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Posts Tagged ‘Christian hymns’

Women have contributed some of the greatest hymns of the Church.  In our circles, many would be able to name Fanny J. Crosby as a writer of many familiar hymns—and rightly so. Look at this short list of some of her songs that are still sung in churches that sing hymns:

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

Blessed Assurance

A Wonderful Savior

I Am Thine, O Lord

Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home

Safe In the Arms of Jesus

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

To God Be the Glory

But there are many lesser-known women who have given God’s people great hymns.  One of my favorite hymns since my college years is The Sands of Time, a hymn written by Anne Ross Cousin.  

Mrs. Cousin was born in 1824 in Scotland as the only child of Dr. David Cordell, who had served at the Battle of Waterloo.  She married a Presbyterian minister named William Cousin, had six children with him, and wrote many hymns to be used in the services conducted by her husband.

The Sands of Time was written in 1854 and, according to Mrs. Cousin, was inspired by the dying words of Samuel Rutherford, one of the highest regarded and prolific religious figures in Scotland during the early 19th century. The epitaph on his tomb includes the words “Acquainted with Immanuel’s song.”  Cousin composed a poem of nineteen stanzas around the idea of Immanuel’s land, using this prophetic name for Jesus as the central motif.  The lyrics were set to the music of a French tune by Chretien D’Urhan and arranged by Edward Rimbault in 1867 into the hymn, usually with only four or five verses, with which we are familiar.

Here is a beautiful rendition of the song on Youtube you will enjoy hearing:

 

The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for—the fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love!
The streams of earth I’ve tasted more deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen:
It were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army, doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory—glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

With mercy and with judgment my web of time He wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow were lustered with His love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided, I’ll bless the heart that planned
When throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

O I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved’s mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”
I stand upon His merit—I know no other stand,
Not even where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

If you would like to read all nineteen verses of the original poem, you can find it at this site.

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O store gudThe chorus was probably the most popular extra-curricular activity during my high school years at Fort Worth Christian.  Almost every student was in chorus, although only 40 could perform at any one time.

One of the reasons so many were in chorus was because we did lots of short trips to churches to present programs. We would present our program in area churches every Wednesday night and often on Sunday nights!  During the intermission in our program, the president of the school would speak about the advantages of Christian education and then pass the collection plate. I suspect what the students really liked was that when the bus returned to the school in the evening, we would all hold hands and sing Bless Be the Tie—a great time to hold hands with your new girlfriend!

At the conclusion of almost all of our programs, we would take requests from the audience.. We had a menu of around fifty hymns and songs that we were prepared to sing upon request.  A few of the songs on the menu were ALWAYS selected, such as My God and I, There Is A Balm in Gilead, and Just A Closer Walk With Thee, but I suspect that the one most often selected was How Great Thou Art.

That was the early 60s.  On April 17, 2013, George Beverly Shea died at the age of 104. He was the one who popularized How Great Thou Art in the United States in the early 50s, when he sang it as a theme for the Billy Graham Crusades.

But while he may be the single person most associated with this hymn, the hymn itself has as many people and diverse stories connected with it as it has versions and verses.

The original hymn was composed by Carl Gustav Boberg in Sweden in 1885 . O Store Gud originally had nine verses. One version of its origin talks about walking in nature, getting caught in a storm, and then watching the storm pass and thinking about the greatness of God.

Another version is that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 which was used in the underground church in Sweden during a time of persecution of Baptists and Mission Friends in the late 1800s.

I don’t see any reason why there can’t be a version where both of these hold true.

The hymn was first published in Sweden, but then traveled to Germany where it was translated into Wie Gross Bist Du or identified by the first words Du Grosser Gott, and as in Sweden became very popular.

From Germany it went to Russia. The Russian version is what a British Methodist missionary Stuart K Hines heard on a mission trip in Ukraine in 1931, who then translated, perhaps better said, paraphrased the meaning of the German/Russian translation into English, into what we today know as How Great Thou Art.

Hines also felt free to add new verses to the song. The story of the third verse goes like this according to one source:

It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine, this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.

 

The story of the fourth verse is equally as moving, although occurring seventeen years later. Hines was working among Russian refugees in England after World War II. In one particular camp where they only found two professing Christians, one of them told him this story:

One man to whom they were ministering told them an amazing story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian, but he was not, but he had since been converted. His deep desire was to find his wife so they could at last share their faith together. But he told the Hines that he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven, and could share in the Life Eternal there. These words again inspired Hine, and they became the basis for his fourth and final verse to ‘How Great Thou Art’:

I first remember singing the song in the woods surrounding  Camp Deer Run in East Texas, but later in many beautiful natural settings around the world; I’ve sung the third verse in communion settings—quietly, reverently—and I’ve stood up to sing the fourth verse loudly with joyful anticipation of the resurrection.

It took Swedish Christians, German Christians, Russian Christians, and British Christians to give us today the song we love—a great lesson in community—a great lesson about God.

For God so loved the world . . . .

 

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A_Charge_to_Keep

A Charge To Keep (W.H.D. Koerner) hung in President Bush’s office during his presidency.

Recently Sherrylee and I visited the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Of the thirteen official libraries, we have visited all of them except the Hoover and the Eisenhower libraries, which we hope to see soon to complete our quest.

Without exception these libraries and museums are amazing! They tell the story of men who have served their country in the highest office of the land in war and peace, in glory and in shame, but all with a strong commitment to what they believed to be for the common good of the nation.  Regardless of whether history has proven them correct or whether you personally were a supporter of that particular president, you leave each library with greater respect for the man and a new perspective on the history that they shaped.

About a year ago, we visited the George H. W. Bush library in College Station, Texas, and one of the very obvious directions of the museum was to show Bush #41 as a man raised in a family of faith and who with wife Barbara attempted to rear their children in faith.  I had not known that about Mr. Bush, but was deeply impressed with how overtly this message was presented in the story of his life.

In a different way, I found the same to be true of #43, not so much in the biographical section of the museum, but just as explicitly.

Almost all of the presidential museums have a replica of the Oval Office in the White House as it was during that particular president’s term of office, but the replica in the Bush 43 library is the only one where visitors are allowed to sit behind the desk and actually walk around; one is only allowed to peer into all of the others.

The Oval offices have replica pictures on the walls, replica furniture that the former president had used and even replica family pictures and mementoes.  Here is where I was both surprised and impressed in George W’s library.  Behind his desk on a credenza sat a replica of his personal Bible for every visitor to notice. In addition, sitting not far from his desk on a spot that he might pass every day of his presidency sat a small, simply framed copy of A Charge To Keep I Have by Charles Wesley.

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
Who gave His Son my soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

 The first two stanzas apparently spoke to President Bush. Not only is “A Charge To Keep” one of the themes of his library, but you might remember that it is also the title of his book released in 1999.

Both Wesley and Bush take the title words to this hymn from Leviticus 8:35, where Moses delivered to Aaron and his sons the final instructions from the Lord on the establishment of the wilderness Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) and the sacrifices: and keep the charge of the Lord, that ye die not; for so I am commanded.”

I appreciate very much the decision President Bush made to demonstrate his faith in these small ways in his library. Not everyone is charged with being president—or high priest—or any prominent position where we are watched by masses of people, but we are all charged  as Paul charged Timothy in his first letter to him:

This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, . . .that you fight the good fight . . . .(1:18)

Wesley’s admonitions in this great hymn will help us:Arm me with jealous care/As in Thy sight to live,” and “Help me to watch and pray,/And on Thyself rely.”

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I don’t really know how generally well-known Be With Me, Lord is—or was!  This beautiful prayer hymn was a standard hymn in the churches I grew up in, often used as a closing song/prayer, but I remember it best from smaller group devotionals.

We sometimes played with the words and turned the singular pronoun me into us in order to express greater fellowship in the community—something I sometimes miss in the most individualistic praise music of today.

LO SandersonL.O. Sanderson (1901-1992), one of the great hymnists to come out of the Restoration Movement, wrote this particular hymn in 1934. In his autobiographical sketch The Lord Has Been Mindful of Me, he describes in his own words how this hymn was the result of providential circumstances:

“Be With Me, Lord” is perhaps my most popular hymn. In Springfield, in 1934, I was working on my first hymnal for the Gospel Advocate Co. At about 2 a.m. one Tuesday a melody came to mind. I found it difficult to get rid of it. So I stopped and wrote it down, lest I forget. Even then, I kept seeing or sensing the harmony, which bothered my work; so I turned and wrote it out completely. It is a rare meter – 11 notes in a phrase, 10 in the next, 11 in the third, and again 10 in the fourth. I couldn’t come up with or find words to fit it. About eight days passed when I received a letter from Thomas O. Chisholm, who had long written words for me. He wrote that he had retired on the same night I was working, and a theme for a poem seemed to command his attention. Finally after midnight of that same Tuesday, he got up and wrote out the poem. He was sending it to me to see what I thought of it. It was an exact fit for my music. I bought the poem, and the twain have been together since.

Life had not been easy for Sanderson. He was born and raised in a log house in Arkansas. His parents were musical, but they could afford no instruments. Sanderson was gifted, so he began school at age 4 and was in the 4th grade by age 6.

He finished what schooling was available before he was old enough to quit school—probably at about 11 years old because that is when he says his father “put me on my own,” meaning at least he had to buy his own clothes and earn the money for any further schooling.

He began picking cotton so he could afford to attend music normal schools, and by the age of 15, he was certified to teach his own singing school clinics. No doubt Sanderson had often experienced the dependency expressed in the opening stanza of this hymn, and therefore quickly identified with the words given him by T. O. Chisholm .

Be with me, Lord — I cannot live without Thee,
I dare not try to take one step alone,
I cannot bear the loads of life, unaided,
I need Thy strength to lean myself upon.

The second stanza is a more physical description of the “loads of life” and how dangerous those loads can be.

Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten,
If storms of trial burst above my head,
If lashing seas leap ev’rywhere about me,
They cannot harm, or make my heart afraid.

We do know about storms and crashing lightening bursting above our heads—or tornadoes dropping out of clouds—but we are much less familiar with “lashing seas.”

The events to which I now relate those words are the Asian tsunamis, those mortifying pictures of the sea crashing through the man-made barriers and sweeping away homes and cars and people!

Did you see The Impossible (2012) starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, the based-on reality story of a family swept apart in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami?  The calm peaceful scene on the beach followed by instant, unexpected, and total devastation—those can make your heart afraid!

Be with me, Lord! No other gift or blessing
Thou couldst bestow could with this one compare —
A constant sense of Thy abiding presence,
Where’er I am, to feel that Thou art near.

“A constant sense of Thy abiding presence”—that’s the difference between those swept away by fear and those who lose their fears in faith!  No wonder His Presence is the incomparable gift!

And then we always sang the last stanza very quietly:

Be with me, Lord, when loneliness o’ertakes me,
When I must weep amid the fires of pain,
And when shall come the hour of  my departure
For worlds unknown, O Lord, be with me then.

I always thought the last stanza was a little disjointed—but I understand it better now.

As a teenager and young adult, I didn’t understand how loneliness and pain had anything to do with “the hour of my departure.”  Forty or fifty years later, I have seen the loneliness that creeps up on you as you grow older. I’ve seen friends who have lost their spouses-their best friends. I’ve watched the  row of “ widow ladies”  at church slowly grow shorter and shorter until only one  remains. I’ve returned to familiar places where the history of your life has happened in detail, only to discover that it has all been replaced with new and shiny –and you feel like very little of you is left there.

Loneliness and the accompanying pain are perhaps some of the fiercest storms that “burst above my head.”

The last two phrases are the prayerful expression of confidence that we are not left alone—that our last hour will not be our loneliest; rather, our last hour will deliver us from the “constant sense of Thy abiding presence” to be supplanted by the  comforting Presence itself!

Be with us, Lord.

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This prayer for wisdom and courage have always spoken to me.  It’s a strong hymn, repetitive for emphasis—a strong prayer.

Our prayers often come from our weakness. Falling down in weakness and helplessness is often our prayerful posture—as it should be in the presence of Almighty God, but the God of Grace and God of Glory in this hymn does not leave His people weak and helpless. No, the Almighty God raises His people up in His strength and power, arming them for battle, and leading them with no doubt about the outcome.

This hymn was written by Harry Emerson Fosdick, Jr for the opening of the Riverside Church in Manhattan in 1930. Fosdick’s modernist theology and the socially liberal stance of the Riverside Church are far removed from my own faith and practice, but the desire for a Body of Christ that is strong and unafraid should be the prayer of every Christian.  And that is the dominant spirit of this great hymn.

God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

The Great Depression was ripping apart the social and economic fabric of the United States in 1930.  A decade later, we would be involved in a world war, followed by more war and civil unrest, followed by the world terrorism of our own day. “For the facing of this hour” is relevant regardless of the decade—as is the “living of these days” in the next verse.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

The church of Christ is not just threatened from external foes. In our country, in our day perhaps the third verse is the most important.  “Rich in things and poor in soul,” God’s church turns upon itself in “warring madness.” Every church should pray

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee.

We forget that failing man is failing God.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore.

My favorite single line is “Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.”

If we hide in our church buildings, we have resigned. If we are silent in the face of cultural opposition, we have resigned. If we pretend that there is no evil, we have resigned. If we take no risks, we have resigned.  If we think the Word has no power, we have resigned. If we quit going, we have resigned. If we live as if there is no resurrection, we have resigned. If we do not believe in a victorious Church, we have resigned.

Save us from weak resignation!

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage! 

If those words don’t wake you up on this beautiful Sunday morning . . . .

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Be Still My Soul is a hymn that has comforted me and calmed my fears on many occasions. This hymn has the benefit of amazing music that permits coupling only with correspondingly beautiful language.  Be Still My Soul  is the perfect marriage.

Jean Sibelius, a famous Finnish composer, wrote a nationalistic symphony called Finlandia in 1899-1900. Within a fairly turbulent and rousing string of movements, he embedded a quiet hymn-like moment, which became so popular itself that Sibelius later pulled that part of the symphony out and re-worked it into a choral piece.

Katarina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (1697-1768) wrote the German words in 1752, which were translated by Jane Laurie Borthwick into English in 1855.  I have not been able to determine when the melody and these words were first brought together.

Beyond the music, what really first captured me about these lyrics is that they do not promise an easy path or quick relief. What these hymn measures out to you in each verse is comfort and hope, so that you can bear your “cross of grief or pain.”

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Your God is not helpless in the face of what unbelievers would call Fate or Destiny or Chance. In fact, He is entirely sovereign over the future and the past.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

The death of loved ones is perhaps our most painful moment in this life. That kind of separation even made Jesus cry—but not with a sorry that will not be healed by the Resurrection.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

The fear of our own death and all the money we spend and hours we take trying to prolong our days and avoid the unavoidable.  We will need to find in God that moment of stillness when we “grief and fear are gone.”  Grief and fear are exchanged for “love’s purest joy restored.”

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

The story is told that this Eric Liddell, the runner about whom Chariots of Fire was made, taught this hymn to fellow prisoners in China while imprisoned during World War II, an imprisonment he escaped only by death.

A similarly moving story is told that a version of this hymn called “We Rest On Him” was the last hymn sung by Jim Elliot and four fellow missionaries before they were killed by a violent tribe of natives in Ecuador in 1956.

I certainly hope you are not facing imprisonment or native spears, but I suspect you have your own fearful moments.  In those moments, this hymn will be a blessing to you.

Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

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