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.

1 comment:

  1. There are some melodic differences in the two variants of ITALIAN HYMN, likely the reason for the different names.