Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dying with Jesus

Praise for the Lord #126

Words: Daniel W. Whittle, 1893
Music: May Whittle Moody, 1893

Though my previous post on D. W. Whittle was devoted entirely to clearing up inaccuracies handed down in anecdotes about his life, there is good evidence that the story behind his writing of "Dying with Jesus" (or "Moment by Moment") is entirely true. It goes back to a chance encounter, and an offhand comment, at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The massive "Columbian Exhibition," spanning five months, covering 600 acres, and hosting more than 700,000 persons at its highest daily attendance, became a landmark in American culture. (Wikipedia). The prospect of reaching this massive audience of all social classes and many nationalities prompted Dwight Moody and his fellow urban revivalists to organize an evangelistic campaign to run simultaneously with the Exhibition. Never one to think on a small scale, he enlisted the help of every evangelist he knew (including of course his old friend D. W. Whittle), even before it was clear whether they would have places to speak in the overcrowded city. Also invited as special guests were several preachers from the U.K. whom Moody had met during his recent preaching tour there (Hartzler 19).

Among these was Henry Varley (1835-1916), an English evangelist whose outreach to the working poor of London did much to inspire Moody's own efforts in that direction (Lewis). Hartzler, who attempted to document the frenetic activities connected with this campaign, noted that during at least part of October 1893 Varley was preaching at regular hours twice a day on weekdays, not counting Sundays and evening sessions (60-61). Varley was featured prominently in the midday programs organized by Moody at the Central Music Hall, where he shared the platform with the well-known songleaders such as Sankey and Stebbins (Hartzler 102). And on at least one documented occasion (surely there were more), Varley and Whittle spoke on the same program (Hartzler 185-187).

The occasions for conversation fostered by this association together apparently led to a pithy saying from Varley that stuck in Whittle's mind, as such sayings do. Sankey recalled that Varley happened to comment, "I do not like the hymn 'I need Thee every hour' very well, because I need Him every moment of the day." Anyone who has written a song or two can testify to the fact that some incidents or phrases will immediately suggest an idea for a lyric, and though Varley's comment surely was not meant as a serious criticism of Annie Hawks's hymn, it was a good play on ideas. According to Sankey, Varley's words suggested to Whittle the catch-phrase "moment by moment," and led him to write this hymn (Sankey 140-141).

Whittle gave the copyright of this song over to Sankey, who published it in both the U.S. and the U.K. (Sankey 141). To the best I have been able to determine, its first appearance was in Christian Endeavor Hymns, published in 1894 by Biglow & Main in New York (, and by Morgan & Scott in London (WorldCat). It caught on very quickly, earning a spot in the expanded 1200-song edition of Sankey's perennial Sacred Songs and Solos. The list of instances of this hymn in shows that it has maintained its popularity well over the decades. Interestingly, though some of Whittle's other lyrics ("I know Whom I have believed," "Why not now?," "There's a royal banner") have been widely sung among the Churches of Christ, I have only heard "Moment by moment" a handful of times in my life. Perhaps it is more popular overseas, or in other regions of the U.S. An online copy of this hymn is available here.

Stanza 1:
Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
Living with Jesus a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

The opening line of this hymn might have been inspired by more than one Scripture passage, since it restates a critically important truth about our salvation. I believe it is most likely referring, however, to the great 6th chapter of Romans--one of the clearest statements of the wonder of Christ's atonement. "Dying with Jesus . . . Living with Jesus" seems to come from Romans 6:8, "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him." This verse pivots around death and life, and serves as a transition from the preceding passage on Christ's death to the following passage on Christ's eternal life. The individual who passes through this process with Christ receives spiritually the same effects--death and resurrection. Leading up to Romans 6:8 we read:
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin (Romans 6:4-7)
"Dying with Jesus" is this participation in His death, through baptism, which crucifies the old self and its sins, destroying the enslaving power of sin over our lives. But the transformation--incredible as it is even up to this point--is not complete. These verses give previews--"newness of life," and "united with Him in a resurrection"--then verse 8 shows us the flip side of our "death" with Christ: "if we have died with Christ . . . we will also live with Him." The next passage elaborates on this new life and its results:
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:9-13).
"Living with Jesus" is participation in His resurrected glory, free from the dominion of spiritual death here and now, and able to face physical death with faith in the resurrection to come. But this new life comes with strings attached! We are living "with Jesus" now. We are not to go back to the dead life of sin, and the conduct that went with it; we are to be God's "instruments for righteousness" instead of serving ourselves in selfishness. There is a "bright line," as it has been put, between spiritual death and spiritual life; the point of baptism is the clear demarcation when Christ's death and resurrection are reenacted in us. But whereas the old life of sin is brought to an end, the "newness of life" process is only just beginning!

Moment by moment I'm kept in His love;
Moment by moment I've life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Here we come to the point of the hymn--the new life in Jesus is an ongoing relationship, "moment by moment." In John 15:10 Jesus told His disciples, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." We do not need to get out the Greek lexicon to understand that "abide" does not mean once a week on Sunday, or even a specific time of prayer or worship during each day. Though all of these are good and right, abiding in Christ's love is an ongoing submission to His will in our thoughts, words, and actions. If our times of prayer and worship do not carry over into our conduct, "moment by moment," we may be occasional visitors, but we are not abiding.

The "life from above" given by Jesus is one of the themes, perhaps the greatest theme, of the gospel account by John. From beginning to end, Jesus is shown to be the source of life. In the first paragraph John declares,
"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). At the thematic conclusion of the book (excepting the postscript, chapter 21), John notes "these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). Toward the middle of the book, Jesus makes the beautiful and profound statement, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

But that new life once begun is not left to fend for itself; Romans 8:11 assures us that, "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." This promised help is as critical to our spirits, as the air we breathe is critical to our physical bodies. In the early days of space exploration, those brave souls who dared to take the first steps outside a spacecraft had to make doubly and triply sure of the soundness of their umbilical cables that supplied air and power to their spacesuits. At the same time they were carefully monitored by a team on the ground, and usually by a partner inside the ship who was ready to come help if needed. In this sinful world, the new life of the Christian is in a spiritual environment every bit as hostile as outer space, and we desperately need that lifeline of the Spirit. Paul explained in Galatians 2:19-20,
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
It would be a very foolish space traveler who went outside the spaceship, to the very end of the oxygen line, and started pulling it to see if it would come loose. In the same way, we need to remember our "moment by moment" dependence on that spiritual nourishment from above, and live in a way that keeps us within that care.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).
Romans chapter 8 goes through a lengthy list of those things that cannot "separate us from the love of God" (v. 39). If the source of our life and strength is "hidden with Christ in God," and renewed moment by moment, what can we fear?

Stanza 2:

Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear,
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment I'm under His care.


If ever a Christian could assert the truth of these sentiments, it was the apostle Paul. Toward the end of his second letter to Timothy, he recounted his own recent trials--of the literal, legal kind--and admitted that his case did not look promising. Gone were the days described in the closing chapters of Acts, when his Roman captors were somewhat bemused by the Jewish religious dispute that had been referred to Caesar. This time it involved lions.
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, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever (2 Timothy 4:16-18)
It was hardly the first time for Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 he gives a litany of the mistreatment and misfortune he had borne for the cause of Christ. But he held fast with the reassurance that, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day" (2 Timothy 1:12). He knew Who stood by him, "moment by moment," and had absolute confidence in His continued care.

Peter, too, had seen the inside of a prison cell for the cause of Christ. He had been through the persecution of the original church in Jerusalem and had seen the martyrdom of his fellow apostle and close friend James. He knew that he too would meet a martyr's death for Christ (John 21:18-19). Yet in the opening of his first letter he says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).
Despite the years of maturity he had accumulated we can still hear the pugnacious, exuberant spirit who was once ready to take up arms for his Lord. Peter does take up arms now, but in a spiritual sense instead; he is ready for this fight, because he knows Who is on his side, "moment by moment," through the battles of life. The trials will be difficult, he says, but that makes the victory all the sweeter!

Stanza 3:
Never a heartache and never a groan,
Never a teardrop and never a moan;
Never a danger but there on the throne,
Moment by moment He thinks of His own.


The great epistle to the Hebrews, an essay on the fulfillment of the Hebrew Testament in Jesus Christ, repeatedly drives home the superiority of Jesus' high priesthood to that of the old order. He serves all the functions of a human high priest, yet without the human failing of sin; He intercedes with the Father as an equal, but He is also fully sympathetic to our human weakness. One of the best summary statements of this idea is found in Hebrews 4:14-16,
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The third stanza of Whittle's hymn touches on those very things that most show our humanity, even when we have the new, forgiven life within us--"heartaches," "groans," "tears," and "moans." In every one of these Jesus was (and still is) just as human as you and me. The shortest verse in the English Bible, John 11:35, is also one of the most meaningful in this regard--"Jesus wept." He shed tears for the grief of His friends on that occasion; in Mark 3:5 He was also "grieved" at the willful ignorance He encountered in His enemies, and in Matthew 23:37 said in sadness, "How often I would have gathered you together as hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!"

But if ever there were a question about His acquaintance with human grief, it was forever settled at Gethsemane. He knew what was coming, and wanted His friends with Him, saying, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me" (Matthew 26:38). But when He needed them, they failed Him. He went to His Father in prayer, alone, as we often must do: "And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will'" (Mat 26:39). Luke, ever the careful recorder of medical detail, informs us that, "Being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44).

We all will have our Gethsemanes in this life, in one way or another, when we will have to face emotionally crushing circumstances largely on our own. Then more than ever, let us remember that we always have an Advocate before the Father who knows how we feel and will understand; "moment by moment" we will "receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Stanza 4:
Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus, my Savior, abides with me still.


The preceding stanzas of Whittle's hymn assure us that Jesus is with us through trials, and through sorrows; but these are framed largely as external pressures on the individual. The final stanza looks at the trial and sorrow of personal illness. It is significant that Satan's persecution of Job saved this for last; in fact he boasted of this to the Lord: "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face" (Job 2:4-5).

Physical suffering tries the Christian in a number of ways. From a purely physiological standpoint, it can disrupt the soundness of our thinking. But in an emotional sense it can do much worse; it can burden us with the regret of activities in which we can no longer engage, and it reminds us of that which the flesh naturally resists the most--the inevitable end of this mortal existence.

Here too we know that Jesus is with us, in spiritual aid and in sympathetic care. Jesus suffered far worse than we ever will, and His infinite understanding knows the griefs and sufferings of every precious soul in His world. The great Messianic passage of Isaiah 53 says, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows," and Matthew applied that prophecy specifically to Jesus' work as a healer of physical diseases and infirmities (Matthew 8:17). Malachi also prophesied of the healing power of Messiah: "But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings" (Malachi 4:2).

God does not promise, however, to relieve us of all physical distress on this side of eternity. When Paul had his own "thorn in the flesh," he specifically asked for relief from this burden and was told, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). But we need to remember--as hard as it is to hear at the time they are upon us--these physical burdens will not last forever, nor need they hold down that eternal part of us. Paul, who knew of which he spoke, said,
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
If we are in Christ, and Christ's Spirit is in us, then "day by day" we are being renewed spiritually, and it is not too much to extend this to Whittle's phrase of "moment by moment." God never misses a beat; Psalm 121:4 tells us, "Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." When the long nights come that we cannot sleep, God is waiting up with us. He is with us in "woe or in weal ['well-being' DRH]", in the bad times and the good. Let us learn to grasp hold of that ever-present source of strength, and heed David's words in Psalm 55:22, "Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved."

About the music:

Mary ("May") Whittle Moody (1870-1963) was still May Whittle when this song was written, and it first went to press under that name. On 28 Aug 1894 she married William R. Moody, son of her father's longtime  friend (Massachusetts Marriages 535). Rather unusually for a woman in that era, May Whittle had studied music at Oberlin College in Ohio and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (Claghorn 150). As one half of this evangelistic "power couple," she served as editor of the 3rd and 4th editions of the Northfield Hymnal (, a publication connected with the Moodys' Northfield Seminary near Springfield, Massachusetts.

In addition to "Moment by moment," the following songs also have music by May Whittle Moody. Most were settings of her father's lyrics.
May Whittle Moody also composed at least one secular art song, titled: "A Loch Fyne lullaby: Softly the night-winds are rippling the sea," voice & piano, 1897 (

Her music is firmly within the style of the Victorian parlor-song, and for that reason sometimes sounds dated. That said, it is really well-written Victorian parlor music! Of course it is replete with chromatic harmonies; in "Moment by moment" there is an augmented triad at the end of the 2nd measure (F-A-C#), a sprinkling of secondary dominants and fully-diminished 7th chords, and a respelled German augmented 6th chord at the end of measure 11 (Db-G#-F-B, or B-Db-F-Ab). But what is really impressive is that these all flow naturally with the melody and the part-writing (with the exception perhaps of the augmented 6th chord, which sounds a little forced). Each part is interesting and very musically satisfying; there are frequent pairings of voices in parallel 6ths or 3rds, but these pairings are switched often and fairly equally distributed among the voices.

The refrain is the better part of the song; the simplicity of the stepwise melody suits the simplicity of the text. But it is especially interesting to compare the final eight measures of the refrain to the final eight measures of the stanza, which is nearly the same melody. At the ends of the 10th measures of the stanza and of the refrain, the melody is on an A and the bass is on an E-flat. In the stanza, this is an F-A-C-Eb chord leading to B-flat harmony and the previously mentioned augmented 6th chord (1st stanza "glory doth shine"). From that point the tag line, "Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine," is harmonized by F7 - Gmin - G7 - C7 - F.

From the 10th measure of the refrain, the composer redirected nearly the same melody to a much more dramatic finish. She took the same A in the melody and E-flat in the bass, but harmonized it as A-C-Eb-G, or Adim/m7 (half-diminished 7th), which nicely sets up the alto's F# in the following D major chord. "Glory doth shine" is harmonized by D7 resolving to Gmin this time around, at the same time introducing a high D in the soprano, the highest note in the melody throughout. The underlying chord progression to this point is Adim/m7 - D7 - Gmin. On the final line, the melody is taken down a step ("moment by moment") to fit with the continued G minor harmony, then concludes in the same fashion as the stanza. This allows the circle of 5ths progression to play out to the final tonic chord: Adim/m7 - D7 - Gmin - (G7) - C7 - F. In retrospect, the flowing harmonic progression at the end of the refrain almost makes the slightly awkward "glory doth shine" passage in the stanza sound like a point of contrast, deliberately setting up the change of style in the refrain.


Claghorn, Charles Eugene. Women composers and songwriters : a concise biographical dictionary. Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Hartzler, Henry Burns. Moody in Chicago. New York: Revell, 1894.

Lewis, D. M. “Varley, Henry (1835–1912).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed. Viewed 4 Feb 2013.

Massachusetts Marriages 1841-1915. Familysearch.

Sankey, Ira D. Story of the gospel hymns and of the sacred songs and solos. Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1906.'s_story_of_the_gospel_hymns_and_of_sacred_songs_and_solos

"World's Columbian Exposition." Wikipedia.'s_Columbian_Exposition

No comments:

Post a Comment