Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do You Know My Jesus?

PFTL #125

Words: V. B. Vep Ellis, 1957 (stanzas); William F. Lakey, 1956 (chorus)
Music: William F. Lakey, 1956; arranged by V. B. Vep Ellis, 1957

Vesphew Benton Ellis (1917-1988), who went by the nickname "Vep," was one of the most prolific gospel songwriters of the modern era. The database lists 107 songs to his credit, and he is estimated by one count to have written over 500.(Slaughter) He was a minister of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) for nearly half a century, and served as music director for the well-known televangelist Oral Roberts.(Southern Gospel History) A search of reveals that Ellis edited gospel songbooks for the Tennessee Music Company during the 1940s and 1950s, and that several albums of his songs have been recorded by the chorus of Lee University. Both institutions are located in Cleveland, Tennessee and are historically associated with the Church of God.

From the frequency of their occurrence in hymnals ( and in recordings (Southern Gospel History), Ellis's most popular songs appear to be "The love of God," "I'm free again," and "Over the moon." "Do you know my Jesus?" runs close behind these. It has been recorded by classic gospel quartets such as the Blackwood Brothers, the Stamps Quartet, the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statesmen, and the Kingsmen.(Southern Gospel History) also lists recordings of this song by country artists such as Skeeter Davis and Don Gibson, as well as gospel standard-bearers such as George Beverly Shea and the Gaithers.

William F. "Bill" Lakey was a songwriter (primarily a lyricist) associated with Ellis in the Tennessee Music Company. lists about two dozen songs by Lakey, most of them appearing in these songbooks from that publisher: Songs of the Redeemed (1955), Billows of Love (1957), Echoes of Calvary (1958), and Forward in Faith (1959). Records of the U.S. Copyright Office show that Lakey co-wrote at least nine other songs with Vep Ellis, and continued his work with the Tennessee Music Company through the 1960s. If the Copyright Office catalog's "Lakey, Bill" and "Lakey, W. F." are the same person (which appears to be the case, based on the renewal record for EP0000159811), his last publication was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: lifting His name in song: new sacred poetry & music by Bill Lakey. This copyright was filed from Fairview, Oklahoma, which leads me to think that he is the same William F. Lakey (1926-1996) buried in the Fairview Cemetery.

"Do you know my Jesus?" is a great example of the benefit of collaboration. According to the authorship data given in Praise for the Lord, Lakey wrote the refrain first; this is the heart of the song, confronting the hearer with the all-important question that gives the song its title, but it is not quite enough to stand on its own. Ellis then wrote the stanzas, posing questions about the hearer's life which lead into the stanza in a natural progression of thoughts. It is a model of evangelism put to music; the listener is approached where he or she is in life, led to question the direction of that life, and then gently brought to the great question we all someday must answer.

Stanza 1:
Have you a heart that's weary,
Tending a load of care;
Are you a soul that's seeking
Rest from the burden you bear?

The first stanza speaks to the person who may not actually know what he or she is lacking in life, but simply knows that something is missing. People might cover up this nagging unease with various things, but there is still a gap there that cannot be filled except by God. It was part of the mission of Christ to bring a personal knowledge of God into the world, as He said in John 14:7, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him." John wrote more expansively on this in the prologue to his account of the gospel:
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John 1:10-14)
It was this blessing John wrote of again in his first letter: "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are." But John noted again sadly, "The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him."(1 John 3:1)

There is no question that the world is weary-hearted, "tending a load of care." Ecclesiastes presents an honest account of life viewed from this worldly perspective: "All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."(Ecclesiastes 1:8) But the answer is not found in a philosophy, or in a method, or in a discipline; it is found in a Person.

Do you know my Jesus?
Do you know my Friend?
Have you heard He loves you,
And that He will abide till the end?

One of the pitfalls of the English speaker who studies German is learning the proper usage of the two principal verbs for the concept "to know"--wissen and kennen. Where English uses a single expression, the German wissen expresses the knowledge of a fact, but kennen expresses acquaintance with a person or place. One may legitimately ask, "Wissen Sie, wo Berlin ist?" ("Do you know where Berlin is?"), or "Kennen Sie Berlin?" ("Do you know Berlin?"), but the question, "Wissen Sie Berlin?" would literally mean something like, "Are you aware that Berlin exists?"--if it meant anything at all. The distinctive meaning of kennen carries over into English by way of the Scottish ken, which derives from a similar root word. If something is "beyond my ken" it is outside my experience, or beyond my understanding.

When the refrain of this song asks the question, "Do you know my Jesus?," it is in this deeper sense of acquaintance and personal familiarity. Many people are vaguely aware of the basic claims about who Jesus is; a smaller number could be said to truly know His life and teachings in some depth; but far fewer can claim to know Him as a person knows a close friend. Our friends and family on this earth, who know us and are known by us as nearly as any person knows another, have an impact on us over the years. Our characters are changed and the courses of our lives are altered by these associations. The same effects are seen in those who truly know Jesus, as evidenced by the words of the apostles:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.(2 Peter 1:2-4)
According to Peter, knowing Jesus blesses the believer in a number of ways. He changes our character, and benefits us both now and hereafter with:
  • Grace and peace.
  • All things that pertain to life and godliness.
  • Precious and very great promises.
  • Partaking of the divine nature.
  • Escape from the corruption that is in the world.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, from his imprisonment in Rome, about the central importance of a personal knowledge of Christ. It was worth everything to Paul:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.(Philippians 3:8-11)
Through knowing Christ, Paul found righteousness from God. By emulating Christ's death (in baptism, as he explained in Romans 6, and also in being a "living sacrifice" day by day) Paul not only died to sin, but received the "power of His resurrection" in a new spiritual life here, and an eternal life following the Resurrection to come. There is no way to exaggerate, no way to overstate the importance of knowing Christ.

How do we come to know Jesus? If I seek to really understand some figure of history, above all I will want to read everything that is known to have been written or said by that person. I will also read everything written or said by those who knew the individual personally; to a lesser extent, I will read from and talk to those who have devoted a great deal of study to that person. In the same way, if I want to really understand Jesus, I will pay careful attention to His words--the sermons, the parables, the questions, and the commands. I will study the writings of the New Testament authors, who knew Him personally and were among His earliest followers. I will also seek out those today who have come to know Him well, and will learn what I can from them as well.

But from the words of Peter and Paul, it is apparent that "knowing Jesus" is incomplete unless it results in a change in our lives. In this sense, it reminds me of the study of music composition. In centuries past, composers studied the works of earlier generations through writing out copies of their works by hand. In the process of copying, they learned the patterns and nuances of each composer's style and absorbed the essentials that made the music work. When I took a course in 18th-century counterpoint, we followed a similar approach: we modeled our work on the inventions and fugues of J. S. Bach, using a compilation of his works as our only textbook. Each week we analyzed the structures of these works in both the large and small scale, and compared our own works to those of the master. It was a humiliating process, and I was never satisfied with my fugue; but I gained a much deeper appreciation for Bach's technique, and what little success I had was certainly derived from emulating his style. In the same fashion, "knowing Jesus" is only fully realized when we put His character into practice in our own lives.

Stanza 2:

Where is your heart, O pilgrim,
What does your light reveal?
Who hears your call for comfort,
When naught but sorrow you feel?


The second stanza addresses the person who is a "pilgrim"--not at rest, or insensible to life's questions, but instead actively looking for answers. Perhaps, like Diogenes with his lamp, this person is using the "light" of human knowledge and inquiry in a search for something true and substantial. Diogenes, of course, was a founder of the philosophy of Cynicism; not surprisingly, his modern followers are left in much the same dilemma as they search for life's answers "under the sun."(Ecclesiastes 1:14) But as the cynic asks the final question, "Who cares?" the Christian offers a lifeline of hope if it will be received.

Or is this pilgrim perhaps a wayward Christian, who has "left the first love?"(Revelation 2:4) Scripture is clear that some will "profess to know God, but deny Him by their works."(Titus 1:16) This is not necessarily done consciously; few people come to Jesus with the intention to backslide. So how can we know that we are maintaining a good relationship with Jesus? The apostle John said, "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says, 'I know Him,' but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him."(1 John 2:3-4) If we know Him as we should, we will keep His words closely in mind and do our best to obey them. We can also look at our relationships to others; if they are not characterized by love, we have fallen out of touch with Jesus. John again says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love."(1 John 4:7-8)

Just as in the case of earthly friends with whom we have fallen out of touch, sometimes we have to become reacquainted with Jesus. We should study all of Scripture, of course, but it seems logical that a Christian should never be away for long from the four biographical accounts given of the Christ. We can spend time in the company of those who love Him and love to speak of Him--our fellow Christians today, as well as those apostles who carried out His will, and those prophets who foretold His coming. We can spend time in prayer, and we can focus on His perfect love for us when we meet on every Lord's Day to take His Supper. We can seek every day to live out the example He gave us, as much as our imperfect efforts allow.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.(2 Peter 1:5-8)
Stanza 3:
Who knows your disappointments,
Who hears each time you cry?
Who understands your heartaches,
Who dries the tears from your eyes?


In the final stanza, Ellis turns the premise around--Does Jesus know you? In Matthew 7:23 Jesus warned that some who claim to follow Him, but who do so in disobedience or insincerity, will hear the tragic words, "I never knew you." But faithful Christians who truly know Jesus can rest assured that Jesus knows them as well. In the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Revelation, Jesus told each of the seven churches of Asia, "I know your works." He knew both the good and the bad, their failures and their triumphs.

When we are disappointed, Jesus knows this disappointment. He too met with disappointment in His earthly life. In John 6:67, after many of His disciples rejected Him and "followed Him no more," Jesus said to the Twelve, "Will you go away also?" When we have heartaches, Jesus knows this feeling as well. Remember His grief over Jerusalem when He said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"(Luke 13:34) And when we shed tears, Jesus has done so as well. In that shortest verse of the Scriptures (at least as we have marked off verses), John 11:35, we read a simple but profound statement: "Jesus wept." The Lord of Creation, who has "all authority in heaven and on earth,"(Matthew 28:18) has felt human tears run down His cheeks just as surely as have we.

The question, "Do you know my Jesus?" is the most important question that we will ever answer. May we always follow Peter's advice in 2 Peter 3:18, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."

About the music:

The melody of this song is a little unusual, though not unpleasantly so. The melody in the stanza consists far more of leaps than of steps, reversing the usual tendency. The opening phrase even includes the leap of an octave in the middle of a series of four consecutive leaps, creating a very distinctive profile. The refrain leaps into the upper register and stays there, contrasting with the low range of the stanza. An effective tension is set up in the refrain by the emphasis on the leading tone at the ends of the first two phrases (on the word "know" each time), resolved by the triumphant climb up to the highest note of the tune on the words "Have you heard?"

Ellis was an important player in the creation of the modern commercial Southern gospel style. I admit this is not a kind of music that I care for personally, but Ellis certainly writes it very effectively. One aspect of this song that is very telling of its innate quality is that it translates well to a cappella congregational singing, something that is not always true of this style. In this case, however, the song works well both as a quartet and as a congregational song. One factor in its favor here is that it is adaptable to a wide range of tempo. Mainstream interpretations such as those of the Gaithers and Skeeter Davis clock in at about 82 beats per minute; I even found one Youtube video of Jimmy Swaggart singing it at 70 beats per minute. By contrast, the video below represents a pretty typical tempo (maybe a little on the fast side) used for a cappella congregational singing among the Churches of Christ. The tempo is about 128 beats per minute, nearly twice as fast as Swaggart's!

I think the reason for this huge difference is that instrumentally accompanied gospel uses fills from the accompaniment to keep things moving during long notes of the melody, especially at the ends of phrases. In a cappella singing, however, these long notes can seem to be a sudden collapse of the tempo; it is just more comfortable to keep things moving at a faster pace. Not every song works well without accompaniment and at a radically different speed, but "Do you know my Jesus?" works well at both fast and slow tempos.


"Vep Ellis." Southern Gospel History.

Slaughter, Henry. "Vep Ellis: an example to follow." I Remember

United States Copyright Office. Copyright Catalog (1978-present).

"William F. Lakey." Find-A-Grave.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Apocalypse Now?

According to believers in the 21 December 2012 apocalypse, the ancient Mayan calender predicts the end of the world (or at least an epoch-defining cataclysm) in three days. Speculators differ on the means--a devastating solar flare, a supersized black hole, or the mysterious planet Nibiru? Take your pick. My personal favorite is Timewave Zero, "at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously."(Wikipedia) But one belief unites them all: the End is Near (again).

Observers of popular religious culture (for that is what this is, whether people admit it or not) will recognize that the real phenomenon here is that so many people will fall for yet another predicted date for the end of the world. This happens, and will continue to happen, despite the failure of every preceding prediction--not to mention Jesus' clear insistence that "no one knows."(Mark 13:32) In honor of this latest instance of doomsaying, I would like to present some examples of apocalyptic themes in church music from days gone by.

Probably the best known of these is "Jesus is coming soon" (PFTL 351), written by Robert E. Winsett in 1942. This popular gospel song actually won "Song of the Year" in the Gospel Music Association's very first Dove Awards--in 1969!( It is still included in a number of U.S. hymnals. I will write a complete post on this song when I get to it in alphabetical order (in approximately the year 2016 or so if the Lord wills). But for now, consider a few points about the origins and message of this song.

In 1942, the United States was suddenly engaged in World War Two in earnest. Japan had delivered a nearly fatal blow to our navy in the Pacific, crushing Americans' faith that the oceans would keep war at bay. Though that year would also see major turning points in favor of the Allies--such as Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad--to the average person at the time it was anyone's guess who would be the victor. And if one were looking for "the Antichrist" (as that term is popularly used; but see 1 John 2:18!), Adolf Hitler was a candidate far better qualified than those names that have been bandied about since. In the early 1940s it certainly looked as though the world were ending!

What were the views of Robert E. Winsett when he wrote this song? I have found no direct testimony from the author, but his personal and professional associations offer pretty conclusive evidence. He was a minister in the Church of God (Seventh Day),(Nickels, 123) an Adventist group that never accepted Ellen White's claims as a prophet.("Questions") Their beliefs about the Apocalypse were originally quite mixed, stemming from the spectacular failure of the William Miller prophecies in the 19th century. But in the early 20th century Andrew N. Dugger, editor of the Bible Advocate and president of the General Conference (church history buffs may recognize his name also from the 1942 Dugger-Porter debate), taught that world events were pointing to an immediate return of Christ. Dugger promoted his view especially heavily during the 1920s to 1940s--the era of the Great Depression and World War Two.(Coulter, 13) He declared as early as 1933,
The end is very near at hand. Signs throughout the world show the Lord is soon coming. European diplomats are prophesying a world war involving all nations in 1934 which they say the League of Nations is powerless to avert. We know what this means. Conditions of the world, and also of the Holy Land, are set in order for Armageddon. Therefore the church must also be set in order, to meet the bridegroom. ... It is now time for his wife to make herself ready.(quoted in Lane)
It is significant as well that Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God, promoters of the Anglo-Israelism version of End Times doctrines, split away from the Church of God (Seventh Day) during this time.("Questions") It is interesting to note that after the war failed to end in Armageddon, opinions again became divided, and today the mainstream Church of God (Seventh Day) officially eschews the idea of predicting the return of Christ.(Coulter, 13; see also McBride, 6-7)

Where was Winsett during the period of Dugger's ascendancy? When the Salem-Stanberry split occured in the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1933, Winsett was selected as part of the leadership of the Salem branch, which was headed primarily by Dugger.(Nickels, 134) Though the split itself (which was later repaired) was about church organization, not End Times doctrines, this does show the association of the two men. At the time "Jesus is coming soon" was written, on the heels of a global depression and deep into a global war, there was widespread belief in Winsett's circles that the return of Christ was imminent.

The lyrics come into much sharper focus in this context. I believe the first stanza obviously references World War Two, which from the perspective of the U.S. general public had just gone from a distant conflict on another continent to a full national mobilization.
Troublesome times are here,
Filling men's hearts with fear;
Freedom we all hold dear
Now is at stake . . .
The second stanza might be addressing the Great Depression ("losing their homes of gold?"), a traumatic decade of hardship and upheaval that had transformed American society. The first line probably refers to Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:12, "And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." Matthew 24, of course, is a central text in the debate over End Times predictions.
Love of so many cold,
Losing their homes of gold;
This in God's word is told,
Evils abound.
Winsett's belief that current events pointed to an imminent Apocalypse is most clearly stated in the second half of the stanza:
When these signs come to pass,
Nearing the end at last,
It will come very fast,
Trumpets will sound.
The rest of the lyrics fit in with this interpretation well enough, but do not specifically suggest it.

For those of us who stand simply on Jesus' plain statement that "concerning that day and hour, no one knows,"(Matthew 24:36) what does this song mean? If you didn't know when Winsett wrote it, and what his beliefs were about the events of his day, the song might bear a less controversial interpretation (up to a certain point). The first stanza asserts only that "troublesome times are here," creating fear and threatening a loss of liberties. That has been more or less true for most people throughout the history of the world; the troubles and threats are always there, only the names change. Admittedly, however, to say that those times "are here" implies that they were not before, and that their arrival has significance.

The refrain might not be objectionable either, depending on what one means by "coming soon:"
Jesus is coming soon,
Morning or night or noon!
Many will meet their doom;
Trumpets will sound.
All of the dead shall rise,
Righteous meet in the skies,
Going where no one dies,
Heavenward bound.
Jesus said in His last words to us, after all, "Surely I am coming quickly."(Revelation 22:21) Naturally, what God means by "quickly" and what we mean by "quickly" are two different things; God literally has all the time in the world. The statement "Jesus is coming soon," therefore, is true against this backdrop; but in the overall context of the song it obviously implies that Jesus is coming soon in the sense we humans mean.

If there were any doubt of the interpretation of this song, the second stanza removes it entirely. The line, "When these signs come to pass," claims that the foregoing events are visible indications of the imminent return of Jesus; Winsett either believed the signs were already present, or would be so shortly. For this reason, this stanza is often omitted among the Churches of Christ, either by the song leader in practice or in the hymnal itself (as in Praise for the Lord). The third stanza does not contain anything particularly controversial.

We often sing hymns, of course, that were written by people with whom we disagree in some aspect of doctrine. Sometimes we even sing a hymn with an entirely different meaning than what the author intended--for example, "Faith of our Fathers" is sung by many different religious groups despite the fact that Faber was writing specifically about Roman Catholicism (check the original third stanza). But in the case of "Jesus is coming soon," the lyrics (especially in the second stanza) are so explicit in their intent that many in the Churches of Christ simply will not use it in worship. I do not lead it myself (even with the second stanza omitted) because in my opinion, an honest, straightforward reading of it teaches doctrines I believe to be false. (For two excellent articles on doctrinal issues in this song, see Guy F. Hester, "Is Jesus coming soon?" from the May 2011 Gospel Gleaner, and "Jesus is coming soon?" by Dave Miller at the Apologetics Press site.)

"Jesus is coming soon" in its historical context brings up another interesting point--if this song was proclaiming the Apocalypse in the 1940s, how did it manage to outlive the failure of that prediction and even rise in popularity through the years? Part of the reason is that it is a rousing, well-written song. But I believe another reason was the rapid ascendancy of a new era of "troublesome times"--the atomic age. If the line about "losing their homes of gold" made less sense during the post-war era when American affluence was rising, the Cold War threat of sudden and fiery destruction was "filling men's hearts with fear" once again.

With the rising popularity of commercial gospel music during the post-war era, many songwriters took up the theme of "Jesus is coming soon" in a similar but updated vein. One of the most famous of these "atomic gospel" songs was "Great Atomic Power" by the Louvin Brothers in 1952. Despite its rather macabre lyrics, this has remained a popular song in bluegrass and folk music circles, partly for its historic value and partly because it is just rather catchy.

The paranoia of the Cold War took many forms, perhaps none more unusual than the flying saucer panics of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1947, the year of the Roswell incident and the Truman Doctrine, the Buchanan Brothers released this interesting interpretation of current events:

Please understand that I am not giving these examples in order to mock them (well, maybe the last one). I still remember, from my childhood in the later part of the Cold War, how the hairs on the back of my neck stood up whenever I heard that shrill tone of the Emergency Broadcasting System. (For some sick reason they always tested it right after school, when I was home alone watching cartoons.) But I do hope to make the point that when society is disrupted by some cataclysm, or the perceived threat of cataclysm, one of our instinctive human responses is to interpret it as a sign.

We also have a recurring fascination with unusual numbers on the calendar. It has happened before and will happen again. Look, for example, at the following text:
Hear, O earth, hear, O great bordering sea;
Hear, O man, hear, everything which lives under the sun:
The day of supreme wrath comes nigh,
Troublesome day,
Bitter day,
At which the heavens will flee,
The sun will turn red,
The moon will be altered, and the day grow dark,
And the stars will fall to earth.
Alas, wretches,
Alas, wretches,
Why, O foolish man,
Do you follow after pleasure?
This is the first stanza (in my imperfect translation) of "Audi tellus," an apocalyptic hymn from the original millennium scare--before the year 1000.(Norberg, 154; see also Landes, 120) Similar fears arose in the 14th century when the Black Death wiped out as much as a third of the population of Europe. In 1349 the Geissler, wandering bands of penitents who flailed themselves with whips in hopes of appeasing God's wrath, sang the hymn "Nu hebent auf die uweren Händ," the gist of which is that Jesus was prepared to destroy the world because of the corruption of the church, but that Mary was interceding on behalf of the penitent.(Runge, 38, see also page 174)

Centuries later in London, the year 1666--ominous enough already--was marked by plague and fire, provoking apocalyptic expectations once again. The library of Samuel Pepys preserved an anonymous broadside ballad from that year, titled "A Bell-Man for England," the first stanza of which follows.
Awake, awake, oh England, sweet England now awake,
And to thy prayers speedily, doe thou thy selfe betake:
The Lord thy God is comming, within the skie so cleare:
Repent with speed thy wickednesse, the day it draweth neere.
The full text of fifteen stanzas (available at the wonderful English Broadside Ballad Archive) covers much of the same ground as "Jesus is Coming Soon," including this striking parallel: "For all things be fulfilled, which Christ before had told, / Small faith is now remaining, and charity is growne cold."

The tendency to express apocalyptic predictions in song is nothing new, because people will sing about things that weigh on their minds; and a feeling that the end is near is something that seems to grip societies every so often, whether because of wars, plagues, natural disasters, or social upheavals. The one thing that these apocalyptic predictions have all had in common, of course, is that they have been wrong! In my own three decades or so of following this subject, I have seen several widely publicized predictions of the Apocalypse come and go. If I had the desire, I could assemble a large stack of books ascertaining the identity of the "Antichrist," depending on the international boogeyman of the moment. I have been solemnly assured that the Lord must surely come by the year 1980, 1990, 2000, 2012, etc.

For every person who hears such a prediction and is caused perhaps to think for a moment about the state of his or her soul, how many more are encouraged to join the scoffers who say, "Where is the promise of His coming?"(2 Peter 3:4) How much better simply to follow Christ's command in Matthew 25:13, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour!" And in a very real sense, of course, the "End is Near" for each one of us. I say this not to be morbid, but as a simple fact: every day could be our last day, whether the Lord returns that day or not. We need to be prepared to meet the Lord on 21 December 2012, and on any other day of the calendar. God help us to devote our energies to serving Him and our fellow humanity, rather than wasting time in speculation on a matter we have been told is not to be found out!


"2012 Phenomenon." Wikipedia.

Nickels, Richard C. History of the Church of God (Seventh Day). Revised by the author in 1993. Freetoshare Publications, 2010.

"Frequently asked questions." General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day)

Coulter, Robert. "Questions and answers." Bible Advocate volume 146, number 6 (November-December 2012), page 13.

McBride, James. "It's doomsday... again!" Bible Advocate volume 146, number 6 (November-December 2012), pages 6-7.

Lane, Jack M. "Why I am no longer an 'imminent Adventist.'"

Norberg, Dag. An Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification, translated by Roti & Skubly, edited by Jan Ziolkowski. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 2004.

Landes, Richard. "The Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000: Augustinian Historiography, Medieval and Modern." Speculum, 75:1 (January 2000), pages 97-145. Online version from Boston University Department of History.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Did You Think to Pray?

PFTL #124
Words: Mary A. Kidder, 1875
Music: William O. Perkins, 1875

Born Mary Ann Pepper, Mrs. Mary A. Kidder (1820-1905) grew up in the literary ferment of Boston, and was soon publishing poetry in local magazines.(Hopkins, 123) She married Ellis Usher Kidder in 1844,(Massachusetts Marriages) a printer who probably worked with his older brother Andrew in the music publishing firm Kidder & Wright, active in Boston from about 1837-1860. Mary and Ellis had three children, May (or Mary?) F. (1845), Edward E. (1848), and Walter B. (1853).(1855 Massachusetts State Census, and see family tree of James Kidder) This would seem to have been a happy match, with Mary able to engage in songwriting and other literary pursuits as part of her husband's business. By 1860 the Kidders had moved to New York City, living in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan.(1860 U.S. Census)

Victory at last. Words by Mrs. M. A. Kidder, music by Wm. B. Bradbury [song sheet]
From Performing Arts Encyclopedia,
Library of Congress (view larger image)
Like so many other families of that era, however, their home was torn apart by the Civil War. Ellis enlisted in the 4th New York Infantry on 30 May 1861, a 40-year-old private. He survived that unit's action at the horrific engagement along the "Sunken Road" on 17 September 1863 during the Battle of Antietam,(Antietam on the Web) but died of dysentery just five days later.(Widow's Certificate)

Mary Kidder had three children still at home, and the poetry that had been her recreational creative outlet became the family's bread and butter.(Hopkins, 124-125) Worldcat Identities has established a works list showing her publications of patriotic and temperance songs, in addition to sacred works. It was her song "Victory at last" (music by William Bradbury) that was sung at the formal raising of the Stars and Stripes over Fort Sumter at the end of the war. Later on she was poetry editor for the New York Ledger literary monthly.(Sanjek, 209)

But tragedy struck this family again and again; in the same year the war ended, Kidder's 12-year-old son Walter drowned while visiting Massachusetts.(Massachusetts Deaths, volume 184, page 146) Her daughter May died in 1883 at the age of 38.(New York Herald) She was left with her older son Edward Kidder, who became a notable playwright, and seems to have formed an attachment to her daughter-in-law Augusta Kidder. An article in the New York Evening World (April 23, 1890) shows that both were involved in the Sorosis Club, New York City's first professional organization for women, and were present together at the very first meeting of the Federation of Women's Clubs, a major force in the push for women's suffrage.

At her death in 1905, however, Mary Kidder was best remembered for her hymns.(New York Tribune, 26 November 1905, page 7) Fanny Crosby, writing the following year, remembered their association together writing lyrics for William F. Bradbury:
Miss Josephine Pollard and Mrs Kidder also wrote many hymns for Mr. Bradbury, and his successors, the Biglow and Main Company; and the three of us worked together so well that they were in the habit of calling us 'the trio.'"(Crosby, 136) lists 181 texts by Kidder, and the frequency of their appearances in hymnals shows a steep climb in the second half of the 1860s, the years immediately following her husband's death. A significant number of her texts were set to music by prominent gospel musicians such as William Bradbury and William Doane. Mrs. Kidder's hymn most frequently appearing in the database is "Lord, I care not for riches" (PFTL #418), followed by "Did you think to pray?," the children's song "Open the door for the children," and "We shall sleep, but not forever." Other songs by Kidder that have maintained currency among the Churches of Christ in the U.S. are "Fear not, little flock" (PFTL #149) and "The Christian's welcome home" (PFTL #626). "Did you think to pray?" first appeared in The Shining River: A Collection of New Music for Sunday Schools (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1875).

Stanza 1:
Ere you left your room this morning,
Did you think to pray?
In the name of Christ our Savior,
Did you sue for loving favor,
As a shield today?

The text follows a very simple pattern: it suggests a situation in the daily life of a Christian, then asks the question that occurs in the second line of each stanza: "Did you think to pray?" In the first place, she counsels, we should engage in prayer every morning as the day begins. In Mark 1:35 we read of Jesus that, "Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed." In this as in all other things He set us our best example. We sometimes find ourselves too "busy" to pray, but who could have been more busy than Jesus in those three rushed years of ministry? On some occasions Jesus was too busy to even take time to eat!(Mark 3:20, 6:31) But I seriously doubt that He neglected prayer. On the night before He called the apostles, He even spent the entire night in prayer.(Luke 6:12) If Jesus himself needed daily prayer, how much more do we?

Mrs. Kidder notes in particular our need to seek God's favor "as a shield today." Jeremiah told us that "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning."(Lamentations 3:22-23) That "loving favor" is present every morning when we awaken, and is ready to meet whatever challenges the day may bring. I remember having a field trip to the fire station when I was in grade school, and being mightily impressed with all the firefighters' equipment. They explained how they carefully checked over their gear, every day, so they could be sure it was ready when they were called into action. People in that line of work would never think of answering a call to a fire without suiting up in their protective clothing, and they would be certain it was in good order well before it was needed!

In the same way, we need to take up the shield of prayer every day, and the sooner the better. The mind itself is a battlefield, and the sooner we take the offensive, the more likely we are to have the momentum of battle in our favor for the day. At the end of the great passage on the "Christian armor," Paul tells us that the first duty of the armed Christian soldier is, "praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance."(Ephesians 6:18) Colossians 4:2 echoes the thought: "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." There is no better way to start the day, than by presenting ourselves for duty in the Lord's service.

O how praying rests the weary!
Prayer will change the night to day;
So when life seems dark and dreary,
Don’t forget to pray.

The apostle Paul provides a great example of how to "pray through" our troubles. After his life-changing encounter with Christ, during those days of blindness in Damascus, the preacher Ananias found him praying.(Acts 9:11) It is worth noting here, of course, that prayer alone could not save him from his sins; he was still told by Ananias, "Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name."(Acts 22:16) But Paul's instinct, in his distress over discovering his great error, was to turn to God. In the jail at Philippi, their fates unknown, Paul and Silas were "praying and singing hymns to God."(Acts 16:25) And in a storm on the Mediterranean Sea, on the verge of shipwreck, Paul and his companions "prayed for day to come."(Acts 27:29) On each of these occasions, prayer was a help and comfort to Paul; and it is noteworthy as well that in each case these times of prayer in the dark were preludes to amazing works of God. Paul's whole life was evidence of the truth he spoke to the Philippian Christians:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:6-7)
Stanza 2:
When you met with great temptation,
Did you think to pray?
By His dying love and merit,
Did you claim the Holy Spirit
As your guide and stay?


The hymnist turns next to another great application of prayer--as a guard against temptation. Often Satan's best course against Christians is not to assault their faith directly, trying to get them to reject God out of hand, but rather to snag them with "little sins." After a time, "little sins" can become so commonplace that the child of God is wrapped up in them without realizing them--a desperate situation. And when the person realizes these sins, repents of them, and asks God's forgiveness, all too often he or she falls back into the same sins, again and again.

Jesus meant what He said when He told the apostles, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."(Matthew 26:41) We dare not ignore our weaknesses, or the activity of our adversary. Jesus said we need to "watch" for temptation, not wait until it is upon us. Ephesians 5:15 warns us as well, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise." I cannot help thinking here of my little cat. Every day before going outside, she pauses a moment in the doorway to sniff the wind and look around carefully. She instinctively keeps a sharp lookout when she is outdoors, practicing Proverbs 22:3, "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." We should have the same attitude toward temptation, and "flee these things!"(1 Timothy 6:11) Prayer is a guard against it, and Jesus taught us to pray for help in avoiding the encounter with temptation in the first place.(Matthew 6:13)

But even if we deny Satan the favor of running headlong into it, temptation will still find us. Try as we might, we will face these trials. Yet though temptations may be strong, we are well equipped to resist them if we will just use what God has given us. Paul assures us that, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."(1 Corinthians 10:13) We are also told by James, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."(James 4:7-8)

How do we find that "way of escape?" James also tells us, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God."(James 1:5) How do we "draw near to God," causing Satan to flee? Where better to start, than in prayer? And here is where Kidder's advice in this stanza is so pertinent. Even under the strongest duress of temptation, if we will just turn to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit is there at our side assisting us: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."(Romans 8:26) Jude reassures us of this help as well: "But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life."(Jude 20-21) When we are worn down by temptation, prayer will help to build us up again--not by our own power, but by the power of Him who promises to help our prayers.

In this war over our souls, there are two things that will never agree: "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."(Galatians 5:17) Which of the two will we allow to have the upper hand? Paul's answer is, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."(Galatians 5:16) Satan will do his best to distract us by the flesh. But through prayer, we have access to the very presence of God, by the intercession of the Son, with the aid of the Spirit. We can win the battle of temptation, if we will use the power available to us in prayer.

Stanza 3:
When your heart was filled with anger,
Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother,
That you might forgive another
Who had crossed your way?


Here is another application of prayer, which we would do well to heed! Personally, I don't have the kind of anger problem that causes me to lash out at people; I have the kind that can eat at me inside, day after day, if I let it run unchecked. So, if there is one verse of Scripture I have inscribed on my heart in the last few years, it is this: "The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."(James 1:20) That anger may be intense; it may even be justified; but does it produce the righteousness that God expects? Does it make me more into the Christian that God would have me be? Even common sense tells us that anger is counterproductive. The Proverbs speak of this frequently:
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.(14:29)
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.(15:18)
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.(16:32)
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.(19:11)
Ecclesiastes 7:9 also states this in uncompromising clarity: "Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools."

But anger is worse than a waste of time and energy. In Ephesians 4:26-27 we are warned, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." Anger unsettles the mind and leaves us unguarded against temptations. It can cause us to consider words and actions--even if they are never carried out--that are beneath a child of God. King David (who no doubt had plenty of experience dealing with anger) said, "Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil."(Psalm 37:8) Instead, David counsels, "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him."(Psalm 37:7) In Psalm 4:4 he famously said, "Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent." Mrs. Kidder's lyrics give the same advice--turn it over to God. A grudge usually does as much (often more) harm to the person who holds it as to the person against whom it is held. Christians cannot affor to indulge anger; we are called to deal with it in a much different way.

Jesus set a high bar when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment."(Matthew 5:22) In the same vein He said, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."(Matthew 6:14-15) On another occasion He told the disciples the extent of this forgiveness: "Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."(Luke 17:3-4)

Can I really forgive someone that many times in one day? The question comes back to me, hauntingly, "Have I not asked God's forgiveness that many times in one day?" And if I balk at forgiving someone who has hurt me deeply, who may even yet be unrepentant, how can I face the Man on the cross who said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?"(Luke 23:34) When we pray, we bring ourselves in tune with the example of Jesus: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."(Eph 4:32)

Stanza 4:
When sore trials came upon you,
Did you think to pray?
When your soul was bowed in sorrow,
Balm of Gilead did you borrow
At the gates of day?


"Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray."(James 5:13) Simple advice, but not always followed. Though people are more likely to pray when they are in trouble than when they are not, their attitude is often summed up in the expression, "All we can do now is pray." To many people, prayer is something you do after you have exhausted all other options. In contrast to this, consider the example of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings, chapter 19. Jerusalem was threatened by the Assyrians, who had rolled over enemy after enemy in their latest series of military campaigns. The Assyrian representatives brought an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Jerusalem. But Hezekiah did not immediately assemble his generals, or send orders for reinforcements, or draft a reply to the Assyrians. We read instead that, "Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD."(2 Kings 19:14)

For Hezekiah, prayer was his first resort, not his last. He was humble enough to realize that he could not handle the crisis on his own strength or wisdom. In contrast, his contemporary Isaiah prophesied of a later time when the kings of Judah would not follow this example: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!"(Isaiah 31:1) Like his ancestor Solomon (in the better days of his youth), Hezekiah's action said, "Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of Yours, which is so great?"(2 Chronicles 1:10) If only more of those in positions of authority in our world would follow his example!

The "sore trials" that have us awake until "the gates of day" sometimes come in the form of a sudden, shocking crisis such as Hezekiah faced; but just as often, they are lengthy periods of waiting, and of bearing up under physical and emotional pain. In these more personal struggles we can look to the example of David in the Psalms; pick nearly any Psalm in the first half of the book, where his work is concentrated. In between the jubilant Psalms of celebration and faith we hear David crying out in pain and frustration, sometimes even asking God if He actually wants David to be destroyed. There are times when David's words are startling--and I wonder if it is just that reason they are included in Scripture. The Psalms teach us that there are times when even a "man after God's own heart" is nearly ready to give up, and expresses frustration or even anger toward God's will. But an important thing to observe here, too, is that David was praying. No matter how angry or confused he was, he was talking to his Lord. Here again, "the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."(Romans 8:26) And as David prayed, things got better. Often a Psalm shows us this process playing out. Consider Psalm 6, in which David says,
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD--how long?
(Psalm 6:2-3)
David is at his wit's end, and does not understand why God has not delivered him. He even goes so far as to say, "For in death there is no remembrance of You; in Sheol who will give You praise?"(Psalm 6:5) But by the close of the Psalm he has prayed through his grief and anger, and found faith again:
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
For the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
The LORD accepts my prayer.
(Psalm 6:8-9)
Though God has given us other means of regaining spiritual strength--study of His word, the fellowship of other Christians--there is a help found through prayer that is different from any other. Do we take advantage of it as we should? The next-to-last line of Mrs. Kidder's stanza references the "balm of Gilead" quote from Jeremiah 8:22, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?" Though is not certain today what the "balm of Gilead" was, it was certainly known in Jeremiah's time for its healing properties.(Musselman) The prophet is asking metaphorically, "When you know the solution to your problem, why do you not make use of it?" Prayer is certainly like a "balm of Gilead," a restorative and healing power, and one that is easily at hand, but must be used to have its effect.

About the music:

William Oscar Perkins (1832-1902) was one of eight children, three of whom became well known musicians. His brother Henry Southwick Perkins (1833-1914), a noted conductor, was an early Professor of Music at Iowa State University, and a founder of the Music Teachers' National Association. Their youngest brother, Julius Edson Perkins (1845-1875) was internationally acclaimed as one of most promising operatic basses of his generation, before his untimely demise.(Rust Family, 180ff.) Both William and Henry attended the Boston Music School in the 1850s,(Rust Family, 180) and the brothers joined the Boston Handel & Haydn Society at the same meeting, 29 December 1860.(History, appendix p. 40) William served several terms on the board of directors of that influential institution during the 1860s and 1870s.(History, appendix pp. 17-19)

A search of reveals about four dozen hymnals edited by William O. Perkins, almost all published in Boston, and primarily by the Oliver Ditson Company. At first William co-edited with his brother Henry S. Perkins, though the two pursued separate projects after Henry relocated to Chicago in 1872.(Rust Family, 181) Though both worked with secular as well as sacred music, William's publishing career was more devoted to church music. Besides "Did you think to pray?," Perkins is remembered for his music to Josephine Pollard's "Beyond the sunset's radiant glow" (PFTL #73) and "Here we are but straying pilgrims" (PFTL #247). His association with Mary Kidder is evidenced by the inclusion of no fewer than 23 of her hymns in his Starry Crown of Sunday School Melodies (New York: William A. Pond & Co., 1869).

Despite all Perkins's editing activity, which must have involved a great deal of composition--he contributed no fewer than 42 musical settings to The Shining River, in which "Did you think to pray?" first appeared--relatively few of his melodies have remained in use. Looking over several of these tunes, it seems fair enough to say that Perkins did not always have at his disposal the melodic gift that he displayed in the striking rhythms and chord outlines of "Here we are but straying pilgrims," or in the sweet simplicity of "Did you think to pray?"

What worked, in the latter case, was a particular melodic shape, presented in the first phrase and referred to again throughout the tune. The opening phrase is a little unexpected, with its flowing, stepwise beginning followed by the distinctive leaps downward and back up at the end of the phrase (on "morn-ing"). Perkins followed this with a shorter, more strident phrase for the titular words, "Did you think to pray?" Then, following the unusual five-line a b c c b rhyme scheme of Kidder's stanzas, he inserted a new melodic phrase in the 3rd line, seeming to grow out of the narrow stepwise motion of the preceding phrase. The return of the opening phrase is thus delayed to the fourth line, rather than the third line of the stanza, where it is repeated note-for-note except for the next-to-last pitch ("lov-ing FA-vor"). With this parallelism established (after the delay created by the 3rd line), Perkins closes with a variation on the second phrase. The musical form is thus: a b x a' b'.

The refrain opens with a soprano-alto duet in 3rds, which becomes just a little too precious as it leads through the "barbershop" diminished 7th chord on the word "rests." (This one chord, along with the tendency of singers to slide up to the high F in the soprano, has soured at least one person I know toward the song as a whole. I respectfully disagree with her opinion.) The second phrase of the refrain--probably quite by accident, but who knows?--is almost a retrograde of the third phrase in the stanza (compare the melodic outlines of "In the name of Christ our Savior" from the first stanza, and "Prayer can change the night to day" from the refrain). The final two phrases of the refrain are the same as the final two phrases of the stanza. The combination of repetition and variation of ideas, as well as the contrasting shapes of the different repeated phrases, give this tune an interest and cohesion that lacks in some of Perkins's lesser work.


Hopkins, Alphonso Alva. Waifs and their Authors. Boston: D. Lothrop, 1879.

Marriage record for Ellis W. (thus) Kidder and Mary Ann Pepper. " Massachusetts Marriages, 1695-1910.

"James Kidder." Busby, Sherman, Isetts, Lambrecht, Pomeroy Connections.

1855 Massachusetts State Census. Charlestown, Ward 3, page 5.

1860 U.S. Census, New York. New York City, District 2, Ward 16, page 127.

"4th New York Infantry." Antietam on the Web.

Widow's Certificate File #WC8647. Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, ca. 1861 - ca. 1910. National Archives and Records Administration.

Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915.

Sanjek, Elizabeth. American Popular Music and its Business: The First Four Hundred Years. Volume II: From 1790 to 1909. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

May F. Kidder death notice. New York Herald, 12 April 1883, page 8.

"Club women in council." Evening World (New York, New York), April 23, 1890, extra edition, page 2.

Mary A. Kidder obituary. New York Tribune, 26 November 1905, page 7.

Crosby, Fanny. Memories of Eighty Years. Boston: James H. Earle, 1906.

Musselman, Lytton John. "Cistus." Plants of the Bible. Old Dominion

Rust, Albert D. Record of the Rust Family. Waco, Texas: Albert D. Rust, 1891.

History of the Handel and Haydn Society. Volume I. Boston: Alfred Mudge, 1883-1893.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Early, My God, without Delay

Praise for the Lord #123

Words: Isaac Watts, 1719
Music: William Dixon, 1790 (LANESBORO)

Here we have Watts's setting of Psalm 63:1-5, from his Psalms of David Imitat'd (1719), in which the great 18th-century hymnist attempted to render the devotional thoughts of the Psalms "in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship," as the remainder of that volume's title reads. He wrote two other paraphrases of the complete 63rd Psalm, but in this case he split the two sections. The first half he titles, "The morning of a Lord's Day," and the second half, "Midnight thoughts recollected."

Judean Desert. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.
The 63rd Psalm comes with the following superscription: "A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah." On several occasions in his younger days (1 Samuel 17:29, 23:14, 24:21) David hid out in this mountainous region southeast of Jerusalem; the reference to "the king" in verse 11 may indicate, however, that this was during his flight from Absalom, which went east through the wilderness and across the Jordan.(2 Samuel 15-17) It is a dry, inhospitable place, and prone to severe drought. The modern city of Arad, located at the southern edge of this area, gets no more than 129 mm (5 inches) of rain per year on average, compared to an average of 537 mm (21 inches) in Jerusalem; as of this writing, in November, Arad has had only 9 mm of rain for the year 2012.(Israel Meterological Service) The pictures I have seen remind me of the "badlands" of the U.S. Southwest, where like David and his band, Geronimo and his Apache warriors repeatedly evaded capture by much larger opposing forces.

In this text, however, the Psalmist transfers the desert fugitive's physical isolation and deprivation into the spiritual realm. Psalm 63 comes from a person who has seen both physical danger and spiritual deprivation in the world without God. His need for God's presence is more for the sake of his soul's comfort, than for the body's protection.(Mays, 217)

Stanza 1:
Early, my God, without delay
I haste to seek Thy face;
My thirsty spirit faints away,
Without Thy cheering grace.

The first stanza draws its ideas from first verse of the Psalm, invoking the culturally powerful metaphor of drought (quoted from the King James Version, which was Watts's Bible):
O God, Thou art my God;
Early will I seek Thee:
My soul thirsteth for Thee,
My flesh longeth for Thee
In a dry and thirsty land, where no water is . . .
This harsh reality was an obvious metaphor for the Psalmists, who frequently used dryness and drought to describe spiritual exhaustion and trial. Psalms 22:15 and 32:4 use this idea in the phrase, "My strength is dried up." This idea is also found in the prophets: the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 emphasizes that "they were very dry."(v. 2) The spiritual application is spelled out in Ezekiel 37:11, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.'" Spiritual dryness and its relief is also the theme of this beautiful passage in Isaiah:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit upon your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.(Isaiah 44:3-4)
It is thus a spiritual, and not a physical need, that haunts Psalm 63; the Psalmist is "hungering and thirsting after righteousness."(Matthew 5:6) He feels his spiritual isolation and his thirst for God's presence so acutely, however, that both "soul" and "flesh" are affected.(Terrien, 462) If only we all had such keen appetites in the spiritual realm!

Stanza 2:
So pilgrims on the scorching sand,
Beneath a burning sky,
Long for a cooling stream at hand;
And they must drink or die.

The second stanza continues to explore the same metaphor, with even more emphasis on the severity of the situation. Now it is not just a "dry and thirsty land,"(Psalm 63:1) but "scorching sand" and "burning sky." In contrast, the presence of God is a "cooling stream," and the stakes are life itself. The human body needs water in some form every day, because it is essential to so many of the processes of the body. We might last for days or even weeks without food, but the effects of dehydration set in within a matter of hours.(Bryant) David's need for God's presence is this critical.

Now, I almost never forget to eat during the day (though that has actually happened), and my consumption of liquid refreshment in the form of coffee and tea is proverbial in my family. But I confess that if I am not careful, most of a day may go by before I realize that I have been too "busy" to spend time in prayer, or in reading God's Word. By contrast, the Psalmist sees his communion with God as a need so pressing that he compares it to finding water in the desert--and when you are in the desert, not much else matters. Would that we all could realize the spiritual desolation that surrounds us in this world, and value the precious time we can spend with God as a matter of spiritual life and death! Jesus gently reminds us of this in the Sermon on the Mount:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.(Matthew 6:31-33)
Though the primary context of the teaching is our need to put aside worry, it also reminds us of the need to "worry" instead about the things that are really important.

Watts's original has two more stanzas here, omitted in Praise for the Lord. It is an unfortunate omission, in my opinion, especially in the case of the first of the two, which presses the point that arguably underlies the entire Psalm:

I've seen Thy glory and Thy power
Through all Thy temple shine;
My God, repeat that heav'nly hour,
That vision so divine.

Not all the blessings of a feast
Can please my soul so well,
As when Thy richer grace I taste,
And in Thy presence dwell.

These two stanzas derive from Psalm 63:2, with a secondary reference to verse 5:
To see Thy power and Thy glory,
So as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary . . .

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness;
And my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips.
Here is what the Psalmist desires so earnestly, like a dying man in the desert longing for water: the presence of God. He has been to the sanctuary before and has known the power and glory of God, and longs to keep this ever foremost in his mind. If this Psalm was written during one of David's periods of exile, his desire was probably all the more keen because of deprivation--he could hardly go to such a public place as the tabernacle, and certainly dared not gather with his kinsmen for the appointed festivals. The denial of these opportunities for worship and fellowship made them all the more precious in memory. In the solitude of the wilderness, then, the Psalmist seeks God's presence as an individual appealing for that which he has once known but cannot immediately reclaim. Artur Weiser notes, "It is only against the background of the worshipper's ardent yearning for the presence of God that the experience which fills his heart with joy and gratitude to God is clearly set off in all its magnitude."(Weiser, 454)

There are Christians in this world--perhaps some reading this page--who must put forth a great effort just to gather with the saints for worship. Some are hindered by physical disability; some are forced to drive, ride, or walk great distances; some are even threatened with persecution for the very act of gathering to worship. I hang my own head in shame as I think of them, and then consider how often I arrive late for a worship assembly held just 3 miles from my home, to which I can drive in less than 15 minutes. I would never think of being late to meet with the governor, or the President, or some other important person; can I not at least be sure I am on time to meet with my God, and in the frame of mind to do so?

Part of the problem that so many of us have with worship, I believe, comes simply from a lack of effort--resulting, usually, from a lack of understanding and appreciation of what worship is. When people say, "I didn't get anything out of that service," they may be revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of the transaction that takes place--we come to a worship service primarily to give something, not to get something. Worship is something we "offer to God,"(Hebrews 12:28) presenting ourselves as "living sacrifices."(Romans 12:1) Now, the planners and leaders of a worship service certainly ought to do their best (within God's revealed will!) to make that service as conducive as possible to offering sincere worship, and should not conduct a service in such a way that it becomes a hindrance to the worshipers. But ultimately the responsibility for my worship lies within me, and what I choose to bring to God that day.

Of course there is a natural, reciprocal benefit to giving, even when the gift is so relatively small as our individual worship is to the majesty of God. We do "get something out of worship," even though that is not the reason we do it. Worshiping God restores us to a right frame of mind--humbling us when we have lifted ourselves too high, and raising us up when we have fallen too low. Worshiping God reminds us of the supremacy of His eternal promises over the passing fancies of this world. Worshiping God is a time spent with the very best, purest, and most wholesome Friend the human soul can have. No wonder David so frequently spoke of the "house of the Lord" in the Psalms! "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple."(Psalm 27:4)

Stanza 3:
Not life itself, with all its joys,
Can my best passions move,
Or raise so high my cheerful voice,
As Thy forgiving love.

This stanza adds the thoughts of Psalm 63:3 to the ideas of the preceding stanzas. It is only God's "lovingkindness" that can satisfy the Psalmist's thirsty soul:
Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise Thee.
Psalm 63:3 is a rather unusual statement, toying with a paradox: God's chesed ("lovingkindness") is more important to the Psalmist than his own life, but God's chesed is also the sustainer of that life, as seen in countless instances throughout the Psalms. David adores the lovingkindness of God, not because of the benefit it has been in his life (which was great), but for its own intrinsic worth.(Mays, 218)

The Hebrew word chesed is a powerful concept, not easily translated. The English word "lovingkindness" was actually invented by Miles Coverdale to represent this idea in his translation; this carried through to the King James Version and many of its successors. The Revised Standard, English Standard, and others use the phrase "steadfast love." Interestingly, the writers of the Hebrew Testament apply this term almost exclusively to God's attitude and actions toward His people, and not to human attitudes toward God or toward each other. It is bound up in God's covenant with Israel, and in His unchanging loyalty to His promises and to His own nature. Though His righteousness condemned His people's sins, His sworn love to them was equally great, and mercy was born of the result.(Snaith)

Chesed is therefore much more than a warm, fuzzy feeling of goodwill; the closest comparison that we can understand, perhaps, is the love of a parent for a child. When that love is what it should be, it is warm but also strong, and seeks not just to love and protect but also to guide and counsel. The parent will be disappointed in the child now and then, sometimes grievously so, but the desire for the child's best welfare is still uppermost. That parental love often brings out the noblest, most self-sacrificing deeds we will ever see among our fellow humanity. But God's lovingkindness comes from a place that no human parent can ever know--a position of absolute moral purity and absolute wisdom, knowing all the faults of the other party while being above any of those faults himself. Yet He loves us anyway! Here is the secret of David's joy, the knowledge of which was better to him than even food and drink, or life itself. The "lovingkindness" of God was to the Psalmist the "supreme good" in life.(Weiser, 455)

Stanza 4:
Thus, till my last expiring day,
I'll bless my God and King;
Thus will I lift my hands to pray,
And tune my lips to sing.

Watts's final stanza takes up the theme of Psalm 63:4, the Psalmist's resolve to live a life of praise in view of the refreshing grace of God that he has received:
Thus will I bless Thee while I live:
I will lift up my hands in Thy name.
The memory of his earlier encounter with God makes him long for the experience again, but David may not have been able at that time (perhaps for a long time!) to see God "in the sanctuary."(Psalm 63:2) In the same way, we cannot always be with the people of God, in the "holy temple" of Christian fellowship.(Ephesians 2:21-22) But our memories of those times can go with us, and the knowledge that we have such a refuge changes our perspective on the barrenness of everyday life. Weiser says of David's words, "What the worshipper has come to realize in the house of God does not therefore remain confined to the place of that cultic encounter, but accompanies him right into every sphere of his daily life."(Weiser, 455) The advice of this stanza is an echo of James 5:13, "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise." Even if he was alone in the desert, David had the glorious presence of God and His lovingkindness all around him, whenever he entered the his own personal tabernacle of prayer and praise.

In the same way, Paul could rejoice even in his unjust imprisonment in Rome, and exhort the Philippian church to do the same. We should not suppose that Paul enjoyed his suffering in some way; in fact, I can imagine his reaction if his status had changed. Suppose, for example, that Caesar (whichever one it was) had a sudden change of heart and came to Paul's place of imprisonment. "Paul," he says, "you have been treated very unjustly. You are free to go, and here is a letter with my seal declaring you a friend of Caesar and under my protection throughout the empire. You are welcome to stay here in Rome and preach, or I will pay your way to any destination you choose." Would Paul have responded, "No, thanks, I am enjoying these chains far too much?"

But if chains were his fate, Paul rejoiced in the good that he could do, because he had spread the gospel, through his guards, into Caesar's own household.(Philippians 4:22) Like his fellow apostles in Acts 5:41, he rejoiced that he was "counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name," and had stood his test faithfully. And most of all he rejoiced because he knew his God was always with him. At the end of 2 Timothy, knowing that his life was in far more danger than when he wrote to the Philippians, he could say, "At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me . . ."(2 Timothy 4:16-17) Though we may never face such a trial, may we daily cultivate that relationship with God that reassures us of His presence, whatever the circumstances we face. And may we daily offer our praise and prayer to Him for that blessing!

About the music:

William Dixon (c. 1750?-1825) was a musician just famous enough to leave his mark, but not prominent enough to have all the evidence of his life carefully set down in one scholarly source. The biographical index in the Psalmo-Doxologia (London: Simpson & Marshall, c. 1825) notes that Dixon was born in Liverpool, and was a composer and singer as well as music publisher.(quoted in Glover) This is supported by his self-identification as "William Dixon of Liverpool" in several works published in London (see my works list for Dixon in Worldcat).  Fétis adds that he was an organist as well.(Fétis, "Dixon")

His earliest publication that I have found dates from c. 1777, where he is listed as publisher and engraver. Music engravers made high-quality plates for music printing, working by hand rather than using moveable type. For this reason, I tend to believe the 1750 date of birth rather than 1760 as is often given; it is hard to believe he could have become a professional engraver and publisher by the age of 17.

His whereabouts can be determined only by his publications, which are primarily from Cambridge (with some published in London) up until about 1800. After that date, his publications begin to appear more frequently from Liverpool, suggesting that he may have moved back home. It might just have been a branch office of his publishing enterprise, of course, but one edition of his Euphonia (Liverpool, 1808) bears the subtitle, "for the Congregation of All Saints Church, Liverpool," perhaps suggesting a personal connection.

Based on his publications found in Worldcat, Dixon's compositions appear to have been primarily church music, including Psalm tune settings, original hymn tunes, anthems, and musical settings of the Anglican services. Most of these are arranged for keyboard accompaniment, and some have additional instrumental parts. Several of his publications indicate that they are written "for country choirs." He also wrote and published glees for the Cambridge Harmonic Society.

I have been able to examine a copy of Dixon's c. 1790 Psalmodia Christiana (thanks again to Aaron Kuglin at the Bowld Music Library, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). The music is in the typical open score of the period, with the melody in the tenor, and has numerical "figures" under the bass part--a sort of shorthand that tells a keyboardist what chord to play over each bass note. An interesting feature of the Psalmodia is the inclusion of 50 "fugues," really just short anthems with an emphasis on imitative writing. These are apparently British cousins of the "fuging tunes" of the American colonies.

I have not yet discovered the exact publication in which Dixon's LANESBORO first appeared, though I can confirm it is not in the Psalmodia Christiana. Nor does it appear in the Hymn Tune Index at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which compiles several lists covering publications up to 1820. I can also confirm that it is not derived from Dixon's 1790 publication, Six Anthems in Score, Designed for the Use of Country Choirs (thanks to Kirstin Dougan, Mandi Goodsett, and John Wagstaff at the University of Illinois Music and Performing Arts Library for running down these leads).

There is some reason to believe it was not originally composed in the form in which we have it today. I hesitate to depend solely on The Story of the Hymns and Tunes by Brown & Butterworth, but this is the best lead thus far: "It was composed by William Dixon, and arranged and adapted by Lowell Mason."(Brown & Butterworth, 36) Mason cast his net far and wide in his efforts, and adapted the works of numerous minor composers as hymn tunes. The earliest instance I have found of LANESBORO in its current form is from Mason's 1829 edition of the Handel & Haydn Society Collection of Church Music (Boston: Richardson, Lord & Holbrooke). It does not appear, however, in the first edition of 1822.


Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

"Rainfall observations." Israel Meteorological Service (English site).

Mays, James L. Psalms. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003.

Bryant, Charles W. "How long can you go without food and water?" 11 February 2008.

Snaith, Norman H. "Loving-kindness." A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson. New York: MacMillan, 1951, pp. 136-7. Reproduced at

Weiser, Artur. The Psalms: A Commentary, translated by Herbert Hartwell. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1962.

Glover, Sue. "Who was who." Gallery Music: English Church and Chapel Music of the 1700s and Early 1800s.

"Dixon, William." Fétis, François-Joseph. Biographie universelle des musiciens. Paris: Didot Fréres, 1866, volume 2, page 28.

Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: American Tract Society, 1906.