Monday, January 26, 2009

All for Jesus


Praise for the Lord #15

Words: Mary Dagworthy James, 1871
Music: From McDonald's Songs of Joy & Gladness, 1885

Mary D. James (1810-1883) grew up Methodist and became a leading figure in New Jersey in the "Holiness" revival of the 1800s. The Holiness emphasis on a fervent committment of one's total life to God is reflected in this hymn's theme. The Internet Archive has an online copy of the 1886 book The Life of Mrs. Mary D. James written by her son. She was not a prolific hymnwriter, and this text is by far her claim to fame in that arena.

We are not certain of the authorship of the music; as is often the case, the text appeared set to music without attribution of the composer. With some hymnals, we are fairly certain that these unattributed musical settings are the product of the editor, and over time that assumption comes to be accepted. William McDonald (1820-1901) is likely the composer.

Stanza 1:
All for Jesus, all for Jesus!
All my being’s ransomed powers:
All my thoughts and words and doings,
All my days and all my hours.

Refrain:
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
All my days and all my hours;
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
All my days and all my hours.


Just as Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,"(Philippians 2:7, RSV) we must in turn empty ourselves of both our worldly habits and our proud determination to run things according to our own desires. The key word in Mrs. James's text is "ransomed". Peter reminds us that "you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."(1 Peter 1:18-19) 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 makes the consequence clear: "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

Christ's lordship over our total being begins, logically, with our "thoughts", then our "words and doings". Jesus explained in Matthew 15:19 that "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." Therefore we being by "taking every thought captive"(2 Corinthians 10:5), because "As he thinks in his heart, so is he."(Proverbs 23:7)

But a heart and mind devoted to Christ must be evidenced in words and deeds devoted to Christ. In a very real sense, our words and our deeds are "who we are" to the rest of the world; thus the importance of Christ-centered action following Christ-centered thought. "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless,"(James 1:26) and, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."(James 2:18)

Stanza 2:
Let my hands perform His bidding,
Let my feet run in His ways;
Let my eyes see Jesus only,
Let my lips speak forth His praise.

Refrain:
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Let my lips speak forth His praise.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Let my lips speak forth His praise.


The second stanza details the total dedication of different parts of our mortal bodies to the service of Christ, a poetic device seen also in "Take my life, and let it be" (PFTL #612, #613). Our hands do Christ's will when we use them to make an honest living,(Ephesians 4:28) and when we use them to bless others.(Acts 13:3) Likewise our feet do Christ's will when they take us to carry the gospel to others.(Ephesians 6:15, Romans 10:15) Our lips do His will when they offer a "sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."(Hebrews 13:15)

In the third line, Mrs. James may be referencing the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James, and John had been somewhat distracted by the grand scene of Moses, Elijah, and Christ speaking together; God then warned them, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!"(Matthew 17:5) After this rebuke, "when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only."(Matthew 17:8)

Praise for the Lord omits the following verse:

Worldlings prize their gems of beauty,
Cling to gilded toys of dust,
Boast of wealth and fame and pleasure;
Only Jesus will I trust.


Perhaps the omission is justified because of the dated poetic term "worldlings" and the odd turn of phrase "gilded toys of dust", which seem a bit out of place in the otherwise simple language of this hymn.

Stanza 3:
Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I’ve lost sight of all beside;
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Looking at the Crucified.

Refrain
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Looking at the Crucified.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Looking at the Crucified.


In this stanza Mrs. James plays out the idea of the third line of the second stanza, a fixed gaze upon Christ. Peter understood this when he walked to Jesus on the waters of Galilee; when he kept his eyes on his goal, he was able to do all that Jesus promised, but when he let his eyes drift to the wind and the waves, he lost faith and sank.(Matthew 14:28-31) Paul understood this, and made it plain in his preaching: he told the Corinthians, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,"(1 Corinthians 2:2) and to the Galatians he could say "It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified."(Galatians 3:1) Christ crucified is the central reality that we need to keep front and center in our minds.

Stanza 4:
Oh, what wonder! how amazing!
Jesus, glorious King of kings,
Deigns to call me His belov├Ęd,
Bids me rest beneath His wings.

Refrain
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Resting now beneath His wings.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
Resting now beneath His wings.


Now we see the reward--a relationship with Christ who, despite our sins, despite our imperfections, redeemed us and calls us "beloved by the Lord".(2 Thessalonians 2:13) Being sheltered in the shadow of God's wings is a common poetic figure in the Psalms, perhaps most beautifully phrased in Psalm 17:8, "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings."

The connection of the two expressions may also draw on the image of Christ and the church as a Bridegroom and bride.(Ephesians 5:31-32) The expression "beloved", of course, occurs frequently in the Song of Solomon, perhaps most famously in chapter 2 verse 16, "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Being sheltered under the "wings" of another may also refer to a marriage relationship, as in Ruth 3:9, when Ruth says to Boaz, "Spread your wings [or "corner of your garment"] over your servant, for you are a redeemer."

About the music: The rhythm of this song is interesting for the gospel style; McDonald (or whoever) chose to find a rhythm that flowed naturally from the text, rather than imposing a rhythmic style upon it. There is also an extreme degree of repetitiveness in the structure of the melody:

  • The first two phrases of the stanza ("All for Jesus, all for Jesus" and "All my being's ransomed powers") are identical until the last two notes.
  • The first and third phrases ("All for Jesus, all for Jesus" and "All my thoughts and words and doings") actually are identical
  • The fourth phrase ("All my days and all my hours") differs from the second phrase ("All my being's ransomed powers") only at the ending, which is just enough stronger to make it feel as though the music is done.

The music of the refrain follows the same plan, and even uses the same rhythm and shape of phrases. The tune is interesting enough, however, that it avoids the monotony that one would think would ensue.

The text of the refrain is almost certainly the construction of the composer, not of Mrs. James. Repeating the tagline "All for Jesus!" in the first and third lines, the second and fourth lines of the refrain are copied from the final line of the preceding stanza. Sometimes this doesn't quite work, as in the refrain of the third stanza ("All for Jesus! All for Jesus! / Looking at the Crucified"), where the fragmentary nature of the resultant sentence structure is more jarring for some reason.

References:

Cyberhymnal. Mary Dagworthy James. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/j/a/james_md.htm

1 comment:

  1. I led this last Sunday morning, and my brother-in-law, Eddie Parrish, noted that this tune is very similar to "Where the roses never fade," written in 1929. The 2nd & 4th phrases of the stanza are nearly identical, and also the distinctive opening two phrases of the chorus.

    ReplyDelete