Sunday, August 16, 2020

Stephen J. Oslin and the Eureka Music Company

 The following video is a recording of a presentation I gave at the 2020 meeting of the Mountain Plains Music Library Association, as part of my day job.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fight the Good Fight

Praise for the Lord #152

Words: John S. B. Monsell, 1853
Music: William Boyd, 1864

John Samuel Bewley Monsell (1811-1875) was an Irish Anglican born at St. Columb's, Londonderry, the son of Archdeacon of Londonderry Thomas Bewley Monsell. He attended Trinity College in Dublin, receiving a doctorate in 1856, and served parishes in Ireland and England (Julian 762). Monsell was a prolific writer, producing eleven volumes of poetry between 1837 and 1874, with approximately 300 hymns to his credit (Julian 762). According to the instances listed at, his most popular work by far is the hymn under discussion, as well as "Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness," both found in many hymnals published in our century. Other still popular hymns by Monsell include "Sing to the Lord of Harvest" and "Ask Ye what Great Thing I Know."

John Julian said of Monsell's hymns,
Dr. Monsell's hymns are as a whole bright, joyous, and musical; but they lack massiveness, concentration of thought, and strong emotion. A few only are of enduring excellence (763).  
For Julian, in my experience, this is nearly a compliment! D. J. O'Donoghue, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, stated it in kinder fashion: "He urged that hymns should be fervent and joyous, and that congregations should abandon their sense of distance and reserve in singing." Monsell himself was characteristically modest about his abilities, stating with wry humor in the preface to one of his hymnals:
The Parish Hymnal claims, above those Hymnals which have preceded it, these advantages only: i. It is the latest; ii. The simplest; iii. The shortest extant (Monsell PH 1873).
But his earnest commitment to hymn-singing, as well as his bright, cheery nature, is evident from the preface to the work in which "Fight the Good Fight" appears:
The following Hymns were written to illustrate an idea which has long filled their author's mind, that such portions of our Divine worship should be more fervent and joyous, more expressive of real and personal love to God than they are in general found to be.
We are, alas! too distant and reserved in our praises. We sing not, as if our hearts were on fire with the flame of Divine love and joy; as we should sing to Him, and of Him, Who is Chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. If we loved Him as we ought to do, we could not be so cold.
Toward the removal of this dulness and formality, few things are more helpful than glowing tender Hymns; they quicken as well as convey the desires of the soul, they say for us what many are unable to say for themselves, what a lifted eye, a voiceless breathing, has often said to God for us all; and in the use of them the spirit catches their heavenly fervour, and  draws nearer to Him it is adoring (Hymns of Love and Praise for the Church's Year, London: Bell and Daldy, 1862, preface). 
With respect to Dr. Julian's exacting critical opinion, I believe a careful look at this hymn by Monsell reveals not only a cheery and positive attitude, but a solid intellectual and doctrinal underpinning based on Scripture. It is an admirable combination.

File:St John the Baptist, Egham - - 1521104.jpg
St. John's Church, Egham, where
Monsell served as vicar 1853-1870.
Photo by Michael Ford, Wikimedia Commons. 

Stanza 1:
Fight the good fight 
With all thy might; 
Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

The first line is a direct quotation of Paul's command to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:12, and ties as well to Paul's self-description in 2 Timothy 4:7. This pair of related texts are central to the hymn, with recurring ideas in the succeeding stanzas.
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12). 
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
The Greco-Roman world of Paul's upbringing was as sports-minded as any culture today, and his home town Tarsus was no exception, having a stadium by the river Cydnus where games were periodically held (Taylor 5). Not surprisingly, Paul frequently borrows the language of competitive sports to illustrate aspects of the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 he even refers to literal fighting as sport, drawing on the difference between training and the actual match: "I do not box as one beating the air." The kind of "fighting" he describes in the letters to Timothy is a different word in Greek, agōnizomai, which is obviously related to our English words "agony" and "agonize," depicting a sustained, punishing effort that requires both physical and mental toughness. In the context of boxing, I am reminded of Muhammad Ali's famous "rope-a-dope" strategy, in which he fought defensively through several rounds until his opponent had tired himself out, counting on his own reserves of strength and determination to bring about a late victory.

Monsell, quoting Paul, reminds us that this is the Christian life--it is never a first-round knockout, you have to fight all the way to the end. Paul could speak of his fight in the past tense in 2 Timothy 4:7, because he knew he was near the end of his life and could do little more. The rest of us need to keep our heads in the game. How often have you seen an immature team become careless because they had built up a lead in the score, and then lose the game to an opponent that found a second wind? We need to be prepared for a long, hard fight, for however long our Lord sees fit to leave us in the game.

This fight, says Monsell's hymn, must be fought with all our might. Fortunately it is not our might alone that is involved--Christ is our strength. Perhaps the author had in mind Paul's statements on this topic in Ephesians and Colossians, two letters that so often run in parallel thoughts:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father ... that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:14, 16). 
We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be ... strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy (Colossians 1:9, 11).
Paul knew what it was to need this strengthening. Though his writing can give us the image of a strong, confident man with an overpowering personality, the same Paul admitted to the Corinthians that "I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling" (1 Corinthians 2:3). He was not a superman--he was just a man who relied on the Lord's strength in spite of his own weakness. In a far more dire situation in Rome, he informs Timothy of a similar situation:
At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
To Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) was much more than a motivational poster; it was how he survived day to day, hour to hour.

The third line of the stanza makes a turn from the admonition to fight, to the prize for which we fight: not only is Christ our strength to fight, He is also the source of the "right" or righteousness to which we aspire. Paul wanted this: "[to] be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:9). Jesus "became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30).

The end result of this fight is found in the second half of 1 Timothy 6:12, to "lay hold on eternal life." A little later in the chapter Paul expands on that theme, telling Timothy to admonish the Christians (the well-to-do especially) to make this their aim, rather than any lesser goal found in this life only:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Now by the circumstances of the life he had chosen, Paul was not likely to be tempted to turn back from his goal by mere material wealth. No, his struggles were with his own past--Paul, formerly Saul, described himself as once a "blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent" (1 Timothy 1:13), who "was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). Paul could not undo those things in his past, no matter how he wished he might; but instead of being paralyzed by the past, he "laid hold" on the future his Lord had promised, and fought on.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
In the Christian race, as in many athletic competitions, it is more important how we finish than how we began.

Stanza 2: 
Run the straight race 
Through God's good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies:
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

The second stanza of Monsell's hymn probably refers to another of Paul's passages regarding one of the favorite Greco-Roman sports, the foot race.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
The Corinthians would have ample reason to relate to this topic, since their city hosted the Isthmian Games, one of the premier athletic and musical competitions of the ancient world. The city's location at a land and sea crossroads drew famous competitors from all of Greece, and it was understandably a major part of civic life (Taylor 10).

Paul's quote implies the need for correct training, but adherence to the rules was also necessary to win; judges were chosen from among the most respected and prominent citizens of the community, and cheating was met with disdain. In Galatians 2:2 Paul explains that he discussed the gospel with the other apostles he met in Jerusalem, "in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain." This is the "straight race" of which Monsell writes, because it is possible to run in vain. Paul applies the metaphor to the Galatians themselves later, sounding very much like a frustrated coach: "You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (Galatians 5:7).

The hymn encourages us to avoid missteps by lifting up our eyes. It seems obvious enough that we should look up when running, but I have had the unfortunate experience of running into trees, fences, and even a parked truck while jogging at night, because I tend to stare at the road right in front of me and let my attention drift off. Metaphorically speaking, this is even more common in daily living. It is not necessarily a major setback that will throw us off course (we may in fact draw closer to God under severe trials), but rather, the frustrations small and large that face us every day make it difficult to keep our eyes on the goal. We need to be reminded of what we are doing; as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says (I almost wrote "as Paul says" since it sounds so much like him):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
When we remember why we are really here, we begin to seek that true path again, focusing on our goal--Jesus Christ. He is the goal we seek to meet someday in heaven, and He is the goal we seek (always imperfectly) to imitate. Not only is He the prize, He is also the path, because He is "Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). In His perfect life He shows us where we are headed, how to get there, and what to strive to become along the way.

Stanza 3: 
Cast care aside, 
Upon thy Guide
Lean, and His mercy will provide;
Lean, and the trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its life, and Christ its love.

The third stanza opens with a reference to the admonition of Peter:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7). 
It is such a beautiful Scripture, it is easy to miss the fact that it is a command! The same is true of Paul's well known statement,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). 
The words of Jesus are also imperative in Matthew 6:25, "Do not be anxious!"

As my friend and brother Eddie Parrish has said many times from the pulpit, this has to be one of the most ignored commands Jesus ever gave, at least among Christians. I wish I could say he was talking about someone else. I have clung to my worries as desperately as an alcoholic holds on to his bottle. Like many an alcoholic, I have tried to do better, and fallen back into it, even though I know it is hurting me and everyone who loves. I'm not saying it is the same, because the mechanisms of addiction are at work in the one and not in the other; but it is convicting that I would recognize the seriousness of the struggle with alcohol and yet turn a blind eye to worry and anxiety as a "little sin." God help us to recognize our failings in this area personally, and to support one another in overcoming this sin by God's help.

The Psalms in particular are full of language about God as our Guide and Leader. Perhaps David's experiences leading his sheep, and later leading his army, made him especially aware of the need for careful guidance in finding the right paths, which set this trend in the Psalter's description of God.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (23:2-3).
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way (25:9).
For You are my Rock and my Fortress; and for Your name's sake You lead me and guide me (31:3).
You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory (73:24).
Instead of trusting our own wisdom and strength, Monsell's hymn tells us to lean upon God. No doubt the most often quoted verse on this subject is Proverbs 3:5,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
Along the same line of thought is this unusual proverb from Isaiah 50:10,
Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of His Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. 
The quote from Proverbs tells us that just as a general principle, we should lean on God and not on ourselves. How much more so when we are in the darkness of uncertainty? Here is the help we need against worry and care--a God who is there, even when we cannot see the way ahead.

The second half of the stanza reminds us of the strength and security of that upon which we lean and trust. "God will provide" echoes down through the ages, from Abraham on Mount Moriah when he declares in faith, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering" in place of Abraham's precious son Isaac. (How heavily those words and that scene should rest on us who view them from this side of the Cross!) God still provides. No matter how we are tempted in this world to think we provide for ourselves, Paul reminds the well-to-do "not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17). Rather than trusting in ourselves or our own achievements, we need to trust in His promises and grow in the graces He sets before us as our goals; "for in this way there will be richly provide for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11).

In the final lines of this stanza we read that for the soul leaning upon God, "Christ is its life, and Christ its love." This is a goal far in advance of most of us (certainly myself), but one for which we strive. Paul could say that he had reached it--"for me, to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21)--but after how many years of struggle? We know from Romans chapter 7 that Paul struggled as we all do with sins that threatened to draw him away from his course, but we are confident from his inspired words that he achieved his goal, a life in which Christ was all that mattered. God grant us all such an end!

Stanza 4:
Faint not, nor fear, 
His arms are near;
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

Monsell concludes his hymn with a final appeal to renewed courage and activity. Paul addressed this topic often, reminding the Galatians,
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (6:9). 
It was a message for the individual Christian, and for the church as a whole; to the Thessalonian church Paul to "encourage the fainthearted" (1 Thessalonians 5:14) as well. But the call for Christian renewal is not just a hollow pep talk of positive thinking. This endurance is based on something much greater than ourselves and our own abilities:
Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:3). 
Our capacity for renewal relies (thankfully) in One whose mercies are "new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23). Isaiah addressed this topic beautifully in a well known passage:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).
Because God "changeth not" we need not fear change, whether in the world around us or in our personal lives.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). 
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet (Hebrews 12:12-13b). 
The race lies clearly before us, and Jesus Christ who "fills all in all" will provide us the strength to reach the goal.

About the music:

William Boyd (1847-1928), an Anglican vicar by profession, had the unusual fortune to write one famous hymn tune--PENTECOST--which became so associated with him that his obituary in the London Times was headlined "The Rev. William Boyd: composer of a famous hymn tune." Born in Jamaica to Scottish parents, he was tutored by Sabine Baring-Gould (author of "Onward, Christian soldiers), and came to be friends with such musical worthies as Sir Arthur Sullivan (who wrote the tune for Baring-Gould's famous hymn) (Times obituary).

Though I ordinarily refrain from extensive quoting of another's work, in this case I can present no better background to this hymn tune than what was given by the composer in an interview published in The Musical Times (1 December 1908, pages 786-787):
The Rev. William Boyd, who comes from old Scots stock of lowland border thieves--as he is wont to say--and is now Vicar of All Saints', Norfolk Square, Hyde Park, has been kind enough in pleasant conversation with the present writer, to tell the story of his popular tune. "I began to compose," he says, "when I was a boy of ten years of age. Some of my youthful attempts you will find in Iceland, its scenes and sagas (1863), by Baring-Gould. He was my tutor at Hurstpierpoint, and during his stay in Iceland (in 1862) he wrote to me often, exemplifying his letters by characteristic pen-and-ink sketches to describe men and things. For that his first book, I put into harmonized shape some of the tunes he had noted down during his Icelandic tour. I went up to Oxford in 1864, and was organ scholar of my college (Worcester), and I also played at St. Edmund Hall, Trinity and Pembroke."
"Baring-Gould asked me to compose a tune to 'Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,' to be sung at a large meeting of Yorkshire colliers at Whitsuntide which he had organized. I walked, talked, slept and ate with the words, and at last I evolved the tune which I naturally named 'Pentecost,' which had an enormous vogue in Yorkshire. One day, during my undergraduate period at Oxford, G. A. B. Beecroft, a Christ Church man and an amateur musician, came to me and said: 'I want some fellows who write hymn tunes above the average to contribute to a book I am getting up--write me three.' I agreed and sent him four tunes from Clent, in Worcestershire, where I was spending Christmas with my friend John Amphlett--now a well-known literary figure in the country. One of these tunes was 'Pentecost,' which I had previously composed for Baring-Gould but which remained in manuscript. Beecroft's collection was published by Bowden, of Oxford, in the sixties."
"How came the tune to be associated with 'Fight the good fight'?" we ask Mr. Boyd. "Ah! that is a funny thing," he replies. "One day as I was walking Regent Street, I felt a slap on my back, and turning round I saw my dear old friend Arthur Sullivan. 'My dear Billy,' he said, 'I've seen a tune of yours which I must have.' (He was then editing Church Hymns.) 'All right,' I said, 'Send me a cheque and I agree.' No copy of the book, much less a proof, was sent to me, and when I saw the tune I was horrified to find that Sullivan had assigned it to 'Fight the good fight'! We had a regular fisticuffs about it, but judging from the favour with which the tune has been received, I feel that Sullivan was right in so mating words and music."
"The tune was printed in the 1875 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern without my permission. In their last edition they turned me out, also without my permission. Still they had to come back, I rejoice to say, for people said 'the old was better.' Since then it has found its way into most collections, Church of England and Nonconformist, and has gone all over the English-speaking world. There is hardly a week that I do not get a couple of letters from far or near asking me to allow of its insertion in some new publication. And I do, in most cases, allow it, but with the proviso that the tune must be set to the words 'Fight the good fight'."
William Boyd, 1847-1928


Taylor, Elias L. "The Christian Marathoner: Athletic References in Paul's Epistles." Journal of Arts and Humanities, vol. 4, no. 11, 2015.

"Fight the good fight." The Musical Times (London), no. 790,  vol. 49 (1 December 1908), pages 786-788.

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Dover, 1957.

Monsell, John S. B. Hymns of Love and Praise for the Church Year. London: Bell and Daldy, 1863.

Monsell, John S. B., editor. The Parish Hymnal. London: Bell and Daldy, 1873.

O'Donoghue, D. J. "Monsell, John Samuel Bewley," revised by Leon Litvack. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Published online 2009.

"The Rev. William Boyd." Times (London), 17 Feb. 1928, page 19. From The Times Digital Archive, accessed 13 May 2019.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Follow Me

Praise for the Lord #150

Words & Music by Ira F. Stanphill, 1953

By the 1940s the Southern gospel music phenomenon was transitioning from the traveling singing-school teachers, selling their songbooks at country churches from the trunk of a car, to well-organized singing conventions advertised on radio by nationally famous quartets. A new generation of songwriters was coming of age as well, such as Mosie Lister (1921-2015), Vep Ellis (1917-1988), Lee Roy Abernathy (1913-1933), Elmo Mercer (born 1932 but with a career starting in his teens), and the author of the song under consideration, Ira Forest Stanphill (1914-1993). Having grown up with radio, and thus being familiar with a broad range of American popular music, they often wrote songs that were as effective as solos on the radio or in concert as they were for congregational singing. The emerging generational difference in Southern gospel was highlighted in the disappointing assessment Frank Stamps delivered to a young Ira Stanphill: "Ira, these pieces don't really fit into our publishing standards. They aren't Southern gospel. That's not to say that they aren't good; it's just that they... they don't fit our mold" (Stanphill 44). Despite this gentle rejection (and others less so), Stanphill stuck to his muse and eventually found widespread success. His "Follow me," "Room at the cross," and "I know who holds tomorrow" are prime examples of this new gospel style and have even been recorded by secular artists.

Ira Stanphill (photo from CyberHymnal)
The occasion of writing "Follow me" was told by Stanphill in an interview summarized by Lindsay Terry in his Stories Behind 50 Southern Gospel Favorites. Stanphill had attended a missionary conference in Grand Prairie, Texas, where he heard the famous Assemblies of God missionary Charles Greenaway speak of the difficulties he and his wife Mary had faced in their early years in Africa. At one point, Greenaway indicated, the slow progress of the work, and Mary's chronically poor health, had brought him to the point of admitting defeat. But after a time in prayer, he believed that he had received his answer from the Lord: "Why don't you just follow Me, and leave the results in My hands?" (Though I do not subscribe to the belief in modern-day direct revelation, I can understand the sentiment, which after all could be a paraphrase of Jesus' words to Peter in John 22.) Ira Stanphill, who had faced a great deal of heartbreak and discouragement in his own life from his troubled first marriage (Gaer 8, 25), was deeply moved by Greenaway's words. He took the words "Follow me" as inspiration and wrote the song the next morning (Terry 1:131).

"Follow me" is one of those songs that I have changed my mind about over the years. At first encounter it seemed to be one of those gospel songs that follow what could be called the "Oh poor me" trope, in which the writer describes a life of misery and unfairness. (Granting of course that for some people life is in fact full of misery and unfairness, this seems a disturbingly frequent theme in the genre.) I was somewhat chagrined when, with a more mature and thoughtful reading, I realized that Stanphill is in fact saying quite the opposite. In each stanza of the imagined conversation between a Christian and Jesus, the Lord replies in a gently ironic tone that re-contextualizes the Christian's complaint from a more spiritually mature point of view.

Stanza 1:
I traveled down a lonely road
And no one seemed to care,
The burden on my weary back
Had bowed me to despair,
I oft complained to Jesus
How folks were treating me,
And then I heard Him say so tenderly,

Up to this point there is nothing unusual in the lyrics; I could point to a dozen other gospel songs on the same theme. The typical continuation would be a chorus looking forward to the joys of heaven. Instead, Stanphill gives us this to think about:

"My feet were also weary, 
Upon the Calv'ry road;
The cross became so heavy, 
I fell beneath the load,
Be faithful weary pilgrim, 
The morning I can see,
Just lift your cross and follow close to Me."

Before we begin to think our burdens our heavy, let us consider the treatment faced by One who deserved nothing but the best in this world:
He was despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not (Isaiah 53:3). 
If I look at my problems honestly, I can see that in some of them I have myself to blame, in part or in whole; but He was completely without fault. Instead,
He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6).
All of this mistreatment came to a head in His crucifixion, when Jesus, who had once silenced every debater, refused to raise an argument in His own defense against the unjust accusers.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7). 
Instead He "went out, bearing His own cross" (John 19:17). At one point Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to carry the cross instead (Mark 15:21), and from this we surmise that Jesus' physical body had reached its limits and was no longer able to carry it. Even then He not yet begun the worst that day would bring.

In consideration of what Jesus went through for my sake, through no deserving of His own, how can I even begin to compare my suffering to His? Yet He bore it with grace, without complaint. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to "consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (Hebrews 12:3-4). We know that some Christians in some parts of the world today have in fact resisted to that point; I have not had to, and may God help me to keep my troubles in perspective.

Stanza 2:
"I work so hard for Jesus," 
I often boast and say,
"I've sacrificed a lot of things
To walk the narrow way,"
I gave up fame and fortune;
I'm worth a lot to Thee,"
And then I hear Him gently say to me,

"I left the throne of glory
And counted it but loss,
My hands were nailed in anger
Upon a cruel cross,
But now we'll make the journey
With your hand safe in Mine,
So lift your cross and follow close to Me."

Most of us will have some difficulty with the idea that we have given up "fame and fortune" for Christ, but in the context of Ira Stanphill's life this rings true. He obviously had the talent to write in the popular and country-western styles; he could have followed his first wife's inclinations toward secular music and found a much broader career as a performer and songwriter. But Stanphill was committed to serve in ministry, which proved a far less lucrative field and often just as uncertain. In addition, after his first wife divorced him and left with another man, Stanphill felt he must hold out hope that they would reconcile someday. Despite his loneliness and the difficulty of raising a son on his own, he was committed to remain single as long as she lived. Though the churches generally seemed to accept the situation, it was a painful hardship on his ministry. The cost of following Jesus according to his conscience was personally pretty high for Ira Stanphill.

But the point of the stanza is that the Christian's perspective on loss is fundamentally transformed by two factors. First, the good things of this world are blessings we enjoy by the Lord's goodness, and not because of our own deserving. It is a hard lesson to hear, but there was truth in Job's words, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). Job's understanding of the situation was incomplete, but his attitude was correct--he was never owed those blessings in the first place. As Job told his wife in the following chapter, "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10).

In the second place, the Christian's perspective on loss is transformed by the example of Jesus. Peter did not yet understand this, as a disciple still in training, when he declared, "See, we have left everything and followed you" (Mark 10:28). One can only imagine, on hearing that statement, what might have gone through the mind of One who,
Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7). 
In typical fashion, Jesus put self aside and made it a moment to teach His eager but immature disciples, who had not even begun to realize the cost of following Him. An older, tougher, and wiser Peter would say:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13).
The apostle Paul concurred, in a verse that probably inspired Stanphill's lyrics:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Stanza 3:
O, Jesus if I die upon
A foreign field some day,
'Twould be no more than love demands,
No less could I repay,
"No greater love hath mortal man
Than for a friend to die;"
These are the words He gently spoke to me,

"If just a cup of water
I place within your hand,
Then just a cup of water
Is all that I demand,"
But if by death to living
They can Thy glory see,
I'll take my cross and follow close to Thee.

The final stanza's turn to missionary work ("a foreign field") is much easier to understand in context of the song's background, discussed earlier. Mary Greenaway, wife of the missionary whose words inspired this song, endangered her life by remaining in the field instead of returning home during her extended illness. No doubt her husband Charles could have faced death more easily himself, than to risk hers; but they continued in spite of the cost. In contemplation of this spirit of self-sacrifice, Stanphill quotes Jesus' words from John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends," and remarks that in view of all that Christ has done for us, there is nothing we can begrudge Him in return. Whatever the suffering of this life demands of us will be far less than He deserves from us, in return for His sacrifice. In contrast to the tone of complaint in the earlier stanzas, the Christian now expresses a wish to sacrifice his all in gratitude to his Lord.

At the midpoint of each stanza thus far, there has been an imagined corrective response from Jesus, which suggests that (if the songwriter is consistent) even the noble sentiments of the preceding lines need an adjustment of perspective. I believe that continues to be the case in the second half of the final stanza. As noble as it is to offer everything--even one's life--to the cause of Christ, with every noble intention there is a subtle danger of pride. That risk was wisely noted by the early nineteenth-century missionary Adoniram Judson in his "Advice to Missionary Candidates":
Beware of pride; not the pride of proud men, but the pride of humble men--that secret pride which is apt to grow out of the consciousness that we are esteemed by the great and good. This pride sometimes eats out the vitals of religion before its existence is suspected (Judson, 579).
Harsh words but true! Never doubt that Satan is clever enough to take even our proper satisfaction in providing service to God and our fellow humanity, as an opportunity to tempt us into sin!

The imagined response from Jesus is a little ambiguous. The Scripture reference, of course, is obvious:
Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward (Matthew 10:40-42).
The relevant aspect of this passage is that services done in Jesus' name, whether small or great, will receive their reward: in fact, Jesus points out, "even a cup of cold water" (a comparatively minor act) will not be unrewarded. But what is the intent of the reference in the context of this song? I see two different possible readings of this stanza. Perhaps it is as though Jesus said, "You are right to be willing to sacrifice everything up to and including your life, but beware of pride; by comparison to My sacrifice, it is no greater than the cup of cold water." Or. perhaps, it is as though He said, "It is all very well to dream of doing great things, but do not neglect the simple acts of kindness that I place in your grasp every day."

Either interpretation is Scriptural and appropriate. If we are called upon to do great things in God's service, and to make great sacrifices, let us do so humbly and say in Christ's words, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10). And in the desire to do more in God's service, let us never neglect the "small" acts of service that are right before us (and of course they may not be small acts at all to those whom they benefit). Charles Spurgeon memorably spoke to this topic in his commentary on Psalm 131:
Many through wishing to be great have failed to be good: they were not content to adorn the lowly stations which the Lord appointed them, and so they have rushed at grandeur and power, and found destruction where they looked for honour. ... 
Such is the vanity of many men that if a work be within their range they despise it, and think it beneath them: the only service which they are willing to undertake is that to which they have never been called, and for which they are by no means qualified. What a haughty heart must he have who will not serve God at all unless he may be trusted with five talents at the least! (Treasury of David, VII, 87).
May we humbly accept each trial with the faith that God will bring us through it, the assurance that Jesus knows personally what human suffering is like, and the determination to glorify God by how we respond to it.

About the music:

Stanphill's music is simple but well-written, and whether he did so purposely or intuitively, he structured it with certain unifying ideas that make it an excellent example of the modern gospel style. First of all, the opening half of the melody is built with phrases that descend stepwise (mostly) through a narrow range. This is mirrored in the alto with a descending chromatic line through the first phrase. Along the way, the alto's C-flat turns the harmony from major to minor mode just before the first cadence.

[The following musical excerpts are provided for analysis and criticism under the terms of fair use for educational purposes.]
The narrow and constricted nature of the melody is amplified by moving from open to close harmony by the end of each of the first three phrases. In the final phrase of the first half, the harmony remains close, and the alto's previous chromatic descent is reflected in the bass line.
Musical gestures such as these--descending chromatic lines, unexpected minor chords, and melodic phrases that seem trapped within a narrow range--convey a sense of sadness and despair, which suits the text in the first half of each stanza. If Stanphill had continued the entire song in this cast, it would have been a pretty dismal project indeed! But the structure of the text turns at this point to the imagined corrective reply from Jesus, and the music follows suit:
In a sudden (and gutsy) change of pace, Stanphill kicks the melody up into the upper half of the octave. Where we previously had descending chromatic notes, now they ascend, invigorating the harmony (the F-sharp in the alto before the end of the first phrase, and the A-naturals in the next-to-last measure of the next phrase). The majority of the harmony is written in open position, especially in the second phrase. Stanphill also builds up to the highest note of the melody toward the end of this section. The overall musical effect is as if someone flipped the lights on!

The final two phrases of the text of each stanza turn from the perspective of Jesus back to the resulting change of heart in the Christian. The music follows, repeating the 3rd and 4th phrases of the opening half; but after the dramatic contrast of the preceding section, and with the chastened tone of the text, the music now comes across differently. What initially sounded like despair and complaining is reinterpreted as calm resignation. This was exactly the point of the text, of course.

Once again, I am not suggesting the Stanphill sat down and decided to do these things, although they may have crossed his mind during the writing process. Some may have been intuitive choices, or even a fortuitous combination of notes that struck him as appropriate as he composed. I suspect, however, that good songwriters put more thought into these things than is sometimes apparent.


Gohr, Glenn. "This side of heaven: the story of Ira Stanphill and his popular gospel songs." Assemblies of God Heritage volume 14, number 2 (Spring 1994): 5-9, 24-26. (PDF download)

Judson, Edward. The Life of Adoniram Judson. New York: A.D.F. Randolph & Co, 1883.

Spurgeon, Charles H.  The Treasury of David, ? vols.  New York, Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls, 1892 (reprint).

Stanphill, Ira. This Side of Heaven. Fort Worth, Texas: Hymntime Ministries, 1983.

Terry, Lindsay. Stories Behind 50 Southern Gospel Favorites. Volume 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 2002.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Fear Not, Little Flock

Praise for the Lord #149

Words: Mary A. Kidder, 1882 [1880?]
Music: James G. Dailey, 1882

Mary Ann (Pepper) Kidder was a Civil War widow in New York City whose pastime of writing poetry became the primary support of her family. In addition to patriotic and temperance-themed works, she became a prominent writer of gospel song lyrics. Fanny Crosby recalled that she, Kidder, and Josephine Pollard were referred to as "the Trio" at the Biglow & Main publishing house because of their standing as the go-to lyricists (Crosby, 136). Further information about Kidder's career is available in my earlier post on the song "Did you think to pray?."

The stanzas of "Fear not, little flock" appear in Sunday School Songs: a Treasury of Devotional Hymns and Tunes for the Sunday School (Cleveland, Ohio: Publishing House of the Evangelical Association, 1880), with a different chorus made from the original 4th stanza (now usually omitted), and with music by Joseph Garrison. The current setting with music by Dailey first appeared in Sing the Gospel (Chicago: E.O. Excell, 1882). (Though I have not been able to view a copy, the Dailey version is found in Excell's 1885 The Gospel in Song, which incorporates the contents of Sing the Gospel and gives an 1882 copyright date for this setting.)

The earliest hymnal used among Churches of Christ to include this song was The New Christian Hymn and Tune Book (Cincinnati: Fillmore Bros., 1887), edited by James H. Fillmore. This hymnal became a major competitor to the Christian Hymnal, the "official" hymnal begun by Alexander Campbell, having much the same content at a lower price (McCann 18). No doubt the fact that the Christian Hymnal was owned by and benefited the Missionary Society was additional incentive for conservative congregations to adopt Fillmore's book. "Fear not, little flock" did not appear in the original 1889 Christian Hymns published by Gospel Advocate, but was in the 1935 reboot of that title and has been included in most hymnals among the U.S. Churches of Christ since that time.

Stanza 1:
Fear not, little flock, says the Savior divine,
The Father has willed that the kingdom be thine;
O soil not your garments with sin here below:
My sheep and my lambs must be whiter than snow.

The first couplet is obviously from Luke 12:32, and introduces the first of two metaphors that underlie the lyrics: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). The original context is the Christian's relationship to material wealth (Luke 12:13-34, paralleled in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:19-34). The "fear" in question is a concern over material necessities. Jesus commands, "Do not be anxious about your life" (Luke 12:22), "nor be worried" (verse 29); instead, "Seek His kingdom and these things will be added to you" (verse 31).

Interestingly, Kidder lifts verse 32 from this context and applies it instead to a different area of anxiety: the assurance of salvation. The image of the "little flock" in need of rescue is a common one from the Hebrew Testament; God "led [His] people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron" through the wilderness (Psalm 77:20), and David defended a literal flock of sheep from the depredations of wild animals before he delivered his nation from the Philistines (1 Samuel 17). The prophets later used this imagery to describe the captivity and ultimate return of the people from Babylon: "I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply" (Jeremiah 23:3). Prophets speaking of the Messiah naturally used this comparison to describe the coming Son of David. "I will set up over them one Shepherd, my servant David, and He shall feed them: He shall feed them and be their Shepherd" (Ezekiel 34:23).

Jesus came fulfilling that prophecy as "a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6, cf. Micah 5:2-4), proclaiming the kingdom of God to those whom He saw were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). In His compassion He reached out especially to the poor and outcast, to the sinners, Samaritans, and even Gentiles. He fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel 34:12, "As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered." As seen in the 23rd Psalm, He promises to lead His kingdom-flock through every phase of life, good and bad, and to bring them at last into the culmination of His kingdom in heaven, where "the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17).

In view of these wonderful promises, the metaphor shifts in the second half of the verse to that of keeping our garments clean, so that we will be always ready for the King's return. The reference is doubtless to the Lord's letters to the seven churches at the beginning of the Revelation:
Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Revelation 3:4-5). 
The white garment is a symbol of holiness and purity throughout the Bible. At the Transfiguration Jesus was seen to be clothed in dazzling white (Mark 9:3), and in the first chapter of the Revelation He appears to John in the form described first in Daniel 9:7: "His clothing was white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool." Angels were also identified by this kind of clothing in Mark 16:5 and Acts 1:10.

In the main body of the Revelation, white garments appear on the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne (4:4), are given to the Christian martyrs (6:11), and clothe the multitudes from every nation that are later seen to stand before the Lamb (7:9). An elder addresses John and explains, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14). The white garment, then, represents holiness and purity before God, obtained not by our own efforts but through the cleansing blood of Christ.

Our goal, once cleansed, should be to keep the garments clean; but when they are soiled with sin, we can seek to renew them through Jesus, even as He encouraged the Christians at Laodicaea:
"I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see" (Revelation 3:18).
Whiter than snow (I long to be, dear Savior),
Whiter than snow (I long to be).
Whiter than snow (I long to be, dear Savior),
Whiter than snow (Whiter than the snow).

The chorus continues the theme of white garments and the purity they represent. It particularly references Psalm 51:7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." It is from the famous Psalm of David that records his repentance after his terrible sins toward Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. Here David pours out his heart, a broken man pleading for a return to his former relationship with God. Despite all he had done, and the consequences he would suffer for the rest of his days, he still had hope of spiritual restoration. As Isaiah would say to a later generation,
Seek the LORD while He may be found;
call upon Him while He is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Stanza 2:
Far whiter than snow, and as fair as the day, 
For Christ is the fountain to wash guilt away;
O give Him, poor sinner, that burden of Thine,
And enter the fold with the ninety-and-nine.


The metaphor of Christ as a fountain naturally calls to mind other hymns, in particular the great American folk hymn "Come Thou Fount of every blessing." But the image is rooted in Scripture, starting (at least) with Jesus' unusual conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in John chapter 4. Moving deftly from the subject of physical thirst and wells to the spiritual equivalents, Jesus says in verse 14, "But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." There was "water in the plan" from the beginning, for nourishment and for cleansing; in a similar unusual encounter, Jesus told the Jewish leader Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Paul was told in similar fashion by Ananias, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16).

The second half of the stanza promises that Christ will take away the burden of sin, recalling Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." In one sense this statement is hard to reconcile with some of Jesus' own descriptions of following Him, such as Matthew 7:14, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few," or Matthew 16:24, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." To this question one can only answer that the burdens of sin lead to far worse, in this life and beyond, than anything Jesus will demand.

The final line references the famous parable of the lost sheep, which becomes the chief topic of the third stanza.

Stanza 3:
Yon sheep, that was lost in the valley of sin,
Was found by the Shepherd, who gathered him in;
With songs of thanksgiving the hills did resound,
"My friends and my neighbors, the lost sheep is found."


The well known parable is found in Luke 15:4-7:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
This perennially popular story touches the heart in several ways. There is the determination of the Shepherd to recover the lost sheep, however long it takes. There is the realization that no matter how many other sheep He has, each one is valuable enough to receive His individual attention, as if it were His only one. And finally, there is the tender care with which He brings the missing one home; not with rebuke or punishment, but with gentleness and joy.

Another stanza, now often omitted, preceded the final stanza:

Look up, O my brother, and be not cast down,
While heavy the cross, you are sighting the crown;
Go, wash in the fountain, while waiting below;
Your sins shall, though scarlet, be whiter than snow.

The final line references Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." This colorful and thought-provoking Scripture reference is predicated on the "washing in the fountain" referenced in the second stanza, but the effect is weakened by the awkward introduction of the image of cross-bearing in the same context. The singer is first encouraged as one struggling under the cross, then is told to wash in the fountain. Bearing the cross is an act of obedience, however, and the difficulty found therein is not the result of unforgiven sin, but of the inherent cost of following Jesus. The confused message may be the reason this stanza is often omitted.

Stanza 4:
Ride over temptation and cease your alarms;
Your Shepherd is Jesus, your refuge His arms;
He'll never forsake you, a Brother and Friend,
But love you and save you in worlds without end.


In conclusion, Mrs. Kidder exhorts the singer to take courage from the knowledge of this Shepherd's desire and ability to care for His own. When we think of the metaphor of the ancient shepherd, we tend to focus on the gentle, careful attention given to the flock, as expressed in Psalm 23. But the shepherd also had to be strong, as David proved by his defense of his flocks against wild animals. In the less famous Psalm 28, the shepherd-king of ancient Israel described his God in terms of the Savior-Shepherd:
Blessed be the LORD!
  For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
  in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
  and with my song I give thanks to Him. 
The LORD is the strength of His people;
  He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Oh, save Your people and bless Your heritage!
  Be their Shepherd and carry them forever.
(Psa 28:6-9)
Micah predicted that the Son of David would fulfill this desire, in the same passage in which Bethlehem is named as the Messiah's birthplace: "And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they shall dwell secure, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:4). In such hints and shadows the faithful Israelites could see a Good Shepherd coming; how much more should we, with the full revelation of His gospel to reassure us, trust in Him and follow His example? Peter so exhorts us, expanding on the language of Isaiah 53:
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. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to Him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1Peter 2:21-25).
About the music:
Picture of James G. Dailey
From Simpson's Daily
, Kittaning, Pa.,
12 May 1916.

James Gerald Dailey was born March 22 1854 in Rockland, Delaware, north of Wilmington ("James Gerald Dailey, Sr.," to Irish immigrants James and Eliza Dailey. His father passed away when James was only four, and the family relocated to the western end of the state, settling in "Brockwayville," as Brockway, Pennsylvania was then called ("Eliza Dailey," In the 1870 census James is listed as an apprentice shoemaker, and curiously, is indicated to be "blind, deaf, insane, or idiotic" (1870 census). There is no other information that Dailey had any such disabilities, so this remains a mystery. By 1876 he had married (1900 census), and the 1880 census shows him to have been working as a shoemaker in Brockway for a time, supporting his widowed mother in his household.

How and where Dailey acquired his musical training is yet to be discovered; but his rise in the field of sacred music coincided with the rise of the temperance movement, with which he held a lifelong association. In a New York Times article from 28 October 1887 describing the traveling tent-meetings of the Prohibition Party, we find this (rather snarky) report of James G. Dailey's leading a Sunday service:
The Professor's presence is calculated to lend sanctity to Gospel temperance meetings such as were held on Sundays in the tent. It diffuses also the solemnity necessary to the success of secular gatherings. He is tall and dark-complexioned, and has a mournful expression which well befits an evangelist wedded to his calling. His voice is mellow and melodious, two qualities indispensable to a singer of sweet prohibition songs.
Times reporters could make fun all they wished; Dailey was becoming known for his temperance songs, which led to a string of publications:
What's the News? A Collection of Gospel, Temperance and Prohibition Songs. Brockwayville, Pa. and Buffalo: J. G. Dailey, c1889.
Love: for Use in the Sunday-School, Home, Social, and all Kinds of Religious Services. Brockwayville, Pa.: J. G. Dailey, 1892.
Popular Pearls for Gospel Temperance Meetings. Brockwayville, Pa.: J. G. Dailey, 1894.
Prohibition Chimes: for Temperance, Prohibition and all Reform Meetings. Fredonia, New York: Dailey & Mead, [1900?]
"But now abide faith, hope, love; these three, howbeit the greatest of these is love." Philadelphia: J. G. Dailey, [1914?]
The Prohibition Wringer. Philadelphia: J.G. Dailey Music Company, c1915.
The 1910 census shows that Dailey eventually settled in Philadelphia, a center of music publishing. Though he is remembered today for his hymn tunes--including the winsome music for "Why did my Savior come to earth"--he was best known in his own time for the temperance songs. In one of his better known efforts in this genre, written in 1911, Dailey made the following prediction:

Public domain, from

Dailey got the last laugh on the New York Times, which had to admit at Dailey's death in 1927 the prophetic accuracy of his song (NYT, 16 November 1927, p. 5). On January 27, 1920, the Volstead Act took effect, making alcoholic beverages illegal and beginning the Prohibition Era in the United States.


Crosby, Fanny. Memories of Eighty Years. Boston: James H. Earle, 1906.

McCann, Forrest M. Hymns and History: an Annotated Survey of Sources. Abilene, Texas: ACU Press, 1997.

"James G. Dailey, songwriter, dies." New York Times, 16 November 1927, page 5.

"James Gerald Dailey, Sr.", page created by Jeff Donaldson.

"Eliza Jane Morrison Dailey."

"J. G. Dailey."

"James Dailey." United States Census, 1860.

"James Dailey." United States Census, 1870.

"James G. Dailey." United States Census, 1880

"James G. Daily." United States Census, 1900

"James G. Dailey." United States Census, 1910

"Bailey's tent campaign." New York Times 28 October 1887, page 1. 

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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