Monday, March 30, 2009

Angels from the Realms of Glory

Praise for the Lord #42

Words: James Montgomery, 1816/1825
Music: Henry Smart, 1867

Montgomery's slight but profitable hymnwriting career is discussed under the post on his communion hymn, "According to Thy gracious word". Montgomery published this poem in his newspaper, the Sheffield Iris, on Christmas Eve in 1816.

Stanza 1:
Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

The arrival of Jesus in this world was in one sense anticlimactic. Luke's account, especially, emphasizes the sheer ordinariness of His actual birth, beginning with the fact that He was born away from home because of a tax law. As anyone knows who has ever had a family emergency on the road, of course there would be no place to stay; he would be literally "born in a barn." He was swaddled like any other baby, and (unlike most other babies, one hopes) was put down for His first nap in the only suitable crib available, a feeding trough.(Luke 2:1-7) He was just another Child, in the eyes of the world, born to a very young mother and dependent on a simple tradesman as His earthly father.

But for a moment that night, the heavens opened and the true earth-shaking wonder of this event was revealed; God sent His angels to openly declare the arrival of His Son on the earth. Interestingly, their message was not to the political or religious elite; they spoke instead to ordinary shepherds, who suddenly had reason to be grateful that they had to be at work that night:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."(Luke 2:13-14)

The angels sang at the creation of the world, God tells Job, when "all the sons of God shouted for joy."(Job 38:7) At the birth of Christ they sang again to welcome a new world--a world that, in its fallen state, subject to Satan's corruption, had just been invaded by the liberating King of Kings. It was only the beginning of Christ's work, but for Satan it was the beginning of the end.

Stanza 2:
Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light:

The noble wise men of the East would come later, to show the subjection of all the world's wisdom and majesty to Christ; but how appropriate that the first to hear the wonderful news were just shepherds. Their sort were always the first to listen to Jesus and His gospel anyway: "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth."(1 Corinthians 1:26)

Jesus would select apostles by much the same standards--some fishermen, a political rabble-rouser or two, a tax man, with not one prominent rabbi or well-heeled noble among the lot. Only Paul might fit the bill of what the world would consider working material for great leadership. But Jesus did not look for those whom the world considered greater leaders; He looked for those whose hearts were open to His teaching and could obey that simple command, "Follow Me."(Matthew 9:9)

Stanza 3:
Wise men, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

Of course the wise men came as well, to their credit. We will never know all that this trip meant to them, but we can surmise that they were passionate about acquiring knowledge, and desirous of honoring this great Person of Whom they knew so little, yet for Whom they were willing to travel from the ends of the earth. They exemplified what God told Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord : "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches; but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord ."(Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Paul was a man wise in the eyes of the world, but he kept that wisdom in perspective as well:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.(1 Corinthians 1:20-25)

Earthly wisdom is a good and positive thing when it is kept in perspective. It is refreshing to think of these wise men whose greatest desire was to know the truth, and to offer their gifts and worship to the Bringer of that knowledge.

Montgomery continued with the following stanzas, omitted in Praise for the Lord:

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.

Here we are reminded of the touching stories of Anna and Simeon, godly people who had looked long for the Messiah.(Luke 2:21-39) In their old age, having seen much trouble of life come and go, they were blessed to see the Child who would bring salvation to the world. Simeon, a man at peace with God already, could rejoice and say, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation..."(Luke 2:29-30)

But Montgomery also references the "sudden" return of the Lord to His temple, calling to mind Malachi 3:1-2,

The Lord Whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the Messenger of the covenant in Whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?

Those who "loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil,"(John 3:19) did not welcome Jesus at all--starting with Herod, who would try to kill Him as a child, to the religious leaders who finally succeeded in that effort three decades later. There were those who were looking forward to the Messiah, and those who viewed Him as a threat to their status quo. The same is true today; and it will be revealed in even starker relief when He comes to this earth the second time.

The following stanza is also omitted in most hymnals:

Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.

Isaiah, in particular, spoke to this aspect of Christ's incarnation, even in before His crucifixion:

He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.(Isaiah 9:1-2)

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.(Isaiah 40:1-2)

With Christ's coming, both Jew and Gentile were released from the hopelessness of unforgiven sin.

It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that the following verse is omitted in most hymnals:

Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:

The incarnation is a mystery on many levels. What was Christ's awareness of His deity when He was a child? How could God become a baby? People have argued these matters for centuries; we are better off accepting what the Bible says, and going no further.(2 John 1:9) One thing we can be sure of, though, is that someday all the arguments over His deity will come to an end: "For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.'"(Romans 14:11) This was Montgomery's original conclusion to the hymn, tying together the worship of the shepherds and the wise men with the universal worship that Christ will receive at His second arrival.

Montgomery wrote the following stanza in 1825, which was published in The Christmas Box and later attached to this hymn:(Cyberhymnal)

All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One.

About the music: Few hymn tunes have such a characteristic opening phrase. The first few notes outline the tonic of the key, a B-flat major chord, in a manner characteristic of herald trumpets or chimes. In Western cultures trumpets have a longstanding association with royalty, and chimes have a similarly ancient connection with religious celebrations. Whether this was by design or not, it is a uniquely appropriate tune for this text. It is also used with the text "Lo, He comes with clouds descending"(PFTL#406), an interesting coincidence.

Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879) was a London organist and composer who enjoyed a successful if minor career in opera as well as in church music, despite losing his sight during his early 50s. The name of this tune, "REGENT STREET" (in many sources, "REGENT SQUARE"), probably refers to the location of St. Philip's Church in London, where Smart was employed from 1836-1844.(Thompson, 2086)


Cyberhymnal. "Angels from the realms of glory." Cyberhymnal.

Thompson, Oscar. International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1985.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Favorite Songs of the Church, no. 2

Eddie Parrish recently gave me some old hymnals that came to him from a preacher's library someone gave him. Among them was Favorite Songs of the Church, no. 2, published in 1948 by the Church Music Company, which is apparently a product of members of the Churches of Christ. It contains numerous songs by Albert Brumley, Tillit Teddlie, Rue Porter, Austin Taylor, James Rowe, Flavil Hall, to name a few. I am publishing an author, composer, and title index here, and a transcription of the title page follows. I am planning to send the hymnal itself to the Bailey Hymnology Collection at Lipscomb University, which has an extensive collection of hymnals related to the Churches of Christ. I hope the information below will be of interest, and contribute to our knowledge of some lesser-known writers.

(cover:) Favorite songs of the church / book no. 2
(title page): Favorite songs of the church no. 2

Written by

Rue Porter
W. N. Bohannan
C. E. McCord
Clarence C. Gobbel
Arval Tackett
Floyd B. Lee
Owen Humphries
Mrs. May Thompson
Maurice Claymore
Albert E. Brumley
Lee Pennington
Earl E. McCord
P. A. Crum
Earnest N. Edwards
V. A. Shoke
Mrs. G. W. Nichols
A. C. Carpenter
Mildred Siskowski
Flavil Hall
W. A. Harrison
Palmer Wheeler
Florence Wing
R. N. Hogan
Mrs. Bertha Hall
J. R. McClung
U.A. Carruth
W. E. Williams

Edited and compiled by Frank Grammer

Associate authors and compilers

G.H.P. Showalter
Austin Taylor
T. Y. Morrison
J. M. McCaleb
L. O. Sanderson
J. H. Fillmore
Gardner S. Hall
Attress McNoble
James L. Neal
Horace W. Busby
Austin Hazelwood
W. H. Dunagan
E. M. Borden
Will G. Hager
Ira Y. Rice
N. W. Allphin
Tillit S. Teddlie
Will W. Slater
Albert Lovelady
Mrs. Frank Grammer
Mrs. Palmer Wheeler
George W. DeHoff
L. F. Martin
Henry Skaggs

And many others who have songs herein

[Shield emblem:] SESAC The best music in America

The Church Music Company
Fullerton, Calif. ; Springdale, Ark. ; Pine Apple, Ala.

Copyright, 1948, by The Church Music Company

(title page verso)


We take pleasure in presenting “Favorite songs of the church no. 2” to the public, because of its unusual character as a representative collection of songs for the work and worship of the Lord, not a book of “spiritual songs,” but a book of “scriptural songs” consisting of “Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs.” See “Preface Song.”

Some of the deceased writers

Are: J. W. McGarvey, J. W. Acuff, J. W. Gaines, T. P. Burt, W. D. Bills, Walter Cook, T. S. Cobb, F. L Eiland, Wm. D. Everidge, J. H. Lawson, J. P. Lane, T. B. Mosley, W. L. Oliphant, J. D. Patton, R. L. Powell, R. M. Morgan, Joe S. Warlick, J. A> McClung, Knowles Shaw, M. D. Ussery, J. W. Dennis, H. W. Elliott, and Dr. A. B. Everett.

Many lead hosts thru battle,
And of war, honors they've won;
Few touch the hearts of the people
The “few” give the people their songs

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them. -- Rev. 14:13

Among other deceased friends and musicians, are Doctors S. J. Oslin, J. B. Herbert, and V. O. Stamps, to whom we feel deeply indebted, for all we have done musically. And for the excellency of this collection of songs, much is due our friend, J. R. Baxter, Jr., of the Stamps-Baxter Music & Printing Company.

Rue Porter, James L. Neal and Albert Lovelady, were requested to read every song in an editorial way, before this book went to the press and we believe every requirement of the gospel has been met, therefore, we pray that “Favorite songs of the church no. 2” may find an encouraging response, that it may meet a definite need, that its contents may be employed to the greatest advantage and blessing, and that its message may live on and on, we humbly submit to Christians and friends everywhere.

- The Compiler and Editors

Friday, March 27, 2009

Be Still, My Soul

Praise for the Lord #41

Words: Katharina von Schlegel, 1752, trans. Jane Borthwick, 1855
Music: Jean Sibelius, 1899 (arr.)

Little is known of the life of Katharina von Schlegel except that she was born in 1697, may have been a lady of the court of the duchy of Cöthen, and wrote a number of fine hymns that appeared in the publication Neue Sammlung geistliche Lieder ("New collection of spiritual songs") in 1752.(Routley&Cutts,21) Coincidentally, if she was in the duke's court at Cöthen during her early twenties, she would have had the most enviable opportunity to hear performances of new works by Johann Sebastian Bach, who was court composer from 1717 to 1723.

Our English version of Schlegel's hymn "Stille, mein Wille, dein Jesus hilft siegen" comes from the pen of Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813-1897), who along with her sister Sarah Findlater published an important four-volume series titled Hymns from the Land of Luther.(Routley&Cutts,21) Borthwick, along with the better-known Catherine Winkworth, did the English-speaking world a great favor by introducing poetically beautiful translations of the Lutheran and German Reformed hymns, which up until the later 19th century were virtually unknown in English-speaking churches.

Stanza 1:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Those of us who are parents know what it means to say, "Be still!" Usually it is for our own sake, when the kids are driving us crazy; but sometimes it is for their sake. Sometimes they need to "be still" and stop fretting about things; sometimes they need to "be still" and take their rest; sometimes they need to "be still" so that they will not miss something important or wonderful.

The Bible gives examples of God telling His people to "Be still!", for some of the same reasons. "Be still, and know that I am God."(Psalm 46:10) Sometimes our fretting about day-to-day life keeps us from remembering that He is God, and has promised to take care of us. Sometimes our busyness in pursuing our own affairs keeps us from remembering that He is God, and that obedience to Him should be our first thought every day. But in the application made in this hymn, we are encouraged to "be still" during times of trial. There are some trials that are over in a moment, and some that linger; some will not be ended this side of eternity. Let us remember that Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."(Luke 9:23) For some of us that cross will be "grief or pain", as the hymn says.

The Lord does not promise immediate deliverance, but He does promise relief, with blessings above and beyond the ending of the trials themselves. "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."(James 1:12) Peter noted that "for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."(1 Peter 6-7) Paul, who himself experienced an unspecified "thorn in the flesh"(2 Corinthians 12:7) from which he prayed for relief, learned this lesson personally:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Paul did not get the immediate relief he requested; he may have suffered from this "thorn", in fact, the rest of his life. But he got something else instead which made him even stronger: an understanding of his utter dependence on God. He even recognized, in verse 7, that all of this was to keep him from being "too exalted". (Is it at all hard to believe that a man of Paul's talents had to struggle with pride?) As God "works all things together for good",(Romans 8:28) He may use even life's harshest trials to strengthen us and even to humble us. Perhaps that trial may be what gets us, or someone we influence, into heaven.

Stanza 2:
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

There is a feature of the Old Testament writings that is so pronounced, and so often repeated, that German theologians invented a term for it: Heilsgeschichte, or "sacred history". It describes the continual emphasis on, and recitation of, the history of God's involvement with His people. One famous example occurs in Psalm 136, in which the works of God in creation and in the Exodus are recounted, verse by verse, alternating with the refrain "for His mercy endures forever." This shows the point of sacred history: it is not just there to satisfy curiosity about the past, or to entertain us with exciting stories (although it does both quite well); it is there to make a point about who God is, who His people are, and what that relationship should be. "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."(Romans 15:4)

When we see earthly powers rising up against God and His people, we should remember Nebuchadnezzar, whom God humbled so that he (and we) would "know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will."(Daniel 4:32) When we encounter personal suffering, we should remember "the steadfastness of Job, and... the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."(James 5:11) When we are terrified by the storms of life, we should remember that the One who said "Peace, be still!" to the waves of Galilee (Mark 4:39) is no less powerful today.

The following stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord, and in many other hymnals:

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

The lesson is hard to bear, but the principle is sound. However dear another person is to us, however beneficial to our spiritual life, we cannot be guaranteed that we will always have them around. A terse but poignant statement from God opens the book of Joshua: "Moses my servant is dead."(Joshua 1:2) It is hard to fathom how this event must have affected the Israelites, and Joshua in particular, who had worked closely with him for so many years. It must have been unthinkable not to have Moses in charge. But the Lord pointed out, gently but firmly, that His care would not end with the departure of His faithful servant: "Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses."(Joshua 1:2-3) It is appropriate that we mourn the passing of dear Christian friends from this life, just as the devout friends of the martyr Stephen "made great lamentation over him."(Acts 8:2) Is it not even more appropriate that we honor their memory by striving even harder to live the faith they loved?

Stanza 3:
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

The inspiration of this stanza may well be the following passage:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, [fn] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

This stanza takes on even more meaning in light of the omitted stanza that originally preceded it, with its attention to our loss of loved ones to death. Now we are called to look forward to that reunion so happily summarized at the end of the Thessalonians passage, "and so we will always be with the Lord." The closing words also remind us of Revelation 21:4, "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." However much these things are part of our life here, there they will be no more. It is difficult to imagine this, but so is much of what we know of heaven! We can trust in God, however, to know best how to make things right. "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is."(1 John 3:2)

The following stanza, omitted in Praise for the Lord and in most other hymnals, is the original conclusion of the hymn:

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

This stanza encourages us to begin our praises now that we shall continue in heaven, "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."(Hebrews 11:10) The third line seems to reference Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths." The clouds in life come and go, but the light of our Savior "shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."(John 1:5)

About the music: Seldom has a classical composition been so happily adapted to a hymn! Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), the great Finnish composer, wrote the symphonic poem Finlandia in 1899 (under the title "Finland Awakens") as the final number for a concert celebrating the Finnish press. Not coincidentally, Czar Nicholas II had recently implemented a crackdown on the growing independence movement in Finland, which at the time was theoretically a vassal state to the Russia, including suppression of the free press. Finlandia, with its themes of struggle, outrage, hope, and faith, seemed to sum up the Finns' feelings at the time, and became a patriotic rallying cry.

In 1900 it was premiered across Europe, and eventually became the composer's signature work--to his chagrin, since he considered it an immature work, "insignificant" compared to his symphonies. The closing hymn-like theme was particularly loved, and began to spin off vocal arrangements almost immediately, both patriotic and religious. (One of these became the Finnish national anthem.) Sibelius later mused, "It is not intended to be sung; it is written for an orchestra. But if the world wants to sing it, it can't be helped."("Finlandia")

Below is a video of a performance of the entire work performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo:


"Finlandia." Jean Sibelius Website. Helsinki: Finnish Club, 2002.

Routley, Erik, and Peter Cutts. An English-speaking hymnal guide. GIA Publications, 2005.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Be With Me, Lord

Praise for the Lord #40

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

This is yet another collaboration between Chisholm and Sanderson (the first I reviewed was "All things work together for good"(PFTL#27). Sanderson's own account of the origin of this hymn is fascinating:

"Be With Me, Lord" is perhaps my most popular hymn. In Springfield, in 1934, I was working on my first hymnal for the Gospel Advocate Co. At about 2 a.m. one Tuesday a melody came to mind. I found it difficult to get rid of it. So I stopped and wrote it down, lest I forget. Even then, I kept seeing or sensing the harmony, which bothered my work; so I turned and wrote it out completely. It is a rare meter - 11 notes in a phrase, 10 in the next, 11 in the third, and again 10 in the fourth. I couldn't come up with or find words to fit it. About eight days passed when I received a letter from Thomas O. Chisholm, who had long written words for me. He wrote that he had retired on the same night I was working, and a theme for a poem seemed to command his attention. Finally after midnight of that same Tuesday, he got up and wrote out the poem. He was sending it to me to see what I thought of it. It was an exact fit for my music. I bought the poem, and the twain have been together since.(Sanderson)

This would be hard to believe if it did not come from such a trustworthy gentleman. Perhaps this brother, who so often wrote of the workings of Providence in his life, experienced it in this case as well. Sanderson introduced this hymn in Gospel Advocate's 1935 hymnal Christian Hymns.

Stanza 1:
Be with me, Lord--I cannot live without Thee,
I dare not try to take one step alone,
I cannot bear the loads of life, unaided,
I need Thy strength to lean myself upon.

The frank humility of this hymn is summed up in the first line. It is an admission that we have tried, and failed, to manage our lives ourselves; it is a plea for God to show us the way, now that we know we cannot go it alone. It recalls the words of David in the brief little jewel that is Psalm 131:

O Lord , my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

The realization that we cannot direct our own lives successfully comes to some people early, and others late. Solomon, as a young man, had the perceptiveness to ask God for wisdom, saying, "O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in."(1 Kings 3:7)

Most of us, however, have to learn this the hard way. Jeremiah expressed the hard-won wisdom that many of us have found: "I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps."(Jeremiah 10:23) We learn as well that we cannot take what life dishes out, without God's help. As Psalm 124:1 says, "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side--". This hymn speaks to those who have realized this truth, and have found the sweet peace of Jesus' promise,

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."(Matthew 11:28-30)

The thoughts expressed in this stanza, and the hymn as a whole, may have to be "grown into". When I was a child I thought this hymn had pretty music but was rather depressing. As an increasingly middle-aged man I have learned to understand it a little better. I have not done well in my life when I have relied on my own understanding, chosen my own steps, and tried to carry the burden by myself. I know now (though I sometimes forget!) that I can't do it; and now I see the relief and joy in these words.

Stanza 2:
Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten,
If storms of trial burst above my head,
If lashing seas leap ev'rywhere about me,
They cannot harm, or make my heart afraid.

We probably all have a particular storm that comes to mind. For me, it was a night when I was coming through the pass on Interstate 35 in the Arbuckle Mountains north of Ardmore, Oklahoma, through sheets of driving rain and an electrical storm. I was actually glad when those bolts of lightning came, because for a moment I could see enough to get my bearings. Then, of course, I had a flat tire. (Did I mention that my bride-to-be was with me?) I determined that if I could make it to the next town, I would get her a motel room and I would sleep in the car--with a preemptive phone call of explanation to her parents--but I would not drive a mile further in that storm than I had to. Oklahoma weather being what it is, it had stopped by the time we reached Ardmore.

I had been in bad storms before, but my Dad was always driving. In fact, on some of those two-lane roads in the Missouri Ozarks or in southeastern Oklahoma, we had probably been in considerably greater danger; but it would never had occured to me to worry much. It was the sense of responsibility for our fate, and the isolation that brings, that made it so much more frightening. Will I make the right decisions? Will I see the way to go? Will my reactions be quick and accurate enough? Will I keep it on the road?

It is too easy to live our lives in that frame of mind. We become isolated and fearful, trying to carry the burden of responsibility alone. Can we recapture that childlike trust that a Father is "at the wheel" during the storms? The Bible assures us that however powerful the literal or figurative storms in this life, God is more powerful and is Master over them:

For He commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and He delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
(Psalm 107:25-29)

Matthew 8:23-27 tells us the wonderfully illustrative incident in which the disciples learned that Jesus viewed storms very differently from the average sailor:

And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of Man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”

It is interesting to me that even though the disciples had Jesus physically present with them, that was not enough; they wanted Him to get up and do something! How much more are we tempted, who "have not seen, yet have believed"?(John 20:29) Sometimes we have faith in God, but we want Him to do something, and quickly! We can be assured that He will, in His time; and we can be assured that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."(Romans 8:38-39) And in the end, His love abiding in us is all that matters. As Paul said in Philippians 3:8, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

Stanza 3:
Be with me, Lord! No other gift or blessing
Thou couldst bestow could with this one compare--
A constant sense of Thy abiding presence,
Where'er I am, to feel that Thou art near.

This stanza has become my favorite over the years, and I am always glad when songleaders see its value and decide not to skip over it. The knowledge of the presence of God is a healing comfort and a sobering admonition. In Exodus 33:14 God told the Israelites that "My presence shall go with you", a promise that meant both blessings and responsibilities: God would provide their food, water, and protection from enemies, but His presence was not to be treated lightly, as some found out to their destruction. The pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night were a 24-hour-a-day reminder that you cannot live in the presence of God, and have His presence in your life, without being forever changed. And lest anyone think this was a feature of "Old Testament theology", in John 15:4-6 Jesus taught the very same principle:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

The indwelling Spirit is a part of this "abiding presence" in our lives, both collectively and individually. Paul discusses this in a rich metaphor in 1 Corinthians: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?"(1 Corinthians 3:16) "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?"(1 Corinthians 6:19) In the first passage, the plural "you" is clear in Greek; he is referring to the church as a body. Both as congregations, and as individual Christians, God's presence is abiding in us. It is a wonderful comfort to know that God is not somewhere far off, but "He is actually not far from each one of us."(Acts 17:27) It is also a solemn reminder that we are His temple; and just as the ancient Israelites had to respect that presence, and ignored it at their peril, so we must remember that "a man's ways are before the eyes of the Lord."(Proverbs 5:21)

Stanza 4:
Be with me Lord, when loneliness oe'rtakes me,
When I must weep amid the fires of pain,
And when shall come the hour of "my departure"
For "worlds unknown," O Lord, be with me then.

The first line of this stanza cannot help but remind us of our senior brothers and sisters, who have lived long and seen the companions of their youth pass away. Irene Batey, a wonderful Christian lady of Nashville, Tennessee, was heard to remark after one of her many birthdays, "I have noticed the peer pressure dropping off lately." (She lived well past 100.) Miss Batey was blessed with a wonderful friend and caregiver who lived in her home; but many others find themselves neglected in their later years, when they are likely to be facing ever-greater challenges of physical pain, financial need, and spiritual weariness. Let us never forget them!

Even in younger days, there may be times when we find ourselves alone in a time of severe trial. Perhaps it is in a hospital emergency room in the wee hours of the morning, watching over a loved one in pain, for whom we can do nothing to help. In those hours let us remember that our Savior, too, passed through these hours in Gethsemane, when He "fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him."(Mark 14:35) He knows, and He cares.

Chisholm's quotation of "my departure" almost certainly refers to Paul's statement in 2 Timothy 4:6, that "the time of my departure is at hand." Here too we can recall Paul's frustration at his isolation and the hindrance of the work that was his passion, and yet be encouraged by his confidence in the following two verses:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

"Worlds unknown" is likely a reference to this stanza of Augustus Toplady's "Rock of ages":

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death;
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Death is that great, final unknown of human existence. It is, as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet's famous soliloquy,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns.

Or in the words of Whitman, from his poem "Darest thou, O soul",

I know it not, O Soul;
Nor dost thou--all is a blank before us...

They are fine poets, and they do us a service in telling us what the world knows but does not want to admit. But when our time comes to make that passage, let these words be our guides instead:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.(Psalm 23:4)

But I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.(2 Timothy 1:12)

About the music: The meter is uncommon but not unheard of; it appears in nine other texts in Praise for the Lord, the better known of which are probably "Come, ye disconsolate"(#114), "O perfect Love"(#493), and "While on the sea"(#774). Still, it seems unusual to think of a tune in that meter, and even more unusual to think of a tune like "Be with me, Lord", without a text in mind.

This is easily my pick for Sanderson's best work. The melody has a variety of motion, from the chant-like opening words to the soaring arpeggio of the third phrase. After the quiet beginning, the successive phrases reach higher and build in intensity until the final phrase brings the melody to rest again, concluding with a delicate pause on the same G that began the tune. The harmony is rich and varied without distracting; the chromatic line in the alto during the first phrase is especially nice, and the plagal cadence ending that phrase contributes to the sense of resignation expressed in the text. The emotional content of the text matches happily with that of the music, and it is all the more remarkable that the two men conceived them separately.


Sanderson, Lloyd Otis. "The Lord has been mindful of me": an autobiography of L.O. Sanderson. Gospel Advocate CXLVI/9 (Sep 2004), pp. 26-28. Available online at

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Angels are Singing

Praise for the Lord #39

Words & Music: Tillit S. Teddlie, 1923

Tillit S. "Ted" Teddlie (1885-1987) was one of the best-known and most naturally gifted songwriters among the Churches of Christ in the United States. By all accounts, and I have met several people who knew him personally, he was an equally fine Christian gentleman. His output of songs is certainly worth a post of its own, which (Lord willing!) I will get to someday.

Stanza 1:
Angels are singing redemption's sweet song,
Wonderful theme, glorious theme!
Shout the glad message and join in the throng,
Singing redemption's song!

Sing the sweet story--redemption's sweet song;
Over and over the chorus prolong;
Shout the glad message and join with the throng!
Ever we'll sing
Praise to the King,
Singing redemption's song!

The text is a reflection upon the eternal occupation of the angels in heaven, and in particular their songs of praise to Christ for His redeeming work. This was a theme he addressed again a few years later in "Worthy art Thou"(PFTL#782), which is more closely based on Scripture passages and, in my opinion, is the better song largely for that reason. Both songs may have been based in part on the same passage from the Revelation:

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:9-14)

It is interesting to consider the perspective of the angels, who are not the beneficiaries of Christ's redeeming work, and yet praise it simply for its nobility and worthiness. The gospel truly contains "things into which angels long to look."(1 Peter 1:12) Will we not join in this praise, who have our hope of heaven through this Savior and His sacrifice? "Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."(Hebrews 13:15)

Stanza 2:
Over and over the melodies ring,
Wonderful theme, glorious theme!
Heaven resounds with the tribute they bring,
Singing redemption's song!

As Teddlie meditated on the thought of the wonderful angelic choir praising Christ, he may also have read this passage from the Revelation:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;(Revelation 19:6-7)

It is worth remembering that God has always been the center of praise. He mentioned this, in passing, when He asked Job if he had been present at the creation of the universe, "...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"(Job 38:7) And as we have seen, the Revelation's vision of the future shows God again surrounded by praise. Then there are the four "living creatures" in Revelation 4:8 of whom it is said "day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" This same endless praise of God is engaged in by those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence."(Revelation 7:14-15)

A cynic might call this "egotistical" of God; it is nothing of the sort. It is the reality of who He is.

Stanza 3:
Joy beyond measure awaits us up there,
Wonderful theme, glorious theme!
Soon we shall join with the angels so fair,
Singing redemption's song!

One of the most oddly touching moments in John's account of receiving the Revelation comes in the final chapter:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, "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. Worship God."(Revelation 22:8-9)

Along with the sobering example of humility shown by this celestial being, is the exciting thought: we are co-workers with the angels!

What will the singing of heaven be like? The Revelation tells us enough that we can probably be sure of one thing: whatever our concept of "great music", it falls so far short of that heavenly reality that we may as well not speculate! There will also no doubt be a revelation of some great singers on that day. Remember the Lord's words to Samuel about the young David: "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."(1 Samuel 16:7) If I may be excused for making a careful paraphrase of that principle, "The Lord hears not as men hear; man hears the outward voice, but the Lord hears the heart." Some of those whose voices have failed over the years, will be restored to their full strength; some of those whose voices never did match their willing, worshipful spirits will be heard by rest of us, as God always heard them.

About the music: This is one of Teddlie's earlier songs, and shows much of the gospel quartet style that permeated the era. (The same influence is seen in the even earlier "To the harvest fields", PFTL#699.) In comparing Teddlie to Lloyd O. Sanderson, another great songwriter from the Churches of Christ in the same era, I think it is fair to say that although Sanderson's style was more ambitious (perhaps because of his background as a Methodist choir director), Teddlie's results were more consistent. Teddlie remained throughout his career a dyed-in-the-wool gospel writer, but he did it extraordinarily well. Above all, he was a man who knew a cappella congregational singing, and had the knack of writing well for that medium. He wrote good music that a congregation can sing easily.

This early song is no exception. The only difficult part is perhaps the chromatic turn in the soprano and alto in the first measure, and this is the bit of spice that makes an otherwise plain song memorable. It occurs again in the stanza (since the third phrase is identical to the first), then returns in the chorus at "Ever we'll sing / Praise to the King!" In the second half of that line, all of the voices leap up dramatically, and the soprano and alto flip their chromatic lines. Immediately following, the last line ("Singing redemption's song") repeats the figure with a few changes, including a G-flat in the bass which creates a fairly uncommon harmony (a German augmented-sixth chord) for emphasis. All of this is to say that Teddlie took a fairly simple little barbershop-harmony chromatic turn and used it to good effect, as a unifying "hook".

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Awake, my soul, in joyful lays

Praise for the Lord #38

Words: Samuel Medley, 1782
Music: Leavitt's Christian Lyre, 1831

Samuel Medley (1738-1799) does not appear elsewhere in Praise for the Lord, but at least one of his other texts, "O could I speak the matchless worth" has appeared in a number of other hymnals used among the Churches of Christ. Medley was yet another sailor who turned to ministry, in his case from reading the sermons of Isaac Watts.(Cyberhymnal,"Medley")

This text first appeared in the Collection of Hymns compiled by J.H. Meyer for Lady Huntingdon's Chapel in Bath, England.(Cyberhymnal,"Awake") Bath in that time was a playground for the nobility, with a reputation for loose morals (see Jane Austen). The Lady Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, however, was a patroness of Methodism in particular and religious revival in general in the city.("Lady Huntingdon")

Stanza 1:
Awake, my soul, in joyful lays,
And sing the great Redeemer’s praise;
He justly claims a song from me--
His lovingkindness, O how free!
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness, O how free!

The term "lovingkindness" occurs in the King James Version some twenty times in the Psalms, in each case translating the Hebrew term chesed. It carries with it a sense of active "zeal" towards the subject, a mercy that is ready to save.(Strong's H2167) Even a small sampling is enough to see the power of this expression:

Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them.(Psalm 17:7)

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.(Psalm 36:7)

Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.(Psalm 40:11)

Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good; turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.(Psalm 69:16)

Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, for in You do I trust; cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You.(Psalm 143:8)

My lovingkindness and my fortress, my high tower and my deliverer, my shield and the One in whom I take refuge, Who subdues my people under me.(Psalm 144:2)

The Revised Standard Version and the English Standard Version translate this term differently: "steadfast love". God's love and kindness toward us is more than a feeling; it is an active, working relationship in our favor. God is not just well-inclined toward us, but has gone to great lengths to reveal Himself to us, and to provide a way of salvation so that we can return to Him. We are not so faithful to Him, but He is to us.

What can be our response? Medley's hymn says "He justly claims a song from me", and the Psalmist agrees. We should remember the lovingkindness of God when we come together to worship, as Psalm 48:9 says, "We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, in the midst of Your temple." Psalm 63:3 tells us the result of these meditations: "Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You."

Stanza 2:
He saw me ruined in the fall,
Yet loved me notwithstanding all;
He saved me from my lost estate--
His lovingkindness, O how great!
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness, O how great!

Romans 5:6-8 makes this sobering point:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

There was nothing in God's justice that demanded Him to provide a way of salvation for us, especially considering what it would cost Him. Thankfully, there was something in His grace that did so. The greatest measure of His lovingkindness died on a Roman cross nearly 2,000 years ago.

Does Medley mean to teach original sin in that first line? Perhaps so, considering he was influenced by Watts, the staunch Calvinist, and served as a Baptist minister himself. But we need not read that line in such a way. Revelation 13:8 describes Christ as "slain from the foundation of the world", an interesting insight into how the heavenly realm views earthly time. Yes, there was a specific point in time that He was slain--but God's knowledge of that fact was so certain that it was, from His perspective in eternity, a fact that always has been. Likewise the sin of Adam and Eve; it occurred at a specific point in time, but God knew it would happen, and prepared Christ as the remedy (1 Peter 1:20). The same is true of us--God saw, from His perspective of eternity, all of us "ruined in the fall" by our own actions, and "predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ"(Ephesians 1:5) if we choose to accept His grace.

The following stanza is omitted in our hymnal:

Though numerous hosts of mighty foes,
Though earth and hell my way oppose,
He safely leads my soul along--
His lovingkindness, O how strong!
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness, O how strong!

Perhaps editors have been squeamish over the years about using the word "hell" in a hymn text; it is a powerful word, not to be used lightly, though I see nothing wrong with its use here. Hymns need not always be pleasant and well-mannered; sometimes they need to be blunt.

Stanza 3:
When trouble, like a gloomy cloud,
Has gathered thick and thundered loud,
He near my soul has always stood--
His lovingkindness, O how good!
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness, O how good!

We commonly use clouds and storm as a symbol of the troubles of life, but it is interesting to see how these things appear in the Scriptures. The majority of the time, though "clouds and thick darkness" are fear-inspiring, they are also closely connected with the works of God. God showed Himself on Sinai in "thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount".(Exodus 19:16) God spoke from a cloud in Luke 9:34-35, terrifying Peter, James, and John at the time of Christ's transfiguration. Christ left this earth accompanied by clouds (Acts 1:9), and promised to return in judgment the same way.(Luke 21:27)

Many of us enjoy "a good thunderstorm", and I suspect for the same reasons. The wind, driving rain, and lightning remind us that there are powers in God's natural world before which we are helpless, and which cause us to think on His power and authority over this world and our lives. We look on the storm and remember that the God who allows these forces to be unleashed will also hear our prayers, and that calmer weather will return. Can we learn to view the figurative storms of life in the same way? Perhaps the storms of persecution, trial, and suffering can serve the same purpose: to remind us that God, and not we ourselves, is the One on whom we must rely.

Praise for the Lord ends the hymn after three stanzas. For curiosity's sake, I am including the remaining stanzas from the original version:

Often I feel my sinful heart
Prone from my Jesus to depart;
But though I have him oft forgot,
His lovingkindness changes not.
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness changes not.

Soon I shall pass the gloomy vale,
Soon all my mortal powers must fail;
O! may my last expiring breath
His lovingkindness sing in death.
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness sing in death.

Then let me mount and soar away
To the bright world of endless day;
And sing with raptures and surprise,
His lovingkindness in the skies.
Lovingkindness, lovingkindness,
His lovingkindness in the skies.

There is a typical progression here: the tendency to fall away, the inevitability of death, and the ultimate reward. These first two topics are not dealt with nearly enough, in my opinion, in modern hymns; but they were common enough in this earlier era.

About the music: You can view a scanned copy of the original Christian Lyre at The music of "Awake, my soul" is on page 22, and the text on page 23.

Leavitt published this in New York City; it was certainly not a frontier hymnal, but was also not from the more classical art music tradition. James Downey, an a very interesting article, identifies it as one of the beginnings of Christian popular music in the United States.(Downey,150) Interestingly, the Christian Lyre coincided with the urban revivalism of Charles G. Finney, the prototype of the urban revivalists stretching from Dwight Moody down to Billy Graham. Leavitt sent Finney free copies in hopes of encouraging the hymnals adoption in Finney's revivals.(Downey,152ff.)

Nothing could be more "popular" in nature than this hymnal; Leavitt actually solicited texts and music from the public.(Downey,153) This did not sit well with the Boston "better music" crowd, typified by Lowell Mason. Mason's associate Thomas Hastings, composer of some fine tunes himself (best known for the music of "Rock of Ages"), called the Christian Lyre a "wretched publication", and engaged in a long-running editorial battle with Leavitt over the proper separation between sacred and secular in music.(Downey,155)

The really difficult part of this hymn is what Brown & Butterworth called that "queer curvet"--that is, a prancing leap, like a show horse--at the end of every other phrase.(277) The first occasion is on "great" at the end of the second line. Once this figure is learned, however, this tune is no more difficult than many others we already sing. The Cyberhymnal folks, as usual, kindly provide a MIDI rendition of this tune. Downey calls this a "folk hymn",(153) which it well may be, though it strikes me as something more on the order of the music-hall ballad than of the frontier.


Downey, James C. Joshua Leavitt's "The Christian Lyre" and the Beginning of the Popular Tradition in American Religious Song. Latin American Music Review 7/2 (Autumn-Winter, 1986), pp. 149-161.

Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. The story of the hymns and tunes. New York: American Tract Society, 1906.

Cyberhymnal. Samuel Medley.

Cyberhymnal. Awake, my soul, to joyful lays.

Lady Huntingdon's Chapel. History Today 37/8 (August 1987), pp. 2-3.

Strong's H2617. Strong's Concordance notes provided by

Monday, March 16, 2009

Angry Words

Praise for the Lord #37

Words: Sunday School Teacher, 1867 (Horatio R. Palmer?)
Music: Horatio R. Palmer, 1867; arr. Will W. Slater, 1944

Horatio Richmond Palmer (1834-1907) had quite a resume as an all-around music educator. He served as music director for the Rushford Academy in his native New York, as the choir director for a large Baptist congregation in Chicago, was the editor of the music journal Concordia, and was the founder of the New York Church Choral Union. Amateur music societies were a staple of 19th-century European and American middle-class life, and the post-Civil War trend of massive concerts played into the "choral union" phenomenon as well; Palmer's success may be measured by the fact that he conducted a choirs of four thousand singers in New York's Madison Square Garden. His career reached even greater heights during the years that he was asked to teach the music section of the famous Chautauqua, New York summer educational programs.(Cyberhymnal)

Stanza 1:
Angry words! O let them never,
From the tongue unbridled slip,
May the heart’s best impulse ever,
Check them ere they soil the lip.

The word "unbridled" is not chosen by accident: "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless."(James 1:26) James expands on this theme in the third chapter:

For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!(James 3:2-5)

The tongue, of course, is standing in for the words it says--the words we choose day by day, by which the world outside knows us. If we can guard the words we say, we can do much good and avoid much evil; if we do not, we are in for a world of trouble. Words become the focal point of how we relate to one another, and it is tragic how often it is for the worse rather than the better:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, [fn] these things ought not to be so.(James 3:9-10)

The idea of words "soiling the lip" might have been inspired by Jesus' statement in Matthew 15:18, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." I can remember at least once having my mouth washed out with soap. It made an impression, but it was not a permanent solution. We need to have our mouths made holy by a far more powerful cleansing agent, and we need to remember to Whom our lips now belong. In Isaiah's famous call to ministry, the prophet responded to the sight of God's holiness filling the temple by saying "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"(Isaiah 6:5)

God did not deny the fact, but instead sent an angel to touch a coal from the altar to Isaiah's lips, with the words, "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."(Isaiah 6:7) It is interesting to note that from this point forward Isaiah understands implicitly that his lips now belong to God, and that he speaks for the Lord, with all the responsibility that involves.

"Love one another," thus saith the Savior,
Children, obey the Father’s blest command.

The specific statement cited is John 13:34-35,

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

The context is interesting. During these chapters Jesus is giving the disciples their last instructions before the crucifixion, and His sense of urgency is palpable. It is easy to understand the emphasis He placed on being ready for persecution, and on relying on the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus left them--these were things they desperately needed to know. But one more thing that Jesus felt they desperately needed to know was the imperative to love each other. He even returned to the topic in chapter 15, and repeatedly used the word "command" and "commandment". More than a dozen times these words are repeated in the epistles.

If we love one another as Jesus loved His disciples, what would that mean? He loved them in spite of their hardheadedness and occasional small-mindedness. He loved them in spite of their wavering faith. He loved them in spite of their occasional childishness (of the wrong sort), jealousy, and short-sightedness. And dare we question that He even loved Judas, who wickedly and knowingly betrayed Him? If we love one another as Jesus loved, can we not think before we speak?

Stanza 2:
Love is much too pure and holy,
Friendship is too sacred far,
For a moment’s reckless folly,
Thus to desolate and mar.

Stanza 3:
Angry words are lightly spoken,
Bitterest thoughts are rashly stirred,
Brightest links of life are broken,
By a single angry word.

The last two stanzas explore the same theme: the fact that one angry remark, one lapse of self-control, can do damage that may never be undone. Words can be weapons, but they are not "smart weapons"; they do not always hit the one intended, and there is no abort or self-destruct button we can push before our words reach their target.

The book of Proverbs contains many pithy comments on the need to control our tongues, and the danger of losing control of our tempers.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.(Proverbs 10:19)

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.(Proverbs 12:18)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.(Proverbs 15:1)

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.(Proverbs 17:27)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.(Proverbs 25:11)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.(Proverbs 29:20)

The truth of these statements is evident from everyday life. I have known people who say, "Well, I just say what I think and if people don't like it, that's their problem." Oddly enough, all of these people were young; I suspect that in time the school of hard knocks changed their tune. Words mean things, and actions have consequences.

Sadly, the ones who suffer the most from our angry words are likely to be those closest to us. Since our guard is down at home, we will sometimes say things to family that we would never say to a stranger. Of all the places where patience, love, and self-control need to be exercised, it is in the home! There are a lot of things that we should say, and don't; and there are certainly a lot of things that we shouldn't say, but do!

Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.(James 1:19-20)

About the music: Palmer's background can sometimes be seen in his hymns. One can easily imagine the 4,000-voice choir singing his the surging crescendos of his music for "Master, the tempest is raging"(PFTL#425), or building up to the grand climax of his anthem "O Lord, our Lord"(PFTL#486). Of a very different nature, though are "Yield not to temptation"(PFTL#798) and "Angry words". Both begin with a soprano-alto duet (in their original settings) which moves almost exclusively in parallel thirds, probably the easiest possible harmonizing the altos can get. "Angry words" appeared in a Sunday School publication, and it is likely that these were intended for children. Perhaps the soprano-alto duets were even intended for child soloists, which would certainly be a cute effect. Their translation to the mixed adult voices of congregational singing, however, detracts from that sort of charm, and the stanza music of "Angry words" in particular can come across rather syrupy. Nonetheless, it is a price we pay for a really well-considered and thoughtful text, on a subject about which we have far too few hymns.


Cyberhymnal. Horatio Richmond Palmer.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Amazing Grace!

Praise for the Lord #36

Words: John Newton, 1779 (stanza 6 from Collection of Sacred Ballads, 1790)
Music: Columbian Harmony, 1829; arr. Edwin O. Excell, 1910

I have been dreading this one; what can I say about the most famous hymn in the English language? The facts (and legends) of Newton's reprobate youth as a deserter from the Royal Navy and captain of a slave ship, and his unlikely turn to religion, are well known; but it is interesting as well to look at his later career, during which this hymn was written. In 1779 Newton was aged 53 hard-lived years, and had become curate of the Olney church in Buckinghamshire, England. Newton's own past no doubt made him sympathetic to the Methodists' evangelistic efforts among the irreligious masses, and he tended to move in Methodist and Nonconformist circles.

Among the fellow-laborers he befriended was the quiet and moody William Cowper (1731-1800), probably best known as the author of "God moves in a mysterious way"(PFTL#192). The two became fast friends, and began one of the original "odd couple" stories. Newton, man of the world, was an unlikely companion to the bookish Cowper, but it was a profitable relationship. One suspects that Cowper's refinement compensated somewhat for Newton's imperfect education, and that Newton's optimism (that of a man given a new lease on life!) was a blessing to Cowper, who suffered from periods of severe depression and had once tried to end his own life.(Bailey,131)

Together they wrote the Olney Hymns (1779), which contained not only "Amazing grace!" and "God moves in a mysterious way", but also "Glorious things of thee are spoken"(PFTL#165), "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds"(PFTL#256), "O for a closer walk with God"(PFTL#461), "There is a fountain filled with blood"(PFTL#662), and many others not as well known today. It was a landmark work, worthy of comparison to the hymns of Watts and Wesley and a notable event in that founding century of English hymnody.

An interesting historical connection: Newton, the former slave-ship captain, had left the business as incompatible with the spiritual life he wished to pursue. His friend Cowper was an outright abolitionist, and no doubt further influenced Newton's thinking on this matter.(Cyberhymnal) Newton was later a spiritual mentor to a young William Wilberforce, whom he counseled to serve Christ "where he was called" instead of leaving politics in favor the ministry. In 1807, the year Newton died, Wilberforce finally succeeded in passing a bill through Parliament abolishing slavery throughout the British realms.(Bailey,126-127)

Village of Olney and the Church of St. Peter & St. Paul

Stanza 1:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Newton was not the greatest poet of his age, yet these words have an impact that few of the poets laureate will ever know. I believe it begins with the word "wretch". We don't use that word any more (except sometimes in jest), but I have seldom seen anyone flinch at its appearance in this hymn. Newton was a wretch, and he knew it. Not only had he lived the notoriously reprobate life of an old-time sailor, he had done so from his youth up, and on top of that had participated in arguably the most degrading and dehumanizing "business" a wicked world has ever conceived.

Am I such a wretch? That question is worth examining. We know that Romans 3:23 says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." But do we harbor the thought that perhaps we are not quite as bad sinners as others? We humans have a funny way of ranking the seriousness of sins, usually showing a certain marked favoritism toward our own. Isaiah 64:6 gives the lie to this attitude: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." This bleak assessment is even more pronounced in Psalm 14, verses 2-3:

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

If we never realize our sinful condition, we are in danger of never being saved. But if we forget our former sinful condition after being saved, we run the risk of becoming complacent, lukewarm, and easy pickings for the devil's temptations. We can become like the ancient church at Laodicea, which Jesus described in Revelation 3:17 in terms that are the antithesis of Newton's sentiment: "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." The greatness of this hymn stems from the author's honesty with himself, and his awestruck gratitude at the grace that Christ extends.

Stanza 2:
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Newton recognized that it is the grace of God that sent the gospel message into the world, preserves it, and continues to cause it to resound. His personal experience of such providence was a chance encounter during his younger, wilder days with The imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, which happened to be the only reading material at hand during a long voyage. Though the effects were not immediate, this fortuitous diversion was the beginning of his second, better thoughts about how he was spending his life.(Bailey,126) How did you happen to hear the gospel? Did God not have a hand in providing the person, the place, and the circumstances?

Fear is not the end of our relationship with God, but it is often the beginning. "Perfect love casts out fear",(1 John 4:18) but fear of punishment is often the place we start. The jailer in Philippi was "trembling with fear" before he asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"(Acts 16:29-30) In Acts 24:25, when Paul warned of "the judgment to come", the governor Felix was afraid--perhaps more literally, "terrified". In one case the fear led to repentance, in the other it did not. But will we criticize Paul for his approach to Felix? Fear that is healthy and founded in reality can be a good thing. I am afraid of poisonous snakes. I am afraid of trying to race a train to a railroad crossing. This kind of fear probably keeps us out of dangerous, even life-threatening situations on a daily basis. I don't advocate trying to scare people into repentance, without any further basis for conversion than a desire to avoid hell--but it is one good reason to obey!

And if it was grace that brought the word of God to us, convicted us of sin, and showed us what we had to fear, it was also certanly grace that provided the means to take that fear away. Romans 8:1 tells us the wonderful news, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

As David said, "Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!"(Psalm 32:1) Do you remember the hour and the moment, when you rose from the waters of baptism and "walked in newness of life"?(Romans 6:4) Do you remember the feeling of knowing you were clean? There are few moments in my life that even come close--my wedding day, the days my children were born--and the common theme in all is that sense that an old way of being has forever ended, and a new way--fresh, exciting, and unknown--has begun. May our salvation never become "old hat" to us.

Stanza 3:
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The sense of a shared history with God was and is a central theme of Jewish belief. Throughout the Old Testament there are appeals to remember what God has done, perhaps never more dramatically than in the actions of Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, when Israel had turned the tide against the Philistines in a seemingly impossible reversal. "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer ["stone of help"], saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

If we can learn to read own history as well as we read theirs, we will see the same result. Has God not blessed us in the past? Has He not provided what we needed? Has He not carried us through our trials? Will He not continue to do so in the future? But we are often slow learners. The same was true of Moses on one occasion:

Moses said, "The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, 'I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.' Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to provide enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to provide enough
for them?" And the Lord said to Moses, "Has the Lord's arm been shortened? Now
you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not."(Numbers 11:21-23)

Moses should have known better. So should we. There will be times when it is hard, but we can remember God's answer to Paul, when the apostle was suffering from his "thorn in the flesh": "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."(2 Corinthians 12:9). Not only will God's grace be enough to carry us through, but these may be the very times when God is perfecting His will in our lives.

Stanza 4:
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Newton's inspiration for stanzas 4 and 5 might have been found in Psalm 73, given here in the King James Version, from which he would have borrowed:

Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.(Psalm 73:23-26)

In the current economic troubles many are questioning the institutions in which they put their faith (and their money). One need not be a speculator or big risk-taker to be concerned; the names of institutions facing solvency issues recently have included some of the most respected old firms in our nation. Suddenly we realize how much it matters who is securing the promises made to us.

Coming to the end of his life, Joshua reminded the Israelites of the complete and utter faithfulness of God. The people had left God many times, but He had never left them. They had been through the exodus from Egypt, through the pursuit by the Egyptian army, through hunger and thirst in the wilderness, and through battles with numerous enemies; but God had never failed to deliver on His promises. This faithful man of God said, in his parting words,

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.(Joshua 23:14)

Regardless of what comes in this life, we know Who has promised to guard us and carry us through, and we know that when it comes to His promises, "not one word has failed." Banks can fail; governments can fail; even families, and congregations, can fail; but not one word of God's promises will fail. We can say along with Paul, "I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me."(2 Timothy 1:12)

Stanza 5:
And when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

Probably no one likes to think about this, but that will no more prevent it coming than we can prevent the sun from going down in the evening: someday this heart will beat its last, and this life will end. Through proper care of our bodies and appropriate caution in our actions we may be able to delay it a while, but a delay is all it will be. All humankind, regardless of their religion (or even lack of it), is agreed on this point, and there is no use in debating it. What matters is what we do before that time comes, and what will come afterward.

Continuing the theme of God's promises from stanza 4, Newton is probably referencing Hebrews 6, verses 18-19:

That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus...

In context, the "veil" here is that which divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the temple, hiding the presence of God from the sight of sinful man, and entered only once a year by the high priest to make atonement for the people. Jesus carried a once-for-all sacrifice of His own blood, forever removing that veil of separation,(Hebrews 7:27) which was symbolized by the mysterious tearing of the physical veil in the temple at the time of His death.(Matthew 27:51)

Christ's "going behind the veil" is also seen in His return from death, which seems to be what Newton is referencing here. Just as in death He was the "forerunner" behind the veil to God's presence, so in resurrection He became "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead."(Colossians 1:18) We are amazed, and wonder, at what lies beyond that time when this life ends, because it is the mystery that no science has been able to explore, and a journey from which no one returns to tell the tale. But Christ has been there before, and we can trust not only in His promises, but in His personal example and His concern for His children who follow Him down that road. "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."(1 Corinthians 15:19-20)

The following was Newton's original closing stanza:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

It is a fine thought, but it is hard to imagine ending this hymn in any other way than that provided by some unknown author in the 1790 Collection of Sacred Ballads:

Stanza 6:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Probably no other image in English hymnody has more vividly illustrated eternity. Still, we know that "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) We do not know exactly what heaven will be like--most likely we could not comprehend it in our current mortal state--but we know Who is preparing a place" for us,(John 14:2) and we know it will be wonderful. Until the Day comes, we will no doubt continue to try to describe this joy, and to borrow the words of others to sing it.

About the music: The tune "NEW BRITAIN", to which this is sung in the United States and many other places, is one of the most well-known hymn tunes of the last two centuries. It is apparently a frontier original, appearing in the Columbian Harmony book of 1829 but first paired up with the text "Amazing grace" in William Walker's widely influential Southern Harmony of 1835.(Reynolds,108) Click here to view a facsimile and hear a recording of "Amazing grace" in that source.

The tune is probably descended from the Scottish-English-Irish folk music of the old Appalachian settlers, but the simple pentatonic (five-note) scale used in the melody is common to the folk musics of many parts of the world. It has certainly proven a versatile tune, with a seemingly endless variety of incarnations, from bagpipes to soul singers.

The harmonizations for congregational singing are also varied. The Excell arrangement we have in Praise for the Lord is one of the common ones, but is somewhat hampered by the unexpected cadence at the end of the second phrase; in a spot where the melody is fairly obviously leading to a half cadence, making the four phrases a neat double period, Excell inexplicably chose an imperfect authentic cadence. (Translation: this is why the basses often sound like they are fishing for the right note at the end of the second line.) But like any great tune, it can withstand a little mishap of that sort.


Cyberhymnal. William Cowper.

Bailey, Albert E. The gospel in hymns: backgrounds and interpretations. New York: Scribner, 1950.

Reynolds, William J., et al. A survey of Christian hymnody, 4th ed. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1999.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson. Used by permission under a Creative Commons license.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Am I a Soldier of the Cross? - Alternate Tunes

Praise for the Lord #34, #35

Words: Isaac Watts, 1723
Music (#34): Thomas A. Arne, arr. Ralph Harrison, 1784
Music (#35): Joseph C. Lowry(?), from Kentucky Harmony, 1817

For a discussion of the text, see the post about PFTL #33.

The tune ARLINGTON, used in #34, is discussed in connection with "Again the Lord of light and life". It is interesting to compare how this text fits with tunes in different meters. The 6/8 meter of MCANALLY (#33) and the 4/4 meter of PISGAH (#35) lead to similar patterns of syllable emphasis, but the 3/2 meter of ARLINGTON (#34) leads to some odd stresses in the text (e.g. "Is this vile world..." comes out rather oddly).

The tune PISGAH (#35) is from the Kentucky Harmony, edited by Ananias Davisson (1780-1857) and first published in 1816, actually in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This was the first publication to incorporate the raw, still-evolving music of the frontier revival called the Great Awakening, which blended the home-grown colonial singing-school style with African American spirituals and a further infusion of the Anglo-Scotch-Irish ballad tradition.(Shearon)

As the frontier became more settled, the singing-school tradition persisted, including the relatively new innovation of shape notes. There are several living traditions descended from these times, the best known of which is the network of singings using the Sacred Harp. Click here for an audio file of the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers, an African American shape-note singing society from southern Alabama, singing the tune PISGAH. Note: part of the Sacred Harp tradition heard on this historic recording is singing the notes of the tune first, using the solfege syllables; thus the nickname "fasola" (FA SOL LA) for this style of music. Also, the melody part is in the tenor, and what we have in our hymnals as the tenor was sung by high women's voices.

Another very interesting Kentucky Harmony tune in Praise for the Lord is DETROIT, with the modern text "Forgive our sins as we forgive"(#918). Click here for a Youtube video of a Sacred Harp group singing this tune.


Shearon, Stephen. Singer's Glen. Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, ed. W. K. McNeil. New York: Routledge, 2005: 341-342.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Am I a Soldier of the Cross?

Praise for the Lord #33

Words: Isaac Watts, 1723
Music: Rigdon McIntosh, 1876

In addition to his large collections Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707) and Psalms of David Imitated (1719), Isaac Watts (1674-1748) published books of his sermons, often with accompanying hymns. "Am I a soldier of the cross?" was one such text, written to illustrate Watts's sermon on 1 Corinthians 16:13, "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."(Watts)

This hymn and others that use a warfare metaphor have been criticized in the last few generations by the religious and political left, who find the idea incompatible with the character of Christ. ("Political correctness" in hymns would be a good blog post all on its own--it raises some worthwhile issues.) If you are wondering "What about the 'armor of God' in Ephesians 6? Or the 'good fight' of 2 Timothy 4:7?", then remember this is coming from the same part of the theological spectrum that generally denies plenary inspiration, and thus can edit out such statements as being Paul's cultural bias, or even just Paul's mistaken opinions.

But yes, of course there are plenty of examples of the "Christian warfare" metaphor in the New Testament. In the first century those references were not yet colored by the uncomfortable church-state alliance of the Middle Ages, nor sullied by the sometimes dastardly acts of the Crusaders, putatively done in the name of Christ. The first-century Christians were the victims, not the perpetrators, of military oppression, and they would have understood implicitly that any such martial symbolism should be interpreted in light of the teaching of Ephesians 6:12, which precedes the "armor of God" passage:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Read in light of Watts's accompanying sermon, this hymn is not nearly so much about combating others as it is about conquering self--it is titled "Holy fortitude, or Remedies against fear."

Stanza 1:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?

Watts comments in his sermon,

It is an unfashionable thing now-a-days to introduce a word of practical godliness into company; the polite world will tell us, It spoils conversation; mark what a silence is spread over the room, when any person dares to begin so disagreeable a subject; there is none to second him, he may preach alone, and it is well if he escapes a profane scoff.(Watts,173)

Sound familiar? Our children in the schools, and if we are honest, we in our workplaces, often falter under this same silent persecution. But Watts is quick to point out the words of Paul in 2 Timothy--the inspired words of a man who had owned his faith before hostile political and religious authorities, and who knew even then that every day might be his last.(Watts,168) "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, in a tone of humble understatement. The answer is not retreat, but a determined commitment to "share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus."(2 Timothy 2:3)

Speaking God's word in a godless age is easier for some than it is for others, because of our differing natures, but everyone can do something. If a simple "God bless you" to a friend or neighbor is where we have to start, let us start! "For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"(1 Corinthians 9:16)

Stanza 2:
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

I wish Watts had found a different rhyme for the fourth line, but he didn't. No doubt for Britons of his era, seafaring people by nature and having fought hard for their national survival, "bloody seas" was an acceptable enough image. But enough on that, his point is well taken. Why should we expect that all of the hard fighting was accomplished long ago? Why should we get a pass on suffering and sacrifice?

I risk over-simplifying here, but I believe that one of the tragedies in the Churches of Christ in the U.S. has been our desire to become comfortable in this world. As more of us moved from the rural poor into the suburban middle classes during the past half-century, we found advantages, to be sure, such as greater financial prosperity and more access to higher education. But we also met with the temptation to embrace the materialism and the conformism of our new surroundings, as well as the constant human desire not to appear different or awkward when moving up socially. I am afraid that too many of us gave in to the desire to "keep up with the Joneses", whether materially, politically, or doctrinally, and "lost our first love."(Revelation 2:4)

I am not trying to say that everything was better in some mythical "good old days", but was there not a time when Christians felt a sense of obligation to do their part, instead of shopping for a congregation that suits their needs? "But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated."(Hebrews 10:32-33)

Stanza 3:
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

The last two lines of this stanza are a powerful reality check to the Christian living in our mass media-dominated popular culture. It is past time, especially for those of us who are parents, to realize that the United States is a post-Christian, secularist culture. The values that are respected and reinforced in our social institutions and in common discourse are not what they used to be. What we see on television and in the movies, or hear on the radio, is not leading us closer to God. (It never really was, perhaps, but it was not always so actively detrimental to the Christian walk.)

We are called to be the "light of the world"(Matthew 5:14) but too often are "warming our hands by the devil's fire", as someone once said of Peter's behavior at the trial of Jesus. "The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."(Mark 4:19) We love the people of the world, as God did,(John 3:16) but Jesus made perfectly clear the relationship that would exist between the Christian and the mentality of this fallen planet: "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."(John 15:19) This is no persecution complex; it is a stark reality of clashing worldviews.

Romans 12:2 commands us then, "Do not be conformed to this world." Over the centuries, some religious groups have adopted distinctive dress and customs to separate themselves from the rest of society. We are not commanded to do this; but as our society slides further into the gutter, it will be effectively the same result. Modest attire, pure language, and clean living are rapidly becoming as distinctive as the Amish horse-drawn carriage.

Stanza 4:
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Watts's sermon gives a laundry list of situations calling for this courage:

1. When we are called to profess and practice strict piety even under the special view and notice of profane sinners...

2. When we happen into the company of infidels and apostates from Christianity who throw their impious jests on the gospel of Christ we may find a plain call of providence to stand up for his name and honour...

3. When we are called to practice an unfashionable virtue or to refuse compliance with any fashionable vice...

4. Another instance of necessary courage is when we are called to undertake the cause of the oppressed to plead for the poor against the mighty or to vindicate the innocent against the men of slander or violence...

5. It is a work which calls for courage to admonish our brethren when they depart from the ways of righteousness and to reprove sin among those with whom we converse...

6. Reformation of all kinds whether in families or churches in cities or nations demands a good degree of resolution and courage...

7. There are some other and very common occasions for the exercise of sacred courage which attend persons especially in the lower ranks of life; as for instance when a servant is called by Providence to speak the truth and yet he dare not do it without offending his master; when a poor man is required to bear witness in some important concern and his rich neighbour frowns and looks sour upon him; when a person of an inferior character is tempted to join with the mighty in some unjust and dishonourable practice, and while his superiors invite him to it, his conscience forbids his compliance.(Watts,170-180)

Can anyone deny that these points are still applicable today? And can anyone deny that we have more than enough to do? "You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light."(Romans 13:11-12)

We need an "increase of courage", as Watts said. His second sermon on 1 Corinthians 16:13 gives an excellent analysis of and prescription for the lack of spiritual courage that too often characterizes us. Among his suggestions are the following:

1. See to it that ye are Christians indeed, that you have the power of religion wrought in your hearts; otherwise you will never be able boldly to maintain the form and the profession of it in an hour of danger...

2. Get a large and general acquaintance with the promises of the gospel that in every special time of need you may have some suitable word of refuge and support...

3. Preserve the spirit of prayer always in exercise and the spirit of fortitude will descend on you...

4. Get a greater degree of weanedness from the flesh, and from all the delights and satisfactions that belong to this mortal life; then, as you will not feel so great a pain in being stript of them, so neither will your soul be filled with terror when you are in danger of losing them...

5. Endeavour to keep yourselves always employed in some proper work, that your fears may be diverted when they cannot immediately be overcome. If our thoughts and hands are idle and empty we lie open to the invasion and tumult of our fears, and we give them leave to assault us on all sides...

6. Keep your eye fixed on the hand of God in all the affairs of men. View his power and over-ruling providence in all things, even in those things that awaken your most troublesome fears...

7. Recollect your own experiences of the goodness of God in carrying you through former seasons of danger and sorrow...

8. Charge your consciences solemnly with the authority of the divine command to suppress your fears...(Watts,195-206)

It is an insightful and practical list. The last of these points is perhaps the hardest to hear. Jesus was just as clear in His oft-repeated command to "fear not" as He was in condemning any vice. Matthew 10:28 is the clearest statement: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." We are not in obedience to Him when we allow fear constantly to overcome us. But what to do about it? Watts enjoins the following stirring passage from Isaiah as a "generous and divine cordial to keep the soul from fainting."(Watts,193)

"I, I am He who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, and you fear continually all the day because of the wrath of the oppressor, when he sets himself to destroy? And where is the wrath of the oppressor? He who is bowed down shall speedily be released; he shall not die and go down to the pit, neither shall his bread be lacking. I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar--the Lord of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of My hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, 'You are my people.'"

Stanza 5:
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.

A friend who was putting in a lot of tough, late hours at work took up the habit of recording the games played by his favorite football team and watching them late at night after work. The odd part of this is that by prior agreement, if his team lost, his wife erased the recording before he got home--he only watched the games they won. It was eerie, he said, to watch those games knowing what he already knew. Sometimes his team made terrible mistakes, or lost players to injury, but he knew it would be okay. Sometimes they were terribly behind in the score, late in the game; but he could sit back and enjoy it, because he knew that somehow they were going to come out on top.

The Scriptures give the Christian that same assurance. Jesus said in John 16:33, "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Remember that Satan lost this fight against Jesus long ago, and is just fighting a scorched-earth tactic to destroy as much as he can on his way down. 1 John 5:4 promises us likewise that "Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith."

Stanza 6:
When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.

Peter, a man who knew persecution well, said long ago,

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.(1 Peter 4:12-13)

And that glory will certainly be revealed! The Revelation is full of such passages:

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"(Revelation 5:12-13)

What will the fears and foes of this life be, compared to the glory we can hope to see someday in heaven?

About the music: Rigdon McIntosh (1836-1899) was intimately involved with the history of the music of the Churches of Christ in the southern United States. A native Tennessean, he studied music for a time under Asa Everett (1828-1875), a notable Nashvillean who wrote such favorites as "There's a fountain free"(PFTL#655). McIntosh moved in fairly elite musical circles during his sixty years, teaching at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and Emory University in Georgia, and serving as music editor for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (in the days before the reunion of the Methodists into simply the "Methodist Church").

It was likely this latter role that brought him to the attention of David Lipscomb and the Gospel Advocate staff--Nashville (then as now) was a religious publishing center, and the M.E. South publishing office would have brought McIntosh into town frequently. For years Lipscomb had been trying to bring out a hymnal that would be more affordable for the impoverished southern congregations, and that would get them free from dependence on the Disciples Hymn Book published by Isaac Errett and the Standard Publishing Company of Cincinnati. (The "hymn-book controversy", as some called it, was exacerbated by the decision of the trustees of the Disciples Hymn Book to donate a percentage of the proceeds to the American Christian Missionary Society, which not only kept the price higher but made each hymnal a de facto donation to an institution that the more conservative segment did not support.)

Lipscomb was no music editor and knew it, and his attempts to recruit an editor from elsewhere within the Churches of Christ had fallen through. Apparently resolved not to trust the project to any further long-distance correspondence, he assigned his co-editor Elisha G. Sewell to review texts, and secured the services of Ridgon McIntosh as music editor. The resulting Christian Hymns of 1889 stayed in print for years, and was the first and most influential hymnal among the Churches of Christ during the difficult period of separation from the Disciples of Christ. Though McIntosh's composing talents were not remarkable (at least from the songs I have seen), his editorship was apparently quite acceptable. It is interesting that most hymnals among the Churches of Christ even today contain more songs written or arranged by Rigdon McIntosh than does the current edition of the United Methodist Hymnal.

McIntosh also gave us our arrangement of the Southern Harmony tune for "On Jordan's stormy banks"(PFTL#509), the arrangement at PFTL#613 for "Take my life, and let it be", and the music of "Work for Jesus" (PFTL#791). This tune, MCANALLY, is also used for "The gospel is for all" (PFTL#632). It is a good 6/8 march, appropriate to the text. It can be sung effectively at a medium or even moderately slow march tempo, but no slower--the nature of the text is rallying, not contemplative.


Watts, Isaac. Holy fortitude, or, Remedies against fear (Sermons IX-X). Sermons on various subjects, divine and moral, with a sacred hymn suited to each subject. 2 vols. Bungay: Brightly & Childs, 1814, pp. 167-215.

Cyberhymnal. Rigdon McCoy McIntosh.