Friday, June 29, 2012

Consider the Lilies

Words: Matthew 6:28-29, arr. E. H. Packard, 1890
Music: E. H. Packard, 1890

N.B. There are two other better-known settings of this text with the same title: the southern gospel song written by Joel Hemphill, and the newer choral setting by Roger Hoffman (popularized by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). This is a choral/congregational anthem setting little known outside the Churches of Christ.

E. H. Packard was a composer of short choral anthems and gospel songs, whose works appeared chiefly during the 1890s in connection with the Chicago publishing house of Edwin O. Excell. Most of Packard's works that I have been able to discover are available through two online sources: Excell's Anthems (Chicago: Excell, 1886-1899) and Triumphant Songs no. 3 (Chicago: Excell, 1892). Two additional anthems are found in Winnowed Anthems: For Quartet and Chorus Choirs, ed. M. L. McPhail (Chicago: Hope Publishing, 1916).

Packard's anthems, like most of those in Excell's collections, are often resettings of familiar hymn lyrics with no reference to the commonly associated tunes. Little of the material in these collections is likely to have survived in current use; easy choral music has a very high turnover rate. Here is a list of Packard's works that I have found thus far:


Cast thy bread (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 100)
Christmas hymn
Consider the lilies (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 6)
Great is the Lord (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 156)
I was glad (listed in advertisement for Excell's Octavo Anthems)
I will lift up mine eyes (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 39)
In the cross of Christ (U.S. Copyright Office, Catalogue of Title Entries, 1899)
The Lord is my Shepherd (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 18)
O be joyful in the Lord (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 72)
One sweetly solemn thought (U.S. Copyright Office, Catalogue of Title Entries, 1899)
Praise the Lord (Excell's Anthems, vol. 3, p. 127)
Stand up, stand up for Jesus

Gospel Songs
(All from Triumphant Songs no. 3, and with lyrics by William H. Gardner)

#14 Mother's prayer
#64 Loyalty to Christ
#84 It is well
#92 Leave it all to Jesus
#99 Something for Thee
#105 In His name

Once again the 19th-century penchant for going by initials, instead of full given names, has driven me to despair; there are at least two "E. H. Packards" who were writing music around 1880-1910. I am fairly sure that the E. H. Packard who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1907, and who was much involved in musical productions and glee songs there, was too young in 1890 to be writing anthems at such a prodigious pace. A more likely candidate is Elmer H. Packard (1858-1918).(Bodine Genealogy) With his brother-in-law Lester Bodine writing lyrics, this E. H. Packard (as he always identified himself in print) published a number of parlor songs during the 1890s through S. Brainard's Sons in Chicago:

The deacon went astray
A home for two
Little Queen Irene
My first dance (Worldcat record)

Though these are far afield in subject matter and melodic style from the anthems, the harmonic vocabulary is fairly similar, and I could imagine the same composer writing both.

"Consider the lilies" is one of the relatively few anthems (through-composed works, not repeating music for successive stanzas) that have captured a consistent place in hymnals used by the Churches of Christ. (Others include "O Lord, our Lord" by Horatio Palmer and "The Lord bless you and keep you" by Peter Lutkin.) "Consider the lilies" owes its introduction to the Churches of Christ, so far as I know, to Elmer Jorgenson's original 1921 edition of Great Songs of the Church. If my identification of Elmer H. Packard as the composer is correct, Jorgenson and the composer might have even come into contact, as both lived in Nebraska during the 1910s.(Bodine Genealogy) I have only rarely heard this anthem sung by a congregation, though perhaps it was more popular in previous decades.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,
Consider the lilies off the field, how they grow;
They toil not, they toil not,
They toil not neither do they spin.
(Repeat last two lines)

And yet I say unto you:
And yet I say unto you,
That even Solomon in all his glory
Was not arrayed, was not arrayed,
Like one of these, like one of these.
(Repeat last four lines)

Commentators have argued for centuries about the identity of the "lily of the field" referenced by Jesus in Matthew 6:28, and it probably can only be guessed at to a reasonable degree. Though it is more than a century old, the article written by George E. Post for Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible gives as clear and thorough a discussion of the subject as I have seen.

File:Gladiolus atroviolaceus.jpg
Gladiolus atroviolaceus growing in a cultivated field in Jordan.
Used by permission from
Post, a pioneering botanist in the Bible lands, notes that the Greek krinon used by Matthew and Luke to record Jesus' words is the term commonly used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew shushan or shoshan. He suggests that this term is best understood as equivalent to the Persian and Arabic susan, a generic word descriptive of the lily, iris, gladiolus, and similar flowers. Post then asks which flowers of this general description, growing "in the field" or wild, would have been familiar to the audience or perhaps even presently in view when Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

Lilies as we define the term do not seem to fit the bill, but among several possible flowers in the larger definition, he notes the several varieties of Gladiolus native to Palestine which commonly grow among the grain fields. These are tall plants with reedy stalks and long leaves that might very well be bundled and "thrown into the oven."(Matthew 6:30) They are also unusually colorful, and some (such as pictured) have the luxurious purple color associated with wealth and royalty, inviting comparison to Solomon. But we can never be certain, of course; and the point made by Jesus would apply equally well to any of the many beautiful wildflowers with which God has graced our world!

The Scripture passage that is the basis of Packard's short anthem lies within Matthew 6:19-34, a section of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus addresses a number of aspects of the Christian's relationship to material wealth. He begins by extolling the permanent quality of heavenly treasures compared to earthly things:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Matthew 6:19-21)
The final sentence puts the focus, however, on the practical point of the passage: Where is your heart? Material things themselves, impermanent as they may be, are neither good nor bad in themselves. Our problem with them arises from how we choose to look at them:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!(Matthew 6:22-23)
Jesus brings up one of His favorite metaphors, spiritual blindness. The person who chooses to see only the material world is trapped within its mean, petty confines; the person who chooses to follow after perishable material things will give up the eternal spiritual treasures. Jesus could heal physical blindness, but He could not (against their will) change the hearts of the spiritually blind.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.(Matthew 6:24)
As the story goes, a little boy was asked to explain why we do not practice bigamy today as in the ancient times; his answer was the verse above, "No man can serve two masters!" Misapplied as it may be, the thought is correct. If we are part of Christ's church, we are part of the bride of Christ,(2 Corinthians 11:2) and He is as jealous as any other husband not to share her with another. We cannot be married to Christ and to the material world--we have to choose. We will choose to be filled either with light or with darkness; to pursue the perishable or the imperishable; to see or to remain blind.

Having pointed out the dilemma, Jesus then tells us how to live in the world without being "of the world."(John 17:14-15)
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life. 
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?"(Matthew 6:25-31)
Of course He is not forbidding making reasonable preparation for material needs. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for creating loopholes that tried to negate the responsibility to support elderly parents,(Mark 7:11) and 1 Timothy 5:8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Additionally, we can see in the book of Acts that Paul and others carried out a long-range plan to gather funds for famine relief.

We sometimes see very wealthy people who do a lot of good with their money. I have heard that A. M. Burton, founder of Life & Casualty Insurance in Nashville, Tennessee, expressed the wish to die with an empty bank account. He was one of the wealthiest men in the Southeast U.S. during the Great Depression, and gave liberally to help the poor and to further the cause of Christ; Lipscomb University, in particular, might not have survived that period at all without his deep pockets. But for every such example, what multitudes more could be cited who have sold their souls, grasping after the almighty dollar! Jesus concludes His lesson with this pithy thought:
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. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.(Matthew 6:32-34)
So what is the lesson of the lilies? Trust that God will care for you, and accept with gratitude His provision of simple needs. Now, we do not see the lilies at work, but we understand that they are always active, processing the sun's energy, the air around them, and the nutrients of the soil into the necessary food to continue their short lives. The birds of the air, too, are among the busiest of God's creatures. But God gave the lily its beauty, and the birds their songs. Life is about more than simple survival; and if God lavished such beauty on these simple things, how much more does He give to us--and expect from us--who are made in His image?

Remember, too, the fleeting life of the lily. It is here, it serves God's purpose, then it is gone. But even this simple creation that serves God's purpose as it is intended is more beautiful than "Solomon in all his glory." Solomon was fabulously wealthy, but in the end his was not a happy life, and there is much to fault in his legacy. Like the lilies of the field, an humble person whom the world considers unimportant may in fact serve God with more glory than Solomon, if that person puts God's kingdom first.

About the music:

Interestingly, the second volume of Excell's Anthems begins with a setting of "Consider the Lilies" by Excell himself rather than Packard, and it sounds slightly similar in the opening motif and some of the rhythms. Excell's anthem is copyrighted 1888, so if there is a connection it was appears to be Packard "borrowing" from Excell, though it is hardly an egregious case.

Comparing the two, I have to prefer Packard's setting, which if nothing else has the comparative virtue of brevity. It is very much in that vein of Victorian church music that might be described as overly "precious" in style. Writing the soprano and alto in parallel 3rds is a sound and easy-to-sing technique, but Packard takes it to an extreme and dresses it up in syrupy chromaticism.


The setting of the text "was not arrayed" is interesting, however. In the first instance of the phrase, the bass adds a D-flat on the last syllable, turning the E-flat major tonic chord to an E-flat 7th chord, which has a strong dominant pull to A-flat. But instead of that chord, the next phrase (repeating "was not arrayed") begins with a C minor chord; the D-flat in the bass (the 7th of the preceding chord) resolves down, but the overall harmony is not what we expected. At the end of this phrase, where the fermata occurs, the bass steps down chromatically again into a C-flat major chord.

At the beginning of the final phrase "like one of these," the soprano introduces an A-natural. (This note is often sung as a B-flat, however!) The chord Packard wrote here is thus A-natural / C-flat / E-flat / G-flat, an alternate spelling of a German augmented 6th chord (C-flat / E-flat / G-flat / B-double-flat). As is typical for this chord, the notes of the augmented 6th (C-flat and A-natural) move in opposite directions into B-flats and set up the final cadence. This respelling is common in American "barbershop" writing, and is called the "American" or "Western" augmented 6th in a few sources. Curiously, though Packard avoids the classic trap of writing parallel 5ths coming out of the German augmented 6th, he carelessly (and unnecessarily) writes parallel 5ths between bass and tenor going into it!

Looking at this musical passage overall, however, there is much to recommend it. The chromatic descent of the bass covers a multitude of evils--you can hold together far more outrageous harmonies than these, if the bass is moving in a predictable stepwise fashion. And the arpeggio in the soprano, building up to the high E-flat at the fermata, is a good touch--this is the highest note in the piece, occurring simultaneously with the most chromatically adventurous harmony.

I confess that my strongest association with this song is a very silly rendition of it that my sister and I used to sing, with the parts reversed. I would sing soprano in a warbling falsetto, and she would turn her lovely alto voice to a foggy bass. The entire thing was done with vibrato a mile wide. No recordings of that version are known to exist, and it is best that way.

"Elmer H. Packard." Dave's Bodine Genealogy Web Site.

Post, George E. "Lily." Plants of the Bible. Norfolk, Virginia: Old Dominion University. Reprinted from Hastings' Dictionary.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dave, thank you! I have been looking for reference to a hymn that I learned as a little girl and your post led me to find it. God Bless!