Sunday, June 23, 2013

Does Jesus Care?


Praise for the Lord #132

Words: Frank E. Graeff, 1901
Music: J. Lincoln Hall, 1901

Franklin Ellsworth Graeff (1860-1919) was a popular Methodist preacher in the Philadelphia area at the turn of the last century. He was active there from 1890, when when he was admitted to the local conference, until his death in 1919. After some  circuit riding in the counties to the north, he was located with the church at Somerton, a northern outlier of Philadelphia, with the Wesley, Bethany, Emmanuel, Summerfield, and Haws Avenue churches in the city, and finally with the church in Norristown, to the north of the city (Elliot 238).

Though Graeff was not the biggest name among Philadelphia Methodists, he seems to have had a special knack for teaching children. His work at a summer camp meeting was described in the Chester Times (Chester, PA), 1 August 1899:
The children at 1:30 p.m. assembled in the temple on the hill for their last meeting of the year. Rev. F. E. Graeff, active and energetic in his talk as ever, was in charge. After a short lesson on the crown of life Mr. Graeff reviewed the little folks on the lessons given them daily during that past ten days. He exhibited something by holding it up that was a symbol of each lesson, and the children in every case promptly responded with the corresponding text. It showed that good and telling work had been done by Mr. Graeff.
In addition to hymns, poetry, and religious articles, Graeff wrote a popular novelette called The Minister's Twins, which follows the pious little title characters' religious development in a tone of sympathy and whimsical humor (Baker 33).

What was the trial that prompted his best-known hymn? One occasionally encounters the assertion that Graeff's wife and/or children died in a fire, but his only known wife, Mary Lourene Mauger, outlived him by 18 years (Find-a-grave). The 1900 U.S. census records also show that up to that time the couple had no children. And though Graeff was age 33 at the time of his marriage to Mary Mauger, I can find no evidence of a marriage prior to this union in 1894 (Elliot 238, cf. Philadelphia Marriages). The story of the fire may have been confused with someone else, as sometimes happens in oral history.

But Graeff was no stranger to heartache, neither professionally nor personally. As a local minister he presided at the "marrying and burying" of the members of his congregations, and no doubt helped bear a share of their heartaches. And Graeff knew grief personally as well; he lost his oldest sister, Ann, in 1880, and one of two younger sisters, Sallie, in 1882 (another sister, Emmeline, died before he was born). In the late 1880s Frank Graeff received another pair of blows: his mother, Matilda Zerbe Graeff, died 3 September 1886; his father, Samuel Beard Graeff, followed on 25 March 1887. Then on 14 February 1901 (the year "Does Jesus care?" was written), his youngest sister Arasma (Graeff) Oliver passed away at the age of 34 (Elliott 233, 237-238). Frank's closeness to Arasma is suggested by the naming of her oldest child, Frank Graeff Oliver. By the time Graeff wrote this song, in his 40th year, he had lost two-thirds of his immediate family. What does a person do when surrounded by grief? Frank Graeff set us a good example: he worked through his heartache, and then (always the teacher!) he used his own experience to help those who would go through the same trials. As the Lord told Peter in Luke 22:32, he "turned again, and strengthened his brothers."

Stanza 1:
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth and song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

James 5:13 advises, "Is any among you cheerful? Let him sing praise." Even when I am not cheerful (and I am not, by nature), singing God's praise will almost always put me in a better frame of mind. But there are times, as Graeff says in this stanza, when we cannot even sing. I remember a chapel service at Lipscomb University several years ago, on the morning after a student had died in a traffic accident next to campus. The dean of students at that time, Bill Davis, was in charge of the service that morning. We usually opened with song, but that morning Bill said, "I cannot sing today." There are times when grief bears down on us so strongly that we can only weep. At such times we often become isolated in our own feelings; every grief is unique, and even the same tragedy will affect different people in different ways. It may be hard to express our feelings to others (though we should try), and sometimes we feel as though no one understands.

My brother Eddie Parrish has pointed to David's words in Psalm 142:4 as perhaps the most forlorn and soul-wrenching statement in all of Scripture: "Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul." Could there be a more heartbreaking sentiment? But Jesus knew this feeling, too, in Gethsemane. His closest friends on earth failed to watch with Him, when He needed them most; and if they had, how much could they have understood? I am convinced that each of us at some point (perhaps more than once) faces our own Gethsemane, where we are alone with our grief, fear, pain, or anger, beyond the help of any earthly friend. It is at times such as these--perhaps at 2 a.m. in the emergency room at a loved one's bedside, or on an endlessly bleak day in the depths of depression--that we turn helplessly to the One we believe is always there. We pray, and we wonder what we can say. We are as much afraid of our own doubt as of anything else. We wonder if a truly faithful Christian would be thinking this way.

Here is a place where the Psalms are so valuable to us: David, whom God called "a man after My own heart" (Acts 13:22), the man against whom all other good and faithful kings of Judah were measured, a man whose devotional life with God is laid open for us to see in a way unparalleled in Scripture, often felt the same way and asked the same questions.
How long, O LORD?
Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
And have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
(Psalm 13:1-2)
So if we have found ourselves thinking along these lines, we are in good company. Even Jesus himself said, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, cf. Psalm 22:1). Though the full significance of that statement is beyond the scope of this discussion, He certainly knew that feeling of abandonment--which brings us to the answer to Graeff's question.

Refrain:
O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Frank Graeff must have had 1 Peter 5:7 in mind when he wrote this refrain, because it provides the answer to the questions posed in each stanza: "Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you." Jesus has been where we are; He knows how we feel, even at our worst. The writer of Hebrews explains, "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" (Hebrews 4:15).

Not only can we be reassured that Jesus knows what we are going through, but we can be equally certain that His love for us never changes. In the Hebrew Testament this is expressed in the wonderful word חֶסֶד (chesed), applied to God some 200 times. It means "lovingkindness," "mercy" (KJV, ASV), or "steadfast love" (RSV, ESV). It is the expression that occurs so dramatically in Lamentations 3:22, in the midst of a book devoted to grieving over a lost nation:
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.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"Therefore I will hope in Him."
(Lamentations 3:21-24).
In the New Testament, God's love for us is expressed in beautiful words representing even more beautiful actions: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son" (John 3:16). "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us" (Ephesians 5:2). See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1). Our closest and dearest upon this earth cannot love us with the magnitude and certitude of the steadfast love of God!

Stanza 2:
Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

(Refrain)

Surpisingly, the outspoken apostle Paul was a man who struggled with fear. To the church at Corinth he later recounted of his first visit to their city, "I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). He had good reason--he had been rejected by the Jewish leaders in that city and branded a heretic. The proconsul Gallio refused to hear charges based on this religious dispute, but neither did he intervene when a mob beat one of the new Christians in his presence (Acts 18:17). Paul was a minority within a minority, and doubly despised by many in the majority. It was in this context that God told Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are My people" (Acts 18:9-10).

Nor was this the last such occasion. Paul described his situation in 2 Corinthians 7:5 as "fighting without and fear within." Part of this fear, of course, was for the condition of the churches, as revealed in the verses following. But physical danger was Paul's lot throughout much of his career, as revealed in his catalog of adventures in 2 Corinthians chapter 11. How did he face these fears? He advised Timothy that, "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul was not without fear, but (as with most people who are courageous and not actually foolhardy) his fear was under control, and was overcome by his love for serving the Lord and the power of the message with which he was entrusted.

And often in those fearful situations in Paul's life, something good was working out behind the scenes. It would be hard not to be afraid after being beaten and locked up in a foreign jail, as Paul and Silas were in Philippi; but what happened that night resulted in the salvation of their jailer and his household. The church at Philippi eventually became one of Paul's greatest successes. And in Acts chapter 27, when Paul's ship was beaten by a storm to the point that "all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned" (Acts 27:20), an angel spoke to Paul in a dream: "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar" (Acts 27:24). In the midst of what seemed a hopeless situation came the assurance that he would be the first preacher of the gospel to stand before the ruler of the Empire.

When we are overwhelmed by fear, we need to remember that Jesus is still with us; in fact, much closer than we think. Remember how he came to the disciples during the storm on Galilee, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27). Keep looking for Him, and you will see Him at last.

Stanza 3:
Does Jesus care when I've tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong?
When for my deep grief I find no relief,
Though my tears flow all the night long?

(Refrain)

We will never know, of course, the specific temptation to which Graeff refers, or whether it was something from his own life or from his experience of counseling church members under his care. But I am glad he wrote this stanza, because I can think of precious few hymns that address the subject. The Psalms, of course, especially those we have called the "Penitential Psalms," have much to say about the soul's guilt and grief at having failed to walk in the ways of God.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
All the day I go about mourning.
(Psalm 38:4-6)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence,
And take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalm 51:10-12)
Paul also talked about candidly about his struggle with sin:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22-24).
Sin in the lives of Christians is a reality, and we need to avoid the extremes of either denying our sins (1 John 1:8) and pretending nothing is wrong, or excusing them and turning grace into license (Jude 4). Our society may have tried to turn "guilt" into a dirty word, but it has its place; it is appropriate to feel guilt for sin, then to repent of that sin and seek God's forgiveness. But often those who are the tenderest of heart, and the most sincere in their desire to live pure and holy lives before God, struggle to forgive themselves. Again, we need to remember that Jesus is "One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He lived among us as a human being; He understands our weakness and the struggle we have to do right even when we are trying.

We need also to remember that God's love for us, and for that matter our salvation, never depended on our own righteousness--thankfully! Paul tells us,
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).
On the contrary, "God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). If He was willing to die for us when we were sinners in rebellion against Him, will He not continue to love us when we are at least trying to do His will?

Stanza 4:
Does Jesus care when I've said goodbye
To the dearest on earth to me,
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks--
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

(Refrain)

Here is perhaps the most personal statement by Graeff, in light of the loss of his youngest sister, Arasma, at the beginning of the year in which he wrote this song. No doubt he had comforted many grieving individuals over the years, and knew very well the limits of human words and gestures to heal the hurt of such a loss. In those times of deepest grief we may even think we are beyond the reach of God's love and care; and sometimes we even feel estranged from God by our own anger and disappointment. Does Jesus understand this? Yes.

When Jesus lived on this earth three of His closest friends were the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Their house in Bethany was a refuge from the crowds where He spent time on more than one occasion; in fact they are among the few friends of Jesus we know of outside the immediate circle of the twelve apostles. When Lazarus became sick and died, as recounted in John chapter 11, Jesus deliberately declined to interfere at first--"for the glory of God" (v. 4). Because He allowed nature to take its course, He had to hear the accusing words from each surviving sister: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (v. 21, 32). The narrative continues,
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. And He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" (v. 33-36).
But in the following verse some of the onlookers also said, "Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" Jesus knows what it is to lose a friend to death; He also knows the grief and even anger experienced by those closest to the loss.

Death and loss are part of this life until our own release comes, and grief is to be expected even when we expect to see the loved one again on the other side. It is a small comment in the book of Acts, but worth noting: "Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him" (Acts 8:2). The Christians mourned Stephen, not because they had any doubt they would see him again in heaven, but because they had lost a good man far too soon. Christians are never told not to grieve, we are only told not to "grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Never doubt that God cares for you, no matter how difficult a situation is to understand. In Mark chapter 4, when the disciples were caught in yet another storm on Galilee, they woke up Jesus from His rest in the stern of the boat and said with some apparent exasperation, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38). They were certain that if Jesus cared about the situation, He would have done something already. But what would "doing something" look like? They could not understand that His presence on board that boat made it the safest place on earth in that moment. In fact He resolved the situation in an instant with the words, "Peace! Be still!" May we all listen for that voice of calm in the midst of life's troubles, and remember that "He cares for you."

About the music:

Joseph Lincoln Hall (1866-1930) is best remembered today for his gospel song writing and publishing, particularly through the Hall-Mack Company of Philadelphia. A search of Worldcat.org shows more than 300 titles from this publishing house from its beginnings in the 1890s until its merger with the Rodeheaver Company in the 1930s. In his day, however, Hall was also known for his classical church music as well; he wrote at least a dozen cantatas, and contributed to several volumes of anthems (Woodard 16). He also arranged well-known secular classical works as gospel hymns (Woodard 9). According to a search of Stanford University's Copyright Renewal Database, Hall occasionally wrote under the names Clyde Willard, Alfred Judson, and Arthur Wilton.

Hall's musical education was exceptional among his peers--in 1901 he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Music degree (General Alumni Catalogue 119). During a time when very few American universities offered a four-year degree in music, this was an exceptionally rigorous program, with thorough training in music theory and history, and a requirement to compose a major work for chorus and orchestra. Hall's graduation work was a Mass in D minor (Woodard 7). The fact that Hall finished this degree at the age of 35, at a time when his publishing business was booming, is evidence of his determination to broaden his horizons. Jacob Hall (no relation to my knowledge) wrote in his Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, "Mr. Hall is many-sided in his writing and has written everything in the music line from an oratorio in the classic style to a simple gospel song" (390).

J. Lincoln Hall was also noted as a conductor, having begun directing choirs in his teens, and was music director for various camp meetings and other religious gatherings. Among these was the camp meeting at Chester Heights, Pennsylvania, where Frank Graeff sometimes directed children's services (J. H. Hall 389). It was likely at this function, or some other like it, that the two men came into contact.

The music Hall wrote for "Does Jesus care?" is in the style of the sentimental ballads of the day, as popularized in an earlier generation by Stephen Foster. It is a simple, folk-like melody with no pretension and a slight lilt. The only really notable feature of composition is that Hall restrains the range of the melody to the lower half of the octave throughout the stanza, with the exception of a few brief leaps upward. In contrast, the refrain spends most of its time at the top of the melodic range. This matches the change of mood between the pensive, questioning lyrics of the stanzas and the confident declamation of the refrain.


References:

Baker, A. L. A Study of Religious Literature for the Young. Master's thesis, Northwestern University, 1905. http://books.google.com/books?id=lxQxAQAAMAAJ

Elliott, Ella Zerbey. Blue Book of Schuylkill County. Pottsville, Penn.: Pottsville Republican Publishers, 1916. http://books.google.com/books?id=pNEwAQAAMAAJ

Frank Ellsworth Graeff. Findagrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSsr=1441&GScid=45883&GRid=42194212&

Franklin Ellsworth Graeff. Philadelphia Marriages 1885-1951. Familysearch.org. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JJ29-J42

General Alumni Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania, 1922http://archive.org/stream/generalalumnicat00univuoft

Graeff household. 1900 U.S. Census. Familysearch.org. https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-12119-52177-48?cc=1325221&wc=MMPJ-8VY:n1508905569

"Hall, J. Lincoln." Search of Copyright Renewal Database, Stanford University, 22 June 2013. https://collections.stanford.edu/copyrightrenewals/bin/search/advanced/process?clauseMapped%28title%29=&clauseMapped%28author%29=hall%2C+j+lincoln&clauseMapped%28odatISO%29=&clauseMapped%28dregISO%29=

Hall, Jacob Henry. Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers. New York: Revell, 1914. http://www.archive.org/stream/biographyofgospe00hall#page/n5/mode/2up

"Shouting time at camp." Chester Times (Penn.) 39:7500 (1 August 1899), page 1.

Woodard, Patricia. "Joseph Lincoln Hall: Gospel Song Composer, Editor, Publisher." The Hymn 56/2 (Spring 2005), pp. 6-17. http://www.hymnary.org/files/articles/Woodard,%20Joseph%20Lincoln%20Hall.pdf

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the best of your articles that I've read. It really gave me a new appreciation for this song, which has always seemed overly sentimental to me. I do think it is important, though, to acknowledge the struggles with doubt, grief, and failure that we all go through as Christians. I think too often we put up a front because Christians are supposed to be joyful, and it hinders the real working of the Christian body to encourage one another.

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