Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

Praise for the Lord #30

Words: William C. Dix, 1867
Music: Rowland H. Prichard, 1831; arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1951

This is a beautiful hymn that we just haven't traditionally sung in the Churches of Christ, at least in this country (you folks in the U.K. may have to come teach us). William C. Dix (1837-1898) is a good example of how a person can do one thing for a living, but truly excel in an avocation. He came by it honestly; his father was a surgeon who wrote literary criticism in his spare time. William settled into the life of a respectable Victorian businessman, managing a maritime insurance agency in Glasgow, but like his father, his first love was poetry. He wrote about 40 hymns, the most famous of which by far is "What Child is this?". The text at hand was originally published in his Verses on the Holy Eucharist, a fact that is important in understanding some of the alterations this text has undergone.(Cyberhymnal, "Dix") It was written for Ascension Sunday, as we will see on closer examination.

Stanza 1:
Alleluia! sing to Jesus! His the scepter, His the throne.
Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone.
Hark! the songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood.
Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by His blood.

The images of scepter and throne were more meaningful to Dix, of course, who wrote to a culture that shared the traditions of monarchy; but they are Biblical images as well. Psalm 45:6 says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom," and in Hebrews 1:8 this verse is applied to Christ himself.

Scepters represent authority from several angles. The most obvious connection, of course, is that they resemble a decorative or ceremonial mace, a weapon of war. In this sense a scepter embodies the power of punishment, and in the hands of a ruler, the power of judgment. (The judge's gavel is a similar symbol in our culture.) A scepter also resembles a staff, a symbol of leadership and shepherding. One survival of this in our culture is the ceremonial mace sometimes carried at the head of an academic procession. An even more vivid remnant is the mace used by the drum major of a traditional military-style marching band; here the mace is used to give orders, and once the group is called to attention every eye is to be kept upon it.

The authority of Christ is made absolutely clear in Matthew's record of Jesus' words before His ascension:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [fn] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."(Matthew 28:16-20)

Jesus had accomplished all that He had been sent to do, and His victory was complete. When the hymn says "His the victory alone", we might remember that anguished moment on the cross when His Father turned His back--it was truly a victory that Christ had to win on His own. For this and so many other reasons, the heavenly choir sings with voices "like the roar of many waters"(Revelation 14:2) the Song of the Lamb:

"Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."(Revelation 15:3-4)

Christ brought to fulfillment the great promise of God throughout the Bible, that a world divided by race, by language, by nation, and most of all by sin, would be brought together once more as God's people. God promised Abraham that "in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed."(Genesis 22:18) Here at last, in Revelation 15, we see "all nations" coming to worship the Lamb, who is now the "King of the nations."

Stanza 2:
Alleluia! not as orphans are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received Him when the forty days were o’er
Shall our hearts forget His promise, “I am with you evermore”?

Here the author references Matthew 28 again, and the Lord's promise that "I am with you always." Jesus told His disciples before His death that,

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."(John 14:18-21)

Jesus refers in the same passage, of course, to the coming of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling partner in the Christian life:

"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."(John 14:16-17)

Paul's prayer for the Ephesians gives insight about how this takes place:

...that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.(Ephesians 3:16-19)

Faith, founded on love for God, invites the power of Christ and His Spirit into our lives, starting with our initial obedience to Him in baptism.(Acts 2:38) It continues as we grow in our knowledge and love of Him through prayer, fellowship, and study of His word. Where Ephesians 5:18 says "be filled with the Spirit", the parallel passage Colossians 3:16 says "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." (I do not agree with those whose views practically equate the Spirit with the word, but it also seems obvious that a Christian cannot have one without the other!)

There are times we might wish we had the apostles among us, or the gift of inspired teaching and other miracles as those in the early church did, but we should remember that many Christians even then had to get by without them, and did not even have all of the revealed word yet. We are in no way left out, and in many respects better off. Jesus provides for us too, and mentioned us in His prayers alongside the disciples of that era: "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word..."(John 17:20)

The first two lines of the next stanza were originally:

Alleluia! bread of angels, Thou on earth our food, our stay;
Alleluia! here the sinful flee to Thee from day to day:

Though it is not apparent to me why the second line was changed, the alteration of the first line is part of the de-contextualizing of this hymn, removing the directly Eucharistic language. I am not sure why this was done, though the expression "bread of angels" is a bit puzzling and perhaps best left off. There is also a fourth stanza along these lines, omitted in many hymnals:

Alleluia! King eternal, Thee the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluia! born of Mary, Earth Thy footstool, Heav’n Thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both priest and victim in the Eucharistic feast.

Once again the language is a bit awkward (e.g. "robed in flesh"), but I see nothing doctrinally objectionable; in fact, it I believe Dix meant it as a summary of Hebrews 9:24-26,

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

And perhaps the "awkwardness" of his terminology is no fault; one of the functions of poetry is to use language to cause us to see things in a different light, sometimes by startling us with unconventional expressions. Be that as it may, we are still left with a fine hymn.

Stanza 3:
Alleluia! Heav'nly High Priest, Thou on earth our help, our stay;
Alleluia! Hear the sinful cry to Thee from day to day:
Intercessor, Friend of sinners, Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.

It is easy for us, conditioned as we are to human perspectives of time, to read to the ends of the gospels and consider Jesus' work to be over at that point. In a sense it was, as He said on the cross when He won the victory and could say "It is finished."(John 19:30) But it is certainly mistaken to think that He is simply sitting in heaven unoccupied until the final judgment. Dix ends this fine text with a contemplation of Jesus' continuing work as our High Priest.

Jesus' work continues as He intercedes on behalf of those who accept God's offer of grace. Hebrews 7:25 says, "He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."

Jesus' work continues as He advocates for His saved ones before God's throne, continuing to cleanse them from sins as they walk in His light. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."(1 John 1:7) This is not license, but reassurance: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."(1 John 2:1)

Jesus' work continues as He strengthens us and helps us against temptation. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."(Hebrews 4:15-16)

As Jesus said in John 5:17, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." Even though He has left this earth in physical form, what a joy to know that He is working in us still today, just as He promised!

About the music: Relatively little is known of Rowland Huw Prichard (1811-1887); from the fact that he was working as an "assistant loom tender" into his 70s, we may infer that he was poor and not well-connected in the musical world. In 1844 he published Cyfailly Can­to­ri­on ("The Sing­er’s Friend"), a children's songbook, which contained this tune, known as HYFRODOL (Welsh for "cheerful").(Cyberhymnal, "Prichard") Obscure though he may have been, he stood in a long tradition of great Welsh singers, and the graceful, rolling lines of this tune are exactly what we would expect from the land of the bards. A Cyberhymnal MIDI version can be heard here.

The harmony is by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, music editor of the English Hymnal, also the arranger of "All creatures of our God and King"(PFTL#16). Unlike that arrangement, this one is quite singable by an a cappella congregation, with a little work; it is probably not more difficult than, for example, "O sacred head now wounded"(PFTL#484) or "Christ the Lord is risen today"(PFTL#97). Particularly enjoyable is the way Vaughan Williams creates interesting, melodious lines for each of the voices, matching the fluid nature of the soprano and creating rich, interesting harmony. I would strongly recommend singing this with a 1-beat-per-measure feel, rather than counting beats on all three quarters, to keep it from bogging down.


Cyberhymnal. William Chatterton Dix.

Cyberhymnal. Rowland Huw Prichard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All to Jesus I Surrender

Praise for the Lord #29

Words: Judson W. Van De Venter, 1896
Music: Winfield S. Weeden, 1896

Van De Venter was educated at Hillsdale College and pursued a career as an art teacher until entering ministry a few years later. He spent his later years as a hymnology teacher at the predecessor of Trinity Bible College in St. Petersburg, Florida.(Cyberhymnal) Van De Venter and Weeden also wrote the gospel song "Sunlight, sunlight, in my soul today"(PFTL#604) in 1897, and probably several others--one fine example of turn-of-the-century sentimental ballad is their song My mother's prayer. "I surrender all", however, is by far their greatest work. (Incidentally, these two are a good example of the fact that 19th-century gospel was just as much a Northern as a Southern phenomenon--both were from Northern states.)

Stanza 1:
All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

The completeness of the surrender God requires is nothing new. Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the time-honored Shema, says: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." The Lord did not ask to be first among Israel's gods; He was to be their only God.(Exodus 20:5) And though He demanded only a tenth of their goods as an offering, it is clear from Exodus forward that all they had, and even their own persons, were His in reality--He had redeemed them.(Exodus 6:6)

Mere belief in God is not surrender--James 2:19 tells us that "even the demons believe, and tremble," but this in no way forgives their rebellion. A partial surrender and obedience is also not enough, as the rich young ruler learned in Luke chapter 18. He had much to commend him in his walk with God, but Jesus, knowing his heart and his circumstances, challenged him to surrender the one thing that stood between them--his love of money. Unwilling to give over this area of his life to the Lord's control, he was unwilling to follow.

The hymn text emphasizes, "All to Him I freely give." The demons (if we understand their history correctly as fallen angels) met a day when they could no longer deny the lordship and authority of God, but it was far too late. The rich young ruler was willing to surrender, but only on his own terms. Likewise, a day is coming to this world when "every knee shall bow" to Christ.(Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11) But only those who freely surrender to Him now can hope for salvation.

Finally, this stanza emphasizes that surrender to Christ is a daily act. Certainly we are not even on the right road until we have surrendered to Him in baptism:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ... We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. ... So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.(Romans 6:4,6,11-13)

But every day after, we must surrender our lives anew. As Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Stanza 2:
All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

There are things to be given up in order to follow our Lord. Abraham left his home and "went out, not knowing where he was going."(Hebrews 11:8) Moses "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin."(Hebrews 11:24-25) The faithful prophets of Judah and Israel often gave up the positions of power and wealth they might have had at court, because they said with Micaiah, "As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak."(1 Kings 22:14)

Nothing changed by the time Jesus began His ministry. He warned a scribe who wished to follow Him that, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."(Matthew 8:20) This would be true of many of the early disciples, as Paul said:

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.(1 Corinthians 4:11-13)

Paul himself had given up a great deal in worldly success, and in the potential for even greater things. If he had not become a Christian, there is no telling how high a man of his intellect and drive might have gone in Jerusalem. But he said, "this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

The following stanza is omitted in hymnals among the Churches of Christ, at least as far as I have found:

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

This obviously treads on the delicate ground of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life--how exactly do we "feel" the Holy Spirit? The answers to that question have launched many a discussion! I argue in my paper "A place in the soul" that hymnal editors among the Churches of Christ historically have chosen to omit songs (or sometimes just stanzas) that bring these matters up, rather than be labeled as taking a particular position on the indwelling of the Spirit.

The fourth line is just as problematic, in context: if we are waiting to "feel the Holy Spirit" to "truly know that Thou art mine", it begins to sound as though the writer is looking for a second experience of grace in the Wesleyan/Holiness sense. This, of course, is going a good bit further, and I can see why our editors have left this stanza out.

The final stanza of the original text has also been left off by many hymnals:

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

This pretty much confirms the implications of the other omitted verse, and it is consistent to omit this one as well. Fortunately, our editors did not jettison the song altogether--a judicious bit of omission turned this text into a more general plea to make a complete, daily surrender to Christ.

Stanza 3:
All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

Jesus does not as us to empty ourselves of worldliness, though, without anything to take its place. As in the natural world, so in the spiritual, a vacuum must be filled if there is material at hand. The unusual parable of Luke 11:24-26, in which a cast-out demon returns to the empty house with seven worse demons, well illustrates the fact that we cannot simply strive to not be sinful. We need to be filled with the power that Jesus offers, and let our lives be animated by that new ownership.

The beginning and ending of the book of Romans shows the incredible contrast between the depraved state of a sinful humanity without God, and the saved state of the believers:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.(Romans 1:29)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.(Romans 15:13-14)

The surrender of our lives to Jesus brings us the greatest victory we can ever know.

About the music: Winfield S. Weeden (1847-1908) also wrote the music for "Sunlight"(PFTL#604) to words of Van De Venter, and "Somebody did a golden deed"(PFTL#591) to a text by John R. Clements. "I surrender all" has aged the most gracefully of these, probably owing to the ease and simplicity of its melody. The original version had just the soprano and tenor parts singing as a duet in the stanza, with the alto and bass parts joining for the refrain. In Praise for the Lord, however, the editors chose to supply full four-part harmony to such passages in almost all of the songs, for reasons unknown to me. This hymn is very effective sung rather slowly and softly, which seems to invite individual contemplation; it also works well sung vigorously at a faster "processional" tempo, which gives it a very different character of "rallying the troops". It can be absolutely dreadful, however, sung at a moderately slow and tempo, and will tend to drag badly. It is well worth the songleader's time to experiment with different tempos and styles.


Cyberhymnal. Judson Wheeler Van De Venter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Am I Nearer to Heaven Today?

Praise for the Lord #28

Words: Jessie Brown Pounds, 1916
Music: Fred A. Fillmore, 1916

Jessie Brown Pounds (1861-1921) was a prominent and respected writer among the Disciples in Ohio, editing such prominent journals as Christian Standard and Christian Century. She wrote hundreds of hymns, dozens of short stories, and six historical novels about the Disciples on the Western Reserve.(Thomas) The following hymns by Pounds are included in Praise for the Lord:

Anywhere with Jesus (#48)
Are you coming to Jesus tonight? (#61)
Beautiful isle of somewhere (#69)
I know that my Redeemer lives (#283)
I know that my Redeemer liveth (#284)
Soul a Savior thou art needing (#587)
The way of the cross leads home (#653)
Will you not tell it today? (#783)

Some of these are still standard fare in the traditional worship music of the Churches of Christ, and all of them were in common use at one time. Pounds's texts are well-written, though their musical settings do not always do them justice; and sometimes, they have simply been sung so much that they are "worn out". (Consider, for example, "Why not tonight?", and imagine you haven't heard it a million times before--it's really a pretty good text, it's just been over-used, and the music is so-so.) "Am I nearer to heaven today?" is one of her hymns that has not been over-used, but unfortunately the reason is (most likely) the music, which is not very friendly to a cappella congregational singing.

Stanza 1:
O the yesterday's moments for pleasure or woe,
Have been stealthily carried away;
I am nearer the valley of shadows, I know--
Am I nearer to heaven today?

Am I nearer today? Am I nearer today?
Am I nearer to heaven today?
Am I nearer the gate where the blessed ones wait?
Am I nearer to heaven today?

The refrain is a bit of a throwaway, and I am tempted to think it was contrived by Fillmore in the same way that Robert Lowry tacked on a refrain to Isaac Watts hymns in the cases of Alas! And did my Savior bleed?(PFTL#12) and Come we that love the Lord(PFTL#111).

The point of Pounds's text is well taken. Ecclesiastes 2:16 offers the sobering observation, "For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!" For better or worse, the days that have gone by cannot be recalled. Likewise, we know that every day that passes brings us one day closer to that appointment that no one will miss: "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."(Hebrews 9:27) Jesus also said, "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?"(Luke 12:25) We can prolong our lives (sometimes) by taking proper care of our bodies, or by medical science, but in the end "we bring our years to an end like a sigh. is soon cut off, and we fly away."(Psalm 90:9-10)

But we need not "grieve as others do who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13) If we are daily drawing nearer to the end of life on this earth, Pounds points out, we are also drawing nearer to our hope of heaven. The question then becomes not one of despair over our inevitable end, but of anticipation and preparation for the life to come. "The time that is past suffices", says 1 Peter 4:3, for living according to the ways of this world and following our own desires. "The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed."(Romans 13:11)

Stanza 2:
I am nearer the time for the breaking of ties,
That are holding my loved ones to me;
I am nearer the time for my latest goodbyes--
Am I nearer, O Father, to Thee?

Even for those who put their hope in heaven, parting with loved ones is one of the most difficult things to bear. In Acts 8:2, for example, we read that after the martydom of Stephen, "devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him." These "devout men" no doubt had assurance of Stephen's spiritual destination, and had hope of meeting him there one day; but they had lost a good man, an inspiration and a friend. It would be impossible for the human heart to be untouched by such a parting.

Likewise, we do not wish to be parted from our loved ones. But lest we dwell too much on this natural human emotion, we need to remember Christ's words in Matthew 10:37, "Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." This is hard to hear, but He said it and we need to come to terms with it. As Pounds rightly points out, we need to cultivate and cherish our relationship with the Lord, even more than our relationships with our loved ones whom we someday must leave.

It is the wonderful truth, of course, that we need not love them less because we love Him more. In fact, we will love them better. The godly man, for example, who loves his Lord first and best of all, will in the process be a man who can love his wife more generously and unselfishly. He can love his children more tenderly and raise them more wisely, and he will have done all he can to guarantee a heavenly reunion of his loved ones after this life.

Stanza 3:
I am nearer the close of my labor below,
I am nearer the end of my way;
I am nearer the edge of the valley, I know--
Am I nearer to heaven today?

Whatever God has given us to do on this earth, we need to get about that business. "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."(Ephesians 5:15-16) First in that order of business, of course, is to be "buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."(Romans 6:4) Once we have started that walk, we are moving closer to a destination. 1 John chapter 1 encourages us to "walk in the light" and not "in darkness", and each step we take, each day, is either one or the other.

A dear friend has a saying, "Life is a series of choices." When I am traveling home from my workplace in South Dallas, I have to make many correct choices on the freeway. If I do not take the correct exits at the major junctions (two right exits, then two left exits), I will end up going around in circles in downtown Dallas. At certain points, if I do not get in the correct lane well ahead of time, I will stand little chance of making the exit no matter how hard I try. The difference between a safe, relatively easy trip and getting completely lost is making the right choices at the right times.

The Christian life is a lot more complicated, of course, but we are all a day closer to our destination today than we were yesterday--it deserves our full attention.

About the music: Fred A. Fillmore (1856-1925) was the son of Disciples preacher Augustus Dameron Fillmore (1823-1870), and a partner in the family music business, Fillmore Brothers Publishing, established in Cincinatti in 1874.(Osborne) This tribe increased in both sacred and secular music, and was such a major force in gospel song during the late 19th century that they deserve their own post. Fred A. Fillmore also composed "I know that my Redeemer lives"(PFTL#282), "In the desert of sorrow and sin"(PFTL#332), and "Sowing the seed of the kingdom"(PFTL#589), thus showing the family penchant for the military march style (his nephew James H. Fillmore, Jr., would become one of America's most prominent bandleaders).

"Am I nearer to heaven today?", though, has not aged as well as some of his other efforts. It was probably intended as a choir piece, with the stanza sung by a soprano-tenor duet, and it might have worked in that format; but the melody is simply too awkward for congregational singing, from the unexpected downward leap of a sixth in the first measure, to the (over)use of successive chromatic steps. It might have done well enough in the era of American pseudo-Victorian art song, but that style has long passed from fashion, and this is not a particularly outstanding example of it to begin with. For comparison, see "I come to the garden alone"(PFTL#805), which (in its original format with soprano-alto duet on the stanza) is very similar in style but more musically satisfying.


Thomas, Theodore N. Jessie Brown Pounds. Encyclopedia of the Restoration Movement. Eerdmans, 2004, p. 600.

Osborne, William. Music in Ohio. Kent State University Press, 2004.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

All Things Work Together for Good

Praise for the Lord #27

Words: Thomas O. Chisholm, 1935
Music: Lloyd O. Sanderson, 1935

Here we come to the first of several collaborations from one of the most fruitful songwriting teams to be found in our hymnal. Lloyd O. Sanderson was the music editor (among other roles) for the Gospel Advocate company in Nashville, Tennessee, and produced three editions of the influential Christian Hymns songbook, in 1935, 1948, and 1966. Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960) is no doubt best known for his fine hymn "Great is Thy faithfulness"(PFTL#190), and among the Churches of Christ, for the text of "Be with me, Lord"(PFTL#40) which is sung to music by Sanderson.

I have not been able to discover the origin of the Sanderson-Chisholm connection, but it existed well before Sanderson's first hymnal appeared. Because of limited means on the part of each, they developed what became a rather close friendship by means of mail. Sanderson had been raised in the Methodist church, and no doubt might have become a minister in that faith as Chisholm did, had he not determined in his early adult life to be baptized into the simple New Testament faith. His autobiographical statement shows a feeling of kinship to Chisholm; despite their doctrinal differences, they shared a deep love of the Scriptures that made their cooperation in songwriting possible.(Sanderson)

Their collaborations that we have in Praise for the Lord also include "Be with me, Lord"(#40), "Bring Christ your broken life"(#67), and "Buried with Christ"(#85). All of their work in our hymnal was originally written for and published in Gospel Advocate's Christian Hymns of 1935. Chisholm's other texts in Praise for the Lord are "Great is Thy faithfulness"(#190), "Living for Jesus"(#402), "O to be like Thee!"(#499), and "Only in Thee"(#519). Like most hymnwriters, he wrote many more texts that are forgotten; but this is an impressive list. Most of these songs might be heard on any given Sunday at more traditional Churches of Christ around the U.S.

Stanza 1:
Whatever may come to me,
In this changeful life below,
My Father will make it all
Work for good to me, I know.

All things work together for good, for good,
According to His purpose,
According to His word;
All things work together for good, for good,
To all His redeemed ones,
To those who love the Lord.

Change is the constant of our lives. It may be good, bad, or indifferent, and it may be hard to tell at the time which of those it will prove to be. Proverbs 27:1 warns, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth." But we should be reassured that the changes that come in life are in God's hands. The life of Joseph is a great example. Most, if not all, of the changes he saw looked to be for the worse--until God set him up as the number two man in the world's most powerful empire. Truly, "He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding."(Daniel 2:21)

We can also be assured from the story of Joseph that whatever else may change, God does not. Apart from His committment to protect and provide for Joseph as an individual, God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation. When God's plan came to fruition, not only was Joseph vindicated, but a broken family was healed, and a nation was saved from famine. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."(James 1:17)

But most of all, Joseph's story shows us in vivid detail how God may "work all things together for good". Many of the "things" themselves were not good at all--the favoritism of a father, the murderous jealousy of some brothers, the vindictiveness of an adulterous wife, even the crushing famine that affected many scores of people beyond those directly concerned in Joseph's circle. Our reassurance comes, not from any promise that we will be sheltered from evil events, but from God's ability to work from these things even greater goods than we could have imagined. Chisholm's text is obviously a rendition of Romans 8:28, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." The emphasis is on God's working of good, and on "those who love God" who learn to see those good ends toward which He bringing us.

Stanza 2:
So little I understand,
Much is veiled in mystery,
"His ways are past finding out,"
'Tis enough He telleth me:

Scripture is plain on this point--there is much we do not know or cannot understand about this life. "For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?"(Ecclesiastes 6:12) Job wanted answers about the tragedies that befell his life, but had to admit, "Who will say to [God], 'What are you doing?'"(Job 9:12) Chisholm is quoting here from Romans 11:33-34, "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?"

A verse well worth the memorizing, in full, is Deuteronomy 29:29--"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." As Jesus said to His apostles just before His ascension, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority." But it is most definitely for us to study His word, and to trust in great promises such as Romans 8:28.

Stanza 3:
There's nothing I need to fear,
Be it loss or tears of pain,
A blessing will follow sure,
As the sunshine follows rain.

Numerous times in Scripture we are counseled with the words "Be not afraid." Most famously, perhaps, was when Jesus said it to His disciples during a storm on the Sea of Galilee.(Matthew 14:27) He also said it after His transfiguration,(Matthew 17:7) before His crucifixion,(John 14:27) and after His resurrection.(Matthew 28:10) Angels even said it in announcing His birth. Often, it seems, the times when people were most afraid were the times when the Lord was about to do something wonderful. Sometimes in life we feel like the Israelites in the Exodus, with the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them, and no way out. Like them, we need to "fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today."(Exodus 14:13)

James 1:2-4 counsels us as well,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We understand this to be true in many areas of life. There is an old saying, "People are like watermelons; you don't know if their any good or not until you thump them." Or, as I have told my son about losing chess matches, "You will learn more from your defeats than you will ever learn from easy victories." The natural world gives us great examples as well. I remember being trained, when I was a groundskeeper at Oklahoma Christian, how to prune roses. I was sure that we were killing those poor flowers! But I came to understand that we were "opening up" the plant to more productive growth, and that what we were removing would only hold it back. Additionally, the stress of pruning would force the rose to react by growing more energetically, and would ultimately make it stronger and more beautiful.

Stanza 4:
'Tis mine but to do His will,
His to weave the pattern fair,
'Tis mine to accept by faith
What mine eyes shall see up there.

Weaving is a fascinating craft to watch being done, and has long been used as a metaphor for lives and destinies. In both weaving and in life, you cannot determine what the finished product will look like by examining individual threads. There are endless potential combinations, and only as the pattern is set down do we gradually see what the resulting image might be. Chisholm relates this familiar metaphor to Romans 8:28, picturing God as the Weaver of life, who works all the threads together into a finished product that we cannot yet see. But "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,"(Hebrews 11:1) and even though we have not seen the end result, we know that like the rest of God's creations, it will be "very good".(Genesis 1:31)

A little bit of criticism: This is not Chisholm's best text. The rhythm is a little awkward at the beginning of the second line of the stanza, where the natural anapaest "In this CHANGE-" becomes forced in stanzas 2 and 4: "much is VEILED" and "His to WEAVE". The tone of the language is inconsistent, using the rather elevated "changeful" (a legitimate English word!) and "mine eyes" along with somewhat vague, casual expressions such as "up there". Still, it is a thoughtful approach to a great subject, and shows evidence of Chisholm's desire to write scriptural songs. One wonders whether Sanderson suggested the Romans 8:28 text, given the fact that he addressed the subject of providence himself in "The Lord has been mindful of me!"(PFTL#638) and also set to music "The providence of God"(PFTL#640) by Walter Brightwell.

About the music: Sanderson's choice of 6/8 meter for the stanzas was a good way to handle Chisholm's text, and smoothes over some of the awkwardness previously mentioned. The melody of the stanza, however, is a little too repetitive, and is hampered especially by returning to G at the end of the first three phrases. The decision to change meter for the refrain is another example of Sanderson's admirable penchant for experimentation. James McGranahan had done something like this in "I will sing of my Redeemer"(PFTL#300), moving from 9/8 to 12/8, and "Sinners Jesus will receive"(PFTL#588), going from 3/4 to 12/8. Sanderson's refrain is better than the music of the stanza, but has one clinker at the line "To all His redeemed ones": in my opinion the word "all" should have come on the downbeat of this measure, and "To" on the fourth beat of the measure before. As it is written, the rhythmic emphasis of the line is "TO ALL His re-DEEMED ones", when it would be much more natural as "to ALL His re-DEEMED ones".


Sanderson, Lloyd Otis. "The Lord has been mindful of me": an autobiography of L.O. Sanderson."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Empty Mansion

Praise for the Lord #26

Words: Beuna Ora Bryant Karnes, 1937
Music: Clarence A. Luttrell, 1939

This is a challenging hymn for me, because on the one hand I have trouble relating to it myself, and on the other hand I have known some fine Christians who love it very much. Having spent most (but not all!) of my life in suburbia, in relative luxury compared to most of the world, I confess that I have a hard time relating to the hardships expressed in this text. Therein, perhaps, is the disconnect that those of my generation have to get past in order to understand the attachment older Christians sometimes have to such hymns.

A genealogy site reveals that Beuna Ora Bryant Karnes (1889-1974) lived and died in Tarrant County, Texas (the Fort Worth area, just west of Dallas County). According to Mike Baker's informative post on this hymn, Mrs. Karnes met with a series of misfortunes throughout her adult life. Her husband's business--a lumberyard--burned to a complete loss; being uninsured, as many small businesses were at that time, they had to start over again. They had managed another modest success in business when the Great Depression hit; they lost all the money they had in a series of bank failures. With twelve children, they turned to sharecropping, cotton-picking, and any other means of support they could find. The year this text was written, Mrs. Karnes's father was killed by a drunk driver; her grief-stricken mother passed only three months later.(Baker)

This puts the hymn in an entirely different light. I have never sharecropped or picked cotton, but I have heard about it from those who have. And though we are concerned about unemployment and the economy today, we are talking about an era that saw unemployment at more than twice the rate of current levels--in a good year! Many lost their homes, or could not afford a first home, and had to live crowded in with relatives. Other families were separated as men traveled the countryside looking for work, hoping to send something back to their wives and children. Sometimes entire families were uprooted from where they had lived for generations, moving off to unfamiliar places where opportunities might be better. It is a perspective that makes me look differently at "heavenly reward" hymns from that era.

Stanza 1:
Here I labor and toil as I look for a home,
Just an humble abode among men,
While in Heaven a mansion is waiting for me
And a gentle voice pleading "come in".

There's a mansion now empty, just waiting for me
At the end of life's troublesome way.
Many friends and dear loved ones will welcome me there
Near the door of that mansion some day.

Jesus himself was without a home during much of His ministry: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."(Matthew 8:20) He spoke this proverb to those who expressed a desire to follow Him, warning that they must be ready to give up seeking a comfortable position in this world. Paul remarked on the truth of this in the case of the apostles:

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.(1 Corinthians 4:11-13)

This may not be the situation for you individually, but it is not far from the mark for many Christians in the past, and in parts of the world even today. It is also not impossible for such times to return; life is uncertain. Job, for example, went from pillar-of-society to pariah in a matter of days. In view of this fact of life, how reassuring to know that we have a home waiting for us on the other side that is guaranteed:

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.(John 14:1-3)

"Mansions", of course, is the English word chosen by the King James Version scholars in 1611, when it had a rather broader meaning than it does today. Used in the plural, it typically meant "a separate dwelling-place, lodging, or apartment in a large house or enclosure", as in Eden's A treatise of the Newe India of 1553, "They came to a low cottage... having in it two mansions," or in Potter's Antiquities of Greece of 1697, "Grecian houses were usually divided into two parts, in which the men and women had distinct mansions assigned."(OED) The wonders Jesus has prepared for us, of course, will be far beyond any earthly palace we could imagine anyway:

"He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."(Revelation 21:3-4)

Not least among our joys will be the reunion with the saints already gone to their reward, as Paul reassured the Thessalonians, when "we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord."(1 Thessalonians 4:17)

Stanza 2:
Ever thankful am I that my Savior and Lord
Promised unto the weary sweet rest;
Nothing more could I ask than a mansion above,
There to live with the saved and the blest.

Hebrews 4:9 contains the sweet promise that "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." Just as God found a time to cease from His labors in creation, there will come a time to cease from the hurry and bustle of this world. When we are young and full of plans and dreams, this is less apparent; but I notice with the encroaching of middle age that there is a weariness and dull sameness to the cycle of life, as Solomon said:

All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.(Ecclesiastes 1:8-9)

If you don't believe it, just turn on the evening news. The wicked take advantage of the innocent; fools make the same mistakes and the wise have to rescue them; politicians make promises and then break them; the hero of one day is the goat of the next; and on and on. But there is a place of Sabbath rest with God, where "nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life."(Revelation 21:27)

Stanza 3:
When my labor and toiling have ended below
And my hands shall lie folded in rest,
I'll exchange this old home for a mansion up there
And invite the archangel as guest.

It is probably the last line of this hymn that causes younger people to squirm the most, and you have to admit it is a little corny. After reading the awe-inspiring (and to me, somewhat terrifying) descriptions of the heavenly beings that surround God's throne (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Revelation 4), I cannot imagine sending one a social invitation. (Though it is worth noting that even the angels exhibit a great humility, as when John tried to worship the angel in Revelation 21:8-9, and was told, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book."

The problem still remains, for those of my generation, that we did not share the Depression-era experiences that color this text. But perhaps we can learn to see texts like this in a different light. First of all, respect the fact that many of our seniors did in fact live under such circumstances, or remember parents who did, and have a strong emotional attachment to such hymns.

And secondly, even if we do not experience the upheaval and potential homelessness as did the Depression-era poor, we certainly have experienced a loss of "home" in another sense. Perhaps no generation prior to mine (Generation X) experienced such a concerted onslaught on home and family, and it has not gotten better with those who have followed. Broken homes are so common that we learn early not to ask questions of our school friends that might embarrass them on the subject. As I type this, I cannot think of a family that I know that has not been touched in a direct way by divorce, or troubled marriages, or out-of-wedlock children. Truly, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."(Ezekiel 18:2) "Home" in the spiritual sense is something many younger people have lost, or are fearful of losing. Like Abraham, they are "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."(Hebrews 11:10)

About the music: There was a Clarence A. Luttrell who lived and died in the town of Mansfield in Tarrant County, Texas, who is probably the same as the composer of this hymn. The Stamps-Baxter copyright on this song is further evidence of a Dallas-Fort Worth connection. The style is that of the commercial Southern gospel ballad, with a simple folk-like tune embellished with barbershop-style chromatic harmonies. Not surprisingly, according to it has been recorded by well-known traditional country artists such as Grandpa Jones and the Oak Ridge Boys.


Baker, Mike. An empty mansion. Our daily walk. 6 September 2007.

Mansion. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. vol. 9, p. 332.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

All Things Praise Thee

Praise for the Lord #25

Words: George W. Conder, 1853
Music: Conrad Kocher, 1838; arr. William Monk, 1861

George William Conder (1821-1874) was a Congregationalist pastor in Leeds, England. He wrote very few hymns (or they did not gain much currency), though this example shows an obvious talent. During the 1850s Conder helped to compile a hymn collection commonly called the Leeds Hymn Book, and it was in that publication that this hymn first appeared.(Cyberhymnal)

Stanza 1:
All things praise Thee, Lord most high,
Heav’n and earth and sea and sky,
All were for Thy glory made,
That Thy greatness thus displayed
Should all worship bring to Thee;
All things praise Thee--Lord, may we!

He is "the Lord, who made heaven and earth."(Psalm 121:2) He is "The God who made the world and everything in it."(Acts 17:24) Psalm 147 speaks extensively of the unfathomable immensity of what God has done in creating this planet we call home:

He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth; He makes grass grow on the hills. ... He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold? He sends out His word, and melts them; He makes His wind blow and the waters flow.(Psalm 147:8, 16-18)

Everything on this earth, above this earth, and under it are His creation; it is the duty, the natural response, of His creation to ascribe glory to Him for what He has done:

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 5:13)

Only humanity stands in the shameful position of not recognizing His power and authority over His creation:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools...(Romans 1:19-22)

We may make fools of ourselves in many ways in life, but may we at least have wisdom enough to give glory to God when we see the world He has created!

Stanza 2:
All things praise Thee--night to night
Sings in silent hymns of light;
All things praise Thee--day to day
Chants Thy power in burning ray;
Time and space are praising Thee,
All things praise Thee--Lord, may we!

A question that many believers raise is, why did God create such an immense universe? And what is out there? We can only say that it gives glory to God, and that beyond that we do not know. The best our scientists can do is estimate the size of the universe, and that is a figure that has been revised numerous times! We might be able to say more accurately that we guess there is a lot more out there than we have been able to see so far, or likely ever will.

But God knows. "He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names."(Psalm 147:4) And whatever may be out there, it gives God glory. Conder's language here describing "silent hymns of light" perhaps references the ancient concept of "music of the spheres", which correlated the ratios of the orbital mechanics of the planets to the ratios of musical intervals. Some even went so far as to suggest that the motions of the heavenly bodies actually produced musical sounds. This was later dismissed, but a modern equivalent might be heard in our studies of the radio emissions of distant stars. The heavens are certainly not silent!

Conder climaxes the stanza saying that "time and space are praising [God]." As we consider the mysteries of the cosmos, contemplating the little part that we think we understand so far, it is good to remember that whatever the truth of these things may be, God is so far above it that it is a mere toy to Him. He is the One who calls himself "I AM".(Exodus 3:14; cf. John 8:58, Matthew 22:32) He is not "I WAS" or "I WILL BE", because our laws of time have no meaning to Him.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. ... For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.(Psalm 90:2,4)

The laws of space as we understand them likewise have no hold upon Him:

Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.(Psalm 139:7-12)

Once again we are compelled to bow before Him and worship, remembering that "He is not a man, as I am..."(Job 9:32)

The following stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord, and is not familiar to me from any of the hymnals used in the U.S. Churches of Christ:

All things praise Thee--high and low,
Rain and dew and sparkling snow,
Crimson sunset, fleecy cloud,
Rippling stream, and tempest loud;
Summer, winter, all to Thee
Glory render--Lord, may we!

It is a fine verse, and one wonders why it has been omitted. Perhaps--it can only be speculation, of course--the three stanzas that we have were selected because they get to the point rather quickly, progressing rapidly through 1) the earthly creation, 2) the cosmic creation, and 3) the heavenly creation.

Stanza 3:
All things praise Thee--Heav’n’s high shrine
Rings with melody divine;
Lowly bending at Thy feet,
Seraph and archangel meet;
This their highest bliss, to be
Ever praising--Lord, may we!

The term "seraphim" occurs only once in Scripture, in the great throne room scene of Isaiah chapter 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"(Isaiah 6:1-3)

These are often identified with the beings described in Revelation chapter 4, verses 6-8:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

They are intriguingly similar to the beings described in Ezekiel chapter 1, verses 5-18 as well:

... And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. ... And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. ... And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around.

There are strong similarities, but there are differences in details as well. These beings are apparently identified as "cherubim" in Ezekiel 10:2, and according to long-standing tradition are a separate class of heavenly entities.("Angels", Catholic Encyclopedia) At any rate, we can be sure that there whereas the typical "angels" mentioned in the Bible are (or can be) human in appearance, there is a class of beings the like of which we can barely imagine. They never sleep, they never rest; their entire existence is the praise of God. They are represented as those beings closest to the throne, and therefore (we can assume?) of the greater honor, yet they cover their faces in His presence.

Archangels are mentioned twice in Scripture: once by name, Michael, in Jude 9, contending with Satan, and once unnamed, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where we are told that its voice will announce the end of the world. The second is traditionally identified as Gabriel. Gabriel's identification as an archangel seems to rest largely on his association with Michael in the apocryphal books of Enoch and Tobit, where they are both listed among seven angels that are in turn equated to the seven angels with trumpets in Revelation 8:2 who "stand before God".("Gabriel", Catholic Encyclopedia) In support of this association, Gabriel identified himself to Mary as "Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God."(Luke 1:19) Unlike the seraphim, the archangels are sent out on missions away from the presence of God: Michael to the wilderness of the trans-Jordan in Jude 9, and Gabriel to Daniel in Babylon (Daniel 8-9) and to Mary in Galilee (Luke 1).

Obviously much of this is speculation, and if God had wished us to know more, He would have told us. But it is worth understanding the framework within which Conder makes the statement "seraph and archangel meet". Regardless of their ranks, they are all equally humbled in the presence of God. When we try to grasp the glory of such beings, and distinguish between them, we are forced to recognize that we are speaking of entities of ancient and unknown power and glory, who have stood in the presence of God Almighty since before the world began; beings before whom the typical Biblical response is terror and dread. Yet even these bow themselves prostrate before God. In Revelation 4:9-11 we have this picture of the worship around God's throne:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

Conder's point is simply this--how much more humbly and reverently should we, by comparison, worship our Creator?

The original closing stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord:

All things praise Thee--gracious Lord,
Great Creator, powerful Word,
Omnipresent Spirit, now
At Thy feet we humbly bow;
Lift our hearts in praise to Thee;
All things praise Thee--Lord, may we!

It is a fine summarizing stanza, invoking praise to the Trinity, and I am somewhat sorry that I haven't had the opportunity to sing it. On the other hand, the stanza before it is more striking in its images and drives home the point so powerfully--a call to follow suit to all God's creation and worship Him--that it actually seems a stronger place to end the hymn.

About the music: Conrad Kocher (1786-1872) is one of those legions of obscure composers who are remembered for one or two great tunes. This tune was picked up and arranged by William Monk, the music editor of the widely influential Hymns Ancient and Modern and composer of the music for "Abide with me". This tune, "DIX" is also commonly sung with the text "For the beauty of the earth"(PFTL#157). It has a charmingly simple classical style, moving largely by step and with no chromatic departures from the key. The contrary motion between the soprano and bass throughout the first phrase is particularly effective.


Cyberhymnal. George William Conder.

Angels. Catholic Encyclopedia.

St. Gabriel the archangel. Catholic Encyclopedia.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Praise for the Lord #24

Words: Cecil F. Alexander, 1848
Music: Lloyd O. Sanderson, 1935

(Mrs.) Cecil Frances Humphries Alexander (1818-1895) published this text in Hymns for Little Children in 1848. Supposedly she was visiting Markree Castle in County Sligo, Ireland when she wrote this hymn.(Cyberhymnal, "All things")

County Sligo, Ireland
Alexander and her sister founded a school for the deaf, and it is tempting to suppose that the strongly visual focus of this hymn was based on her interaction with deaf children. Hymns for Little Children also included "There is a green hill far away"(PFTL#) and "Once in royal David's city", once well-known hymns but never widely sung in the U.S. Churches of Christ. She also wrote the lyrics of "Jesus calls us"(PFTL#), which we have sung rather widely!(Cyberhymnal, "Alexander")

Stanza 1:
The little flower that opens,
The little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Some considerations of God's creation look at the grandiose--for example, the sweeping landscapes of "How great Thou art"(PFTL#226), or the cosmic perspective of Psalm 8. "All things bright and beautiful" looks at the small things. Wildflowers and wild birds are common, ordinary parts of our world, but each one is (if we take the time to look) an exquisite creation of our heavenly Father. Their abundance and commonness is evidence of His overflowing creativity and love of beauty. Jesus used this for a powerful object lesson:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?(Matthew 6:26-30)

In the refrain, Alexander sums up the message that we should praise the God who made all things "very good"; it is only through the corruption of sin that they become otherwise.(Genesis 1:31, 3:17) She may have had in mind Psalm 104:24, which speaks of the wisdom of God and the overwhelming diversity of His creation: "O Lord , how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures."

The following stanza is omitted from most modern hymnals, for fairly obvious reasons:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Not only does it run counter to modern ideals about social mobility, it jarringly calls to mind Christ's story of the rich man and Lazarus, almost seeming to offer justification to the rich man's neglect of the poor beggar at his gate.(Luke 16:19-31) It is a blemish on an otherwise outstanding text, and is no loss.

This next stanza is omitted from Sanderson's setting as well, perhaps merely incidentally:

The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

Or perhaps Brother Sanderson just couldn't relate to the first two lines, having grown up in the flat, dry cotton country of eastern Arkansas, where the only significant break in the geography is Crowley's Ridge.(Sanderson)

Stanza 2:
The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

In this stanza Alexander notes the contrasts and extremes of God's creation, and how they all work together to make a world in which we can live. The "ripe fruits in the garden" do not grow without the "pleasant summer sun", but they also cannot grow without soil that has lain fallow during the winter, enriched by snow and rains. God sustains all these things, and has decreed that they will continue: "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."(Genesis 8:22)

Sanderson also omits the following stanza:

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

The Britishism "greenwood" may have been the deciding factor; or perhaps Sanderson simply thought a shorter version of the song would go over better. His choice of verses gets the essential points across very well--stanza 1 focuses on the details of God's smaller creations, stanza 2 on the large cycles of the seasons, and stanza 3 provides a conclusion and a call to action:

Stanza 3:
He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

Why did God create such diversity? Why did He make it so beautiful? God could have created only the basic, necessary varieties of plant and animal life, instead of the myriads of variations we see. Of course the evolutionist can say (and rightly) that there are survival values in the differentiations. But why couldn't all cats have been black? Why couldn't flowers be distinguished by only a few different shades? And why did He make us able to appreciate beauty? God could have created us without the ability to see color (many people, of course, survive quite well without it).

To begin with, God created because that is what He does. In the last verse of Genesis chapter 1, we read that "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." There is no mention of what Adam thought about it--it was God's opinion of His own work. There is a spark of that in most of us as well, whether it comes out in art, or music, or craftsmanship, or the simple satisfaction of finishing any job and knowing that we have done it well. But the Lord's creativity is naturally beyond our understanding. We get a glimpse of His imagination at work in the questions He fires at Job in the latter chapters of that book:

"Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place...? Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? ... Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? ... Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail...? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass? Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven? ...

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, 'Here we are'?"(Job 38:12-35)

But God's creation also serves His purpose of teaching us about Him: "For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."(Romans 1:20) It is also provided for our necessity: "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."(Matthew 5:45)

The appropriate response to God's creation is "a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."(Hebrews 13:15) At the beginning of His creation, "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy."(Job 38:7) The Psalms are full of echoes of this praise:

O Lord , our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens.(Psalm 8:1)

There is none like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours.(Psalm 86:8)

For You, O Lord, have made me glad by Your work; at the works of Your hands I sing for joy. How great are Your works, O Lord ! Your thoughts are very deep!(Psalm 92:4-5)

Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!(Psalm 96:3)

O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures.(Psalm 104:24)

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!(Psalm 105:2)

If we learn to see and hear it, if we take the time to look and listen, there are reasons to praise and rejoice all around us, every day.

About the music: Lloyd O. Sanderson was one of the premier figures in the history of the hymnody of the Churches of Christ in the U.S., and deserves his own post. To those not familiar with him, he was a songwriter who often set his own texts under pen names (e.g. "Vana R. Raye") and collaborated quite fruitfully with the great Methodist poet Thomas O. Chisholm (e.g. "Be with me, Lord", PFTL#40). Just as importantly, though, he was music editor and sometime business manager for the Gospel Advocate magazine in Nashville, Tennessee. His energy and ability led to both the growth of the company in general and to the renewal of their hymnal efforts in the Christian Hymns series. Many, many Christians grew up in the1950s singing from those little tan or books! As far as I know, his setting of "All things bright and beautiful" first appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns, which was his first publication with Gospel Advocate.

I have difficulty in forming an assessment of Sanderson's composing ability. He was obviously an intelligent, inquisitive man who made good use of every educational opportunity that came his way. His formal education in music, however, was rather limited by today's standards; and to be fair, he considered music an avocation.(Sanderson) That being said, the range of styles in his compositions far exceeds what one would expect of a songwriter trained in the gospel-oriented "music normals" of the day. Albert Brumley, for example, the most commercially successful of our songwriting brothers, seldom varied far from the quartet gospel format of "I'll fly away"(PFTL#824) or "If we never meet again this side of heaven"(PFTL#323). Tillit Teddlie, though writing more strictly for congregational use, also tended to stay fairly close to the same style.

Sanderson, on the other hand, often wrote things that can hardly be called gospel, and aspire more toward a classical style. Some of these, such as his setting of Tennyson's "Crossing the bar"(PFTL#117), are quite lovely; others, such as "Where livest Thou?"(PFTL#765) are somewhat awkward. He deserves credit, however, for a diversity of style uncommon for a gospel songwriter, and for many excellent successes.

One of these is the tune for "All things bright and beautiful". It is closer in nature to a folk song than anything else, with simple quarter-note rhythms and predictable, repetitive phrase structure (which for a folk song is certainly not a criticism). The melody is unified by the frequent repetition of the same note, often DO or SOL of the scale, which also contributes to its childlike simplicity. It moves primarily by step, and its leaps are typically within the notes of the tonic chord of the key (DO-MI-SOL). The four phrases of the stanza lead nicely from SOL up to DO, with SOL ending the first phrase, LA pops up in the second and third phrases, and TI in the fourth phrase prepares us for the inevitable and satisfying resolution to DO when the refrain begins. This hymn is also commonly sung to at least three other tunes, which can be heard at the Cyberhymnal page for this text; Sanderson's tune, in my opinion, is as good as or better than any of them.


Cyberhymnal. All things bright and beautiful.

Cyberhymnal. Cecil Frances Humphries Alexander.

Sanderson, Lloyd Otis. "The Lord has been mindful of me: an autobiography of L.O. Sanderson. h

Image of Sligo, Ireland released into public domain by the photographer, Jon Sullivan.

All Things Are Ready

Praise for the Lord #23

Words: Charles H. Gabriel, 1895
Music: William A. Ogden, 1895

I like to view Charles Gabriel (1856-1932) as a transitional figure between the 19th-century first generation of gospel songwriters and the early 20th-century quartet- and convention-gospel style. He collaborated with Fanny Crosby-era writers such as William Doane (composer of "To God be the glory", "Safe in the arms of Jesus"), but in his later years worked for the Homer Rodeheaver publishing company, a bastion of the Southern Gospel style.

Many of Gabriel's contributions to our hymnal were settings of other people's texts; most notably, in my opinion, his fine setting of "Jesus, Rose of Sharon"(PFTL#363), and of course the perennial gospel favorite "His eye is on the sparrow"(PFTL#235). His own lyrics had mixed results:

"Glory for me"(PFTL#169)
"God is calling the prodigal"(PFTL#179)
"He lifted me"(PFTL#221)
"I stand amazed"(PFTL#299)
"Just a few more days"(PFTL#378)
"More like the Master"(PFTL#429)
"Only a step"(PFTL#520)
"Send the light"(PFTL#572)
"Sweet is the promise"(PFTL#603)

There are some true gems of the style, such as "I stand amazed", "Send the light", or "Just a few more days"; there are some that I have never heard sung; and there are some I wish I had not. (Personal aside: Dr. Fletcher, Leah and I will never hear "Glory for me" without thinking of your comment in Music History class. *grin*) Interestingly, "All things are ready" is the only Charles Gabriel text in our hymnal that someone else chose to set to music.

Gabriel based his text, obviously, on Jesus' parable of the feast and the ungrateful guests, from Luke chapter 14.

Stanza 1:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, for the table now is spread;
Ye famishing, ye weary, come,
And thou shalt be richly fed.

Hear the invitation,
Come, “whosoever will”;
Praise God for full salvation
For “whosoever will.”

Jesus was at a supper, and had been teaching the value of extending hospitality to those from whom you can expect the least reward in terms of returned favors or increase in your own social recognition. After hearing this, an unidentified guest said,

"Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" But [Jesus] said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'"(Luke 14:15-17)

The image of a great feast prepared by God for His saints is one that runs through the Old and New Testaments:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.(Isaiah 25:6)

"I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."(Matthew 8:11)

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."(Revelation 19:9)

The image may be of those physical needs of food and drink that we know from daily life, but we know it has a deeper, spiritual meaning. The "famishing" and "weary" of Gabriel's text are those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness."(Matthew 5:6) These are the ones who have tasted what the world offers the soul, and know that only the "true food" and "true drink" offered by Jesus Christ will satisfy and sustain them.(John 6:55)

Stanza 2:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, for the door is open wide;
A place of honor is reserved
For you at the Master’s side.

The open door to the place of the feast reminds us of another of Jesus' parables about an invitation to a feast, the parable of the ten virgins. An essential point from that lesson is found in Matthew 25:10--the fact that "...the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut." The door is open now, but it will not always be so. Jesus is the One "who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens."(Revelation 3:7)

The honor of being invited to a banquet was significant in ancient times, when hospitality was taken quite seriously. It is harder for us today to grasp how shockingly rude the behavior of the guests in Jesus' parable was, in its cultural context:

"But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' "And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' "And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' "So the servant came and reported these things to his master.(Luke 14:18-20)

Even by today's standards these are pretty lame excuses. If they had wanted to go, they would have made time. But what kinds of excuses do we offer God for not accepting the honor He has extended to us? "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."(1 John 3:1) How do we treat the honor of this invitation? And for those of us who already have accepted it, do our actions show respect for what it means?

Stanza 3:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, while He waits to welcome thee;
Delay not while this day is thine,
Tomorrow may never be.

Jesus' parable of the feast and the ungrateful guests continues,

Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' "And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' "And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. "'For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"(Luke 14:15-24)

The goodness and the justice of the master of the house are seen in the conclusion of this parable. Being rudely rebuffed by his original guest list, he extends his invitation to those who were unjustly considered of little account by the world--the homeless, the poor, and the handicapped. The social standing of the master would not be enhanced by this action ("fashionable charity" was not the order of the day), and he could certainly expect nothing in return from them, monetarily or politically. But he desired to show hospitality, and those who were willing to receive it were just as blessed as if they had been the A-list celebrities of the community.
The master's goodness was matched by his justice. Even if one of the original guests changed his mind, came and apologized, and begged for admission, the master of the house had determined not to let them in. It was, after all, his banquet.

In the same way, God determines who is on His guest list (John 3:16 establishes the very liberal terms). He determines how He will treat those who reject His invitation. He also determines when the invitation will be closed. "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."(2 Corinthians 6:2)

Stanza 4:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Leave ev’ry care and worldly strife;
Come, feast upon the love of God,
And drink everlasting life.

As Gabriel notes in the refrain, this invitation is open to "whosoever will." The most well-known occurence of this word (at least in the King James Version, which Gabriel most likely read) is John 3:16--"that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God's invitation is open to all who will listen to the gospel call: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent."(Acts 17:30) There is no greater invitation and no greater reward than that extended by Jesus: "And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."(Revelation 22:17)

About the music: William Ogden (1841-1897) also wrote the music for "Hark! 'Tis the Shepherd's voice I hear"(PFTL#206) and "He is able to deliver Thee"(PFTL#208). He wrote both lyrics and music for "Jesus, the loving Shepherd"(PFTL#369), "O if my house is built upon a Rock"(PFTL#479), "Seeking the lost"(PFTL#571), and "Where He leads I'll follow(PFTL#761)

Since Gabriel opened each stanza with a repetition of the essential theme, "All things are ready; come to the feast!", Ogden used the simple but effective trick of drawing attention two these two phrases by use of silence. The brief rest after "All things are ready" is probably one of the most memorable characteristics of the music of this hymn.

Ogden uses a typical gospel song device in the chorus, where the soprano holds a long note over the steady dotted-eighth-note/sixteenth-note rhythmic drive of the other voices, then goes into the dotted rhythms itself while the other parts sing steady quarter notes. Essentially, the alto, tenor, and bass parts are providing rhythmic accompaniment and contrast to the melody in much the same way instruments would; thus this style works well without the instrumental accompaniment. For a very similar application of this idea, see also the refrain of Ogden's "Where He leads, I'll follow"(PFTL#761).


Cyberhymnal. Charles Hutchinson Gabriel.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

Praise for the Lord #22

Words: Fanny J. Crosby, 1875
Music: Robert Lowry, 1875

I still need to write that post about Fanny Crosby. The basic facts of her life are probably familiar, particularly her lifelong blindness and the strong character and positive attitude she showed in dealing with that hardship. I would really like to address instead her body of work, though, and also examine the situation of the female hymn-writers of the 18th century who entered into what had been pretty much a man's world. At the very least I want to respect her self-professed "aversion to being called 'the blind hymn-writer'."(Crosby, 199)

According to Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby wrote this hymn after receiving "a very unexpected temporal blessing", the nature of which he does not disclose.(Sankey, 360) This apparently caused her to reflect, however, on the providence of God throughout her life. Crosby, a Methodist, sent the text to Robert Lowry, a Northern Baptist minister, poet, and songwriter, to set to music; it would be their first collaboration.(Crosby, 122)

Stanza 1:
All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

Crosby may have begun with Psalm 23 in mind: "He leads me in paths of righteousness... I shall not want."(v.3, v.1) God as the Leader and Guide of our life is a persistent image in the Psalms, perhaps most vividly in Psalm 48:14--"For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our Guide even to death [or 'our Guide forever']." God is known for His "tender mercy"(James 5:11), upon which we base our confidence of the forgiveness of sins: "According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions."(Psalm 51:1)

The "tender mercy" of God also sent Jesus to bring us the good news of salvation, and to die for our sins.(Luke 1:78) Having gone to the grave ahead of us, He will walk with us "through the valley of the shadow of death."(Psalm 23:4) "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."(Hebrews 6:19-20)
As we follow Him through life and death, we can be assured that our trust is well placed--"He has done all things well."(Mark 7:37)

Stanza 2:
All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

We follow some twists and turns in the paths of life. Sometimes we wonder how we ended up where we are; sometimes we wonder where we are going. Often we are forced to admit the truth of Jeremiah 10:23, "It is not in man that walks to direct his steps." Even when we think we know where we want to go, and where we are going, it is not always what comes about. Still, as we look back, we can see that when we walked closely to God, He worked "all things together for good."(Romans 8:28). "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day."(Proverbs 4:18)

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul took time to recount many of the trials he had faced in his life, and in particular a "thorn in the flesh" that he often prayed would be removed. God's answer to him is worth our meditation upon: "My grace is sufficient for you."(2 Corinthians 12:9) What God had already provided, was enough to see him through. Sometimes we want God to take us out of a situation, when we need instead to realize that He has given us a way to bear up under it. Reflecting on these things, Paul told the Corinthians that "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work."(2 Corinthians 9:8)

Toward the end of the stanza Crosby takes a cue from the image of wandering in the wilderness, and introduces the miraculous bread and water by which God sustained Israel during the Exodus. These things were physical necessities to Israel, but they had a spiritual lesson as well; as this multitude of people camped in the wilderness with no visible means of sustenance, the daily manna and the miraculous springs of water were unavoidable object lessons in their dependence upon God. We too are in a spiritual wilderness, and only the "Living Bread that came down from heaven"(John 6:51) and the Water can satisfy the hunger that all souls have but few recognize.
1 Corinthians 10:4 says that "they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ." He alone can give "a spring of water welling up to eternal life."(John 4:14)

Stanza 3:
All the way my Savior leads me
O the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

"Fullness" is a word and concept in the New Testament that is rich in meaning. Its origins lie in the image of a ship, fully manned with sailors, rowers, and soldiers, and packed with merchandise for foreign ports. Then as now, a full ship was a money-making ship (think of, perhaps, the modern airliner), and a ship filled to "fullness" was packed with everything it needed and everything it could possibly hold. Christ had this kind of "fullness" of His Father;(Colossians 1:19) He could not have been any more full of His Father's likeness, power, and character if He had tried. The church, in God's ideal, is to be the "fullness" of Christ.(Ephesians 1:23) Paul wished for every individual Christian "to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."(Ephesians 3:19). Our God is not a stingy God!

Crosby turns next to God's promises for the hereafter, reminding us that "there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,"(Hebrews 4:9) where perfect peace, composure, and comfort will be ours. "For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."(2 Corinthians 5:4) If the fullness of God's love is given to us now, but will overflow even more when we reach our ultimate goal. Truly, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."(1 Corinthians 2:9)

And for all eternity, we will know Whom we have to thank--the One who came to a sick, sinful world, showed it the way, took the devil's worst, triumphed over death, and now walks with us as our Shepherd and Guide, to bring us home. "For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."(Revelation 7:17)

A little bit of criticism:

One aspect of Crosby's writing that usually stands out is her tendency to write in short outbursts of praise of no more than two lines length. These brief thoughts are grouped into stanzas, but do not necessarily make an integrated thought in the course of the stanza. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) This text is somewhat the exception, especially in the third stanza, where the last three lines are hardly separable:

Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father's house above;
When my spirit, clothed immortal
Wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages,
"Jesus led me all the way!"

There is also a purely technical aspect of this text that lends interest--the odd-numbered lines in each stanza "weak" endings (STRONG SYLLABLE - weak syllable), while the even-number lines have "strong" endings (WEAK SYLLABLE - strong syllable). For example, the odd-numbered lines of the first stanza end on the words "LEADS me", "MER-cy", "COM-fort", and "be-FALL me". The even-numbered lines end on the words "be-SIDE", "my GUIDE", "to DWELL", "ALL things WELL". This gives the text a certain lilt that comes across in Lowry's music as well; the weak endings mean that the phrase ends in the middle of a measure, not on a downbeat, and thus give the music a variety and sense of forward progress.

About the music: Robert Lowry wrote both words & music to "Shall we gather at the river?"(PFTL#570), "Low in the grave He lay"(PFTL#408), and "Nothing but the blood"(PFTL#454). He also wrote the music for "Savior, Thy dying love"(PFTL#565), "I need Thee every hour"(PFTL#288), and "Come we that love the Lord"(PFTL#111). He added the refrains to the last two, as well, bringing them in line with the refrain-happy gospel song style. From this small sampling we see a facility and variety of ideas that are a cut above the typical gospel songwriter of his era.

At least two distinctive features make this tune memorable. First, the repeated C's with the dotted-eighth-note/sixteenth-note rhythm at the beginning ("All the way"), and at the beginning of the third line ("Can I doubt") are in contrast to the straight eighth-note rhythms in the rest of the hymn. After two such beginnings on the odd-numbered phrases, the third pair of phrases ("Heav'nly peace") begins in a contrasting manner. The final pair of phrases begins once again on the pitch C, and we have already a sense of return and completion.

Also, in the third pair of phrases, and going into the final pair, Lowry executes a nice bit of melodic tension-building. In "Heav'nly peace, divinest comfort" the strongest rhythmic stress is on "peace", on the pitch Ab; in "Here by faith in Him to dwell", the stress is on "faith", on the pitch C; and finally in the phrase "For I know, whate'er befall me..." the stress is on "know", which ascends to Eb. The rhythmically stressed words "peace", "faith", and "know" are successively higher, and also build the tonic chord of the key, Ab-C-Eb. It is simple but effective writing, and the similar shape of the three phrases contributes as well to the sense of completion when the high Eb is reached--the highest note in the entire song, and the emotional climax of each stanza.


Strong's Concordance. πλήρωμα. Provided by

Sankey, Ira D. My life and the story of the Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs and Solos. Harper Brothers, 1906; Kessinger Publishers, 2006.

Crosby, Fanny J. Memories of eighty years. J.H. Earle & Co., 1906.