Thursday, February 12, 2009

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.

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