Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Again the Lord of Light and Life

Praise for the Lord #13

Words: Anna Barbauld, 1772
Music: Thomas Arne, 1762 (arr. Ralph Harrison, 1784)

Anna Barbauld (1743-1825) wrote hymn poetry long before the flowering of the Victorian era, and the coincident explosion of popular publishing, made women hymnwriters fairly commonplace. A quick look at her secular poem Rights of Woman is enough to show that she would hardly have fit in with most of the Victorian women poets anyway; she was unusually independent-minded, and hardly considered herself restricted to "women's topics" or an artificially feminine style. Her writing is vigorous and clear, appropriate to its subject. We have one other of her hymns (she did not write that many) in Praise for the Lord, "Praise to God, immortal praise"(#539).

Stanza 1:
Again the Lord of light and life
Awakes the kindling ray,
Unseals the eyelids of the morn,
And pours increasing day.

Here we have a picture of the sunrise--first the "kindling ray" that lights the east, then the "eyelids of the morn" as the sun peers over the horizon, and finally the daylight "pouring" from the rising sun. ("Eyelids of the morning" is a quaint Biblical expression, found in Job 41:18.) All of this is done "again"; that is, we have seen it over and over, yet our joy in it is never abated. And all of this is the work of the "Lord of light and life"--"Yours is the day, Yours also the night; You have established the heavenly lights and the sun."(Psalm 74:16) He created this world and its sun, sustains all of these natural cycles, and thus continues life on this planet, for "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."(Colossians 1:17) And so we see the double meaning of "Lord of light and life"; just as Jesus was instrumental in the creation and sustaining of light and life in the physical realm, so He is the "light of the world" bringing the "light of life"(John 8:12) in the spiritual realm, to which Barbauld turns next.

Stanza 2:
O what a night was that which wrapped
The heathen world in gloom!
O what a Sun which rose this day
Triumphant from the tomb!

If you have been out in the country far from the lights of human habitation on a moonless night, you have seen one kind of darkness. If you have been down in a cave with the lights off, you have seen another--a darkness you can practically feel. But nothing compares to the darkness of a life without hope. Jesus said, "If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"(Matthew 6:23) Ephesians 2:12 tells how profound that darkness was in the Gentile world, until the gospel came: "you were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."

But "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined."(Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16) Jesus came to bring light into this dark world, "and the darkness has not overcome it."(John 1:5) Despite the best efforts of every devil in hell, Jesus "bound the strong man" and "plundered his house";(Matthew 12:29) the victorious Christ "disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame."(Colossians 2:15) Peter, James, and John had seen a preview of the true power and glory of Christ at the transfiguration, when "His face shone like the sun."(Matthew 17:2) John saw the resurrected Christ many years later and described Him as follows:

The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.(Revelation 1:14-18)

"What a Sun that rose this day," indeed. May we never dare to consider the Lord's Day worship commonplace.

Stanza 3:
This day be grateful homage paid,
And loud hosannas sung;
Let gladness dwell in every heart,
And praise on every tongue.

Again in the Revelation of John we see a glimpse of the true depth of the reverence and adoration that surrounds the risen Savior:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!(Revelation 5:11-13)

All of heaven and earth are joined in praise to Him, because all of heaven and earth are in submission to His will and united in love of Him--except for one troublesome group of creatures called humanity. Remember what He has promised to do. Remember what He has not done--come upon us in judgment, rather than mercy. How can we withold the praise that is His due?

Stanza 4:
Ten thousand different lips shall join
To hail this welcome morn,
Which scatters blessings from its wings
To nations yet unborn.

On every Lord's Day, as this earth turns and the day passes around the globe, how many different lips speak praise to our Savior, and in how many different languages? Yet despite our differences, we are family twice over: "He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth,"(Acts 17:26) and, "here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."(Colossians 3:11)

Barbauld closes this rich text with an oblique reference to another Bible passage about sunrise: "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings."(Malachi 4:2) Jesus healed the physical diseases of many, but in His death and resurrection He provided the cure for the spiritual disease of sin, for which the world had languished since Adam. The blessings of that Resurrection Morning are scattered far and wide; they stretch from the beginning of time to its end.

"Posterity shall serve Him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that He has done it."(Psalm 22:30-31)

About the music: This tune originated in the 1762 opera Artaxerxes by Thomas Arne (1710-1778).(Choral Wiki) Arne was one of the most prominent native English composers of the 18th century, though he was overshadowed by better-known foreign-born composers such as Handel. Artaxerxes was popular enough to remain in production through the remainder of the century.(Herbage) This particular tune is taken from the minuet that concludes the overture.(Parley) Arne was also the composer of the famous "Rule, Britannia",(Herbage) which has a similar majestic character. The Artaxerxes minuet was arranged as a four-part hymn tune by Presbyterian minister Ralph Harrison (1748-1810) and published in his Sacred Harmony in 1784.(Gallery Music)


Choral Wiki. Arlington (Psalm 2), Thomas Arne. http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Arlington_(Psalm_2)_(Thomas_Arne)

Herbage, Julian. Thomas Augustine Arne. International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 11th ed. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co, 1985, pp. 84-85.

Parley of Instruments, conducted by Peter Holman. Vital Spark of Heavenly Flame. Hyperion, 1998. http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Name/Stephen-Jarvis/Composer/5899-1

Gallery Music: English church and chapel music of the 1700s and early 1800s. Who was who: H. http://www.gallerymusic.co.uk/people/pH.html

No comments:

Post a Comment