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 Hymnary.org, 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."


References:

Anonymous. Father Pollock and his Brother: Mission Priests of St. Alban's Birmingham. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911. 
https://archive.org/stream/fatherpollockand00unknuoft#page/n9/mode/2up

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). http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09286a.htm

LSJ : The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek English Lexicon. Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. University of California Irvine.  http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/

Wohlers, Charles. Exhortation and Litany (1544): The First Liturgy in English.
http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/Litany1544/Exhortation&Litany_1544.htm

Wakeling, G. The Oxford Church Movement: Sketches and Recollections. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1895. https://books.google.com/books?id=I7MzAQAAIAAJ

Hymns Ancient & Modern, revised and enlarged edition, edited by William Monk. London: William Clowes and Sons, 1875. http://imslp.org/wiki/Hymns_Ancient_and_Modern_(Monk,_William_Henry)

"Promotions and Appointments." United Service Magazine 149/604 (March 1879), 387-408.
https://books.google.com/books?id=rugRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA404

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.
http://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/files/Researchers/ColoradoMagazine_v21n3_May1944.pdf

Porchea, Paul. The Musical History of Colorado. Denver: Charles Westley, 1889.
https://books.google.com/books?id=UXlNAAAAYAAJ

1891 Corbett & Ballenger's 19th Annual Denver City Directory.
http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16079coll28/id/35145/rec/6

Who's Who in America III (1903-1905), edited Albert Nelson Marquis & John W. Leonard. Chicago: Marquis, 1905. https://books.google.com/books?id=4nfOl6a6QSkC

Who's Who in the World, 1912, edited by H. L. Motter. New York: International Who's Who Publishing, 1912. https://books.google.com/books?id=I-wRAAAAYAAJ

Stein, Robert H. "Fatherhood of God." Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1997.
http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/fatherhood-of-god.html

Stanton, Glenn T. "Factchecker: Does Abba mean Daddy?" The Gospel Coalition, 2013.
http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-does-abba-mean-daddy

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Father, We Thank Thee for the Night

Praise for the Lord #144

Words: Rebecca Weston, ca.1875?
Music: Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church, 1930

This little morning prayer-hymn first appeared in hymnals in the 1890s, and has maintained a presence even into the present century (Hymnary.org). Though originally conceived as a children's song and published primarily in Sunday school hymnals, its simple but earnest language is suitable for adults as well, and deserves to be better known. It came into use among the churches of Christ by way of Elmer Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church, first appearing (to the best of my knowledge) in the 1930 edition. From this source, no doubt, it came into other hymnals such as Our Leader (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1941) and L. O. Sanderson's Christian Hymns III (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1966), the Howard Publishing hymnals, and others. But however popular it became in the churches, "Father, we thank Thee" did not begin there--it started in the schoolroom. The origin of this hymn reaches back to the 1870s and an interesting chapter of United States history, especially as it pertains to children: the flowering of the Kindergarten movement.

Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (1782-1852), the founder of the movement, was the son of a Lutheran minister in Germany. An intellectual jack-of-all-trades, he eventually was drawn to teaching and studied under the Swiss education reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Generations before "learning styles" entered the popular vernacular, these men recognized the value in learning through all the different senses, using play, investigation, songs, and games, in addition to the traditional tools of teaching. But after establishing his own school, Fröbel felt something was missing from the philosophy of his mentor. His evolving concept of the Kindergarten became rooted in the principle that God is the source of knowledge, and therefore, that true education should lead to God (Muelle 87-88). The spread of the Kindergarten to the United States came through the misfortune of the 1848 revolution in Germany, which prompted a tide of German immigration to the farming country of the Midwestern U.S. The first American Kindergarten was actually taught in German, by a Fröbel-trained teacher in Watertown, Wisconsin, Margarethe Schurz. This school was in existence five years before Elizabeth Peabody opened the first English-language Kindergarten in Boston in 1860. A chance meeting between the two teachers convinced Peabody to travel to Germany to study Fröbel's methods first-hand, and as the Kindergarten movement spread in the English-speaking urban centers, it retained a firm connection with its German founder (Muelle 88).

A critical point to observe in the early spread of Kindergarten in the United States was its close association with the needs of a new demographic, the urban working poor. Industrialization and immigration in the late 1800s caused the cities to swell with workers, and the uncertainties of life away from the farm made it more likely for mothers and older children to enter the workforce. Kindergarten was promoted as a way to give the younger children not only a boost in their education, but also a place to develop good moral habits and citizenship. In the early 1900s it became more aligned with emerging American education philosophies which tended toward a more secular and pragmatic approach, but in its early decades Kindergarten was seen as a spiritual as well as an intellectual education (Muelle 88-89). It is hardly surprising that a children's hymn emerged from this milieu, which paralleled the temperance movement, the Young Men's Christian Association, and other "social gospel" efforts.

Rebecca Jane Weston, who would become a pioneer in the Kindergarten movement in the U.S., was born on 31 May 1835 in Reading, Massachusetts, to James B. Weston and Rebecca (Baldwin) Weston (Massachusetts deaths). An 1885 Boston city directory gives her name as "R. Jennie Weston," and she is once referred to as "Jane Weston" (Peabody "Miss Garland's" 21). Her father James Weston of Reading was a clock dealer and maker (cf. 1850/51 city directory 324, 1850 census), a business inherited by Rebecca's brothers (1870 census). The Westons moved to Boston in 1836-37 (1837 city directory 389), so Rebecca was essentially raised in the city. She attended the Johnson Grammar School, and in 1850, at age 15, she was awarded a City Medal for scholarship (Annual report 1857 222). From 1853-1855 she attended Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, though she does not appear to have graduated (Mount Holyoke catalogues).

Lucy H. Symonds, a fellow schoolteacher and later an associate in Kindergarten work, said that Weston taught in the Boston schools for eighteen years (M.L.G. 321). If she began her full-time Kindergarten work in 1873 ("Notes and discussions" 146), she must have begun teaching around 1855 when she was 20 years old. The earliest documentation I can find shows that she taught in the Newbern Place primary school in 1858 (Rules of the School Committee 1858 11), where she remained until 1863, when she moved to the Warren Street primary school (street name later changed to Warrenton) (Annual report 1863 92). She remained there until 1870, when she moved to the Tennyson Street primary school (later named the Starr King school after the noted Unitarian minister). At Tennyson Street she taught alongside Lucy H. Symonds (Annual report 1870 403), remaining there through 1872 (Annual report 1872 405). Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804-1894), the founder of English-language Kindergarten in the U.S., reckoned Weston and Symonds among "the very most valued of the primary-school teachers of Boston" (Peabody 11).

Chestnut Street, Boston, circa 1869.
Photographer unknown. From Wikimedia Commons.
Over the years Weston spent in the public schools, she became impressed by the impact of Kindergartens on the students she received from such programs. In 1872-1873 she made a life-changing choice--she left public school teaching and undertook intensive study of Kindergarten teaching under Mary Garland ("Notes and discussions" 146). Mary J. Garland (1834-1901) was a disciple of Matilda Kriege, the German founder of the first Kindergarten teacher training program in the U.S., and was also associated with such notables as Elizabeth Peabody and Mary (Mrs. Horace) Mann ("In memoriam" 199-200). (Garland's school later evolved into the Garland Junior College for women, which closed in 1976.) Upon Weston's graduation she became Garland's partner in the Kindergarten school and teacher training program ("Notes and discussions" 146), and around 1875, Rebecca moved into quarters at Garland's school on Chestnut street ("Weston, 1875"). The two women, fast friends and partners in a cause, lived and worked together for the remainder of Weston's life. The impact of their partnership was such that a eulogist of Garland described them as "a double star in the educational firmament" (Wiltse 186). Weston passed away on 7 August 1895 in Concord, Massachusetts, where she and Garland were spending the summer vacation ("Notes and discussions" 146).

Weston's interest in music education was evident early in her career. Luther W. Mason, speaking at her memorial service, remembered that during his time as music supervisor in the Boston schools, Weston was one of the strongest advocates for his efforts to introduce systematic music instruction in the primary schools (M.L.G. 321). Elizabeth Peabody's firsthand description of the graduation exercises of Garland's first class of Kindergarten teachers, which included Weston and her friend Lucy Symonds, notes that "The young ladies began with singing a hymn, which one of them had composed" (Peabody "Exhibition" 10). (Was it Rebecca?) They also read their graduation essays; Weston's was "Froebel as builder," reprinted by Peabody as the lead article in Kindergartner Messenger No. 6 (October 1873). Music was an increasingly important part of Kindergarten work in general and of Weston's contributions to its development. Songs and games for little ones (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1887), a pioneering music book for Kindergartens, includes this statement in the preface of the 3rd edition:
Kindergartners* will find that songs and games which have hitherto been obtainable only in manuscript form, many of them kindly supplied to us by Miss GARLAND and Miss WESTON, are here newly arranged and harmonized.
     *That is, Kindergarten teachers, or "child-gardeners," in the German sense of "Gartner"--DRH.
The first song in this collection is Weston's "Father, we thank Thee." It is uncertain how many others she wrote, but in the Garland Junior College records curated by the archives of Simmons College, there is a group of notebooks described as "Songs for Kindergartens" (no author indicated), alongside a notebook containing other teaching materials by Rebecca Weston (Garland Junior College records). I am much obliged to archivist Jason Wood for searching this material on my behalf. Unfortunately it yielded no references to "Father we thank Thee," but it does provide evidence of songwriting activity in the Garland & Weston school.

There is little to no question of Weston's authorship of the text of "Father, we thank Thee." Though it often appeared without attribution, as popular songs learned by rote will do, I have found no competing claims, and those who knew Weston best testify that she wrote the song for the use of her Kindergarten classes taught in Garland's school on Chestnut Street (M.L.G. 321). The first appearance of "Father, we thank Thee" in a songbook is in the teacher's manual for the 1885 Tonic sol-fa music course for schools by Daniel Batcheller and Thomas Charmbury (Batcheller & Charmbury 18), but the text was definitely known at least a few years earlier, and most likely was written during the 1870s. It is quoted, oddly enough, in a novel by Kate Douglas (Smith) Wiggin, The story of Patsy (Wiggin 27), copyrighted 1882. The song plays out over the death scene of the woebegone titular protagonist, for whom the Kindergarten was one of the few joys of life. Though Weston is not credited, naturally enough, the story nonetheless shows the currency of this hymn in the Kindergarten curriculum:
And in a voice choked with tears, as Jim came in the door, and lifted Patsy in his arms, I sang the hymn that he had sung, with folded hands and reverent mien, every morning of his life in the Kindergarten (Wiggin 26).
(In her defense, it was her first novel, and Wiggin would more than redeem herself with her 1903 classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) Wiggin's knowledge of the hymn at such an early date might have come from her period of study with Elizabeth Peabody in 1880 ("Kate Douglas Wiggin"), but it also suggests that the hymn had already become quite familiar, perhaps even at a national level. An even earlier reference to this hymn comes from Weston's associate Lucy Wheelock, who remembered hearing a Kindergarten class sing at Chauncy Hall School while she herself was a student there. It was a moment that made her determined to pursue a career in early childhood education herself (Wheelock 26). Wheelock attended Chauncy Hall during 1875 (My life 10), so if her memory some fifty years later was accurate, she heard Weston's song in use in that year.

One final note on Rebecca Weston: like many, many people who have chosen early childhood education as a career (including my grandfather, my mother, and two of my sisters), she was acting out her Christian faith. Alice H. Putnam, yet another education luminary from Weston's circle, said in her memory, "I never met her without being deeply impressed with the genuineness of her Christian character" ("Notes and discussions" 147). In a meeting of the Eastern Kindergarten Association where Weston's life and work were honored, noted minister and author Edward Everett Hale said that Weston was a teacher whose philosophy was "founded on three eternities--faith, hope and love. Religion was central in her life, she lived to bring in the kingdom of God" (M.L.G. 321-322).

Bookplate from the library dedicated in
Weston's memory at the (original) Peabody
House, an innovative center for community
education. Reprinted in the Journal of the
Ex Libris Society
 XIV (1904), page 93.

"Father, we thank Thee for the night" is in that unfortunately small class of really great children's hymns. (All the more reason to revive the use of the good ones, with or without the King James English). It is inherently difficult to wrap a profound truth in simple vocabulary, and much easier to write something catchy but shallow. Add to that the struggle of the adult to think in terms that relate to a child, and it is remarkably challenging. But Jesus told us: "Of such are the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14). It is well worth the while of adults to consider what aspects of childhood the Savior meant by that, and this hymn touches on some of them very well.

Stanza 1:
Father, we thank Thee for the night,
And for the pleasant morning light;
For rest and food and loving care,
And all that makes the day so fair.

Thanks are given first of all for the night, usually not the child's favorite time of day. But it is quickly paired with thanksgiving for rest in the third line, gently reminding the child (and us) that we need rest, and that it is a blessing. "He gives to His beloved sleep," Psalm 127:2 tells us, and "Sweet is the sleep of a laborer" (Ecclesiastes 5:12). This is no news, of course, to those of us who wake up in the middle of the night and want nothing more than to go back to sleep! But during those times I try to remind myself how blessed I am that at least I have a bed to lie in, and peaceful nights without fear. I have known people who slept on the floor on the weekends to avoid the stray bullets passing through their neighborhoods, and too many people around the world fear a knock on the door in the night from criminal gangs (official or otherwise). My childhood nighttime fears (Boggy Creek Monster stalking the streets of Tulsa, the headless motorcyclist from Kolchak: the Night Stalker) were fantasy--would that this were true for every child! Let us appreciate the blessing of rest and peace.

The "pleasant morning light" is something so fundamental to human understanding as to need no explanation. Scripture is full of allusions to this fact. The distressed soul in Psalm 130:6 "waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning," reflecting the near-universal experience of a tense night of watching in anxiety that will only be relieved by the arrival of day. Whether it is logical or not, things often do seem better by the light of day than by the dark of night. Scripture also tells us that "joy comes with the morning" (Psalm 30:5b), and in the promise of a new day with all its potential yet untold, perhaps there is a dim echo of that creative excitement that followed the first time this occurred: "And there was evening and morning, the first day" (Genesis 1:5). (I cannot help but think of my firstborn, aged two, who announced to us one morning upon arising, "I have one hundred ideas today!") But over the years, the routine of work and the unforgiving din of the alarm clock can dull our sense of wonder at this event called "morning." When my feet hit the floor in the morning (well before the morning light actually), I try to remember to make my first thought of this--"Lord, thank You for this new day." I have often heard the sentiment, but do not know the author: "God woke you up this morning, He still has something for you to do." A variation of the proverb says, "God woke you up this morning, He is giving you another chance to get it right." No matter what the challenges we face, every day is another chance to do better; every day is another chance to glorify God. "Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul" (Psalm 143:8).

"Rest and food and loving care" are further aspects of the child's simple world that are good for adults to consider carefully. My children know this routine by heart, having heard it many times--if you have clothes on your back, food on your table, and a roof over your head, you have everything you really need, and are better off than many, many people in this world. The small child who has not yet acquired the adult qualities of avarice and self-importance is generally satisfied with simple food, comfortable clothes, and a warm blanket to sleep under. It does not occur to the child to wish for more, when there is enough. The "loving care" of a trusted guardian is the final thing needed. I remember one night distinctly when my childhood nightmares were getting the best of me, and every shadow was a monster waiting to catch me, until I made the long, dark trek to my parents room and knocked on the door. On that night, at least, my father sat up in a chair in my room until I fell asleep. I woke up later, worried, fully expecting to be alone again--then saw that he was still there, asleep in that uncomfortable chair. If he was there, what did I have to worry about? If only we could keep that childlike trust in our heavenly Father! He "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4). Peter encourages us to "cast all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7.

Stanza 2:
Help us to do the things we should,
To be to others kind and good;
In all we do in work or play,
To grow more loving every day.

The second stanza of Weston's morning hymn turns from thanksgiving to supplication, and it is the best kind of supplication--asking God's help to live our lives in a manner pleasing to Him. "Help us to do the things we should" reminds us that sin is not just a matter of wrong done, but of good neglected. The familiar old lines from the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer put it well: "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." One can avoid active evildoing all day long, yet fail to be "kind and good." One proof of kindness, as it is described in Scripture, is to whom it is demonstrated. Jesus described the Father in Luke 6:35 as "kind to the ungrateful and the evil." Our treatment of those who mistreat us shows the active presence of this godly kindness in our lives, because as Jesus points out, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). Ephesians 4:32 also associates kindness with the ability to rise above the other person's behavior: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." It is easy to be kind to the coworker whose company I enjoy, or the cashier in the store who is always friendly. It is much harder to go out of my way to be kind to the difficult and critical coworker, or to the cashier who is always surly.

Weston concludes, naturally enough for a Kindergarten teacher, with the wish for continued growth. Among the metaphors Scripture uses to describe the Christian life (a walk, a race, a fight) one of the most prominent is the metaphor of biological growth. Some of Christ's most memorable parables--the Sower and the Soils, the Mustard Seed, the Wheat and the Tares--set the precedent for this imagery, where the gospel seed unfolds progressively in the life of a Christian. The body of Christians as a whole is compared to a growing physical body, differentiated yet united:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).
We recognize the necessity of growth and progress in the physical realm. Though we might wish in a way that our children could stay little just a while longer, in reality, we are concerned (often unreasonably so!) if they do not reach the expected milestones of physical and mental development on schedule. If we plant fruit trees, but get little or no fruit at the expected times, we examine the health of the trees and the soil, and try to make changes to increase the yield. Would that there were equal concern for spiritual growth! In the beginning of John's third epistle, he wishes for Gaius: "that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul" (3 John 2). I wonder sometimes how I would look, if my physical health actually reflected my spiritual health? God help us to pay closer attention to our spiritual growth, which is eternal, so that we can say with Paul, "Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).

It is worth noting in conclusion that Weston placed the desired growth of her Kindergarten pupils in the context of "work and play." Part of the lasting contribution of Fröbel and the Kindergarten movement was the understanding that learning takes place, not only through the passive reception of knowledge via teacher-student instruction, but also through the many different activities of life in which that knowledge is put into practice. In the same way, spiritual growth occurs not only through reception of knowledge--though that is absolutely necessary--but also through actively applying that knowledge in every aspect of life. Colossians 3:17 tells us, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Often the discussion of this verse is focused on the authority for practices in the Lord's church, and certainly the question is just as relevant today as ever--"By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" (Matthew 21:23); "By what power or by what name did you do this?" (Acts 4:7). But the context of the verse within the chapter, which addresses personal morality and interpersonal relations, shows that it applies equally to the individual Christian in every other aspect of life. Yes, the worship of the church must be done "in the name of the Lord," under His authority as delegated through His inspired writers; but so also must my business practices. The organization of the church must be "in the name of the Lord," and so also must the organization of my time and where I spend it.

Obviously if I am doing something in my personal life that is overtly contrary to the Lord's will, I cannot do it "in the name of the Lord," living under His authority. But even those things that are morally neutral need to be done in a way that respects the Lord's authority over my life. I was amused recently to read in the compendium Queries and Answers (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1911), drawn from the editorial pages of the Gospel Advocate from more than a century ago, an article by Elisha G. Sewell in response to an earnest young Christian's question: Was it appropriate to join in the game (relatively new at that time) called "base ball?" Sewell's answer is just as timely today, and applies to pastimes never imagined in his day (video games, Facebook, etc.). All other things being equal, Sewell opined that playing a sport would be a better use of leisure time than would idleness. But would the time spent in baseball keep him from worship, or from other Christian activities? Would his participation, and the people he would associate with, help or hurt his reputation? Would he be more likely to influence the ungodly through this association, or the other way around? These questions are still important, as we strive to "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5), submitting to His authority over our whole lives, in "work and play" as well as in worship.

About the music:

The Hymnary.org page for "Father, we thank Thee" shows that the tune by Daniel Batchellor that first appeared with this text in 1885 has remained the most widely used. Daniel Batchellor (1845-ca. 1928), a Englishman, brought the British "tonic sol-fa" or Curwen system to the U.S. with the zeal of a religious reformer, and though he was ultimately unsuccessful in making this music-reading system a permanent part of American life, he was a strikingly innovative leader in early childhood music education (Southcott 60ff.). From what I have gathered, tonic sol-fa (the musical notation method, not the singing group) is to the U.K. what shape-notes are to the U.S., in the sense that it was invented to teach music reading as quickly as possible to those without any formal musical education, using a method of notation that signifies scale steps rather than letter-name pitches.

from Manual for teachers, and rote songs, to accompany the
Tonic sol-fa music course for schools
(1885)

Below is the common four-part setting, in traditional notation:

from Childhood Songs, ed. Mabel Rowland, 1898

The upward leaps of a 6th in the opening phrase and third phrase, and the busy final phrase, make this tune a little awkward to sing, though it is pretty enough.

A few hymnals have paired "Father, we thank Thee for the night" with the tune HURSLEY (known to churches of Christ in the U.S. with the text "Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear"), which is a charming fit. There is another setting of this text with music by Grietje Terburg Rowley (b. 1927), found in some Latter Day Saints hymnals, with very interesting harmony. There is also a setting of this text by Kate Douglas Wiggin from her Kindergarten Chimes (1885), but it borrows a little too obviously from ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR ("Come, ye thankful people, come").

Jorgenson's setting of this text first appeared in the 1930 edition of Great Songs of the Church. A recording of "Father, we thank Thee" sung to this tune was recorded by the Harding University Concert Choir on their album Harding 100 Hymns. An MP3 version is available here.


Genealogical References for Rebecca J. Weston

Notice of Death, Obituaries:

"Rebecca J. Weston, 07 Aug 1895." Massachusetts deaths, 1841-1915. FamilySearch (2015), citing Concord, Massachusetts v. 455, p. 172, State Archives, Boston, FHL microfilm 961,516.
https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NWQR-7QC

"Notes and discussions." Kindergarten Magazine (Chicago) VIII/2 (October 1895), 146-147.
https://books.google.com/books?id=XvpJAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA146#v=onepage&q&f=false

M. L. G. "In memory of of Miss Weston." Kindergarten News (Springfield, Mass.) V/9 (November 1895), 320-322.

Census data:

"James Weston." U.S. Census, 1850. FamilySearch (2015), citing NARA microfilm M432, p. 612, household 45 (Massachusetts, Suffolk, Boston, Ward 10).
https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MDSD-Q7K

"James Weston." Massachusetts State Census, 1855. FamilySearch (2015), citing State Archives, Boston, FHL microfilm 953,959, Suffolk County, Boston, Ward 8, household 70.

"James Weston." U.S. Census, 1860. FamilySearch (2015), citing NARA microfilm M653, p. 210, household 1627 (Massachusetts, Suffolk, Boston, Ward 10).
https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZHK-WDV 

"Rebecca J. Weston." Massachusetts State Census, 1865. FamilySearch (2015), citing State Archives, Boston, FHL microfilm 954,377, Suffolk County, Boston, Ward 10, household 2259.

"Rebecca J. Weston." U.S. Census, 1870. FamilySearch (2015), citing NARA microfilm M593, p. 66, household 480 (Massachusetts, Suffolk, Boston, Ward 8).
https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MD3G-KQD

City directories:

1837, Stimpson's Boston directory. Boston: Stimpson & Clapp, 1837. Digital version from the Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.
http://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16057coll32/id/34/rec/8

1850-1851, The directory of the city of Boston. Boston: George Adams, 1850. Digital version from the Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.
http://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16057coll32/id/42

"Weston, 1875." Boston streets: mapping directory data. Tufts University (2015), citing the Boston directory (Sampson, Davenport & Co., 1875) http://bcd.lib.tufts.edu/view_text.jsp?urn=tufts:central:dca:UA069:UA069.005.DO.00020&chapter=d.1875.su.Weston

"Weston, 1885." Boston streets: mapping directory data. Tufts University (2015), citing the Boston directory (Sampson, Murdock & Co., 1885). http://bcd.lib.tufts.edu/view_text.jsp?urn=tufts:central:dca:UA069:UA069.005.DO.00012&chapter=d.1885.su.Weston

Boston Schools documents:

Annual report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1857. Boston: Geo. C. Rand & Avery, 1858. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/osu.32435057125239

Rules of the School Committee and regulations of the Public Schools of the City of Boston 1858. Boston: Geo. C. Rand & Avery, 1858. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112044125448?urlappend=%3Bseq=81

Annual report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1863. Boston: J. E. Farwell & Co., 1863. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.li2mep?urlappend=%3Bseq=364

Annual report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1869. Boston: Geo. C. Rand & Avery, 1870. https://archive.org/stream/annualreportsch05bostgoog#page/n472/mode/1up

Annual report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1870. Boston: Geo. C. Rand & Avery, 1871. https://archive.org/stream/annualreportsch04bostgoog#page/n406/mode/1up

Annual report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1871. Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1872. https://archive.org/stream/annualreportsch08bostgoog#page/n551/mode/1up/

Annual report of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1872. Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, 1873. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.li2mf4?urlappend=%3Bseq=411

Annual catalogues of the teachers and pupils of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary [1837-1847, 1847-1857]. [South Hadley, Mass.?]: published for the Memorandum Society, 1847-1857.
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101007789082

Other References

Muelle, Christina More. The history of Kindergarten: from Germany to the United States. South Florida Education Research Conference, 2015. Florida International University Digital Commons.
http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/sferc/2005/2005/1/

"In memoriam : death of friends of the Kindergarten." Seventieth annual report of the Trustees of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind, for the year ending August 31, 1901, 190-216. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/chi.098209389?urlappend=%3Bseq=206

Wiltse, Sara E., "Boston memorial service to Mary J. Garland." Kindergarten Magazine XIV/3 (November 1901), 185-187.
https://books.google.com/books?id=rfUBAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA185#v=onepage&q&f=false

Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer. "Exhibition of the trained Kindergartners instructed by Miss Garland, in the Boston class of 1872-3." Kindergarten Messenger I/2 (June 1873), 9-14.
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t3dz10j2h?urlappend=%3Bseq=39

Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer. "Miss Garland's Kindergarten training class of 1873-74." Kindergarten Messenger II/6 (June 1874), 20-22.
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t3dz10j2h?urlappend=%3Bseq=352

Songs and games for little ones, prepared by Gertrude Walker and Harriet S. Jenks, 3rd edition. Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1887. https://books.google.com/books?id=4Oo-AAAAYAAJ

"Guide to the Garland Junior College records, 1872-1984," Simmons College Archives.
http://beatleyweb.simmons.edu/collectionguides/ManuscriptsCollection/MS104.html#adminlink

Batcheller, Daniel, and Thomas Charmbury, editors. Manual for teachers, and rote songs, to accompany the Tonic sol-fa music reader for schools. Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1885.
http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000006254575;view=1up;seq=24

Smith, Kate Douglas. The story of Patsy. San Francisco: C. A. Murdock, 1883.
http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t2j679h5w

"Kate Douglas Wiggin." Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
http://www.britannica.com/biography/Kate-Douglas-Wiggin

Wheelock, Lucy. "Miss Peabody as I knew her." Pioneers of the Kindergarten in America, edited by the Committe of Nineteen of the International Kindergarten Association. New York: Century Co., 1924, 26-38.

Wheelock, Lucy. My life story (unpublished manuscript, 1940s). Wheelock College Library Archives. http://issuu.com/wheelockarchives/docs/my_life_story_wheelock

Southcott, Jane. "Daniel Batchellor and the American tonic sol-fa movement." Journal of Research in Music Education 43/1 (Spring 1995), 60-83.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Father, Forgive Us

Praise for the Lord #145

Words & music by Gene C. Finley, 1973

Gene Cleveland Finley was born in 1929 near Gilt Edge, Tennessee, a small farming community along the Mississippi River north of Memphis (Finley 196). He comes from a well-known family of singers, songleaders, and songwriters among the churches of Christ in Arkansas, including his brother E. D. Finley (1919-1987) and their father, Hiram Cleveland Finley (1884-1970). Brother Gene C. Finley is probably best known, however, through his book Our Garden of Song (1980), which compiled his invaluable research on songwriters among the churches of Christ in this country. Much of the information he gathered, especially on the lesser-known writers, probably would have been lost but for his efforts. Remembering that this research was conducted in the old-fashioned pre-Internet way--by letter, telephone, and traveling for personal interviews--it becomes all the more obvious what a labor of love this was.

Gene C. Finley's songs have appeared in a number of publications over the years, in hymnals used by the churches of Christ and in the yearly paperback songbooks of the Southern gospel shape-note publishers. "The wondrous city" and "Come to Jesus" (written together with his father) appeared in Stamps-Baxter collections in 1950 (Songs for All; Better Songs). Another pair of his songs was published by the Jeffress Music Co. (today Jeffress-Phillips) of Crossett, Arkansas: "Just a Few More Days to Travel" in Echoes of Heaven (1957) and "A House not Made with Hands" in Bells of Heaven (1959). Two of Finley's songs were in Alton Howard's 1971 Songs of the Church, "Oh what love!" and "Lord, dismiss us in Thy care", the latter of which has been widely used and has appeared in other more recent hymnals. "Father, forgive us" first appeared in Hymns of Praise, (1978), published by Firm Foundation in Austin, Texas (Walker).

Since it is a custom of long standing among churches of Christ to offer an invitation for individual response to the gospel at every public meeting, our hymnals have a good number of songs designed to call the unbeliever to repent. But it is a more difficult task to find songs calling the believer to repentance--and it is this subject that Brother Finley decided to address in "Father, forgive us". It is certainly an appropriate topic, for the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus ring true all too often, on an individual and a congregational level: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first" (Revelation 2:5). Even the apostle Paul, the paragon of dedicated Christian service, said,
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? (Romans 7:22-25).
Though he went on to express his assurance in salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ, Paul made it plain that he struggled with sin. And if he struggled, should we not be mindful of our own need to repent?

Despite his confidence in his salvation, Paul said, "I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27). It is the Christian who thinks he or she is beyond temptation who is most at risk! In comparison to the world around us, we may have overcome many temptations (or perhaps have never been seriously tested by some of them). But we cannot afford to congratulate ourselves on avoiding the kinds of sins that would cause us to be featured on the evening news. It does not take a "big" sin to make a sinner; a "little sin" will do just as well. Perhaps it suits the devil even better to catch us that way, because a "little sin" will go longer unnoticed. It is just such "little sins" (in the world's view) that Brother Finley's hymn calls us to confess as we come before the Father.

Stanza 1:
Father, forgive us when in our weakness
We let the tempter lead us astray.
We bow our hearts in shame and in meekness,
Father, have mercy, save us we pray.

Though we should pray as Jesus taught us, "Lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13), we know from the rest of Scripture (and from personal experience) that the problem is not with God's guidance but with our lack of willpower, if not our outright rebellion. God does not provide us a pathway without temptations--it is hard to conceive what such a world would be like!--but He does promise us that,
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Paul, through whom God revealed that message, knew this firsthand from his own "thorn in the flesh." As much as this unknown problem tormented Paul, he understood God's promise that "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9). The same is true for us in facing temptations--James tells us,
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:13-14).
So it is quite correct when Brother Finley says, "We let the tempter lead us astray." Though Christians are promised that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39), we are also warned, "your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). The straying sheep that lags behind the Shepherd makes itself easy prey; for this reason Peter prefaces his comment, "Be sober-minded; be watchful." Being oblivious to temptations that enter our lives--not to mention deliberately flirting with them--is a losing proposition. As the old saying goes among the sidewalk hucksters, "Never play the other man's game."

Stanza 2:
Father, forgive us when we grow weary,
And we find time to grieve and complain.
Give us the power to see things more clearly;
Father of lights, make everything plain.

Weariness of the body and mind is a part of life. There is a satisfying weariness, of course, when we have exerted ourselves in some necessary labor and can rest a while--Ecclesiastes 5:12 remarks, "Sweet is the sleep of the laboring man." Often, however, we may be forced to press on through weariness, and it begins to compound our problems. The brain slows down, judgment becomes cloudy, and mistakes become more frequent. Worse yet, the barriers that normally restrict our behavior begin to degrade. We may become more irritable, and more likely to say or do things that we would not have said or done had we thought more clearly.

The flesh is weak, as Jesus said to his sleepy disciples (Matthew 26:41), and we need to realize its effects on us. Regular rest and exercise, a healthy diet, and moderation in all things, are necessary to keep these imperfect "earthen vessels" in working order so that we may serve God and others as effectively as possible. An improved physical state improves the mental outlook! So often a solution that seemed impossible to find in the tired hours of the evening before, falls into place in the morning with a fresh outlook; so often a discouragement that seems overwhelming at the moment, recedes into a proper perspective after a good night's sleep. Even Jesus, in the busy three years of His earthly ministry, told His disciples to "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31).

But sometimes there is a weariness of soul that is not so easily cured. Repeated disappointments, frustrations with people we care about who will not care for their own souls, and the seemingly overwhelming opposition to good in our world can break us down. In this case, rest may not be the answer at all, but rather the opposite. Paul reminded Christians more than once, "do not grow weary in doing good" (2 Thessalonians 3:13; Galatians 6:9). There is always something good we can do, someone who needs a visit or call, someone who needs an encouraging word. Even if it is "just" offering up a prayer for a person in need, there is something positive we can do every day. And when we find ourselves complaining, "consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted" (Hebrews 12:3).

The ability to see the situation clearly, as Brother Finley says, is a quality much to be desired. We can endure a great deal if we know it is only for a little longer, and that relief is near at hand. In 2 Kings 6:15-17 we read the wonderful incident in which Elisha's servant had his vision miraculously corrected:
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed and said, "O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see." So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
God had the situation under control all along, but the young servant did not see it. In the same sense, the disciples of Jesus were unable to see clearly during the storm on Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27), when Jesus rebuked them saying, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" Common sense, and the experience of professional sailors, told them to be very much afraid; but the reality of Jesus Christ and His power should have overcome their fears. We need to use our common sense, of course (see the entire book of Proverbs), but I am afraid that sometimes our "common sense" can get in the way of living by faith. Jesus calls us to do all kinds of things--loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, taking up a cross--that make no common sense. God help us to look with the eyes of faith!

Stanza 3:
Father, forgive us when in our blindness
We hurt our loved ones with things we say.
Give us the patience, give us the kindness,
Give us the love we need for today.

My brother Eddie Parrish once taught his sons a memorable lesson about our words. He gave the youngsters each a tube of toothpaste and told them to squeeze all the toothpaste out, as fast as they could. They were bewildered, but given the paternal blessing to make a mess, they proceeded to do so with vigor until every last bit of toothpaste was squeezed from the tubes. "Now," their father said, "put it all back."

This is what our words are like--they are easily spoken, but impossible to recall. And how many of them we speak! A study conducted in 2007 by Matthias Mehl et al. at the University of Arizona found that a test group of university students averaged around 16,000 words spoken per day (Science 6 July 2007 p. 82). (And contrary to popular belief, no statistically significant difference was found between men and women!) 16,000 words is a sobering thought. For a point of rough comparison, the words of Jesus recorded by Matthew, in a red-letter edition of the King James Version, run to only about 13,500. When I think how those (relatively) few words have changed the world, I shudder to imagine what nonsense I spend my words on in a day's time. The book of Proverbs has many memorable sayings on this theme: "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Proverbs 10:19). And who can forget the sharp wit of Proverbs 17:28? "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent." But most importantly of all, we hear from Jesus himself, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak" (Matthew 12:36).

Brother Finley drives this home in the second line, reminding us that these careless words (or sometimes, sadly, deliberate words) can hurt others. We will answer for them, surely, but that does not take away the harm that words can do to another person. I can remember clearly--surely the reader can as well--the exact words and tone of voice when someone's speech cut me to the heart as a child. I still remember how that hurt. And yet, I confess--and I am sure the reader does as well--that I can also remember things that I have said to others, that I would do anything to take back. Even when I have asked their forgiveness, and it has been granted, I am still ashamed that it ever came between us through my carelessness or pettiness. The old song says, "You always hurt the one you love," and perhaps it is because we lower our guard at home and around our loved ones that we are sometimes prone to speak to them without thinking. Again, the Proverbs have strong advice for us: "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Proverbs 12:18). Words spoken in heat or in haste are not for the child of God. We need to inscribe the words of James on our hearts: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20). It is better to speak wisely and well than to speak first; a shallow well brings the bucket to the top faster, but a deep well gives better water.

Stanza 4:
Father, forgive us when thoughts indecent
Enter our minds and we let them stay.
Cleanse us and make us fit for Thy Spirit,
In Jesus' name we earnestly pray.

Indecent thoughts are not a new problem; in every case of indecent behavior, from the book of Genesis forward, the thought preceded the action. As Jesus teaches us,
From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23).
This principle lies behind Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount about indecent thoughts: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). It was a problem, then, in ancient times as well as today. The loose morals of Greco-Roman culture in the 1st century, from the Caesars down to the servant classes, meant that many early Christians lived in a world permeated with indecency. Sadly, much of the Western world has slipped back into this lascivious lifestyle as the moral standards of past generations have lost their influence. Even if we choose to avoid the trash on television, in the movies, and on the Internet, through selective viewing, it is impossible to avoid all such temptations. How then do we deal with this problem?

Gene Finley answers this question in a thoughtful turn of words--"Father, forgive us, when thoughts indecent / Enter our minds, and we let them stay." The example of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 brings this into sharp focus. David was on his roof, looking down over the city, and saw a beautiful woman bathing. We cannot suppose that he went on the roof intending to peep into people's houses. We cannot even blame him much for noticing Bathsheba--if I may put this delicately, it would be nearly impossible for him to not at least notice. But at some point between seeing her (verse 2) and sending for her (verses 3-4), he did more than notice. The "thought indecent," as Finley says, had entered David's mind, and he "let it stay." He looked at her and desired her, and "desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:15).

But what if David had resolutely turned his gaze away as soon as he saw her, and had gone back in the palace? David, Bathsheba, Uriah, and many others could have avoided a great deal of misery. His decision to continue looking, however, fed his desire, and his desire led him to think about things that were indecent; then, having once given in to temptation in his thoughts, it was just the matter of asking a question and giving an order to have Bathsheba brought to the palace. Did David hesitate when he actually saw her there? Did he consider just once again that perhaps he shouldn't do what was in his heart? We are not told. But if he did have pangs of conscience, they were not sufficient to stop him at that point. Yes, God assures that "He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). But He does not promise to continue providing new ways of escape if we keep ignoring them. Ephesians 4:27 warns us, "Give no opportunity to the devil," and when David first let those thoughts linger in his mind, he gave Satan all the opportunity he needed.

Brother Finley's hymn accomplished what I believe must have been his purpose--to make us uncomfortable. There are many, many songs in the traditional gospel style that tell us to rejoice in our hope, and to be encouraged in our struggles, and these are worthy topics. This hymn, on the other hand, throws a bucket of ice-water on our heads and dares us to deny its truth. All too often we do in fact go astray, we complain, we say hurtful things, and we engage in the world's lusts. (If this is not true of you personally, please accept my apologies; but I imagine it hits close enough to home for most of us.) Songs of confession are not as common as is the need for them, and we could use more!

About the music:

The musical setting for "Father, forgive us" is reminiscent another of Finley's better-known hymns, "Lord, dismiss us in Thy care". Both keep the melody within a narrow range, no more than a sixth except for the former's downward leap in "We let the tempter lead US astray," which rather surprisingly dips below the tonic note. Both tunes are in F major, and have a certain similarity in the SOL-LA-SOL peaks at the beginnings of the 2nd and 4th phrases of each. In both settings the composer uses a descending chromatic line in an inner voice--in the alto in "Father, forgive us", and in the tenor in "Lord, dismiss us in Thy care"--which gives the harmony a similar feel. Not having access to more of Finley's songs, I cannot suggest this is a characteristic style; I suspect, rather, that it is his style when writing music for slow, contemplative songs of this sort.


References:

Finley, Gene C., ed. Our Garden of Song. West Monroe, La.: Howard Publishing, 1980.

Walker, Wayne S. "Father, Forgive Us." hymnstudiesblog. -https://hymnstudiesblog.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/quotfather-forgive-usquot/0