Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Maltbie D. Babcock

Presbyterian minister Maltbie Davenport Babcock was born today in 1858. He began his career in 1882 and served congregations in Lockport, NY, Baltimore, and New York City.

Though he became widely known for his preaching and his ministry in his thirteen years in Baltimore, (which led to a promotion of sorts when he was later called to a Manhattan congregation) he did not publish his sermons, or write a book, as many of his popular contemporaries did.

After his death in 1901 at the relatively young age of 42, his wife, Katherine Tallman Babcock, was apparently asked by many of his admirers to publish some of his writings. She collected what she could gather into a book called Thoughts for Every-Day Living. His sermons had always been delivered from notes rather than full manuscripts, so those were unavailable, but many people had taken their own notes of memorable quotes from his sermons, and some were included in the book along with magazine pieces he had written and some personal correspondence.

At the end of her foreword, she writes "The verses, which were written in moments of recreation, are added..." I can't quite tell if this is somewhat apologetic on her part, thinking perhaps that his poetry was of less value. At any rate, within a few years, several of the verses were set to music and published in many hymnals. Some of
Babcock's resulting hymns, I believe, are known to many more people today than anything else once collected in Thoughts for Every-Day Living.

This particular text has not been widely sung; according to the Hymnary site, it has only
appeared in two hymnals that they have catalogued. I think it deserves to be better known.

God's boundless Love! As arching sky
Above us when we wake and sleep,
Above us when we smile and weep,
Above us when we live and die.

God's tireless Love! Beside the cot
Of her sick child the mother sleeps.
Our heavenly Father ever keeps
Unweary watch -- and slumbers not.

God's changeless Love! The wand'ring one
Forsakes, forgets, dishonors; yet,
Repenting, going home, is met
With no reproach -- "Welcome, my son!"

God's mighty Love! On Calvary's height,
Suff'ring to save us from our sin,
To bring God's wide dominion in,
And fill our lives with joy and light.

God's endless Love! What will it be
When earthly shadows flee away,
For all eternity's bright day
Th'unfolding of that Love to see!

Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901; alt.
Musikalisches Handbuch, 1690;

harm. William H. Monk, 1847

This little hymn with a large theme seems to walk us all the way through the Bible from beginning to end with different aspects of the love of God. I think the opening stanza suggests the vastness of Creation, followed by the Old Testament God, the guardian of God's people who "slumbers not, nor sleeps" (Psalm 121). Next we get Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, then the Passion, then conclude with a description of the life to come.

I tried literally dozens of different tunes for this one, but sometimes in the end it's best to stick with something familiar.

One Year Ago: Maltbie D. Babcock


Dorothy said...

What beautiful words of encouragement and comfort! Another much appreciated introduction, C.W.S.

C.W.S. said...

Thanks, Dorothy - it's always nice to hear when I'm on the right track.

The page counter shows that I have a lot more readers these days, but they are apparently shy (or they think I'm crazy).