Thursday, April 30, 2009

Arise! The Master Calls

Praise for the Lord #51

Words: Mary Brown, 1892
Music: Charles H. Gabriel, 1892

Mary Haughton Brown (1856-1918) was a native Canadian who moved to Connecticut to teach school, and served as a Sunday School teacher in the Baptist church. She wrote at least two hymn texts with a missionary emphasis, the other of which is "I'll go where you want me to go"(PFTL#314). Incidentally, she died from the Spanish influenza outbreak, a pandemic which recent events have brought back to our attention.(Cyberhymnal)

Stanza 1:
Arise! The Master calls for thee,
The harvest days are here!
No longer sit with folded hands,
But gather, far and near.
The noble ranks of volunteers
Are daily growing everywhere,
But still there's work for millions more!
Then for the field prepare.


Jesus more than once spoke of the work of evangelism in terms of a harvest, and that imagery underlies Brown's text throughout.

When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."(Matthew 9:36-38)

Certain things have always been true of harvesting. First, a harvest comes at its given time, and not necessarily when it is convenient for us. My mother remembers school being dismissed temporarily in her childhood community, because the cotton had to be picked at that time and all hands were needed. This raises a second point: the sudden need for more workers. Mechanization has changed this factor with some crops, but others are still picked the way they always were--by hand--and thus we still have the familiar economy of the migrant harvesters. Third, there is an urgency to the work of harvesting, because there is a limited time during which it can successfully be accomplished before the crop spoils, the weather turns, etc.

These are true of the spiritual harvest of evangelism as well. We cannot predict when people's hearts will be open to the gospel; there may be a spiritual malaise or hard-heartedness among one group, and a thirst and hunger for truth among another, even in the same community. There will always be needs--when have we ever had too many missionaries, evangelists, and personal workers? And just as we do not know when the harvest will be ready, neither do we know when it will come to an end. Every day, each soul on this earth is closer to eternity; and circumstances may intervene to close the doors formerly open.

One of the frequently recurring words in the gospel of Mark is "immediately"; in fact, it is used so much that it gives the impression that Jesus went everywhere in a hurry! It imparts a sense of urgency to His actions that should be noted by those who would pattern their lives after Him. At the age of twelve He declared to His parents, "I must be about My Father's business;"(Luke 2:49) and from the moment His adult ministry began, He was on the move. In a little under three years He started a movement that changed the world. Must we not emulate His single-mindedness?

Refrain:
Arise! Arise!
The Master calls for thee,
Arise! Arise!
A faithful reaper be,
The field is white,
And days are going by,
Awake, awake,
And answer "Here am I!"


When a "door is opened" for spreading the gospel (as Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 16:9 and elsewhere"), we need to walk through it while we can. Not all doors will remain open; we need only witness the surge of mission efforts that went into the former Soviet lands in the early 1990s, and the gradual tightening of restrictions that came in the years following. On an individual level, of course, there are doors that are open on one occasion, but may be closed the next.

The "white fields" referred to in this stanza are of course from Jesus' statement,
"Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest."(John 4:35) He spoke this to His disciples by the well of Jacob in Samaria, even as the people of the nearby town were coming out to see Him at the urging of the adulterous woman He encountered at the well. It was an opportune time--at a later occasions, Samaritans in another village were not even willing to speak to Him (Luke 9:53) because of ethnic prejudices. When the opportunity to spread God's word presents itself, we need to answer with Isaiah 6:8, "Here am I! Send me."

Stanza 2:
Go seek the lost and erring ones,
Who never knew the Lord;
Go, lead them from the ways of sin,
And thou shalt have reward.
Go out into the hedges, where
The careless drift upon the tide
And from the highways bring them in--
Let no one be denied.


Bringing the gospel to lands unfamiliar with it is both challenging and rewarding. There is the opportunity to help fellow souls to discover the pure truth of the gospel for themselves, without having to "unteach" numerous false doctrines purporting to be Christian; on the other hand, there is a need for great delicacy in how the missionaries present themselves, as well as the word. Paul addresses this knowingly in 2 Corinthians 4, verses 1-7:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Paul first asserts that he did not alter the gospel to fit the circumstances. He reminded the Corinthians, after a particularly strong directive, "This is my rule in all the churches."(1 Corinthians 7:17) In 1 Corinthians 14:33 he also mentioned that the worship practices he taught them were universal--"as in all the churches." The matters he directed them on--the marriage bond, and the role of women in worship--would not be opposed by Jewish converts, but were a real problem for the Gentile Christians who came from a culture with much looser attitudes on these issues. Paul would not and could not compromise on matters of doctrine, even if it meant clashing with the surrounding culture. Ultimately, God's truth will always clash with the cultures of this world at some point, because all of the cultures of this world are fallen in various ways.

At the same time it is necessary to adapt our means and manner to the local culture; Paul did this himself, claiming, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."(1 Corinthians 9:22) In his sermon at the Areopagus (Acts 17), Paul began with those areas on which he and many of his listeners agreed: that one all-powerful God had created the world and the human race. Paul even quoted their own philosophers and poets in verse 28--"In Him we live, and move, and have our being" is from the poem "Phainomena" by Aratus, and "we are all His offspring" is presumed to be from Epimenides of Crete.(ESV footnote)

Paul did not "proclaim himself", as he reminded the Corinthians in the passage above, but proclaimed Jesus, because "the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." In doing so, he laid aside his Jewish heritage and reached out to the Athenians in their own terms so far as possible. Many of them balked, of course, when confronted with the non-negotiable (and to them, utterly alien) doctrine of the resurrection of Christ; but many still responded with interest in hearing him again. May we always be sure in our efforts that we are preaching the gospel of Christ, and not the gospel of Americanism, or of free-market capitalism, or of democracy, however much we might value these things ourselves. We must shake off any vestige of a colonialist attitude; it is tantamount to imitating the "Judaizing" teachers who so damaged the Gentile churches during the days of Paul.

Stanza 3:
The message bear to distant lands
Beyond the rolling sea;
Go tell them of a Savior's love--
The Lamb of Calvary
Arise! The Master calls for thee!
Salvation full and free proclaim,
Till every kindred, tribe and tongue
Exalt the Savior's name!


The final lines of this stanza come from Revelation 14:6, "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." John's vision saw the gospel continuing to spread throughout the world, even as "Babylon" was falling (which I interpret to be the Roman Empire, which sought to destroy Christianity but was itslef destroyed while the gospel continued to spread). The need for the continued spread of the gospel outlives individuals, congregations, and even nations. Jesus said, "I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."(John 4:38) Someone taught the gospel to us; someone taught the gospel to them; and on it goes. Or does it? In every generation faithful Christians must decide to take up the responsibility of Christ's last earthly command, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation."(Mark 16:15) Whether it is across the ocean or across the street, there is a need to wake up and rise to the occasion.

About the music: What can I say about Charles Gabriel? His musical output veers from the improbably quirky to the inspired. The fact that some of his songs were later recorded by gospel and country singers, such as "If I have wounded any soul today"(PFTL#320) and "His eye is on the sparrow"(PFTL#235), also speaks to his possible role as a transitional figure between the traditional gospel style and the commercial, soloist-focused gospel style of the mid-twentieth century and later.

To me, "Arise" is on the border between quirky and inspired. Things are pretty normal through the stanza until the basses and tenor go into unison with their trumpet calls, "A-rise!" The D above middle C is not an unreasonable note for basses in a chorus, but it is stretching it for congregational bass singers, many of whom are uncomfortable singing in full voice at the top of their range. Couple that with the uncertainty the singers feel in holding that high note across two measures, and it is a setup for failure. But the refrain has even more pitfalls, the worst of which is the tenor soli entry on "A-rise!" immediately following "the Master calls for thee". If you have strong, confident tenors, well and good; otherwise it is another moment of awkward silence. Finally, the end of the second phrase, "a faithful reaper be", inserts a quick "A-rise!" instead of holding out "be" for the expected two beats established by the end of the preceding phrase on "thee". Coming on the heels of a likely stumble at the tenor entry previously mentioned, many singers tend to stumble again at this lack of delivery of the expected phrasing.

None of this is to condemn the song; it is exciting and effective when it comes off. But I rarely lead it, because of the potential problems just mentioned. It needs a large number of rock-solid tenors and basses, preferably music-readers. I have a strong feeling that Gabriel wrote it for choral, rather than congregational singing. He certainly knew how to write a good, easy-singing congregational song: look for example at "The way of the cross leads home"(PFTL#653).

References:

"Mary Haughton Brown." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/b/r/o/brown_m.htm

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Are You Washed in the Blood?

Praise for the Lord #50

Words & Music: Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878

Hoffman, though lacking formal musical training, had a good ear for the popular song styles of his day and incorporated them into his numerous gospel songs. "Are you washed in the blood?", for example, is written in the style of a military march (of the pre-Sousa days). It became quite popular, in fact, among the Salvation Army brass bands. This association was once so strong that the hymn was referenced in this context by Vachel Lindsay in his poem "General William Booth Enters Heaven", later set to raucously fun music by the eccentric American composer Charles Ives, who quoted liberally from Hoffman's tune.(McNeil)

Stanza 1:
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?


People often mistakenly believe that the proverb, "Cleanliness is next to godliness", is in the Bible. It is not in so many words, but the Bible frequently uses the concept of cleanliness--in a spiritual sense--throughout both testaments. In the Old Testament the separation of clean from unclean, and the need for God's people to maintain "cleanness", was focused on certain outward and ceremonial aspects related to diet and health. In the New Testament, however, Jesus makes it clear that true cleanness is a matter of behavior:

"There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. ...For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."(Mark 7:15,20-23)

This is an uncleanness that none of us can wash away on our own, for "there is none righteous, no, not one."(Romans 3:10) If you have watched your child trying to clean up a mess and only making it worse, perhaps you have a picture of humankind's efforts to rid itself from its spiritual uncleanness. We are just moving the dirt around, at best.

The situation is dire, because it is clear that heaven is a place of spiritual cleanness; "nothing unclean will ever enter it."(Revelation 21:27) But "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."(Hebrews 10:4) What could be done? Malachi 3:2 prophesied of One who would come to cleanse His people: "For He is like a refiner's fire and like a launderer's soap."(Malachi 3:2) Even today, we use intense heat to refine materials by burning away the impurities from the desired substance. Likewise, we use powerful detergents to remove stains.
Christ is the most powerful Refiner and Cleaner of all--His blood has the power to "take away the sins of the world."(John 1:29)

Refrain:
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?


Throughout the Bible, white robes are indicative of holiness and purity. Angels appear in white, and Jesus in His transfiguration was also in dazzling white. In the Revelation the "white robes" take on an added significance, as they symbolize those who are counted worthy to enter Christ's heavenly home; stains and spots on the robes indicate unworthiness.(Revelation 3) How do we acquire, and maintain, such spiritual attire? In Revelation 7:14 we learn that the white-robed saints in heaven "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." We read of Christ's desire for this in Ephesians:

Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.(Ephesians 5:25-27)

Salvation requires washing away of spiritual uncleanness: "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."(1 Corinthians 6:11) How do we engage in this washing? In Acts 22:16 the apostle Paul, recounting his process of conversion to Christianity, gives us the words that Ananias spoke to him in Damascus: "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name." Paul had come to believe in Christ, felt the conviction of his sins, and was earnestly praying to know what to do; but up until this point, he had not washed away his sins. Baptism was the final step in which he "called on the name of the Lord" and let the blood of Jesus cleanse his soul.

Stanza 2:
Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
(Refrain)


If only a one-time cleansing were enough! We try to walk in the right way, but sometimes we are not much better than the sow that after being washed "returns to wallow in the mire."(2 Peter 2:22) "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."(1 John 1:7) Not that we would ever take His forgiveness for granted, or treat it as license; but we are reassured that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."(1 John 1:9) Rather than an encouragement to license, it is an encouragement to even greater love and devotion to such a wonderful Savior.

Stanza 3:
When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
(Refrain)


In this stanza Hoffman seems to reference the Ephesians 5:25-27 passage, in which Christ is the Bridegroom preparing His bride, the church, by washing her clean of any stain; but there is also a sense of our active responsibility to be prepared. Hoffman may also have had in mind the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14, in which a man was found in the banquet hall without a wedding garment and ejected from the presence of the king. There has been a great deal of debate over the significance of the wedding garment, particularly whether it was customary for guests to provide their own attire, or to receive it from the host. Since we are not told in the parable, it seems a bit much to try to make a point of this; there is plenty to learn from the facts as Jesus presented them. There was an expected "holy" attire for the occasion, and those who did not have it were not allowed to enjoy the king's hospitality. The repeated references to robes in the Revelation indicate the same is true for admission to Christ's hospitality in eternity. Jesus said to the church in Sardis:

"Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels."(Revelation 3:3-5)

Stanza 4:
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O be washed in the blood of the Lamb!
(Refrain)


Fortunately it is not up to us to provide the cleansing of the garments of righteousness, for Isaiah 64:6 truly says, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." Even to the church at Laodicea, for whom Christ reserved His most scathing rebukes in the Revelation, He also said, "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself."(Revelation 3:18) Near the conclusion of the Bible we also read, "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates."(Revelation 22:14) The invitation is clear and open to all who will take advantage of it.

About the music: This hymn first appeared in Hoffman's publication Spiritual Songs for Gospel Meetings and the Sunday School.(McNeil) The title of the publication itself is an interesting commentary on the role gospel songs played in an earlier era: they were not necessarily accepted in, or intended for, the regular services of the church. Much in the fashion of "devotional songs" or "praise songs" of the last few decades, they were used in youth gatherings and other special meetings. There was a certain amount of controversy in singing something so obviously connected to a popular secular style (the military march, in this case) in worship. Gradually they were accepted, and with the familiarity of long use and the shifting of popular music styles they have acquired a "sacred" sound that they might not have had to their original singers.

References:

McNeil, W.K. "Hoffman, Elisha Albright." Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music. New York: Routledge, 187-188.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

As the Life of a Flower

Praise for the Lord #49

Words: Laura E. Newell, 1904
Music: G. H. Ramsey, 1904

Laura Newell (1854-1916) knew whereof she spoke. She was orphaned as an infant and taken in by an aunt and uncle;(Cyberhymnal) she then lost her uncle and father figure when she was six years old, just two years after the family moved to the Kansas Territory. Her aunt, one of the first schoolteachers in Topeka, Kansas, held the family together through their personal loss and through the hardships of the Civil War era.(Connelley)

This is another of those songs that at first hearing might strike one as somewhat odd, even morbid; but if you think about it in the context of the times, it is not at all unusual. In the 19th century, most people died at home and were kept there until the funeral. Infant and child mortality rates were much higher, and deaths from disease and work-related accidents were more common. Especially on the frontier, death was a familiar part of life. The modern U.S. attitude of denying the reality of death--of keeping it at a safe distance, behind the walls of a hospital or funeral home--is a much more recent aberration. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."(Hebrews 9:27) It may be considered socially objectionable to mention that fact, but it is no less true. We may as well face it and determine what we need to do to prepare for it.

Stanza 1:
As the life of a flower, as a breath or a sigh,
So the years that we live as a dream hasten by;
True, today we are here, but tomorrow may see
Just a grave in the vale, and a memory of me.

Refrain:
As the life of a flower,
As a breath or a sigh,
So the years glide away,
And alas, we must die.


Newell's poetry was most likely inspired by this passage from Psalm 90, attributed to Moses:

You carry them away like a flood;
They are like a sleep.
In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
In the evening it is cut down and withers...

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.(Psalm 90:5-6,9-10)

The brevity of life--especially in comparison to eternity--is unarguable. As a child, and then as a young man, I heard older people talk about how the years fly by. I am beginning to notice the acceleration. Months seem like weeks, years seem like months, and before you know it another decade passes into history. Consider also the inherent uncertainty of life; nearly every day, the news media will bring us a story of a life ended tragically early.

This focuses our attention on the last line of the first stanza--"a memory of me." Memories are all most of us will leave behind to our loved ones, and our interaction with people while we are here is our only legacy of eternal consequence. How will we be remembered? The second stanza addresses this question:

Stanza 2:
As the life of a flower, be our lives pure and sweet,
May we brighten the way for the friends that we greet;
And sweet incense arise from our hearts, as we live
Close to Him who doth teach us to love and forgive.
(Refrain)


In 2 Chronicles 21:20 we read the following chilling indictment of the life of Judah's King Jehoram: "He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he departed with no one's regret." Let that sink in: the man died, and no one was sorry that he was gone. Now consider this statement about King David from Psalm 132:10, "For the sake of Your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one."

Why would the later kings of Judah appeal to God on behalf of their ancestor David? Because David "served the purpose of God in his own generation."(Acts 13:36) His example of single-minded devotion to God and repentance from his sins became the yardstick by which later kings were evaluated. 2 Kings 22:2 is typical, where we are told King Josiah "walked in all the way of David his father."

Many of us have those Christian examples that we treasure in our hearts, of family members or friends who have now gone on to their reward. In times of trial or temptation, their memory often calls us back to duty and encourages us to continue in the way that they walked. But there are generations rising after us, right now, who need those examples as well--are we giving them that same blessing?

Stanza 3:
While we tarry below let us trust and adore
Him who leads us each day toward the radiant shore
Where the sun never sets, and the flowers never fade,
Where no sorrow or death may its borders invade.
(Refrain)


The Christian's great blessing, in considering the certainty of our mortality, is that we can be equally certain of our reward. Paul said, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day."(2 Timothy 1:12) Paul's confidence in his salvation was matched by his desire to see it finally consummated:

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. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21-24)

Like Paul, therefore, we should be "making the best use of the time."(Ephesians 5:16) Let us do what good we can, like David "serving the purposes of God in our generation." And may we all have the confidence to say with Paul, "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing."(2 Timothy 4:8)

About the music:

I have been unable to find any more information about G.H. Ramsey, and cannot find any other songs by him. The song is in the mainstream of the 19th-century gospel style. One prominent feature is the extent to which the alto harmonizes against the soprano in the intervals of thirds and sixths. (Harmony in thirds, or three notes apart, is seen when the alto is matching the soprano on the next line or space below the soprano notes, as in the opening phrase; harmony in sixths, six notes apart, begins the refrain.) This kind of harmonizing is very natural, and most altos will fall into it naturally if they are improvising harmony. As a result, the song works fairly well as a soprano-alto duet; for an interesting folk rendition of this song as a duet, visit the Wolf Folklore Collection, provided by Lyon College of Batesville, Arkansas.

Ramsey inserted a nice bit of harmonic variety in the refrain; the first measure of B-flat major is followed by a G minor chord (on "flower"), then by an E-flat major chord on "breath", and finally back to B-flat major on "sigh". The minor chord is rather unexpected in the gospel style; also, the succession of these harmonies outlines the subdominant chord of the key (E-flat, G, B-flat). This emphasis on the subdominant chord, and the downward cycle through its notes (B-flat, G, E-flat) creates a sense of relaxation or resignation that is particularly appropriate to the text. I don't know, of course, whether Ramsey was thinking of that deliberately or hit upon it by chance, but it works.

References:

Connelley, William E. "Mrs. Laura E. Newell." A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1918. http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1918ks/bion/newellle.html

"Laura E. Pixley Newell." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/n/e/w/newell_lep.htm

Monday, April 20, 2009

Anywhere with Jesus


Praise for the Lord #48

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

"Helen Cadbury Alexander." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/a/l/alexander_hc.htm

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Art thou weary?


Praise for the Lord #47

Words: Stephen the Sabaite, c. 800; trans. John Mason Neale, 1862
Music: Henry W. Baker, 1868; harmonized by William Monk, 1868

Stephen the Sabaite (725-794) was born in Palestine, and being orphaned at the age of nine followed his uncle Zechariah into the monastery of Mar Sabas.(Lamoureaux,8) Reaching adulthood, Stephen chose the monastic life and followed his natural scholarly bent. He was known to spend the weekdays in study in his cell under a vow of silence, speaking to others only on weekends. He was particularly noted for his encouragement to those struggling in their faith.(Lamoureaux,12) As a man who loved solitude, he nonetheless divided his time in later years between his brethren in different areas of Palestine, alternating with months spent alone in the wilderness.(Lamoureaux,18)

One of the chief distinctions between the liturgies of East and West is that the early liturgies of Catholicism underwent a process of unification and standardization from the time of Pope Gregory (from whom the term "Gregorian chant") through the era of Charlemagne, then a further redaction by the Council of Trent in the 16th century. The Orthodox churches, however, having no such single central authority, continued to add to their heritage of worship music with many overlapping layers of practices from different times and place and much regional variation. During the 19th century English hymnologists began to tap into this rich vein of poetry, one of the chief among them being John Mason Neale (1818-1866), discussed more fully in the post on All Glory, Laud, and Honor. Neale's translation "Art thou weary?" is loosely inspired by Stephen's Kopon te kai kamaton, as tended to be his practice. Neale's work, on the other hand, has the advantage of his deep understanding and appreciation of the style of the medieval Orthodox hymnists.(Wellesz,176n.)

This hymn, whether from the hand of Stephen or Neale, poses and answers a series of questions between faith and doubt in the mind of a believer:

Stanza 1:
Art thou weary, art thou languid,
Art thou sore distressed?
“Come to Me,” saith One, “and coming,
Be at rest.”


The first stanza is inspired by Christ's statement of invitation:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

On the face of it, this statement might seem to be at odds with some of Christ's other comments on the price of following Him. Take for example His "limited commission" to the apostles in Matthew chapter 18:

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles...(v.16-18)

"Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake...(v.21-22)

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me."(v.34-38)

This is tough, no-nonsense language about the challenges and opposition a Christian must expect to face. But interspersed within the very same passage we find some of Christ's most comforting and uplifting promises as well.

"When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour...(v.19)

"But the one who endures to the end will be saved...(v.22b)

"So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known...(v.26)

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven...(v.28-32)

Here is the reality, in capsule form, from our Savior's own lips. The Christian life is tough--but it has blessings, as well, that cannot be felt or understood by those who chose the other path in life.

Stanza 2:
Hath He marks to lead me to Him,
If He be my Guide?
In His feet and hands are wound-prints
And His side.


What do we look for in a leader? No one (in his right mind) would attempt a mountain climb without the guidance of an experienced climber who will go first and pick out the safe way. Even professional sea captains know they must turn over their ships to a "harbor pilot" who will come aboard and bring the ships to dock, because the harbor pilot's practiced eye knows every current, every turn, and every distance by long familiarity.

Jesus' qualifications are self-evident; He is the only One who could say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; and no one comes to the Father, except through Me."(John 14:6) He is our "forerunner" into the presence of God.(Hebrews 6:20) And whereas the master of those on the "broad road"(Matthew 7:13) whips and drives and ultimately consumes his charges, those who would try to walk the "narrow, difficult way" have instead a Leader who encourages and comforts us, all the more so because He has traveled the worst of the road Himself.(Hebrews 4:15)

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

Hath He diadem, as monarch,
That His brow adorns?
Yes, a crown in very surety,
But of thorns.

If I find Him, if I follow,
What His guerdon here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor,
Many a tear.


The first of these continues the thought of stanza 2, that Jesus deserves our trust in His promise; but here His authority, rather than experience, is debated. The mark of His command is a crown unlike any other. The crowns of earthly royalty are made of gold and jewels, usually given by their subjects or captured from their enemies, and represents the splendor, wealth, and majesty of the monarch. The thorny crown of Christ is made of the hateful sins of those He came to save, forced upon Him by enemies and the spite of His own people, and represents the suffering and shame He came to bear on behalf of those who did not accept Him.

The second of these omitted verses addresses again the question of what our lot will be if we accept His invitation. (The "guerdon" is a "reward".) The answer is true and frank--but it is only part of the truth. The rest is found in the next stanza:

Stanza 3:
If I still hold closely to Him,
What hath He at last?
Sorrow vanquished, labor ended,
Jordan passed.


In the second and third chapters of the Revelation, Jesus spoke directly to the beleaguered churches of Asia Minor, both to correct and to encourage. He concluded His address to each with a promise of reward to those who "overcome" the trials of this life:

"To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God...(2:7)

"He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death...(2:11)

"To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat...(2:17)

"He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations ... and I will give him the morning star...(2:26-27)

"He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels...(3:5)

"He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name...(3:12)

"To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."(3:21)

The victory will not come all at once--many battles will be fought, and some lost--but He has assured us that we can ultimately "overcome" the world, because He already has: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."(John 16:33)

Stanza 4:
If I ask Him to receive me,
Will He say me nay?
Not till earth and not till Heaven
Pass away.


In Revelation 3:20, Jesus states, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." The unadorned present tense of the Greek verb krouĊ is profoundly reassuring: He "knocks". He was knocking then, is knocking now, and will continue to knock as long as this world lasts. Couple this to the little Greek word tis in the next sentence--a gloriously indefinite pronoun that, standing alone, declares the invitation open to "anyone".(Lexicon/Concordance) But preceding this is another powerful little Greek word, ean--the mighty conjunction, "if". If we hear His voice over the din of this world and our own desires. If we open the door through obedience to all that He commands.

The following stanza was originally the conclusion, omitted in Praise for the Lord:

Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
Answer, Yes!


The wonderful news is that even though Christ will not force the door open into our hearts, many who have gone before have shown us wonderful examples of surrendering to His invitation and walking the difficult road with Him to eternal life.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.(Hebrews 12:1)

About the music: Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877) was one of the founders behind the famed Anglican hymnal, Hymns Ancient & Modern. The Church of England did not officially endorse it, this hymnal so overshadowed its competition that it became the de facto hymnal of Anglicans around the world for generations. First appearing in 1861, it still survives in the "2000 edition" and is without doubt one of the most influential hymnals in the English language. Baker was the first chairman of the committee that produced Hymns Ancient & Modern, and his moderating influence probably kept it from falling prey to the "worship wars" then ensuing between the traditionalist supporters of the Watts/Wesley genre and the diversifying influence of the Oxford Movement.

Baker himself wrote relatively little music; but the harmonization of this tune comes from one of the most influential music editors of the era, William Monk (1823-1889). Monk's ability to accurately gauge what the average parish congregation and choir could handle musically was invaluable to the selection of tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern. (Music editorship in a hymnal is often underappreciated--many a great hymn text would have passed into oblivion had it not been for a wise pairing of text and tune.) Though Monk was not regarded as a great composer by his peers, he certainly had a shining moment with his timeless music for "Abide with me".

The almost childlike simplicity of this tune is created through the repetition of 1-measure ideas in the melody. The first three measures are essentially sequences of the same simple idea: repeated notes with a descending note at the conclusion, and the second half of the tune employs a 1-measure sequence of the 5th measure to the 6th measure (the notes rise and fall in exactly the same pattern in measure 6, only starting on a different pitch). The harmony parts are relatively simple as well (for this style of hymn). The bass and tenor move around the scale by step, or by leaping to notes within the tonic chord of the key (DO, MI, SOL). The alto is practically immobilized on a D throughout. This was the style Monk knew would work: simple, logical, and singable. A MIDI file of this tune is available at http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/a/r/artthouw.htm

References:

Lamoureaux, John C., trans. The life of Stephen of Mar Sabas. Louvain: Peeters Publishers, 1999.

Wellesz, Egon. A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1949.

Lexicon/Concordance for Revelation 3:20. Blueletterbible.org. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Rev&c=3&v=20&t=KJV#conc/20

Monday, April 13, 2009

Arise, My Soul, Arise


Praise for the Lord #46

Words: Charles Wesley, 1742
Music: Daniel B. Towner, arr., 1909

Charles Wesley's founding role in English hymnody is discussed in an earlier post. Suffice it to say that it is always a pleasure to engage his hymn texts; they are consistently rich and thought-provoking.

Stanza 1:
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in thy behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.


There are times when, as imperfect and sinful beings, we feel unworthy to come before God. Certainly the Communion is one of the chiefest of those occasions, because in it we are reminded of the awful seriousness of sin, and what Christ did to deliver us from it. Perhaps we should feel unworthy every single time. But this hymn shows us the other side of the coin--that in fact, regardless of our unworthiness, in Christ we have a Redeemer and an Advocate who can bring us before God's throne in good standing.

After a call to "shake off" these fears and doubts about our salvation, we are called to look at Christ, in the mind's eye, standing as our Advocate before the Father. He is a "bleeding Sacrifice", but He is glorious; as John describes Him in Revelation 5:6, "I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain..." The injuries Christ received on the cross were meant as humiliation, but only amplify His glory.

He stands as our "surety" ("pledge" or "collateral") before the throne of the Father, as Hebrews 7:22 says, "Jesus [was] made a surety of a better testament." It is almost as if Wesley represents Christ first "making our bail"; no matter how sinful we are, Christ's good standing before the Judge is a guarantee that our case will be heard favorably for His sake. Our Attorney is also a Friend of the Court!

Isaiah 49:16 is the source of the final line of this stanza, where the Lord promises that no matter what happens to His people, "Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls [i.e. Jerusalem? DH] are continually before Me." If I write something on the palm of my hand, it is because I am anxious to be certain that I remember it. I will see it throughout the day and be constantly reminded of it. God does not need reminding because God does not forget--but this is a heart-warming picture of Jesus' concern for His children. We are always before His eyes, always in His thoughts.

Refrain:
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.


These lines are a little puzzling at first reading, but Wesley's writing is theologically rich as always, and he expected a high degree of familiarity with the Scriptures. Ephesians 5:25-26 tells us that "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word;" but Revelation 1:5 clarifies that He "loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood." The blood of Christ, then is the effective power in the water of baptism. The coming of Christ into the believer's heart by baptism is also called the "washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit."(Titus 3:5)

The Spirit's role of regeneration is intimately connected with the blood, for without the ransoming blood of Christ there would be no clean slate from which to begin. Acts 2:38 promises "the gift of the Holy Spirit" to those who repent and are baptized; and repeatedly we are told that the saved are "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit."(2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 4:30) 2 Corinthians 1:22 adds that the Spirit's sanctifying work within us is our "guarantee" ("earnest", KJV; "deposit", NIV); thus the indwelling Spirit is a testimony to the effectiveness of the water and the blood.

Wesley also certainly refers to Romans 8:16, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Here I must part ways, however, with Wesley's doctrines. We need not look for a feeling or an experience; Hebrews 10:15 and the passage following teach that the Spirit "bears witness to us" in the words of the Scriptures. The Spirit's witness in the Word, by which we first come to faith in the power of Christ's blood, is always before us--even in (or especially in) moments of spiritual doubt.

The refrain is taken from the last two lines of what was originally the next-to-last (4th) stanza:

The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.


One cannot be certain, but it is possible that people have objected over the years to the lines stating that God "cannot turn away" from the "presence of His Son", since God did in fact turn His face away from Christ for a period of time on the cross.(Matthew 27:46) Wesley could hardly have meant to contradict that, but for the sake of avoiding confusion it is sometimes better simply to leave something out.

Stanza 2:
He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
(Refrain)


Romans 8:33-34 paints this wonderful scene of heavenly justice and mercy:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? 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.

Wesley also references the high priesthood of Christ. The high priests of Israel came into the Most Holy Place, into the presence of God, once a year to make atonement for the sins of the nation.(Leviticus 16) But Aaron and his sons were a line of imperfect men like us, who had to be forgiven of their sins before they could appear before God on behalf of others.(Hebrews 7:27) Jesus Christ, however,

holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.(Hebrews 7:24-25)

And not only do we have a lasting Advocate and High Priest of peerless character, but He is able to offer His own sinless blood for our atonement. "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,"(Hebrews 10:4) but Christ offered Himself "once for all."(Hebrews 10:10) What more assurance could we ask?

The following verse is omitted from Praise for the Lord:

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”


"Five wounds" simply refers to the piercing of Christ's hands, feet, and side during the crucifixion. Nonetheless this is an odd verse--especially the personification of the wounds as "crying" on our behalf.

Stanza 3:
To God I'm reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.
(Refrain)


In the final verse, Wesley portrays the end of the proceedings in the imagined "heavenly courtroom". Our Advocate has interceded with the Judge on our behalf, pleading His own special standing with the court and offering His own matchless blood in our place. Now the "trial" is over, and God is "reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them."(2 Corinthians 5:19) Instead of being viewed as criminals before the bar of justice, we are embraced as "have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'"(Romans 8:15) With this understanding of our new relationship, we can let go of the fear and guilt of the past, and we can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."(Hebrews 4:16)

About the music: This music first appeared in Towner's Ideal Song & Hymn Book, published 1909. Looking at Towner's other songs, though, such as "Anywhere with Jesus"(PFTL#48), "At Calvary"(PFTL#53), "Grace greater than our sin"(PFTL#189), or "Trust and obey"(PFTL#714), I really doubt that this is original music by Towner. Praise for the Lord attributes it only to one of his publication; and the songs that are definitely written by Towner are all very much in the late 19th-century gospel mainstream.

This music, on the other hand, has a peculiar complexity similar to that of the music of "Awake, my soul, in joyful lays"(PFTL#38). It is complicated and even somewhat fussy, yet charming in overall effect. The rather counter-intuitive rhythm of dotted eighth-note, sixteenth-note on the downbeat is odd, yet becomes a strong unifying factor. The style is not homespun enough to be campmeeting or Sacred Harp music, is too sophisticated in tone to be gospel, but neither is it truly classical. It seems rather to fit into the sphere of the amateur choral society, similar to works of Lowell Mason such as "Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore Him"(PFTL#531).

Click here to hear a different tune for "Arise, my soul, arise" (this would be sung without a refrain, and with the third line repeated each time).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Beauty for Ashes


Praise for the Lord #45

Words & music: Grant Colfax Tullar, 1948

Grant Colfax Tullar (1869-1950) also wrote the music for "Face to face"(PFTL#131), "Nailed to the cross"(PFTL#444), and "Shall I crucify my Savior?"(PFTL#573), all of which have lyrics from Carrie E. Breck, and the harmonization for "I would be true"(PFTL#305). Tullar was a Methodist minister, songwriter, and publisher who overcame considerable odds to enter his profession; with his father unable to work and having lost his mother in early childhood, he had to work from a young age and did not attend school before reaching adulthood. When he reached maturity, he chose to make up this deficit through his own efforts.(Cyberhymnal)

Interestingly, almost all of his hymns in our hymnal date from the turn of the 19th century; only "Beauty for ashes" and "Savior divine, dwell in my heart"(PFTL#563), for which Tullar also wrote both words and music, date from later in his life. Both of these in fact were written in 1948, and appear under copyright by the Gospel Advocate Co. It is conceivable that they were solicited by L.O. Sanderson, music editor of Gospel Advocate's 1948 publication Christian Hymns no. 2, in which both of these hymns appeared.

Stanza 1:
Beauty for ashes God hath decreed!
Help He provideth for ev'ry need;
What is unlovely He will restore;
Grace all-sufficient: what need we more?


Tullar's text is taken from the beginning of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.(Isaiah 61:1-3)

This is the passage from which Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth, of which He said, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."(Luke 4:21)

This is a passage of comforting, and the hymn follows the same theme. In ancient times one sat in ashes in order to signify deep distress,(Job 2:8) and often also repentance.(Jonah 3:6) Ashes are the residue of fire, and thus represent total loss--but they can also represent the purification that fire brings.(Thurn) The Isaiah passage shows those who are humbled by their losses, and ready to follow God; they have been through the fire and now are "poor in spirit" in the proper sense.(Matthew 5:3) God promises that He will give, in place of ashes on the head, a "beauty" (really a "beautiful headdress", perhaps a crown, tiara, or turban).("Strong's H6287)

The hymn acknowledges that we will go through the purifying tribulation of life, but also reminds us that we will not go through it alone: because, as Paul told the Philippians, "my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."(Philippians 4:19) If the riches of God will be brought to bear on our needs, we certainly should not worry about them! "Grace all-sufficient" is the promise, as Paul learned from his thorn in the flesh. Of course it is important to note that Paul never said that God took away the thorn--but He made it possible for Paul to bear it, and to overcome it.

But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

This runs contrary to human instincts. When we encounter a debilitating circumstance, we tend to see all the things that it is keeping us from doing. We naturally think that we would be much better off, even in our service to God, if this circumstance were not in our way. But God knows that sometimes it is best to use the negative happenstances of this world (which are the lot of every person) to forge a character that would never have emerged otherwise.

Stanza 2:
God gives for sadness "garments of praise";
Stars for our twilight, strength for our days;
Hope for tomorrow, care for today,
Light for our footsteps all of life's way.


Tullar refers again to Isaiah 61, where God exchanges our "spirit of heaviness" for "garments of praise". The ancients had garments for special occasions, just as we do now; Jesus referred to the "wedding garments" worn at a feast representing the kingdom of God,(Matthew 22:11-12) and the prodigal son was clothed in a fine robe by his father in celebration of his return home.(Luke 15:22) The ultimate in celebratory garments, however, are the white robes worn by the heavenly host in Revelation 7:9. Truly, the sorrows of this life will fade in comparison to the joy of wearing that attire!

"Stars for our twilight" is a somewhat puzzling expression; my guess is that Tullar is using twilight to represent the end of life, and thus is saying that the ends of our lives are blessed by beauties that God has reserved especially for those years, just as the stars only begin to become visible when the light is fading. Grandchildren come to mind as a blessing reserved for those of mature years; as Proverbs 17:6 says, "Children's children are a crown to the aged."

"Strength for thy days" is probably from Moses' blessing to the tribe of Asher, shortly before His death: "As your days, so shall your strength be."(Deuteronomy 33:25) It is a profound, reassuring concept; God will supply enough strength for each day, every day, for all of our days.

We all know the proverb, "While there is life, there is hope;" it could be said equally well that "While there is hope, there is life." People have endured incredible ordeals by clinging to a shred of hope that things would get better; likewise, people have given up too soon because they had no hope. Our God is the "God of hope",(Romans 15:13) and through faith in Him we have "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."(Hebrews 11:1) We can buttress this faith by studying God's faithful actions in the past, from which "we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."(Romans 15:4)

"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) The Bible is replete with examples and assurances that God cares for us every day. Why then do we have so much trouble with worry? I wonder if it is accidental that, in the passage just quoted, an assurance of God's care immediately follows a command to humble ourselves. Is our worry really just a lack of faith, or is it a latent desire to take care of ourselves rather than depending on God? Jeremiah eventually learned "that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps."(Jeremiah 10:23) But practical experience to the contrary notwithstanding, many of us often think we can.

We need the "light for our footsteps" that only God can provide. How many times have you crossed a room in the dark, even a room you thought you knew, only to lose orientation? It is all to easy to be spiritually disoriented in a world that is stumbling headlong through darkness. From Genesis chapter 1 to Revelation chapter 22, God has been providing light; but many choose to reject it. God has provided the light through His revelation: through the word, Psalm 119:105, and most especially through the teachings and character of His Son, John 1:4-9. There is no lack of light; there is sometimes a lack of will to walk in it.

Stanza 3:
Beauty for ashes, gladness for tears,
Sunshine for darkness, faith for our fears;
Peace for our turmoil, concord for strife,
Heaven at evening--then endless life!


Tullar had reason to know what turmoil meant. He was born just four years after the Civil War had ended; his father was a disabled veteran of that conflict.(Cyberhymnal) He would live to see two world wars, economic panics, recessions, and a depression. But the "faith for our fears" of which he speaks is more than enough to meet these challenges.

Jesus told His disciples, "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) The peace that Christ offers is different in quality as well as in quantity. Where the world tends to define peace as an absence of conflict or trouble, Christ's peace is an inner assurance and confidence that is not "troubled" or "afraid"--though there is certainly no promise of outward lack of conflict. In fact, in the very next chapter, Jesus warned His disciples that the world would respond to them with the same hatred and violence they were about to show Him. But Biblical "peace" is rooted in the Hebrew word "shalom", meaning wholeness and well-being, having the qualities of balance and justice; that is, it has more to do with the being in a right relationship to God (and by extension, to others) than with a feeling of ease in mind.(Anderson,II,845) Peace, then, is not dependent on the actions of those around us; it is something we choose to receive from Christ, and something we choose to practice in our lives. It is this kind of peace that Jesus showed even on the cross.

About the music: This sounds a lot like "Have Thine own way"(PFTL#197), written by George C. Stebbins in 1902. I have made a MIDI version of Tullar's music for sake of comparison. This is not meant as a criticism; in some ways it is more harmonically adventurous than "Have Thine own way", though the melody is probably not as strong, nor as easily learned. Though this was written in 1948, the style is firmly rooted in the 19th-century gospel style. Of course, slow, contemplative gospel songs are often different from the driving rythms of the quartet-style up-tempo songs, even when penned by the same composer. There is a subcategory of gospel songs here, which some have even called the "gospel hymn" (though that seems to be splitting hairs more than is useful). The "gospel hymn" might be defined as: somewhat slower, without a chorus, with all voices in the same rhythm, and often in triple meter (3/4, 9/8, or in this case, 9/4).

For what it's worth: Tullar should have written the first three notes as pick-ups into the first full measure, with the first downbeat falling on "Ash-", and shifting back the three quarter notes at the beginning of each following measure accordingly. (The rhythmic figure is identical to that of "Have Thine own way"(PFTL#197), which does give the first three notes as pick-ups.)

This creates a little dilemma for the songleader--do you beat the time as it sounds, and treat the first three notes as pick-ups, or do you beat the time as written? In this case I would beat time as written, for the sake of any music-readers in the congregation who might be distracted by an alteration. There are plenty of other times, though, when it is quite useful to beat a different time than what is written. For example, "The Old Rugged Cross"(PFTL#645) might be led with two three-beat patterns per measure of 6/8, instead of struggling with a six-beat pattern. There are also many songs in 4/4 that can be led at a quick tempo much more comfortably, if the songleader uses a two-beat pattern for each measure, essentially treating the 4/4 time as 2/2. "Here we are but straying pilgrims"(PFTL#247) is a 4/4song that can move along very quickly under a two-beat pattern, while saving wear and tear on the songleader's arm!

References:

"Grant Colfax Tullar." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/t/u/l/tullar_gc.htm

"Strong's H6287." Blueletterbible.org. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H6287&t=KJV

Thurn, Richard W. "Ashes." The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade. New York: MacMillan, 1987, vol. 1, pp. 456-457.

Anderson, Arnold Albert. The Book of Psalms, 2 vols., reprint ed. London: Oliphant, 1972.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Anywhere is Home


Praise for the Lord #44

Words: John M. Henson, 1927
Music: Homer F. Morris, 1927

Homer Franklin Morris (1875-1955) was a gospel singer, songwriter, and editor from Draketown, Georgia, who began his musical career rather precociously by teaching singing schools at the age of sixteen. Around 1920 Morris and his close friend and business partner John M. Henson formed the Morris-Henson Company. They wrote a number of songs together, and their Complete Church Hymnal sold over a million copies.(McNeil) Morris also wrote the music for James Rowe's "Won't it be wonderful there?"(PFTL#780) and the words for the unusual "Resurrection"(PFTL#832).

I found less information on John Melvin Henson (1887-1972)--Morris was by far the more prolific, both in songwriting and in the business side--but he is also known to us for the lyrics of the bass-lead quartet song "Happy am I"(PFTL#818) and as the lyricist/composer of the fine gospel hymn "I'll live in glory" (PFTL#315) and the memorable "There's an all-seeing Eye watching you" (PFTL#721).

Stanza 1:
Earthly wealth and fame may never come to me,
And a palace fair here mine may never be;
But let come what may, if Christ for me doth care,
Anywhere is home, if He is only there.


The song begins by listing what we might not have in this life. Wealth, fame, and property are things that much of the world strives after, and by which many measure their success. Even among people who do not consider themselves materialistic, it is important to be "financially secure", "respected in my profession", and to have a little bigger and better home at each stage of life. If God blesses you with those things, be grateful and use them wisely--but be careful that they do not become a snare to you. The "deceitfulness of riches"(Matthew 13:22) has undone many a Christian before you. It is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God,(Mark 10:23) because it is easy to "trust in riches".(Mark 10:24)

For some, however, these things remain an unrealized dream; sometimes because of circumstances beyond one's control, sometimes because one chooses to emphasize other things in life. We should remember, however, the riches we do have--if we have Christ. We have:
  • "The riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering"(Romans 2:4)

  • "The exceeding riches of His grace"(Ephesians 2:7)

  • "The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints"(Ephesians 1:18)

  • "Riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God"(Colossians 2:2)

And we have the promise that "God shall supply all your need according to His riches."(Philippians 4:19) If we have Christ, we have all we need; as David so succinctly said, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."(Psalm 23:1)

Refrain:
Anywhere is home, let come and go what may;
Anywhere I roam, He keeps me all the way;
So for His dear sake, my cross I’ll meekly bear;
Anywhere is home, if Christ, my Lord, is there.


Home is a deep and complex subject in the human heart, rooted in our childhoods and bound up with a sense of security and identity. For some people it is simple; they are born, live and die in the same community. Yet even for them, home does not remain the same; we are all sojourners through time, even if we remain in the same spot. But if our true "home" is with Jesus, we need not worry--He is everywhere, and in every time. In John 14:23 Christ promises, "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." Earthly homes can be lost to fire, flood--or to the bank--but our spiritual home is "not made with hands."(2 Corinthians 5:1)

Stanza 2:
Oft I’m tossed about and driven by the foe,
Sad within, without, wherever I may go;
But I press along, still looking up in prayer,
For it’s home, sweet home, if Christ is only there.
(Refrain)


The apostle Paul knew what meant to be "driven by the foe", both physically and spiritually:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.(2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

It was quite a departure from the future the young Saul, a Roman citizen and a scholar, an up-and-comer in the Jewish religious leadership, must have anticipated. How does a man continue in such circumstances? Paul's secret was one that we all need to learn--the only thing that mattered to him, was the one thing that no one could take away from him:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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.(Philippians 3:7-8)

He literally had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Prayer, certainly, was a part of this ability to survive the devil's efforts to discourage him. Paul and Silas were praying, as well as singing, in the Philippi jail.(Acts 16:25) The power of Christians praying together was something Paul understood when he asked the church in Rome to "strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf."(Romans 15:30) May we never underestimate its effectiveness; James reminds us that Elijah, whose prayers stopped the rain in Israel, "was a man with a nature like ours."(James 5:17)

In Ephesians 6, right after commanding us to put on the Christian armor, Scripture immediately says, "praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance..."(Ephesians 6:18). From ancient up to modern times, one of the key elements of survival for the footsoldier is communication. Modern wireless technology has allowed the creation of a networked battlefield in which each soldier is in constant touch with the commanding officers, ready to receive information on a moment's notice. In a similar move, many police departments have adopted the hands-free radio that is worn as part of the uniform, because lives are saved when officers are kept in touch with the dispatcher. Soldiers and police officers who have been trained in the use of these technologies would not dream of going into action without them. Christian soldiers, for the same reasons, need to be in constant contact with our Central Command. We are not meant to go into this fight alone, nor are we able; it is critical that we be part of the network.

Stanza 3:
I will labor on till I am called away,
Till the morn shall dawn of that eternal day,
Looking unto Him who keeps me in His care;
Anywhere is home, if Christ, my Lord, is there.
(Refrain)


In Matthew 10:22, Jesus promised that "the one who endures to the end will be saved." Why is endurance a problem? The parable of the sower and the soils gives some reasons that believers fail to endure to the end. The seed sown in rocky soil(Matthew 13:21) has no root in itself--that is, the person who lacks spiritual depth, or the person who obeys superficially but refuses to embrace Christ's change on a deep level, will be easily discouraged by persecution. When foes rise up and a price must be paid to keep the faith, this person will give it up without much of a fight, because it never mattered that much anyway. Another type of soil that fails to endure is the thorny ground(Matthew 13:22), where there is simply too much competition for the good seed to thrive. The person whose loyalty is divided among other things, will not have the commitment to persevere. Paul said in Philippians 3:13, "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before;" and as Brother Avon Malone used to point out, Paul said "this one thing I do", not "these fifty things I dabble in."

How do you improve rocky or thorny soil? I know this from first-hand experience, gardening with my father in some of the worst soil in northeast Tulsa--you have to pull the weeds and dig the rocks out, and you have to dig down deeper and fortify the soil with nutrients that will sustain healthy growth. The same is true in our lives. As Hebrews 12:1 says in a different metaphor, "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

Paul was able to do this in spite of troubles "within" and "without", as the song says, because he had cast off everything that held him back, clung to his Savior, and accepted patiently whatever each day brought. May we all follow his example and be able also to say at the end our lives, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."(2 Timothy 4:7)

About the music: One of Morris's early teachers was Anthony J. Showalter, whose "Leaning on the everlasting arms" is rather similar in style, especially in the march-like accompaniment that the lower voices provide to the melody during the refrain. This kind of writing is friendly to a cappella congregational singing, because forward rhythmic motion is built into the vocal parts. This song has a tendency to drag, in my experience, perhaps because the quarter-note rhythm of the lower voices is present from the very beginning; it is obviously easier to set the tempo in songs in which all the parts start in the same rhythm as the part the songleader is singing. If it tends to drag, it might be necessary on the next occasion to lead it rather faster than normal, just to get the congregation's attention. Sometimes just one experience of singing a song out of its "normal" tempo is enough to get the singers to think differently about what it could sound like.

References:

McNeil, W. K. "Morris, Homer Franklin." Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, McNeil, W. K., ed. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

All Glory, Laud and Honor

Praise for the Lord #43

Words: Theodulph of Orleans, c. 820; trans. John Mason Neale, 1851
Music: Melchior Teschner, 1615

Theodulph of Orleans (c.760-821) was a member of the court of Charlemagne, where he was second only to the famous Alcuin as a scholar. Charlemagne appointed him Bishop of Orleans, where he wrote a number of important treatises addressing doctrinal subjects that Charlemagne feared might disrupt the unity of the Western church, on which his empire so much depended. On Charlemagne's death, however, Theodulph's fortunes changed; he fell out of favor with the new authorities and was charged as an accessory to conspiracy. He died in prison in Angers, but his hymns (many, like this one, written in prison) lived on after him.(Catholic,"Theodulph")

This hymn was written for Palm Sunday, and was soon part of the Roman Mass for that day. In many places, the presiding priest came in a processional to the place of worship, then stopped outside as a boys' choir sang this hymn from within. At the conclusion, the priest led the procession inside, symbolizing the entry of Christ into Jerusalem.(Catholic,"Gloria")

The translator, clergyman John Mason Neale (1818-1866), was a significant figure in the Oxford Movement within the Church of England. The aim of this group (also called the Tractarians because of their series of publications Tracts for the Times) was to revitalize the Anglican church through a reconnection with pre-Reformation traditions. Reacting against what they saw as a dry formalism in worship, they sought to engage worshipers through the re-introduction of the mysticism and emotion of Medieval worship. Popular opinion considered these academics to be leading the Church of England back into Catholicism, which in fact many of them later embraced (most famously John Henry Newman, who became a Cardinal).

Neale's stance made him powerful enemies in the church hierarchy, and he had difficulty obtaining a position. He was given an appointment to oversee a poorhouse, in fact, which was probably intended to sidetrack his career. He took to the work well, however, and managed it admirably for a number years while continuing his theological writings and hymn translations.(Nelson)

Often his translations are rather loose, in keeping with the sensibilities of his era, but his own artistry and sensitivity to the cultures from which they came more than make up for that aspect. Neale provided our translations of "Art thou weary, art thou languid?"(PFTL#47), "Brief life is here our portion"(PFTL#81), "The day of resurrection"(PFTL#625), and "O come, O come, Emmanuel"(PFTL#489). All of these are from Medieval Greek and Latin sources.

The original arrangement of the text, followed in many hymnals, is in six stanzas, using the first (the first two lines in our arrangement) as a refrain. I am following the simpler three-stanza version used in Praise for the Lord.

Stanza 1:
All glory, laud and honor, to Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest, the King and Blessed One.


"Glory, laud and honor" is not as redundant as it might seem on the face of it. We give "glory" to that which is important; we give "laud" (or "praise") to that which is excellent; we give "honor" to that which deserves respect. In all of these things, of course, Christ is preeminent among all men who ever lived.

The gospel narratives of Christ's entry into Jerusalem were not given just to report facts; the event is rich with symbolism and thought-provoking irony. Here, at last, is the reception Christ deserved--the one we would like to think we would have given Him, had we been in that generation. Yet many in the same crowd, most likely, would clamor for His death just a few days later, because they--like we--were sinners.

The crowds of common people, whom the Pharisees dismissed as "knowing not the law" and "accursed",(John 7:49) showed at this time, though, a better understanding than their leaders: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"(Matthew 21:9) "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"(Mark 11:10) "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"(Luke 19:38) Many no doubt had misconceptions about the nature of that kingdom (as did the disciples themselves), but they knew from the "mighty works that they had seen"(Luke 19:37) that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the promised "Son of David". They also knew that His kingdom would bring a new era of peace and favor from heaven.

Psalm 147:1 says, "Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting." It is both pleasure and duty to give glory to God; worship is beneficial to us, but more than this, it is appropriate when we consider to Whom it is directed. In these outbursts of praise from the crowds, there is a touching honesty and genuineness that never characterized Jesus' interactions with the cagey religious leaders of His day. Here is honest, simple praise. Most memorable, of course, is the praise that the little children gave to Him:

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, and they said to Him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise?'"(Matthew 21:15-16)

The children, whom He always loved, responded from genuine hearts to their true King; and if not for them, Jesus said, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."(Luke 19:40) It is impossible not to praise Him when we see Him as He is; it is when our eyes are blinded by ignorance, or selfishness, or sin, that we fail to do so. Someday, of course, the veil will be lifted--He will return in triumph when "every eye shall see Him"(Revelation 1:7), and "every knee shall bow, ... and every tongue shall confess."(Romans 14:11)

Stanza 2:
The company of angels are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things created make reply.
The people of the Hebrews with palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems before Thee we present.


It was not the most impressive procession the ancient world had seen. The "triumphs" given by the Romans to certain victorious leaders were day-long affairs that involved speeches, banquets, and a parade. The procession was arranged in a strict order, with the senators and magistrates in front, the honoree riding behind in a chariot, and the army following behind, interspersed with bands of musicians, animals being led to sacrifice, spoils of war displayed on carriages, and specimens of unusual animals from conquered lands (elephants being a favorite).(Ramsey)

By comparison, Jesus came riding on a donkey, and a borrowed one at that.(Matthew 21:2-3) This was appropriate, however, in a number of ways. Jesus came not as a conquering general, but as the rightful Prince of Peace; and God had forbidden the kings of Israel to indulge in the showboating that horses and chariots involve.(Deuteronomy 17:15-16) Christ was also fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, "Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey..." Above all, He was showing true humility. The Roman soldiers in Jerusalem no doubt laughed heartily at the sight of this donkey-riding King and His followers; but such abuse is the necessary price of humility. It is the praise of heaven we should seek, not the praise of men.

It is interesting to note, as well, that the people did what they could to honor Jesus. The disciples gave their cloaks to cover the donkey upon which Jesus sat.(Matthew 21:7) Some in the crowds threw their cloaks across the road, while others cut branches from nearby palm trees.(Matthew 21:8, John 12:13) They ran in front of Jesus and followed behind, from the Mount of Olives into the city.(Matthew 21:9) Again, it was not the glory Rome was used to giving its heroes; it was hastily cut palm branches instead of the banners of an army. But it followed the example of Jesus: the worship was not to glorify the worshipers, but the Worshiped.

Stanza 3:
To Thee, before Thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest, Thou good and gracious King.


The commoners of the region of Jerusalem had no idea that they would have such a privilege that day. Perhaps they might have dressed a little better, or prepared gifts. But every indication shows that Jesus was satisfied with their praises, because they were genuine. He had plenty to say about those who "do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues."(Matthew 23:5-6) Jesus was not impressed with their outward-only, self-glorifying worship; and as John Cotton said in the preface to the Bay Psalm Book, "God's altar needs not our polishing." This is never to say that the intent of the heart is all that matters, and that outward forms are optional. The simple forms of Christian worship delivered in the New Testament should be honored as God's will. Inward sincerity with outward disobedience (even from ignorance) can never be right; but outward worship, even if it is correct in form, must first proceed from a sincere and worshipful heart if it will ever be pleasing to God. May we always strive to bring God our best in worship--starting with an attitude of humility and gratitude, and a sincere desire to please Him.

About the music: Melchior Teschner (1584-1635) was a Lutheran cantor, a position then typically combining the roles of presiding singer for the solo portions of the service, choir director, composer and arranger of music for services, and often classroom responsibilities in the local church school. (Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, taught Latin as part of his duties at Leipzig.) Teschner composed this for "Valet will ich dir geben" ("Farewell I gladly bid you"), a funeral hymn written by one of his former pastors, Valerius Herberger, after an outbreak of plague.("Teschner") It is interesting that the music works well for such radically different topics!

References:

Nelson, Dale J. "John Mason Neale and the Christian heritage." Cyberhymnal. http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/n/e/a/neale_jm.htm

"Theodulph of Orleans." Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14579b.htm

"Gloria, laus et honor." Catholic Encyclopedia.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/16041b.htm


"Melchior Teschner." Bach-Cantatas.com. http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Lib/Teschner.htm

Ramsey, William. "Triumphus." A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, ed. William Smith. London: Murray, 1875, pp. 1163-1167. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Triumphus.html