Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blessed Redeemer

Praise for the Lord #75

Words: Avis B. Christiansen, 1920
Music: Harry Dixon Loes, 1920

Though Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (1895-1985) was a prolific songwriter, this is the only one of her hymns in Praise for the Lord, and a search of shows that it has been her most reprinted work. Her songs were prominent in the Tabernacle Hymns series, and her name is still well known in Southern gospel circles.

Gospel music in the 1920s was just beginning to emerge as a commercial style, fed by a convergence of technologies--the growth of radio, the affordable gramophone (an ancient kind of iPod), cheap mass-production music printing, and automobile transportation--that led to a constant demand for new music for revivals and singing conventions across the country. Unsurprisingly, not all of it was equally outstanding, and many were the mediocre writers who served up warmed-over Victorian greeting card verse.

Avis Christiansen was not one of them. The freshness and passion of her lyrics seem almost naive (in the best sense) today, as though she lived in a bubble, unaware of the writing going on around her. For example, the rhyme in the chorus on "bleeding ... pleading ... unheeding" must be the only instance in the entire hymnal. It is almost always a good idea to study the great examples of one's art; but there is also a wisdom in rejecting the echo chamber of one's contemporaries.

Stanza 1:
Up Calv'ry's mountain, one dreadful morn,
Walked Christ my Savior, weary and worn;
Facing for sinners death on the cross,
That He might save them from endless loss.

The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
Photo by Berthold Werner.
No one knows for certain, after these many centuries, the route Jesus took from Pilate's court to Golgotha. We only know that on a certain day before the Passover, an innocent Man was sentenced to death by a disinterested Roman official, and was forced to carry His cross to His own execution. It was probably not the first time such a thing had happened in the streets of Jerusalem, and it was certainly not the last, in that bloody period of Roman occupation that ended a few decades later in a war that expelled the Jews from their homeland.
But it was the only time, in all the history of the world, past and future, that so much would hang in the balance. It was far more than the weight of a wooden beam on a back stripped raw by scourging--brutal and excruciating as that was. Isaiah prophesied of this day,

He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (53:6-8)

Small wonder that He was unable to carry it all the way. John 19:17 tells us that "He went out, bearing His own cross," but Matthew 27:32 reveals that at some point the Roman soldiers pressed a bystander into service--Simon of Cyrene--forcing him to carry the cross behind Jesus. The weight on those battered shoulders was enough without the wood. Peter--who for fear was not there to witness the scene himself--later echoed Isaiah 53, reflecting that, "He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed."(1 Peter 2:24)

Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see Him on Calvary's tree!
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading--
Blind and unheeding, dying for me!

What if Jesus had, at the last, said no? I have seldom heard this question raised, and it seems almost blasphemous to suggest (though that is the farthest thing from my intention). But as He was fully, 100% as human as you and I, must it not have crossed His mind that He shouldn't have to do it? Wasn't this what He implied in Gethsemane when He said, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me?"(Matthew 26:39) Of course He knew He had to do it--He had always known--but here the human being spoke in tones we all recognize, that pitiful voice of self-preservation that lives in all of us.

I believe He certainly could have rejected His mission, at any point in time. In Matthew 26:53 He told Peter that He could at once call twelve legions of angels to His rescue. (Considering what one angel did to the army of Assyria in Isaiah 37, what would twelve legions--easily more than 50,000--be like?) But as He told His disciples, "It must be so."(Matthew 26:54) He was "blind and unheeding" in the sense that He turned His great heart away from His own suffering to focus on those He came to save--even those who cursed Him and spit upon Him as He died for them.

Stanza 2:
"Father, forgive them!" thus did He pray,
E'en while His life-blood flowed fast away;
Praying for sinners while in such woe--
No one but Jesus ever loved so.


"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." The words of John 15:13 are frequently, and rightly, spoken in eulogy of those brave men and women of law enforcement, fire and rescue services, and the armed forces, whose act of putting on a uniform in effect says, "I will risk my life, and lose it if necessary, for the sake of my neighbors." Often it is for the sake of people they do not even know. But who among us will lay down his life for a declared enemy? In this as in all thing Jesus showed us the perfect example, living out His own words, "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you; bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you."(Luke 6:27-28)

Can we do it? Sometimes we rise to the occasion in the sense of Proverbs 25:21-22, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you." (Echoed by Paul in Romans 12:20.) This is a noble attitude, but it has an admitted aspect of "righteous revenge;" it would be possible for a person to take this correct action, yet from a holier-than-thou spirit, or from a desire to prove that one is not under the enemy's control. But to go the extra step and truly love the enemy is very difficult.

The only strategy I know to help me love an enemy is to remember that I am a sinner also, and have been before in a state of enmity toward my Lord. "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God,"(Romans 3:23) and thus I must always keep in mind Jesus' parable of the ungrateful and unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. I dare not be unforgiving toward a fellow human being, for I am just as much a sinner in the eyes of God, and that fellow human being is just as treasured in His sight.

But think now of Jesus on the cross. Never before in human history could a man suffer and truly say, without a shadow of a doubt, "I do not deserve this." Never before could a man look at his fate and say with such perfect truth, "I should be treated better." Jesus did not have the spur of His own guiltiness of sin to humble Him in His approach to fellow human beings; He really was "holier than thou." But still He forgave people who thought the very worst of Him, and did the very worst to Him, that the wickedness of man was able to conceive.

Stanza 3:
O how I love Him, Savior and Friend!
How can my praises ever find end?
Through years unnumbered on heaven's shore,
My tongue shall praise Him forevermore.


God as a Friend is a concept that deserves contemplation. As Romans 1:20 so eloquently puts it, "His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Throughout history people have looked at creation and come to that correct, if incomplete, understanding of God (of course, our understanding will always be incomplete). Native American story-tellers, for example, named Him the "Great Spirit" or "Sky Chief." They could see His power and understand their dependence on His blessings. They supposed, on the evidence, that He must be wise and good yet also just and stern.

Even God's chosen nation, the Israelites, did not understand Him much further. They showed much the same fear and bewilderment at Sinai, when "they stood far off, and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.'"(Exodus 20:18-19) It was only to Moses that God spoke, "as a man speaks to his friend."(Exodus 33:11) But then the Son of God came down and walked this earth with us, declaring, "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father."(John 14:9) Through Him, "we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us."(1 John 4:16) And here, at last, is how the Son of God defined His relationship to us: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."(John 15:15)

I cannot count any celebrities among my friends. I am completely unknown to the movers and shakers in Austin, Texas or in Washington, D.C. But I have one Friend whose kindness toward me is a continual source of privileges. I can reach Him any time of the day or night, and He is always glad to hear from me and ready to listen. He has never let me down, and He has never given up on me, even though I haven't always done the same for Him. Christian, you have Friends in high places!

About the music:

Harry Dixon Loes (1892-1965) was editor of several Sunday School collections and wrote a number of songs for adults, of which this is probably his best remembered tune. It was one of his songs, in fact, that inspired Avis Christiansen to take up hymnwriting.(Cyberhymnal)

Loes truly made his mark--if it was in fact his mark--with one children's song. His is the name often given as composer of the song "This little light of mine," supposedly written around 1920. I have been unable to track down any hard evidence of this, and in fact the earliest dated reference I can find to the song is in a Theodore Presser publication from 1937 titled Twelve negro spirituals for men's voices. Various versions of the song have been knocking around the United States for many decades, and though it may have gotten more mainstream attention through its association with the Civil Rights Movement, it has been a staple of Sunday School singing even longer.

Folk music--that is, music sung by non-professionals, and often learned by rote rather than by note--can sometimes take a composed, published song and transform it into several variants within a single generation. Of course it is equally possible that Loes simply wrote down one version of a traditional song he had heard, and was attributed authorship because it appeared under his editorship. The tune of "This little light" that I grew up with is suspiciously similar to "Worried man blues." Music is a wonderfully color-blind phenomenon, and can cross the sacred-secular boundary with equal ease!


"Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen." Cyberhymnal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Song List for Tillit S. Teddlie

Tillit S. Teddlie (1885-1987), for those who did not grow up in the musical traditions of the Churches of Christ in the United States, was one of our most prolific and influential songwriters ever. Though Albert E. Brumley (1905-1977) was far better known to the world at large, I propose that Teddlie had at least an equal if not greater impact on the week-to-week worship of the churches.

Part of this was probably due to his more conservative interpretation of the Southern gospel style. Though Brumley did the "foot-stompers" exceptionally well (better than anyone, in my opinion), they can fall outside the comfort zone some congregations, at least in the Sunday worship service. Another reason might have been that Teddlie was a preacher for most of his career, and both published his own hymnals for worship and associated with others who did so, particularly the Firm Foundation publishing house in Austin, Texas. Brumley, on the other hand, also a fine Christian gentleman, was more firmly planted in the music business. Scott Harp has provided excellent biographical pages on these two great songwriters on (WARNING: If you click on that link, you are likely to spend the next few hours there!)

One interpretation of Southern gospel is that it is the brighter side of the blues. If the blues is about drowning your misery in drink before your inevitable lonely death, gospel is about endurance through the Spirit and a future happiness where we will be reunited with loved ones. Considering that the commercial genre of Southern gospel took off during an era marked by an economic depression and two world wars, it is no surprise that a huge proportion of the repertoire of this era was about 1) enduring present misery, and 2) a heavenly reward.

But in the process of compiling a detailed list of Teddlie's songs, I noticed something really different. Click here to view this list in a separate window, or to download. I did a quick, first-impression classification by topic, and found that I could easily tag the topic of about 100 out of the 116 songs I have identified. Naturally there were a number of songs about heaven--his best-known song is "Heaven holds all for me"--but surprisingly there were only 25, a quarter of the total. The next largest category was invitation songs (19), then songs about evangelism (12), songs that were direct appeals to God for spiritual growth (12), songs of praise (9), songs encouraging others to worship (8), songs of Christian witness (8), and songs of encouragement (6). Taken in broader categories, though songs about heaven were the largest single topic, songs of invitation and evangelism were a slightly larger part, and songs of praise, worship, and prayer were an equally significant portion of his work.

The body of Christ needs a healthy diet in every respect, and our singing is no different! The Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 passages tell us to sing "to God" and also "to each other," "giving thanks" while also "teaching and admonishing one another." I have always had a high opinion of Brother Teddlie's work, and even more so now that I see the degree of care that he took to write songs for many different aspects of the church's worship life.

Heaven Songs

Teddlie's most famous song about heaven, "Heaven holds all to me," was also one of his earliest; though its copyright date is 1932, I have found it published as early as 1915. It is also his most widely published hymn. It is a remarkable work for such a young man, because in addition to anticipating the joys of heaven, if you read between the lines it carries a strong message for the present: don't be too attached to this earthly life. The music is a perfect match for this contemplative mood.

He continued to write a large number of "heaven" songs through the 1920s, many of which have fallen by the wayside. One contains the line, "O the happy, sunny, verdant dales," proof that Teddlie was not immune to the lyric stylings of Tin Pan Alley. But there was at least one more gem among these early works, "We shall meet some day," written around 1929. As referenced in an earlier post, this was recorded by no less than Maybelle Carter and Ralph Stanley, proof that Teddlie's singable melodies and close harmonies could have made him a commercial success.

By the late 1930s he was writing fewer songs on this theme, but produced some fine examples, notably the sweetly quiet "In heaven they're singing," the exuberant "Write my name on the roll," and the quartet favorite "Waiting for the boatman's call."

Invitation Songs

The use of a song for inviting people to come forward in response to the sermon is an old tradition, and there is a whole category of songs dedicated to this purpose--many of them less than stellar. Teddlie really seems to have exerted himself in this area; perhaps as a preacher he felt especially keenly the desire to find just the right words and tone to move a person's heart. One of his earliest invitation songs (ca. 1914) was a peculiar example of "reverse psychology," the quartet favorite "Time Enough Yet." Also from this early period came the haunting "Don't wait too long" (1918). Teddlie continued writing invitation songs throughout his career; probably his most popular for congregational use was "What will your answer be?" of 1935.

Songs of Evangelism

Along with his emphasis on invitation songs, Teddlie spent a good deal of effort on songs encouraging Christians to do more to spread the gospel. An early example is the catchy "To the harvest fields" from 1919; but his best is probably the more serious-minded "Into our hands the gospel is given," written in 1939. It was a recurring theme for the rest of his life, from "You can lead someone to Jesus" (1943) and "Our Lord commands move forward" (1959) to "Does your light shine for Him?" and "Will you seek for the sheep" of 1969. One of his last songs, from 1972, was the poignantly titled "There's an urgent call for servants of the Lord." The old soldier, forced by age to retire from the field, was still very mindful of the fight.

Songs of Worship and Praise

Teddlie's philosophy of the worshipful life was summed up in the title of his 1943 song, "Sing and Pray." He wrote a number of songs admonishing the Christian to worship, going well beyond the "sing a happy song" theme of many gospel songwriters. One of his earliest works, from 1922, was "When we meet in sweet communion," probably his most widely known hymn after "Heaven holds all to me." This thoughtful meditation on the fellowship of the Lord's table is all too rare in the gospel style; and though its sheer tunefulness has led to it being commercially recorded over the years, it was obviously written with congregational singing and the average worshiper in mind.

Also from these early years came another widely popular congregational song, "Angels are singing redemption's sweet song" (1923), with its cheerful admonition to sing praises. Fittingly, one of the last songs Brother Teddlie wrote was a setting of W. D. Jeffcoat's lyric, "A joyful song we gladly raise."

Songs of praise addressed directly to God were less a part of the typical gospel songwriter's output than one might think, usually coming in at least third behind songs of heaven and songs of personal witness. Teddlie entered this arena somewhat later, but arguably contributed some of his best work in this subject area. In 1930 he wrote one of the best praise songs in the gospel style by any writer, "Worthy art Thou," based closely on Revelation 5:9-14. Then in 1938 he wrote the equally successful "O the depth and the riches," taking as its signature line Paul's doxology of Romans 11:33.

Songs of Prayer and Supplication

Here we see some of Teddlie's most interesting and personal works. It is true in any era of hymn writing that the author must strive to create a text that speaks to a broad range of people, and thus it would seem that a highly individual statement of supplication to God would be the most difficult to carry off. But on the other hand, it is the deeply personal psalms of David that are the perennial favorites in the Psalter; a godly, spiritually mature person who can put his or her inner spiritual life into verse can be a great blessing to many others.

It seems to be no coincidence that Teddlie's work in this area only began in his mature years. Only in middle age did he turn his hand to probing, confessional texts such as "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief" (1943). Another gem from his middle years was "O God of infinite mercy" (1948), which deserves to be much better known. But the standout among these prayer songs was only written as he reached old age. "Hear me when I call," written in 1962 when he was 77 years old, is a masterful reworking of David's 4th Psalm. In it we hear the genuine voice of a man facing the trials of old age, not without fears, but with an unshakable certainty that his only hope is in God. It is a blessing to Christians of any age, and of any era.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Blest Be the Dear, Uniting Love

Praise for the Lord #74

Words: Charles Wesley, 1742
Music: Ephraim Timothy Hildebrand, 1904 (SALEM)

Charles Wesley's enormous importance to the heritage of English-language hymns is discussed in a previous post. This hymn was first published in 1742 in Hymns and Sacred Poems, the third and final collection under that title. John Wesley wrote the preface and a few of the hymns, and it is surmised that Charles Wesley wrote the rest.(Wesley, 159ff.) It appeared in the Wesleys' landmark 1780 hymnal, A Collection of Hymns, with a few textual variations (noted below) and with the omission of two of the fifth and sixth of the original eight stanzas.(Julian, 148)

Stanza 1:
Blest be the dear uniting love
That will not let us part:
Our bodies may far off remove,
We still are one in heart.

(The original text ended with the line, "We still are joined in heart;" this was probably altered to avoid using the word "joined" here, when it also begins the second stanza.)

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"(Psalm 133:1) On the last night before His death, before His agony in Gethsemane, Jesus implored His Father on behalf of the unity of His church:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me.(John 17:20-23)

Paul, even when a prisoner in Rome and under threat of death, was also deeply concerned for the unity and welfare of the church. He told the Ephesians,

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.(Ephesians 4:1-3)

Each passage tells us something different about the unity of God's people. In the prayer of Jesus, unity is between those who "have believed on Me through [the apostles'] word." All throughout the preceding paragraphs of John 17, the word and unity are intertwined:

For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.(v.8)

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one.(v.11)

I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.(v.14)

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.(v.17-19)

The same intersection of a singular truth and unity is also explored in the famous "ones" passage that follows the Ephesians quotation above: "There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."(Ephesians 4:4-6) Unity is not just declared, it is acheived through a common set of beliefs and practices founded in God's word.

The players on a football team may all be wearing the same jerseys, but if they are not studying out of the same playbook they are in for some trouble! A marching band on parade may look very unified with its identical uniforms, with all the members marching in step; but if they are not all correctly informed as to the next piece they are playing, they will soon find out how little unity they actually have. (This is a highly amusing and memorable experience.) We may be as diverse as we like in all other things, but we must be unified in obedience to God's word!

Paul's appeal for unity at the beginning of Ephesians 4 highlights another necessary quality for unity in the church: the attitude of the heart. It is the "manner" of our walk that he addresses first, appealing to our better angels of "humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love." Can a person teach and practice sound doctrine, but do it in an "unworthy manner?" Turn these qualities around and see if it rings true: are there individuals who believe in and teach God's word, but do it with an attitude of pride, harshness, and impatience toward those who disagree with them? The answer is obvious.

Humility is essential, because if we would lead people to Jesus we must make sure own egos don't get in His way; also, when the occasion comes that our beliefs may be proven incorrect from Scripture, we will find humility a much better place from which to be knocked down than the lofty heights of pride! Gentleness and patience are necessary, because we are not all at the same level of understanding, and we do not all learn and grow at the same speed. Emotions may run strong as well, especially if long-held beliefs are challenged.

Finally, we must "bear with one another" and be "eager" to keep the peace in the church. Some Christians, I am afraid, are like Diotrephes in 3rd John, who was only happy when he had someone to oppose. We cannot always keep peace and unity in the church, because sometimes others will not let us; but our "default setting" should be to seek it at any cost except at the cost of the truth.

Stanza 2:
Joined in one Spirit to our Head,
Where He appoints we go,
And still in Jesus' footsteps tread,
And show His praise below.

(The original text ended this stanza with, "And do His work below." I cannot help but wonder if the Wesleys' concern for avoiding any appearance of "works salvation" may have influenced this choice!)

Wesley's imagery is most likely taken from Ephesians 4:11-16:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

That passage looks at the body beginning with its constituent parts, working up to the directing force of the Head. The topic is introduced, however, in the first chapter, v. 22-23, beginning from Christ and the supreme authority given to Him by the Father: "And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." Christ is the directing mind and will of His church, and no other has authority so to direct His people. His word is law, and any part of His body that does not obey His will is an abnormality, just as much as if a part of your physical body suddenly stopped responding to commands. (Perhaps an even better comparison is Peter Sellers's maniacal Dr. Strangelove, who is strangled by his own hand!) We would certainly take the situation very seriously in our physical bodies; it is even more serious when a part of Christ's spiritual body, the church, is out of order.

Looking at this from the other side, it is both humbling and exalting that we are able to serve as parts of that body. We are Christ's eyes and ears in this world, to see and hear the physical and spiritual needs of our fellow beings. We are Christ's feet, to take His blessed presence where it is needed. We serve as Christ's mouth when we speak His word; and with such a responsibility, we dare not speak except "as one who speaks oracles of God."(1 Peter 4:11) We are Christ's arms and hands, to lift up the burdens of the weary and hold the hands of the fearful.

Stanza 3:
O may we ever walk in Him,
And nothing know beside,
Nothing desire, nothing esteem,
But Jesus crucified.

(The original wording began this stanza, "O let us ever walk in Him;" it may be that a very careful editor, wary of any possible misinterpretation, decided that "let us" sounded as though there were some question as to whether we have the ability to walk in Christ. It would be a misreading, of course, because it is apparent enough that it is not an appeal addressed to God, but an exhortation to fellow Christians, as is the point of view expressed throughout the hymn.)

Perhaps Wesley had in mind Paul's words to the Corinthians, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."(1 Cor. 1:2) This is hyperbole for effect, of course--Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthian church full of various doctrines on salvation, moral living, and the church--but always looking back to the central principle that Christ must be glorified. Knowing Christ was worth everything to Paul, and cost him everything, from a worldly standpoint. But he put it in perspective when he said, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."(Phillipians 3:8)

The centrality of Christ to the life and doctrine of the New Testament Christian does not mean that there is nothing else to preach, or that other doctrines are "lesser" and may be sacrificed for the sake of unity; when Philip "told the good news of Jesus" to the Ethiopian treasurer, apparently somewhere in that message was the doctrine of baptism.(Acts 8:35, cf. v.36) But when Paul wrote what was probably his final letter to his favorite apprentice, Timothy, he imparts this advice above all: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel."(2 Tim. 2:8) Nothing is more important, and without this foundation stone(1 Cor. 3:11) nothing else matters.

Stanza 4:
Closer and closer let us cleave
To His beloved embrace,
Expect His fullness to receive,
And grace to answer grace.

The closer we are to Christ, the closer we are to one another: "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."(Romans 15:5-6) Our marriages will become what they should be, and stay what they should be, to the degree that both husband and wife are genuinely striving to be pleasing to God. Our congregations will be peaceful, to extent that every member seeks first to be pleasing to God, in step with His will, and drawing closer to the example of Christ. And the only hope of the fractured fellowship of Christendom is to seek individually and collectively to grow closer to Christ through obedience to His word.

It was this thought that must have led Wesley to paraphrase, in the last two lines of the stanza, from the first chapter of John: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ... And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."(v.14,16)

The "fullness" of our God is worth a study on its own; far from the cold, austere character that the world might impute, our God is a God of extravagance and abundance! David understood this, and in the simple language of a herdsman said, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein."(Ps. 24:1) All good things in the physical realm belong to God. But David knew there was much more: "You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."(Ps. 16:11)

Now we are blessed with an even greater understanding of this fact, through the revelation of Christ, "for in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily."(Col. 2:9) Christ brought this to us so that we too "might have life, and have it more abundantly."(John 10:10) This life flows to us through becoming a part of his "called-out people," the church, "which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."(Eph. 1:23) As Wesley points out, this is a continuous process of growth, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."(Eph 4:13) The devil promises more and more pleasures, but ultimately reduces his victims to the state of being unable to enjoy even the simple blessings God gives every day; Christ asks us to give ourselves up more and more to Him, and in return blesses us more abundantly than we can comprehend, with always the promise of more tomorrow.

Wesley's hymn actually has four more verses in its original form:

While thus we walk with Christ in light
Who shall our souls disjoin,
Souls, which himself vouchsafes t’ unite
In fellowship divine!

We all are one who him receive,
And each with each agree,
In him the one, the truth, we live,
Blest point of unity!

Partakers of the Saviour’s grace,
The same in mind and heart,
Nor joy, nor grief, nor time, nor place,
Nor life, nor death can part:

But let us hasten to the day
Which shall our flesh restore,
When death shall all be done away,
And bodies part no more.

May God bless us and help us all to seek the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."(Eph. 4:3)

 About the music:

Ephraim Timothy Hildebrand (1866-1932) was raised in a Mennonite family near Bridgewater and Dayton, Virginia. He attended Shenandoah College, associated with the United Brethren Church, and was a member of that body during his adult life.(Gospel Herald) He studied music education at Shenandoah, which at that time was located in Dayton, VA, where he also joined the influential circle of the Ruebush-Kieffer gospel music enterprise. From 1895-99 Hildebrand actually directed the music program at Shenandoah, rather remarkable for such a recent graduate; then beginning in 1899 he did the same at Bridgewater College. In the early 20th century he also pursued a more classical career in New York City, studying under the popular composer George F. Root and singing with the New York Oratorio Society.(Bridgewater) A search of shows that Hildebrand continued to publish primarily in the gospel song genre, however, collaborating with the Fillmore Brothers and even decidedly "Southern gospel" publishers such as James D. Vaughan and Virgil O. Stamps.

For someone who was so active and apparently well-known in his time, it is surprising how few of his works have survived to the present day. The Cyberhymnal has very little information on him, and this tune, SALEM, is the only one of his works with which I am familiar. shows that the text "Blest be the dear, uniting love" appeared in a Hildebrand publication, Pathway of Praise (Cincinnati, Fillmore Bros.), in 1904. This may be the earliest appearance of Hildebrand's tune. It is a surprisingly classical bit of music for someone so associated with the gospel tradition, and shows the breadth of his ability!


Wesley, Charles & John. Hymns and Sacred Poems. London, 1742. From the web site Charles Wesley's Published Verse (Duke Divinity School, Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition).

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1892.

Wesley, John & Charles. A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodist. London, 1780.

"Gospel Herald obituaries, 1931." MennObits. Goshen, IN: Archives of the Mennonite Church, USA, 1999.

"Ephraim Timothy Hildebrand." Bridgewater College, its Past and Present: a Tribute of the Alumni. Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House, 1905, p. 112-113.