Friday, September 30, 2011

Christ for the World We Sing

Praise for the Lord #93

Words: Samuel Wolcott, 1869
Music: Felice de Giardini, 1769

Rarely is the inspiration for a hymn so straightforward and unarguable. Samuel Wolcott said of this hymn,
The Young Men’s Christ­ian As­so­ci­a­tion of Ohio met in one of our church­es with their motto in ever­green let­ters over the pulpit: "Christ for the World, and the World for Christ." This sug­gest­ed the hymn "Christ for the world we sing." It was on my way home from this serv­ice in 1869, walk­ing alone through the streets, that I put to­ge­ther the four stan­zas of the hymn.(Nutter, 333ff.)
Samuel Wolcott (1813-1886) wrote from what he knew. A Congregationalist minister, he preached in churches in New England and the Midwest, but his influence reached much further. He was a missionary to Syria in 1840-1842. He served in several positions with the Ohio Congregational Home Missionary Society. He served as a trustee of Oberlin College from 1868-1881.(Wheaton) He was also involved with the Soldier's Aid Society in Ohio during the Civil War.(NewsBank) He was a staunch abolitionist, as evidenced by his sermon published in the 1840s, "How shall Christians and Christian churches best absolve themselves from all responsible connection with slavery?," as well as other tracts and reports on the subject during the years leading up to the war.( Living as he did in the new era of rail transportation, he made good use of this new-found mobility and doubtless accrued many miles on the rails in keeping up with his responsibilities.

Wolcott is believed to have turned to hymn-writing at the mature age of 55, and "Christ for the World" is one of his earliest efforts.(Wheaton) A volume of his works, Sacred Hymns, was published privately after his death. It is available as a free Google e-book.

Stanza 1:
Christ for the world we sing:
The world to Christ we bring
With loving zeal--
The poor and them that mourn,
The faint and overborne,
Sin-sick and sorrow-worn,
Whom Christ doth heal.

The first stanza looks at the state of the world before Christ came, a state in which too many still remain. There is poverty of unmet material needs, and there is poverty of unmet spiritual needs. The latter is not the godly humility of the "poor in spirit,"(Matthew 5:3) but a spiritual emptiness that can be more destructive than material want (though too often they are present together). There is faintness of spirit, being overwhelmed by life, and spiritual sickness and weakness. The result is mourning and sorrow.

Jesus came to change that. What it would have been, to be present at Nazareth on the Sabbath day, and hear Him read the passage from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor . . .(Isaiah 61:1-2)
And then to hear Him say, "Today has this Scripture been fulfilled in your hearing!" Had He continued, the passage reads on as follows:
. . . and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.(Isaiah 61:2b-3)
Perhaps Wolcott had these verses in mind when he wrote this stanza. Jesus came to change these things--to reach out to the poor (physically and spiritually), to comfort the mourner and the brokenhearted, and to bring new life to the faint and sick. We who wear His name know this firsthand, because He has done it for us; we of all people know that He is the only answer to these problems.

We of all people, therefore, should be doing for others what He did for us. If we are followers of Christ and imitators of Him, then,
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.(Philippians 2:4-7)
Part of this "mind of Christ" is looking at others through Christ's eyes instead of our own, which tend to be a bit near-sighted and focused on our own problems. If we look at the timeline of events leading into Matthew chapter 9, Jesus was almost certainly emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted when the multitudes approached Him once again; "but when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd."(Matthew 9:36) There were times, yes, when He went apart for time to Himself, and private time with His disciples. But compassion moved Him to reach out to those people who were so obviously in need.

Sometimes, I think, we just get overwhelmed by the extent of the problems in the world. No matter how much we might do, or how much we might give, there seems to be more need than we could ever meet. It is easy to give up before we start. But though you may not be able to change the whole world on your own, what you do for one person may change his or her world forever. And we are never on our own in this matter: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."(Ephesians 2:10)

Stanza 2:
Christ for the world we sing:
The world to Christ we bring
With fervent prayer--
The wayward and the lost,
By restless passions tossed,
Redeemed at countless cost
From dark despair.

Is there any endeavor in the individual Christian's life, or in the life of a congregation, that does not need doing "with fervent prayer?" James 5:16 tells us that "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." It is useful to note the example that James gives: Elijah. In 1 Kings 17 Elijah's prayer stopped the rain from falling on Israel, as a sign of God's withdrawal of favor. In the same chapter, Elijah prayed for the return of the widow's son to life, and his desire was granted. In chapter 18 his prayer brought down fire from heaven on the altar on Mt. Carmel.

But most impressive to me is Elijah's praying at the end of chapter 18 (verse 42 to the end), when he asks God to make it rain. Again and again Elijah bows down and prays; again and again his servant reports, "There is nothing."(v.43) But Elijah knew how to "pray without ceasing."(1 Thessalonians 5:17) Finally there is "a cloud, the size of a man's hand,"(v.44) and even from such a small beginning Elijah knows his prayer was being answered.

Planning of evangelism is good, and execution of plans is even better, but we should never discount the importance of prayer in spreading the gospel. The Jerusalem church prayed that the Lord would, "grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness."(Acts 4:29) Paul and Barnabas were sent off to their mission campaigns with the fasting and prayer of the church at Antioch.(Acts 13:3) Paul prayed fervently for the conversion of his fellow Jews.(Romans 10:1) He also asked for the prayers of others on behalf of his own efforts: "pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word;"(Colossians 4:3) "pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead."(2 Thessalonians 3:1) These were brothers and sisters who were evangelistic--the early Christians "went everywhere preaching the word"(Acts 8:4)--but they also knew the value of earnest prayer in preparing the soil where the gospel seed is planted, and in helping to bring the increase afterward.

Wolcott draws our attention again to the lost state of the sinner, in contrast to the focused, fervent prayer of the Christian. They are "tossed" by "restless passion." Some are in "dark despair." Perhaps Wolcott thought of the language in Jude; though it describes a hypocritical false teacher posing as a faithful Christian, rather than a simply lost sinner, it is a vivid picture of a life without grounding in God's truth.
[They are] waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.(Jude 12-13)
I have never had the misfortune of being lost at sea, but I have been caught by a strong current in a river--ironically, the "Current River" in central Missouri. I was never a good swimmer, and it was terrifying to feel that helplessness before my father caught hold of me and pulled me toward the shore. Paul describes this spiritual state in a wayward Christian, "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."(Ephesians 4:14) The lost sinner is in the same shape, and does not know it!

Dark, on the other hand, I have seen--I have been in the Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, with the lights out. There is no describing how dark that is; it is as though, when the lights were turned off, the universe blinked out of existence. The complete loss of the sense of sight is so gripping, you forget that you have other senses that are still operable. It is sad but true that most of this world walks around every day in the full light of the sun physically, but just as much in the dark spiritually as if they were lost in that cave. Whatever we can do to pull even one person toward the shore, whatever we can do to shed even a candle's little gleam of light into the darkness of one life, we need to do! God help us to see the need all around us.

Stanza 3:
Christ for the world we sing:
The world to Christ we bring
With one accord--
With us the work to share,
With us reproach to dare,
With us the cross to bear,
For Christ our Lord.

Paul could have sung this stanza in reflection on his ministry, and the partnerships that developed along the way. While imprisoned in Rome, he told the church at Philippi,
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.(Philippians 1:12-14)
Paul "dared reproach" and "bore his cross," as even a cursory reading of Acts demonstrates. All along the way he found brothers and sisters willing to share his danger, and even taking courage from the opportunity to suffer for Christ. But sadly, then as now, not all was done "with one accord."
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.(Philippians 1:15-18)
It took a big man to say that, and it takes "big" people today to work together in furthering the gospel. We will not always agree, and we will not always enjoy one another's company. But like soldiers in any conflict, we must put aside personal preferences, and even grievances, for the sake of the greater cause. Paul encourages the Philippians later in the same chapter, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel."

The King James Version reads "striving together," and there are too many brethren who are doing just that, but in the wrong sense! I like the English Standard Version's reading "side by side," to translate the Greek synathleō in this verse. Break the word down, and you have the root athleō, meaning to engage in an athletic event; the prefix syn- is the same we see in our English words "synchronize" and "sympathy," emphasizing coordination and togetherness. The picture is that of two athletes on the same team, striving to win. A rowing team pulling their oars in perfect sync, a baseball team turning a well-rehearsed triple play, a defensive line in (American) football digging in for a goal-line stand, or even the old tug-of-war game are images of "striving side by side." We are in a contest far more serious than any game, and need to show the same determination, "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."(Ephesians 4:3)

Stanza 4:
Christ for the world we sing:
The world to Christ we bring
With joyful song--
The newborn souls whose days,
Reclaimed from error's ways,
Inspired with hope and praise,
To Christ belong.

Matthew tells us that after calling His disciples, Jesus "went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people."(4:23) It was fulfillment of a prophecy from the 9th chapter of Isaiah: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."(Matthew 4:15-16)

It was a gospel--"good news"--that was a long time coming. Jesus told His hearers, "For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."(Matthew 13:17) Peter explained many years later that the great prophets of the Hebrew Testament knew something wonderful lay ahead:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.(1 Peter 1:10-12)
We are so incredibly fortunate to live in an era when the gospel is known, and in which it can so easily be spread throughout so much of the world! We should never take for granted the privilege we have of knowing, and sharing, the gospel of Christ.

There is a balance to be kept between preparation and execution in almost any endeavor. The human tendency, of course, is to procrastinate--to always be preparing, but never completing. It reminds me of a comment a coworker from New York City once made about a new phrase he had learned in Texas: "Fixin' to." He said,
That's a great expression--"fixin' to." If the boss says, "Have you done that job yet?" I can say, "No, but I'm fixin' to." I may have completely forgotten about it, but "fixin' to" makes it sound like I have at least done something, or I was going to do something but was so busy I couldn't get to it yet.
Too many of us (myself included) are "fixin' to" do more about sharing the gospel, but haven't done it. God help us to live up to the message of this hymn!

About the music:

Felice de Giardini (1716-1796; sometimes "Di Giardini" or "Degiardino") was a prominent Italian violinist of that vague era between the Baroque and Classical periods that is sometimes called "Rococo." For a point of comparison, Giardini was touring Europe before the death of J. S. Bach in 1750, and was established as a performer, conductor, and teacher in London before the death of Handel in 1759;(Hogwood) Joseph Haydn, on the other hand, though only 16 years younger, was still a teenager when Bach died, and in the decade of the 1750s was struggling to establish a career.

Though Giardini built on the Classical directions of older composers such as Sammartini (1700-1775), and his music certainly doesn't sound Baroque, he never seems to have outgrown the galant style of the transitional period. His instrumental music reminds me of early Mozart--which is quite a compliment!--but without the depth the latter composer would bring to his mature work. The video below features the closing movement of Giardini's violin concerto in A major, performed by Mischa Lefkowitz with the English Chamber Orchestra. Lefkowitz released this on an MP3 album, "Classic Vintage in A Major," paired with Mozart's violin concerto K. 219.

Giardini's surviving works are primarily instrumental--solo sonatas, duets, trios, and quartets for strings, some solo sonatas for flute, and six violin concertos. He is known to have written a handful of operas and an oratorio, although only fragments of these works survive, and wrote numerous solo songs and light choral works.(Hogwood) One of these latter type that has been revived in modern times is "Viva tutti le vezzose:"

The Harmonicon's brief article, "A Memoir of Felice Giardini," sums up his career succinctly: "There is in some dispositions a pruriency to ruin themselves."(215) Though Giardini was gifted and popular, he was often temperamental and above all was in dire need of a financial manager. Handel's career had shown that even a sublime musical talent was not sufficient to run a successful opera company, but Giardini continued to follow the siren call of the theater instead of concentrating on teaching and instrumental composition, where he was more successful. His personal habits were no help to the situation; he confessed to Martin Madan, director of the Lock Hospital where Giardini's oratorio Ruth was produced, "I never had five guineas in my pocket, but I had a fever till they were gone."(Harmonicon, 217)

He was on the rebound from a failed opera venture in the 1760s, and made much of his ready money at that time from performing at the exclusive house concerts given by Lady Bingley.(Harmonicon, 216) It was likely at one such fashionable event that he met Countess Huntingdon, the powerful and controversial patroness of Calvinist Methodism. She induced him to write some hymn tunes for use in her private chapel, which prompted Horace Walpole to comment, "It will be a great acquisition to the Methodist sect to have their hymns set by Giardini."(Life and Times, 1:229-230)

ITALIAN HYMN was one of these hymns--and contrary to Walpole's estimation, it has been this hymn that has saved Giardini from obscurity. It has also gone under the names MOSCOW, for the city in which the composer died (surely an odd choice of title!), and TRINITY for its association with the Wesley text "Come, Thou Almighty King," the hymn for which it was first written. Giardini composed this and three other hymn tunes for A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (London, 1769), edited by his friend, the above-mentioned Martin Madan.(

Madan's tune-book was also called the Lock Hospital Collection after the charitable institution that Madan supervised, and for the chapel of which the collection was intended.(Temperley, 58) The tunes for the Madan's collection were written in three parts: soprano, alto, and bass. The bass part was provided with "figures" (numbers representing the chord structure above each bass note) for the sake of organists.(Temperley, 57) This was the same texture used in the Baroque trio sonata, and was more importantly the style of the Baroque operatic duet--considering of course the fact that Baroque opera used male sopranos in the leading roles, a subject into which we need venture no further. Temperley suggests that this was Madan's intent all along--as a means of encouraging congregational singing, he promoted a style of "contemporary church music" that imitated the music of the theaters and music halls.(64)

Madan did not, however, simply adapt hymn tunes from existing classical works (as would be done so frequently in the following century). As far as is known, the tunes are original, solicited from a number of different composers. Madan himself, a man of diverse and considerable talents, wrote the majority, followed by Charles Lockhart, the chapel organist; but the roster also included, in addition to Giardini, the eminent English composer Samuel Arnold, the famed music historian Charles Burney, and several other notable musicians of the day.(Temperley, 69)

Giardini contributed seven tunes to this collection, but his influence may have gone much further. The collection was "revised and corrected by an eminent Master" according to an advertisement of 1765, and though the editor remained unnamed, Temperley makes a strong case that it was Giardini, a personal friend of Madan and a member of the board of governors for the hospital.(69)

ITALIAN HYMN was written specifically for the text "Come, Thou Almighty King," a text presumably by Wesley and written as a sacred parody of the English national anthem, "God save the King."(Temperley, 70) This raises a question of interpretation that I thought I had settled (at least for myself), but will have to review again. I have led this song all my life, and in earlier years tended to sing it rather forcefully, as though it were coronation music written for herald trumpets. More recently, however, in light of a broader understanding of the musical styles of Giardini's era, it struck me that it is really rather like a minuet. I have tried singing it more lightly, and a little more quickly (but not too fast), with one broad beat to each measure instead of counting all three beats. If this was written in view of "God save the King," however, perhaps my original interpretation was more appropriate. Both styles have their good points, though.

I was really surprised to find the assertion in James Love's old Scottish Church Music, that the tune has become so corrupted. The original last two phrases are given in the image below, and you can click on the image to view Love's entire discussion.

This is a case in which the singers and hymnal editors knew better than the composer! The ascending arpeggio on the tonic chord at the beginning of this passage (as we sing it today) is a mirror to the descending arpeggio on the tonic chord at the opening of the tune, and in the unison third phrase. It is a nice little touch of consistency, and makes the tune better.


Nut­ter, Charles S. & Wilbur F. Tillett. The Hymns and Hymn Writ­ers of the Church. New York: The Meth­od­ist Book Concern, 1911. Quoted from Cyberhymnal,

"Reverend Samuel Wolcott, Commencement speaker, 1854." Wheaton College History.

"Bulletin no. 5." Soldier's Aid Society of Ohio, Cleveland Branch Sanitary Commission. From NewsBank, Archive of Americana, American Broadsides and Ephemera, series 1, number 11949.

Hogwood, Christopher. "Giardini, Felice (de)." New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 volumes, edited Stanley Sadie. London: MacMillan, 1980, volume 7, pages 350-351.

"Memoir of Felice Giardini." Harmonicon volume 5 (1827), pages 215-217.

The Life and Times of Selina Countess of Huntingdon, 2 volumes. London: William Edward Painter, 1844.


Temperley, Nicholas. "The Lock Hospital Chapel and its Music." Journal of the Royal Music Association volume 118/1 (1993), pages 44-72.

Love, James. "Giardini, Felice de." Scottish Church Music, its Composers and Sources.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Christ is Precious

Praise for the Lord #92

Words: Eliza Morgan Sherman, 1880
Music: James Henry Fillmore, 1880

Eliza Morgan Sherman was born 2 May 1849 at Suffield, Connecticut, but lived most of her life in Brodhead, Wisconsin. Her father James Taylor Sherman was a deacon of the Congregational Church there for fifty years.(Sherman Genealogy, 336-337) The Shermans were a distinguished Connecticut family of military officers, civil officials, and clergy; Eliza's great-great-grandfather, Roger Sherman, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and was a U.S. senator. General William Tecumseh Sherman was a distant cousin.

Census records show that she remained unmarried, living in Brodhead. (And after seeing pictures of that beautiful rolling farmland, I cannot imagine why she would leave!) She passed away on 13 January 1928.(Green County, 175) Details of her life are sketchy so far; in fact, it is thanks to only one source--Eva Munson Smith's Woman in Sacred Song (1888) that we can identify the hymnwriter with the Eliza M. Sherman of Brodhead.(xxi)

For about the last quarter of the 19th century, Sherman was a prolific writer of hymn texts, poetry, and short stories. A search of reveals about 80 texts under her name, and through the information available in that database I have reconstructed what I can of her career in gospel hymnody.

In 1877 David C. Cook, a Chicago publisher of Sunday School literature and founder of the publishing house that still bears his name, commissioned songwriters to write original gospel songs to accompany each lesson in the Sunday School quarterlies for the upcoming year. The popularity of this feature led him to expand the project in 1878, issuing an open call for original poetry and music. Over 800 poems and 500 musical settings came in, and a panel of judges selected 186 hymns to accompany the lessons in the 1879 quarterlies. The hymns were also published as a group in the International Lesson Hymnal (1878). Staff writers composed music for most of the poems.(Cook, Preface)

The earliest hymns I have found by Eliza M. Sherman appear in this volume, and she was apparently one of the many amateur contributors rather than one of Cook's staff. Her "Art thou waiting on the watch tower?" is listed as the "First Prize Piece" overall, with music by A. J. Abbey (also apparently a contributor), and her "Art thou sitting in the shadow?" is given "First Prize Words" (music by staff composer J. M. Stillman). In fact Eliza Sherman dominated the competition, with no fewer than nine texts included--more than any other single author in the collection except for J. B. Atchison, one of the staff writers.

Sherman's hymn texts also appeared frequently in the 1880 hymnal Fount of Blessing, edited by R. G. Staples and published by Central Book Concern in Chicago. Nine of her works appeared in a book of only 153 hymns, more than any other author except the editor himself. Interestingly, J. B. Atchison, a staff writer for David C. Cook's hymnal, also appears frequently in this book.

This suggests a possible pattern--her works appear set to music by, or in hymnals edited by, a fairly consistent group of well-known names in the Midwestern gospel music houses. Sherman's texts in the International Lesson Hymnal were set to music by staff writers J. M. Stillman, T. Martin Towne, and W. Irving Hartshown. Stillman set two more of her texts to music for Good Will: A collection of New Music for Sabbath Schools and Gospel Meetings, which he co-edited with Towne. This was published by S. W. Straub in 1882; Straub would also be the editor for Living Fountain in 1896, which contained six more Eliza Sherman hymns. Other editors who introduced significant numbers of Sherman's texts over the years were Asa Hull and C. C. Case.

"Christ is Precious" was by far Sherman's most popular hymn, with 27 instances in; the closest contender was her "Soft and sweet the bells are ringing," with only 8 instances. A handful of others have five or six instances. Click here for a complete song list with links to her hymns where available. Sherman's last "new" hymn appears in 1904 (though of course it may have been published earlier in a work unknown to me). Her hymns appear fairly regularly through the 1880s and 1890s, so the sudden drop-off in new works suggests some change in her situation around the turn of the century.

A search of shows that the earliest instance of "Christ is Precious" was in Joy and Gladness, an 1880 publication by Fillmore Brothers of Cincinnati. Over the following two decades it appeared fairly frequently in songbooks from Restoration Movement publishers such as Fillmore, Guide Publishing, and Standard Publishing. By the early 20th century its popularity apparently waned, but when Elmer Jorgenson included it in his influential Great Songs of the Church, it was given a new lease on life and is still around a century later.

Stanza 1:
O the precious love of Jesus,
Growing sweeter day by day,
Tuning all my heart so joyous,
To a heavenly melody.

Christ is precious, Christ is precious;
In life's journey He will lead thee;
Christ is precious, Christ is precious;
He will lead thee all the way.

"Precious" is not a word we throw around casually today; it can even have a slightly negative connotation in the sense of being overly refined and mannered. We probably do not use it as a term of endearment as much as was once common. But words mean things, and even such a simple statement as "Christ is precious" may have an interesting Scriptural background. I believe Miss Sherman refers to the following passage from 1 Peter, chapter 2, verses 4-8:
To Whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
In the King James Version, Christ is referred to as "precious" three times in these four verses. In the first two instances, it translates the Greek word entimos, meaning "held in honor, prized . . . honorable, noble"(Strong's 1784) It is the word used in Luke 7:2 to describe the centurion's feelings for his sick servant, for whose sake he sought the healing power of Jesus. It is the term Jesus used to describe the more honorable guest, in His parable of the feast in Luke 14. In the passage from 1 Peter both meanings are operative, because the term describes the estimation of Christ the Son by God the Father--Jesus is dear in a personal, emotional sense, and held in the highest honor for His worth.

The third instance of "precious" in this passage, however, translates instead the Greek word timē, and refers to our relationship to Jesus and our understanding of His pre-eminence. It is "the honor of one who outranks others . . . the praise of which one is judged worthy." In the background of this word, too, is its use as "a value at which a price is fixed."(Strong's 5092) How high is that price? "He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation. . . . And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."(Colossians 1:15,17) Yet here was the price that God was willing to pay for our sins! Precious indeed, and beyond our understanding; but what can we do except honor and value Him the best we know how?

The end of the first stanza speaks of "tuning" the heart for a "heavenly melody." This calls to mind, of course, "making melody to the Lord with your heart,"(Ephesians 5:19) and perhaps also "I will sing and make melody with all my being."(Psalm 108:1) An instrument that is out of tune will sound bad, regardless of the beauty of the melody or even the skill of the player; isn't the same true of our worship, and our lives?

Before a performance, players tune their instruments. This usually involves adjusting the instrument to a standard (for example, the frequency 440 Herz for the note A above middle C). Players also check the consistency of the instrument's tuning throughout its range, usually running through some scales and arpeggios. Additionally, they make sure they are in tune with each other. In the same way, we need to tune our hearts to God's standard of truth, making sure that every area of our lives is consistent with that standard. We also need to work for harmony with other Christians, though always in reference first to God's standard. When we do these things, our lives and our worship will be pleasing to God (and most likely our singing as well). Tying the thought back to Sherman's overall theme, it is Christ's example of honor and excellence that sets the standard, and His sacrificial love that shows us the extent to which we should strive to work harmoniously together in the service of our Father.

Stanza 2:
But we cannot know the fullness
Of the Savior's wondrous love,
Till we see and know His glory,
In the heav'nly home above.


The fullness of Jesus' love is beyond our understanding, because the fullness of Jesus in every aspect is beyond us--"For in Him the whole fullness of Deity dwells bodily."(Colossians 2:9) It is beyond our ability as well; yet we are called to attempt it anyway. "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."(Ephesians 5:2) In the most humble and practical roles in life--for example, the husband living with his wife--we are called to this sublime ideal: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."(Ephesians 5:25) The love of Christ is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling; "for the love of Christ controls us."(2 Corinthians 5:14)

We are promised the beginnings of this transformation even now, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."(Ephesians 3:17-20) We will not complete that fullness, however, until we reach our ultimate goal: "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is."(1 John 3:2) Not that we will ever be His equal; but if we can even hope to comprehend Him, what a fulfillment that will be!

Stanza 3:
Come and taste the love of Jesus,
At His feet thy burdens lay;
Trust Him with thy grief and sorrow,
Bear this joyful song away.


The inspiration for this final stanza is obviously Psalm 34:8, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!" It is interesting to see what leads up to this verse in the original context; the superscription of the Psalm says "Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away." The reference is to 1 Samuel 21; David, after being outlawed in his home country by King Saul, had taken refuge for a time with the Philistine king of Gath, called Achish in 1 Samuel. David soon realized that the Philistines did not believe in his defection from Saul, and he feigned insanity in order to divert them from this line of thinking. Though he was humiliated, he escaped with his life.

In reflection on these events, he begins: "I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth."(v.1) It would have been easy for David to focus on the problems in his life, which were considerable; but he chose to praise the Lord regardless. "My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!"(v.2-3) When David lifted his hurting soul to God, he knew he was not alone; he was in the good company of the faithful and humble servants of the Lord, whether physically present or not. "I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears."(v.4) God never promised to shelter us from every hint of trouble in our lives, but He has promised over and over again to be "a present help in time of trouble."(Psalm 46:1)

David concludes from his experience that, "Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them."(v.5-7) It is not just a theoretical faith, but a proven faith; David has seen and experienced God's deliverance. When we have come through such an experience, it should build our faith, and be a blessing to the faith of others. David concludes with the exhortation, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!"(v.8)

Sherman may also refer in this stanza to another of David's psalms of endurance: "Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved."(Psalm 55:22) This too was a psalm spoken from a time of trouble, yet rising to a powerful statement of faith. David understood that his burdens were to great for him to bear alone; he trusted God with them, and emerged to rejoice. How much more can we rejoice, who understand the fully revealed gospel of Jesus Christ? We can lay down these burdens and "go on our way rejoicing,"(Acts 8:39) knowing that our faith lies in the One of whom the prophet said,
Behold, I am laying in Zion a Stone, a Cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.(1 Peter 2:6)
About the music:

James Henry Fillmore, Sr. (1849-1936) was one of the giants of gospel music publishing, not only within the Restoration Movement, but in the industry at large. Son of Augustus Damon Fillmore, a Cincinnati music publisher, James became the head of the family business at a young age and founded Fillmore Brothers Music Company in 1874. He requires a post all to himself--he was one of our most prolific composers, and was at the center of a boom era in gospel music and the American publishing industry in general.

J. H. Fillmore's music for "Christ is Precious," unfortunately, is not really up to his standard. I do not hesitate to criticize him here, because his overall ability is so far above question; in better known works such as "I know that my Redeemer lives, and ever prays for me" and "I am resolved, no longer to linger," I believe he is proven one of the best gospel hymnwriters of the era. But there is something stultifyingly static about the harmony in this piece; perhaps Fillmore should have introduced a different chord at the opening of the chorus (as occurs in a very similar song, "All for Jesus," to very good effect).

The image below is from Songs of Glory no. 2 (Cincinnati: Fillmore, 1881), and is of interest from a pedagogical standpoint. Several systems of teaching the masses to read music were invented in the early years of the United States, the most successful of which was the use of different shapes for note-heads to indicate the step of the scale. But though shape notes were used widely in the earlier part of the 19th century, they fell out of fashion in the Northeast in favor of the European-guided reforms of Lowell Mason and others. They stayed in use in the South, of course, where several living shape-note traditions are still to be found; but the Midwest was more mixed.

Fillmore Brothers, in Cincinnati, were at the hub of this transition in more ways than one. Just to the south and west, Kentucky and southern Indiana were (and still are) part of the shape-note heartland, but the network of emerging industrial cities to the north and east were increasingly influenced by more modern music education methods. Similarly, though the Fillmores were prominent among the more modern and urban wing of the Restoration Movement in the upper Midwest, they were also quite influential among the more conservative congregations in the South. Not surprisingly, the former group was more likely to have access to the new European-styled music education, and the latter was more likely to stick with the old singing-school tradition.

What Fillmore Brothers accomplished in the system used in Songs of Glory was a clever compromise. Musicians accustomed to standard "round-note" notation could doubtless ignore the numbers inside the noteheads much more easily than the differing shapes of note-heads. Shape-note singers trained in the seven-shape system (instead of the older four-note method) could easily figure out the correspondence of the numbers to the familiar shapes and the solfege syllables. I am not sure when or where singing by numbers was actually invented, but it is a widely used alternative in the United States to the familiar DO-RE-MI's.


Sherman, Thomas Townsend. Sherman Genealogy. New York: Tobias A. Wright, 1920.

"Monroe 1900-1929 Obituary Index." Green County Wisconsin Genealogical Society.

Smith, Eva Munson, editor. Woman in Sacred Song. Chicago: Standard Publishing Company, 1888.

Cook, David C. International Lesson Hymnal. Chicago: David C. Cook, 1878.

Strong's 1784.

Strong's 5092.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cast Thy Burden on the Lord

Praise for the Lord #91

Words: Rowland Hill, 1783; altered, G. Rawson, 1853
Music: MERCY, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1854; arranged by Hubert Platt Main, 1866

The text of this hymn has come down to us by stages. It first appeared anonymously in Rowland Hill's Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1783) in five stanzas, of which only the first survives in our version at hand. The next major revision appeared in George Rawson's Leeds Hymn Book (1853), also in five stanzas, the fourth of which is the source of the second stanza in our version (with alterations).

American hymnals adapted the Rawson revision with even further changes, as evidenced in the Hymns and Songs of Praise (1874) edited by Hitchcock, Eddy, and Schaff.(Julian, 214) This last hymnal presents the text as we have it, but in four stanzas, of which Praise for the Lord retains the 1st, 2nd, and 4th. There are so many missing, altered, and added stanzas in the various presentations of this hymn that I will not attempt to cover all of them, but the older versions are available through the links provided above.

Stanza 1:
Cast thy burden on the Lord,
Only lean upon His word;
Thou shalt soon have cause to bless
His eternal faithfulness.

Hill drew the first line of this hymn directly from Psalm 55:22, "Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." The term "burden" here is something David had to carry, but also had a more abstract implication as "that which is placed upon one," i.e., his lot in life.(Genesius) There are many things that simply fall to our lots because we live in this world; in this Psalm, David laments the general "violence and strife in the city,"(v.9) and also the more personal blow of betrayal by a friend with whom he "took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company."(v.14) Both of these are sadly familiar in any age.

At the end of a dark and distressing psalm, David's one ray of hope is that God will take his burdens. There is a premonition in this verse, at least to us who know the wonderful fulfillment of God's redemption, of the words of Peter: "Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."(1 Peter 5:7) Of course there are sometimes burdens that we have placed upon ourselves because of our own poor choices; none are greater, perhaps, than these. But here we think also of the beautiful words of Jesus:
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)
There is a burden to carry as a Christian, but it is not carried alone; and there is the firm assurance that whatever trial or temptation comes, we will "be able to bear it."(1 Corinthians 10:13)

The second line of Hill's stanza tells us how to do it--"lean upon His word." Those who do not understand this, have never had to do it. Where else do we go, when everything around us has gone crazy? The unknown author of the beautiful 119th Psalm spoke wisely of the central place God's word must hold in our lives:
Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.(v.24)

This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your promise gives me life.(v.50)

The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.(v.72)

Forever, O LORD, Your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.(v.89)

I have seen a limit to all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.(v.96)

Keep steady my steps according to Your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.(v.133)

Your promise is well tried, and Your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts.(v.140-141)
Whatever our problems, that Book has an answer and can make things better. Charles Spurgeon is supposed to have said, "Nobody outgrows Scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years."

Hill concludes the stanza with the assurance that those who will follow his advice will soon find reason to praise God's steadfast love. As David said, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!"(Psalm 34:8) How often do we carry burdens that are too great for us, that we were never meant to handle alone, simply because we do not take advantage of God's help?

Stanza 2:
Ever in the raging storm
Thou shalt see His cheering form,
Hear His pledge of coming aid:
"It is I, be not afraid."

It is amazing how often the words "Be not afraid," or, "Fear not," came from the lips of our Savior. Even His arrival--the most joyful event in the history of the world to that date!--was heralded by the words, "Fear not."(Luke 1:13,30; 2:10) Jesus told Peter to "fear not" when He called the fisherman to a more noble catch.(Luke 5:10) He reassured Jairus with the words, "Be not afraid, only believe," before raising his daughter from the dead.(Mark 5:36) The glory of Jesus evoked fear in its beholders and similarly reassuring words from the Master, at His Transfiguration,(Matthew 17:7) after His resurrection,(Matthew 28:10) and at His appearance to John on Patmos.(Revelation 1:17)

Jesus did not say "Be not afraid" when He appeared in His glory to Saul on the Damascus road--that rebellious persecutor had every reason to be afraid, until he repented and obeyed the gospel!--but He did reassure the faithful apostle Paul in Corinth, and again in the storm before his shipwreck at Melita, with the same words of comfort: "It is I, be not afraid;" "Fear not, Paul."(Acts 18:9, 27:24)

Perhaps most famous, however, is the occasion referenced in this stanza, when Jesus walked across the waters of Galilee to join His disciples in their boat. Sailors have a reputation for superstition, and I suppose that dealing every day with the known and unknown terrors of the merciless sea would make anyone that way. As the disciples saw this figure approaching through the dark--impossibly, walking on the waves of a storm-swept sea--they cried out in fear, supposing He was a spirit. But Jesus called out to them, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid."(Matthew 14:27)

To give credit where credit is due, it was the writings of the late pope, John Paul II, that I encountered the following observation: in every one of these cases where someone was told to "Be not afraid," Jesus was preparing to do something wonderful. In one instance, He was about to arrive in the world. In another, He was calling His disciples. He was about to bring a young girl back from the dead. He was joining the disciples' boat in the storm. He was revealed in His glory at the Transfiguration. He was revealed in His glory after the Resurrection. He had many people yet to be saved in Corinth, though Paul was discouraged. He would deliver Paul and his shipmates alive, and Paul would speak before Caesar. He would deliver the Revelation to John.

Whatever we are afraid of, we know God will see us through it; "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all."(Psalm 34:19) We also know that "the testing of [our]faith produces steadfastness."(James 1:3) But we also need to remember that the very things that cause us fear may only be preludes to something better than we could have imagined.

Stanza 3:
He will gird thee by His pow'r,
In thy weary fainting hour;
Lean then, loving, on His Word;
Cast thy burden on the Lord.

This final stanza (at least in our version) is of more questionable authorship than the preceding two, which are almost certainly by Hill and Rawson respectively; the final two lines actually cobble together lines from the first stanza. The first two lines, however, further the thoughts of the hymn with a consideration of another aspect of burdens: it is not their weight alone that wears us down, but also the length of time they must be carried.

We can all relate, at some point, to the statement of Agur in the Proverbs: "I am weary, O God, and worn out."(Proverbs 30:1) Agur was a good man, full of faith and humility; but he was at the limit of his endurance. Significantly, though, he knew where to go for help: "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him."(Proverbs 30:5)

It is best to understand from the outset that the Christian race (to use one of Paul's favorite metaphors) is a marathon, not a sprint. Now, I am no athlete, but if you compare an Olympic sprinter to an Olympic marathon runner, the differences are obvious--the bulging muscles that give explosive speed over a short distance are not going to serve so well over a distance of miles. The lean, trim build of a successful marathon runner is a balance instead of both speed and endurance. And though we do not know whether Paul wrote Hebrews, it is certainly a Pauline sports metaphor that begins the 12th chapter, vividly illustrating this point:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
The admonition to endure is frequent throughout the New Testament, and in Paul's letters often takes the form of the following: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."(Galatians 6:9) We are running not only for ourselves, but for the sake of others to whom we may do good. It is for this reason that runners in training are so often seen together--the presence of another runner is an encouragement and a challenge to do one's best.

But in the end, we cannot depend on another runner, or even on ourselves. There are times when the distance yet to go is overwhelming, and we do not see how we can go on. We need a "second wind," or maybe a third or fourth. Here is where faith keeps us in the race--we have a source of renewal that is always at hand, always ready, and always reliable:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.(Isaiah 40:28-31)

About the music:

MERCY (also called GOTTSCHALK) comes from one of the most colorful figures in the musical history of the United States. At a time when Lowell Mason and the Boston establishment were busily "elevating public taste," the meteoric career of pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) showed that the still-young nation had much more to offer musically than just a careful copy of German Romanticism. The son of a German Jewish father and a French Creole mother, Gottschalk grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana; not surprisingly, he followed the French rather than German path in classical music, and sought his education in Paris rather than Leipzig.

At the time of his premature death he was probably the most famous classical music performer in the New World. Sometimes called the "Creole Chopin," Gottschalk's works were typically in the light style of the Parisian salons. A few of his works, however, such as "The Banjo," are attempts at a fusion of African American and European classical elements--a blend that would underlie much of the future of American music.(Kirsch)

The work on which this hymn is based was a piano piece titled "The Last Hope" (Op. 16). (Click here to view a full score; the tune proper begins on the third page of music after considerable introductory flourishes.) Written in 1854, this became one of Gottschalk's signature works, and one of the most popular piano compositions by an American composer in the 19th century. Though Gottschalk admittedly grew to despise it after being asked to play it at every concert, sales of the sheet music no doubt softened the blow. Legends about its origins, and its relationship to Gottschalk's numerous amorous adventures, are too abundant to mention.(Starr)

Though Gottschalk was closer to Chopin or Liszt in his overall style, the earnest lyric style of this melody reminds me of the Songs without Words by Felix Mendelssohn. One of these has been adapted as a hymn as well--CONSOLATION, sung with the lyrics "Still, still with Thee"(PFTL #596), "Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face"(PFTL #229), and "We would see Jesus"(PFTL #723). Gottschalk's MERCY is also sung with other lyrics, including "'Tis my happiness below"(PFTL #693) and "Holy Spirit, Light divine"(PFTL #233). These two piano tunes were just begging for lyrics!

In Praise for the Lord, and many other hymnals, the hymn arrangement of Gottschalk's "Last Hope" is attributed to Edwin O. Porter and dated to 1880. More recent research has determined, however, that it was actually the work of Hubert Platt Main (1839-1925) in 1866.(Offergeld) Main was a junior partner of William Bradbury (1816-1868), and after Bradbury's death formed the gospel music publishing house Biglow & Main. Main wrote well over 1,000 hymn tunes, but few if any are in common use. He was also an avid book collector, and his collection later formed the nucleus of the music section of Chicago's Newberry Library.(Cyberhymnal, "Main")

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

Genesius, Wilhelm. "Yahab." Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, from

Kirsch, Adam. "Diary of a one-man 'Grateful Dead'." New York Sun Book Review.

Starr, S. Frederick. Program notes quoted in "The Last Hope." Art of the States.

Offergeld, Robert. "More on the Gottschalk-Ives Connection." Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter 15 (May 1986): 1-2 and 13.

"Hubert Platt Main." Cyberhymnal.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Christ, We Do All Adore Thee

Praise for the Lord #90

Words: Theodore Baker, 1899
Music: Théodore DuBois, 1867

"Christ, we do all adore Thee" comes down to us through an interesting chain of unexpected sources. It is actually the final movement from Les sept paroles du Christ ("The Seven Last Words of Christ"), an oratorio written in 1867 by Théodore Dubois.( Click here for the complete score, available from the International Music Score Library Project. The section in question is on the final two pages. The text, however, is a very old one, from the Roman Catholic liturgy:

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi:
Quia per Crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

A search of the extensive CANTUS database, a primary research tool for study of the sources of Gregorian chant, reveals hundreds of instances of this text, usually as an antiphon (sung antiphonally by the choir) but occasionally as a responsory (begun by the priest and continued by the choir and congregation). The earliest I have found dates back to around the year 990, from the St. Gall monastery in Switzerland.

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 391, p.64 (
Used by permission for non-commercial purpose.
The text begins on the lowest line (the preceding antiphon is a text adoring the cross itself). It includes several abbreviations, and the name "Christe" is written in Greek, but it is fairly decipherable. (Notice that the scribe ran out of room at the end of the line and put "mundum" in the space above, with a bracket to show that it belongs with the lower line!) The dots and squiggles above the words are the ancestors of our musical notation, and indicate roughly how the melody moves up and down.

Though "Adoramus te, Christe" was also sung at various Offices (prayer hours) for the days dedicated to the Exaltation of the Cross and the Finding of the Cross, it is by far best known as part of the Mass for Good Friday.(CANTUS) Dubois used this familiar text as a quiet but powerful climax to his dramatic musical setting of the seven statements of Christ on the cross, a work intended to be performed on that day. He modified the text slightly by repeating the first line and reprising it at the end:

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi:
Quia per Crucem tuam redemisti mundum.
Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Adoramus te, Christe.

Our English translation is by Theodore Baker (1851-1934), one of the first generation of American musicologists and the founder of the popular Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. His other well-known hymn translations are "We gather together" and the lovely German Christmas carol, "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming."("Baker") His rendering is very nearly word-for-word:

Christ, we do all adore Thee,
And we do praise Thee forever;
Christ, we do all adore Thee,
And we do praise Thee forever;
For on the holy cross hast Thou
The world from sin redeemèd.
Christ, we do all adore Thee,
And we do praise Thee forever.
Christ, we do all adore Thee.

In fact, the only change of any significance is that "et benedicimus tibi" becomes "and we do praise Thee" instead of "and we do bless Thee," which in context means nearly the same thing. Baker also judiciously adds a word here and there--"praise Thee forever" and "holy cross"--to make the lines match up to the music. It is a simple but artful adaptation, especially when the line, "for on the holy cross hast Thou..." follows the wording and order of the Latin so exactly that the emotional climax is virtually identical.

It is hard to know what to say about such a simple and powerful text. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:19, "Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." Less can be more, if it is well-chosen and carefully presented. This hymn contains only twelve words in the original language, and only two dozen words in English (Latin is much more economical). There has been a running joke recently about contemporary worship music with this kind of text--the "7-11 song," seven words repeated eleven times--but this hymn is proof that if you really know what you are doing, you can create a masterpiece.

Christ, we do all adore Thee,
And we do praise Thee forever.

"Adore" is a word we throw around casually today, if we use it at all. It is a little old-fashioned, even stilted; we might jokingly say that we "adore" a favorite food, but are not likely to say "I adore you" to a loved one and keep a straight face. As sometimes happens with words, it has lost its meaning over time. The old Oxford Universal Dictionary lists our current usage--"to regard with . . . affection"--as only the second meaning. The first and oldest definition is: "to make an act of the mind and will in acknowledgement of the infinite perfection of God; to make an outward reverence expressing such an act, e.g. a bow, genuflexion, etc."

This is certainly the meaning intended in the Latin text. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines "adoration" as follows: "Adoration differs from other acts of worship, such as supplication, confession of sin, etc., inasmuch as it formally consists in self-abasement before the Infinite, and in devout recognition of His transcendent excellence."("Adoration") It is something we do, as well as something we feel; it is an attitude of heart and mind, deliberately acknowledged and applied to its object. Christ is no less complete without our adoration, but we are less complete if we do not give it. Acknowledgment of Christ's perfection is His rightful due, and benefits us through putting us in a right attitude toward Him. The natural result, as the rest of the line says, is that "we do praise Thee forever."

What is the reason for this adoration and praise?

For on the holy cross hast Thou
The world from sin redeemèd.

The musical setting by Dubois puts particular emphasis on "Thou," in either language, because it all came down to Him. All God's plan for humanity's redemption, "foreknown before the foundation of the world,"(1 Peter 1:20) came down on the shoulders of a Man weeping in agony one night in a garden, and begging, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me."(Matthew 26:39) But He "humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."(Philippians 2:8)

And when He finally bowed His weary, bloodied head and said, "It is finished,"(John 19:30) it was no statement of surrender or resignation, but of triumph and vindication. It was the completion of the scheme of redemption: "For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross."(Colossians 1:19-20)

The cross, an instrument of torture and humiliation, became that day the "holy cross" because of what happened on it. Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame,"(Hebrews 12:2) and the power of that symbol is forever etched in the minds and hearts of those who follow Him. "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."(1 Corinthians 1:18)

About the music:

Théodore DuBois (1837-1924) was a prominent figure in late 19th-century French music, though he is little remembered today outside of his home country, and to some extent among church organists. He was a promising student at the Paris Conservatoire, winning the prestigious Prix de Rome competition in 1861. His first major professional position was as maître de chapelle (chapel-master, really the choir director) at the Sainte Clotilde church in Paris. It was in this capacity that he premiered his oratorio "Seven last words of Christ," on Good Friday, 1867.

He later served as maître de chapelle at La Madeleine (the church of Mary Magdalene), where the more famous composer Camille Saint-Saëns was organist, and succeeded him in that position. His career eventually brought him back to the Paris Conservatoire, this time as director, from 1896-1905. DuBois wrote a few operas and secular instrumental works, but the majority of his output was sacred, including five settings of the Mass, a Requiem, 71 motets, 5 oratorios, and numerous works for organ.(Mongrédien)

"Adoramus te, Christe" is an elegant miniature, and its dignified simplicity stands in contrast to the more elaborate music that precedes it in the original work. The entire musical interest is maintained by two elements, the contrasting motion of the outer voices and the choice of harmonies. In the first phrase of text, the soprano descends while the bass ascends, then the voices reverse their directions to close on the same notes on which they began. In the second phrase (repeating the first line of text), the soprano is almost identical to its part in the preceding phrase, but the bass moves instead by alternating steps and leaps. The harmony in the second phrase is all root position chords, emphasizing the different chord choices employed.

At the end of the second phrase, on the word "forever," the soprano turns upward to a D instead of staying on C as before, avoiding the cadence on the tonic chord and opening up the harmonic progression to further development. This sense of expansion and anticipation is heightened by the dramatic clash of the tenor's C against the soprano's D on the syllable "for-EV-er." This particular type of nonharmonic tone is called a "suspension," and in this case it creates "suspense" in service of the text; having stated our adoration of Christ, we are about to go into the second line of text, which explains the reason for our adoration.

The middle section, beginning with the line "for on the holy cross," contrasts the relatively static harmonies of the opening section with a driving chord progression based on the strongest of all chord-root movements, the perfect 5th. (A complete "circle of 5ths" progression in C major would be: C-F-b-e-a-d-G-C.) The cycle begins on E minor ("for on the"), moves to A minor ("holy"), then to D minor ("cross").

The next chord to be expected in this sequence is G major, the dominant (V chord) of C major, but Dubois throws a curve ball; on the word "Thou" ("tuam" in the Latin as well), he introduces a B-flat major chord. It isn't a chord that belongs in C major--it isn't native to the key signature, and has to be notated with an accidental, the only one found in the entire piece. The B-flat chord is an unexpected move, breaking the circle of 5ths by a chromatic third relationship (D,F,A to B-flat,D,F).

I am always hesitant to say that a composer did a certain thing for a certain reason, when it is really just my guesswork, but it is obvious he meant to emphasize this word. The B-flat chord is the moment that changes everything in the music, and it falls at the very middle of piece. Is it possible that the use of this striking, powerful chord, coming from outside the key, symbolizes musically the act of Christ's intervention from the heavenly realm into this sinful world? Following the introduction of this chord, the harmony turns in the opposite direction on the circle of 5ths (another moment of symbolism?), moving back from B-flat major to F major, then to C major and a cadence.

The final section of the piece repeats the opening line of text with the same music found in the opening four measures. Following this, at least in most hymnals I have used, is a measure of rest, and then the final phrase of text, "Christ, we do all adore Thee." I have long puzzled over this measure of rest; silence is a powerful part of music, but a fermata or grand pause would have accomplished the same thing. Looking at the score of Dubois's original work, though, I see the reason for this anomaly--the chorus has two measures of rest here while the organ and orchestra echo the preceding two measures just sung by the chorus.

Over the years, I have begun to simply treat this measure as a grand pause, instead of literally counting out four beats. As long as the song leader is clear about his intentions, and consistent in how he handles this spot, it really makes no difference. I was interested to hear, in the lovely a cappella performance by the Coral Valle de Aranguren in the video above, that the director chose to ignore this break almost entirely. I have also observed, after listening to several different performances, that most directors take the tempo quite a bit slower than I have usually heard in the singing of the Churches of Christ. Part of this, of course, is the more disciplined breath control required to sing it at a slower tempo; but it really seems as though it would be worth it.

I cannot leave a discussion of this music without mentioning the final cadence, an A minor chord to a C major chord. When I was in sophomore music theory at Oklahoma Christian, Dr. Harold Fletcher pointed out that it was the only such cadence he had ever observed, and that it did not really fit any of the cadence types defined in music theory textbooks. I have wondered about this ever since. (I can hear my former theory students shouting, "Who cares?," but it isn't really a pathological desire to label everything; it's a desire to understand how different things relate to each other, and why they work the way they do.) My best answer to this question so far is this: it's a kind of plagal cadence (IV-I, or the "A-men" cadence), but with an A minor chord as a mediant substitution for what could have been an F major chord. (The two chords, F major and A minor, share the notes A and C.) The effect of the cadence is certainly that sense of hushed repose that your hear in an "A-men" cadence.


"Christ, we do all adore Thee."


"Baker, Theodore." Cyberhymnal.

"Adore." Oxford Universal Dictionary, 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955, p. 26.

"Adoration." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1907-1912.

Mongrédien, Jean. "Dubois, Théodore." New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 v., ed. Stanley Sadie. London: MacMillan, 1980, v.5, p. 664.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Children of the Heavenly Father

Praise for the Lord #89

Words: Caroline Sandell Berg, 1858, trans. Ernest W. Olson, 1925
Music: SANDELL, from Song Book for Sunday School, 1871 (but see "About the music" below)

Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell Berg (1832-1903), known to her friends as "Lina," was one of the most prolific and influential European gospel songwriters. She member of the Pietist wing of Swedish Lutheranism, she had a deep influence on the singing of Scandinavian Lutherans both in Europe and America. Gracia Grindal notes that the 1892 Hemlandssånger ("Songs of the homeland"), published by Swedish Lutheran immigrants to the U.S., contained over one hundred songs by Sandell. Her heartfelt texts, full of a love of home and of the natural beauty of her homeland, connected to the uprooted immigrant population on a deep level; she has probably been the most influential hymn writer on Swedish American Lutherans next to Luther himself. "Children of the heavenly Father" is one of her songs that has survived among the English-speaking descendants of these immigrants, and is a traditional favorite among college choirs in the Swedish Lutheran tradition.(Grindal, 163)

She was a precocious child intellectually and spiritually, and was tutored by her minister father well beyond the education available to most women in that era.(Grindal, 167) The establishment in 1856 of the Evangeliska Fosterlandsstiftelsen (National Evangelical Missionary Society), an association of Pietist-leaning Scandinavian Lutherans, gave Lina an unexpected launch into international influence. Still unmarried in her early twenties, she devoted her considerable talent with languages to translating articles for publication in the society's monthly paper, Budbäraren. A friend at the publication knew of her hymn-writing and began publishing them anonymously in the journal, a few at a time, to enthusiastic public reception. In keeping with Sandell's modest spirit, they were presented anonymously.(Grindal, 170ff.)

Tragically, the year that saw the first publication of her most famous hymn, "Children of the Heavenly Father," also saw a string of tragedies in the young woman's life. The loss of several members of extended family to disease was capped by the drowning death of her beloved father, teacher, and mentor. Despite these blows, Sandell continued to write. It is frequently stated that "Children of the heavenly Father" was written in connection with this tragedy, but Grindal believes that Lina actually wrote it in her early teens, soon after her confirmation.(170) She wrote extensively from her early youth up, and in the 1850s would still have been publishing older works as well as writing new ones.

Grindal describes Sandell's writing as the intersection of two classic themes of Christian song--an abiding love of God's natural creation, and a deep understanding of the joys and sorrows of daily life. Overshadowing both these elements is the the quiet presence of a tender, sympathetic heavenly Father, whom Lina came to know through the example of her own earthly father.(192ff.) Her writing is simple, almost deliberately childlike, reflecting her own personality and her deep love and appreciation for children. (Contrary to her confirmed spinster status, she married in her 30s to Oskar Berg; but tragedy struck again when her only child was stillborn. She devoted herself instead to her many nieces and nephews.)

Sandell was incredibly prolific, writing well over 2,000 hymn texts.(Grindal, 192) The most complete listing I have found of her hymns is on the Swedish Wikipedia at The original Swedish lyrics of "Children of the heavenly Father" are available at

Stanza 1:
Children of the heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e'er was given.

Sandell begins with the image of the Father gathering children in His arms, an image often used in the Bible. Moses assured Israel in his farewell blessing that, "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms."(Deuteronomy 33:27) The strength and tenderness of the Father's arms mean both loving care and protection, as depicted in the beautiful description of the Shepherd-Messiah in Isaiah 40,
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
And His arm rules for Him;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His recompense before Him.

He will tend His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those that are with young.(v. 10-11)
To this well-established metaphor, then, we need add only one other Scripture reference to make the picture complete:
And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.(Mark 10:13-16)
Sandell then turns to one of her favorite sources of inspiration to draw a comparison, but comes up short. The most cozy image she can imagine--the baby birds tucked safely away in a nest under the ever-watchful eye of a parent--does not describe the sweetness of the thought of the Lord and Creator taking a child in His arms. The most sublime and timeless image she can imagine--the celestial body in its appointed circuit, continuing serenely on its way untroubled and untouched by the cares and commotions of this earth--is still no comparison to the peace that God's salvation gives to His children.

Stanza 2:
Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

The first stanza of this hymn could go equally well in "Can you count the stars?," another lovely folk-like hymn from northern Europe. But in the second stanza Sandell introduces a darker note (what kind of Scandinavian writer would she be without it?), recognizing that all of life is not cozy and cheerful. Death and separation are just as real to the Christian as to anyone else, they are just understood better. Sorrows are just as common to the Christian, perhaps even more common, but they are borne in a different spirit.

Even if this hymn was written when she was still a young girl, Lina Sandell had a wisdom beyond her years and was no stranger to suffering. She was gravely ill at age twelve, and her journal reveals the impact it had on her. She was also an avid reader of rather advanced material--she read Goethe's Faust at age thirteen, and commented sagely on the spiritual failings of the characters!(Grindal, 167ff.) As her father's constant "shadow," she was also exposed to a great deal of adult conversation as he visited with prominent ministers and writers of the Pietist movement.

I am hesitant to try to guess what Scripture lies behind a text that I am reading in translation, but the first line of this stanza may call to mind the famous passage at the end of the 8th chapter of Romans. Having told his readers why they need to be saved, and how they can be saved, Paul exhorts them to trust in that salvation no matter what. He starts by dismissing the idea of threats from the mundane powers of this world: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?"(Romans 8:35) It is a rhetorical question, so like any good lecturer Paul answers it himself.

He returns to the point once again, however, stressing that not only are the powers of this world unable to shake us, but neither can the powers of any other world harm our relationship to God. The final two verses are a rhetorical crescendo unlike anything else I can think of in Scripture:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:38-39)
Of all the powers that humanity has tamed in this world, life and death are still beyond our grasp. We can create life (in the way God meant us to!), and we can take it; but we are unable to undo either of those actions. We all know what it means for something to be alive, or to be dead, but we are at a loss to quantify those terms when really put to the test. And yet we are all facing a journey to "that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns." But in Christ we have that promise that David understood: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."

In the sufferings of this life, too, we have assurance that God knows our troubles, and that He is ready and able to help. When the Israelites suffered in slavery, they were not forgotten; the word came to Moses that "I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows."(Exodus 3:7) David, in his lifetime full of troubles, could say, "You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?"(Psalm 56:8) If we need any further evidence that God knows, understands, and emphathizes with our sorrows, remember that in the person of His Son "He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."(Isaiah 53:4) He was "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."(Isaiah 53:3)

If God knows our sorrows, just as surely He provides what we need to bear them. No clearer explanation of this can be found than Paul's description of his "thorn in the flesh." Whatever that was, it was terrible to Paul, enough that he earnestly pleaded with God to remove it--and Paul was no stranger to physical suffering! But instead of taking it away, God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."(2 Corinthians 12:9) God's grace is sufficient for our trials, and if we must suffer, let us do so in a way that shows God's power through our lives. The circumstances may remain terrible, but God's grace can shine out more clearly when it is darkest, and our example may do an eternal good to someone else.

Stanza 3:
Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne'er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

After the introduction of sorrow, and questions of life and death, Sandell brings the issue into even sharper focus. The opening line of the third stanza is an obvious reference to the words of Job, after finding he had lost every earthly possession and all of his children:
Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.(Job 1:20-21)
His powerful faith allowed him to view all that he treasured as it truly was--blessings bestowed by God, not to be clung to as though they were Job's by right. He expanded on this idea in response to his wife's lack of faith, saying, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?"(Job 2:10) God was not the source of the adversity (though Job thought so at the time), but Job's point is still good to consider: we accept God's blessings readily enough during the good times, and trust in Him then, so will we not trust Him in the bad times, when we need that assurance more than ever?

After a lengthy philosophical debate between Job and his friends, God put an end to their "words without knowledge,"(Job 38:2) and declared that the target of their barbs was indeed "My servant Job."(Job 42:7) All outward appearances to the contrary, God was still watching over the soul of the sufferer. We know that there will be trouble in this life for us as well, for "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."(2 Timothy 3:12) But even were we persecuted to the point of death, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints."(Psalm 116:15)

Sandell points out a further aspect of Christian suffering, which was perhaps on her mind after her childhood illness--"the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."(James 1:3) She notes that God's ultimate purpose is not for His children's happiness in this life, but to "preserve them" for the life to come through making them more "pure and holy." Peter, who also knew a thing or two about suffering and persecution, put it this way:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.(1 Peter 1:6-7)
The purification process used to refine metals involves destructive heat that burns off the dross, and makes the material malleable and useful to the artisan. In the same way, suffering--which is simply a part of living in this world--can refine us and mold us into what God would have us to be. And at the end of the process, Peter reminds, is "the end of your faith--the salvation of your souls."

Stanza 4:
God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish,
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

In the final stanza, Sandell reprises the image of the Shepherd/Father who carries His children in His strong, nurturing arms. But this stanza raises a thought-provoking question of interpretation as well--when the 3rd line says "From all evil things He spares them," are we to view this as the children of God at home in heaven? Or in this present life?

Are we in the "holy courts" of God in this present life? If we have entered into His kingdom, it is fair to say that we are, because "you [i.e., Christians collectively] are God's temple."(1 Corinthians 3:16) Do we flourish in this kingdom? Does God "tend and nourish" us now, and bear us in "His mighty arms?" Of course we must answer in the affirmative.

The question then becomes, what did Sandell mean by that 3rd line? In what sense can we say that God spares His children from "all evil things?" The preceding stanzas make it clear that God does not spare His children from all physical suffering, or from all mental distress.

If we return to Romans chapter 8, however, we see a large list of evil things that will not prevail against us. Paul does not say, of course, that they will not happen--he had experienced too many of them himself. But not all of them together have the power to "separate us from the love of God,"(v.39) and in the end, that is all we need.

About the music:

Praise for the Lord only indicates that the tune arrangement used comes from the Song Book for Sunday School of 1871, but the tune itself is older. Some sources indicate it is a Swedish or German folk tune (or perhaps both?) dating at least back to the early 18th century. In 1873 it was published with Sandell's original Swedish text in Loftangeroch andeliga wisor, so it is also sometimes called by the incipit of the hymn text, TRYGGARE KAN INGEN VARA.(

It is very likely that it came from Oskar Ahnfelt (1813-1882), a popular Swedish folk musician who wrote or arranged the music associated with Sandell's hymns.(Cyberhymnal, "Ahnfelt") There is a strong similarity (at least in general style) to the other well-known Sandell/Ahnfelt collaboration, "Day by day, and with each passing moment." If Ahnfelt did not write the music, he may have arranged it. The rhythm of the SANDELL tune (two heavy beats and a light third beat) is more similar to an Austrian Ländler than to any traditional Swedish music I have examined, so a German/Austrian folk origin is at least possible.

The combination of Sandell's poetry and Ahnfelt's folk music has a powerful simplicity, and their songs are well worth learning. Though I could not find a straightforward a cappella rendition of the hymn, I hope you will enjoy this lovely performance of the choral arrangement by Paul Christiansen.


Grindal, Gracia. Preaching from home: the stories of seven Lutheran women hymn writers. Lutheran Quarterly Books

"Tryggare kan ingen vara."

"Oskar Ahnfelt." Cyberhymnal.