Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Christ's Love is All I Need

Praise for the Lord #104

Words & music: George W. Sides, 1924

This song is fairly well known in southern gospel circles, but information about George W. Sides has been hard to find. The following biography has been gleaned from primary sources such as census records and newspaper articles; to avoid excessive repetition in citations, these are listed at the end of the post or are linked in the text.

George William Sides was born 29 August 1880 in the Pleasant Grove community of Walker County, Alabama, to William Lafayette and Martha Elizabeth Sides. As a young man he went to work in the coal mines at nearby Carbon Hill, but by age 30 he was back in Pleasant Grove as a music teacher. On 13 October of that year he married Alice Pearl Ray; the couple would have three children, Mary, George Jr., and Jennie. It was probably during this period that Sides published his first paperback hymnal: Perennial hymns of praise, edited with L. Dow McDonald, R. H. Brooks and J. T. Lane. This undated work was published simultaneously by Sides in Oakman, Alabama and by R. H. Brooks in Whitesburg, Tennessee.

Sides moved his family to the neighborhood of Hatley in Monroe County, Mississippi in 1912. Though his primary occupation was farming, during this period he was associated with the Stanley-Gardner Company, a gospel music publisher in Saltillo, Mississippi. The owners were James Henry Stanley (composer of "Prepare to meet thy God") and W. P. Gardner. The company issued several paperback hymnals, most without dates, but they were in operation at least by 1910 when they published a Rudiments of Music. Stanley also operated a music school in Saltillo. Sides produced two books for Stanley-Gardner: Our Tidings of Praise, co-edited with J. H. Stanley, and The Golden Harp, co-edited with J. H. Pannell and Samuel W. Beazley.

By 1930 there are no further references to the Stanley-Gardner company, and James H. Stanley had become a justice of the peace. Small gospel music publishers came and went frequently, even before the economic hardships of the Great Depression. The manifesto of the Southern Song Book Cooperative Association, formed in 1916, gives an idea of the difficulties faced by this industry. (Both Stanley and Gardner figure prominently among the officers of this organization; this document is practically a "Who's Who" of the early southern gospel publishers.) In 1929 George W. Sides moved his family west to farm in the Pettit community just outside Greenville, Mississippi. In later years he served three terms as a justice of the peace. George William Sides passed away on 3 November 1956, in Avon, Mississippi, south of Greenville. He is buried in the cemetery of the New Hope Baptist Church near his former home in Hatley, in Monroe County.

These are all the songs by George W. Sides I have been able to discover, along with the earliest publication I can find:
If he wrote this many songs in three years, he probably wrote many more. It is possible, of course, that some of these were reprints from earlier years. It is an interesting coincidence that five of these (including "Christ's love is all I need") appear in the publications Gospel Sunshine and Signal Bells from B. B. Bateman in Knoxville, Tennessee, and that the only extant copy of Sides's publication Perennial Hymns of Praise is in the rare books collection of the Knox County Public Library.

"Christ's love is all I need" seems to be Sides's most popular song, and was known among the Churches of Christ at least as early as 1938, when it appeared in New Wonderful Songs, edited by Thomas S. Cobb and George H. P. Showalter (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation).(Hymnary.org) Its widest exposure, however, doubtless came from Sacred Selections, edited by Ellis J. Crum (Kendallville, Indiana: Ellis J. Crum, 1956), a very popular hymnal among Churches of Christ in the southern United States.

Stanza 1:
Though dark and dreary be life's way
And burdens hard to bear;
There's One whose love will never fail,
My heart shall ne'er despair.
My hope is staid in Him today,
And He will safely lead
To that sweet home beyond the sea;
Christ's love is all I need.

Christ's love is all I need each day,
I know, I know, Christ's precious love is all I need;
He'll lead me safely on life's way,
I know, I know Christ's precious, precious love is all I need.

Does "dark and dreary" really describe our lives? That answer will vary depending on the circumstances of the individual; I hope your answer is, "No!" But for many of us there have been times when we would have to answer, "Yes." And with age and experience, we begin to see the truth of Ecclesiastes 11:7-8, "Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many."

The path of the Christian life helps us avoid many of the dark pitfalls of this world, but nothing can spare us from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," not to mention the active ill will of the wicked. No, Christians are not immune to the darknes and burdens, but we have a source of strength the world does not know. "There's One whose love will never fail," says our songwriter, no matter who turns against us or disappoints us in this life. David the Psalmist said: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in."(Psalm 27:10) Jeremiah, in his Lamentations, spoke as though God had abandoned him along with his nation; then in the midst of this book of tears, the weeping prophet cries out:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.(3:21-23)
How much better promises we have now, if we "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge!" It is all we need, and it is more than enough, "that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."(Ephesians 5:19) Paul understood this, and even under threat of death, he could say cheerfully, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."(Philippians 1:21) Christ's love was all Paul needed. It was this love from and for Christ that sustained him through all his troubles, because it was a constant source of hope. For this reason Paul told the Christians in Thessalonica, "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word."(2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Note that Christ's love gives us not only future promises--"eternal comfort and good hope through grace"--but comfort in this life as well, as we are "established in every good work and word." We are established in "every good work" when we "walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."(Ephesians 5:2) We are established in "every good word" when we "follow the pattern of the sound words . . . in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."(2 Timothy 1:13) Christ's love is the foundation of our beliefs and our course of life:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died. And He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.(2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
Stanza 2:
Though trials press on every side
And many snares there be;
I look in simple faith to Him
Who calmed the stormy sea.
He is the Shepherd kind and true,
His sheep He'll ever feed;
This cheers me on and makes me strong,
Christ's love is all I need.


Jesus calming the stormy Sea of Galilee is one of the first stories we teach to children, and with good reason, because it touches on an almost universal experience. Storms are frightening to most children, and even some adults confess to hiding under the covers during a booming thunderstorm. To some of us, a powerful storm is fascinating as well; but the disciples in that boat had little time to contemplate the beauty and majesty of the elements, and were more concerned about their lives! If you have ever been in such a situation, you know what they were doing. You force the fear to the back of your mind, and do your best to reason clearly and make the right decisions quickly, but a little voice inside says, in a rather surprised tone, "You know what? This could be the end for you."

In the midst of this terror and frantic activity, we see Jesus serene and composed. In the incident of Matthew chapter 8, He was asleep in the stern of the boat. In Matthew 14 He came walking across the waves--not flying, or running, or swimming, but walking as though nothing were out of the ordinary. Of course, to Him, it wasn't. He was active in the creation of the great oceans of our planet, and could hardly be impressed with the minor tantrums of a fairly small body of water. God said to Job and his friends,
Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed"? . . . Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?(Job 38:8-11, 16)
Job had to answer no, and even with all our exploration, there are many "recesses of the deep" that remain a mystery today. But Jesus knew the sea and the storm, and though His disciples were amazed at His power over these elements, it was nothing of particular note to Him who had created them. "He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed."(Psalm 107:29) When we endure storms of the figurative sort--trials and persecutions, blows of fate and of foes--Jesus is also present, serenely guiding us, if we will only look to Him. He has the same power to calm the storms of our lives, and the storms that sometimes rage within our own hearts.

But in addition to the power to command, He has the power to comfort. The other image used in this stanza is that of the Shepherd, as Jesus describes in John 10:14-15, "I am the good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." An earthly shepherd defends and sustains the flock in his care, and the spiritual sheep of Jesus' flock are likewise promised that "He will guide them to springs of living water."(Revelation 7:17) It was this sustaining love that carried the apostle Paul through his numerous trials, any one of which might have broken a man without this secret strength: "the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."(1 Timothy 1:14) That same comfort and strength is available to all who will seek it in obedience to a loving Savior's will.

Stanza 3:
And when I hear the boatman's call,
"Come cross the chilly tide;"
I shall not fear to launch my bark,
For Christ is at my side.
He bore the sting of death for me,
Has met my every need;
And so I sing the sweet refrain,
Christ's love is all I need.


Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Now, it is true that some people manage to avoid the latter, either through having nothing to be taxed, or through having enough of it to hire a good team of lawyers and accountants; but there is no exemption, no loophole, for escaping the former. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,"(Hebrews 9:27) and that is one appointment we all shall keep.

This is not a prospect to be faced alone; but in facing death, none of our fellow human beings can comfort us by sympathy of having passed that trial before. None, that is, but One who walked that road before us, and calls us on from the other side. In the end, the love of Christ is our only true assurance and hope in this trial. Paul wrote of this comfort at a time when Christians daily faced the prospect of death at the hands of an oppressive government:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:35-39)
It is a bond unbreakable (except by our own deliberate rejection!) and will carry us even through death itself. In view of these wonderful promises, then, "keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life."(Jude 21)

The "sting of death is sin,"(1 Corinthians 15:56) but Jesus took this sting away for His followers, bearing it Himself on the cross. Death must still be faced, but it is already a beaten opponent for those who are in the love of Christ:
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." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"(1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
"Christ's love is all we need" in this life, and in facing the inevitable end of life, it will be all we have; but it is more than enough. "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."(Revelation 1:5b-6)

About the music:

I haven't seen any other examples of Sides's songwriting for comparison, but judging it within the context of its style--early 20th-century quartet gospel--his technique is strong. He uses a little barbershop-style chromatic harmony, but not too much, and the dissonances created by doubled nonharmonic tones are unexpected and pleasing. (For example, the doubled accented "neighbor tone" created at the beginning of the 6th measure ("NEV-er fail") by the soprano/alto A-flat/F against the bass/tenor E-flat/B-flat, resolved into an E-flat chord on the next note.)

One of the general principles of four-part harmony writing is to move each voice to the nearest possible note in each successive chord, so that the individual parts flow logically and smoothly. The shortest possible movement, of course, is to not move at all--to hold the same note from one chord to the next, whenever the chords have a note in common. Given the other restrictions on note doublings within chords, and against parallel 5ths and octaves between successive chords, there is a strong tendency for these held notes to accumulate in a single voice part. At least one of the parts, therefore, will often have a less interesting role than the others (altos have long recognized this phenomenon). Sides breaks up this tendency, whether deliberately or accidentally, especially in the first phrase. At first the tenor moves in parallel 6ths with the melody, while the alto holds an E-flat; then as the melody works its way into a higher register, the alto takes up parallel 3rds and the tenor takes over the held E-flats.

One rule that Sides breaks is pretty obvious to any student of part-writing--the parallel perfect 5th in the bass/tenor parts from the second measure of the chorus to the third. There were ways around this, such as moving the tenor to an A-flat in the 3rd measure (tripling the A-flat, or putting the soprano on the E-flat instead of the tenor). But the prohibition of perfect parallel 5ths is intended to preserve the independence of the voices, and in the chorus, the soprano, tenor, and bass are really serving more as a chordal accompaniment to the alto's melody, and the effect of the parallel 5ths is not really noticeable.

There is a real problem with the final phrase of the stanza, before the chorus--a problem that is not at all the fault of the songwriter. Sides chose to put the voices in unison, a striking effect in a cappella music. The unison melody is a descending scale passage, B-flat / A-natural / G / F, implying the key of B-flat, the dominant of the main key, E-flat. This is nicely written and causes the ear to anticipate the coming E-flat / B-flat / E-flat cadence that concludes the stanza. But only if it is sung correctly! Many singers run over the A-natural unawares, and sing it as an A-flat, as though it had no accidental. If everyone sang it this way, it would be weaken the harmonic progression of the song, but would still work; but unfortunately, it is more common for some singers to hit the A-natural as written, some to sing the A-flat they hear in the scale of the overall key, and others to wander between the two!


George W. Sides, 1900 U.S. Census. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11819-23956-70?cc=1325221

William L. Sides family, 1910 U.S. Census. http://www.archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po0035unit#page/n1296/mode/1up

Record of George W. Sides-Alice Pearl Ray marriage. "Alabama Marriages." Familysearch.org https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FQ4R-73X

World War One Draft Registrants, Monroe County, Mississippi. http://files.usgwarchives.net/ms/monroe/military/ww1/registrants/mon-s.txt

George W. Sides family, 1920 U.S. Census. http://www.archive.org/stream/14thcensusofpopu886unit#page/n1058/mode/1up

George W. Sides family, 1930 U.S. Census. http://www.archive.org/stream/15thcensus1170unit#page/n649/mode/1up

George W. Sides obituary. Delta Democrat Times (Greenville, Mississippi), 4 November 1956, p. 2. http://newspaperarchive.com/the-delta-democrat-times/1956-11-04/page-2/

"Sides Family Cemetery (Walker County, Alabama)." Findagrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&GRid=62623229&CRid=575489&

"George William Sides." Findagrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSsr=161&GScid=61381&GRid=42380327&

James H. Stanley family, 1910 U. S. Census. http://www.archive.org/stream/13thcensus1910po748unit#page/n137/mode/1up

James H. Stanley family, 1930 U. S. Census http://www.archive.org/stream/15thcensus1154unit#page/n810/mode/1up

"What the Southern Association seeks to Accomplish." Music Trade Review 63/24 (December 1916), p. 138.

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