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. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/a/w/awakemys.htm

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 http://lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt

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