the 1st century (Stein).

Though the Greek of the New Testament uses the generic term Pater for all but three of these instances, the Aramaic term Abba is retained in Jesus' impassioned prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), so we need not step into the academic mire of second-guessing Jesus' "original words" to say that this was the term He used in everyday speech. The equivalence of Abba and Pater is cemented in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6, where the Greek word is given as a gloss for the less familiar Aramaic. The implication of the term Abba has been discussed for years, of course, and doubtless most of us have heard it equated to the English "Daddy" or "Papa." Glenn Stanton's "Factchecker" article provides a good summary of the history of this line of thought, which was pretty thoroughly debunked among scholars of Biblical languages by the 1980s, though it has continued in popularity down to the present. The New Testament use of the Greek Pater instead of the informal Pappas also weighs heavily against this idea.

But if God is not described in Scripture as "Daddy," even by Jesus himself, "Father" carries more than enough weight! He is the Creator, of whom all people can say, "we are His offspring" (Acts 17:28), but He wants to be a Father to us in the fullest sense of that word. We cannot have the same relationship to Him that His Son Jesus has, because of the uniqueness of the "only begotten Son" (John 3:16, KJV), but "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Galatians 4:6). The word the Holy Spirit chose to explain this relationship to us was "adoption."
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom 8:15-17)
The Christians in Rome to whom Paul wrote would have understood this metaphor immediately. Among the noble and wealthy classes in Roman society, adoption was a means not only of providing a male heir if none were present, but also of building advantageous bonds between families. The most famous example, even today, is the great Augustus Caesar, who was adopted as a young man by Julius Caesar. Though born into a less prominent family, young Octavian was immediately recognized as the right-hand man of his adoptive father, and the intended heir of both his name and his empire. The right to call Caesar "father" was incredibly significant, and though the Caesar eventually came to be viewed as the "father to his people" in a national sense, no one could mistake the significance of the unique relationship this term denoted within the imperial family.

Consider then, by comparison, the honor and privilege that Christians enjoy to call the Creator of heaven and earth our Father! We can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16), because He is not only our Lord, He is our Father. We are assured that He will hear us, because we are not only His subjects and servants (also Scriptural metaphors!), we are His children. But will the Father hear when His children call? If you are a parent, you know the answer. The voice of your child, especially if raised in alarm, will cut through a noisy crowd in an instant. If my phone shows an incoming call from one of my children, it will be answered, even if I have to interrupt a conversation or leave in the middle of a meeting.

Our confidence in this relationship with God, however, should not lead us to carelessness, but to consideration. Even in my relationship with my earthly father, there are boundaries of respect. In my family we refer to him as "Dad," denoting a relationship that I have with no other person on earth. I did not call him by his first name when I was a child, or even to this day. (Actually I did once, in a moment of childish rebellion and curiosity, but I immediately regretted it.) Should we not show far greater respect in how we speak to the Creator who privileges us to call Him Father? Even Jesus, whose relationship to the Father is far beyond ours, sometimes addressed Him with additional honorifics: "O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Luke 10:21, Matthew 11:25), "Holy Father" (John 17:11), and "Righteous Father" (John 17:25). He thanked the Father for hearing Him (John 11:41), and praised His glory (John 12:28, 17:1-5). The early Christians continued this attitude of reverence in prayer, calling on God as the "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them" (Acts 4:24).

Pollock's litany shows this reverence as well, with the addition of confession: "Humbly at Thy feet we fall / Prodigals confessing all." The attitude of humility comes not only from a recognition that God is the Creator and we are the creation, but also from acknowledging our moral bankruptcy before Him. We need the attitude of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21, who openly admitted that his sins had broken the relationship he once had with his father. He appealed not for recognition as a son, but simply for mercy; the father of course gave him both. David reminds us in Psalm 138:6, "For though the Lord is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar." It is notable that this call to humility was spoken by a king! The truly great leaders of the Bible always showed this attitude in prayer. Nehemiah, in the prayer of supplication at the very beginning of the book bearing his name, began with fasting and prayer, confessing the sins of his nation in God's sight. King Hezekiah, when confronted with the army of Assyria at his gates, took their demand for surrender not to his generals, or to his political advisers, but to the house of the Lord, where he humbly appealed to the God "of all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Kings 19:15-16). (Would that we had leaders in this nation, and all nations, who so humbled themselves before God!) It is the one who approaches God in humility--"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)--who can anticipate being heard.

The refrain of Pollock's litany, "We beseech Thee, hear us," has a Scriptural parallel in Solomon's dedicatory prayer for the temple (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 6), which continually returns to the petition, "Hear in heaven Your dwelling place." 2 Chronicles 7 recounts the Lord's answer to Solomon's prayer during a vision:
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. (2 Chronicles 7:12-15)
How comforting to know that we as Christians are the living temple of God, both as individuals (1 Corinthians 6:19) and collectively (Ephesians 2:19-22), and that His "eyes will be open" and His "ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place" (2 Chronicles 7:15)!

Stanza 2:
Christ, beneath Thy cross we blame
All our life of sin and shame,
Penitent, we breathe Thy name:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

For some reason the opening lines of this stanza have long confused me, and perhaps that has been the case for the reader; if not, I ask indulgence while I explain. When Pollock says that "we blame / All our life of sin and shame," my immediate thought is, "For what?" The ordinary use of the word "blame" implies that someone is being held responsible for a negative result of his or her actions. Is the consequence of our actions in view in this stanza? I believe so, though it was not immediately apparent to me. In the first line Pollock establishes a setting that may give our answer: "beneath Thy cross."
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).
It was I, and it was you, who deserved to be there instead. When we think of the awful treatment of One who even in His death prayed for forgiveness of His tormentors (Luke 23:34), the blame lies squarely on me and you--"All our life of sin and shame."

Another older meaning of "blame" may be in play as well. In early Modern English, it could also mean generally "to reprove" or "to bring into disrepute" (Oxford Universal Dictionary). We see this a few times in the King James Version, such as 2 Corinthians 6:3, "Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed." Here Pollock may also be saying that we come to the cross reproving and renouncing our "lives of sin and shame," for as he says in the following line, "Penitent, we breath Thy name." "Penitent," of course, is a cousin of the word "repent," meaning to be in a state of repentance--making the mental determination to change direction from the wrong to the right. The cross of Christ has that effect on those who will allow themselves to see it for what it really means. Jesus said, "When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32), and like magnetic north, the pull of the cross shows us when we have drifted off our course.

Stanza 3:
Sick, we come to Thee for cure,
Guilty, seek Thy mercy sure,
Evil, long to be made pure:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Among the mighty works Jesus performed to confirm His words was the healing of the sick. "And wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment. And as many as touched it were made well" (Mark 6:56). This was motivated in great part, of course, by His character: "He had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14b). But as is so often the case with Jesus' actions, there is a deeper meaning. It was not His plan to heal all the sick among His people; in fact He pointed out that such miracles had never been intended in that manner: "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27). The miracles of healing were acts of compassion and were immediate help to those who received them, but a greater lesson was to be learned. When the paralyzed man was lowered through the roof of a house before Jesus, His first action was not to heal the body, but the soul, saying "Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). In a similar incident, Jesus told the man He healed by the pool of Siloam, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you" (John 5:14). To be lost spiritually is a far worse condition than any physical illness or injury, and Jesus came to heal something far more deadly and insidious than even the terrible contagion of leprosy. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

Spiritual sickness is one thing, but Pollock goes further. Do we think of ourselves as "guilty?" Do we see "evil" in our lives? "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). Lest we quibble with Paul about which "law" he means, verse 23 makes plain that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The corruption of evil has been with humanity since Genesis chapter 3, when the "knowledge of good and evil" became all too real through sin, and individually we have followed in the footsteps of our first ancestors. Even after forgiveness through Christ that takes away the guilt and sin, we still struggle to remain free it--at least Paul did, and I do not fancy we are any better.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).
This is no excuse for remaining in sin, but a hard, painful look at the reality of our weakness. Yet as Pollock says, we "long to be made pure." We need to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6), striving after it in spite of our weakness, and trusting in God to help us in our weakness to do His will. Pollock is not interested in beating us down, but rather in encouraging us to look realistically at our absolute dependence on Christ, rather than on our own strength.

Stanza 4:
Blind, we pray that we may see,
Bound, we pray to be made free,
Stained, we pray for sanctity:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

The first two lines of this stanza call to mind one of the most stunning events in the ministry of Jesus, when He was invited to give the Scripture reading at the synagogue in his home town, Nazareth:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has anointed Me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:17-21, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2).
What miraculous work could have been more shocking than these words? This talk of liberty for the captive and oppressed was the language of revolution, as was prophesied by Simeon when Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple:
Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
Some, of course, looked for an outward and physical revolution in that generation, but as Jesus told the local representative of secular authority, Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting" (John 18:36). This was never meant as an excuse to ignore unjust behavior by worldly authorities, of course, and down through the centuries the spirit of Christ has worked to end such oppression. But the revolution Jesus led begins on the inside--and as Paul could well attest, especially given his extensive experience with incarceration, the prisons built in our minds and hearts are often the hardest to escape:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25).
Jesus came to loose us from bondage that no earthly liberator can relieve. An impressive instance is seen in the man possessed by the legion of demons; we are told that this tortured individual "had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him" (Mark 5:4). Though he was able to free himself from physical restraints, he was just as much a prisoner of his situation as if he had been in the most secure dungeon in the world. After Jesus freed him, however, he was "sitting there, clothed and in his right mind" (Mark 5:15). Jesus delivers us from spiritual bondage first, giving us the freedom to be the true selves that God meant us to be.

The restoration of sight to the blind is one of the marks of the authenticity of Jesus' ministry, as He remarked in response to the question of His cousin John: "The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matthew 11:5, cf. Isaiah 35:5-6). Several instances of this particular miracle are given in the gospel accounts, but the one that brings the matter into the sharpest focus is found in John chapter 9 with a man who had been blind from birth. As the narrative unfolds the question shifts from how a man was miraculously healed of physical blindness, to the much more difficult issue of the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees when the evidence of God's power was right in front of them. Showing once again that uncanny knack for asking rhetorical questions that pointed directly to their own problems, they asked, "Are we also blind?" To which Jesus replied, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains" (John 9:40-41). Problems of physical sight, of course, are always more obvious to us. I would never go out and drive my car without my glasses, because I know that I cannot navigate safely on the basis of large blurry shapes, which is how anything further than a block away appears. Sadly, it is all too easy to navigate spiritually with flawed vision, and the results are ultimately more disastrous.

Stanza 5:
By Thy love that bids Thee spare,
By the heav’n Thou dost prepare,
By Thy promises to prayer,
We beseech Thee, hear us.

After two stanzas in which he built up a series of adjectives describing our needy state--"Sick . . . Guilty . . . Evil" and "Blind . . . Bound . . . Stained"--Pollock turns in the closing stanza to three things that give us assurance that our prayers do not go unheeded. We are reminded first of the fact of God's love, demonstrated in His willingness to provide a means to spare us from our sins. A good definition of "spare" in this sense is "to abstain from visiting (a sin, etc.) with due punishment" (Oxford Universal Dictionary). Essential to the meaning is the concept of "due punishment;" if we say that we were "spared" from a destructive storm, of course we do not mean that we deserved to suffer from it, or that the storm took pity on us. Ironically, the "love that bade Him spare" sinful humanity, prevented Him from doing the same for His Son: "He ... did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32a), though He alone among humanity did not deserve it.

The second fact to which our attention is drawn is the promise of a heavenly realm in preparation for the redeemed. In one of the darkest hours of His time with the apostles, Jesus promised them,
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).
In another passage Jesus explained that this kingdom was "prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). We are assured that it is God's desire for us to be with Him; it is not a concession granted grudgingly, but was His plan all along. When sin seemed to wreck His plan, He went to unimaginable lengths to shows us a way back to Him. Will not our God, who "is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9b), who longs to bring us into His eternal home, hear the prayers of those who seek Him according to His will?

Finally, Pollock brings before us the promises that God has made regarding prayer itself. In the kingdoms of this world, it is typically the person with influence and connections whose wishes are heard by those in power. The Lord, however, promises to hear the prayers of His people on the basis of sincere and repentant hearts: "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). However lowly one may be in the eyes of the world, he or she can approach the King of Creation, for "He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer" (Psalm 102:17).

When Jesus came into the world to show us the Father, He spoke more expansively on God's promises in prayer:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11).
Not only do we have the ear of the Creator when we pray, but He is well disposed toward our requests and encourages us to ask Him for help. But what of the times when we have difficulty praying? I have known these times, and perhaps the reader has as well. Sometimes I am so shocked or bewildered by an event that I have no idea what to say. Sometimes I am struggling in my faith and do not "feel" as close to God as I would wish when I pray. The best advice I have heard on this is, pray anyway, the best you can. We can be greatly reassured by Paul's words in Romans 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." I do not understand exactly how this works, and I do not have to--I just gratefully accept it, because I know there have been many times when I needed this help.

The Lord promises in James 5:16 that "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." We typically think of this in terms changes in circumstances--a need fulfilled, a sickness relieved, a problem solved--but prayer also works powerfully on the heart of the one who prays. It humbles us and causes us to recognize God's mercy. It makes us think more clearly about what it is that we really need. It pokes and prods at our weaknesses and makes us realize how far we have to go. It encourages us by giving us a ready audience with a God who promises that things will get better if we will talk to Him. Pollock's litany, in bringing these things to mind, is an excellent preparation for corporate or individual prayer.

About the music:

John Henry Gower was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1855, and was assistant organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, from the tender age of 12. In 1874 he became organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's Church, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. In 1876 he completed the Bachelor of Music degree at Balliol College, Oxford, and served as the organist for Trent College in Derbyshire for the space of a little over 10 years (Humphreys & Evan 132). During this time he also served in the 12th Derbyshire Rifles, a volunteer regiment, where his status as a gentleman afforded him a commission as a 2nd lieutenant (United Service Magazine, March 1879, 404). He eventually rose to the rank of captain. In addition to his organ recitals, he was conductor of a local philharmonic society. He continued his studies at Oxford and received the Doctor of Music degree in 1883 (Humphreys & Evans 132). Porchea claims that Gower was the youngest ever to receive a doctorate in music at Oxford (124), but whether this is true or not, it was a remarkable achievement for such a young man.

The original St. John's in the Wilderness, destroyed by fire
in 1903. Photo from Jerome C. Smiley's History of Denver.
In 1887 Gower emigrated to the U.S., and settled in Denver, Colorado (Humphreys & Evans 132), where he married Jean Milne Taylor (Who's Who in America 584). He was one of the earliest organists at St. John's in the Wilderness in its old building on Welton Street (Williams 81), but for reasons yet undiscovered was replaced a year or so later by Henry Houseley (Porchea 84). Porchea's account of the music at St. John's during those years suggests that the rough-and-tumble Western city was a difficult adjustment for the English musicians who were imported by the cathedral's Dean (89ff.). In the 1891 Denver City Directory Gower was listed in a real estate partnership (593, 1677), though he was still involved in the music scene as conductor of the new Denver Select Choir (Porchea 57). From time to time he was looking for a church position (The Churchman (New York City) 6 May 1893, 620), and his biography in Who's Who in America indicates that he served as organist at the Chapel of the Epiphany in Chicago, as well as the Central Presbyterian Church in Denver (584). By the turn of the century the Gowers were living part of the time in England, and part of the time in Denver, where Gower had turned his hand to the booming mining business as well (Who's Who in the World 528). Gower's bitterness at his perceived treatment in Denver is evident in a wittily acerbic letter to the editor of the Musical News of London, 26 May, 1900:
SIR.-- I guess I'll sell my Mus. Doc. racket. Can you do anything with it? In the Western States they don't understand it, and after the daily papers at Denver got it so mixed up, as to style me "J. H. Gower Musk Ox," and J. H. Gower assisted by Miss Doe, I calculated it about time to "chuck" the business. So I took to digging.
Whatever his feelings about Denver, he seems to have settled down there in his older years. He is listed in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. censuses as teaching music from his home. He passed from this life 30 July 1922 in Denver, and is buried in the Fairmount Cemetery (Find-a-grave).

Gower's range of compositions was fairly extensive, including oratorios, cantatas, and anthems, of course, but also secular works for chamber ensembles and even an opera, intriguingly titled The Man from Mars. Some of his contributions to the world of hymn tunes are found in The Evening Service Book (Denver: Denver Music Publishing Co., 1891), of which he was the music editor, including MEDITATION (one of the common tunes for "There is a green hill far away") and the setting of "Father, hear Thy children's call" that came to be known as GOWER'S LITANY.

The tune is very singable and relatively simple, building up in a rising sequence through the first three phrases, the last of which reaches the peak of the melody, then relaxing in the refrain. This is a typical form for hymn tunes, of course, but in this case has the added value of matching the rhetorical structure of Pollock's stanzas. The harmony is considerably more complex, and is an excellent example of Romantic-era harmony applied to the miniature scale of the hymn tune.

The first chromatic chords arrive in the 3rd beat of the 3rd measure, a D-sharp fully diminished 7th chord that serves merely as decoration (not as a leading-tone structure to the following chord), but also sets up the harmonically ambiguous slide into the 4th beat by the bass and alto. The arrival of the A7 chord on the 4th beat is then subverted from its likely goal in the 4th measure (the tonic, D major), by yet another chromatic slide in the bass and alto voices, now introducing an E-sharp fully diminished 7th. This diminished 7th chord, however, is functional, serving as leading tone to the F-sharp minor chord at the end of the phrase (measure 4, beat 3). The series of events manages to produce a cadence in F-sharp minor, a related but rather unexpected key, evidence of the strength of good part-writing.

The next patch of chromaticism begins on the 4th beat of the 5th measure, creating a series of secondary dominants (F#maj7 to Bmaj to Emaj) leading toward the final phrase. There is one standout moment, however, when the tenor voice hits a C-natural in beat 3, measure 6; it creates an F-sharp diminished triad for a moment, before the upper voices resolve down into the E major chord, and gives the harmony a touch of pathos by referring to the parallel key of D minor. This prominent feature in the tenor line seems to be an echo of the peak in the melody at the same spot in the preceding measure.

The part-writing is also worth noting, because the style varies so widely between the two halves of the tune. In the first half the alto, tenor, and bass are practically static, moving primarily by step and often in parallel with the melody. (This is especially noticeable in the original version of the tune, in which the bass stays on an E throughout the 2nd measure. Later versions would have the bass leap down to A, the root of the chord, perhaps in deference to the music theory maxim not to leave a second-inversion chord hanging as Gower does. In his defense, keeping the bass on E makes the bass part much more singable, and the uneasiness of the harmony is in keeping with the chromaticism of the later part of the phrase.) In the second half of the tune the harmony is more straightforward, with more root position chords (and thus more leaps in the bass). It is risky to make this kind of interpretation of the composer's intent, but: the general sense of the tune seems to be a pensive, hesitant beginning, building in tension and yet also in confidence toward the refrain: "We beseech Thee, hear us."


Anonymous. Father Pollock and his Brother: Mission Priests of St. Alban's Birmingham. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911.

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology, 2nd rev. ed. (1907), 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1957.

Alexopoulos, Stefanos. "Litany." New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, edited by Paul Bradshaw. London: SCM Press, 2013, 281-283.

Mershman, Francis. "Litany." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910).

LSJ : The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek English Lexicon. Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. University of California Irvine.

Wohlers, Charles. Exhortation and Litany (1544): The First Liturgy in English.

Wakeling, G. The Oxford Church Movement: Sketches and Recollections. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1895.

Hymns Ancient & Modern, revised and enlarged edition, edited by William Monk. London: William Clowes and Sons, 1875.,_William_Henry)

"Promotions and Appointments." United Service Magazine 149/604 (March 1879), 387-408.

Humphreys, Maggie, and Robert Evans. Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain and Ireland. London: Mansell Publishing Ltd., 1997.

Williams, Alice Roeschlaub. "Recollections of music in early Denver." The Colorado Magazine XXI/3 (May 1944), 81-93.

Porchea, Paul. The Musical History of Colorado. Denver: Charles Westley, 1889.

1891 Corbett & Ballenger's 19th Annual Denver City Directory.

Who's Who in America III (1903-1905), edited Albert Nelson Marquis & John W. Leonard. Chicago: Marquis, 1905.

Who's Who in the World, 1912, edited by H. L. Motter. New York: International Who's Who Publishing, 1912.

Stein, Robert H. "Fatherhood of God." Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997.

Stanton, Glenn T. "Factchecker: Does Abba mean Daddy?" The Gospel Coalition, 2013.

The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles, 3rd edition revised. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.