Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All Things Come of Thee

Praise for the Lord #32

Words: 1 Chronicles 29:14
Music: Edward Hopkins, 1867

This is a short chant that I have not heard used in the Churches of Christ, at least in my part of the country (Oklahoma, Texas, and sometimes Tennessee). You can hear a MIDI file of it here. The attributed composer, Edward Hopkins, also wrote the music of "Savior, again to Thy dear name"(PFTL#566).

This statement from 1 Chronicles 29:14 is strong enough to stand on its own:

All things come of thee, O Lord;
And of Thine own have we given Thee.

It reminds us that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights."(James 1:17) It was not our deserving, but His goodness, that gave us what we have. And though Jesus was speaking in a somewhat different context in Matthew 10:8, the principle rings true for us as well: "Freely you have received, freely give."

But it is also well worth our while to explore the context of this verse. 1 Chronicles chapter 29 tells how King David, forbidden by God to build the temple himself, nonetheless did all he could to speed the work along (that in itself is powerful testimony to his sincere and humble desire to glorify God). He provided materials for the temple, not only by his royal authority, but from his own personal treasure as well. After a generous contribution of 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of silver, he asked, "Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?"(v.5) David understood the principle that Paul also stated about the Macedonian Christians, who "gave themselves first to the Lord", then contributed to the relief of the poor.(1 Corinthians 8:5) If we would all do so as well, then we would never raise the question of "How much do I have to give?" but rather "How much can I give?"

Inspired by David's example, the people also gave freely and an enormous amount was raised toward the building of God's temple. It would be tempting, perhaps, for David to feel self-satisfied at the great project that he had begun, but his dedicatory prayer shows again the humility that makes for a "cheerful giver":

"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given You. For we are strangers before You and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building You a house for Your holy name comes from Your hand and is all Your own. I know, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen Your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to You. O Lord , the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of Your people, and direct their hearts toward You."(1 Chronicles 29:14-18)

May our giving to God also flow from such an humble, grateful relationship with our Father!

Among religious groups that have a more formal liturgy this chant is sometimes sung at the Offertory, which includes the bringing of offerings and reflection on our need to be grateful and responsible stewards of God's gifts.(Liturgy&Music) Obviously it would be a useful item in the same spot in our simpler services, and would serve as a brief time for mental separation of the offering from the communion, which the customary service order in the U.S. Churches of Christ can tend to blur.

About the music: The word "chant" is used to describe a number of types of music, not all of which sound anything at all alike. We tend to use it generally to describe music that is not in a measured rhythm or "meter", but is sung instead to the natural rhythm of speech (more or less). There are many different ethnic and historical traditions of chant, and even within a single culture there may be a wide range of styles that are classified as "chant". For example, "Gregorian chant" (the music of the Roman Catholic church, originating in the early Middle Ages and influenced by Pope Gregory I), contains chants that have broad, sweeping phrases that rise and fall quite dramatically, and also types of chants that linger on a single "reciting tone" for most of their duration. The latter type were those used to recite prayers and scripture passages, a practice similar to that heard in traditional Jewish synagogues, whence it no doubt originated.

The "chants" in Praise for the Lord are also of the latter type, and descend from the practices of chant in the Church of England. Most of them are of a type called a "sentence" (used in the Latin sense of a "sententia", or "thought"), with only two or four phrases. The chants may be measured or unmeasured (with a time signature and note values, or without). For example, in many hymnals the communion hymn "By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored" is written in 4/4 time, and the opening phrase is done in a series of quarter notes; in Praise for the Lord it is notated in the unmeasured style, with no time signature, and the opening phrase "By Christ redeemed, in..." under a whole note with hash marks on either side, indicating free rhythm.

Some other chants in Praise for the Lord are:

#146 "Father, we thank Thee"
#167 "Glory be to the Father"
#214 "Let the words of my mouth"
#471 "O God, our help in ages past"
#804 "We praise Thee, God"
#808 "The peace of God"

The best introduction I have found so far to the musical performance of this kind of chant is at http://www.ccel.org/cceh/chant/chantehi.htm, provided by the Christian Classics Ethereal Hymnary. For our context of a cappella congregational singing, my best recommendation is that the leader find the natural rhythmic stresses of the words, and feel the beat accordingly. If you want to beat time, just give single downbeats on the stresses.


Episcopal Church. Liturgy & Music. Presentation of the offering. http://www.episcopalchurch.org/19625_15086_ENG_HTM.htm

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