Monday, April 20, 2009

Anywhere with Jesus

Praise for the Lord #48

Words: Jessie Brown Pounds, 1887; 3rd stanza, Helen Alexander Dixon, 1915
Music: Daniel B. Towner, 1887

Jessie Brown Pounds (1861-1921) is best remembered today for her hymns, though she was actually a prominent journalist and novelist in her time. For more about her career, see the discussion of her text, "Am I nearer to heaven today?"

Stanza 1:
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go,
Anywhere He leads me in this world below;
Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade;
Anywhere with Jesus I am not afraid.

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know;
Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

"And he went out, not knowing where he was going." Thus Hebrews 11:8 describes Abraham setting out from his home in Chaldea, never to return. Abraham's thoughts on this are not related, only his actions; but we can surmise that he felt some uncertainty. Often in life we have to make journeys--literal or metaphorical--that take us away from the comfortable and familiar, and thrust us into the unknown. As children we move to new grades, new schools, sometimes new cities; as adults we move into new family relationships, new jobs, and new responsibilities; but all of us have experienced that sense of "going out, not knowing where we are going." A happy few enjoy living life in that vein, more of us do not, but all of us must make these journeys.

Pounds embraced this theme wholeheartedly in the first line--"Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go." Not that Jesus always leads in ways that are "safe"; "safety" hardly describes, for example, the career of the apostle Paul! But we can also see in Paul's life the providential care of God for a man who dared to put his trust in Him. Paul's first preaching engagement, in Damascus, ended with a nightime escape over the wall in a basket.(Acts 9:25) On his first preaching tour he was driven out of Antioch of Pisidia,(Acts 13:51) fled a plot against his life in Iconium,(Acts 14:5) and received a stoning and was left for dead at Lystra.(Acts 14:19)

Surprisingly, one would think, he made a second tour. This time he was beaten and imprisoned at Philippi,(Acts 16:23) had to flee a mob uprising in Thessalonica,(Acts 17:10) was charged with sedition before the proconsul in Corinth,(Acts 18:12) fled Ephesus after a near-riot,(Acts 20:1) and returned to Jerusalem knowing full well that his life might end there.(Acts 21:11)

Back in Judea he was nearly lynched,(Acts 21) was imprisoned and tried in assorted mockeries of justice,(Acts 23-26) and was finally bound over for trial at Rome.(Acts 27) Along the way he suffered shipwreck,(Acts 27) near execution,(Acts 27:42) and snakebite.(Acts 28:3) He ended his days, so far as we know, in a Roman prison. We could say that his preaching career was somewhat checkered!

It is tempting to think of Paul as some sort of superman, and he was certainly an outstanding specimen. But we need to remember, too, that he was the one who told the Corinthians, "I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling."(1 Corinthians 2:3) It was not his courage or strength that made him able to do all these things; it was the courage and strength of the One on whom he faithfully relied.

Stanza 2:
Anywhere with Jesus I am not alone;
Other friends may fail me, He is still my own;
Though His hand may lead me over drearest ways,
Anywhere with Jesus is a house of praise.

The end of 2 Timothy relates one of the saddest aspects of Paul's troubles. He was a man who cared deeply for the churches he had served, and who invested himself heavily in the cultivation of young ministers. But in 2 Timothy 4:10 Paul had to say, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." There were times when he felt abandoned by earthly friends; yet that bitterness was always softened by one assurance:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.(2 Timothy 4:16-18)

Paul had learned to see the unseen, as great people of faith do. Elisha, for example, when his village was surrounded by the armies of Syria, could respond in confidence because he could see by faith the limitless hosts of God's army encamped in his defense.(2 Kings 6) Perhaps the rest of us relate better to Jacob, though, when he encountered God and His angels in a dream in the wilderness. Jacob, a natural-born homebody, went to sleep that night with a stone for a pillow, none of the comforts of home, and with fear of going back and fear of going forward. But when he awoke he had to say, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it."(Genesis 28:16)

We will find ourselves in places where we feel utterly alone and abandoned, emotionally if not actually physically. Remember Jacob's lesson, and make even these darkest hours "a house of praise," because "the Lord is in this place" also.

Stanza 3:
Anywhere with Jesus, over land and sea,
Telling souls in darkness of salvation free;
Ready as He summons me to go or stay,
Anywhere with Jesus when He points the way.

This stanza was added in 1915 by Helen Cadbury Alexander (1877-1969), heiress of the famed chocolate-makers of Birmingham, England. It has a much more overt missionary emphasis, though that topic might be inferred from Pounds's text as well. The expansion of the global empires during the late 19th century had brought a new awareness of the world, and overseas missions boomed during the latter decades of that century and well into the 20th.

Acts 16:6-9 tells the interesting story of how the Holy Spirit sometimes guided Paul in one direction when Paul would have chosen another. Paul was forbidden to preach in Asia; prevented from going into Bithynia; and then directed into Macedonia. Did the Spirit not want these people to hear the gospel? Of course; but it was not in God's providence for Paul to go there at that time.

Sometimes our plans and desires in ministry don't pan out, and there may be a number of reasons. The fault may be in us, if the plans are not according to God's revealed will, or are pursued for wrong reasons. (In that case, we are much better off failing!) But it might also be that the time is not yet right, for us or for others; God may foresee a better opportunity some years in the future. It may even be that God hinders our plans because He has something completely different in mind. Our most grandiose plans may come to nothing, and yet in the course of living a Christian life we may influence one person for good, who goes on to do far more than we ever dreamed.

None of this is meant to deemphasize the importance of overseas missions. One of the most impressive things I see in the generation coming up behind me is the greater willingness to do mission work, at least on a short-term basis. There are just as many "souls in darkness" as ever (actually there are many more than in 1915); and when we hear of countries where people will close their businesses, travel for days, and sit for hours in hot, un-airconditioned buildings to attend a gospel meeting, it makes one wonder, where better could our efforts be spent?

Stanza 4:
Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,
When the darkening shadows round about me creep,
Knowing I shall waken nevermore to roam;
Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home.

The third line of this stanza must certainly indicate that the subject is death, represented euphemistically by "go to sleep". Death is still the great unknown. We have lifted the veil of time and distance a bit in the last few generations, and peered out into space around us; we know considerably more (we think) about the "what" and "how" of the universe; but we know no more about death than did our ancestors. In fact we in the United States know considerably less. Our culture wants to treat death as an unpleasant side effect of life, something that happens to other people when they aren't careful enough. We go to great lengths to shield ourselves from its realities.

But death will come to every one of us, unless Jesus returns first; the question is not, "Will we die?", but "How will we die?" Will we follow the secularist reading of Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night"? (To be fair, it was Thomas's father's imminent passing that inspired the poem, which puts a different face on things.) But far too many in this world see nothing for it but to "Rage, rage, against the dying of the light." Compare this to Paul's words about his passing: "I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."(2 Timothy 1:12)

Looking back to Pounds's text, we take final note of the all-important adverbial clause that appears so often in this hymn: "with Jesus". Alone, Paul was just another political prisoner awaiting death in Rome. Alone, Paul an outcast from his people and even shunned by some of his brethren. Alone, Paul might well have asked, "Was it worth it?" But "with Jesus", Paul could say:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.(Philippians 4:11-13)

Here was his secret. Paul was "untouchable", because he had already given up, in his mind, whatever the world had to offer; and he clung to the one thing that no one, not even the mighty Roman empire, could take away from him--Jesus Christ, his Lord.

About the music: Towner (1850-1918) was an aspiring vocal student at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music when the famous revivalist Dwight L. Moody recruited him as a songleader and paired him with traveling evangelists who spoke in the urban revivals of the late 19th century.(Wilhoit)

The urban revival movement gathered steam following the U.S. Civil War during an era when industrialization, immigration, and a series of economic crises swelled the populations of the cities to hitherto unimagined numbers. With these numbers came new problems of urban poverty and crime, and this era also saw the rapid growth of two institutions newly imported from Great Britain, the Salvation Army and the Young Men's Christian Association.

The evangelistic response to this new mission field was seen in the emergence of highly organized mass revival meetings and the type of revival preacher who often become an international celebrity. Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899) was essentially the founder of this tradition, and Billy Graham is the most recent example. Along with the preacher went the songleader, who led congregational singing and a choir, as well as singing solos himself. The songleader was an integral part of the team, and often the same preacher and songleader were teamed together over a period of years. Moody's best-known songleader was Ira Sankey ("Faith is the victory",PFTL#134), and the most recent example is George Beverly Shea, Billy Graham's partner for several decades.

The urban revivals were conducted along highly organized lines, and in 1886 Moody established a school in Chicago to train men specifically for urban mission work (after his death it was renamed the Moody Bible Institute). In 1893 Moody appointed Daniel Towner to organize a music department for training revival songleaders, and as a teacher Towner influenced a generation of gospel songwriters, including the prolific Charles H. Gabriel ("Higher ground",PFTL#234; "His eye is on the sparrow",PFTL#235; "I stand amazed",PFTL#299; "Jesus, Rose of Sharon",PFTL#363, "Just a few more days",PFTL#378; and many others).(Wilhoit)

Towner's style is mainstream 19th-century gospel, as seen in his other hymn settings, such as "At Calvary"(PFTL#53), "Grace greater than our sin"(PFTL#189), and what is probably his most memorable tune, "Trust and obey"(PFTL#714). His tunes work well, with simple, repetitive melodic structures, but are fairly generic (unlike Gabriel's). The phrase structure of the tune of "Anywhere with Jesus" is a-b-a-c in the stanza (where "a" represents the opening melodic phrase, "Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go"), and repeats the "a" phrase at the end of the refrain.

An interesting feature of this tune in actual practice among the Churches of Christ in the U.S. is the tendency to slow down significantly in the refrain during the line "fear I cannot know", then return to the original tempo for the final line. I have never seen a version of this song that actually indicated these tempo changes, but I have never heard this song when this was not done to some degree.

What should a songleader do when a congregation has a habit of singing a song differently than it is written? Correcting a musical problem during a worship service (as I saw someone do once!) is certainly not the answer, and in my opinion suggests a lack of respect for what is, after all, the congregation's service of worship to God--not the songleader's service. To me a singing class, or a special singing night, is the appropriate time to take care of musical matters that have no direct bearing on worship.

But before making the effort to change a musical habit that may be deeply ingrained (such as slowing down on the next-to-last phrase of "Anywhere with Jesus"), I always try to answer the question, "Does it make a difference?" Some are real problems--such as the conflicting versions of the melody in "Abide with me"(PFTL#7), on the words "Lord with me abide" in the first stanza. Listen carefully to the notes on the syllables "Lord" and "a-"; the first should be an A, and the other an A-sharp. This is a little difficult to sing, however, and many singers will make both of them A-sharps, anticipating the harmony leading into the last note of the phrase. Either version would work; but when some in the congregation are singing one and some the other, both an A and an A-sharp will occur on the same note--a pretty jarring discord in the context of a quiet hymn. This, to me, would be worth the trouble to fix.

The slow-down in "Anywhere with Jesus", however, is not unpleasant (if it is not overly exaggerated, and if the tempo is not dragging to begin with). In fact, it adds a bit of variety to a fairly mundane tune. Musical literacy is a highly desirable thing, but we should never feel enslaved to the notes; even in the classical tradition, there are optional notes and unwritten rules. In the arena of congregational singing, also, there is a kind of collective wisdom that tends to smooth over the rough spots in the music for the better.


"Helen Cadbury Alexander." Cyberhymnal.

Wilhoit, Mel R. "Towner, Daniel Brink." Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, ed. W. K. McNeil. New York: Routledge, 2005, p. 401.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of the hymn "Anywhere with Jesus." Today is the 148th anniversary of the birth of the author, Jesse Pounds. God bless.