Saturday, December 3, 2022

Give Me the Bible

 Praise for the Lord #154

Words: Priscilla J. Owens, 1883
Music: Edmund S. Lorenz, 1883

Priscilla Jane Owens (1829-1907) is best remembered today for her songs "We have heard the joyful sound (Jesus saves!)" and "Will your anchor hold?", both set to stirring music by William J. Kirkpatrick and published in 1882. These are remarkably successful examples of gospel song and hold up well (as does the song under consideration here), but her name has otherwise faded from memory. It is worthwhile to note, then, that an editorial in a Methodist journal in 1911 mentioned “Priscilla J. Owens, Mrs. Joseph F. Knapp, Josephine Pollard, and Fannie Crosby” as examples of notable women hymnists ("Let us sing"). Mrs. Knapp is Phoebe Knapp, better known as the composer of Fanny Crosby's "Blessed assurance", and Josephine Pollard was a nationally known children's author as well as a hymnwriter. By comparison to Crosby, of course, Owens wrote "only" 200+ lyrics; but this was never the focus of her very full life of community and church service.

P.S. 10 at Hollins & Schroeder, from an 1869 map
Priscilla Owens was born and raised in Baltimore, the daughter of Isaac Owens, a commercial merchant on the old Dugan's Wharf (Matchett's 1851 205). He was prosperous enough to provide her an education at the Patapsco Institute, followed by secondary education at the Ladies' Collegiate Institute (Perine 206), and eventually the family moved into the more fashionable environs of Lombard Street and the Union Square district. Priscilla never married, instead pursuing a career in the public schools, where she served for an impressive half-century. Her first appointment, in the 1852/53 school year, was as an assistant teacher at Female Primary School No. 9 (Ordinances 1853 243). She must have made an impression; within three years she was moved up to fill a vacancy for principal at Male Primary School No. 7 (Twenty-Seventh Annual Report 27). She remained ten years, then took over as principal at Male Primary School No. 10, where she and three assistants taught 199 boys (Thirty-Seventh Annual Report 172). Owens was still principal there in 1880 (Woods' Baltimore City Directory 1880 1139), but that fall was reassigned as an assistant teacher at Female Primary School No. 8 ("Sitzung" 7 July 1880). She was only 51, so this seems an early retirement, but she had already been a principal for 25 years. She may have wanted a less demanding position that allowed more time for her growing Sunday School work; another possibility is that the school board wanted to use Owens as a mentor to younger teachers. As late as 1880 she was serving as an assistant teacher to a group of schools ("Sitzung" 7 July 1880).

Priscilla Owens's gospel song career began with a bang in 1871, when composer and publisher Asa Hull published no fewer than 34 of her lyrics in a single book. Though his name has faded from the modern repertoire, William Reynolds placed Hull alongside William Bradbury, George F. Root, William H. Doane, and Robert Lowry as founders of the Sunday school gospel song (104), and Benson narrows it further, speaking of "Sunday school songs of the Hull and Bradbury school" (484). Though they were based in different cities, Hull and Owens likely knew each other--or of each other--though their work in the Methodist Sunday school organizations. Asa Hull's works found in WorldCat show that he was publishing Sunday school songbooks in Boston as early as 1862 and moved his operations to Philadelphia by 1865. His Casket of Sunday School Melodies (1865) was successful enough to warrant a supplemental issue, then was reissued in 1869 in a combined format. Though Hull generally issued a new book every year, his output slowed in the late 1860s. His 1871 offering, Sparkling Rubies, has the appearance of striking off in a new direction, and it is here that Priscilla Owens enters the picture:

In presenting "Sparkling Rubies" for public consideration and popular favor we feel called upon merely to state that much care has been exercised in the selection of hymns and the proper adaptation of the music to the same, as well as the appropriateness of the whole to the existing wants of the Sunday-School, which seem to be in the direction of new but sound evangelical hymns set to pure yet enthusiastic and inspiring music.

The several contributors whose names appear over their respective contributions are writers of experience and ability, and the editors feel under great obligations to them for their kind assistance as well as for their manifested interest in the success of the work.

They feel especially indebted to Miss Priscilla J. Owens for the great variety of excellent Hymns written expressly for this work, and bespeak for her contributions that generous appreciation on the part of the public, to which they are justly entitled (Sparkling Rubies preface).

Hull's assistant in this work, Harry Sanders, was a Baltimore musician and piano seller whose Sanders & Stayman Co. would become a mainstay of Baltimore musical life ("Fifth Avenue"). He also published a couple of small hymn collections through the Methodist Episcopal Book Room of that city, and sometimes led the singing for the Methodist Episcopal General Conference in Baltimore (Journal of the General Conference 1876 359), so he was likely well known to Priscilla Owens. Sanders wrote the music for the majority of Owens's songs in Sparkling Rubies (27 out of 34).

Owens's songs from Sparkling Rubies were reprinted in other Asa Hull publications during the 1870s, and a few new songs appeared during that decade, but it was not until the 1880s that Priscilla Owens produced another large body of works for a single publication. (Interestingly, this was when she moved to an assistant teacher position instead of being a principal; perhaps she had more time to focus on writing.) In 1880 two publications appeared that show her entering into a different orbit of gospel song publishing: Missionary Songs (New York: Lorenz & Co., 1880), edited by Edmund S. Lorenz, and The Quiver of Sacred Song (Philadelphia: John J. Hood, 1880), edited by John R. Sweney and William J. Kirkpatrick. Once again, the songs themselves were not lasting favorites, but it was the first time her lyrics came into the hands of the two composers who would set her most popular songs. William J. Kirkpatrick, who set to music "We have heard the joyful sound" and "Will your anchor hold?", would eventually be responsible for the music of 57 of Owens's 240+ hymns; Edmund Lorenz, who set "Give me the Bible", would write the music for 52 of them.

"Give me the Bible" first appeared in Holy Voices for the Sunday School (Dayton, Ohio: W. J. Shuey, 1883), edited by Edmund S. Lorenz and Isaiah Baltzell. This book contained 29 new songs by Priscilla Owens, and though she is not singled out in the preface, her contributions far outnumber those of any other author and the first song in the book is one of hers. The 1880s proved to be Owens's most productive period, averaging a dozen new songs published each year; but though her output fell to four or five each year in later years, new Priscilla Owens songs were still appearing even in the decade following her death. She also lived to see some of her most popular songs published in German, Spanish, Norwegian, and Swedish, and sung around the world.

From Himmelwaerts (Dayton, Ohio: Lorenz & Co., 1899). German-speaking churches
were common in the Midwestern U.S. during the late 19th century.

Now for the text itself.

Christians who hold the Bible as the only authoritative source of doctrine and practice, and who take a high view of inspiration, are sometimes accused of "Bibliolatry." It is certainly a problem to be taken seriously, because Jesus took it seriously. He had these chilling words for some of His listeners: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). With the first-century Pharisees and with us today, it is all too possible to have a dedication to Scripture and yet completely miss the point. But sometimes that accusation is a reflection of a culture, even among some who sincerely wish to follow Jesus, that resists recognizing an authoritative standard. This is equally wrong, and the Bible--the only objective source we have, when all is said and done, for the teachings of Jesus and His followers--is clear that it is to be taken as such a standard or not at all.

Jesus himself taught a high view of the Scriptures. In His temptation in the wilderness, He famously countered Satan's arguments with Scripture, stating first that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). In this He acknowledged that 1) there is a Word that comes from the mouth of God--as Paul would later say, "breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16)--and that 2) that Word is just as important to spiritual life as bread is to physical life. Jesus said that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), that the Word is truth (John 17:17), and that it alone will set us free (John 18:32). The Word spoken by Jesus is equally authoritative: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35); it will make us clean (John 15:3) and will be spirit and life to us (John 6:63).

Jesus conferred the same authority to the Scriptures to be revealed through His chosen spokesmen, according to His promise to the apostles in John 16:

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:12-14).

Paul reflected on this in addressing the Christians in Thessalonica: "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Peter echoed these thoughts in his first letter, equating the gospel he preached with the inspired word of God spoken of in Isaiah 40:6, when he said:

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever." And this word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

Let us respect, love, and revere the Bible because of the One who gave it for our everlasting benefit. And for this reason, if we occasionally have a song that simply states this doctrine as a reminder of the importance of Scripture in our lives, no apology seems necessary.

Stanza 1:

Give me the Bible, star of gladness gleaming,
To cheer the wand'rer, lone and tempest-tossed;
No storm can hide that radiance peaceful beaming
Since Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Printed below the title of this song in its first publication is the verse, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). Light as a metaphor for truth and righteousness, as well as for knowledge and wisdom, is found developed throughout the Scriptures. To this famous line from the great acrostic Psalm we may add the earlier Psalm 43, verse 3, "Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling!" The Proverbs add a note of progression out of darkness as one follows this light: "The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day" (4:18). 

These thoughts are echoed by the New Testament writers, but pointing more specifically to the great Source of this light. Paul tells his readers that "God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Peter seems to echo the verse from Proverbs when he says, "We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19). 

The "star of gladness gleaming" that guides the "wanderer, lone and tempest-tossed" first calls to mind the use of stars for navigation, fixed points that guided sailors to their destinations centuries before satellites and GPS. The stars don't lie; in fact, since the advent of electronic "GPS spoofing" the U.S. Navy has reinstated this skill requirement for officers. Spiritually speaking, the Bible is that fixed star that will always give us the true direction again no matter how confused our present course. But looking at the metaphorical (and actual) use of stars in Scripture, we might also consider how a star led three men to Jesus, and Peter's mention of the "morning star" that rises in our hearts. At the end of John's Revelation, Jesus declares himself "the bright morning star" (22:16); according to Peter, then, the word of God is a lesser light that guides us to the full glory of Jesus. 

The power of this lamp's light is the power of the One who lit it, and "no storm can hide" it--"the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The promise toward which this light guides us is the salvation that comes through Him who declared himself "the Light of the World" and promised His followers "the light of life" (John 8:12). The Bible's great purpose is to lead us to the light of salvation though Jesus's sacrifice; "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). 


Give me the Bible, holy message shining,
Thy light shall guide me in the narrow way;
Precept and promise, law and love combining,
Till night shall vanish in eternal day.

Psalm 119:130 also draws on the metaphor of the Word as light: "The unfolding of Your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple." It shines the light of knowledge--of God's will, of ourselves, and of this fallen world--on our surroundings, and makes it possible to choose our way with certainty. "When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to Your testimonies; I hasten and do not delay to keep Your commandments" (Psalm 119:59-60). The "narrow way" here of course refers to Jesus' words in Matthew 7:14, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Not surprisingly, both the Hebrew Testament and the New Testament emphasize the need to keep this lamp of truth close at hand in daily life:

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth (Deuteronomy 11:18-21).

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Priscilla Owens found a happy turn of phrase with "precept and promise, law and love combining." Twenty-one times in the 119th Psalm the word "precepts" is found (in the KJV), emphasizing the necessity of keeping God's appointed "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots". (Let those who scoff at the idea of commandments have one of the Ten broken against them, and they are usually found on God's side of the matter!) But if the Bible tells us in precepts what we must and must not do, it is also full of God's promises of what He will do. In the preface to his All the Promises of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer notes that people have come up with widely varying numbers when trying to count all of God's promises in Scripture. One even claimed over 30,000 promises, nearly equal to the number of verses in the Bible, which in a certain sense is correct. As Joshua said in his farewell address to Israel, 

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14).

Joshua had seen his people enslaved to a great world power and had seen that power humbled by the judgment of God. He had seen the Red Sea parted and the terrifying presence of the Lord at Sinai. He had been through the wilderness where by all rights the nation should have perished from thirst and hunger and had seen God provide for them every time. He had seen the sun stand still in the sky, the flood of the Jordan parted, and the walls of Jericho fall down. In all of it he could clearly see that "not one word failed" of what God had promised.

The Bible also perfectly blends law and love. Law without love is legalism; but love without law is equally undesirable, for our understanding of love is a work in progress, still warped by selfishness. The core of the discussion of this topic in Romans 13 is this:

For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:9-10). 

But lest we take from this the idea that "just love one another" is the only law we need to observe, John has a rejoinder: 

Whoever says "I know Him" but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him (1 John 2:4-5).

Keeping the law without love is missing the point; but our love must be guided and guarded through the wisdom of God's Word. And from God's side, the Word demonstrates that perfect example of steadfast love exhibited through firm guidance.

Stanza 2:

Give me the Bible when my heart is broken,
When sin and grief have filled my soul with fear;
Give me the precious words by Jesus spoken,
Hold up faith's lamp to show my Savior near

In the second stanza Miss Owens points out the role the Bible has always played in times of trial and anxiety. I think of how Psalm 4:8 came to my mind as I waited to fall under the effects of anesthetic before a lengthy surgery: "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." I remember visiting an elderly neighbor in the hospital on what turned out to be his last night in this world, and how he, being unable to speak, pointed to his Bible and signed "2... 3..." I understood then that he wanted me to read the 23rd Psalm. We could all multiply instances in which we opened our Bibles in the depths of despair and found a solid place upon which to stand. Psalm 119:28 says well, "My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your word!" And in times of anxiety, especially in those small hours of the morning when we feel most alone, how often we echo the words of Psalm 130:5, "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I hope." A friend nearby is a blessing, but for the wisdom of ages we turn elsewhere: "Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors" (Psalm 119:24).

Most comforting of all, of course, are the words of Jesus himself--because He understands where we are crying out from. His heart was broken. His grief over the sins of the world sometimes overwhelmed His soul. He faced the horror of His upcoming Crucifixion in Gethsemane. Whatever you are going through, however dark the night of the soul, Jesus knows. And as we read His words in time of need, we hear again the steady voice that said so often "Be not afraid." To Jairus, who had just heard that his precious daughter had died, Jesus said, "Do not be afraid, only believe" (Mark 5:36). To the terrified disciples in an early-morning storm on Galilee, He said "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27). To His troubled followers on the night of His betrayal He said, "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27b). The words of Jesus are comfort and encouragement, instruction and guidance. We need to keep close to those words at all times, remembering Peter's amazed statement, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). 

Stanza 3:

Give me the Bible, all my steps enlighten,
Teach me the danger of these realms below;
That lamp of safety o'er the gloom shall brighten,
That light alone the path of peace can show.

It is an interesting exercise to go through the clearance section of a used bookstore and spot the titles of yesterday's best-seller self-help books. For decades now there has been no end of "7 Habits of X" or "The Power of Y", and though I am sure some of them are helpful, I can't help but think that many of them were chiefly helpful to the author's own finances. A common thread, of course, is that most are accessible, quick reads that promise positive results with a few easy steps. 

The Bible doesn't come with that guarantee. Some of it is more accessible, of course; many people in the world recognize the truth of some of the Proverbs or the famous sayings of Jesus, even if they do not know the source. But the Bible doesn't come a la carte, and we must reckon also with the difficulties of the Word, such as God described in His call to Isaiah:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here I am! Send me." And He said, "Go, and say to this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." (Isaiah 6:8-10).

Part of this, of course, is that the Bible says some things we understand perfectly well and just don't want to hear. But the greater part is an actual inability to grasp the meaning (as Jesus referenced when quoting this passage). Receiving the Bible's wisdom and guidance requires us to put aside a lot of what the world holds as truth, and to learn to think in God's way with God's values. It is a lifetime of unlearning and learning as we become more the kind of people God means us to be.

But as difficult as it sounds (and is), it is the only sure path. The second section of the 119th Psalm begins with a famous passage on the guidance of a young man, which is just as true for any person of any age:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments! I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:9-11).

 The time to look at a map is before, not after, you get lost. Though we will often be looking to the Bible to find guidance in correcting the messes we have gotten ourselves into, it is a better policy to commit its wisdom to our hearts ahead of time. Paul advised Timothy to work at this diligently: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 1:13). The power in the Word is from God, but it does not just magically jump into our minds. Even Paul and Timothy had to apply themselves to study. "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Only an instrument of such power can cut through the devil's lies and reveal the right path; only an instrument of such power can strike fire again in a stony heart. 

But like anything so powerful, one must learn to use it correctly. When soldiers in training are issued their rifles, they are expected to learn not only to fire them accurately, but to operate them safely and maintain them correctly. They are taught each part and its function, and are drilled in each action to be taken with the weapon. Each rifle is someone's individual responsibility, and woe to the recruit who fails to use and maintain the weapon correctly! Paul shows the same seriousness toward the Scriptures: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15). It is our reliable roadmap, a trusty tool that will be ready for any occasion, and it will be worth every minute of time we take in learning how best to benefit from it.

Stanza 4:
Give me the Bible, lamp of life immortal,
Hold up that splendor by the open grave;
Show me the light from heaven's shining portals,
Show me the glory gilding Jordan's wave.

The final stanza of this song shows the help the Bible brings at the final crisis of earthly life, with a frankness that may be startling to non-Christians. Was such casual discussion of "open graves" appropriate in what was after all a Sunday School song? In the time Priscilla Owens wrote this text, of course, people far more often died at home, and the care of the body was more likely to be handled by family and friends. Given the higher mortality rates from what are today preventable diseases, the child in that environment would have seen bodies, funerals, and graves multiple times by the time they were old enough to read this text.

But there is more to it than that; the Christian even in a modern first-world setting is confronted with death, talks about death, and sings about death as a matter of course. Physical death is appointed for us all (Hebrews 9:27), and the problem of death (physical and spiritual) could be said to underlie all of Scripture. We do not deny death and pretend it isn't there; instead, we can look in the "open grave" (whether of a loved one, or considering our own someday) with understanding, grieving but not grieving "as others do who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We understand because we have this word from the Lord:

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. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).

And how often have Christians carried out the exhortation in that last verse? How many times have these words gotten someone through the hardest day of their life? Many other passages could be suggested as well, that have been tried and true in comforting the dying and the bereaved. The light of that "lamp unto our feet" shines far enough to "gild Jordan's wave," reflecting its light on the dark waters to be crossed and spying out the better land on the other side, the source of all light. Christians, hold onto that lamp and follow its guidance, it is the only sure way to end up at last with the great Author of the Book!

About the music:

From Wikimedia Commons
Edmund Simon Lorenz (1854-1942) was a man of amazing intellectual vitality. His father, a German immigrant, was a newspaper editor and preacher for the United Brethren, and no doubt raised his son in an environment of learning and inquiry. But though Edmund would eventually follow in his father's footsteps as an ordained minister, the demand for his musical and editorial abilities started early. Lorenz became the music editor for the United Brethren Publishing House in Dayton, Ohio when he was just 19 years old, and from 1876 on he supplied them with numerous Sunday school and revival songbooks, not to mention the popular Otterbein Hymnal (1890) and the official Church Hymnal of 1934. Somehow, he also found time to complete a B.A. and M.A. (simultaneously, of course) at Otterbein University, then a Bachelor of Divinity at Yale, all by 1883. His composing and editing continued while he was pastor of the High Street Brethren congregation in Dayton from 1884-1886, and during a brief stint as president of Lebanon Valley College (Porter).

An unspecified health crisis forced Lorenz to resign from Lebanon Valley College in 1889, and in 1890 he turned to church music as a full-time endeavor. The Lorenz Corporation, founded that year and still going strong, became a major force in gospel music publishing, and in choral music publishing in general. Lorenz also wrote several books on church music, most notably Practical Church Music (1909) and The Singing Church (1935) (Porter). Though he primarily published gospel music, Lorenz's writings show that he also had a deep respect for the classical hymn tradition; he simply wanted the best music for the purpose people at hand. Blessed with a long life, he was a living link from the earliest days of gospel music, and a reminder of the sometimes neglected part that the Northern states played in its development. Some of his other well-known compositions are "Come, let us all unite to sing", "Tell it to Jesus", and "Thou thinkest, Lord, of me", for all of which he provided the music.

Holy Voices, published in 1883 by W. J. Shuey (a publishing agent within the United Brethren house), was co-edited with Isaiah Baltzell, a well-known church leader in the United Brethren as well as a songwriter (best remembered for "I want to be a worker for the Lord"). Baltzell was from Maryland and preached in Baltimore during the late 1850s (Hall 116), so it is possible that he might have been the connection with Priscilla Jane Owens. (The Brethren and Methodists shared a lot of history in Baltimore through the friendship of Philip Otterbein and Francis Asbury, leaders in their respective denominations in the late 1700s.)

The tune of "Give me the Bible" shows the usual economy of means that often marks a well-constructed gospel song. The rhythm of the first two measures flows naturally from a reading of the first line of text, and these two rhythms (long-short-short-long-long and short-short-short-short-long-long) provide the moderate but steady forward motion of the melody throughout. The four lines of the stanza are set as a parallel period (abab'), while the chorus begins with a little more contrast before repeating the closing two phrases of the stanza (cdab'). The overall form of the stanza and chorus together, then, might be represented as AA'BA', with interlocking parallel structures on two levels. (Or, put more simply, it sings well; but I can't resist analyzing why it sings well.)

A particularly good use is made of the range and voicing of the chords at the opening of the chorus, on the phrase "Give me the Bible". Throughout the stanza, the parts are written in typical ranges for congregational singing. The soprano stays within the treble staff. The alto circles around the bottom line of the treble staff, dipping a couple of notes below and rising a couple of notes above. The tenor does the same with the top line of the bass staff, and the bass is within the staff. There is a lot of range to work with in this format, and Lorenz takes advantage of it by having first the alto move in parallel with the melody ("star of gladness gleaming"), and then the tenor ("lone and tempest-tossed"). But at the opening of the chorus--and the restatement of the key idea of the text--all the voices are pushed into the upper end of their ranges. The alto leaps up to an A-flat, the beginning of a higher section of the voice's range, and the tenor is above the staff in the range where it comes through more brightly. These five chords ring out like a trumpet call, calling attention to the plea of the text.


Twenty-Seventh Annual Report of the Commissioners of Public Schools. Baltimore: Samuel Sands Mills, 1856.

Thirty-Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Public Schools. Baltimore: James Young, 1866.

Benson, Louis F. The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship. New York: Hodder & Stoughton, George H. Doran company, 1915.

"The 'Fifth Avenue' piano store of Baltimore." The Music Trade Review 63:10 (2 September 1916), page 15.

Hall, John Jacob. Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers. New York: Revell, 1914.

Holy Voices for the Sunday School, and other services of the church, edited by Edmund S. Lorenz & Isaiah Baltzell. Dayton, Ohio: W. J. Shuey, 1883.

Journal of the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Baltimore, Md., May 1-31, 1876. New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1876.

“Let us sing Psalms exclusively.” The Church School Journal (Cincinnati: Methodist Book Concern), 43:7 (July 1911), 478. N.B. The title of the editorial is meant sarcastically, in response to criticism of Sunday School music.

Lockyer, Herbert. All the Promises of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1962.

Matchett's Baltimore Directory 1851. Baltimore : R.J. Matchett, 1851. 

Ordinances and Resolutions of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore 1853. Baltimore: Jos. Robinson, 1853.

Perine, George Corbin. The Poets And Verse-writers of Maryland: with Selections from Their Works. Cincinnati: The Editor Publishing Co., 1898.

Porter, Ellen Jane Lorenz. "Edmund S. Lorenz."

Reynolds, William Jensen. A Survey of Christian Hymnody. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.

"Sitzung der Stadt-Schulbehörde." Der Deutsche Correspondent (Baltimore), 7 July 1880, page 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

"Sitzung der Stadt-Schulbehörde." Der Deutsche Correspondent (Baltimore), 24 January 1901, page 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Sparkling Rubies: a Choice Collection of New Sunday-School Music, edited by Asa Hull, assisted by Harry Sanders. Philadelphia: A. Hull & Co., 1871.

Woods' Baltimore City Directory 1880. Baltimore, Md : John W. Woods, 1880. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Footsteps of Jesus

 Praise for the Lord #153

Words: Mary B. C. Slade, 1871
Music: Asa Brooks Everett, 1871

The author and composer of this hymn having been covered at length in two earlier posts, I will add just a little more here about the history and reception of this song, variously titled "Footsteps of Jesus" or "Footprints of Jesus" (the latter is the phrase actually used in the refrain, but the former is more commonly used as the title). Statistics from the page for this text show that it has actually increased in average popularity over the years, appearing in 25% of the indexed hymnals from the late 20th century. In our current century it appears in the Baptist Hymnal (2008 edition), the Worship and Service Hymnal from Hope Publishing, The New National Baptist Hymnal, Rejoice Hymns (Fundamental Baptist), Celebrating Grace Hymnal (Baptist), and The Christian Life Hymnal (Hendrickson Publishing), to name a few.

It first appeared, along with many other Slade-Everett songs, in Good News (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1876), edited by Rigdon McIntosh. It originally appeared with seven stanzas and a refrain:

Stanza 1:
Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
Come, follow Me!
And we see where Thy footprints falling,
Lead us to Thee.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus wheree'er they go.

Stanza 2:
Though they lead o'er the cold dark mountains,
Seeking His sheep;
Or along by Siloam's fountains,
Helping the weak.

Stanza 3:
If they lead through the temple holy,
Preaching the word;
Or in homes of the poor and lowly,
Serving the Lord.

Stanza 4:
Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,
We follow Thee;
Through the gloom of that place of weeping,

Stanza 5:
If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,
We go again,
Up the slope of the hill-side, bearing
Our cross of pain.

Stanza 6:
By and by, through the shining portals,
Turning our feet,
We shall walk with the glad immortals,
Heaven's golden streets.

Stanza 7:
Then at last when on high He sees us,
Our journey done,
We will rest where the steps of Jesus
End at His throne.

An abbreviated version appeared in McIntosh's next Sunday School publication, New Life (Nashville: M.E. Church South, 1879), which used stanzas 1, 2, 3, 6, 7. The 4th and 5th stanzas have tended to be the most often omitted, and later hymnals have differed chiefly in whether they have the 6th or 7th as the final stanza, or use both. Southern Baptist collections began using stanzas 1, 2, 3, 7, with popular books such as The Modern Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman, 1926) and The Broadman Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman, 1940). This seems to have become the standard for Baptist publications and many others over time. 

Among Churches of Christ, however, there was greater variation. Gospel Advocate Publishing's 1889 Christian Hymns, with Rigdon McIntosh as music editor, had a large number of Slade-Everett songs, including "Footsteps" with all seven of the original stanzas. Choice Gospel Hymns, from the same publisher in 1923, still carried all seven stanzas, but Greater Christian Hymns (1931) had reduced it to 1, 2, 3, 5, 7. The same reduced selection of stanzas was used in Christian Hymns (1935), the first of that series from Gospel Advocate edited by L. O. Sanderson. Christian Hymns #2 (1944) reduced the stanzas to 1, 2, and 7; but Christian Hymns III (1966) had a different selection, 1, 3, and 7. Songbooks from west of the Mississippi followed much the same pattern; one early Firm Foundation title, The New Gospel Songbook (Austin, Texas, 1914) has all seven original stanzas, but later editors cut it down to five. The numerous books published by Will Slater in Arkansas and Texas used stanzas 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and Tillit Teddlie's early books Spiritual Melodies (Dallas, Texas, 1938) and Standard Gospel Songs (Sulphur Springs, Texas, 1944) use 1, 2, 3, 5, 7.  Common to all of these so far is the retention of stanza 7 as the conclusion of the song, which would seem to be natural.

For reasons unclear, however, Elmer Jorgenson used stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 6 in his Great Songs of the Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Word and Work, 1921). The longevity and influence of the "old blue book" made this version widely known, and many later hymnal editors among the Churches of Christ followed suit. Firm Foundation's popular Majestic Hymnal: Number Two (1959) used this selection of stanzas, as did Tillit Teddlie's Great Christian Hymnal (1965). It was also used in the hugely successful Songs of the Church books by Alton Howard (1973-1977), and in the next generation of hymnals, Praise for the Lord (Praise Press, 1992) and Songs of Faith and Praise (Howard Publishing, 1994). There remain exceptions--the selection of stanzas 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 appears in Sacred Selections (1960) and in later songbooks by M. Lynwood Smith, and Dane K. Shepard's Hymns for Worship (1987) uses 1, 2, and 7 only. The majority of Churches of Christ, however, probably know this sing only with stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 6. It seems a little unusual to lose the final stanza of a song, but it happens. Now for the text itself.

Stanza 1:
Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,
Come, follow Me!
And we see where Thy footprints falling,
Lead us to Thee.

The earliest "followers" of Jesus seem to be Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptizer, found in John 1:35-39.

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to Him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

This was not the formal beginning of their discipleship, however, as we see from Matthew 4:18-22. Here, and in a few other passages, we are given a glimpse of the occasions when Jesus personally said the words quoted in the opening stanza of this song.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. 

Galileean fishing boat, c. 1900
Gracin & Budiselić note that would-be disciples usually sought out a rabbi and requested to join his circle (as a scribe asks of Jesus in Matthew 8:19). It was apparently unusual, and a considerable honor, to be recruited by the rabbi as Jesus did with the Twelve (218). Does this help explain their immediate response? Peter and Andrew had perhaps been considering it, but still, it was a major commitment to walk away from their livelihood. Shmuel Safrai, noted scholar of Jewish history, says that disciples of a rabbi typically practiced a trade, or raised support from family and friends (965). We do not read of Jesus or the Twelve working during the time of His ministry, though Luke 8:1-3 lists some women who gave them financial support. Whatever it was, was not much; Jesus was very like the "wandering sages" Safrai describes among the rabbis of ancient times, who along with their full-time disciples depended on local charity from town to town (966). The fact that the hungry disciples sometimes made a meal of raw grain gleaned along the road (Matthew 12:1) indicates that this was not always a certainty.

In the case of the fishermen, perhaps, they could return to the family business at some point in the future (as Peter does briefly in John 21). But in Mark 2:14 we read, "And as [Jesus] passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed Him." Levi (known better to us as Matthew) walked away from a coveted government job, probably with no guarantee he could return, yet still with the social stigma associated with the work. 

That call of "Come, follow Me," then, was serious, life-changing business. Safrai's comments on the rabbi-disciple relationship are worth quoting at length:

Learning by itself did not make a pupil, and he did not grasp the full significance of his teacher's learning in all its nuances except through prolonged intimacy with his teacher, through close association with his rich and profound mind. The disciples accompanied their sage as he went to teach, when he sat in the law court, when he was engaged in the performance of meritorious deeds such as helping the poor, redeeming slaves, collecting dowries for poor brides, burying the dead, etc. The pupil took his turn in preparing the common meal and catering for the general needs of the group. He performed personal services for his teacher, observed his conduct and was his respectful, loving, humble companion. Some laws could not be studied theoretically or merely discussed, but could only be learned by serving the teacher (964).

Book learning was a prerequisite, and part of the disciple's task was to commit his rabbi's teachings to memory; but it was just as important to learn how the rabbi lived out his teachings, and to imitate his example (Gracin & Budiselić 213). A man who remained unchanged by the experience was no disciple at all, but a dabbler. Certainly the Twelve were forever altered, as was impressed on the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:13 "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus."

In looking back on the decades that have passed since I myself answered that call, "Come, follow Me," I have to ask: Have I made following His path the focal point of my life, to which all else is either a necessary support to this central aim, or an avocation? Have I gone beyond learning the facts of what He said and did, to practicing this Way and knowing it through application? Have I really changed, so that people who knew me at an earlier point can see that I have been following Jesus? 

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus wheree'er they go.

The last words of the refrain introduce the theme Slade develops through the remainder of the stanzas. If we say we will follow the footsteps of Jesus "wheree'er they go," where might we end up? We have before us a simple song for children, but a deep and serious subject for adults. Matthew 8:19-20 tells us of one person who made this promise and was cautioned to think about it:

And a scribe came up and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

That was an understatement of what Jesus' true disciples went through during His ministry. Over those three years the Twelve would follow Jesus in poverty, through increasing opposition from their society's leaders, and in one case right to the foot of the Teacher's cross. James was the first to be martyred, and according to tradition all but his brother John would follow him in turn. In the intervening time, as Paul recorded of his fellow Apostles,

We hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things (1 Corinthians 4:11-13 )

But as Peter said, as if in counterpoint:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:20-21)

At the same time we should never lose sight of why this path is so worth following, and what it is that "makes the pathway glow"--"I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). We follow these footsteps because, however hard the way may be, they are the only way that leads to eternal life. Are we ready for where the footsteps of Jesus will lead us? 

Though they lead o'er the cold dark mountains,
Seeking His sheep;
Or along by Siloam's fountains,
Helping the weak.

The first two lines refer of course to the parable of the lost sheep, found in Matthew 18 and in Luke 15. 

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (Mathew 18:12-14 ).

Back of this was a common understanding of the shepherd's relationship to the flock. This was not industrial animal husbandry; it was a family business, with generations of shepherds and generations of sheep living in interdependence. The sheep were identified not by number but by name, as we read in another passage where Jesus used this metaphor:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:1-5).

He continued the metaphor by drawing comparisons to the shepherd's commitment to the welfare of the sheep. The shepherd did not see them merely as assets that could be written off, but as individuals for which he was responsible. The passage reminds us of young David's defense of his flock, even against deadly predators (1 Samuel 17).

I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep (John 10:11-15).

Much of this applies to Jesus in a unique way, of course. You and I are not called on to lay down our lives for the lost sheep in the way that He knew He would; we could never have filled that role. But the followers of Jesus still have a responsibility to His sheep. Jesus prepared Peter for this in that memorable final chapter of John's gospel:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" and he said to Him, "Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep" (John 21:15-17).

Though there was a special shepherding role for apostles (and in our time, for church elders), the point should not be lost on all the rest of us: one proof of our love for Jesus is to love His sheep, both the found ones and the lost ones. In Mark 9:36 we get this stirring insight into the mind and heart of Jesus : 
"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Our world is full of people just like them; may we learn to see them with compassion, as Jesus did, and help them find their way.

The second half of the stanza tightens the focus to show Jesus in the action of reaching out to His lost sheep through the healing of physical infirmities. The relief of suffering was a positive good, but also became an opportunity to uncover deeper problems of a spiritual nature (often found in the onlooking critics, rather than the sick person). It was certainly the case in John 9, where "Siloam's fountains" direct our attention:

As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the World." Having said these things, He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then He anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (John 9:1-7).

Pool of Siloam
Pool of Siloam, rediscovered in 2006
Photo released to public domain by creator.
The disciples were not at their best here, appearing to see only a question for debate rather than a man in need. The Pharisees who examined his case after he was healed were even worse, accusing him of lying because they dared not admit that Jesus had actually done this. Even his own parents were cowed into inaction by their fear of offending their religious leaders. Jesus alone saw what was important--not how the man got into his situation, but how God could be glorified through his situation by helping him get onto a better path in life.

This stanza's mention of "helping the weak" also calls to mind another healing connected with a pool in Jerusalem:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed. ... One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (John 5:2-9).

John continues, "Now that day was the Sabbath," and students of the life of Christ need not be told what happened next. Once again the critics of Jesus were more concerned about the technicalities of Sabbath law (and their traditions) than about a man whose ability to work and supply his own needs had been restored. But Jesus saw the person behind the problem, even before healing him, as we see again in His interaction with a leper:

When [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed (Matthew 8:1-3).

In response to the leper's sweet, humble statement of faith, Jesus did what most dared not to do--He reached out His hand and touched him. If the common person was afraid of coming in contact with the uncleanness of leprosy, how much more should a rabbi avoid it? But Jesus stepped past the barriers that tradition and society had made between the community and people in such desperate need. He did it again with an unnamed woman in the following chapter:

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His garment, for she said to herself, "If I only touch His garment, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well (Matthew 9:20-22).

For a woman to approach a rabbi and touch him in this way was shocking, and was compounded by the even greater taboo associated with her condition. With any another rabbi it certainly could have resulted in a humiliating spectacle; but instead Jesus responds in words of tender compassion and reassurance. He tells her to "take heart" and calls her "daughter," accepting her into His presence. Instead of rebuking her, He praises her faith; imperfect as it may have been, it was enough.

Following the footsteps of Jesus may lead us into situations we would rather not have to see, and places we would rather not go. It may challenge our ability to relate to people who have followed a different path and come to a dead end. Will the followers of Jesus reach out to those whose lives have fallen apart and give them hope? Will we look first for how to help, rather than where to cast blame? Will we reach across the barriers that divide people, and help them with kind words and a gentle touch? It would have been far easier for Jesus to have walked past these situations. It would have been easiest, of course, for Him never to have come to this fallen world in the first place.

Stanza 3:
If they lead through the temple holy,
Preaching the word;
Or in homes of the poor and lowly,
Serving the Lord.

On His first trip to a feast in Jerusalem, the twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind and got separated from His family, who finally found Him where they should have looked first--in the temple, discussing the Scriptures with the rabbis who held their schools there (Luke 2:41-52). It was a sweet and memorable scene--and also the last time He got a favorable reception from the temple leadership.

The week of the Crucifixion was more typical, starting off with a sound thrashing of the crooked money-changers who made merchandise of the worship of God:

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers." And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them (Matthew 21:12-14).

It is tempting to take this as an invitation to indulge in righteous indignation, but we should respect the unique nature of Jesus' relationship to the temple. He of all men on earth had the authority to say what should go on in that house, and He set it to rights by throwing out the profiteers and returning it to its proper function as a place of worship, healing, and learning. We can however imitate His respect for the house of God--the spiritual temple of His church (Ephesians 2:19-21)--and for its holy purposes of worship, teaching, and charity.

The power of Jesus' preaching could not help but provoke a reaction. On the part of the innocent children, it was "Hosanna to the Son of David!" (Matthew 21:15); on the part of the religious leadership, it was "By what authority are You doing these things? (Matthew 21:23). This is one of the times when these opponents of Jesus, who so often engaged with Him in bad faith to catch Him in His words, were actually asking a relevant, important question. If we would follow the example of Jesus' teaching, we will respect the same standard of authority for that teaching that He presented: "The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works" (John 14:10b). 

We can also learn from Jesus' teaching in the temple that presenting the truth will sometimes result in strong opposition. Though the common people "heard Him gladly" (Mark 12:37), His opposition came in waves that day to try to show Him up or trap Him in some statement they could use against Him. The Pharisees had their go at Him, then the Herodians, then the Sadducees; and each in turn was confounded by the power of His answers. At the end, "no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions" (Matthew 22:46). 

There is great satisfaction in reading of how Jesus shut down His detractors, and if one is called on to deal with such situations, He sets the ultimate example--His answers were calm, well-reasoned, and clear, and He refused to stoop to name-calling or pettiness. If the truth, presented reasonably and kindly, must answer opposition, let it be in this manner. But Jesus did not come to win arguments with these hard-hearted opponents; He came "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). In this midst of this whirlwind of mean-spirited challenges, we also read of an honest questioner whom Jesus heard out and pointed in the right direction:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to Him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to Him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:28-34a)

It was this man who could be reached, and Jesus focused on him for the moment that he needed. Let us be sure that winning arguments does not become our focus to the detriment of reaching out with the positive message of God's love and grace.

The second half of the stanza turns once again to the good works that accompanied Jesus' good teaching. His presence graced the homes of the "poor and lowly", for healing, teaching, and fellowship far more often than those of the rich and important. In fact His visits to the homes of the latter sort usually turned out awkwardly:

One of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that He was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher." 

Perhaps the Pharisee had hoped to engage Jesus in some religious discussion, but it was about to become much more personal than he had imagined!

"A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And He said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven--for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:36-47).

We can also see that Jesus was not treated with as much respect as might have been expected for a visitor, much less a visiting rabbi. Another such invitation seems to have been a setup from the beginning:

One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" But they remained silent. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. And He said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?" And they could not reply to these things." (Luke 14:1-6)

How much more easily did Jesus interact with the "poor and lowly"! Perhaps it was known that He began His earthly sojourn in a feed trough; certainly it was known that He was a "self-taught" Rabbi from a working-class background, whose companions were "uneducated, common men" (Acts 4:13). He was dependent on charity for His room and board when He could get it, and He seems to have had no possessions beyond what a man might carry on his person. Above all He was "lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29) and treated the common people with dignity and respect; though He frankly acknowledged the past character of the woman before Him in the Pharisee's house, He also praised her repentance and current spiritual state before one of the leading men of the community. How her heart must have been lightened of its weight of guilt, and her head held a little higher with this restoration of dignity, as she made her way home!

Jesus' willingness to enter the homes of the outcast began early in His ministry with the calling of Matthew, which also illustrated the discomfort this created for the religious community around Him:

After this He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And He said to him, "Follow me." And leaving everything, he rose and followed Him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at His disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:27-32 ).

Jesus did not only wait for people to come hear Him teach; if opportunity presented itself, He went to them where they were. Matthew, because of his association with the Roman occupation, was a pariah to the Pharisees. Naturally his friends were of the same sort as himself. It was an odd group for a Rabbi to sit down with; but how long had it been, for many of them, since they had heard any spiritual teaching? And who needed it more than these? Jesus is even more explicit in His handling of a similar situation with another tax collector:

[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."" (Luke 19:1-10)

Here was a man who was willing not only to welcome Jesus into his home, but into his life and his heart. He was far closer to the kingdom than those who criticized Jesus for associating with him.

In the fourth chapter of John's gospel, Jesus also reached across social barriers of race and gender--at the same time. Intersectionality existed, of course, long before it was recognized as a term.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans) (John 4:7-9).

Jacob's Well, 1890s
The woman is shocked that a Jewish man would, first, recognize and speak to a Samaritan on purpose, and second, recognize and speak to a woman on purpose (at least one not of His own family). As the conversation continues, we learn that she had another strike against her in the ledgers of social acceptability--her history of illicit relationships. A rabbi could hardly be expected even to look at this woman; but Jesus engages her in a light-hearted conversation that quickly turns to the deepest spiritual questions. The end result showed that this Samaritan community was more receptive of Jesus than were the spiritual leaders of the Jews.

Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days (John 4:39-40).

All this because Jesus was willing to ignore the barriers set up by society (rather than by God), and to look past this person's sinful background to see the truly lovely person she really was. It is also a reasonable assumption that Jesus dined and spent the night in a Samaritan home. If that was not horror enough to His Pharisee opposition, we can see from another incident that He was willing to go even further:

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue." And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof" (Luke 7:2-6). 

The centurion's message continued with a statement of faith that was perhaps limited in understanding, but overflowing with humble submission. Jesus took this as an opportunity to demonstrate both His power to heal and the power of such self-sacrificing faith; But had Jesus not been stopped by the centurion's message, would He not have gone into the home of a gentile, and a Roman soldier of the occupying army? 

Even when there were not such high stakes, the presence of Jesus was a blessing to any home. In the home of Peter He brought healing to His disciple's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15). We also think especially of the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany, where Jesus sometimes retreated from the hostility He faced in Jerusalem. Martha, of course, was one of those invaluable people who is good at organizing things, and on one occasion chided her sister for not helping her with all the preparations she thought were necessary to host their Visitor. But Jesus gently corrected her; the time spent with Him and His teaching was more important by far (Luke 10:38-42). Let us make sure that the spirit of Christ and the desire to follow Him is the guiding principle of our own homes, and let us bring His gracious presence to any home we visit by showing His compassion and concern.

Stanzas 4 & 5
Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,
We follow Thee;
Through the gloom of that place of weeping,

If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,
We go again,
Up the slope of the hill-side, bearing
Our cross of pain.

In these "lost stanzas" (as far as current use goes), Mrs. Slade turns from Christ's interactions with others to His suffering and death. Following Jesus has already been shown to require a change in  our attitudes toward others and our obligations toward them; now it will require ourselves as well. In Mark 10:32, at the beginning of His determined march toward Jerusalem and His death, Jesus warned the Twelve again what was about to happen; "and those who followed were afraid." 

Following Jesus to Gethsemane that night must have been a strange journey. Surely some of the disciples might have questioned to themselves whether going into an isolated outdoor setting was the wisest thing to do, considering the plots being made against Jesus' life. And though they had been there before for periods of prayer, nothing could have prepared them for what they saw in Jesus that night. 

And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And He said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him (Mark 14:33-35).

Ancient olive trees
in Gethsemane
It is not easy to witness someone going through deep grief, and Peter, James, and John were not able to keep watch with Jesus that night; Luke tells us that they were "sleeping for sorrow" at the end (Luke 22:45). In their defense, we do not know how long Jesus was there; it was at least an hour (Mark 14:37) and probably longer. We might also consider that hours in Gethsemane, then and now, pass by much more slowly. It is a comfort to know, when we go through our own versions of Gethsemane--those endless hours of uncertainty, grief, or despair that can accompany a crisis in one's life--that Jesus has been there too. But how often one longs for another person to there during these hours! It is a blessing to be able to provide that comfort too. Yet that also comes with a cost; waiting with a person in Gethsemane, helping to share their burden, is not easy work. 

There was fear as well as grief that night, and for most of the Twelve their following of Jesus came to an end temporarily. Simon Peter, of course, denied any fear or weakness. At the Last Supper, he had declared again his willingness even to die for Jesus' sake (John 13:37). The events that actually transpired, however, proved too much for his bravado. When the disciples reached Gethsemane, Jesus warned, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40), and rightly so; before the night was over, Peter's willingness to follow Jesus was reduced to "following Him at a distance" (Matthew 26:58). Peter followed closely enough to keep Jesus in sight, but not closely enough that he might be mistaken for a disciple. That kind of following, unfortunately, is all too common even today. In fact, other than the apostle John (John 19:26). it was the women among Jesus' followers who stayed with Him all the way to the Cross (Matthew 27:55-56).

Peter stated his willingness to die for Jesus, and no doubt he was sincere, as at least one of the high priest's servants could attest (John 18:10). But Jesus called on him instead to do something that was in this case more difficult--to live for Him. Peter's larger-than-life personality was strangely matched with a fear of mockery, as he showed in the courtyard of the high priest later that night. But though he still had his stumbles (cf. Galatians 2:11-13), Peter eventually rose to the challenge and became a bold proclaimer of the gospel. The standard Jesus set was this: "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25). Peter's original goal of a glorious last stand in Gethsemane was serving his own ideas and led to humiliation; when he put self aside and took up the cross of patience and obedience he became truly great.

Stanzas 6 & 7:
By and by, through the shining portals,
Turning our feet,
We shall walk with the glad immortals,
Heaven's golden streets.

Then at last when on high He sees us,
Our journey done,
We will rest where the steps of Jesus
End at His throne.

In the preceding stanzas, Mary Slade's lyrics have explored some of the applications of the principle Jesus stated so succinctly in John 12:26, "If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also." In these final two stanzas, we see the final and happiest outcome of following Jesus, as we consider the end of the journey. As Jesus said to His fearful disciples on the night of His betrayal,

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1-3).

The follower of Jesus is likely to pass through a lot of different terrain on the journey, and to encounter many people and situations, some encouraging, some difficult, but all providing an opportunity to imitate our Lord and grow more like Him. When we are perplexed and discourage, let us remember His next words to the hesitant disciple Thomas:

Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:5-6).

Even when we have difficulty seeing the path ahead of us, as long as we keep Jesus in view, we can walk in His steps and find our way.

About the music:

When evaluating this music, it is important to remember  for whom it was composed: Sunday School children. Asa Brooks Everett was a capable composer of sacred choral music, as evidenced by his anthems, and also a fairly successful writer of popular parlor songs that remained in print for several years. He had also worked for years with his brothers in teaching vocal music to both adults and children, and had clear ideas of what he wanted to write for each. For children, the goal was to write within their developing capabilities, while offering them interesting melodies of good quality. Fortunately for following generations, this style also adapts well to the average congregational singer, especially when sung acappella.

The melody begins with a simple scale movement moving from MI to RE and then DO, but rather suddenly leaps up a major 6th (from "heard" to "Thee" in the first stanza). This is the first skip in the melody, and perhaps its most memorable feature. After reaching this highest note of the tune, the next phrase ("Come, follow Me") descends through the notes of the tonic chord (SOL-MI-DO). The rhythm plays a part in contrasting these phrases as well; the first moves along primarily in quarter notes with a steady pace, then "Come, follow Me" is in a more arresting "long-short-short-long" rhythm. For the first stanza at least, it suggests the steady footsteps of the follower followed by the commanding tones of Christ to His disciples. The third and fourth phrases ("And we see... Lead us to Thee") parallel the first two; the third phrase in fact is identical to the first, and the fourth differs only in pitch in order to bring the musical period to a close on the keynote.

The refrain begins by returning to the high note reached in the 1st and 3rd phrases of the stanza, by the same leap of a major 6th. The rhythm of the fist two phrases ("Footprints of Jesus / That make the pathway glow") is a reversal of that found in the stanza, however; the long-short-short-long rhythm is in the first phrase, while the marching quarter notes are in the second phrase. The 3rd and 4th phrases of the refrain are of course the same as those of the stanza. Overall, then the stanza and chorus together make a double period of four sections, a a' b a'.

The harmony is notably simple. There is not a single accidental in sight, and the chords are the common tonic (E-flat), subdominant (A-flat), and dominant (B-flat) except for a lone submediant (C minor) at the beginning of the 4th phase of the stanza ("LEAD us to Thee"). Everett avoided the sometimes excessive chromaticism of the gospel song style in general, choosing instead a simple, folk-like approach with a strong, singable melody supported by simple, logical harmony. It is a style of writing worth imitation!

p.s. As much as I like Everett's writing in general, I would be remiss if I did not mention the alto part in this song. It consists almost exclusively of a single note, E-flat, relieved by a change to D exactly four times, once every other phrase. Here the altos pay the price for relatively interesting parts in the other voices. I suggest that this is in fact the Most Boring Alto Part Ever Written, and I invite the reader to name another if it is not.


Gracin, Martina, and Ervin Budiselić. “Razumijevanje Učeništva u Kontekstu Židovstva Isusova Vremena - 1. Dio. = Discipleship in the Context of Judaism in Jesus' Time - Part I." Kairos: Evangelical Journal of Theology, vol. 13, no. 2, July 2019, pp. 207–226. EBSCOhost,

Safrai, Shmuel. "Education and the study of the Torah." The Jewish people in the first century: historical geography, political history, social, cultural and religious life and institutions, ed. Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.