Friday, May 29, 2009

Break Thou the Bread of Life

Praise for the Lord #59

Words: Mary A. Lathbury, 1877
Music: "BREAD OF LIFE", William F. Sherwin, 1877

Mary Aremesia Lathbury (1841-1913) taught art and French in schools in Vermont and New York, but was best known as a poet in the summer programs at Chautauqua, New York. She was published in journals associated with the temperance movement, and also in children's magazines such as Wide Awake, edited by fellow hymnwriter Mary B.C. Slade.("Lathbury") Lathbury wrote both "Break Thou the bread of life" and "Day is dying in the west"(PFTL#119) at Chautauqua during 1877.("Break Thou")

The hymn as Lathbury originally wrote it, and as it stands in many hymnals, is just two verses. An interesting aspect of this song, in relation to the Churches of Christ in the U.S., is the frequent use of this as a communion hymn. Though it is not entirely clear that the "bread" here can be equated with the bread of the Lord's table, the hymn has been used in this context for so long that it is almost awkward to use it in any other context.

Stanza 1:
Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst break the loaves beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!

The expression "bread of life" is obviously from Jesus' teaching in John chapter 6, verses 25-66, where He calls Himself the "bread of life" and the "living bread". On the preceding day He had fed the crowds through miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish, so the immediate context was obvious to His listeners. Just as God had provided bread in the wilderness for Israel, so Jesus had provided food miraculously when it was most needed and there was none (or at least extremely little) to be found.

In this second day's discussion, Jesus taught the people that His "living bread" was superior to manna, because it addressed spiritual and eternal needs rather than the merely physical and temporal.(John 6:32-35,49-50) His listeners did not seem to get the point (or perhaps some did not want to get the point), so Jesus became even more emphatic: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."(John 6:53)

It seems obvious enough that Jesus is prefiguring the communion ritual in a sense, because He would make the same equation at the Last Supper: "Take, eat; this is My body... Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood..."(Matthew 26:26-28) Of course, in both instances He uses language that is figurative, just as the elements of communion themselves are figurative of a much greater reality. Accepting the redeeming work of Christ's death, and living the new life of His resurrection, are the realities:

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.(Romans 8:10-11)

Every Christian can relate to the desire to know Christ better, as Psalm 42:1 says, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God." But when Lathbury speaks of seeking Christ "beyond the sacred page", what does she mean? Does she ask for a revelation beyond the written Scriptures? Ellis Crum, editor of Sacred Selections, changed this line to "within the sacred page", to emphasize that our knowledge of Christ is through His revealed word. The message of Christ is of paramount importance, as He said Himself: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."(John 14:23) "The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day."(John 12:48) How else can we keep His word, but to read His recorded words in the "sacred page"?

Lathbury may have meant, however, that we need to "know Christ" on a level beyond mere factual information, and in this we can agree. It is possible to know the words of Christ without being changed by them; it is possible even to follow the principles Christ taught in moral living, without surrendering oneself to Him. We come to know Him "beyond the sacred page" when we apply His words in Scripture to our hearts, meditate on them, and live them in our everyday lives. As we continue to walk with Him, we come to understand better--through experience--the meaning of His words.

Stanza 2:
Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me,
As Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace, my all in all.

Here Lathbury takes a slightly different turn; where the first stanza expresses a longing to receive more of the "Christ-life" (as C.S. Lewis put it), the second stanza speaks more specifically of receiving the truth itself. The third line especially seems to reference Christ's promise that, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."(John 8:31-32)

This seems to turn the subject more toward the reception of the word and away from any suggestion of the communion, as might be assumed from the first stanza alone. There is a desire for the freedom that comes through the truth (really, through the obedience to the truth), and a celebration of the peace that follows. Peace is a concept that has to be qualified, of course; Jesus stated bluntly, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword."(Matthew 10:34) The truth will sometimes bring us conflict and trouble, as Jesus goes on to describe. But His peace is nonetheless real: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."(John 14:27) He gives us peace between ourselves and God, and this gives us peace within. Christ "fills everything in every way"(NIV), as our "all in all".(Ephesians 1:23)

The following two stanzas were added by Alexander Groves in 1913, first appearing in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine.("Break Thou") The first of these stanzas may sound familiar; it was retained in Lloyd Sanderson's Christian Hymns No. 2 (Nashhville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1948) and Christian Hymns III (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1966), and also is included in Ellis J. Crum's Sacred Selections for the Church (Kendallville, IN: Sacred Selections, 1960). (Crum also wrote a new text to Sherwin's tune, #289 in Sacred Selections, called "The Breaking of Bread". This is most definitely a communion hymn; perhaps Crum meant to provide it as an alternative, considering the ambiguity of "Break Thou the bread of life" in that context.)

Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.

This stanza makes a nice conclusion to the hymn; it is unfortunate that most of the later hymnals among the Churches of Christ have omitted it. It also tends to affirm the interpretation of this hymn as an appeal for better understanding of the word, more appropriately sung before a Bible study or sermon than as a communion hymn.

The second of Groves's stanzas I have never seen in a hymnal among the Churches of Christ, reflecting as it does the doctrine that the Spirit must operate miraculously on the sinner to allow understanding of the Scriptures:

O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

In Acts chapter 8, the Ethiopian riding home in his chariot needed help understanding the Scriptures, by his own admission.(Acts 8:31) But the Spirit--rather than working in some miraculous way upon his mind--sent him Philip, an evangelist who "preached Jesus to him."(Acts 8:35)

About the music: William Fiske Sherwin (1826-1888)
was a student of Lowell Mason,("Sherwin") and his straightforward, no-nonsense writing is in Mason's style. Sherwin wrote a simple, functional tune that works well for the text. It is in four phrases, the second of which begins by copying the first but extends its range and ends on the dominant chord (SOL-TI-RE) of the key. The third phrase leads up to the leading tone of the scale (TI), then the fourth phrase tops the melody off with a high DO and comes back down to rest. The gradually increasing tension through the second and third phrases makes the fourth phrase seem very logical and satisfactory.

Sherwin also wrote the music for "Sound the battle cry"(PFTL#594) and "Day is dying in the west"(PFTL#119). The latter song is another text by Mary Lathbury, and written the same year; Sherwin was the first music director at the Chautauqua program, and no doubt he and Lathbury were acquainted there.("Sherwin")


"Break Thou the Bread of Life." Cyberhymnal.

"Mary Artemesia Lathbury." Cyberhymnal.

"William Fiske Sherwin." Cyberhymnal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun

Praise for the Lord #58

Words: Thomas Ken, 1695 & 1711
Music: MORNING HYMN, François H. Bar­thé­lé­mon, 1791

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) was an Anglican cleric at Winchester College, Oxford. In his era, few of the English churches sanctioned congregational hymn-singing; the Anglicans tended not to use congregational singing at all in those days, and the more Calvinist groups sang only psalms. (Ken died just as Isaac Watts's breakthrough was beginning.) This stricture did not necessarily apply to devotionals outside of the official services, however; Ken wrote this and other hymn texts for the private worship of the students in his charge. For more on Ken's career see my post on the companion text to this hymn, "All praise to Thee, my God, this night."

Stanza 1:
Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Just as Ken's evening hymn describes putting aside the cares of the day, this morning hymn encourages the Christian to prepare for the challenge each new day brings. Often much of the tone of the day is set by our attitudes and interactions in these first few minutes. C.S. Lewis wisely observed,

...The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.(Lewis,ch.8)

I know this principle to be true in my own life, both physically and spiritually. If I let myself sleep late on my day off, I will be drowsy and lazy most of the day; if I get up early and go about my usual routine, I will have a productive day. If I begin a day cranky and snappish, it will probably continue to be a bad day until I make a deliberate effort to repent and change it.

Starting the day with worship is the best answer. David said, "I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning; for You have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress."(Psalm 59:16) Though every new day brings its challenges, it also brings its blessings. "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning..."(Lamentations 3:22-23)

Ken's original text contains several stanzas not retained in Praise for the Lord:

Thy precious time misspent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.

1 Peter 4:3 says, "The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry." Even if we did not engage in such overt outrageousness, most of us can look to periods in our lives when we did not follow God as we should, and when we neglected the opportunities He gave us. There has been more than enough wasted time; we now need to focus each day on "redeeming the time, because the days are evil."(Ephesians 5:16) With the line "improve thy talent", Ken reminds us of the parable of the talents, in which the servants had to work diligently to make the most of what they had. Regardless of the amount they were given, each was expected to meet his potential before the master returned.(Matthew 25)

By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

Ken lived in a time when the understanding of our solar system was expanding rapidly (he was a contemporary of Isaac Newton), and might be referencing an astronomical principle in this stanza. Earth's moon has no light of its own, but reflects the light of the sun; thus even on the side of the earth where the sun's light is not directly visible, it is reflected as moonshine by the "lesser light to rule the night."(Genesis 1:16) If the moon were not in view of the sun, it could not receive its light, and could not reflect it to the darkened earth. In the same way, those who walk in Christ's light reflect that light (though in a lesser degree) to those around them who are still in darkness. 1 John 1:7 says, "But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." Having given us that light in our lives, Jesus tells us to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."(Matthew 5:16)

In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Psalm 141:3 says, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!" All the good intentions in the world can be undone by a careless word. For this reason we need to "take every thought captive to obey Christ."(2 Corinthians 10:5)

Stanza 2:
Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

In Job 38:7 God describes the creation as a time "when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy." In the Revelation we find repeatedly that God is praised in heaven throughout eternity. Thus the Bible shows us that God has been praised since this world began, and will be after it ends. When we worship God, we are simply stepping into a river that has been flowing long before we arrived. It should humble us, and yet encourage us, to remember that our efforts at praise, however feeble, are joined with the praises of heavenly beings.

The following stanzas are also omitted from Praise for the Lord:

All praise to Thee, who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.

Those of us who have had difficulty sleeping know just how precious a night of rest is. Though the Bible frequently chastises the lazy, there is a natural need for rest. Jesus took a nap while His disciples took the boat across Galilee,(Mark 4:38) and in Mark 6:31 ordered His disciples to "rest a while" because of the hectic schedule they had been keeping. It is the devil who uses up and destroys; but the Lord "gives to his beloved sleep."(Psalm 127:2) Don't turn down His blessing!

Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.

The poetic turn of the last two lines is jarring, a little over the top; but the thought itself is good. The presence of God is a topic much discussed in the Old Testament, when God manifested Himself in various visible ways (the pillar of cloud/fire, the "glory" on top of Sinai or in the tabernacle and temple, etc.). In Ezekiel chapter 10 we see the "glory" departing from the temple, as God revealed that His protection was no longer over that place because of the unfaithfulness of His people. It is a chilling picture.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

Our conventional wisdom observes that "nature abhors a vacuum", and this is true spiritually in a way. We cannot be morally or spiritually neutral; the parable of the empty house in Luke 11:24-26 (from which a demon was evicted, but returned with seven companions) seems designed to explain verse 23, "Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters." Christ does not leave any middle ground--your life will be filled with something, for good or bad.

Being "filled with the Spirit" excites a lot more controversy than it should. It is a Scriptural phrase, and properly applies to all Christians (see Ephesians 5:18). The trouble comes, of course, in defining what the results will be. Does it mean the ability to work miracles, speak in tongues, etc.? Even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals that these abilities were not universal to all Christians. Does it mean being led in some way by direct revelation? The Scriptural evidence says this was also the exception among the early Christians.

The most obvious first step in understanding this phrase is to look at the parallel statement in Colossians 3:16; anytime the Bible offers such obvious commentary on itself, we should take advantage! In a passage that discusses the very same matters, instead of "be filled with the Spirit", Paul says "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." This is something every Christian can and must do, not just an ability given to a few. Note the adverb "richly", as well--it is an activity with an observable result. Mike Riley has some good observations on this aspect of being "Spirit-filled".

I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.

This stanza is also a little weakened by poetic overstatement, but the point is interesting. I have struggled with my faith in God more than once, and one conclusion I have reached is that I continue to believe in God because of the following:

  • If God does not exist, there is no other satisfactory meaning to our existence.
  • I cannot accept--rationally or emotionally--an existence that is incapable of meaning.
  • Therefore, I have to believe in God.

I realize that isn't very pretty as philosophy goes--but it perhaps it is similar to what the man meant who said to Jesus, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."(Mark 9:24)

Stanza 3:
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Thomas Ken's most famous text, of course, is the doxology. This was also appended at the end of his evening hymn, "All praise to Thee, my God, this night." It can be added effectively after any song of praise, actually, as long as the song is in Long Meter. For example, it could be sung at the end of "Sun of my soul"(PFTL#593), using that tune.

About the music: It is typical among the older hymns for a text to be tried to more than one tune before a lasting match occurs; often multiple tunes remain in use over the years. "MORNING HYMN" by François Bar­thé­lé­mon (1741-1808) is by far the exception. It was written specifically for Ken's text at the request of the compilers of A Sup­ple­ment to the Hymns and Psalms Used at the Asy­lum or House of Ref­uge for Fe­male Or­phans(Lon­don, 1785).

Barthélémon was a prominent violinist, conductor, and composer of light opera in his day, spending most of his career in London. His music was typical of the jaunty, tongue-in-cheek galant style that followed the serious, passionate music of the Baroque. In the London stage and concert sphere he associated with Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian Bach), the young Mozart, and later Joseph Haydn. Barthélémon's thoughts turned more to sacred music in his later years, and there is some opinion that he may have influenced the same tendency in his friend Joseph Haydn, whose Creation oratorio was a product of his latter years.(Zaslaw)


"Awake, my soul, and with the sun." Cyberhymnal.

Zaslaw, Neal. "Barthélémon, François-Hippolyte." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. London: MacMillan, 1980, 2:194-195.

Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity. 1943. Online version at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Awake, and Sing the Song

Praise for the Lord #57

Words: William Hammond, 1745
Music: "ST. THOMAS", Aaron Williams, 1763

William Hammond (1719-1783) was a Cambridge scholar who moved in Methodist circles, eventually joining the Moravian Brethren. His scholarship is evidenced by the fact that he wrote his autobiography in Greek! His original hymns, along with translations of medieval Latin hymns, were published in 1745 in a single volume titled Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.(Cyberhymnal) He also wrote the perennial favorite "Lord, we come before Thee now"(PFTL#419), but apparently few of his other hymns have gained wide circulation.

Stanza 1:
Awake, and sing the song
Of Moses and the Lamb;
Wake, every heart and every tongue,
To praise the Savior’s Name.

Often in the Scriptures we are encouraged to turn our thoughts to praise as our first activity of the day. David said in Psalm 57:8-9, "Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations." Again, in Psalm 5:3, "My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up."

The Bible does not command specific hours of prayer, as our Muslim neighbors keep, but it is a wise habit to set aside times of prayer, lest we forget, and then to add those prayers spontaneously that are prompted by events, or as we find the time. Daniel prayed three times each day,(Daniel 6:10) and it was general custom among the Jews to pray morning, noon, and evening. In the morning the mind is often less cluttered and more easily focused on God; at midday we are perhaps most in need of spiritual refreshment; and at evening it is good to clear our consciences and to lay our burdens upon the Lord before we seek our night's rest.

The call to "awake" has a spiritual meaning in Scripture as well. Romans 13:11 says, "...the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed." Jesus told the church at Sardis, in Revelation 3:2, "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of My God." Waking up spiritually is both a time of joyful praise and a call to readiness for action.

What is the "song of Moses and the Lamb"? (If it sounds familiar, this expression is also used in the chorus of Tullius O'Kane's version of "On Jordan's stormy banks"(PFTL#510), in the lines, "Sing the song of Moses and the Lamb by and by / And dwell with Jesus evermore.") The reference is to Revelation 15:3, where the victorious hosts of heaven "sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, 'Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!'"

The "Song of Moses" usually describes Exodus chapter 15, in which Moses and the Israelites celebrate God's miraculous deliverance of His people at the Red Sea from seemingly certain doom at the hands of Pharaoh's army. The singers in Revelation 15 are "those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name"--that is, those who had suffered the worst of the devil's persecution, and were then to be found in heaven "standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands."(Revelation 15:2) The deliverance effected by the Lamb of God is even greater than that given through Moses, for the foe was greater, the risk was greater, and the reward was greater.(Hinds,225) From our perspective, to sing of "Moses and the Lamb" is to celebrate God's saving power in both the past and in the future.

Stanza 2:
Sing of His dying love;
Sing of His rising power;
Sing how He intercedes above
For those whose sins He bore.

As I write this on Memorial Day, I cannot help but think of the words of Jesus, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."(John 15:13) Those who willingly sacrifice their lives for family, friends, and country have a sense of devotion and selflessness beyond the ability of most of us to comprehend. But the "dying love" of Jesus is exponentially greater, because "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Romans 5:8) We were "alienated and hostile in mind",(Colossians 1:21) "having no hope and without God in the world."(Ephesians 2:12) Jesus died for us anyway, whether we respond to His sacrifice or not.

Even as we somberly review the selfless love shown in Christ's death, we rejoice in His powerful resurrection. He "was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead."(Romans 1:4) The promise of this power is eloquently explained in 1 Corinthians:

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. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.(1 Corinthians 15:19-22)

His death is the promise that our past is done away; His rising is the promise that our future is assured.

Christ's work is not done, however; He is active every day as a Mediator between God and Christians. In 1 Samual 2:25 the aged priest Eli rightly said, "If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?" No human court can absolve our sins, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."(Romans 3:23) But "Christ Jesus is the One who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."(Romans 8:34)

Stanza 3:
Sing on your heavenly way,
Ye ransomed sinners, sing;
Sing on, rejoicing every day
In Christ, the glorious King.

At least ten times in the New Testament Christians are commanded or exhorted to "rejoice", using the Greek word chairo (Strong's G5463). It is interesting that a different word, euphraino (Strong's G2165), is also often translated as "rejoice". In looking at the usage of the two, I think it is safe to say that the latter word is more often (though not exclusively) connected to outward celebration and merry-making, and the former more often to a state of mind and being.

"Euphraino", for example, is used to describe lifestyle of the rich in the parables in Luke 12 (the rich fool) and Luke 16 (the rich man and Lazarus), the reveling of the Israelites before the goldedn calf,(Acts 7:41) and the wicked celebrating the death of the two prophets in Revelation 11:10. On a more positive note, it is also used to describe the celebration hosted by the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15, and also the exultation of the saints in heaven in Revelation 12:12, 18:20.

"Chairo", on the other hand, is the term of greeting used frequently throughout the New Testament, wishing another a general state of wellness and happiness. It is the response that Jesus commends to us in the face of persecution for His sake,(Matthew 5:19, cf. Acts 5:41) and also in view of the assurance of our names being written in heaven.(Luke 10:20) It was the spirit in which the Ethiopian went on his way after being baptized into Christ,(Acts 8:39) and with which the Gentiles of Antioch in Pisidia received the news that the gospel was extended to them as well as the Jews.(Acts 13:48) Finally, "chairo" is the term by which we are so frequently exhorted throughout the epistles of Paul, especially in Philippians.

There is a proper kind of outward celebration and merriment that is appropriate to the Christian in many situations, but not in all; it depends a great deal on the surrounding circumstances. But there is another more inward and spiritual joy that is appropriate to every situation, because it is founded on the unchangeable facts of the grace of God.

Stanza 4:
Soon shall you hear Him say,
“Ye blessed children, come!”
Soon will He call you hence away,
And take His pilgrims home.

Home is a concept dear to most of us, but we need always remember that a home here is at best temporary. We can learn a great deal on this score from the hero of faith in the Old Testament:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.(Hebrews 11:8-10)

We are all just sojourners here, in view of eternity. But there is a place where sojourning will end: "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God."(Ephesians 2:19) This home will never be taken away, and we will never have to leave it.

The hymn originally concluded with the following stanza, omitted in Praise for the Lord:

There shall each raptured tongue
His endless praise proclaim;
And sweeter voices tune the song
Of Moses and the Lamb.

It may be that the word "raptured" led to its exclusion, though it does not necessarily refer to an end-times event; it can also mean "enraptured" in the sense of being in a state of blissful excitement.(OUD,1657) It seems unlikely that Hammond would have been referring to the "rapture" doctrine, which was not widely taught (so far as I have been able to determine) until the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, the unfamiliarity of this poetic use means that many readers today would take the term in the other sense. It is a matter of judgment whether the potential for misunderstanding is real enough to omit the stanza entirely. (For a discussion of the "rapture" doctrine and its history, see Wayne Jackson's review of the "Left Behind" series at the Christian Courier web site.

About the music: This tune, ST. THOMAS, is also used in Praise for the Lord for "I love Thy kingdom, Lord"(#289), "Our day of praise is done"(#508), and "Rise up, O men of God"(#554). It is not the more common tune among the U.S. Churches of Christ, so far as I know, for the first and last of those three; but it is a good, durable tune that works well for relatively upbeat texts in Short Meter.

Aaron Williams (1731-1776) was a church musician and music teacher who also worked as a music engraver, giving him ready access to publication of his works. He was a member of the Scottish Church (which, being the more conservative branch of Calvinism, meant psalm-singing), and was involved in the publication of several collections of psalm-tunes.(Brown,447) (One of these tunes, ROCKINGHAM, later became quite prominent as the tune for "When I survey the wondrous cross" in the British tradition.) Williams's musical style is naturally steeped in the old psalm-tune tradition dating back to the 16th century, and his sturdy, singable tunes are evidently inspired by this background.


"William Hammond." Cyberhymnal.

Oxford Universal Dictionary. 3rd ed. rev. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Hinds, John T. A Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1966.

Brown, James Duff, and Stephen Samuel Stratton. British Musical Biography: a Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors, and Composers Born in Britain and its Colonies. Birmingham: Stratton, 1897.,M1

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

At Even, when the Sun was Set

Praise for the Lord #56

Words: Henry Twells, 1868
Music: Timothy B. Mason, 1836

This is the only hymn by Henry Twells (1823-1900) included in Praise for the Lord, and I am not familiar with any of his other works. The selections of his texts linked at Cyberhymnal, however, are well worth perusing: They show a profound humility in approaching God, seen in this text also.

Stanza 1:
At even, ere the sun was set,
The sick, O Lord, around Thee lay;
O in what divers pains they met!
O with what joy they went away!

The setting is Capernaum, after the healing of Peter's mother-in-law: "Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them."(Luke 4:40) Jesus was the Great Physician; He demonstrated His power over every kind of misfortune that could happen to the physical body. He gave sight to the blind, not only healing the optical organs, but imbuing the mind with the sense of sight itself if necessary.(Mark 8:22-25) He restored deformed limbs to their rightful shape and function.(Mark 3:1-5) He even raised a man from the dead after four days!(John 11) Of course, all of these were signs of an even greater power to heal:

"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--He said to the paralytic--"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home." And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"(Mark 2:9-12)

In Mark 6:56 we read that "wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment." Can we imagine the scene of misery through which He walked? But Twells touches on a another common thread in all of Jesus' healings; despite the diverse nature of the maladies He encountered, there was a common spirit of joy among all His patients afterward.

Stanza 2:
Once more ’tis eventide, and we,
Oppressed with various ills, draw near;
What if Thyself we cannot see?
We know and feel that Thou art near.

Now Twells applies the scripture to the Christian assembly: though we do not necessarily come with visible, physical needs, we confess that our spiritual needs place us in the same situation as those in Capernaum. When we look at the world around us, and when we look out our own feeble attempts at righteousness, we know that Jeremiah 17:9 rightly says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

Fortunately, we have come to the right place, because our Lord said of His ministry, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."(Mark 2:17) Though many rejected Him, and still do, it has always been His desire that "they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them."(John 12:40) So we draw near to the miraculous Healer, the only One who can offer a cure. What if we cannot see Him physically, as they did in Capernaum? Neither can we see physically the diseases of the heart from which we need deliverance. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."(John 20:29)

Stanza 3:
O Savior Christ, our woes dispel;
For some are sick, and some are sad;
And some have never loved Thee well,
And some have lost the love they had.

Though the emphasis of the hymn is on the spiritual, we need to remember that physical illness is stil the burden many bear with them to the assembly. Besides the pain or discomfort it may bring, there is the frustration of not being able to do as one wishes, and the uncertainty of the outcome. Added to the cares of daily life, it can quickly become emotionally and spiritually overwhelming. Let us never forget that "the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up... The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."(James 5:15-16) At the same time, let us do those little practical things to help the sick that both show our concern and do them material good.

Twells also speaks of those who come to worship "sad". I confess that I have always been a little irritated by worship leaders who castigate the congregation for not showing an acceptable level of excitement in worship. Yes, most congregations could stand to become more emotionally and spiritually invested in the worship service; but I have often counseled younger songleaders not to judge the worship in another's heart by the (apparent) expression on his face.

A congregation comes together to worship with many different "back-stories"; it would be an eye-opener if we really knew all that was going on in every life! Some might be mourning for sins they cannot seem to escape; others might be heartbroken because of disappointments in relationships; others might be battling depression. Would we dare criticize the worship of Isaiah, when his response to the presence of God was "Woe is me, for I am undone!"?(Isaiah 6:5) Would we criticize the tax collector who "standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"?(Luke 18:13) Let the book of Psalms, the hymnal of the Old Testament, be our guide--it contains both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow, sometimes in the same Psalm.

The last two lines of this stanza are particularly intriguing. Those who "never loved Thee well" seems to speak of the nominal Christian who knows his walk with the Lord is not what it should be; or maybe it even speaks of the more frightening situation of those who do not even realize their true distance from God. Those who have "lost the love they had" remind us naturally of Christ's assessment of the church in Ephesus:

"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."(Revelation 2:2-4)

This is a disturbing situation, because up until the last sentence it sounds like a congregation that is doing quite well. On an individual level, we can sometimes look and act like a Christian, and yet have drifted from our moorings. It should give us pause.

Twells continues with two stanzas that were omitted in Praise for the Lord, no doubt for sake of space. They are an excellent expansion on the theme of the second stanza, and startlingly applicable even 141 years later:

And some are pressed with worldly care
And some are tried with sinful doubt;
And some such grievous passions tear,
That only Thou canst cast them out.

And some have found the world is vain,
Yet from the world they break not free;
And some have friends who give them pain,
Yet have not sought a friend in Thee.

How many lines in the above describe an average congregation? We know what we should be, or we would likely not be present; but we are vaguely aware that we are not yet what we should be. The first two lines of the latter stanza are especially jarring for a generally materialistic society; we know that we should be "not of the world"(John 17) and yet we have difficulty letting it go.

Stanza 4:
And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
For none are wholly free from sin;
And they who fain would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.

Hebrews 4:9-11 says, "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God... Let us therefore strive to enter that rest..." Inherent in that statement is that entering Christ's kingdom of salvation is not the same as entering the perfect peace of our final rest with God. How can it be, when we are still in an arena of spiritual struggle? Paul told the Corinthians,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.(1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

This was no mere abstract possibility; Paul knew it from personal experience.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?(Romans 7:15-24)

Who indeed?

Stanza 5:
O Savior Christ, Thou too art man;
Thou has been troubled, tempted, tried;
Thy kind but searching glance can scan
The very wounds that shame would hide.

Here Twells voices the heartfelt appeal that countless souls have made through the ages. Hebrews 2:14-15 teaches us that Jesus became human in order to break the power of sin:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

But our initial salvation is only the beginning; verses 17-18 tell us that His work continues every day.

Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

At Sinai, God showed His power and authority; at Calvary He showed His love and condescension. Jesus said shortly before His death, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends..."(John 15:15) We can hide nothing from Him, and if we come to Him in penitent obedience, we need hide nothing from Him. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."(1 Peter 5:6-7)

Stanza 6:
Thy touch has still its ancient power.
No word from Thee can fruitless fall;
Hear, in this solemn evening hour,
And in Thy mercy heal us all.

We need to be reminded sometimes that Jesus was not just some long-ago historical figure (though He certainly was that); He is living today and working in His church. In the beginning of the Revelation we see the image of the seven lampstands, which according to chapter 1, verse 20 represent the seven congregations Christ chose to address. Christ calls himself the one "who walks among the seven golden lampstands."(Revelation 2:1) Throughout these messages to the congregations of Asia Minor, Christ appears not as a distant, unconcerned monarch, but as a watchful Shepherd who promises both discipline and blessing.

It is a great comfort, too, to remember that God's word does not fail. Human words fail often--promises are broken, laws are revoked, treaties are ignored--but not one word of God will fail. Joshua, in his farewell address to the Hebrew nation, summarized his experiences thus:

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)

In the beautiful 55th chapter of Isaiah, God describes the power and trustworthiness of His word in even more beautiful language:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.(Isaiah 55:10-11)

May we always turn to Christ for healing, in the humility, obedience, and trust described in this hymn.

About the music: The music given with this text in Praise for the Lord is, in my opinion, an unfortunate choice. The tune is simply too busy, with too many skips, to work well for congregational singing. (A MIDI file of this tune, named EDEN, can be heard here.) It is very pretty, and would sound fine sung by a choir, but it doesn't suit a cappella congregational singers. An alternate tune can be heard at

I mean no disrespect to the composer; it is a well-written work, much what I would expect from someone from such a prominent musical family in 19th-century America. Timothy Battelle Mason (1801-1861) was the younger brother of Lowell Mason, who was a determined advocate of music education, for which I salute him, but was rather narrow in his view of what constituted "good music". (Even his tastes within the classical music tradition were pretty narrow!) While Lowell dominated the Boston environs, Timothy Mason moved west to Cincinatti and pursued much the same career with the establishment of his Eclectic Academy of Music.(Osborne,86)


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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beyond this Land of Parting

Praise for the Lord #55

Words: Mary B.C. Slade, 1876
Music: Asa B. Everett, 1876

Mary Slade and Asa Everett produced a number of fine gospel songs that have remained in use in the traditional repertoire. They also co-wrote "Footprints of Jesus"(PFTL#153), "Hark! The gentle voice of Jesus"(PFTL#207), "There's a fountain free"(PFTL#655), and "Who at the door is standing?"(PFTL#767). It is unclear whether this was an active partnership, or whether Everett simply chose to set several texts by Slade. I have seen a reference (which I stupidly did not take down at the time and have been unable to find again) that indicates a correspondence between Slade and Rigdon McIntosh, Everett's protege (of whom more later), and indicating that Slade was at least familiar with some of Everett's music.

Mary Bridges Canedy Slade (1826-1882) was a native of Fall River, Massachusetts, a schoolteacher and an associate editor of the New England Journal of Education.("Slade") She edited a children's magazine, Wide Awake,(Ninde,367) and published books of educational activities for bother Sunday School and primary school. She and her husband, Albion K. Slade, were operatives of the Underground Railroad.(Snodgrass)

Stanza 1:
Beyond this land of parting, losing and leaving,
Far beyond the losses darkening this,
And far beyond the taking and the bereaving
Lies the summer land of bliss.

We cannot deny the truth of this assessment--this life involves much of departures and of loss. Friends and family who were once near us may move away, and our day-to-day association may never be the same again. Friends and family move on from this life to the next, and we know we will never see them again in this life. Now the Christian has an assurance and a comfort that the world cannot know--first, that our God is the "God of all comfort",(2 Corinthians 1:3) and second, that our loved ones in Christ are always in His care, in this life and in the next. But the pain of parting is still real.

I have known preachers who questioned whether a true believer should mourn when a fellow Christian dies--whether this is evidence of lack of faith. I respectfully disagree, and I believe the Bible gives us an example to consider: when Stephen was martyred, "Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him."(Acts 8:2) Did they mourn him because they thought they would never see him again? Certainly not! A man could hardly die with more assurance of his eternal destiny than did Stephen, who said "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."(Acts 7:56) But they mourned, because Stephen's departure from this life was a loss to them personally and to the church as a whole. Were they criticized for this emotional outpouring? The only judgment offered of their character is that they were "devout", and no less so for their justified mourning of a dear brother and fellow-worker.

There are also the temporary separations of this life, which are all the more painful because of life's uncertainty. When Paul took his leave from the elders of the church in Ephesus, "there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship."(Acts 20:37-38) There is always more we want to say, and yet cannot say, at these times; and there is the desire to make time stand still, to keep these moments of fellowship from ending. Was this part of the reason that the church at Troas was willing to listen to Paul preach all night long, knowing that he would leave in the morning and might not return?(Acts 20:7)

But the message of this song is also about what lies ahead--a land where these separations are no more. There is a "hope laid up for you in heaven"(1 Corinthians 1:5), where there will be a reunion of those who have lived and died in Christ:

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 4:16-18)

Land beyond, so fair and bright!
Land beyond, where is no night!
Summer land, God is its Light,
O happy summer land of bliss.

Nowhere can I find a Scripture reference to the climate of heaven, nor can we be sure this is a relevant question. The following passage, though, certainly precludes the deadness of winter or the decline and decay of fall:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.(Revelation 22:1-2)

The absence of night in heaven was one of my favorite aspects of the subject when I was a child, being rather afraid of the dark. John's description of heaven assures as that "night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light."(Revelation 22:5) From a symbolic standpoint this is even more meaningful: in this life the sun is our life-giving source of light and heat, and even it is obscured for half the day. In heaven our source of life will be the One who created the sun, and He will never be taken away from our sight.

Stanza 2:
Beyond this land of toiling, sowing and reaping,
Far beyond the shadows, darkening this,
And far beyond the sighing, moaning and weeping,
Lies the summer land of bliss.

One cannot help but be reminded of the ending of Psalm 126,

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.(Psalm 126:5-6)

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of gardening with my father, and I well remember going out the next morning to check on seeds I had planted the day before, just to see if there were any progress. Sowing doesn't work that way, of course. Any farmer can tell you that planting is a calculated risk, literally "betting the farm" that your weeks and months of labor, all day long and often into the night, will yield a crop that will keep your head above water, financially, for another season. The hard work is the only part that is certain. But when a good harvest comes in, it is a thing of beauty, and the satisfaction (and gratitude to God) the farmer feels are well justified.

Sowing seed is an act of faith that the death of one thing will lead to the new life of another. Jesus said in John 12:24-25: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." The Christian life is much like the farmer's work; we must put in for the long haul and wait for the harvest. Paul gave up his life as an upwardly mobile young Pharisee to be an outcast from his people, but said, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." The work we do in the Christian life, as well, requires sacrifice that does not immediately show benefit; but Paul advised that we should "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."(1 Corinthians 15:58)

The following stanza is often omitted in modern hymnals:

Beyond this land of sinning, fainting and failing,
Far beyond the doubtings, darkening this,
And far beyond the griefs and dangers befalling,
Lies the summer land of bliss.

I like this hymn, and I like the Slade-Everett hymns as a group; but I have to admit that this particular stanza is no great loss. It seems to bring up an interesting subject--the degree to which our own sins and doubts are trials in themselves--but does not develop it enough to make it clear. The questionable rhyme of "failing" and "befalling" is no help, either.

Stanza 3:
Beyond this land of waiting, seeking and sighing,
Far beyond the sorrows, darkening this,
And far beyond the pain and sickness and dying
Lies the summer land of bliss.

Perhaps Mrs. Slade was thinking of the following passage, which has so often been a comfort in time of grief:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."(Revelation 21:3-5)

There is more here than just the absence of suffering, just as light is more than the absence of darkness. Death, mourning, crying, and pain will be "no more"--they will not just be abated, they will actually no longer be part of our existence in that sphere. These are "former things" that have "passed away", like unpleasant dreams that are already half-forgotten as we rouse ourselves to the reality of a new day begun. What that new day will be, we cannot be certain--no doubt it is beyond our understanding in our present state--but we can be assured it is far better than anything we have ever known.

About the music: This is a case where the right music made the hymn. Slade's text, taken as poetry, is rather dark (although altogether true). It talks of a better land to come, but it also spends a good deal of time describing death and bereavement in this world. Everett's upbeat, hopeful tune tips the balance toward the emphasis of the former. Even as we are singing the somewhat melancholy words, the music helps us not mind them so much. There are times when a mismatch of text and music seems to be simply oversight or naivete on the part of the composer; but in this case, I think Everett may have done this quite deliberately.

Asa Brooks Everett (1828-1875), a native Virginian, was one of the most able composers and teachers in the antebellum south. Though his father meant for him to be a physician, Asa followed his older brother's pursuit of ministry and eventually both both brothers found their niche as church musicians, songwriters, publishers, and music educators. During this era in the United States there were few options for a formal education in music, and the brothers went to Boston (Lowell Mason's sphere of influence) to benefit from what was available. Asa Everett took his studies a large step further by traveling to Leipzig, Germany, where he studied composition for four years.(Hall,97ff.)

This was a common story for an American classical composer of that era, when a "prophet was without honor in his own country" and had to earn success in Europe (typically Germany) before being taken seriously by his own countrymen. Everett is often listed as "Dr. A.B. Everett" in hymnals, and it was not unusual for a musician with any kind of European training to adopt the honorific "Doctor" when setting up shop in 19th-century America. With Everett's nearly eight years of training, it was no doubt deserved. (I have found no evidence that he was ever a medical doctor.) What is puzzling and fascinating to me is that a man with this degree of classical training could write such simple and unaffected gospel song tunes. It suggests a sensitivity to the stylistic and cultural aspects of classical and indigenous musics that was not common at the time; many classical musicians (Lowell Mason, for example, most of the time) considered the folk hymn traditions beneath contempt. It would be interesting to look at some of Everett's classical compositions for a comparison, but so far I have been unable to find any.

Everett was mentor and friend to the young Methodist musician Rigdon McIntosh, who later bought the Everett copyrights.(Hall,99) Wayne S. Walker (who has been doing hymn studies for some time) has come to the conclusion that McIntosh's influence may account for the number of Slade-Everett hymns that became well-known among the Churches of Christ in the southern United States. McIntosh was the music editor of the 1889 Christian Hymns, the first hymnal published by Gospel Advocate and the first hymnal developed specifically for the fellowship of congregations that became known as the Churches of Christ.(Walker) Hall seems to confirm this, stating that "the Everetts' music, including hymn tunes, anthems, and gospel songs, have occupied a permanent place in all the collections edited by him."(99)


"Mary Bridges Canedy Slade." Cyberhymnal.

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Underground Railroad: an Encyclopedia of People, Places, and Events. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008. (Citation from table of contents data provided by Library of Congress at

Hall, Jacob Henry. Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers. New York: Revell, 1914. Online version by Internet Archive,

Walker, Wayne S. "Hark the gentle voice." Defender of Truth.

Ninde, Edward S. The Story of the American Hymn. New York: Abindgon Press, 1921.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Asleep in Jesus

Praise for the Lord #54

Words: Margaret MacKay, 1832
Music: William B. Bradbury, 1843

This was once a fairly common funeral song, though many of us also know it as the punch line to a time-honored joke about long-winded preachers. I think it deserves another look; the poetry is full of subtle references to Scripture, and presents a thoughtful view of a subject for which we have few hymns today. Margaret MacKay (1802-1887) of Inverness, Scotland was a poet and devotional writer who also wrote a history of the Wycliffe reformation in England.("MacKay") This hymn was first published in the 1832 Christian's Annual; MacKay reprinted it in her own Thoughts Redeemed in 1854. She included the comment that it was inspired by a tombstone in the quiet little churchyard at Pennycross Chapel in Devonshire, England, which was inscribed with the words "Sleeping in Jesus."

Stanza 1:
Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep!
A calm and undisturbed repose,
Unbroken by the last of foes.

It was Jesus who introduced us to the concept of death as a "sleep", when he told the mourners at the house of Jairus that the man's daughter was not dead, but asleep.(Luke 8:52) He said the same when Lazarus died, and the disciples unwittingly demonstrated the meaning of His statement by saying, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover."(John 11:12) If death is a sleep, it means a return to life is expected--a view much at odds with the thinking of the ancient world. The apostles continued the use of this gentle and meaningful euphemism. Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 15:18 of "those who have fallen asleep in Christ", the closest Biblical source I can find for MacKay's motto.

"In Jesus" is a good place to be, because "in Jesus" is where we find the greatest blessings we could ask:

  • Redemption (Romans 3:24)

  • Death to sin (Romans 6:11)

  • No condemnation (Romans 8:1)

  • Freedom (Romans 8:2)

  • The love of God (Romans 8:39)

  • Eternal life (Romans 6:24)

And if we are "in Jesus", Romans 8:38-39 affirms that nothing, not even death, can take these blessings away against our will. The last line of this stanza shows that MacKay was thinking of the discussion of death and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15--when she says that our sleep will be "unbroken by the last of foes", she is surely referring to the last verse of this passage:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.(1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

To this last statement we also can relate 1 Corinthians 15:54, "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'" Death claims our loved ones, and will claim us as well (if the Lord does not return first); but we know that death's days are numbered.

Stanza 2:
Asleep in Jesus! Oh, how sweet,
To be for such a slumber meet!
With holy confidence to sing,
That death has lost its venomed sting!

Once again MacKay makes an oblique reference to 1 Corinthians 15, this time calling up verses 55-57:

"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Physical death, separation of the soul from the body, came into the world as a result of sin, but it is spiritual death--separation from the soul from God--that gives physical death its true "sting". If the soul is reconciled with God, physical death is a temporary separation from spiritual family left behind, and a joyful reunion with those gone before. It was this confidence in sins forgiven that allowed Paul to say from his Roman prison cell,

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.(Philippians 1:21-23)

May we all be able to say the same when that hour comes!

Stanza 3:
Asleep in Jesus! Peaceful rest,
Whose waking is supremely blest!
No fear, no woe, shall dim that hour
That manifests the Savior’s power.

Another blessing of coming to that "sleep in Jesus" is the promise that we will wake in a place where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." There God Himself will "wipe away all tears."(Revelation 21:4) True, "fear" and "woe" haunt many of our days in this life, but as Paul said, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."(Romans 8:18-19)

However wonderful it will be for us, however, the Resurrection is chiefly an hour that will reveal the power and glory of Christ, "when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.(2 Thessalonians 1:10)

Stanza 4:
Asleep in Jesus! Oh, for me
May such a blissful refuge be!
Securely shall my ashes lie
And wait the summons from on high.

"But we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."(Romans 8:23)

For many it is difficult to accept the resurrection of the physical body; this was one of the things that caused even some in Paul's day to stumble.(Acts 17:32) The most extensive discussion of this is, once again, from 1 Corinthians 15, which was likely the inspiration for this hymn:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.(1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

I cannot read these words without thinking of the wonderful aria in Handel's Messiah based on this passage, "The trumpet shall sound"; and I cannot think of that aria without remembering a classmate of mine from Oklahoma Christian who sang it. Darryl Oliver was a music major, in my wife's graduating class and a year behind me. He died in an auto accident just a year or so after graduation, and leaving a young widow behind. It was the first time I had lost a friend my own age, and the tragedy of a promising young life cut so short made a deep mark on all of us. But I remind myself, Darryl was "in Jesus", and when I hear these words I remember that we all can look forward to this promise--that this mortal will put on immortality.

The original poem, in addition to minor differences of wording and punctuation, also included the following two stanzas:

Asleep in Jesus! time nor space
Debars this precious “hiding place”;
On Indian plains or Lapland snows
Believers find the same respose.

Asleep in Jesus! Far from thee
Thy kindred and their graves may be;
But there is still a blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep.

The point of these stanzas is that however appealing it may be to think of our final resting place being near loved ones and a familiar homeplace, it need be no worry. MacKay had particular reason to think along these lines--her husband, William MacKay, was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars who had been nearly fatally wounded in Salamanca, Spain.(Cyberhymnal, "MacKay"; Light Infantry) Many a fallen comrade lay in a grave far from home, and in marrying an officer, Margaret MacKay knew that her husband could very well be another. It is good to remember that we are in the keeping of a God of whom Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."(Matthew 10:29)

About the music: William Bradbury is an underestimated figure in American church music, in my opinion a significant transitional figure between the world of Lowell Mason's classicism and the emergence of the 19th-century gospel style. Much of his writing was done for Sunday School collections, where the strictures of "acceptable style" were not so pronounced. He deserves a post of his own, when I can get around to it!

This tune is not particularly remarkable; it is well-crafted and functional, as can be expected from Bradbury. There is a serenity in the frequent repeated notes that suits the text well, and is probably no accident.


"Asleep in Jesus." Cyberhymnal.

"Margaret MacKay." Cyberhymnal.

"Durhams in the Peninsula." English Light Infantry.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

At Calvary

Praise for the Lord #53

Words: William R. Newell, 1895
Music: Daniel B. Towner, 1895

William Reed Newell (1868-1956) was a prominent Chicago minister noted for his ability in expository preaching. His "verse-by-verse" commentaries on Romans, Hebrews, and the Revelation are still widely read. (His commentary on Romans is available online through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.) In 1895 Reed was tapped by Dwight Moody to become the assistant superintendent of his preaching school (later the Moody Bible Institute), where Daniel Towner was director of music studies; the song "At Calvary" was a product of their collaboration.(Biography)

Stanza 1:
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

We can always count on Peter to be blunt, and he does not let us down on this subject: "The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry."(1 Peter 4:3) Perhaps this does not describe your past (or perhaps it does). Perhaps you did not spend that many years outside of Christ, before obeying the gospel; or perhaps you did not sin to the outrageous level described here; but most of us (perhaps all of us of a certain age) have had our years of "vanity and pride".

What Peter describes in the passage above are vanities as well as sins; they are typically the products of thoughtlessness. But pride is another matter. It was pride and selfishness, not fleshly immorality, that caused the Pharisees to reject Jesus.(Matthew 23:23) Many an otherwise right-living person has fallen prey to this sin; and it plagues many a Christian who would never think of engaging in sinful behavior of the more obvious sort. We must remember that Jesus died for these sins too, and that we who are guilty of them are just as dependent on His mercy as is the most flagrant libertine.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
At Calvary.

If grace means unmerited favor extended toward another, mercy goes one better with the addition of compassion for the other's unfortunate situation:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.(Ephesians 2:4-7)

The mercy of God extended the means of salvation through Christ's blood, spilled at Calvary: "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit."(Titus 3:5) Here the grace of God towards all humanity is shown, because it is His desire "that He may have mercy on all."(Romans 11:32) There will always be enough of God's grace and mercy for those who obey His will and are washed in the blood of Christ at Calvary. Peter blesses his readers with the statement, "Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord."(2 Peter 1:2)

Stanza 2:
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

Romans 10:17 teaches us, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." The knowledge that produces a saving, obedient faith must first convict of sin, however; as Romans 3:20 says, "through the law comes the knowledge of sin." The principle was illustrated in the reaction of the Corinthian church to Paul's rebuke in his first letter:

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it--though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.(2 Corinthians 7:8-11)

Note the difference between "worldly" and "godly" guilt. The world is burdened down with guilt, and knows no way of relief but to blame others or to deny its reality. Our culture tends to view guilt as categorically negative, a thing to be avoided, but this passage shows us that "godly grief" is constructive when it motivates us to change behavior (repentance) and turn to God for forgiveness.

Stanza 3:
Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything;
Now I gladly own Him as my King;
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

This stanza is often omitted in hymnals, and in actual practice, but it contributes a significant step to the psychological progression of the hymn. It is a jubilant response to the fear and trembling of the second stanza. 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." "Fear of God" in the sense of respect and awe, of course, are characteristic of the Christian life (and commanded in 1 Peter 2:17), but the fear of punishment has been driven away by the blood of Christ and His constant assurance of forgiveness.(1 John 1:7) The fear of God's punishment may initially goad us to take our spiritual situation seriously; but His love for us takes that fear away and fills its place with joy.

Stanza 4:
O the love that drew salvation’s plan!
O the grace that brought it down to man!
O the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

In the final stanza Newell takes stock of the progression of the hymn's protagonist. In the first stanza, we speak as an alien sinner, "having no hope and without God in the world."(Ephesians 2:12) The saving work of Christ is of no use or meaning to us, because we are without the knowledge that faith requires.(Romans 10:17) But in the second stanza, we have learned the truth of God's law and our sinfulness. The protagonist is "cut to the heart"(Acts 2:37) and repents. Turning to Calvary, we find that the atoning death of Christ is our only hope. The third stanza shows the state of the Christian following salvation, with guilt removed and fears relieved. Now we reflect on the saving work that has been accomplished.

God had "a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."(Ephesians 1:10) "This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord."(Ephesians 3:11) It began with the separation of a people to Himself,(Exodus 19:6) to whom He taught holiness through His revealed law. From this holy nation He caused His Son to be born: "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman..."(Galatians 4:4) Throughout a process of centuries, God brought together the people and circumstances that would cause His purpose to unfold for our salvation.

The "gulf that God spanned" is even a greater wonder. We know that Matthew 13:49 teaches that someday "the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous." In Christ's account of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham tells the rich man in torment that after death, "between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us."(Luke 16:26) This is the extent and fearfulness of the gulf that exists between God and the sinner, if it is left unresolved. But consider now Romans 8:38-39,

For I am sure 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)

On the one hand we have a gulf that is impossible for us to cross; on the other we have a bond that is impossible to for anyone but us to break. What could make such a change? It is the "immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might."(Ephesians 1:19) "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."(1 Corinthians 1:18)

About the music: For more on the origins of the Moody Bible Institute and Daniel Towner's role as a "singing evangelist", please see the last part of my post on "Anywhere with Jesus". Towner's music for "At Calvary" is typical of songs written for mass meetings: it has a simple, catchy tune with repeated phrases (every phrase has exactly the same rhythm, except at the words "at Calvary"); simple, easily anticipated harmonies; and no complex interplay between the parts (which would tend to just get muddled, given the tendency of large groups to drag). This song also exhibits the practice of harmonizing the alto in parallel with the soprano; the tenor is almost completely superfluous.

None of this is meant as a criticism; the music serves its purpose well. It has the same ease of learning that is sought in writing contemporary devotional songs; it also has the same tendency toward being forgettable.

It is always interesting to try to identify the older gospel songs with their secular stylistic counterparts. Many, for example, are marches, such as "Are you washed in the blood?"(PFTL#50); others, such as "A wonderful Savior"(PFTL#9) seem to be inspired by folk dance styles. Once again, I mean no offense; but is it all that hard to imagine the tune of "At Calvary" being sung with secular lyrics? Perhaps a college fight song?


"Biography of William R. Newell." Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blessed be the Name

Praise for the Lord #52

Words: William H. Clark, 1887; refrain, Ralph E. Hudson, 1887
Music: Ralph E. Hudson, 1887; arr., William J. Kirkpatrick, 1888

I can find no information about William H. Clark, and no other hymn texts under his name. The text was adapted and a refrain added by Ralph Erskine Hudson (1843-1901), similar to his setting of the Isaac Watts hymn "Alas! And did my Savior bleed?"(PFTL#12) The nature of William Kirkpatrick's contribution is unclear.

Stanza 1:
All praise to Him Who reigns above
In majesty supreme,
Who gave His Son for man to die,
That He might man redeem!

The first stanza sings the praises of God the Father, whose majesty is above all. King David phrases these sentiments beautifully in his public prayer at the coronation of his son Solomon, recorded in 1 Chronicles 29, verse 11:

"Yours, O Lord , is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord , and You are exalted as Head above all."

In "majesty", we see combined both immense power and serene dignity. We seldom see it among our fellow human beings; we get a better glimpse of it, perhaps, in the works of nature--in the whale, or an ancient oak, or the mountains. The problem with our fellow humans, of course, is the self-conscious concern that their power be recognized and their dignity respected; thus we seldom see the serene calm that is also necessary to the quality. With God, of course, this is no concern; He is the one who could flatly state, "I AM who I AM", with no need for further explanation.(Exodus 3:14)

Clark juxtaposes the royal majesty of God with His personal concern for His fallen creation. Majesty does not have to stoop down to redeem us; but love compels itself to do so. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Romans 5:8)

Blessed be the Name! Blessed be the Name!
Blessed be the Name of the Lord!
Blessed be the Name! Blessed be the Name!
Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Singers have at times wondered if it is appropriate to speak of us "blessing" the Lord, since "It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior."(Hebrews 7:7) But Psalm 113:2 proclaims, "Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!" It is important to note the difference between "blessing" in the sense of giving one's approval and favor (the usual sense, and the one used in Hebrews 7) and "blessing" in the sense of offering honor and worship. The Hebrew barak, usually translated "bless", literally means to bend the knees or to bow down.(Strong's H1288)

Usually it is done on behalf of another person; that is, one "blesses" the other by kneeling down and invoking God's favor for that person. God, of course, does not kneel to Himself, but the expression was extended to include God's blessing (invoking His own favor) to a person. Inherent in any blessing of another person, then, is the recognition of God's sovereignty in the affairs of this world, and an appeal to Him to do good for the person. When "blessing" God we do not ask for blessings to His welfare, of course, but instead we recognize His sovereignty and worthiness of praise.

In Nehemiah 9:5, at the restoration of the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests said: "Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise." The name of God is to be kept holy, that is, recognized as special and deserving of respect. This is clearly taught in the second of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:7) and reiterated at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer.(Matthew 6:9) But how many times a day do we hear it used as a casual curse? Many people who would be shocked and outraged to see our country's flag desecrated, think nothing of dishonoring the name of our Creator. Where are our priorities?

Stanza 2:
His Name above all names shall stand,
Exalted more and more,
At God the Father’s own right hand,
Where angel hosts adore.

The second stanza turns from God the Father to praise God the Son,

Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:6-11)

There are many names in this world that command respect and power, whether the names of individuals, the names of institutions, or the names of nations; but the day is coming when the name of Jesus will transcend them all, and they will all have to recognize (to their joy or dismay, as the case may be) that His is the name that truly matters. Until that day, "[He] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him."(1 Peter 3:22)

Stanza 3:
Redeemer, Savior, Friend of man
Once ruined by the fall,
Thou hast devised salvation’s plan,
For Thou hast died for all.

It is a matter of profound wonder that God devised the plan of salvation, even to the death of His Son, from before the time began; Jesus is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."(Revelation 13:8) We are quickly in over our heads, trying to understand the "definite plan and foreknowledge of God"(Acts 2:23) that sent Jesus to the cross. We must accept, however, that "in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross."(Colossians 1:19-20) C.S. Lewis summarized the philosophical debates over atonement thus in Mere Christianity:

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.(Lewis, ch.4, para.5)

It is worthwhile to try to understand such things; but it is best to remember that all the theological understanding in the world is no substitute for an obedient faith.

There was originally a fourth stanza as well:

His Name shall be the Counselor,
The mighty Prince of Peace,
Of all earth’s kingdoms Conqueror,
Whose reign shall never cease.

I have never encountered it before, and I'm not sure why it was dropped. It is clearly rooted in scripture:

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.(Isaiah 9:6)

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”(Revelation 11:15)

About the music: Having so little other music by Hudson, it is hard to form an opinion of him. His two extant musical settings--the other is "Alas! And did my Savior bleed!"(PFTL#12)--would seem to place him in the mainstream of 19th-century gospel. The repeated bass and tenor notes on the words "rolled away" in the chorus of "Alas!" are a typical feature of this style. But most gospel songs fit into a popular genre of their time; what is the genre of this one? "Blessed be the name" could almost be a Sacred Harp tune--compare it to "All hail the power of Jesus name"(PFTL#19).

A signature feature of this melody is found in the first three notes, outlining an inverted form of the tonic chord--SOL DO MI, or E,A,C-sharp in this key. This occurs at the beginning of the chorus as well, and within the stanza again as well. A little unifying "hook" can go a long way in making a melody that sings well and is easily remembered. The rhythmic shift at the chorus is also a welcome bit of variety (similar to what Hudson did in "Alas! And did my Savior bleed?").


Strong's H1288.

Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity.