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

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