Words: George Rawson, 1858
Music: Arthur H.D. Troyte, 1860
In a reversal of our oft-told tale of the man who left the practice of law for a career in church music, George Rawson (1807-1889) was a lawyer who took a significant interest in hymn-writing and the editing of hymnals. In the year 1858 he was assisting with the editing of two different hymnals, the Leeds Hymn Book for his own Congregational brethren, and the Psalms and Hymns for the local Baptists. Julian says of his work that, "His hymns are distinguished by refinement of thought, and delicacy and propriety of language; and if they do not attain the first rank among the songs of the Christian Church, many are of great excellence."(Julian, 951) This is certainly true of "By Christ redeemed;" it is not perhaps the first communion hymn one thinks of, but when it is brought to our attention it is hard to say why any other communion hymn is any better. Sometimes less is more, and Rawson's restrained, thoughtful wording combines wonderfully with Troyte's chant.
This hymn was first published in the English Baptist hymnal Psalms and Hymns (1858). Julian says of this text, "It is a hymn of more than usual excellence, and has attained to a greater position in modern hymnals than any other of the author's numerous compositions."(Julian, 198) It originally had six stanzas, but has been altered many times and by many hands. Rawson revised it himself for publication in his own hymnal of 1876.(Julian, 198)
"By Christ redeemed" was introduced to the Churches of Christ in the U.S., as were so many other great hymns, by Elmer Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church. Wayne Walker identifies its first appearance in the 1922 supplement to that hymnal.(Walker) This version has the first four stanzas of Rawson's original six, with alterations to the 3rd stanza, 1st line ("unknown agony" instead of "drops of agony") and the 4th stanza, 3rd line ("bright chain" instead of "blest chain"). These changes seem to occur only in context of hymnals of the Churches of Christ. This version was also printed in traditional chant notation (see "About the music," below).
From there it was next picked up by the Gospel Advocate's Christian Hymns of 1935. But in Christian Hymns no. 2 (1948), the second and third stanzas are condensed into one, and the music is written out in standard rhythmic notation. I agree with Wayne Walker that this must have been done by Lloyd O. Sanderson, who was a junior partner on the 1935 hymnal but was sole editor in 1948.(Walker) This version was used in Christian Hymns III (1966), and was picked up in Ellis Crum's Sacred Selections (1956) and by the Howard Publishing hymnals Songs of the Church (1971) and Songs of Faith and Praise (1994). These hymnals have been hugely influential throughout the southern U.S., and many of my brethren might be surprised to encounter the other version of this hymn. Other hymnals among the Churches of Christ continued to use the four-stanza version in chant notation, however, including Majestic Hymnal (Firm Foundation, 1959), Christian Hymnal (Nelson Slater & William Banowsky, 1963), and Great Christian Hymnal no. 2 (Tillit S. Teddlie, 1965). The text alterations in these two different versions are addressed below.
By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored,
We keep the memory adored,
And show the death of our dear Lord,
Until He come!
The first line of this stanza contains two powerful words (after the obviously most powerful Word!), "redeemed" and "restored." In looking for possible Scripture inspirations behind hymn lyrics, I usually search for instances of key words, and though these may not be what the author had in mind, they are worth considering.
You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode.(Exodus 15:13)The passage from Exodus uses the Hebrew word ga'al, which is used in speaking of the legal transaction of redemption, as in buying back a field, or a slave, and also for the act of the kinsman-redeemer who married a relative's widow in order to keep the family name and land from being lost.(Blue Letter Bible, "Strong's 1350") The Deuteronomy passage uses the Hebrew padah, which derives from the idea of "cutting loose," releasing someone from bonds or danger. By extension, then, it applied to redeeming a captive from slavery.(Blue Letter Bible, "Strong's 6299)
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.(Deuteronomy 15:15)
The former word is used in a more poetic sense by Isaiah to speak of God's spiritual redemption of Israel: "I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you."(Isaiah 44:22) Though ga'al did not of itself necessarily imply any fault on the part of the redeemed (as in the case of Ruth), here it is used to illustrate the helplessness of the sinner. The field was powerless as to its ownership, and under the legal code of the day a woman and a slave were just about as powerless as inanimate property to determine their own fates. In the same way, we are powerless to free ourselves from sin, apart from the grace of God.
The New Testament speaks of Jesus in just the same fashion:
In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.(Galatians 4:3-5)But Jesus came to do more than free us from captivity to sin and Satan; He came to make us into something entirely different. There was a purity and wholeness lost when we sinned, that Jesus came to restore. Even in His miracles of a purely physical nature, there is an underlying theme of this restoration:
Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.(Matthew 12:13)The restoration of our souls to a right relationship with God is a far greater miracle. Like the man with the withered hand, our souls were withered and twisted, but Jesus restored them to what He intended them to be; like the man cured of blindness, we were "darkened in our understanding, alienated from the life of God," but now are "renewed in the spirit of our minds."(Ephesians 4:18,23)
Then Jesus laid His hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.(Mark 8:25)
The Sanderson three-stanza revision reads "We keep the supper of the Word" in the second line. I cannot imagine any objection to "memory adored," which obviously refers to Christ's command in Luke 22:19 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:24), "do this in remembrance of Me." The third line comes from a later verse in the 1 Corinthians passage, which is almost certainly the inspiration for the fourth line as well: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."(1 Corinthians 11:26)
The Greek term for "proclaim" is more commonly rendered "preach" in other New Testament passages, as in the very public announcement of the gospel by the Apostles in the book of Acts.(Blue Letter Bible, "Strong's G2605") We think primarily of "receiving" communion, and rightly so, for it is the symbol of God's greatest gift; yet in this supper we also "proclaim" our belief in Christ, our faith in His saving work, and our ongoing communion with Him.
"Until He come" is a phrase so time-honored in our church language that it is easy to overlook its peculiarity. Shouldn't that be "until He comes?" When we look at various English translations, it is often rendered that way (NKJV, ESV, NIV). The phrase "until He come" is in the subjunctive mood, implying a degree of uncertainty, but this needs careful examination. Our modern use of the subjunctive is almost exclusively for expressing doubt about the action involved, e.g. "if I were" instead of "I was." In the older English of the King James Version, however (and still in some poetic uses today), the use of a subjunctive "until He come" could mean an uncertainty only in the amount of time implied in "until."
An almost identical English usage that has come down to us from the same era is, "Until death do us part." There is no implication that the parting is in doubt, but only of the time that will elapse in the "until." In the same fashion, when we sing, "until He come," we are acknowledging that the time may be long or short, and we are committing ourselves to continue this weekly remembrance of Him until that time should arrive.
His body, given in our stead,
Is seen in this memorial bread;
And so our feeble love is fed,
Until He come!
Christ's simple statement at the Last Supper, "Take, eat, this is My body,"(Matthew 26:26) had a history. He had used such language before, in a teaching moment that shocked and amazed both friend and foe:
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me."(John 6:52-57)Here, perhaps, is the root of the wild charges of cannibalism that dogged the early Christians. It is shocking even to our jaded age, and certainly scandalized Christ's Jewish audience, whose law strictly forbade such actions. But Jesus shocked in order to provoke thought.
Essential to our forgiveness is the atoning sacrifice of Christ's perfect life: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."(1 Peter 2:24) Our only access to grace, therefore, is through that body and blood; and "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?"(1 Corinthians 10:16) But there is another and perhaps more basic symbolism here as well. In John 6:56 Jesus says that the purpose of consuming His flesh and blood is that He may abide in us. He could use no more vivid picture to show this. We need to get Him inside us, to let His image grow within our hearts.
Finally, we need to be reminded of this often, to have our "feeble love" increased by receiving the emblems of His body and blood, remembering our helpless spiritual state without Him. Without this remembrance, we too easily lose touch with this reality. Paul said that even those who partake, yet do so without thinking, are not receiving the blessing God would give them: "That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have fallen asleep."(1 Corinthians 11:30)
His fearful unknown agony,
His life-blood shed for us we see;
The wine shall tell the mystery,
Until He come!
The original first line reads "fearful drops of agony," and I suppose the alteration came from Jorgenson, since I have not found it outside of hymnals used in the American Churches of Christ. Rawson seems to refer to the Lord's agony in Gethsemane, when "His sweat became like great drops of blood."(Luke 22:44) There has been much discussion of whether the sweat was only like drops of blood, or was actually bloody. If the latter, then Gethsemane was the beginning of the shedding of Christ's blood for us; but the point is not certain, and Jorgenson may have decided to avoid it through a more neutral wording.
Certainly the agony in Gethsemane is a part of all those events that we contemplate when we think of the sacrifice of Jesus. "Unknown agony" is singularly appropriate, for just as Jesus lived a perfect life, He died a perfect death. "Perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die," says Romans 5:7, but even that most noble of human acts is colored by several facts of our humanity. "It is appointed to man once to die,"(Hebrews 9:27) and though we instinctively put that appointment off as long as possible, when making that mental transaction of sacrificing one's life for another, it is after all an exchange of one date for another.
Simply put, the hero knows that he or she will not live forever; but Jesus had the option not to place Himself under that fate. And even the heroes among us are tainted with sin; the best of them, in fact, are the first to admit their faults. They are likely to say that it might as well be them rather than the other fellow. When Sydney Carton goes to the guillotine in place of another man in A Tale of Two Cities, we know that Darnay is after all the better man and deserves to live, and that this is Carton's attempt to atone for a wasted life. But Jesus alone of humanity could truly say that He did not deserve to die, and that He was morally pure when those for whom He sacrificed Himself were not.
I have wondered, as perhaps you have, whether Jesus could have made any other choice. That is, did He have the ability to reject the plan and refuse to be the sacrifice for our sins? I think the answer must be in the affirmative. What else could He have meant when He told Peter during His arrest, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?"(Matthew 26:53-54) Jesus addressed this question more directly in John 10:17-18,
"For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father."What would have happened if He refused? What would it have meant for the nature of the Trinity? It is a subject that bumps against the outer limits of our ability to comprehend, because it touches on the infinite nature of God; but one question is not in doubt. We would have been eternally lost.
There are two senses of "mystery," then, that the supper reveals. One is the more common sense of "mystery" as used in the New Testament: as Thayer put it, "the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly."(Blue Letter Bible, "Strong's G3466") This mystery is one we can understand--that the body and blood are represented in these elements, giving us forgiveness and life. But there is the other sense of mystery as well, as we attempt to picture the magnitude of what Christ did, how He must have felt, and what it means.
Those familiar with the Sanderson revision of this hymn have no doubt recognized that he rewrote parts of the second and third stanzas of Rawson's original into the following:
His body, given in our stead
Is seen in this memorial bread;
And as we drink we see the blood,
Until He come.
It is adequate, but loses some of the richness of the original. The obvious impulse for this change would seem to be the reference to wine in the original; the Churches of Christ in the U.S., like many other conservative Christian groups in this country, use grape juice instead of fermented wine in the communion. If we understand "wine" here in a very generic sense (as it was actually used in the Greek of the New Testament), I see no problem with the original wording. For more on this question of communion wine, I recommend Wayne Jackson's very sensible article in the Christian Courier: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/224-was-the-fruit-of-the-vine-fermented
And thus that dark betrayal night
With the last advent we unite,
By one bright chain of loving rite,
Until He come!
This is one of the simplest, best constructed, and most moving hymn stanzas to be found in any communion hymn. It is an excellent reminder of the value of reading hymns carefully; the best of them have nuggets of truth that are well worth our study. The first three stanzas have reenacted the Lord's Supper, with reference back to His suffering and the promise to remember it "Until He come." Now the two ideas are tied together in a final statement of our commitment.
Jesus instituted the communion on "that dark betrayal night," and there gave us our standing orders thus to remember His sacrifice. Faithful Christians have continued to honor and obey Him from that time forward, and will until He comes again--His "last advent." Though persecution and apostasy thin the ranks of the faithful from age to age, somewhere, we trust, there have been faithful Christians fulfilling His command. From week to week, around the world, we know there are faithful Christians still doing so. By faith we look forward and see that others will "enter into our labors" and continue to honor Him in this supper, "Until He come." This is the "bright chain of loving rite," shared by brothers and sisters in Christ of all races, nations, and generations.
This stanza brings the hymn to a fitting end, but it originally served as a transition to two further stanzas:
Until the trump of God be heard,
Until the ancient graves be stirred,
And, with the great commanding word,
The Lord shall come.
O blessed hope! with this elate
Let not our hearts be desolate,
But, strong in faith, in patience wait
Until He come.
The fifth stanza calls forth the dramatic images of the last trumpet and the resurrection: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed."(1 Corinthians 15:52) It is a fine, powerful stanza, but almost seems to be starting another hymn (a hymn that I wish Rawson had written). The real weakness here, however, is the sixth stanza, though it is not really Rawson's fault. I believe "elate" is used here in its adjectival sense "of high spirits, exultant,"(Oxford Universal Dictionary) modifying "hearts" in the next line. This is an unusual usage today, however, and sounds awkward (though fans of Jane Eyre may recognize the line, "First, I smiled to myself and felt elate . . ."). Many hymnals reduce the hymn to just the first four stanzas, and the strength of the fourth stanza gives it a fine ending.
About the music:
Arthur Henry Dyke (Acland) Troyte (1811-1857) came from the noble Acland family of Devon, though he adopted the surname Troyte in 1852 through a peculiar requirement of an inheritance arrangement.(Acland, 193). He was a Renaissance man of the first order who pursued scientific and artistic endeavors with an almost manic intensity; but he was also noted for his ability to see how each of these things ultimately related to our Creator. In a set of tide tables, for example, he reminded the reader that although science made it possible to predict such things as tides, we should remember the uncertainty of life and commit ourselves to God's protection before starting a voyage.(Acland, 5) He never took a formal religious office, but was as ardent a worker for his church as any could ask.
It is ironically appropriate, then, that he is more universally remembered for something so slight as this chant formula. His son said of this,
Nothing pleased Arthur Acland more than to be able to devote to the good of the Church any one of his many remarkable talents, and perhaps the one product of his active brain which is most widely known is a simple piece of Church music of only a few bars' length. It would be no exaggeration to say that wherever English-speaking people meet together and sing English hymns, " Troyte's Chant," as it is called, is frequently used and appreciated. . . As a musical composition this might be considered an almost trivial contribution to the boundless store of sacred music, but it serves as an illustration of the fact that even a little matter may attain popularity if well adapted to its purpose.(Acland, 71) It was composed in 1848, along with several others, for the Salisbury Hymn Book.
"Chant" (also called "plainchant" or "plainsong") might be defined as singing with defined pitches, yet without defined rhythm. But within this style of music there are also two broad categories to consider: there are chants that are melodically elaborate, sometimes with many notes to a syllable of text, and there are chants that repeat the same note of melody for several syllables of text without moving. The historic Gregorian chant of Medieval Europe contained both styles, though the latter type was used only for reciting prayers and scriptures; most of the Gregorian chants one hears in recordings are of the more elaborate first type, unless it is a recording of an entire mass including all the spoken and recited elements.
This latter category of chant is, however, much older, having its roots at least partially in the ancient Jewish tradition of reciting Scriptures and prayers to simple musical formulas. It seems likely that much the music of the early Christian church was of this sort as well. It has been a part of most Christian musical traditions throughout the centuries, though at times it has been out of favor in the Protestant world as being "too ritualistic" (or "too Catholic," if they were honest about it). But though chanting has seen its ups and downs, congregational chants such as Troyte's chants have remained, at least around the fringes, in most of the English-speaking Christian world.
The common elements of this form of chant, from ancient times to the present, are these:
- A short introductory melodic formula (sometimes omitted).
- The "recitation note" on which the majority of the text is sung, using the natural rhythms of speech.
- The "mediation," a short melodic formula that varies from the recitation note, accentuating the punctuation of the text.
- A concluding melodic formula.
Chant has not held a large place in the singing of the American Churches of Christ, but it is not unknown. A mainstream Restoration Movement hymnal from the late 19th century, Fillmore's New Christian Hymn Book (Cincinatti, 1882), contained a small section of chants, and even one of the early Gospel Advocate hymnals, the New Christian Hymn Book (1907), contained the chant "May the words of my mouth." Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church did much to reintroduce this style in the 1920s, with 17 chants present in the classic "no. 2" edition of the 1930s. Almost all the hymnals of the Churches of Christ in the U.S. include "By Christ redeemed" set to Troyte's chant, and many also have "May the words of my mouth" or William Bradbury's chant setting of "O God our help in ages past." Praise for the Lord, which used Great Songs of the Church as its point of departure, includes several chants.
Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology New York: Scribner, 1892. http://books.google.com/books?id=aBDpAAAAIAAJ
Walker, Wayne S. "By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored." Hymn Studies, 2008. http://homeschoolblogger.com/hymnstudies/517233/
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, "Strong's 1350." http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H1350
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, "Strong's 6299." http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H6299
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, "Strong's G2605." http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2605
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, "Strong's G3466." http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3466
Oxford Universal Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.
Acland, John E. A Layman's Life in the Days of the Tractarian Movement : in Memoriam Arthur (Acland) Troyte. Oxford: James Parker, 1904. http://books.google.com/books?id=MqpFAAAAIAAJ