Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Night, Nor Need, Nor Pain

O holy city, seen of John,
Where Christ, the Lamb, doth reign,

Within whose foursquare walls shall come
No night, nor need, nor pain,
And where the tears are wiped from eyes
That shall not weep again.

Hark, how from men whose lives are held
More cheap than merchandise,
From women struggling sore for bread,
From little children’s cries,
There swells the sobbing human plaint
That bids thy walls arise.

O shame to us who rest content
While lust and greed for gain
In street and shop and tenement
Wring gold from human pain,
And bitter lips in deep despair
Cry “Christ hath died in vain!”

Give us, O God, the strength to build
The city that hath stood
Too long a dream, whose laws are love,
Whose crown is servanthood,
And where the sun that shineth is
God’s grace for human good.

Already in the mind of God
That city riseth fair:
Lo! how its splendor challenges
The souls that greatly dare --
Yea, bids us seize the whole of life
And build its glory there.

Walter Russell Bowie, 1909; alt.
The Union Harmony, 1848

The holy city of the first line is from Revelation 21:1-7. Beautiful, but far-off. In this hymn Walter Russell Bowie wants us to understand that existence here on earth requires us to bring some of the promise of that future into the present time and place: Give us, O God, the strength to build... This hymn was written around the time of Bowie's ordination as an Episcopal priest, shortly after his graduation from seminary, but in later years he went on to a long career in New York City as rector of Grace Church and professor at Union Seminary, where the words of this hymn must sometimes have come to mind.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

A wonderful hymn of congregational self-exhortation that is in too few of the hymnals of my tradition - indeed, it appears that the New Century Hymnal is the only hymnal in use in the Evergreen Baptist Association that contains it. How does the text you give differ from what Bowie wrote? I'm inclined to look for another tune; the Cyber Hymnal has two, but I haven't tried them with it yet. MORNING SONG is a fine tune, but seems to me to have been a bit overused in recent hymnals. Thanks for reminding me of this fine hymn!

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

I believe that there is only one change: in the third verse, "deep despair" replaces "blind despair."

Previously, we had made a few other changes for various reasons, but in revisiting the text I was no longer sure they were necessary, and put it up here almost exactly as originally written.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Well done, a good emendation.

Leland aka Haruo
not a silent reader ;-)