Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Freshness of Thy Grace

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where angry people's cries are heard
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear thy voice, O living Word.

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds filled with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of thy tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Thy heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for thee,
Still holds the freshness of thy grace;
Yet long these multitudes to see
The sweet compassion of thy face.

O Savior, from the mountainside
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again;

Till all on earth shall learn thy love
And follow where thy feet have trod,
Till, glorious from thy heav'n above,
Shall come the city of our God!

Frank Mason North, 1903; alt.
Tune: GERMANY (L.M.)
From William Gardiner's Sacred Melodies, 1815

Methodist minister Frank Mason North was Corresponding Secretary for the New York City Missionary and Church Extension Society when he was asked to write a missionary hymn for the Methodist Hymnal of 1905. He had never written a hymn before, but this one came out of a sermon he was writing on Matthew 22:9 - Go ye therefore unto the partings of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the feast. The "partings of the highways" became the first line of North's hymn, which he followed with images found in cities around the world.

North went on to write several more hymns, though in later years he claimed in a letter that he was "not a hymn writer, as that term is ordinarily used." Perhaps he meant that he was not as prolific as many, or that it was not a primary avocation of his, but this one hymn at least-- the first one he wrote -- has crossed over to many hymnals and denominations in the last 100 years.


Dorothy said...

I really needed to hear those words today. Especially that first verse. I guess some things haven't changed that much since 1903.

C.W.S. said...

Hymns can definitely speak to us more directly depending on the time or even the place we encounter them. I first sang this particular hymn 25 years ago at a summer Sunday evening service in New York City - the images in it were right outside. The next time I sang it was some time later, in a suburban Sunday morning service where the hymn semmed much farther away from the experience of the congregation.