Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Praise for the Lord #97

Words: Charles Wesley, 1739
Music: Lyra Davidica, 1708

This is one of the best hymns ever on the Resurrection. It is traditionally an Easter hymn, but since I believe in celebrating Easter every Sunday, I would be perfectly happy to sing it every week! Both the words and the music are vigorous, brash, almost swaggering. The fourth stanza (in our version) actually taunts death and the grave at their powerlessness over Jesus, and ultimately over His followers. And what could be wrong with that? 2 Corinthians 10:17 says, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord!"

This version of the hymn comes to us through a rather circuitous path. Yes, the words are Charles Wesley's, but the format--singing "Hallelujah!" at the end of each line--was not in his original version. That comes from the text that was originally associated with this tune, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." Other than the nearly identical first lines, that is a completely different hymn; it is actually a translation/adaptation from the Lutheran chorale "Erstanden ist der heilige Christ," which in turn was an adaptation of the 14th-century Latin Easter carol, "Surrexit Christus hodie."(Julian, 596ff.; more on this in About the music, below) It was apparently John Wesley, in his Foundry Tune Book of 1742, who first adapted Charles's text to this tune with its "Hallelujahs."(Lightwood, 97)

Wesley's original text is eleven stanzas, of which our version has only the first four; most modern hymnals have no more than one or two more beyond this. Since the number of omitted stanzas is so extensive, and what we have left is a continuous whole in itself, I will discuss only these first four. The complete text is available from the Duke University Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition in their scholarly edition of Wesley's 1739 Hymns and Sacred Poems (the hymn begins p. 209, or p. 98 of the PDF file).

Stanza 1:
Christ the Lord is risen today, Hallelujah!
Sons of men and angels say, Hallelujah!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Hallelujah!
Sing, ye heav’ns, thou earth, reply, Hallelujah!

"He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay."(Matthew 28:6) These were the words of the angel that greeted the women coming to the tomb on the first day of the week. (Was it not especially appropriate that these women, who were among the only ones to stay by Jesus throughout His crucifixion, should be the first to hear these amazing words?) It was a morning of upheavals, of fear and wonder.(Mark 16:8) It is thoroughly confusing to work out, in harmonizing the four gospel accounts, just who went where and when, and in what order events unfolded.

But what a morning of joy it was! I am indebted to brother Jim Dearman of the White Oak Church of Christ in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for an excellent sermon on this topic this past Sunday, some of which I will try to summarize briefly. Consider this first: Isn't it wonderful that the angel said "the place where the Lord lay," and not "the place where the Lord lies?" There are many famous tombs around the world, to which people travel to pay homage to great leaders; but Christianity celebrates an empty tomb that was barely used!

Because the tomb was empty, Christ was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."(Romans 1:4) That is to say, He rose again just as the Holy Spirit had predicted through the prophets, and just as Jesus himself had promised. If He had not, the prediction of Gamaliel in Acts 5:38 would certainly have come true--Christianity would have ended before it had begun. His resurrection was the ultimate miracle, the ultimate proof that He was who He claimed to be.

Jesus' resurrection is also a guarantee of our own resurrection some day. Paul reasoned on this as follows:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.(1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
And if He is risen from the dead, then surely He is able to keep His promise of providing us a home with Him someday. Even the night before His death, Jesus promised His disciples that, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."(John 14:3) What did the disciples think of those words, if they thought on them the next day? And what did they think again, when they saw Him alive and triumphant, just as He had predicted?

In light of these things, what can we do but rejoice? Remember His promise that "your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."(John 16:22) The heavenly beings rejoiced at His resurrection, as John saw in his vision:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:11-14)
How can we not join in this rejoicing? As the angel told the women at the tomb, "Go and tell!"(Mark 16:7) They were not to keep this good news to themselves, but shared it with the despondent disciples (especially the grieving and crestfallen Peter), and soon they would share it with the world.

Stanza 2:
Love’s redeeming work is done, Hallelujah!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Hallelujah!
Lo! Our Sun’s eclipse is o’er, Hallelujah!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Hallelujah!

"When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished,' and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit."(John 19:30) If any of the people gathered on that cruel hill heard His words, what did they take Him to mean? If the theives on either side heard Him, they might have thought, "Yes, it is for me, as well." The soldiers may have thought very little of it at all; death was no stranger to them. Perhaps the centurion, at least, admired the Lord's stoicism. No doubt the enemies of Christ, who had gathered to watch the end, smiled to themselves at what they thought was an admission of defeat. And for the small group of disciples still present, what a sinking feeling might have come over them, if they heard those words!

But when they had time to reflect on all that He had said before, they understood what we know from our perspective on this side of the cross. In Luke 13:32, as Jesus' steps drew ever closer to Calvary, He said, "Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course." It is the same verb used by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 when he spoke about "finishing the race" of his life and ministry. Jesus had finished what He came to do--"love's redeeming work." This perfect completion of God's plan became the centerpiece of the gospel, as Peter said in his sermon at the Temple, "What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled."(Acts 3:18)
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)
His enemies saw Him hanging dead on a cross; His friends would soon see Him in glorious resurrection; but someday all will see the Son of Man return in victory. The "battle was won" at Calvary, and the tide of war forever turned. When He returns to bring the conflict to an end, it will be a very different scene:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The One sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God.(Revelation 19:11-13)
In the last two lines of this stanza, Wesley makes an interesting reference to a particular detail of the events of the Crucifixion. In Luke 23:44-45 we read, "It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed." In the same way, Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2), was eclipsed for a time by death. And when the sun finally began to set to close out that terrible day, we have the touching scene in which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, along with the faithful women disciples, lay the Lord's bloodied body to rest.(John 19:38-42) These men, alone among the Sanhedrin, gave their rightful King something of the dignity and honor He deserved. It was indeed a bloody sunset that day; but He rose again in power and joy, greeting His disciples with the simple word, "Rejoice!"(Matthew 28:9)

Stanza 3:
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Hallelujah!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Hallelujah!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Hallelujah!
Christ hath opened paradise, Hallelujah!

Tomb at Horvat Midras.
Image courtesy of
Scholars debate the size and shape of the stone at Jesus' tomb; graves with round, rolling stones were apparently uncommon, though there are a few good examples extant. But the point that matters is that the stone was moved and the tomb was empty. Even the enemies of Jesus did not deny this, though they claimed it was the act of His disciples.(Matthew 28:13) The Bible tells us the stone was "very large," large enough that three women were concerned about their ability to move it unaided.(Mark 16:3-4) It seems reasonable that a small group of people could move such a stone using a lever; it is not reasonable to suppose they could do so without waking the guards. (The idea that a man who had been scourged and crucified somehow survived the experience, then rolled the stone away from the inside with his bare hands, is preposterous.) But the fact remains that the stone was placed there in vain.

Equally unlikely is the idea that any Roman soldier posted to the troublesome province of Palestine would dare fall asleep on guard after the events of that day. Pilate granted the Sanhedrin's request for a guard,(Matthew 27:65) probably at least a squad of four soldiers (a quaternion, Acts 12:4), perhaps more. We know from Matthew 27:24 that the governor already viewed the matter of Jesus as a potential uprising, and if Josephus is to be believed, he already had a less-than-stellar track record in pacifying the people of Jerusalem. Could the soldiers have been unaware of Who they were guarding and why? It is inconceivable that an entire squad or more of Roman troops, on such an unusual guard duty, and during the Passover time when the population of the city was swelled to its highest numbers, would have fallen asleep. Even if they were not exactly the cream of the imperial legions, the fear of a nighttime guerilla attack, and of the brutal discipline of their superiors (Herod put guards put to death in similar circumstances--Acts 12:19) would have kept them alert. But the watch was also in vain.

As a final act of precaution, Pilate even had an official seal placed on the tomb,(Matthew 27:66) warning any potential hoaxers or fanatics that the authority of Rome decreed Jesus to be dead and buried. Breaking the seal would bring down the wrath of a governor whom Philo described as "a man of most ferocious passions," who had already proven himself willing to commit indiscriminate slaughter to terrorize his subjects into compliance.(Luke 13:1) Yet the seal, as well, was in vain.

All these were insignificant compared to the battle that took place unseen. Death had Him, but "it was not possible for Him to be held by it."(Acts 2:24) He "burst the gates of hell" (literally, "Hades," the realm of the dead) and could say to John in Revelation 1:18, "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." In Christ's resurrection, God "disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him."(Colossians 2:15) Jesus not only broke open the gates, He took away the keys! Death is still with us, but never again can it have the iron grip it once knew. Where Jesus went, we may follow: "when He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men."(Psalm 68:18, Ephesians 4:8-9)

Stanza 4:
Lives again our glorious King, Hallelujah!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Hallelujah!
Once He died our souls to save, Hallelujah!
Where's thy vict'ry, boasting grave? Hallelujah!

One line of this stanza has had a significant change from Charles Wesley's original. The third line originally read, "Dying once He all doth save." This could be taken to mean a universal salvation, though we have to keep this within the context of the Wesleys' entire teachings. They were "universalist" in comparison to the staunch Calvinism of their day, and rejected the limited atonement of predestinarian teaching. They believed instead that Christ's atonement is universal, that is, available to every person; but they also believed that it is up to every individual whether to accept it.(Tyson, 37ff.)

Wesley might have been thinking of this passage in particular:
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God.(Romans 6:9-10)
"Once for all" here does not refer to "once for all people," but rather "once for all time," and is rendered just as "once" in the King James Version. Wesley may instead have been thinking of Romans 5:18, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." This verse needs to be kept in the context of its neighbors:
For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one Man's obedience the many will be made righteous.(Romans 5:17-19)
The emphasis here is on the superlative nature of the act and the gift, not on the number that will accept it; "many will be made righteous," not all. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ "leads to justification and life for all men," but the fact that something "leads to" a result does not necessarily mean that all will choose to make use of it.

Wesley must have had the ambiguity of this line called to his attention. In the 4th edition of his Hymns and Sacred Poems (1743) he changed the wording to that which we know today.(Wesley, Duke edition, 210, fn. 72) The result is clearer, without diminishing the strength of its declaration of the singularity of Christ's sacrifice.

Wesley's inspiration in lines 2 and 4 of this stanza is the outburst in 1 Corinthians 15:55, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" This quotes the rather controversial passage in Hosea 13:14, in which God addresses the wayward northern kingdom of Israel, concluding, "Compassion is hidden from My eyes." When death and the grave are personified in Hosea, was God calling on them to bring their worst on Israel in punishment? Or was this passage actually promising a glimmer of future hope? Reading the entire passage in Hosea, there is a whiplash effect between thundering pronouncements of doom and sorrowful regret, exemplified in verse 9, "You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are against Me, against your Helper." The disjointed style is intensely expressive. "The prophet obviously intends for the reader to take in each short declaration in sequence, without transitions, so that the reader might fully experience the jolting effect of these pronouncements."(Garrett, 6)

But as with so many prophecies, the reality is greater than the shadow. When Hosea wrote these words, the victory of the grave and the sting of death were hardly in question; the northern kingdom of Israel was doomed to a violent end. When Paul quoted them in 1 Corinthians and applied them to Christ's resurrection, it was in a far larger context. It was not the death of a nation that was at stake, but the eternal death of humanity itself; it was not about the graves of a particular generation in a particular place and time, but all the graves in all the world. And this time, the result was different. As C.S. Lewis phrased it in his allegorical story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, "Death itself would start working backwards."
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."(1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

About the music:

One of the distinctive features of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" is the "Hallelujah" at the end of each line, a feature that it acquired not from Charles Wesley's original text, but from its adaptation to the tune of the anonymous hymn "Jesus Christ is Risen Today." Songs with a repeated refrain line after each new line of text can be traced as far back as Psalm 136 ("For His mercy endures forever"). Often this kind of text might be sung in a responsorial fashion, with a leader singing the new line (the "verse") and the congregation singing the repeated line (the "respond"). This practice is found from many different cultures and worship traditions even today.

The use of "Alleluia" as a refrain line in this fashion derives from the Psalms as well; several of the Psalms from nos. 105-118, and from no. 135 to the end of the book, begin and end with this expression of praise. Christians expanded this practice by singing "Alleluia" between verses as well, and adapted the practice to other texts besides the Psalms. The video below records the singing of Psalm 32:6,13 with Alleluias, in the very ancient tradition of the St. Basil liturgy of the Orthodox church:

This practice sometimes carried over into the less formal "carols," the folk spirituals of the Middle Ages. An example of this is found in the old Lutheran chorale "Erstanden ist der heilige Christ" ("Risen is the Holy Christ"), which was a translation of "Surrexi Christe Hodie," a Latin Easter carol from Bohemia dating back to the 14th century. The earliest known German version dates back to 1544 in Nuremburg, and is an adaptation of the Latin carol with "Hallelujah" interpolated after each line.(Julian, 1104) The video below is a performance of a slightly different text, but with the same tune, and "Alleluia" at the end of each line.

This leads us to the first appearance of the music we know for "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." The earliest instance of this tune is on p. 11 of Lyra Davidica (London: Walsh, 1708), with a text translated from "Erstanden ist." Neither the Latin nor the German versions of this hymn have the tune we know; that is apparently original to some unknown tunesmith in the Lyra Davidica. Click here for a recording of the first stanza. (Thanks to my daughter Amelia for recording this with me!)

The preface of this work mentions the desire for "a little freer air [melody] than the grand psalm tunes," and after a century or more of the solemn measures of tunes such as OLD 100TH, this must have seemed shockingly light-hearted. (A similar situation occurred in the American colonies with the emergence of the "fuging tunes" of the singing-school movement.) In its time, the style of this tune was more in keeping with something from the pageantry of the court, or the entertainments of the stage; but needless to say it has lived on in spite of any controversy.(Lightfoot, 95-97)

The form of the tune (but not the harmonization) that we have today is from The Compleat Psalmodist (1742). The most significant change is in the final "Hallelujah," which originally was the same those at the ends of the 1st and 2nd lines. It makes more sense, with such a text, to end (literally) on a high note!

Tune for "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" from The Compleat Psalmodist, 1742

The melody is in the tenor, a holdover practice from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance that survived in some Lutheran chorale settings, in English psalm and hymn tune harmonizations, and in the colonial American singing school (it survives today in the Sacred Harp tradition). Here each line of text is presented by the tenor and bass, with the soprano and alto joining only for the "Alleluia" phrases. A facsimile of this version is available from the International Music Score Library Project, in book 4, on page 9 (p. 188 of the 2nd PDF file). I have also provided a transcription for easier reading, a MIDI audio file of the original version, and another MIDI audio file with the soprano and tenor parts flipped for easier comparison to the modern version.

Thomas Butts's Harmonia Sacra (first published c. 1753) has the tune even closer to the modern setting, and also sorts out Arnold's somewhat dodgy harmonization. (Butts however put this tune with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," which works quite well!) Though Praise for the Lord attributes our modern harmonization to the Compleat Psalmodist, there is a better argument that it evolved from Butts's version. Even though it has only three parts--tenor (melody), bass, and treble--the bass line differs from our version only in a few spots, most of them inconsequential differences of passing tones, and most of the treble part can be found in the modern version split up between the alto and tenor. Another significant development is the division of the original half note in the second half of the second measure (on "to-DAY") into two quarter notes. A facsimile is available from the Internet Archive, and I have provided MIDI audio files of the original version and a version with the tenor and treble parts flipped.


Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Dover, 1957.

Philo, "On the Embassy." Translation by Charles Duke Yonge. Wikisource. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Embassy_to_Gaius

Garrett, Duane A. "An Introduction to Hosea." Criswell Theological Review 7/1 (1993), 1-14. http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/28-Hosea/Text/Articles/Garrett-IntroHosea-CTR.pdf

Tyson, John R., editor. Charles Wesley: A Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Wesley, Charles. Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), ed. Randy L. Maddox. Duke Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition, 2010. http://divinity.duke.edu/sites/default/files/documents/cswt/01_Hymns_and_Sacred_Poems_%281739%29_CW_Verse.pdf

Lightwood, James T. Hymn-Tunes and their Story. London: C. H. Kelly, 1906. http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7106809M/Hymn-tunes_and_their_story

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christian Hymns "No. 1" (Gospel Advocate, 1935) - Part 2 of 2

In a previous post I discussed the people and motivations behind Christian Hymns no. 1, published by the Gospel Advocate in Nashville, Tennessee in 1935. This hymnal was the first of three edited by Lloyd O. Sanderson, and was the beginning of a hymnal tradition that exerted a significant influence on the song repertoire of the Churches of Christ in the United States. In this post I will try to assess the impact of this hymnal.

Establishing the Specific Influence of Christian Hymns no. 1

In order to understand the impact of Christian Hymns no. 1, I have narrowed my scope down to those songs found in it that had not been published up to that time in the other major hymnal tradition among the Churches of Christ: Great Songs of the Church, edited by Elmer L. Jorgenson. I eliminated from my list any songs that were present in either the original 1921 edition or the 1930 revision of that hymnal (prior to the better known Great Songs no. 2 of 1937). About half of the contents of Christian Hymns no. 1 were also found in Great Songs. This is not to say that Sanderson and Pullias depended on Great Songs in their selections, since much of this material was common gospel fare of the day and standard classical hymns. On the other hand, Sanderson had spoken highly of Great Songs prior to this time, and there is no doubt it had its influence.

The remaining half of the contents (206 songs out of 400), found in Christian Hymns but not found in Great Songs of the Church, will be the subject of this post. But how many of these songs were actually sung? Through some data collected by a friend at a congregation in Nashville, I once determined that this congregation--which sang a broader variety of songs than most--had sung in all about 600 different songs over a two-year period, out of a hymnal containing 990 hymns. But when I eliminated those songs that had been sung only once or twice, I found that there was actually a core of about 150 songs that made up most of the singing. That is at least anecdotal evidence of what I have long suspected to be true: as many as half of the songs in a hymnal may never be sung by an individual congregation. This makes it difficult to assess the impact of a hymnal, because the mere presence of a song does not mean it was ever used.

Looking at this data again, I found that my sample congregation still sings 67 of these 206 songs found in Christian Hymns but not in the earlier editions of Great Songs. 52 of these songs had been sung three or more times in two years, and 13 had been sung ten or more times in that period. Of the core of 150 songs that make up most of the congregation's singing, then, a full third are from the group of songs that came down through the Christian Hymns series! The following thirteen songs out of this group were sung more than ten times over a two-year period:
  • O how I love Jesus
  • O they tell me of a home
  • I want to be a worker for the Lord
  • The old rugged cross
  • I will sing the wondrous story
  • There's within my heart a melody
  • Walking in sunlight
  • There's a fountain free
  • On the cross of Calvary
  • O listen to our wondrous story
  • Angry words
  • Jesus is all the world to me
  • When we all get to heaven

Songs Carried Over from Earlier Gospel Advocate Hymnals

Out of the 206 hymns examined, I found 80 that had been published in earlier Gospel Advocate hymnals. I examined Gospel Praise (1900), The New Christian Hymnal (1907), Choice Gospel Hymns (1923) and Sweeter Than All Songs (1927). A large majority of these songs were found in the two more recent hymnals, Sweeter Than All Songs (36 songs) and Choice Gospel Hymns (30 songs). Both of these were edited by Charles M. Pullias, who was co-editor with Lloyd O. Sanderson in Christian Hymns no. 1. A smaller number were found only in the older publications: 4 from Gospel Praise, and 11 from The New Christian Hymn Book. I do not currently have access to two of the important early Gospel Advocate hymnals, the original Christian Hymns (1889) and Voice of Praise (1895). The dwindling number of hits found in the earlier hymnals I have examined, however, suggests that few if any songs from these 19th-century hymnals would be picked up again 40 years later, if they had not been used in any intervening hymnals.

These songs carried over from the existing "Gospel Advocate tradition," and not found in Great Songs of the Church, are almost entirely in the gospel style--only a handful are traditional hymns. Some are old favorites from Fanny Crosby & William Doane, such as "Though your sins be as scarlet," "Hide me, O my Savior, hide me," and "To the work! To the work!" Hymns from this songwriting team are to be found in nearly any hymnal, of course, but were present in somewhat greater numbers in the Gospel Advocate publications. Another songwriting partnership that is prominent in this tradition was Mary Slade & Asa Everett. The earlier Great Songs of the Church did have "Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling" and "Who at the door is standing?," but the Gospel Advocate tradition included as well the classic "There's a fountain free." Christian Hymns no. 1 had all of these and also added "Beyond this land of parting," for the first time (as far as I know) in a hymnal among the Churches of Christ. Asa Everett was a major influence on Rigdon McIntosh, music editor of the first Gospel Advocate hymnal, and this may be the source of these songs (see my post on "Beyond this land of parting").

Some other songs still very popular among Churches of Christ in the United States, that carried over specifically through the Gospel Advocate tradition, were:
  • Eliza E. Hewitt, "When we all get to heaven"
  • Elisha Hoffman, "Leaning on the everlasting arms"
  • Eden Reeder Latta, "Live for Jesus"
  • William A. Ogden, "Where He leads I'll follow"
  • Will L. Thompson, "Jesus is all the world to me"
  • Philip P. Bliss, "I gave My life for Thee" (music only)
The Gospel Advocate tradition also contributed a few more songs by Jessie Hunter Brown Pounds, the prominent Christian Church songwriter; but of these only "Am I nearer to heaven today?" has remained in any use. Of particular importance for the future, however, was the inclusion of songs coming from the Churches of Christ in the Western part of the United States. The Gospel Advocate tradition included, for example, "Closer to Thee" by Austin Taylor (editor of the influential Texas journal Firm Foundation) and "Heaven holds all to me," one of the first among many contributions to come from Tillit S. Teddlie.

Songs Newly Introduced by Christian Hymns no. 1

When we look at the songs in Christian Hymns no. 1 that had not been included in Great Songs of the Church up to that point, had not been published in earlier Gospel advocate hymnals, it is interesting to see the emphasis placed upon particular songwriters. There were five additional songs, for example, by Leila N. Morris (Mrs. C. H. Morris), best known for "Nearer, still nearer" and "My stubborn will at last hath yielded." None of these, however, caught on in the mainstream repertoire. The same could be said of the songs introduced from "Gipsy" Simon Smith, Albert Troy Hardy, and Samuel Beazley, but their inclusion was telling in that these were rather contemporary writers of the gospel style. Beazley in particular was the writer of songs such as "Jesus paid it all," "Ring out the message," and "Home of the soul," in which a part other than soprano takes the melody in the chorus; these songs would later become a staple of the Churches of Christ in the Southern part of the United States. This tendency to embrace the newer flavor of Southern gospel was not shared by Elmer Jorgenson, the editor of Great Songs of the Church, who wanted no "jazz" or "rag-time" in his hymnal!

Sanderson and Pullias made a long-lasting contribution by introducing more hymns by the Texas songwriter Tillit S. Teddlie. In addition to "Heaven holds all to me," which had been published in earlier Gospel Advocate Hymnals, Christian Hymns no. 1 included his "When we meet in sweet communion," "Worthy art Thou!," and "Cast all your burdens on Jesus." Though the last of these did not catch on as widely, the former two have become staples of the repertoire. No doubt this exposure also increased Teddlie's visibility among the churches, and led to more of his songs being sought out for future hymnals.

A number of other songs were introduced in Christian Hymns no. 1 that have had a good deal of longevity, such as "I surrender all" and "I wandered in the shades of night" by Judson Van De Venter & W. S. Weeden; "The last mile of the way" and "What shall it profit a man?" by Johnson Oatman; "Come, let us all unite to sing" by E. S. Lorenz; "Angry words" by Horatio Palmer; and "Master, the tempest is raging" by Mary Baker & Horatio Palmer.

A Fruitful Partnership: Songs by Thomas O. Chisholm & Lloyd O. Sanderson

By far the most important songs introduced by Christian Hymns no. 1, however, were those written for its publication by Lloyd O. Sanderson and his pen pal Thomas O. Chisholm (they never met face to face). These alone would make its impact huge. Their collaborations introduced in this hymnal include:
The first three of these are standards in the traditional repertoire, and some of the others ("All things work together for good," "I love Thee, Lord Jesus") deserve a revival.

It is typical for the editor of a hymnal to include a good number of his or her own works, if only because they are freely available. But I cannot think of another major hymnal among the Churches of Christ in which the editor's own works have been such a lasting contribution. The first three songs in the list are in every modern hymnal that I am familiar with among the Churches of Christ in this country, even making the cut for Great Songs of the Church, Revised (Abilene Christian University Press, 1986), which had the most rigorous editorial board of all.

There are a few other songs in this group with texts by Thomas Chisholm, but set to music by other composers. They have not continued in the repertoire, but it shows the high regard Sanderson had for his friend. Unfortunately Christian Hymns did not include what I believe must be Chisholm's best lyric, "Great is Thy faithfulness," written in 1923. It took much longer for that hymn to become known among the Churches of Christ.

Besides those written with Chisholm, Sanderson wrote another dozen songs that appeared for the first time in Christian Hymns no. 1. (Two of these texts had appeared in earlier Gospel Advocate hymnals--"For me He careth" and "Buried beneath the yielding wave"--but Sanderson set them to new music.)
  • All things bright and beautiful
  • For me He careth
  • I'll never forsake my Lord
  • That dreadful night
  • Sunset and evening star (Crossing the bar)
  • Buried beneath the yielding wave
  • Hosanna! be the children's song
  • I would be a ray of sunshine
  • A manger bed, a precious Babe
  • Thy word is like a garden, Lord
  • We look to Thee, O Savior
  • We shall sleep, but not forever
His choice of texts is broad, showing the effect of his continuous efforts to improve his education; he reached back to the 18th century for "Buried beneath the yielding wave" (Benjamin Beddome) and "That dreadful night" (Joseph Hart), and made quite a nice setting of Tennyson's poem "Crossing the bar." Of the songs in the list above, the first four are still in the traditional repertoire of the Churches of Christ; "Sunset and evening star" has been an outlier, in my experience, familiar to some congregations but unknown to many others.

Notable as well are Sanderson's attempts at writing children's songs, which include some of his first essays at lyric writing--under the pseudonym Vana R. Raye, derived from his wife's name. "I would be a ray of sunshine" and "A manger bed" have not persisted in the repertoire; but Sanderson made a very successful children's song (which appeals to many adults as well!) in his setting of Cecil Alexander's "All things bright and beautiful."

Christian Hymns no. 1 in Retrospect

In the end, of course, many songs fall by the wayside. Many of Fanny Crosby's hymns are still sung, but of her estimated 8,000 lyrics, really only a small percentage have survived. Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,000 hymns and founded one entire wing of English hymnody, but the United Methodist Hymnal contains only about 50 of his texts. (This is an impressive number for any single writer, but it also means that only 1% of his total work survives in the very hymnal he founded!)

The passage of time has the same effect on the influence of hymnals. Many of the songs in Christian Hymns no. 1 never became popular, and some that once were sung have failed the test of time. But though it was only one of many sources that have shaped the singing repertoire of the Churches of Christ in the United States, I believe its importance is clear in at least three areas:

1. It established a significant alternative to Great Songs of the Church, lasting into three editions over a span of three decades. Though I would not suggest its influence was as far-reaching as E. L. Jorgenson's classic hymnal, it did preserve a distinctly Southern flavor in in the repertoire.

2. It introduced for the first time, or carried over from the earlier Gospel Advocate hymnals, a core of several dozen songs that are still sung by many Churches of Christ today, in the United States and many other countries. As a measure of its impact, it is interesting to note that Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church no. 2 (published just two years afterwards) picked up nearly 40 songs that appeared in Christian Hymns, including Teddlie's "Heaven holds all to me" and Sanderson's "Buried with Christ (A new creature)."

3. It established the hymnwriting and editing career of Lloyd O. Sanderson, and introduced the songs of Tillit S. Teddlie to a wider audience. These two songwriters are probably the most immediately recognized names among songwriters from the Churches of Christ. Each man wrote enough songs of lasting value, that I could plan an entire song service exclusively from his works, and be fairly confident that I could lead it at any Church of Christ in U.S. that still sings the traditional repertoire.

With the advent of singing from PowerPoint projection, the significance of the hymnal is changing. The Paperless Hymnal product, for example, allows you to buy songs in packages of 100 each, with the option to add in an extra package of contemporary songs or further packages of traditional gospel. With so many songs available, a congregation could create a customized repertoire unique to its own tastes. But in looking over the first ten volumes of Paperless Hymnal, it is satisfying to see that the same 80-odd songs discussed above, that were incorporated into the repertoire of the Churches of Christ by the 1935 Christian Hymns, will be available in this new digital medium for generations yet to come.

Here is a link to the contents of Christian Hymns no. 1 (1935):

Here is a link to all the songs in Christian Hymns no. 1 that were not found in Great Songs of the Church prior to 1935:

Here is a link to my contents list of the original 1921 Great Songs of the Church (titles shaded in blue are those that were dropped by the time of the 1930 edition): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ajnby7wW6ZCidEw0RThDMnVvaWJtSEc2ZFVMcXlYMXc
N.B. Author/composer information is incomplete for titles that are relatively familiar; if it is omitted, it is to be assumed that the song appears as it is known in the traditional repertoire of the Churches of Christ in the United States.

Here is a link to my contents list of the 1930 Great Songs of the Church, the latest edition I could find before the "No. 2" edition a few years later (songs highlighted in yellow were not present in the original 1921 edition): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ajnby7wW6ZCidFY5b1p0MHNDLXEtZW5mcmxJWnJ6ZXc
I apologize for the discrepancy in the numbering; I have not had a chance to go back to look at the hymnal again and figure out where I went wrong.

I owe special thanks my wife Leah for volunteering to help me tabulate the contents of the 1921 and 1930 editions of Great Songs of the Church. (That is true love.) Thanks also to Jason Runnels of the Bould Music Library at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, for his kind help in providing access to these hard-to-find books.

For more on Great Songs of the Church, see Forrest McCann's excellent article at: http://www.acu.edu/sponsored/restoration_quarterly/documents/RQ_38.4_(McCann).pdf

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christ Returneth

Praise for the Lord #96

Words: H. L. Turner, 1878
Music: James MacGranahan, 1878

No one knows for certain the identity of the "H. L. Turner" who penned these lyrics; I have not found even a suggestion of an identification. The attribution of the lyrics to Harvey Leonard Turner (found in a few library catalog records in Worldcat.org) is erroneous, because that individual was not born until 1893! I am going to stick my neck out and suggest that the author might have been Colonel Henry Lathrop Turner (1845-1915), a prominent citizen of Chicago who was described in his New York Times obituary as "soldier, banker, [and] poet." The alumni magazine of his alma mater, Oberlin College, also noted: "He was a man of fine literary tastes and was the author of books and poems."(29)

Henry L. Turner was a man of many abilities, destined for prominence. Born in Oberlin, Ohio in 1845, he began college in his early teens, and hurried to finish his degree before he came of age for service in the Civil War. He was commissioned as a lieutenant before reaching 20 years of age, and served Adjutant of the 5th Regiment, United States Colored Troops. After the war he went to Chicago and turned to journalism, writing for the Advance and for the Advocate (which he later owned and managed). He then tried his hand at real estate and banking, and became one of the most prominent money men in the booming industrial city. Despite this comfortable existence, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War he volunteered to command the 1st Regiment, Illinois National Guard, and saw combat again in Santiago, Cuba.(Raum, 635)

But was this the H.L. Turner who wrote "Christ Returneth?" I can offer no concrete connection, only a strong possibility. Colonel Turner was well-known as a speaker, master of ceremonies, and sometime poet. For example, when he hosted a reception for the armed forces at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, he led the crowd in singing a poem he had written just for the occasion, "The National Guard," set to a well-known tune.(NYT, "Soldiers") I have located only one example of his poetry, but it is an excellent insight into his writing: "My Gray Guinever," the story of a cavalryman and his horse who are the lone survivors of a skirmish party.(Werner's, 761) Turner's style is rugged and unpretentious, full of excitement and color. I am not an expert in such comparisons, but it seems in keeping with the style of "Christ Returneth."

My best evidence, however, comes from the following brief essay by Colonel Turner, titled "The Lost Chord." This sounds like a person who could have written "Christ Returneth:"
I am tempted to question whether human content is a human possibility. And yet, as I remember the charming story of the lost chord, as told in the music of Sullivan and the poetry of Adelaide Proctor--how an organist, once pressing idly the keys, struck by chance a chord of wondrous beauty and peace and grandeur, how he lost it, and year by year sought for it in vain--I often wonder if somewhere, at some time, the touch of the great I AM, straying over the keys of human life, did not strike out a divinely beautiful chord of blended love, content and happiness. And I find myself waiting with unfaltering faith and hope for the time when the Great Master shall strike that chord again, and I listen, listen for the heavenly sound which shall breathe content to the discontented and the unhappy, which shall fill every heart and hearthside with a holy, a beneficent satisfaction, which shall come to the American people like the breathing of God's amen.(Spirit of '76, 115)
But did he have any contact with James McGranahan, the composer of the music and co-editor of the hymnal in which "Christ Returneth" first appeared? They would not necessarily have to meet; McGranahan might have found the lyrics published in a magazine. But the men certainly could have met. McGranahan came to Chicago in 1876, taking the place of Philip Paul Bliss (who had died in a railroad accident) as song leader for evangelist D. W. Whittle.(McGranahan obituary, 7) He also replaced Bliss as co-editor of Ira Sankey's prominent Gospel Hymns series. It was just two years later that Gospel Hymns no. 3 was published, containing "Christ Returneth" with music by McGranahan.

Unless some further evidence comes to light, I can only offer the possibility that Colonel Henry L. Turner was the author of these lyrics; I think it is a fairly good case but is still no more than speculation. The only other hymn I can find by an H. L. Turner is "Peace like a river is flooding my soul," published in His Voice in Song (Chattanooga, Tennessee: R. E. Winsett, 1918). That is a world away, stylistically and generationally, from McGranahan, Sankey's Gospel Hymns, and "Christ Returneth," so that lyric may well be from a different person entirely.

But now for the hymn itself!

Stanza 1:
It may be at morn, when the day is awaking,
When sunlight through darkness and shadow is breaking
That Jesus will come in the fullness of glory
To receive from the world His own.

People have tried to pin down the date of the Lord's return for centuries; Harold Camping's recent failed predictions are only the latest and most publicized. I remember reading Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth back in the 1970s; I had peculiar reading tastes even as a kid. It was very interesting to look at world events through the filter of his theories, but many of his predictions about political developments--which he clearly believed would transpire in the then-near future--are laughable in retrospect.

This is exactly the problem; unbelievers are caused to scoff by these false predictions, because too many sincere believers have drawn entirely the wrong lesson from what Jesus said about His return, and have filled too many books with theories that ultimately prove wrong. Until I am convinced otherwise, I will stick with my admittedly simplistic and un-nuanced interpretation of Jesus' statement, "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."(Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32) I know what to do with this information, and can take action on it, because Jesus goes on to tell us exactly what our responsibility is: "Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come."(Mark 13:33; Matthew 24:42 reads, "For you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.")

Christ has long been associated with sunrise. His first advent has traditionally been associated with the early morning hours, though I can find no Scriptural evidence of the time of day except that the shepherds were in the field "by night."(Luke 2:8) But the prophecy of John's father, Zecheriah, makes the association firm in a more far-reaching manner: "because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Sunrise shall visit us from on high."(Luke 1:78) Perhaps there is an echo here of Proverbs 4:8, "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." The light of knowledge had been glowing brighter and brighter through the days of the prophets, until at last the Sun itself arrived.

The apostle John tells of Jesus' first coming only in general, philosophical terms, but uses much the same imagery: "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world."(John 1:9) It was during the early morning hours that Jesus first appeared to His followers after His resurrection, again affirming the image of light overcoming darkness. And in the Revelation, the Light of the World is fully revealed in His overwhelming, terrible glory: "His face was like the sun shining in full strength."(Revelation 1:16) With the darkness forever vanquished, "the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb."(Revelation 21:23)

At the end of each stanza, Turner repeats the line, "When Jesus receives His own." What does it mean, to be numbered among "His own?" At the very least, it means to be among those who hear Him and receive His message with an open mind and heart. Once upon a time there was a nation, carefully prepared for many centuries, that was meant to be such a group of people; but "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him."(John 1:11) No mere accident of birth made them "His own," when they refused to hear Him.

Those who are "His own" will not only hear, but will also obediently follow His words. John 10:3-4 speaks of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who calls out His sheep from among those who will not follow Him: "The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice." "His own" are redeemed to a holy manner of living, because Jesus "gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works."(Titus 2:14) Holiness here is both purity and dedication to service. Peter amplifies this idea as well: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."(1 Peter 2:9)

O Lord Jesus, how long, how long,
Ere we shout the glad song?
Christ returneth! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah! Amen.

"How long?" is a question that is characteristic of the human condition; we are trapped in time. If it is something good, we wonder, "How long do I have?" If it is something unpleasant, we wonder, "How much longer will this take?" Numerous times throughout the Psalms and the prophets, the question rings out "How long, O Lord?" We see this theme again in Revelation 6:10, when the Christian martyrs cry out "How long before You will judge and avenge our blood?"

But there is another way we use the question, "How much longer?" It is the spirit in which the child asks, "How much longer until Christmas?" or the long-absent traveler asks, "How much longer until we reach home?" The writer of Hebrews describes us as those who are "eagerly waiting for Him."(9:28) Paul takes this idea further in Romans, saying, "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."(Romans 8:23) The closing words of inspired Scripture emphatically say, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." Are we ready for Him to return? Do we look forward to His return with that eagerness? If the answer is no, it is well worth examining ourselves to find out why!

Stanza 2:
It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus receives His own.


Certain events affect us so deeply that we will forever remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. On September 11th, 2001, I had just dropped of the kids at school and parked my car at the university where I worked; I stayed in the car a moment to catch the weather report. By the time I had walked across the lawn to my building, reached my office, and switched the radio on there, the world had changed. When Jesus gave His own commentary on the statement "No man knows the day or the hour," He described just such a situation:
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.
What were you doing at noon yesterday? Were you at work? Eating lunch? Driving to an appointment? Asleep? But how many of us were considering that Jesus might return at that moment? It is easy for us to be distracted during the busy hours of the workday, and it is all too easy for us to slip from the path of obedience and holiness when we are surrounded by worldliness. It is a good thing to stop during the day and pray, remembering that, "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."(Matthew 24:44)

Will the midnight open up to the glory of the returning Christ? Yes, it will be midnight somewhere, and in that place there will be a literal fulfillment of the saying in Jesus' parable, "But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'"(Matthew 25:6) In the parable, it was a time of joy for those virgins who were prepared, with their lamps burning bright to welcome the guest of honor; but it was a time of disappointment and mourning for the virgins who were unprepared.

In some parables of the Second Advent, the people concerned are totally unprepared--the "master of the house" who is victim of a "thief in the night," for example,(Matthew 24:43) or the lazy steward in Luke 12. But in the parable of the ten virgins, it was not ignorance or neglect that caused the five to be shut outside, it was insufficient preparation. They were not ready for the long delay. James warns us,
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.(James 5:7-8)
What does "at hand" mean? Every generation has wondered this, and we do best to remember Peter's words:
Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.(2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9)
In the early morning hours of 6 June 1944, one of the first actions of the D-day invasion was the glider landing of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment. Their objective was to capture a critical bridge that would allow British and Canadian forces to move inland from the beaches; the same bridge could also be used, of course, by German tanks moving in to crush the invasion. The lightly armed British troops took the bridge quickly, then hunkered down in the darkness to carry out their terse orders: "Hold until relieved." I cannot imagine how long those hours must have been, waiting to hear the rumble of tanks and wondering from which direction that sound would come. And what relief it must have been when the first British and Canadian forces began rolling in from the beaches!

Much credit goes to the steady leadership of Major John Howard. Though he later laughed at "stiff-upper-lip" portrayal given him by Hollywood in The Longest Day, he really was one of those quiet heroes whose work began long before the battle.(Howard obituary) He trained his men intensely, with as much realism as possible, from the terrain of the training site right down to the uniforms and weapons of the men employed as opposing "German" forces. They were prepared, and they got the job done.(Pegasus Archive) Christians are also called to "hold until relieved," not knowing how long this night of conflict may last. "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.(Ephesians 6:13)

Stanza 3:
While hosts cry Hosanna, from heaven descending,
With glorified saints and the angels attending,
With grace on His brow, like a halo of glory,
Will Jesus receive His own.


When Jesus came the first time, He came alone, with only a little fanfare--his earthly parents, some common shepherds, and a few wise men were His only attendants. Had it not been for the mad jealousy of Herod, few would have noted the events in Bethlehem. But when Jesus returns, it will be a different story. When the disciples saw Jesus ascend from this earth, they were also promised an even more amazing event to come:
And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven."(Acts 1:10-11)
He will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, "in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."(Mark 8:38) This time, everyone will know He has come, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God."(1 Thessalonians 4:16) "Every eye will see Him,"(Revelation 1:7) and there will be a great scene of judgment, as described in Jesus' own words:
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.(Matthew 25:31-32)
It will be the ultimate "no-spin zone," because He "will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart."(1 Corinthians 4:5) He will come "inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."(2 Thessalonians 1:8) I take no pleasure in repeating those words, but there they stand. On that day, no one will be absent, no one will be exempted, and no excuses will be accepted. This being the case, may we all heed the comforting and encouraging words of John: "And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming."(1 John 2:28)

Stanza 4:
Oh, joy! oh, delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying;
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus receives His own.


When Jesus returns, there will be Christians alive on this earth, rapture theories notwithstanding. I am as sure of that as I am sure that 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is in the Bible:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.(1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)
Will we be in that number who "meet the Lord in the air," never having experienced death? It will be a strange and wonderful thing, as Paul reveals:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."(1 Corinthians 15:51-54)
When I was a boy I convinced myself that I would probably still be alive when the Lord returns; this was nothing more than a fear of dying, and perhaps a touch of end-of-the-millenium thinking, though I knew our calendar was of no particular significance to God! As I became older I realized there is no reason to think that my generation in particular would be the last one upon this earth; for all I know, this world will go on for millions of years before the Lord returns. Who knows the mind of God on this? But whether I breath my last on this earth, or am present when Christ returns, I can be certain of the promise of my Savior:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.(John 14:1-3)

About the music:

James M. McGranahan (1840-1907), in my opinion, was the most innovative composer out of the four talented men who edited the landmark Gospel Hymns series. (Not necessarily the best composer; I would rank Philip Bliss first in both lyrics and music.) Though it would always be most associated with Ira Sankey, this series also included Philip Paul Bliss as co-editor for numbers 1-2 (1875, 1876), and McGranahan and George C. Stebbins for numbers 3-6 (1878, 1881, 1887, 1891). Among the Churches of Christ, Sankey is probably best known for "Faith is the Victory;" Bliss was the composer of "It is Well with my Soul," "Hallelujah! What a Savior," and many other fine songs; and Stebbins is known for the music of "Take time to be holy," among others.

McGranahan's work includes the music for the following (he wrote relatively few lyrics, and they have not been as successful):
  • The Banner of the Cross
  • Christ Receiveth Sinful Men
  • Christ Returneth
  • I Know Whom I Have Believed
  • I Will Sing of My Redeemer
  • None of Self, and All of Thee
  • Not Now, But in the Coming Years
  • O How Love I Thy Law!
  • There Shall Be Showers of Blessings
It is an interesting group of songs. First, they are songs with a distinct quality of execution. "Banner of the Cross" is one of the best-written march-style gospel songs, and in McGranahan's setting, the interesting lyric "None of Self, and All of Thee" finally found the right music. The tunefulness of "I Know Whom I Have Believed" and "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" have made these songs last as well.

But it is his penchant for doing things that are simply peculiar that interests me. This is far from a criticism; many a songwriter continues on in more or less the same mode of composition for an entire career, often in a style that is derivative in the first place. But McGranahan tried things that were different, and they usually worked. In the area of lyrics, "O How Love I Thy Law" is an admirable effort at arranging verses from Psalms 19:7-13 and 119:97, with as little alteration as possible. It was also McGranahan's choice to set "Sinners Jesus Will Receive," a translation fro Erdmann Neumeister, the Lutheran theologian better known as the lyricist of many of J. S. Bach's cantatas.

On the purely musical side, McGranahan gives the earliest examples I have seen of changing time signatures in a gospel song. "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" shifts from 9/8 (three beats) in the stanza to 12/8 (four beats) in the chorus, and "Not Now, But in the Coming Years" goes from 4/4 to 3/4. "Christ Receiveth Sinful Men" goes from 3/4 time to 12/8 time, changing both the number and subdivision of the beats.

Then there is "Christ Returneth," the only gospel song you are ever likely to see with an alternating time signature (3/4 4/4). I remember puzzling over this as a kid, and was amused when my son did the same. Usually an alternating meter will occur in some kind of predictable pattern, and it does here as well; the 4/4 bar occurs at the end of each phrase in the opening two lines of the stanza, providing a beat of rest between lines.

Could McGranahan have written the music without this break? Try singing it without the rests, and you will see that it could have worked, but not as well. The break gives it something distinctive; but more importantly, it gives some breathing room to the weak accents at the end of the first two lines of text ("WAK-ing" and "BREAK-ing"). Could he have just written this with a fermata over the last note of each phrase, instead of using alternating meter? Of course he could have, but it would not have been nearly as interesting!


Obituary of Colonel Henry L. Turner. New York Times, 13 July 1915. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50F15FE385B17738DDDAA0994DF405B858DF1D3

Oberlin Alumni Magazine 12/1 (October 1915). http://books.google.com/books?id=N9_OAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA29#v=onepage&q&f=false

Raum, Green Berry. History of Illinois Republicanism. Chicago: Rollins, 1900. http://books.google.com/books?id=EupKAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA634#v=onepage&q&f=false

"Soldiers at the dance." New York Times 21 October 1892. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F00D14F6355D15738DDDA80A94D8415B8285F0D3

Werner's Magazine: A Magazine of Expression volume 17 (1895). http://books.google.com/books?id=SoEVAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA761#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Upton, Harriet Taylor. A Twentieth Century History of Trumbull County, Ohio. 2 vols. Chicago: Lewis, 1909. http://books.google.com/books?id=WIMUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1&#v=onepage&q&f=false