Friday, December 31, 2010

Will W. Slater (1885-1959) as Publisher

Hymnal publishing among the Churches of Christ in the United States has typically been undertaken either by the major periodicals (once upon a time, it was dominated by Gospel Advocate east of the Mississippi and Firm Foundation west of the Mississippi), or by individual efforts that caught on and generated a series of publications, such as Great Songs of the Church (Elmer L. Jorgenson), Sacred Selections (Ellis J. Crum), and Songs of the Church (Alton Howard).

Few individuals within the Churches of Christ, however, published as many hymnals and song collections as William Washington Slater (1885-1959), best known as the writer of "Walking alone at eve."(PFTL #716) His publishing career is even more interesting because of the region in which he spent most of his career, western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma; all of the publishers mentioned above, except for Jorgenson, emanated from the Old South. Additionally, his career is of interest because of his multifaceted approach to the music business, embracing a music "normal" (teacher education school) in addition to singing schools, songwriting, and hymnal publishing. I have collected a bibliography of his publications that may be viewed at which gives a catalog description of each and tells what libraries own them. In the rest of this post I will try to coordinate what I found in this list with what I have been able to find about Slater's biography.

Slater and the Eureka Publishing Company, 1906-1922

Slater was born near Ozark, Arkansas, about 40 miles east of Fort Smith and the Oklahoma border (right off today's Interstate 40). Around 1890 the Slater family moved about 25 miles east of Fort Smith to Sallisaw in Indian Territory (today Oklahoma). He was baptized into Christ at age 16, and soon committed himself to serving the church through both music and preaching. In 1906 he began an association that would prove to be a landmark in his career: he joined Stephen Jesse Oslin in Stigler, Oklahoma, about 30 miles southwest of Sallisaw.(Harp, "Slater")

Oslin was a Methodist minister with a seemingly limitless energy; he edited the local newspaper, the Eureka Messenger, founded the Eureka Music Normal and Eureka Publishing Company, wrote numerous gospel songs, and published several collections of hymns.(Cyberhymnal) The 1905 date given by Cyberhymnal for the founding of the "Eureka" business enterprises may refer to their establishment at Stigler, Oklahoma, but a search of reveals the gospel songbook Eureka Echoes published by the Eureka Publishing Company as early as 1903, with the location given as "South McAlester, I.T." Prior to 1906, the city of McAlester, located nearer the center of the southeast quadrant of present-day Oklahoma, was two separate communities, McAlester and South McAlester.("McAlester") One of the Eureka songbooks is online at Google books:

In a letter written on company letterhead, dated 15 December 1912, Slater is titled the "co-principal [of the Eureka Normal School of Music], a member of the board of directors and representing the Eureka Publishing Co., Stigler, Okla." Slater's duties with Oslin's company included teaching 18-day singing schools, music teacher normals, and even primary school sessions.(Slater 1912) In an advertisement for a singing school, held in 1912 or later, Slater is called "teacher, writer and author for the Eureka Publishing Company." It was around this time, as well, that he began his preaching career.(Harp, "Slater") My grandmother, Oma (Thatcher) Hamrick, born in 1901 in the same area of Arkansas as Slater, and later living in the same area of Oklahoma, remembered him as a well-known songleader and singing-school teacher.

In 1914, Eureka published The gospel of Christ in song, with Will Slater as the sole author. In 1916 he was co-editor with a group including Oslin and Frank Grammer, another songwriter from the Churches of Christ with whom Slater would work again. I have been unable to discover when the Eureka Publishing Company ceased operation. There was a legal dispute in 1916 with the First National Bank of Stigler over a promissary note in the amount of $1,012.50, which the Eureka Publishing Company contended had been drawn by its treasurer without the authority of the president and secretary.(Banking Law Journal) It is unclear what effect this had on the company. In 1918 Slater moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he would remain many years.(Harp, "Slater") There are a few hymnals from 1921-1922 under the Eureka Publishing Company imprint from Mena, Arkansas (about 80 miles south of Fort Smith, along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border), suggesting some change in operations; I have found no further publications from the company past this date .

  • Slater, Will W. The Gospel of Christ in song. Little Rock, Ark: Christian Pilot Pub. Co.; Stigler, Okla.: Eureka Pub. Co., 1914. 122 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W., Cole, J. A., Grammer, Frank, & Oslin, Stephen Jesse. The Christian hymnal. Stigler, Okla.: The Eureka Publishing Co., 1916. 136(?) hymns.
  • Oslin, Stephen Jesse, Grammer, Frank, and Slater, Will W. Eureka sacred carols: for use in all religious gatherings. Mena, Ark.: Eureka Music Co., 1921. 157 hymns.
  • Manly, Loren, and Slater, Will W. The Eureka glory songs : an excellent collection of sacred songs, for Sunday schools, revival meetings and all church work and worship. Mena, Ark.: Eureka Music Co., 1921.
  • Oslin, Stephen Jesse, Riley, J. C., and Slater, Will W. The Eureka golden melodies : an unexcelled collection of sacred songs, for sunday schools and all church work and worship. Mena, Ark: Eureka Music Co., 1922.

Interlude in Oklahoma, 1925-26

In 1925 Slater joined with Frank Grammer and Eugene M. Borden in editing Herald of Song, no. 1 (not to be confused with the music magazine published by Eugene M. Bartlett) for Borden's Herald of Truth periodical in Oklahoma City (unrelated to the later radio/television program of the same name). This collaboration with Borden, an important evangelist in the Churches of Christ in that region, was followed the publication of Borden's Spiritual melodies by "Mrs. Will W. Slater" in 1926. This imprint was from Elk City, Oklahoma, a town at the western end of the state (about 50 miles east of the Texas panhandle, along present-day Interstate 40). Also in 1926, Slater began serving as the "located preacher" for the Church of Christ in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.(Adams Blvd.)

  • Borden, Eugene M., Slater, Will W., & Grammer, Frank. Herald of song, no. 1. Oklahoma City, Okla: Herald of Truth Association, 1925. 164 hymns.
  • Borden, Eugene M. Spiritual melodies. Elk City, Okla.: Mrs. Will W. Slater, 1926.

The Slater Music Company (Fort Smith, Arkansas), 1929-1938

Slater founded his own publishing concern in Fort Smith, the Slater Music Company. reveals eight publications under this imprint from 1929-1936, and another five dating from 1936-1938 simply published by "W. W. Slater." It is unclear why the "Slater Music Company" imprint ceased to appear after 1936; but while the 1938 city directory of Fort Smith shows that the Slater family lived at 810 South 14th (with Will's occupation listed as "evangelist"), there is no business listing of Slater as a music teacher or publisher.(Calvert, 443) There was also apparently some hiatus in his residence at Fort Smith, since the 1930 U.S. Census shows Slater in Texarkana, Arkansas.

A few of the hymnals from this period also bear the imprint "Christian Worker Publishing Co., Wichita, Kansas." The Christian Worker periodical was at that time edited by Homer E. Moore,(Harp, "Moore") and is one of the longest-lived publications among the Churches of Christ in the U.S.; my father, Bill Hamrick, edited this paper for about two years in the 1980s. Among Slater's collaborators during these years in Fort Smith were Frank Grammer and Flavil Hall from Georgia and Walter E. Howell from Tennessee.

  • Slater, Will W. Hymns of love: A superior collection of sacred songs covering every phase of church work, young people's meetings, class and singing societies. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co., 1929. 190 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Church and revival songs: A superior collection of gospel songs for use in Sunday schools, church worship and revival meetings. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co.; Wichita, Kan.: Christian Worker Pub. Co, 1931.
  • Slater, Will W. Praise him in song. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co., 1932. 180(?) hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Work and worship: An all-purpose book, suitable for church worship, revivals, young people's meetings, and every phase of religious services. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co.; Wichita, Kan.: Christian Worker Pub. Co., 1933.
  • Slater, Will W. Song evangel: A superior collection of spiritual songs and hymns for use in Sunday schools, church worship and revival meetings. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co., 1934. 96(?) hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Gospel chimes: An all-purpose book, containing a superior collection of sacred songs, suitable for church worship, revivals, young people's meetings and every phase of religious service. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co., 1934. 196(?) hymns.
  • Slater, Will W., Gaines, J. W., & Grammer, Frank. Songs of praise and devotion: A superior collection of sacred songs. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater Music Co., 1936. 199 hymns.
  • Oslin, Stephen Jesse, et al. The eureka sunlight glees: for use in singing schools, literary schools, conventions and musical societies ; containing an excellent and varied collection of sacred and secular songs. Fort Smith, Ark.: Slater Music Co., 1904. [Note: This is almost certainly a reprint of the work published by the Eureka Publishing Company in 1904.]
  • Slater, Will W. Triumphant songs: A superior collection of spiritual songs and hymns for use in bible schools, church worship and revival meetings. Fort Smith, Ark: W. W. Slater., 1936.
  • Slater, Will W. Service songs: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of Christian work and worship. Fort Smith, Ark: Slater, 1937. 195 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W., Payne, Johnie., & Hall, Flavil. The church hymnal: A selection of sacred songs suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Smith, Ark: W.W. Slater, 1938. 241 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Songs we love: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, for Christian worship. Fort Smith, Ark: Will W. Slater, 1938. 191 hymns.
  • Howell, Walter E., & Slater, Will W. New songs of praise: A superior collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Smith, Ark: Will W. Slater, publisher, n.d. 189 hymns. [Note: I am placing this here because it matches the “Will W. Slater” imprint found in his publications from Fort Smith, ca. 1937-1938. The title might refer to the 1936 Songs of praise.]

Another Oklahoma Interlude, 1939-1941

From 1939-1941 Slater's hymnals were published from Henryetta, Oklahoma, a town about midway between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Oklahoma City (along present-day Interstate 40). Among his collaborators during this period was Rue Porter, one of the most important evangelists among the Churches of Christ in the Oklahoma-Missouri-Arkansas area.

  • Slater, Will W., & McCord, Earl E. Victory songs: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for Christian work and worship. Henryetta, Okla: W.W. Slater, 1939. 196 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Praise and revival songs: A superior collection of spiritual songs and hymns for use in Bible schools, church worship and revival meetings. Henryetta, Okla: Will W. Slater, 1940. 111 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Songs of truth: A collection of sacred songs, both old and new. Henryetta, Ok: Will W. Slater, 1940. 193 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Choice Gospel melodies. Henryetta, Okla: Slater, 1940. 222 hymns.
  • Porter, Rue, & Slater, Will W. Crowning praise no. 2: A selection of sacred songs, both old and new, suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Henryetta, Okla: Will W. Slater, 1941. 194 hymns. [Note: Crowning praise “no. 1” has not yet been found.]

Fort Smith and Fort Worth, 1942-1948

Slater's publications from 1942 to 1948 bear imprints from either Fort Smith, Arkansas, or Fort Worth, Texas, but it is unclear whether he lived in one of these cities, or managed his business from Henryetta, Oklahoma. He had a Fort Worth address by 1950,(Gospel Guardian, 1950) but once again his whereabouts are unclear; he also had a post office box in Hydro, Oklahoma (west of Oklahoma City along Interstate 40, about halfway to the Texas panhandle).(Gospel Guardian, 1953)

  • Oslin, Stephen Jesse. The Eureka harmony method. Fort Worth, Tex.: Will W. Slater, 1922? 96 p. [Note: The cataloger questioned the date, and this is probably a reprint. I am suggesting that it may have been published much later since Slater did not publish under his own name until the late 1920s, and not from Fort Worth until much later.]
  • Slater, Will W. Hymns of praise: A selection of sacred songs for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Smith, Arkansas: Will W. Slater, 1942. 229 hymns.
  • Wallace, E. E., & Slater, Will W. Gospel tidings: A superior collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Smith, Ark: Will W. Slater, 1944. 189 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Gospel songs and hymns: A superior selection of sacred songs suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Worth, Tex; Fort Smith, Ark.: W.W. Slater, 1944. 302 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Song evangel no. 2: a selection of gospel songs and hymns especially suited for revival meetings and Lord's day worship. Fort Smith, Ark: Will W. Slater, 1944. 111 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Songs of joy and gladness: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Smith, Ark: Will W. Slater, 1948. 188 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. The Church hymnal no 2: A gospel hymnal suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Worth, Tex: W.W. Slater, 1948. 236 hymns.

Fort Worth, Texas, 1949-1958

From 1949 to the end of his life, Slater's hymnals bear a Fort Worth, Texas imprint. Several times they also bear the imprint of "James L. Neal, Springdale, Arkansas." Springdale is between Rogers and Fayetteville in the northwest corner of Arkansas; perhaps the arrangement with Neal took the place of Slater's publishing interests in Fort Smith. Neal was the publisher of a periodical, The Gospel Age.(Halbrook)

  • Oslin, Stephen Jesse, J., Slater, Will W., & Brumley, Albert E. The Eureka sunlight glees: a complete treatise on the rudiments of music. Fort Worth, Tex: Will W. Slater, 1949. 64 p. & music. [Note: reprint of an earlier work.]
  • Slater, Will W. The crown: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship, young peoples meetings and singing schools. Fort Worth, Texas: Will W. Slater and Son, 1949. 188 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Songs we love no. 2: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, for Christian worship. Fort Worth, Tex: Will W. Slater; Springdale, Ark.: James L. Neal, 1950. (188 hymns)
  • Slater, Will W. Songs we love, no. 2: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship, young peoples meetings and singing schools. Fort Worth, Tex: Will W. Slater; Springdale, Ark.: James L. Neal, 1950. (192 hymns)
  • Slater, Will W. Spiritual melody songs: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship, young peoples meetings and singing schools. Springdale, Ark.: James L. Neal, 1951. 188 hymns.
  • In Slater, Will W. Joyful praise: A collection of sacred songs, both new and old, suitable for every phase of church work and worship, young peoples meetings and singing schools. Fort Worth, Tex: W. W. Slater; Springdale, Ark. : James L. Neal, 1952. 193 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W., Neal, James L., & Slater, Graden. Hymns of praise and devotion: A Gospel hymnal suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Worth, Texas: Will W. Slater; Springdale, Arkansas : James L. Neal, 1952. 302 hymns. [Note: Graden Slater was Will Slater’s brother.]
  • Slater, Will W. Sacred praise: A gospel hymnal suitable for every phase of church work and worship. Fort Worth, Tex: Will W. Slater, 1955. 240 hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Charming bells: our 1956 all-purpose book. Fort Worth, Tex: W.W. Slater, 1956. 192(?) hymns.
  • Slater, Will W. Gospel melody songs: our 1957-58 all-purpose book. Fort Worth, Tex: Will W. Slater, 1958.

I hope that this can at least serve as a starting point for understanding the career and contributions of this busy, prolific Christian man. Though none of his songbooks achieved the kind of multi-generational legacy found by a few of their better-known competitors, he was a tireless proponent of the service of singing for God's glory.


Harp, Scott. "Will. W. Slater." Restoration history,ww.htm.

"Stephen Jesse Oslin." Cyberhymnal.

"McAlester." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.

Slater, Will W. Letter to T. B. Larimore, 15 December 1912. T. B. Larimore Collection, box 1, Dixieland College material. Abilene Christian University Center for Restoration Studies.

"Note not executed in accordance with corporate by-laws." Banking Law Journal 33 (1916), 743-745.

Harp, Scott. "Homer E. Moore." Restoration history,he.htm

Calvert's Fort Smith city directory, 1938. Dallas, Texas: Polk, 1938.

"History." Adams Blvd. Church of Christ.

"News." The Gospel Guardian 2/18 (7 September 1950).

"News." The Gospel Guardian 4/50 (23 April, 1953).

Halbrook, Ron. "Theron N. and Lennis Bohannon honored." Truth Magazine

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bring Christ Your Broken Life

Praise for the Lord #67

Words: Thomas O. Chisholm, 1935
Music: Lloyd O. Sanderson, 1935

This is another product of the fruitful collaboration between these two gentlemen; for a discussion of their work together, see my post on "All things work together for good." Like that lesser-known song, "Bring Christ your broken life" was first published in Christian Hymns by the Gospel Advocate in 1935. Along with these two songs, Chisholm and Sanderson also filed copyrights in that year for "I would see God in ev'rything," "The way that seemeth right," "I love Thee, Lord Jesus," and "A new creature" ("Buried with Christ").(US Copyright Office)

Sanderson's autobiographical statement said of this song:

I had written the music but could not by myself come up with acceptable lyrics. I sent the music to T.O. Chisholm and asked him to see what he thought most appropriate for words. This poem was the result. This has become a much-used song, an exhortation and an appeal to one and all as to the faithful Savior who can handle any situation.
They had a similar experience with their collaboration, "Be with me, Lord;" and though writing lyrics to the tune is probably not the preferred method of operation, it certainly worked well for these close friends.

Stanza 1:
Bring Christ your broken life, so marred by sin,
He will create anew, make whole again;
Your empty, wasted years He will restore,
And your iniquities remember no more.

The genius of Chisholm's first stanza is the graphic description of what sin has done to our lives. "Broken." "Marred." "Empty." "Wasted." King David was a man keenly aware of his own sinfulness, as expressed in Psalm 31:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, and an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have been forgotten like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.(v. 9-12)
Have you ever felt that sense of brokenness? It is crushing when it is finally realized. C. S. Lewis rightly said in Mere Christianity that one of our chief problems with repentance is that we want to be "nice people" when God wants to make us "new creatures." Why is ministry in prisons so often fruitful, and going door-to-door in "nice neighborhoods" so often not? People who have hit bottom in worldly life can sometimes awaken to their spiritual condition, recognizing the source of their problems; but "good people" are hard to be convinced that they might be sinners after all.

But, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saves such as be of a contrite spirit."(Psalm 34:18)  King David also knew that only through this realization of sin, and confession, and repentance, could he enter into God's mercy:

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. ... For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.(Psalm 51:8-10,16-17)
Perhaps it is not making too much of the metaphor to notice that verse 8 says God had broken David's bones. We know that when the bones of the physical body grow incorrectly (or heal incorrectly after a break), it is sometimes necessary to break them so that they can be put right. It is tremendously unpleasant to think of a surgeon deliberately breaking your bones, but to leave them as they are might lead to a lifetime of disability that could be avoided. 

In the same light, consider Peter after his denial of Christ. He was a broken man, but much of what had been broken was his pride and self-righteousness. Only after Peter had been humbled and given a realistic sense of his own weakness did Christ give him the solemn commission, "Feed My sheep."(John 21)

Stanza 2:
Bring Him your every care, if great or small--
Whatever troubles you--O bring it all!
Bring Him the haunting fears, the nameless dread;
Thy heart He will relieve, and lift up thy head.

The first stanza promises that Christ can fix the brokenness in our lives caused by sin; now, the second stanza promises that He can remove other burdens and obstacles from which we may suffer, perhaps through no fault of our own. He is, after all, the Master who said,

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)
Which is not to say there are no burdens in the Christian life; but these burdens are ultimately for our good, where those of a worldly life are ultimately to our undoing. And whatever burdens we bear as Christians, we are not bearing alone.

Sometimes, of course, we question why we are forced to bear a particular burden. The story of Job is a caution to us, that we not be too quick to judge the reasons for misfortunes (of our own, or of others). But Paul's "thorn in the flesh" is also an example to consider. Paul said himself that it was given to him (whatever it was), "to keep me from becoming conceited."(2 Cor. 12:7) It was a serious burden; Paul, no stranger to hardship and discomfort, admits that he "pleaded" with God three times for it to be removed.(2 Cor. 12:8) But which was worse, a thorn in the flesh, or becoming consumed with pride?

And what did Paul gain from the experience? In verses 9-10 of 2 Corinthians 12 he summed up the lesson he learned from bearing that burden:

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.
If a burden causes us to realize our weakness and dependence upon God, and serves as a safeguard against pride or spiritual carelessness, we may find in the end that "God meant it for good."(Genesis 50:20)

But what about that "haunting fear" and "nameless dread?" The greatest fear and dread is already taken away, when we obey Christ's gospel and are born again into His family; certainly He can help us with the lesser fears as well. Jesus gave us chronic worriers a great deal to think about in that wonderful paragraph on worry from the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 6:25-34. He does not tell us that the things we fear are not real, but aims instead to shift our perspectives so that they are no longer feared. And finally, the admonition, "Sufficient to the day is its own trouble," admonishes us that He is far better able to clear our path ahead of us than are we--not to mention that our worry hinders, rather than helps, that process.

Stanza 3:
Bring Him your weariness, receive His rest;
Weep out your blinding tears upon His breast;
His love is wonderful, His pow'r is great,
"And none that trust in Him shall be desolate."

Have you ever come to tears without knowing why? There are plenty of things in this life over which to weep, even if we can avoid the natural tendency to magnify our own sorrows. It is no accident, I suppose, that an entire book of the Bible is titled "Lamentations." The story of this world is a tragedy, and even the triumph of God's love came through the sorrows of Gethsemane and Calvary.

You may have known from childhood that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35--"Jesus wept." Is there any greater reassurance of His love for us, than the fact that He felt our sorrows and cried tears just as we do? Psalm 56:8 asks confidently of God, "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" We can be sure that God knows every tear that falls. We can rejoice even more that the Bible promises, more than once, that someday "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes."(Revelation 21:4)

I have known this hymn for as long as I can remember, but have never looked up the passage in quotation marks. It is taken almost verbatim from Psalm 34:22 in the King James Version: "The Lord redeemeth the soul of His servants: and none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate." (Verse 18 of this psalm, noted above, might have been the starting point of the 1st stanza as well.) It is a fine, noble thought; we may sorrow, but we need not be desolate from sorrow.

Stanza 4:
Blest Savior of us all! Almighty Friend!
His presence shall be ours unto the end.
Without Him life would be how dark, how drear!
But with Him morning breaks--and heaven is near!

The final stanza begins with a rousing burst of praise, reflecting on what Christ has done. He has mended our broken lives, He has taken up our burdens and made them bearable, He has sympathized with our tears and promised that someday they will be no more. Why would we not come to Him in repentance? Why would we ever leave Him?

About the music:

To me, this is Sanderson's style at its best--simple, unpretentious, and singable. The first two phrases are virtually the same, differing only in their final chords as they create a musical period (phrases joined into a question-answer formal structure). Phrases three and four (the second period) are likewise very similar. Finally, the two pairs of phrases are unified by the fact that phrases 3 and 4 begin with an ascending chord outline, a reversal (though not exact) of the descending chord outline beginning phrases 1 and 2. The rhythm is simple and repetitive, but before one criticizes Sanderson for that it is worth noting that Verdi's famous "La donna e mobile" from Rigoletto uses the same rhythm with just as much repetition.

There is one particular flaw, though, in this otherwise very commendable invitation hymn, which is really Chisholm's fault. In the final line of the third stanza, the rhythm of the melody dictates an unnatural stress of the last syllable of "de-so-LATE." Since we know that Chisholm had the tune before him as he wrote the words, I can only attribute this to a rare slip of technique from this consistently fine hymn poet.


U.S. Copyright Office. Catalog of copyright entries, v. 30/1 (1935), Musical compositions, pt. 3.

Sanderson, Lloyd Otis. "'The Lord has been mindful of me:' an autobiography of L.O. Sanderson."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Same old blog, different look

If you're looking for the drab brown-and-tan David's Hymn Blog, this is it. After a too-long hiatus, I am getting back to posting here on a regular basis, and noticed that it really did look a bit dull, not to mention hard to read. (My new bifocular vision has made me more sensitive to that.) I'm trying a larger font on a white background, with a color theme chosen by my wife. I guarantee that I will post the same brown-and-tan opinions. I will try to make at least one post a week, and at that rate should work my way through the Praise for the Lord hymnal in about eighteen years.

Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless us and guide us in His service in the coming year.

David Russell Hamrick

Beautiful Robes

Praise for the Lord #66

Words & music: Barney E. Warren, 1911

Barney Elliott Warren (1867-1951) began his musical career as a bass singer in a group that accompanied revivalist Daniel Warner, the leading light in the early years of the Church of God movement centered around Anderson, Indiana. Warren later became a minister in this fellowship, and edited hymnals for the Gospel Trumpet publishing house.(Cyberhymnal) Warren wrote music for Warner's lyrics on more than one occasion, including "His yoke is easy" (PFTL #236) and "My name is in the book of life" (PFTL #430). lists 355 lyrics and 288 tunes by Warren (most are works in which he wrote both), but in scanning these I recognized no other titles. His "Hallelujah! What a thought" and "I have found His grace is all complete" were published in numerous Church of God hymnals a few generations ago, but do not seem to have crossed over into more general use.(Hymnary) Ironically, what would definitely have been his best known song cannot be attributed with any certainty. The perennial "Farther along" (PFTL #138) first appeared in Warren's Select Hymns for Christian Worship and General Gospel Service (Anderson, Ind.: Gospel Trumpet, 1911), attributed to W. B. Stevens (who is also credited with the music); but Warren is often given credit for the lyrics in other publications, and in truth both men may have been working with folk materials already in existence.

"Beautiful robes" is one of the class of songs about heaven that pays a great deal of attention to the physical details described in John's Revelation. At times these songs reach the point of a materialistic view of "heavenly treasures" bordering on greed, but a careful reading of Warren's text shows that he sticks to the spiritual and emblematic importance of these elements.

Likewise, his poetry is, though unschooled, more deft than it may appear. He makes consistent use of internal rhyme, drawing attention to the short phrases, but he has an overall stanza structure as well--aabb (or aaaabbbb following the internal divisions)--which works quite well except for the slip in the 3rd stanza, which is abab. His choice of words shows a sensitivity to what Robert Louis Stevenson called the "ring of words," especially in the opening stanza and the chorus: "white," "light," "bright," "no night," and "band of might" have a crisp clarity and lift (from the rising "i" vowel and the explosive "t" consonant) that seem particularly appropriate to the dazzling images of heaven given by John. The frequent rhymes on "air" ("wear," "there," "fair," "care," "prayer") also have a breathiness and freedom that fits the anticipated release from this world.

Stanza 1:
Beautiful robes so white, beautiful land of light,
Beautiful home so bright, where there shall come no night;
Beautiful crown I'll wear, shining and bright o'er there,
Yonder in mansions fair, g
ather us there.

Robes figure rather prominently in the Bible. It was a special robe that honored Joseph above his brothers.(Gen. 37:3) A detailed description of the robe of the high priest takes up much of Exodus chapters 28, 29, and 39. An even more poignant image is seen in the parable of the prodigal son: the forgiving father replaces the son's clothing, no doubt tattered and stained, with "the best robe."(Luke 15:22)

A white robe was even more special, simply because it is the hardest to keep clean; remember that at the Transfiguration Jesus' clothes appeared, in Mark's words, "radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth can bleach them."(Mark 9:3) The figure of white robes appears several times in the Revelation, sometimes clothing heavenly beings and sometimes the translated saints. The metaphor is explained most clearly in chapter 3, verse 4, when Jesus gives His assessment of the church in Sardis: "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 desire to wear a white robe in heaven is no mere pretty picture--it respresents a striving for moral purity and worthiness that should be the goal of every follower of Christ.

Beautiful robes (of white), beautiful land (of light),
Beautiful home (so bright), beautiful band (of might),
Beautiful crown (beautiful crown), shining so fair (yes, shining so fair),
Beautiful mansion bright, g
ather us there (yes, gather us there).

The refrain references the main points of the first stanza--the robe, the crown, and the home. The "band of might" doubtless refers to the white-robed residents of heaven: the twenty-four elders,(Rev. 4:4) the holy martyrs,(Rev. 6:11) the "great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,"(Rev. 7:9) and the "armies of heaven."(Rev. 19:14)

As for the crown, we can leave aside the question of whether it will be golden, as some songs assert (though only the crown of Jesus is so represented, Rev. 14:14), or whether it will have stars (a figure used only in connection with the "woman" of Revelation 12). We may be certain of this: it is a crown of life,(James 1:12, Rev. 2:10) it is a crown of righteousness,(2 Tim. 4:8) and it is a crown that is incorruptible, never fading away.(1 Cor. 9:25, 1 Pet. 5:4) A "beautiful crown," indeed!

Stanza 2:
Beautiful thought to me, we shall forever be
Thine in eternity when from this world we're free;
Free from its toil and care, heavenly joys to share,
Let me cross over there; this is my prayer.


Christ came to bring us freedom from sin and futility: "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."(Romans 8:2) But in another sense we are still in bondage while we remain in this world:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.(Romans 8:20-23)

Paul felt this pull strongly, as he related to the Philippians:

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)

One of the reasons Paul could keep his rejoicing spirit, writing from a Roman prison, was that he had become "untouchable:" the only thing that really mattered was the one thing that no man could take away. The enemies of Christ thought that the worst thing they could do to Paul was to take away his life (which history indicates they did), but even in that they were only giving him the thing he desired most, a little earlier than otherwise planned. 

Can we say these words with Paul? Are we ready to go, and do we long for our true home? I think it is naturally more difficult for younger people to see this; I know that I did not feel this way nearly to the extent then, that I do now in middle age. And I have been with older Christians, who have accomplished what they could in this life and are ready to go, waiting for the day with a quiet contentment. God help us all to make ready, and to grow in faith as the day draws nearer.

Stanza 3:
Beautiful things on high, over in yonder sky,
Thus I shall leave this shore, counting my treasures o'er;
Where we shall never die, carry me by and by,
Never to sorrow more, heavenly store.


Just from a standpoint of poetic structure, this stanza might have been better had Warren kept the rhyme scheme consistent with that of the other stanzas (aabb), which would have worked:

Beautiful things on high, over in yonder sky,
Where we shall never die, carry me by and by;
Thus I shall leave this shore, counting my treasures o'er,
Never to sorrow more, heavenly store.

But I have to admit, I have sung this song many times and never noticed the inconsistency until now.

The "heavenly store" expression has puzzled me at times, and no doubt has called up some amusing images in the minds of children over the years. But in context, I believe I understand Warren's meaning, and may even be able to point to the Scripture reference that inspired him:

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate [i.e., to share]; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.(1 Timothy 6:17-19)

As the old saying goes, "You can't take it with you." But there is an equally valid corollary: "You can, however, send it on ahead." There are many investment advisers in this world, of course, and some of theme have now gone broke--but there is one piece of investment advice, given two thousand years ago, that still rings true: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal."(Matthew 6:19-20) What a world this would be, if even a fraction of the concern and effort that is spent on storing up earthly wealth were spent on building up that "heavenly store" of good deeds!

About the music:

In my experience of congregational singing, this song tends to drag. I think it is a combination of factors, but I am pretty sure which one is the biggest problem. To take a breath during a song, you obviously either cheat a little off the length of one of the notes, or stretch the beat momentarily while you take a breath. If you do the latter, it naturally creates a gradual slowing down of the tempo, so I strongly advise the former practice.

But to do the former (cutting off a little of the length of the last note in the phrase to stick in a breath), you need a long enough note at the end of the line that the disruption won't be obvious. The last line of each stanza in "Beautiful robes," for example, ends with a long note that takes up the first three beats of a measure (or first 9 eighth notes of the 12/8 bar, but I'm counting dotted quarter notes as the beat). The last beat of the measure (or the 10th, 11th, and 12th eighth notes) is the pickup to the refrain, on the word "Beau- ti- ful." It is easy to catch a breath here--just sing the last note of the stanza (e.g. "there" at the end of the 1st stanza) up to just the beginning of the third beat (or the 7th eighth note), then take a breath, and you will have plenty of time to come in on the pickup to the refrain. There will be no slowing of the tempo, and it is barely noticeable; as long as we hear the beginning of the last beat of the note, we tend not to notice when it was released. (I have to credit Dr. Steve Rhodes, the band director at Lipscomb University, for pointing out this principle in his rehearsals.)

Now to the problem at hand. In "Beautiful robes," you need to catch a breath at the end of the first, second, and third lines as well, but there is no long note to chop off. Instead, the last measure of each line has three words, one on each beat; so if you are trying to chop off part of the 3rd beat to take a breath, you are doing that on a word that just started. To make it even more challenging, the 1st and 2nd lines of the first stanza conclude with words that end in the complex explosive consonant "t;" it's just a little more challenging to get these words out in a brief space, take a quick breath, and come back in on the pickup of the next line without losing time.

This is not a criticism of Warren's writing, just a caveat to songleaders: be aware of the tendency of the song to drag, and understand where and why it is happening. I think it is probably most effective to lead the song, not too fast, but at the tempo that one naturally says the word "beautiful," and somewhat lightly, not emphasizing each word in the final measure of each line. This tends to minimize the problem.


Cyberhymnal. "Barney Elliott Warren." Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Calvin Institute for Christian Worship, 2007- .

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Behold a Stranger at the Door

Praise for the Lord #65

Words: Joseph Grigg, 1765
Music: George Hews, 1835 (HOLLEY)

Joseph Grigg (ca.1720-1768) was the child of poor parents, brought up with every expectation that he would be a laborer or tradesman. But from the age of 10, reputedly, he began to write hymns; and his interest in spiritual pursuits and learning led him into the ministry. In his early twenties he became an assistant minister of the Silver Street Presbyterian Church in London, but after only a few years he resigned and married a woman with property, from which situation he was able to continue his writing undistracted.He published a few small hymn collections, and several hymns in The Christian's Magazine. In 1861 Daniel Sedgwick, one of the earliest hymnologists, collected Grigg's hymns and other poetry into Hymns on Divine Subjects.(Julian) But besides "Behold a stranger," only "Jesus, and shall it ever be?"(PFTL#339) has seen widespread use. Grigg also published sermons, including one titled The young chevalier: no God-speed to him (London, 1745), in which he railed against the Jacobite uprising in Scotland under "Bonnie Prince Charlie."

Stanza 1:
Behold a stranger at the door!
He gently knocks, has knocked before,
Has waited long, is waiting still;
You treat no other friend so ill.

The inspiration for this hymn is, no doubt, Revelation 3:20: "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." Several points arise from this verse. To begin with, Jesus, who has "all authority in heaven and on earth,"(Matthew 28:18) waits at the doors of our hearts, minds, souls, and lives, hoping that we will choose to let Him in. He could overwhelm our wills in an instant and have our undivided obedience, breaking down that door if He so chose, but He wants us to let Him in by our own choice. In fact, under no other condition will He come in; He will not be an uninvited Guest. Yes, someday "every knee will bow,"(Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10) when Jesus is revealed as the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."(Revelation 19:16) But for now, He waits outside the door and knocks, hoping to be let in as a Friend.

Would any dignitary of this world act in such a way? If we were to meet the President of the United States, most likely we would go somewhere to see him, rather than him coming to our home. But if he did, do you imagine that he would come up to the door himself and knock? He would certainly have people with him who would do it, or more likely, we would be waiting with the door open when he arrived.

But would we leave him standing outside and knocking? We are apologetic even to strangers when we make them wait at the door. But as Grigg points out, Jesus has knocked before, and is knocking now, patiently waiting in hopes that He will be noticed. He "is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."(2 Peter 3:9)

Stanza 2:
But will He prove a Friend indeed?
He will--the very Friend you need!
The Man of Nazareth, 'tis He,
With garments dyed at Calvary.

We would be honored to have a President or other high official visit our home; no doubt we would tell that story repeatedly in our families down through the years. But what if that person were actually a close family friend, who then attained high office? It would be hard not to drop that name, or mention that relationship, when speaking to our neighbors! Yet we can claim friendship with a Ruler on a far higher level than any temporal office; Jesus said to His disciples just before His death, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."(John 15:15)

What a blessing friends are! If you have just one friend "that sticks closer than a brother,"(Proverbs 18:24) it is far easier to bear the burdens of life. "Friends in high places" is a catchphrase, of course, because it is such an obvious part of human affairs; it is often more important who you know, rather than what you know. Now, you may have no friends at city hall, or at the state capital, or in Washington, D.C., but Who you know in heaven is far more important in the long run. Friends in "high places," to be certain! And the quality of that friendship is far beyond most of our human relationships. In John 15:13 Jesus defined the test of His friendship with us as this: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." How many people would do this for you? For how many people would you do it? But Jesus has done it, for all of us, even for those who railed against Him then and those who do so today.

The following stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord, but occurs at this point in the original:

Rise, touched with gratitude divine;
Turn out His enemy and thine,
That soul destroying monster, sin,
And let the heavenly Stranger in.

The "soul destroying monster" is an odd phrase for a hymn, and may be the reason for its omission. It is certainly no overstatement, however! Sin will often destroy the body, but it will most definitely destroy the soul. Another interesting point in this stanza is that the spiritual "house" is not empty; there is a spiritual master of one sort or the other. As the parable of the empty house in Luke 11:24-26 shows, the spiritual realm does not admit a total vacuum any more than the natural. Like all vermin, Satan and his forces will move back in as soon as they find a dwelling not occupied by a power strong enough to keep them out.

Stanza 3:
O lovely attitude! He stands
With melting heart and laden hands!
O matchless kindness! And He shows
This matchless kindness to His foes.

It is an old custom to bring gifts when visiting, one that we still often observe on a first visit to a friend's home. A still more widely observed custom is the housewarming gift, meant to wish a family well on their taking up a new residence, and to show them a welcome into their new neighborhood. When Jesus enters into the heart of a person, He is no less gracious! "He stands ... with laden hands!" Consider the gifts that Scripture tells us Jesus brings:
  1. In talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, "Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, "Give Me a drink," you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.' ... But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."(John 4:10,14)
  2. "And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"(Acts 2:38)
  3. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."(Romans 3:23-24)
  4. "For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ."(Romans 5:17)
  5. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."(Romans 6:23)
Jesus certainly does not come to us empty-handed, asking entrance into our hearts. Truly we can say with Paul, "Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!"(2 Corinthians 9:15) Even more amazing, as this stanza of the hymn points out, is that the same gifts are extended to the staunchest enemies of Christ. And how much better evidence of anyone's character, than how he treats his enemies when they are at his mercy?

Stanza 4:
Admit Him, for the human breast
Ne'er entertained so kind a guest;
No mortal tongue their joys can tell
With whom He condescends to dwell.

"Condescending" has a negative flavor to it; we don't like it when someone is "condescending" to us. We don't like for someone else to act as though they are above us, and are doing us a favor by associating with us. But in the case of our Lord, that is exactly what He is doing! The second chapter of Hebrews addresses this at length:

But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers ... 
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. ... Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.(Hebrews 2:9-11,14,15,17)
To return again to our example of earthly dignitaries, we are always glad to see that people in high office have the "common touch" and "aren't afraid to get their hands dirty." Politicians go to considerable lengths to convey this image, sometimes making themselves quite ridiculous in the process; it is fairly easy to tell when a man has actually done manual labor, or is just playing at it. The bona fides of Jesus, in this respect, are indisputable: He was a man--a common, working man, just as sweaty as the rest. And though under provocation He sometimes revealed His true nature ("Before Abraham was, I AM," John 8:58), His favorite appellation was clearly "Son of Man." 

A final stanza, often omitted:
Sovereign of souls, Thou Prince of Peace,
O may Thy gentle reign increase:
Throw wide the door, each willing mind;
And be His empire all mankind.

This is the devout wish of every committed Christian. The Prince of Peace would take this world, not by storm, but by quiet invitation; not by the sword, but by the Word. May His people always remember this and follow His example in gentle persuasion.

About the music:

This tune is also used for "Lord, speak to me"(PFTL#381), and frequently for "Softly now the light of day."(Butterworth & Brown) George Hews (1806-1873) was a Bostonian, and one of the first generation of American piano makers (along with his better known friend, Jonas Chickering). Hews also played organ at the famous old Brattle Street Church (at that time a Unitarian congregation). He was, significantly, a member of the Handel and Haydn Society for over forty years, and vice president for nine years.(Hurd) This places him within the orbit of the American hymnody giant, Lowell Mason, and Hews's hymn tune could easily pass for a work of Mason's. According to Butterworth & Brown, Hews worked with Mason on some of the latter's hymnals, and may have contributed music to them. 

They share a certain careful refinement (bordering on syrupy preciousness) that typified the 19th-century Boston hymnists' break with their rough-and-ready colonial past. Mason of course often rose above this style; whether Hews did or not is hard to tell without more examples of his work. Hurd (loc. cit.) claims that he wrote "several hymns," but I have not been able to find them.

A couple of nice features in the melody and harmony: The first three chords of the first two phrases ("Be- hold a...") and ("He gent- ly...) are a very distinctive progression from the tonic chord, through a fully diminished 7th chord, and back to the tonic. This could also be analyzed as doubled lower neighbor tones between the soprano and tenor, but I think the second combination sounds as a chord, G#-B-(D omitted)-F. From a harmonic analysis standpoint, this is a "common-tone diminished 7th," or a non-functional diminished 7th, i.e. not functioning as a leading tone chord. (This is also a common barbershop quartet progression!) Using this bit of chromatic coloring at the beginning of the first phrase, then sequenced up a 3rd to begin the second phrase, ties the music together nicely so that it seems to grow naturally out of the initial idea. Another unifying feature is the ascending scale pattern in the first phrase, on "at the (door)." This four-note stepwise motion appears in descending motion to end the second phrase, and again in descending form at the end of the third phrase.

A nagging problem about this music (at least with this text), to me, is that it strains the rhythmic emphasis in a typical long meter text. The rhythm opening each phrase is LONG-short-short-LONG, whereas long meter hymns are anapestic throughout, with each line opening short-LONG-short-LONG. For this reason, several lines of Grigg's hymn are forced into somewhat unnatural rhythms:

"BE-hold a STRAN-ger AT the DOOR" 
instead of 
"be-HOLD a STRAN-ger AT the DOOR"

"AD-mit Him FOR the HU-man BREAST"
instead of
"ad-MIT Him FOR the HU-man BREAST"

Of course some things like this can hardly be avoided, especially when we sings several stanzas to the same tune, but the reversal of emphasis in "BE-hold" and "AD-mit" is a little annoying. It isn't the fault of either Grigg or Hews; it's just a difficult marriage (that has nonetheless lasted for many decades)! But try singing this text to the tune of "Father of mercies" (PFTL#141) or even OLD 100TH ("Praise God from Whom all blessings flow"); either of them fits the lyrics better.


Julian, John. A dictionary of hymnology, 2 vols. Mineola, New York: Dover, 1957.

Hurd, Duane Hamilton. A history of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Philadelphia: Lewis, 1890, I:504.

Butterworth, Hezekiah, and Theron Brown. The story of the hymns and tunes. New York: American Tract Society, 1906, 483-484.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Before Jehovah's Awful Throne

Praise for the Lord #64

Words: Isaac Watts, 1719; altered, Charles Wesley, 1737
Music: Louis Bourgeois's Genevan Psalter (OLD 100TH)

The original first stanza of Watts's paraphrase of Psalm 100 went thus:

Sing to the Lord with joyful voice,
Let ev'ry land his name adore;
The British isles shall send the noise
Across the ocean to the shore.

Watts certainly tried to make the Psalms relevant! But in the preface to his Psalms of David Imitated (1719), he explained that he was deliberately paraphrasing the Psalms in more overtly Christian interpretations:
I grant 'tis necessary and proper, that in translating every Part of Scripture for our Reading or Hearing, the Sense of the Original should be exactly and faithfully represented; for there we learn what God says to us in his Word; but in Singing for the most part the Case is altered: For as the greatest Number of the Psalms are devotional, and there the Psalmists express their own personal or national Concerns; so we are taught by their Example, what is the chief Design of Psalmody, (viz.) that we should represent our own Sense of things in Singing, and address ourselves to God expressing our own case; therefore the Words should be so far adapted to the general State of the Worshippers...(Watts)
As for the reference to "the British Isles," Watts justified such national references thus: "David would have thought it very hard to be confined to the Words of Moses, and sung nothing else on all his Rejoycing-days, but the Drowning of Pharaoh in the fifteenth of Exodus."(Watts)

But there was a very practical reason for the omission of this verse in the Wesley version, which appeared in the very first of the Methodist hymnals, the "Charleston Collection" of 1737. John and Charles Wesley were no longer in the British Isles; they were serving as missionaries in the wilds of His Majesty's colony of Georgia when they brought out this little book, published in "Charles-Town" of the South Carolina Colony.

Stanza 1:
Before Jehovah's awful throne,
Ye nations, bow with sacred joy;
Know that the Lord is God alone;
He can create and He destroy.

The first two lines of Watt's original second stanza are these, and it is here that Charles Wesley made his changes:

Nations, attend before His throne
With solemn fear, with sacred joy;

The first line has a bit of a metrical problem, since the natural emphasis of the syllables in the first word (LONG-short) is at odds with that in the rest of the text (short-LONG):

NA-tions, at-TEND be-FORE His THRONE
With SO-lemn FEAR, with SA-cred JOY;

This can be covered up by a tune in triple meter, as in "Father of Mercies" (PFTL#141). But Wesley's alteration irons out the metric difficulty while keeping most of the powerful expressions of Watts.

One of those powerful expressions was "solemn fear," which Wesley references in describing the "awful" throne of God. This is perhaps the main reason this hymn has not caught on better--I have heard it sung only once among the Churches of Christ, and that may have been while I was leading it. The word "awful" has undergone a curious change down through the centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary begins the definition thus:
I. objectively: Awe-inspiring.
1. Causing dread; terrible, dreadful, appalling.
2. Worthy of, or commanding, profound respect or reverential fear.
3. Solemnly impressive; sublimely majestic.
The quotes given by the OED as examples of its usage in an earlier era are enlightening: In Henry VI part 2, act five, scene 1, Shakespeare speaks of "an awefull princely Scepter," thus showing the origin of the word as "awe-full," or "something that fills one full of awe."

We today, however, have stripped this word down to the 4th definition, which the OED labels a slang usage: "Frightful, very ugly, monstrous; and hence as a mere intensive deriving its sense from the contex = Exceedingly bad, great, long, etc." This goes back to the early 19th century, so at least we moderns are not to blame.

Can we reclaim "awful," and this hymn? A simple change to "Before Jehovah's awesome throne" would be more in keeping with the intent of Wesley, Watts, and the Psalmist. Or has "awesome" been trivialized in modern usage as well? The synonyms given in that first definition for "awful" are worth a moment's thought. "Terrible" means something that fills you with terror; and that word is from the Latin for "causing fear," literally to make one shake with fear. "Dreadful" means something that fills you with dread, a kind of fearful anticipation. And "appalling" has to do with causing someone to have a "pall," or to turn pale with fear.

How does the fear of God coexist with coming "boldly unto the throne of grace?"(Hebrews 4:16) Does not "perfect love cast our fear?"(1 John 4:18) We come boldly before the throne, without fear in the sense of dread or terror, because of what Jesus has done to reconcile us with God.(Hebrews 4:14-15) But the profound reverence that God deserves is no less than ever; and when we truly understand the awfulness of the presence of God, we come closer to understanding the full measure of His love that allows us to stand there. It is certainly true, as the last line of the stanza says, that "He can create and He destroy;" and He would be justified to destroy this sinful world. But because of His even greater love, He has chosen to extend grace to those who will accept it.

For this reason the words "sacred joy" are particularly well-chosen. I have heard people ask why Christians will stomp and shout and give vent to their emotions freely at a football game, but not in the presence of God. Without (I hope) sounding judgmental, I suggest that they are hardly the same thing. If you had a personal audience with the President of the United States, would you behave that way? But which of the two would you consider a more significant and memorable event in your life? There are events so profound that they make us quiet with a "sacred joy."

Stanza 2:
His sov'reign pow'r, without our aid,
Made us of clay, and formed us men;
And when like wand'ring sheep we strayed,
He brought us to His fold again.

One of the most profound questions that might be asked about the creation is the same question that a little child learns very early, to the parents' delight (and sometimes dismay): "Why?" Why did God create us, especially in light of our fall from grace? In his sermon, "Sin and its punishments: Objections considered," J. W. McGarvey phrased the problem thus:
Why, it is claimed that if God had foreknown, before He made this race of ours, that such was going to be the result in regard to a very large portion of them, that surely He would have been too wise to have made the first human pair ... thus the creation of man will prove to be a stupendous failure on the part of a God whom we supposed to be infinitely wise.(McGarvey)
McGarvey proceeds to address the question at length in his own philosophical way. (Click here for online text and online audio.) But in brief, I would just add that the Bible addresses this question, both indirectly and directly. Isaiah 45:9, among other passages, calls on the imagery of the potter and the clay: "Woe to him who strives with Him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles?'" God addresses Job directly on the subject in chapter 40, verse 8: "Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?"

It is a question that, if not beyond our asking, is apparently beyond our answering, or perhaps even our comprehension. And from a practical standpoint, here we are. It is more to the point to ask, "What will God do with us? What does He want?" And here, thankfully, we find a loving Father rather than a distant tyrant or an alien, unknowable entity. "We are the sheep of His pasture,"(Psalm 100:3) a far closer and more kindly relationship in ancient times than in our modern ranching industry. King David grew up with this close sense of responsibility for the sheep under his care: "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth."(1 Samuel 17:34-35) Jesus proved willing to do even more, for "the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."(John 10:11) It is this active grace that God chose to display toward us, in spite of our sins. "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Romans 5:8)

Stanza 3:
We'll crowd Thy gates with thankful songs,
High as the heav'ns our voices raise;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues,
Shall fill Thy courts with sounding praise.

The Ethnologue web site lists 6,909 languages in use in the world today. Some are very widespread--Chinese has well over a billion native speakers in all its dialects--and some are exceedingly rare, such as Yaput, an Alaskan Eskimo language with only 76 speakers listed in the 2000 U.S. Census.(Ethnologue) Worldcat, the largest union catalog of libraries in the world, lists under the subject heading, "Hymns" (where hymnals would be found), over 100,000 entries in 99 different languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu.(Worldcat)

But can it ever be enough to express the praises of God? When we read that "the morning stars sang together" at the creation,(Job 38:7) can it convey the glory of God? Even in the heavenly worship revealed to John, is it any more than He deserves? Is it nearly enough?
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:11-14)
But can it ever be enough? We will spend our lives joyfully trying to add our little bit to God's praise, but in the end we must say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty."(Luke 17:10)

Stanza 4:
Wide as the world is Thy command,
Vast as eternity Thy love;
Firm as a rock Thy truth shall stand
When rolling years shall cease to move.

The world is a big place: 7,926 miles across at the equator, with a circumference of 24,901 miles. It has about 196,939,900 square miles of surface area, of which roughly 70% is the precious commodity of water.("Earth") But this earth is only a speck compared to the size of the larger planets in our solar system, which is only a small star system out of billions in our galaxy. Beyond that things get even more incomprehensible. The observable universe is 46 billion light years in any direction--we think, since the expanding universe theory clouds things quite a bit at those distances.(Lineweaver) The actual size of the entire universe involves a guessing game that sounds more far-fetched than anything in science fiction.

But Watts rightly said that the power and love of God make even these things look small; the majesty of the galaxies is a trifle compared to the profundity of His justice and mercy. It was this that Paul wished for his readers, that they "may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God."(Ephesians 3:18-19)
Likewise the durability of the promises of God puts this physical universe to shame. One reassuringly familiar thing in all the new discoveries in space science and cosmology, is that all indicators still point to the idea that the universe is running down. It is gradually wearing out, just like a favorite old pair of jeans; it is moving from order to disorder, just as my garage does. Nations, and institutions, and our selves are the same way; it is the most natural thing in the world to slide into decline, and it takes effort to hold back the tendency. Eventually we grow old and wear out.
But God is the Master of this universe, not one of its subjects; His power and will exist beyond its limitations. Thus with God a promise really is a promise, not just in intent but in fact; once it is made it is done. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away."(Luke 21:33) What a blessing to realize the assurance upon which we rest!

About the music: Please see my earlier post on "All people that on earth do dwell".

Watts, Isaac. Preface to The Psalms of David Imitated. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 13 v. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

McGarvey, J. W. Sermons delivered in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville, Ky.: Guide Printing & Publishing, 1894.

Ethnologue. SIL International, 2010.

Worldcat. OCLC, Inc., 2010.


Lineweaver, Charles, and Tamara M. Davis. "Misconceptions about the Big Bang". Scientific American.