Sunday, July 19, 2015

Our Sure Defense Forever Be

I recently acquired a new (to me) hymnal, pictured here. Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992) was a joint project of the Church of the Brethren, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Mennonite Church in North America (it appears that those last two denominations merged in 2002 but I could be wrong).  Anyway, it's an interesting book to me because, in addition to many new hymns of the 1980s and 90s it also has many hymns from earlier days that had not survived in the hymnals of other denominations but which were apparently still being sung.

The hymnal opens with a section of hymns called "Gathering," which caught my eye for some reason, though I'm sure it's not the only hymnal with such a section.  These are suggested for use as the opening hymn in worship, which I've always just thought of as "opening hymns," but "Gathering" sounds much nicer.  Also, it seems like a good theme for summer Sundays here, so even though I have already written about many such hymns before, we'll see some more this year.

Working together, Fanny Crosby and composer William Howard Doane probably collaborated on dozens of songs, including Pass me not, O gentle Savior, Jesus, keep me near the cross, and To God be the glory, but I had never encountered this one, which I like very much.

God of our strength, enthroned above,
The source of life, the fount of love;
O let devotion’s sacred flame
Our souls awake to praise thy name.

God of our strength, we sing to thee,
Our sure defense forever be.

To thee we lift our joyful eyes,
To thee on wings of faith we rise;
Come thou, and let thy courts on earth
Ring out thy praise in holy mirth.

God of our strength, from day to day
Direct our thoughts and guide our way;
O may our hearts united be
In sweet communion here with thee.

God of our strength, on thee we call;
God of our hope, our light, our all,
Thy name we praise, thy love adore,
Our rock, our shield, forevermore.

Fanny Crosby, 1882; alt.
VISION (L.M. with refrain)
William H. Doane, 1883

This hymn was first published in the Baptist Hymnal (1883), for which Doane was the musical editor.  Although the Cyber Hymnal suggests that Doane's tune was written earlier, this appears to have been a new text for Crosby.  At this point she was probably the most famous writer of gospel songs and hymns in her day, having been successful for about fifteen years. Though she lived until 1915, her most popular songs (mostly the ones we still know today) were written in those early years.  By 1883, the songs she was writing did not gain the same traction as the earlier ones and are generally less known, though I have written about several of these as well.   


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