Thursday, November 15, 2018

Flee as a Bird

Praise for the Lord #151

Words by Mary S. B. Dana Shindler, 1842
Music: Spanish air

Mary Stanley Bunce Palmer Dana (1810-1883) grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister who saw that she received as much abundance in educational and cultural opportunities as she did in middle names. His investment was not in vain, for young Mary showed early signs of a sharp wit and a talented pen (Woodard 74). It would seem to have been a charmed life, until a series of personal losses turned her world upside down. From 1837 to 1839, she lost a sister, a brother, then her husband Charles E. Dana, and at last their only child (Woodard 76).

Used by permission:
By the norms of her era and station in life, Dana would have been expected to retreat to the home of her parents or other relatives. But Mary S. B. Dana instead turned her hand to what had formerly been her pastime of music and verse, and compiled a songbook titled The Southern Harp. In September 1840 she was able to get an initial run of 500 copies published by the prominent Boston music firm Parker & Ditson (Woodard 77). Its full title is descriptive of her approach: The Southern Harp: Consisting of Original Sacred and Moral Songs Adapted to the Most Popular Melodies: for the Piano-forte and Harp. These are parlor songs on religious themes, providing a more wholesome entertainment than the usual music hall fare while using much of the same music. The success of the first book soon led to The Northern Harp, graced with a preface by New England clergyman Edward William Hooker in which he even suggested the suitability of Dana's songs for social gatherings on the Sabbath, when entertainment was generally forbidden.

Mary Dana (later remarried as Mary Shindler) would go on to publish several other collections, and devoted her talents to the causes of temperance, education, and other social reforms, but her most enduring work was "Flee as a bird" from the 1842 Northern Harp. shows that another song from this collection, "I'm a pilgrim," has actually more instances in hymnals over the years, but the unusual melody of "Flee as a bird" caused it to be taken up by secular musicians as well, appearing as piano variations and even as a jazz standard (Woodard 92ff.).

Stanza 1:
Flee as a bird to your mountain,
Thou who art weary of sin;
Go to the clear flowing fountain
Where you may wash and be clean.
Fly, for the avenger is near thee;
Call and the Savior will hear thee;
He on His bosom will bear thee,
O thou who art weary of sin.

The opening line is from Psalm 11:1, but curiously, Dana has simply borrowed the simile and placed it in a completely different context. As Cat Quine's excellent article has demonstrated from Biblical and ancient Assyrian texts, the "bird fleeing to the mountain" was a common picture of a hasty and undignified retreat from battle; but the speaker in Psalm 8 roundly rejects the call to "flee as a bird," declaring instead his trust in God's deliverance. Dana instead turns her metaphorical focus to the helplessness and isolation of a lone bird, as seen in other Hebrew texts: "Like a bird that strays from its nest, is a man who strays from his home" (Proverbs 27:8); "I have been hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without cause" (Lamentations 3:52). This bird gladly flies to its mountain refuge, seeking escape.

In Dana's poem, of course, the enemies are not the physical foes of the Psalmist, but rather one's own sins. Perhaps there are shades here of Psalm 6:6-7, one of the seven traditional Penitential Psalms:
I am weary with my moaning;
Every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows weak because of all my foes.
When Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28), He did not mean that following Him would be no work at all; but in comparison to the compounding weight of sins, "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). The sinner in Dana's poem is as helpless in this plight as a small bird among its predators, or in the snare of a hunter; the only solution is to fly to safety where there is relief from sin.

The need to be washed clean from sin recalls another of the Penitential Psalms, Psalm 51:1-2:
Have mercy on me, O God,
According to Your steadfast love;
According to Your abundant mercy
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin!
The cleansing fountain is recalled in the Messianic language of Zechariah 13:1, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." Paul touches on the same theme with his reassuring words to the Corinthians: "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11).

The second half of the stanza is set apart musically by the change from the minor key to its relative major key, and suggests a shift of mood from contemplation to urgency. The command to flee is repeated with the new impetus of an immediate threat to safety: the avenger. Our first thought in a Bible context is the cities of refuge described in Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, and Joshua 20. In cases of murder, the Hebrew Testament allowed the slain person's next-of-kin to deal retribution in kind; but if it were manslaughter, the guilty party could go to a city of refuge and receive sanctuary from the avenger. Only inside the city was the offender safe from the dreadful sentence.

We who are pursued by the guilt of sins today also need a place of refuge, where there is mercy from the law. This language is used in the letter to the Hebrews, describing God's steadfast love as that "city of refuge" in which we can trust:
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:17-18).
In addition to seeking refuge, we are also advised to "call on" the Savior, another Biblical image of rescue. Joel spoke of this prophetically, saying, "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls" (Joel 2:32). Peter preached at Pentecost that the day of salvation of which Joel spoke had arrived (Acts 2:16-21), and ever since then the Lord has been calling on us to call on Him. As Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16).

The stanza concludes with the touching image of being carried in the Lord's arms. We see this promised in the Isaiah 46:
"Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save" (Isaiah 46:3-4).
The prophecy is all the more powerful in its context, promising the deliverance of the people out of future bondage. God reminds them that He has carried them all along the way, and is not about to fail them, either at that time or in the future.

Stanza 2:
He will protect thee forever, 
Wipe every falling tear;
He will forsake thee, O never,
Sheltered so tenderly there.
Haste, then, the hours are flying,
Spend not the moments in sighing,
Cease from your sorrow and crying:
The Savior will wipe every tear.

Scripture is perfectly frank about the sorrows of this life. An entire book of the Hebrew Testament, after all, is titled "Lamentations." But it is worth noting that in the very center of that book of tears is this statement:
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."
How ironic that this text, which has become a well-known song of praise, comes from the middle of such a book! The sorrow is real, but so is the steadfast love; God knows our tears, and cares. As David said, "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" (Psalm 56:8). The prophets were clear, also, that a day was coming when tears would be dried forever. Isaiah 25:8 promises that someday,
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 25:8). 
Though there has already been a historical fulfillment of this prophecy with the restoration of the Jewish people from exile in Babylon, the Revelation picks up this language again in a far greater scope:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
There is comfort available even in the midst of sorrow in this life, and greater comfort to come. God promises a day when there will be no more tears, when everything will be made right. Mary Dana's hymn encourages us not to be overwhelmed by the sadness--which she certainly could have been herself--but instead to seek the "God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3) who is able to "bring [us] safely into His heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18).

About the music:

In my day job I have had the opportunity to catalog bound collections of sheet music from well-to-do ladies of the antebellum United States, and Mary Dana's arrangements are exactly what I would expect from a (previously) amateur musician of this era: a mix of light classical works and popular songs from composers famous at the time but seldom heard today, and arrangements of folk songs of a distinctive national character (Scottish, Spanish, and Swiss songs seem to have been particularly favored). Whatever her own considerable musical skills may have been, she knew her audience, and even adapted well known secular tunes to her spiritual lyrics. This appears to have been the case with "Flee as a bird," which bears a strong resemblance to the song "Llegó il instante amargo" which was also adapted by John T. S. Sullivan as "Break, my heart!" (Click here for a computer-generated rendition.)

This publication by Sullivan and Blessner was copyrighted in 1842, and is thus unlikely to be the source of Mary Dana's arrangement; but it does at least give a name to the "Spanish air." Further exploration of the Spanish title leads in unexpected directions. It appears to be a lyric published by Peruvian man-of-letters José Rossi y Rubí (1765-1803) in the first volume of the journal Mercurio Peruano (Lima, 1791, 1:55). This text was not original, but was a translation from the Italian canzonetta La Partenza, written by the classical opera librettist Pietro Metastasio (Fuentes 8:228). Where the tune itself joined up with the Spanish words is unclear, but it seems at least as likely to be Peruvian as Spanish.

Dana's arrangement of this tune with her original lyrics proved very popular, leading to an individual sheet music reprint by Ditson & Co. as late as 1857. The earliest four-part harmony version I have found is from William Bradbury's Cottage Melodies (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1859), where it is designated as "arranged for this work," presumably by Bradbury himself. Here the familiar repetition of the final line is present (not found in Dana's original), and a few other details of wording and melody are altered to the form found in most hymnals today. "Weary" replaces "sick" in the second line of the first stanza, the melody at "and be clean" is A-A-D instead of the original A-C#-D, and the dotted-eighth to sixteenth rhythms are slightly altered in places. The closing phrase of the melody continued to evolve in the hands of different hymnal editors until reaching its current version, a descending arpeggio, as can be observed through the numerous scans available at

Not surprisingly, this somewhat unusual hymn entered the repertoire of the Churches of Christ via Elmer Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church, in the 1930 edition. For most of my youth it was the only minor-key tune in the hymnals we used (depending on how you describe the tonality of "O sacred Head"). It has been recorded several times over the years by the choirs of our Christian colleges, which helped its popularity to spread.


Woodard, Patricia. “‘Flee as a Bird’: Mary Dana Shindler's Legacy.” American Music, vol. 26, no. 1, 2008, pp. 74–103.

Quine, Cat. "The Bird and the Mountains: A Note on Psalm 11." Vetus Testamentum, vol. 67 (2017), 470-479.

Fuentes, Manuel A. Biblioteca peruana de historia, ciencias y literatura. Lima: Bailly, 1861.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fanny Crosby and the "Raptured Soul"

From Songs of Devotion for Christian Associations (New York: Biglow & Main, 1871)

In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever;
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.

-- Fanny Crosby, "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross" (1869)

This popular old hymn is sung very widely among Churches of Christ, and as far as I have ever heard, the only widespread controversy about it is over the exact notes to be sung in the last phrase of the melody (let the reader understand). But I must thank my sister Laura for setting me puzzling again about another question that has occurred to me and probably others over the years--was Fanny Crosby's "raptured soul" referring to "The Rapture" as that term is used in Premillennial doctrine?

The Rapture and the Hymnal

The majority of Churches of Christ rejected this teaching several decades ago as impossible to reconcile with several plain, straightforward Scriptures. I recognize that this will surprise some readers who may assume that any group as conservative as we (generally) are would share the "end times" views of most fundamentalists. To put this as briefly as possible: Paul teaches that the faithful living will not leave this world with Christ before the resurrection of the faithful dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), and Jesus teaches that the resurrection of the faithful will occur along with the resurrection of the unfaithful in a common judgment (John 5:28-29). The simplest solution is that all of this occurs at once, when Jesus comes again--"and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him" (Revelation 1:7). What about Matthew 24:40-41, where "one shall be taken, and the other left"? We already know from 1 Thessalonians 4 that the faithful living and the faithful dead will "meet the Lord in the air," a blessing not promised to the unfaithful. The emphasis of the Matthew 24 passage is that judgment will come suddenly, in the midst of life, separating the righteous from the wicked as the judgment begins. By way of contrast, and I mean this kindly, compare this straightforward explanation to the labyrinth of frequently contradictory doctrines that have arisen from Premillennialism.  For further study on this topic, I recommend Don Blackwell's video presentation "No one left behind" as a good, clear summary.

But did we let something slip past us in the hymnal? I have never encountered a serious objection to this hymn myself, but it has been altered in several hymnals down through the years. A search of the available instances in shows that the most common alteration is simply to say "ransomed soul" instead of "raptured soul," as found in Tabernacle Hymns no. 4 (Chicago: Tabernacle Publishing, 1960), The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (Nashville: Word Music, 1986), The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991 and Lifeway, 2008 editions), The New Century Hymnal (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1995), The African American Heritage Hymnal (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2001), Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2006), and the Celebrating Grace Hymnal (Macon, Ga.: Celebrating Grace, 2010). The alteration of this single word in the refrain suggests that as the Rapture doctrine became more widely talked about in the late 20th century, at least some people wanted to avoid that implication. Interestingly, among the hymnals used by the churches of Christ, I have not found one that used this alteration--even Sacred Selections uses "raptured soul," and if any editor were going to change the words, it would have been Brother Crum! From a practical standpoint, though, "ransomed soul" is a neat solution, and many people would not notice the difference.

The Changing Meanings of "Rapture": The Verb

The Oxford English Dictionary,
1989 edition (Wikipedia)
Regardless of modern sensibilities about the word, what did Fanny Crosby mean when she wrote it in the chorus of this hymn? This makes an interesting study in the history of doctrines and the changing meanings of words. To understand what Mrs. Crosby meant by a "raptured soul," we need to know first what common usage was when the hymn was written in 1869. The Oxford English Dictionary is the most thorough and scholarly descriptive dictionary of the English language (20-plus massive volumes in the print version), and has the useful feature of tracking the history of a word through the centuries. The entry for "rapture" as a verb indicates that one might be "raptured," in the sense of being carried away with excitement, as early as 1636:
If he heare a strange Preacher, he at his comming down, as raptur'd with his Doctrine, salutes him with a cringe. --T. Heywood True Disc. Two Infamous Upstart Prophets
By contrast, the use of this verb in the Premillennial sense ("to cause (believers) to ascend into heaven as part of the rapture of the Church," OED) is first quoted from 1865:
To rise from the carnal with so little memory of earth--to be raptured as a blessed babe through the gates of Paradise. --J. H. Carroll in G. Hallock, History of the South Congregational Church
The OED is careful to note that in this instance, however, it may only mean "to cause to ascend into heaven after death." A clearer occurrence of the term in its specific, modern usage comes from 1899:
We shall in glory, by and by . . . Be raptured up; then as thy own Blood-purchased Bride, wilt share thy throne. --J. H. Garratt, Coming Judgment
This is a definite use of the word in connection with being physically taken up from this earth, obviously referencing 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Though the verb "to rapture" does not appear in any major English Bible translations, we find that in the Latin Vulgate, "will be caught up" in verse 17 is "rapiemur," the participle of which is "raptura" from which we derive our English word. (It should be noted, of course, that the Catholic Church has never taught a Premillennial Rapture.) It is likely that the influence of the Latin text led to the later use of "raptured" and "rapture" in reference to the teaching in this passage. The Rheims Bible of 1582 uses another form of this Latin root in 2 Corinthians 12:2, as Paul describes his experience of paradise: "I know a man in Christ above fourtene yeres agoe (whether in the body, I know not: or out of the body, I know not: God doth know) such a one rapt even to the third heaven." In the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage, however, the Rheims translators used "taken up" (English Hexapla).

The Changing Meanings of "Rapture": The Noun

As for the use of "rapture" as a noun, it obviously has a long history in describing "a state, condition, or fit of intense delight or enthusiasm" (OED), a definition that need not concern us here, and a more recent history in describing a specific eschatological event--"the transport of believers to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ." (Note that even the OED dodges the question of "pre-tribulation," etc.!) The OED's earliest cited example of the noun "rapture" in this context, complete with capital "R," is from 1768:
We have determined likewise, from the Circumstance of the Rapture of the Saints , . . that the Air or Atmosphere will be the Place of the Judgement. -- T. Broughton, Prospect of Futurity iii. viii. 357
This is not a Premillennial Rapture; read in context, Broughton placed the Rapture at the time of the general Judgment of all humanity. And though Broughton's writing is notable for using "the Rapture" repeatedly as a concept-word, he was not the first. Joseph Mede (1586-1638), a controversial Cambridge professor, used the the term "Rapture" in the early 17th century, but placed it after a Millennial reign of Christ on the earth:
Suppose therefore this Rapture of the Saints into the Aire be to translate them to Heaven; yet it might be construed thus, The dead in Christ (that is, for Christ, namely, the Martyrs) shall rise first; afterwards, (viz. a thousand years after) we which are alive and remain shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, and meet the Lord in the Aire, and so (from thenceforth) we shall ever be with the Lord (Works, book 4, epistle 22; italics in original).
Matthew Henry's commentary on the New Testament letters, published after his death in 1714, also uses the term "rapture" in his discussion of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.
Those that shall be found alive will then be changed. They shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, v. 17. At, or immediately before, this rapture into the clouds, those who are alive will undergo a mighty change, which will be equivalent to dying.
Henry, a prominent Postmillennialist, also placed the Rapture at the same time as the Judgment (Blaising, Gentry, Strimple 18). A similar use of the word by an early U.S. writer may be found in Samuel Blatchford's sermon "The excellency of the Scriptures," published in Albany, New York in 1811, though it is also possible that it might just refer to a state of ecstasy:
Where but in the sacred scriptures is the veil torn asunder, which concealed from mortals the great consummation of all things? The dissolving heavens--the melting elements--the burning globe--the resurrection of the dead--the erection of the throne of judgment--the assembling of the universe--the rapture of the saints as they pass through the portals of celestial glory--and the groans of the damned as they sink under the sentence of their God into the prison of despair? (Blatchford 25)
The Origins of the Capital-R "Rapture" in the Premillennial Context

The next instance given by the Oxford English Dictionary, however, is definitely describing "the Rapture" as it is spoken of today:
I am not aware that there was any definite teaching . . . that there would be a secret rapture of the saints at a secret coming (W. Kelly, Rapture of Saints, 1903).
John Nelson Darby (Wikipedia)
It is important to note, for sake of clarity, that Kelly was in fact quoting someone with whom he disagreed, though he does not identify the source of the quote. Kelly defended the concept of the Premillennial Rapture, and was speaking of the history of the doctrine within the Plymouth Brethren, and in the teachings of John N. Darby (1800-1882) in particular, of whom more in a moment. In this case the limited space of any dictionary, even the mighty OED, could lead to the incorrect conclusion based on the Kelly quote that the Premillennial Rapture was an invention of the last decades of the 19th century. As much easier as that would make the task of my inquiry, it should be noted that the concept of a Premillennial Rapture was taught in some circles, at least in the British Isles, considerably before the time Fanny Crosby wrote the hymn under discussion.

David Malcolm Bennett tells that Morgan Edwards (1722-1795), a Welsh Baptist who later settled in the American colonies, wrote of this concept in the 18th century (Origins, 172ff.). Edwards did not, however, use the term "Rapture" in his writings. The earliest clear usage of "Rapture" in a Premillennial context is apparently an essay in the September 1830 issue of Edward Irving's Morning Watch, written by one "T.W.C." (likely T. W. Chevalier), who describes the "rapture unto the Lord in the air" (T.W.C. 590). At this point the terminology seems to have stuck; a search of for the phrase "rapture of the saints" yields several instances from the 1830s, primarily from the press of John Nisbet, an Irving associate. One of the most dramatic evidences of this rise in popularity of the term and of the concept of a Premillennial Rapture is found in William Cuninghame's Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets of the Apocalypse; from the second edition of 1817 to the third edition of 1832, Cuninghame added a new chapter: "On the order of the events connected with the Second Advent of Our Lord," with a subsection on "The sudden advent of our Lord--the rapture of the saints" (491 ff.; cf. 2nd ed. contents, 3rd ed. contents)

It was not Irving and his immediate circle, however, who would popularize the concept of a pre-Tribulation Rapture as the doctrine is understood by its adherents today; Irving's embrace of tongue-speaking, new revelations, and especially his controversial views on Christ's humanity, placed him too far outside the mainstream (Landow). The torch of Premillennialism would be picked up instead by the Anglo-Irish minister and scholar, John N. Darby (William Kelly's article cited above goes to considerable lengths to argue against the direct influence of Irving on Darby). Darby was naturally most influential in the British Isles, but he also traveled to the United States and Canada in 1859, 1865-65, 1866-68, 1870, 1872-73, and 1874 (Schaff-Herzog). His influence apparently grew only slowly within the mainstream of American Evangelical thought, however, and did not begin to make inroads until the 1870s. The slower acceptance of this teaching in the U.S. might have been caused by the lingering impact of the "Great Disappointment" of 1844, when William Miller's widely publicized prediction of Christ's return failed to materialize (Court 122-123). Darby did however receive speaking invitations from such luminaries as Dwight Moody, who was certainly influenced by him (Schuck 517). Despite its relatively slower start, Premillennialism was in the air in the post-Civil War United States. Beginning with an informal meeting in New York in 1868, leaders from various denominations began to meet to discuss prophecy, leading to an annual meeting called the Niagara Prophecy Conference. With the publication of the 1878 "Niagara Creed," Premillennialism was undeniably an established movement in the United States (Stone 507-508).

Fanny Crosby and Her Theological Circle

Portrait of Fanny Crosby and songwriter
Ira Sankey (Wikimedia Commons)
But what was Fanny Crosby's relationship to such doctrinal issues, and to the people who espoused them? At this point it is useful to note a quote attributed to Crosby after her death by journalist William Hale Beckford: "I have never thought much about theology. The two all-important things, it seems to me, are character and kindness" (Beckford 247). Whether Crosby was really so theologically naive is debatable, but it fits with her generally non-doctrinaire hymns and personal associations. She was raised a "Calvinistic Presbyterian" (Crosby Memories 28), but an experience at a Methodist revival meeting in 1850 was the spiritual turning point in her life (Memories 96). One of the leading lights among New York City Methodists during this time, who no doubt influenced and reinforced Crosby's conversion, was Phoebe Palmer, author of The Way of Holiness and a founding theologian of the Wesleyan Holiness movement in the U.S. (Blumhofer 108ff.). (Palmer was the mother of Phoebe Palmer Knapp, composer of the music for "Blessed Assurance"). Crosby however still "frequently attended" the Dutch Reformed Church on 23rd Street (Memories 114).

In the course of writing Fanny Crosby's Story of Ninety-Four Years, her nephew Samuel Trevena Jackson asked Crosby to tell him about the great ministers she had known (chapter 9, "My notable preachers"). Her response to this prompt reveals a distinguished list of acquaintances among the Methodist leadership of her day, as well as a smattering of prominent Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians:
Randolph S. Foster
J. O. Peck
James M. Buckley
Charles Cardwell McCabe
Thomas Bowman
Edward Andrews
John P. Newman
John Fletcher Hurst
Phillips Brooks
Charles H. Fowler
Matthew Simpson
Henry Ward Beecher
Richard Salter Storrs
John Hall
Howard Crosby
Adolphus J. F. Behrends
Theodore L. Cuyler
Given the state of flux on the question of the Millennium among Evangelicals at the close of the 19th century, it is risky to say that none of these ever held Premillennial views. I can say at least that I found no evidence that any of these men did hold to those doctrines, and in some cases could show that they did not. Behrends, for example, said in The World for Christ (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1896):
It is equally clear that social and institutional changes are most directly and powerfully affected through changes in moral ideals and religious convictions. The process may be too slow for enthusiastic reformers who would bring in the millennium at a stroke, but it is the only steady and sure one. The Gospel is like leaven, working from within outward and leavening the whole lump (65).
This was classic Postmillennialism, a more common 19th-century view that looked for the return of Christ after a "Christian millennium" in which the gospel would convert the whole world. (That some Restoration Movement leaders believed the same is evident from Alexander Campbell's well known journal title Millennial Harbinger.) The same view is apparent in "The Second Coming of Our Lord" (Homiletic Review 21:1, 46-50) by Presbyterian John Hall, who takes Premillennialism to task kindly but firmly. Gillis Harp's biography of Phillips Brooks, yet another of Crosby's favorites, notes that his eschatology was defined in part by his reaction against Premillennialism during the 1870s (Harp 187). John Fletcher Hurst's Outline of Church History also treats the Premillennial movement as a disruption of Presbyterian unity.

Looking at the question from a different angle, we can know at least by 1878 who the leading lights were in Premillennialism. The Prophetic Conference held that year in New York City was thoroughly documented in a published record of the minutes, including a list of 114 clergy who endorsed the conference. Of this number, only six were Methodists, Fanny Crosby's own denomination; the majority were Presbyterians and Baptists. Premillennialism was just not that prominent in mainstream Methodism, either then or now. Not surprisingly, none of the churchmen Crosby listed for her nephew were involved, though the Prophetic Conference list does include Daniel W. Whittle (author of "I know Whom I have believed"), with whom Crosby was friends (Crosby Memories 137).

From Welcome Tidings (New York: Biglow & Main, 1877)
Another factor to consider is that Crosby saw herself as much as a crusader for social reform as a hymnwriter. She supported the Women's Christian Temperance Movement in songs such as "Onward! Onward! Temperance Band!" and "Cold Water Army" in 1870 (Blumhofer 195), and became a well known figure in the Bowery and other blighted neighborhoods of New York through her speaking engagements and one-on-one efforts to reach out to the physically and spiritually destitute (Blumhofer 285ff.). These "social gospel" efforts toward reforming the sinful world fit in with the older tradition of Postmillennialism, which saw the church reaching toward a golden Millennial age before the return of Christ. They were more or less at odds, however, with Premillennialism's apocalyptic view of the approaching end times, when the world would get worse and worse (Deichmann 104).  It certainly appears that Crosby, though she probably never made a public statement one way or the other, identified with the more traditional views espoused by the leading clergy she mentions in her biography.

There remains one significant influence to be accounted for--Dwight Lyman Moody. There is no question that the famous evangelist became convinced of Premillennialism; as noted above, he encountered John Darby during the 1870s and invited him to speak in his pulpit (Schuck 517), and was preaching Premillennialism himself by the end of the decade (Findlay 250). For the purposes of assessing Fanny Crosby's view of the Rapture doctrine in 1869 at the time of writing "Near the Cross," these facts are not especially relevant; Moody did not yet embrace the doctrine himself at that time. But it is worth asking--why did Crosby not list the most famous evangelist of the day among the luminaries recounted to her nephew at his prompting? Yes, there is a chapter devoted to Moody and Sankey in her Memories of Eighty Years, titled "Two Great Evangelists," but most of the chapter is devoted to the songleader Ira Sankey, whom Crosby clearly counted as a dear friend. By contrast her description of Moody is rather brief, though admiring. Then there is this interesting statement: "Dwight Lyman Moody was a wonderful man; and he did his own work in a unique way, which was sometimes no less daring than original" (Memories 131). It is possible to read too much into the statement, but is there a hint of ambivalence?

Fanny Crosby's Use of the Words "Rapture" and "Raptured" in Her Hymns

Turning back now to the more concrete question of how Crosby actually did use the term "rapture" in her hymns, we need to establish a baseline for the use of the word in general. In the broadest view, the Google Books Ngram Viewer shows that out of the billions of words indexed in Google Books, "rapture" or "raptured" occured in about .001% of American English publications in the very early 1800s, gradually declining through the century and then dropping off more sharply in the early 20th century to their present level at about .0002%. "Rapture" is the blue line, and "raptured" is the red line.

Click here to view the Ngram Viewer page (WARNING: HIGHLY ADDICTIVE!)
Using the graphing function at, we see hymns using the terms "rapture" and "raptured" experienced a similar decline when viewed as a percentage of the entire database of hymns (depicted in the red line and shaded area). The blue line is the number of actual instances of "rapture" in the indexed hymnals; the peak around 1880-1899 simply reflects the larger overall number of texts in the database from the late 1800s through the early 1900s.

But the bigger story told by these numbers is the percentage of hymns using the word "rapture" compared to the percentage of overall publications seen in the Google Books Ngram--the usage in hymns is dramatically higher, ranging from 1%-4%. Hymnwriting is to some extent an insular field, separated even from the broader field of poetry, and one supposes that the influence of previous generations holds greater sway--a supposition worth further study at another time.

The graph below shows the use of any form of "rapture" as a percentage of hymns in dating from the 1860s, when Crosby began her professional career in hymnwriting, to her death in 1915. Both the mean and median of these percentages round off to 2.5%. Of the 2,955 hymns by Fanny Crosby indexed in full text by, there are 90 hymns that use some form of the word "rapture," about 3.1% of her indexed total. This is higher than the overall average usage by her contemporaries, but only by 0.6%, and the average usage represented in the graph below actually met or exceeded Crosby's average in the periods 1866-1870, 1881-1890, and 1901-1905.

From this it appears that Crosby's use of the word "rapture" was in line with that of her contemporaries; certainly there was nothing unusual in her choice of the word. It remains now only to survey her hymns using the word "rapture" in its various forms and meanings, to see if she ever employed it in an eschatological context. provides 90 full-text hymns by Fanny Crosby that include some form of the word "rapture." Reviewing the possible meanings of the word discussed in preceding sections, most instances are clearly using "rapture" in the common sense of excitement (or "raptured" in the sense of being caught up in excitement). Some of the better known examples follow:

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending, bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Only the most rabid hobbyist (and I have known a few) could coax out an eschatological meaning from "Blessed assurance;" the "visions of rapture" are even explained in the succeeding lines, as the blind poet imagines "angels descending" and "whispers of love." The overwhelming joy is rooted in the here and now, as expressed in the refrain:

This is my story, this is my song; 
praising my Savior all the day long.

Or consider this stanza from "A Wonderful Savior":

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns, 
and filled with His fullness divine, 
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God 
for such a Redeemer as mine!

Unless this is looking forward to singing during the actual process of Rapture, the obvious meaning is that the speaker, being in a state of rapture or heightened emotion, is singing praises. Common sense also must prevail in the reading of the following stanza of this well known song:

Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus,
no language my rapture can tell
I know that the light of His presence
with me doth continually dwell.

Even in songs that do speak of the transition to the future life, there are abundant examples such as "After the mist and shadow" in which Crosby obviously speaks of "rapture" in its common usage:

After the pilgrim journey,
Rapture that ne’er shall cease,
Over the silent river,
Rest in the land of peace.

The timing of the event is perhaps viable, but a "rapture that ne'er shall cease" hardly matches the popular eschatological doctrine. The examples could go on and on--in other texts Crosby speaks of "heights of rapture," "the rapture of pardon," "the rapture of redeeming love," "heights of sacred rapture," and "songs of rapture." These songs use "rapture" in its common sense of an intense state of joy, as it would most likely be understood by within the poetic style of the time, and really need no further comment.

There remain some two dozen texts that use the term "rapture" in connection with the end times, which deserve a closer look. Again, most of these upon examination are clearly not referring to the capital-R Rapture.

"Behold, the dawn is breaking." The third stanza speaks of the "dawn of rapture," but the context of the hymn is clearly the final revelation of Christ to all the earth in the Second Coming: "When all the earth awaking / At Jesus' name shall bow."

"There's a Friend that abides." The final stanza includes the lines:

O, the song that will break,
when to rapture I wake,
and in glory with Him I shall be!

"Waking" to the eschatological Rapture seems an odd expression, whereas "waking from the sleep of death" (that is, in resurrection) to see Jesus will certainly be an event of rapturous joy. The same situation exists in the next hymn.

 "The near tomorrow." The "rapture, holy rapture" is found in the final stanza:

When our pilgrim life is ended,
and we view the setting sun,
when the labors of the harvest
we have finished one by one.

Oh the rapture, holy rapture;
Oh the shout of glad surprise,
in the near and bright tomorrow
when we ope our waking eyes.

Again the singer speaks of waking from sleep, the common Christian metaphor for death; the fourth line also indicates that it is a rest from labors that "we have finished one by one," reinforcing the context of individual death and then a common resurrection.

"Home at last." Crosby uses the unusual phrase "holy rapture" in this song as well, in the context of a song heard from the saints we meet on the other side:

Hark the song of holy rapture,
hear it break from yonder strand
where our friends for us are waiting,
in the golden summer land.

The songs of heaven are by nature "rapturous" in the emotional sense, but it hardly seems likely that Crosby referenced an imagined song about the Rapture event.

"O morn of bliss eternal." This hymn starts out with a "rapture" reference, but rather soon clarifies the setting. The eschatology is actually rather traditional.

O morn of bliss eternal,
what will our rapture be,
when clothed in power and glory,
our blessed Lord we see.

When He in clouds descending
shall come to claim His own
and gather all, both great and small,
around His Father's throne.

There are some of Crosby's texts in which the meaning is uncertain, at least once the question is in mind. What Crosby intended will have to be judged on the preponderance of the evidence about her own beliefs on the subject, as we are attempting to ascertain.

"The midnight cry." This little known text builds on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), and includes the lines:

Then, with rapture complete, 
our Beloved we shall meet,
when midnight shall echo the cry.

Obviously the question is, does this mean "when the Rapture is complete," or "with complete rapture as an emotional state." How one reads it depends on one's beliefs. The parable beginning Matthew 25 is read in context of Matthew 24, and often figures in debates within the Premillennial community over the nature of the Rapture. If I were a believer in the Rapture doctrine, I might well read this text in that meaning.

"In my Father's dwelling above." The passage in question is the refrain:

O the rapture, O the rapture,
when I reach my Father’s dwelling bright and fair!
O the rapture, O the rapture,
when the King shall receive me there.

I take this also as "a state of rapturous joy," because reading it as referring to the Rapture event makes it sound a little unnatural. Once again, however, I am not sure how much my own bias is reflected.

"O the bliss, the holy rapture!"

Again I am strongly inclined to read this at face value--an equating of "bliss" and "holy rapture," especially after the use of "holy rapture" in that context in other hymns mentioned above. The title phrase is used at the beginnings of the first and final stanzas, as well as in the refrain.

O the bliss, the holy rapture when from earth we glide away
to the realms of endless splendor, to the soul’s eternal day;
to the golden fields of Eden with the pure and blest above,
where the saints of all ages sing of His redeeming love.

O the bliss, the holy rapture!
when array’d in garments fair,
we shall dwell amid the glory
of the King who bro’t us there.

O the bliss, the holy rapture, when we see Him on His throne,
in the land where death and sorrow shall forever be unknown;
Nevermore will clouds oppress us, nevermore will shadows come,
for eternal day surrounds us in that everlasting home.

Again, if I knew that Fanny Crosby believed in the Rapture doctrine, I might be inclined to take her language in that sense. Her connection to that belief being unproven, and even shown to be unlikely, I can only say that I believe these songs are not likely to have been intended in that sense.

The final few songs to examine are those that actually use the phrase that started this inquiry in the first place, "raptured soul." In addition to the ubiquitous Crosby favorite "Jesus, keep me near the cross," there are four other songs in which she uses this expression.

"I know not what a day may bring." This little known Crosby song has much to recommend it, speaking as it does of daily faith in the face of a life of difficulty. The line in question here occurs in the final stanza:

I know not if my waking eyes
another day may see;
but angel wings will quickly bear
my raptured soul to thee.

The writer seems to speak not of a Rapture in the midst of life, but of death and the transport of the soul to paradise. The expression "waking eyes" implies contrast with the "sleep" spoken of in other songs already mentioned.

"Once more at rest." This hymn was published with music by Ira Sankey in Sacred Songs No. 2, in 1899. The physical and financial difficulties of Crosby's later years are apparent in the lyrics. The passage in question is in the final stanza:

Once more at rest, I view the silent river,
whose placid waves Thy love will bear me o’er;
there, home at last, my raptured soul for ever
will fold her wings, where sorrow comes no more. 

The "silent river" is a common metaphor for death. The soul is "raptured" in the sense of experiencing bliss on the other side, but cannot refer to a Premillennial Rapture.

"Lord, abide with me." Here also we find a "raptured soul" in heaven following death, in the final two stanzas:

When the shades of death prevail,
Father, let me cling to Thee;
when I pass the gloomy vale,
Lord, abide with me.

Then, O then, my raptured soul
heav’n’s eternal rest shall see;
there, while endless ages roll,
live and reign with me.

"On joyful wings." This hymn speaks of "our raptured souls" in the context of a desire to depart for heaven:

On joyful wings our raptured souls
would mount and spread their flight,
and from Mount Pisgah’s top behold
the land of pure delight.

"Keep me ever close to Thee." For the last of these examples, we have a hymn in which "raptured" is used in two different contexts, one eschatological and one not:

There in holy, sweet communion
with Thy Spirit day by day,
faith to realms of light and glory
bears my raptured soul away.

Close to Thee, O Savior, keep me,
till I reach the shining shore,
till I join the raptured army,
shouting joy forevermore.

The second of the two stanzas speaks of joining a "raptured army" in heaven. Nothing in this stanza alone seems to point toward either interpretation. The prior stanza, however, uses "raptured soul" in an obviously figurative sense and in the context of the here and now: the soul's departure to heaven (by whatever means) is not spoken of until the final stanza. In the preceding stanza, the writer speaks of our "day by day" walk with the Spirit, and says that "faith... bears my raptured soul away... to realms of light and glory." The "bearing away" of the soul is purely figurative, and the adjective "raptured" can hardly mean other than a state of joy.

A Final Point of Comparison

In addition to the hymns of Fanny Crosby herself, it is interesting to look at the use of such terms as "raptured soul" in the hymns that preceded her body of work.

Charles Wesley, "A hymn for midnight" (1739). Crosby's Methodist faith makes Wesley particularly important. Here is an example of the phrase "raptured soul" from the founding hymnist of that tradition himself:

Aid me, ye hovering spirits near,
angels and ministers of grace;
who ever, while you guard us here,
behold your heavenly Father’s face!
gently my raptured soul convey
to regions of eternal day.

Whether "raptured" here means full of joy, or carried off to heaven (either makes sense in context), Wesley was certainly not Premillennial in his views.

Samuel Stennett, "On Jordan's stormy banks" (1787). Here is a more obvious usage, from a perennial favorite :

Filled with delight my raptured soul
would here no longer stay;
though Jordan's waves around me roll,
fearless I'd launch away.

Not only does the writer contemplate death rather than capital-R Rapture, but his "raptured soul" is a present, not future, state of being.

Philip Doddridge, "Eternal and immortal King" {1755, posthumous publication). Here the "raptured soul" is a response to contemplation of the Almighty:

Then every tempting form of sin,
shamed in Thy presence, disappears;
and all the glowing raptured soul
the likeness it contemplates, wears.


From all the above it appears obvious that there is little reason to suppose that Fanny Crosby believed in a Premillennial Rapture, or that she referred to this in her songs. Hopefully this inquiry demonstrates, however, some of the issues surrounding the difficulty of determining the intent of hymn lyrics, and some strategies for approaching the question.

In the end however, we have to admit that even clear, everyday communications between friends can be misinterpreted; much more the poetic stylings of more than a century ago, when the author is unavailable for comment! Let us always be thoughtful about the words we sing in worship, and let us be reasonable in our judgment when we find fault.


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