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!
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!
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."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!
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)
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)
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)
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
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
The Spirit of '76 volume 2 number 5 (January 1896) http://books.google.com/books?id=HPgQAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA115#v=onepage&q&f=false
McGranahan obituary pamphlet. http://www.archive.org/stream/jamesmcgranahanb00pitt#page/n5/mode/2up
Major John Howard obituary. The Guardian 7 May 1999. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/1999/may/07/guardianobituaries
"Major John Howard." The Pegasus Archive. http://www.pegasusarchive.org/normandy/john_howard.htm
Upton, Harriet Taylor. A Twentieth Century History of Trumbull County, Ohio. 2 vols. Chicago: Lewis, 1909. http://books.google.com/books?id=WIMUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1v=onepage&q&f=false