Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Springing From Eternal Love

Continuing my own countdown of favorite ten hymns (as of the end of May), submitted to the survey at Semicolon, we come to the previously unrevealed Number Three.

This hymn did make the top one hundred -- but it was, in fact, at Number Ninety-Nine (and I was pretty shocked to see what came in below it, at Number One Hundred). Since I ranked it third, it would have received at least eight points in the survey (but possibly no more than that, if no one else had it on their list).

I've talked about my fondness for the Exodus story before, so it's not surprising that it shows up in these verses. The opening lines come directly from the third verse of Psalm 87.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
God, whose word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for a safe abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See! the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love;
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like our God, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Round each habitation hovering,
See the cloud and fire appear!
For a glory and a cov’ring
Showing that our God is near.
Thus deriving from our banner
Light by night and shade by day;
Safe they feed upon the manna
Which God gives them when they pray.

Savior, if of Zion’s city,
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy Name.
Fading is our worldly pleasure,
All is boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
All of Zion’s children know.

John Newton, 1779; alt.
Franz Josef Haydn, 1797

This hymn first appeared in the Olney Hymns (1779) of John Newton (and William Cowper). The fourth verse here (which was Newton's fifth) is often left out. The tune originally appeared in an anthem written by Franz Joseph Haydn for the birthday of the Austrian Emperor, and later in Haydn's String Quartet in C (Opus 76 No. 3). Though text and tune are nearly contemporaneous, they were not matched until the 1889 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern.

They were used together nearly always after that for many years, but in more recent times some hymnals prefer not to use AUSTRIA as many people connect it to the German national anthem used during World War II. Another tune, ABBOT'S LEIGH, was written by British composer Cyril Taylor in 1941 (perhaps because of the German association) and is often used today (you can hear it at the Cyber Hymnal, where they have permission to reproduce it).

One Year Ago: Edward J. Hopkins

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Frederick William Faber

Today is the birthday of priest and hymnwriter Frederick William Faber (1814 - 1863), born in Yorkshire. Educated at one of the colleges of Oxford, he was ordained in the Church of England in 1837. Faber apparently had a lifelong interest in St. Wilfrid, and in 1844, published a biography, St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York.

Faber was influenced by John Henry Newman and the Tractarian (or Oxford) movement, which believed that Anglicanism had become too liberal, and that it should move closer to Roman Catholicism. In fact, Newman shocked many by converting to Catholicism in 1845, and Faber followed in 1846. He established a religious order in Staffordshire, the Brothers of the Will of God, choosing St. Wilfrid as their patron saint.

Faber believed that English Catholics needed new hymns of their own, rather than only translations from earlier, continental sources, or Protestant borrowings, and wrote many during his lifetime (unsurprisingly, one of his popular collections, Jesus and Mary (1849), included a hymn to St. Wilfrid.). A later volume which collected most of his texts from other sources and titled simply Hymns was first published in 1861 and went through many editions.

Today, his hymns are found in most hymnals, having never been limited to Catholic ones. There were various changes made over the years for theological and other reasons, but there are a few of his texts that most hymnsingers know. This text is perhaps the one most-tinkered-with, and I couldn't keep from doing yet another version.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God's justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heav'n;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

Longing souls, come nearer Jesus,
Come, oh come not doubting thus,
But with faith that trusts more bravely
God's huge tenderness for us.
For we make that love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify God's strictness
With a zeal unlike God's own.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of the mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper room of bliss.

Frederick W. Faber, 1854; alt.
Tochter Sion, 1741

Faber wrote this text in four line verses, and added to it over the years; the final version has thirteen verses. Some hymnals still retain the four-line verses, but it seems to me that more these days use eight-line verses, each one combining two of the original verses. The hymn rarely follows Faber's original order either; the combined verses are assembled in many different sequences, not to mention including or leaving out various verses. In fact, Faber's original text began with a verse that is generally omitted these days:

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

There seems to be no widely accepted tune either, though I admit that my choice, coming from an eighteenth-century German tune book, probably doesn't appear in print anywhere (I like it, though!). You may know the hymn to IN BABILONE or BEECHER (both eight-line tunes) or WELLESLEY (four-line tune by Lizzie Tour­jée), but it has been sung to many over the years, apparently even ERIE (better known as What a friend we have in Jesus -- it fits but I really can't imagine using it here). Searching for a tune I also considered MOUNT OF OLIVES, which is similar to IN BABILONE, but better (less frantic), I think.

One Year Ago: Eliza E. Hewitt

Friday, June 26, 2009

Philip Doddridge

Philip Doddridge, the Nonconformist preacher and professor who trained at least two hundred men in ministry at his own academy, was born today in 1702. He admired the hymns of Isaac Watts, whom he later met and befriended. Later in life, having written many hymns of his own, Doddridge wrote that he was but one of the many lamps "kindled at Watts' torch."

I think the most interesting thing about Doddridge is that he wrote his hymns to be sung immediately following his sermons; he apparently wrote them at the same time, using the same scripture verses as the theme. How many modern ministers would find it a useful discipline to write both a sermon and a hymn illustrating that sermon each week?

My God, thy table now is spread,
Thy cup with love doth overflow;
Be all thy children thither led,
And let them thy sweet mercies know.

O, let thy table honored be,
And furnished well with joyful guests;
And may each soul salvation see
That here its sacred pledges tastes.

Drawn by thy quick'ning grace, O Lord,
In countless numbers let them come;
And gather from their Savior's board
The Bread that lives beyond the tomb.

Nor let thy spreading Gospel rest
Till through the world thy truth has run;
Till with this Bread all those be blest
Who see the light, or feel the sun.

Philip Doddridge, 1755; alt.
arr. Edward Muller, 1790

This hymn has undergone many changes over the years; though it still reads a bit old-fashioned to us, it has in fact been "modernized" from Doddridge's original, which began:

My God, and is thy table spread?
And does thy cup with love o'erflow?

Somewhere along the way an editor decided to make the opening lines declarative rather than questioning (though Doddridge was certainly not questioning - he knew the answer was "yes").

The tune ROCKINGHAM, familiar and used in many hymnals, appeared in Edward Muller's Psalms of David (1790). He adapted the tune from an earlier one called TUNBRIDGE, which appeared in another psalter tune book about ten years earlier. The relationship between the tunes was apparently revealed in 1909 in The Musical Times, which reproduced the page from Miller's copy of the earlier book containing TUNBRIDGE, with his notation "would make a good long m.[eter tune]."

P.S. The illustration above is the frontispiece of a book by Doddridge, described as "the Author, supported by Faith and Piety, accompanied by Benevolence."

One Year Ago: Philip Doddridge

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nativity of John the Baptist

As discussed before, most saints' days mark the day of death or martyrdom. John the Baptist is one of the few whose birth is marked, apparently because he was endowed with "prenatal grace," which made his birth more important than that of other saints.

This prenatal grace derives from his miraculous birth to Mary's cousin Elizabeth, past the age of childbearing, but modern scholarship is skeptical of this claim, as the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is only mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. The rest of the story seems more secure: John, prophesying the ministry of Jesus (depicted here in a woodcut by Gustave Doré) , baptizing him in the Jordan, and continuing to preach the Word in spite of personal danger. The story of his death has been enlarged over the years by the many tellings of the story of Salome in novels, plays, even operas.

This hymn by Henry Alford enumerates several of the names and attributes given to John in scripture.

Herald, in the wilderness,
Breaking up the road,
Sinking mountains, raising plains,
For the path of God;

Prophet, to the multitudes
Calling to repent,
In the way of righteousness
Unto Israel sent;

Messenger, God’s chosen one
Foremost to proclaim,
Proffered titles passing by,
Pointing to the Lamb.

Captive, for the word of truth
Boldly witnessing;
Then in Herod’s dungeon cave,
Faint and languishing;

Martyr, sacrificed to sin
At that feast of shame;
As his life foreshowed the Word,
In his death the same—

Holy Jesus, when he heard,
Went apart to pray:
Thus may we our lesson take
From this saint today.

Henry Alford, 1866; alt.
Tune: BRUCE (
The Hymnal, 1907

This hymn first appeared in Alford's The Year of Praise (1867), one of several nineteenth-century hymnals that prescribed specific hymns for each Sunday of the year and for saints' days and other commemorations. The tune BRUCE is by an unknown composer, but may have first appeared in the Presbyterian Hymnal.

One Year Ago: Henry Ward Beecher

P.S. Tonight, listening to a cable news program, I was surprised to hear both the feast day of Saint John the Baptist's birth and the birthday of Henry Ward Beecher mentioned. I don't expect that to happen very often!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Whose Glories Now We Sing

OK, here we go -- the previously unrevealed Number Seven on the top ten list I submitted to the survey at Semicolon. Numbers 82 - 100 have been counted down thus far, and I feel fairly certain that this one will yet make the list. It's also on the list submitted by Leland (he ranked it at Number Six), so at least two of us voted for it. However, like many other hymns presented here, it won't be quite the way you remember it.

Crown thee with many crowns,
The Lamb upon the throne;
Hark how the heav'nly anthem drowns
All music but its own;
Our souls awake to sing
Sweet praises unto thee,
To hail thee, voices echoing
Through all eternity.

Crown thee the Child of God
Before the worlds began,
Who know'st the paths that we have trod,
According to God's plan;
Who ev'ry grief hath known
That wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for thine own
That all in thee may rest.

Crown thee the God of life
Who triumphed o'er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife
For those thou cam'st to save;
Whose glories now we sing,
Who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring,
And lives that death may die.

Crown thee the God of years,
The Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Ineffably sublime;
Glass'd in a sea of light,
Whose everlasting waves
Reflect thy throne -- the Infinite!
Who lives and loves and saves,.

Crown thee the God of peace,
Whose pow'r a sceptre sways
From pole to pole that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise;
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For thou dost live in me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Throughout eternity.

Crown thee the God of heav'n,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown thee the One to whom is giv'n
The wondrous name of Love;
Crown thee with many crowns
As thrones before thee fall;
We crown thee, Christ, with many crowns,
Who rulest over all.

Matthew Bridges, 1851 and Godfrey Thring, 1874; alt.

George Job Elvey, 1868

This is a composite version of this hymn that merges verses by two different writers. The original version in six verses was by Matthew Bridges, published in the second edition of his collection Hymns for the Heart (1851). Bridges was originally an Anglican, but converted to Roman Catholicism as a young man. It may be for that reason that Godfrey Thring was asked some years later to revise the hymn. He wrote a number of other verses, which first appeared in Church Hymns (1874) and Thring's own Church of England Hymnbook (1882). Since that time many different hymnals have used verses from both versions, always beginning with Bridges' first verse (Thring's opening verse began Crown him with crowns of gold), though there are still hymnals which use only Bridges' verses. Most modern hymnals (nearly all of which still include this hymn, as you'd probably guess) use only four or five verses, but we wanted at least six.

George Elvey composed DIADEMATA, certainly one reason for the continued popularity of this hymn, for the Bridges text in the 1868 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Anna Laetitia Barbauld (June 20, 1743 - March 9, 1825) was well-known and very successful in her time as a poet, essayist, and children's educator. As she was growing up in Leicestershire, her father, a Presbyterian minister, saw that she received a strong, well rounded education, but her mother worried that she was becoming too intellectual (for a girl), which might damage her matrimonial prospects. However, Anna's love for learning would in later years inspire her to open a school with her husband, Rochefort Barbauld, where they taught for several years.

Her first book of poetry, published in 1773, sold very well, quickly establishing her literary reputation. While teaching at the Palgrave Academy, her school, she published books for children, including Lessons for Children (1778-79), and Hymns in Prose for Children (1781). These books continnued to be used in classrooms for nearly a hundred years. She also began to write political essays in support of such causes as abolition and religious freedom.

Barbauld's first five hymns were written before her first book of poetry was published, and were first printed in Hymns for Public Worship (1772), then in her own book. She went on to write several more, some intended specifically as hymns, and some poems that were later included as hymns in later hymnals. This one, perhaps the most familiar to modern hymn singers, was one of those first five.

Praise to God, immortal praise,
For the love that crowns our days;
Bounteous source of every joy,
Let thy praise our tongues employ;
All to thee, our God, we owe,
Source whence all our blessings flow.

All the plenty summmer pours,
Autumn's rich o'erflowing stores,
Flocks that whiten all the plain,
Yellow sheaves of ripened grain,
God, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.

As thy prosp'ring hand hath blessed
May we give thee of our best;
And by deeds of kindly love,
For thy mercies grateful prove;
Singing thus through all our days,
Praise to God, immortal praise.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld, 1772; alt.
Tune: DIX (
Conrad Kocher, 1838
arr., William Henry Monk, 1860

Barbauld's original hymn was quite different from this version. Hers was in nine verses of four lines each, rather than three (sometimes four) verses of six lines. The first four lines here comprised her first verse, but the next two lines are not hers (though doubtless intended to recall the doxology Praise God, from whom all blessings flow by Thomas Ken). Her second verse continued:

For the blessings of the field,
For the stores her gardens yield,
For the vine's exalted juice,
For the generous olive's use:

It's not really known who made these changes (which happened over many years). The Episcopal hymnal of 1826, where the hymn apparently first appeared in this country, does cast it in six-line verses, and includes those "new" last two lines in the first verse, so they may be the work of someone on the committee that produced that hymnal. This 1826 version uses much more of Barbauld's original than subsequent versions would.

When it first appeared in Hymns for Public Worship, the hymn was titled "Praise to God in Prosperity and Adversity." Her last four verses were:

Yet should rising whirlwinds tear
From the stem the ripening ear;
Should the fig-tree's blasted shoot
Drop her green, untimely fruit;

Should the vine put forth no more,
Nor the olive yield her store,
Though the sickening flocks should fall,
And the herds desert the stall;

Should thine altered hand restrain
The early and the latter rain;
Blast each opening bud of joy,
And the rising year destroy;

Yet to thee my soul shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise;
And when every blessing's flown,
Love thee for thyself alone.

Barbauld's fuller theme was that God should be praised no matter what the circumstances, in adversity as well as prosperity. These last verses were largely still present in 1826, but by the next Episcopal hymnal, in 1872, they were gone (except for the first two lines of the last verse, somewhat altered), and have never been restored. The hymn as used today is mostly the version printed in the Episcopal hymnal of 1892, and therefore, probably the work of someone on that committee.

The tune DIX was apparently first matched to this text in the 1872 hymnal in the music edition edited by J. Ireland Tucker (there were 5 different music editions, as the denominational authorities only approved the texts, not the tunes). It takes its name from William Chatterton Dix, who wrote the hymn most closely associated with it.

After many years of success, Anna Laetitia Barbauld's fortunes seemed to reverse toward the end of her life. Her husband became mentally unbalanced and took his own life in 1808. They had separated earlier that year after an episode in which he attacked her, forcing her to jump out of a window to escape. A few years later, during England's war with Napoleonic France, she published Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, A Poem, which was very critical of the ongoing war and predicted that England would go the way of earlier fallen empires if hostilities continued. This was a hugely unpopular stance (as we sometimes see even in the present day), and the savage criticism she received caused her to cease publishing entirely. Though she continued to write, nothing further was published until after her death in 1825. Later that year her niece, Lucy Aikin, published The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir, and Barbauld's reputation was gradually rehabilitated.

P.S. The illustration above is of a Wedgwood cameo of Barbauld crafted in 1775.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Samuel Longfellow

We already marked the birthday of Samuel Longfellow last year, but there's plenty of good material yet to be seen.

Today's hymn was written when Longfellow was living in Brooklyn NY, leading the Second Unitarian Church there. He preached for the newly formed congregation in early 1853, but felt that his close friend Samuel Johnson would be better suited for the job. Johnson, however, told the group that they should hire Longfellow, which they did. He began as their first full-time minister in April. The New York Times noted that the congregation was already using the Book of Hymns (1846) that Longfellow and Johnson had compiled while they were at Harvard Divinity School.

Longfellow was successful in Brooklyn, and by 1858 the church was able to build a new building that would seat six hundred. He began holding evening vesper services, a first for Unitarians, and in 1859 brought out a book called Vespers, According to the Use at the New Chapel, Brooklyn, which contained an order of service, and hymns and other service selections he had written. This hymn was Number III, titled Creator alme siderum, though it is not a translation of that older Latin hymn.

Now, on land and sea descending,
Brings the night its peace profound;
Let our vesper hymn be blending
With the holy calm around.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Let our vesper hymn be blending
With the holy calm around.

Soon as dies the sunset glory,
Stars of heav'n shine out above,
Telling still the ancient story,
Their Creator's changeless love.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Telling still the ancient story,
Their Creator's changeless love.

Now, our wants and burdens leaving
To God's care who cares for all,
Cease we fearing, cease we grieving;
Touched by God our burdens fall.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Cease we fearing, cease we grieving;
Touched by God our burdens fall.

As the darkness deepens o'er us,
Lo! eternal stars arise;
Hope and faith and love rise glorious,
Shining in the Spirit's skies.
Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!
Hope and faith and love rise glorious,
Shining in the Spirit's skies.

Samuel Longfellow, 1859; alt.
Russian melody; arr. John Stevenson, 1818

This hymn was originally in two verses of eight lines, which included only the first four lines of each verse as seen here. On the same page of Longfellow's Vespers was another evening hymn which included the "Jubilate! Amen!" phrase, so it looks as if the later, unknown editor who matched this text to this tune noticed that and added it to this hymn, with a repeat of the last two lines of each verse, so that it would fit this tune.

The tune is often attributed to Russian composer Dmitri Bortnianski, but apparently without much, if any, verification. What's definite is that it appeared in a collection edited by John Stevenson, A Selection of Popular National Airs (1818). I was surprised recently to hear the tune while listening to an opera by Virgil Thomson, Lord Byron, where it is sung to the words of a different hymn, Savior, breathe an evening blessing.

Longfellow left the Second Unitarian Church in 1860 (his final sermon used a text from Deuteronomy 15:1 "At the end of seven years there shall be a release."), and the congregation lasted for nearly a hundred years more. The "New Chapel" (or, the "Church of the Holy Turtle" as it was sometimes called because of its unusual domed roof) was demolished in 1962, replaced a few years later by Cobble Hill Park.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bishop Alma White

Alma White, born Mollie Alma Bridwell on June 16, 1862, became the first woman bishop in a Christian denomination (though she had founded it herself). Growing up in a poor Methodist Episcopal family in rural Kentucky, but too far from any church to attend regularly, she waited impatiently for conversion. The family went to tent meetings and revivals as circumstance allowed, and finally her conversion experience occurred at age sixteen.

Soon after, she felt that she was being called to preach, though it seemed like an unlikely profession. Settling on the idea of becoming a missionary, which was considered an appropriate field for women, she trained to become a teacher, later accepting a few temporary teaching positions in Colorado and the surrounding states. During this time, however, she married Kent White, a Methodist Episcopal minister, apparently agreeing to become a minister's wife and support him in his work. Her husband was aware of her other ambitions, and initially helped her begin by having her occasionally take his place in situations when he was expected to preach.

Over the next several years, in the 1890s, it became apparent that Alma was the better preacher, and that people responded to her in a powerful way. Kent White became ambivalent, sometimes continuing to let her substitute for him at revival meetings, when denominational authorities refused to sanction her preaching, but criticizing her at other times. This put additional strain on an already troubled marriage, but Alma came to believe that it was her husband who should be assisting her in her ministry rather than the expected other way around.

Alma found scriptural support for her preaching in a passage from Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. She pointed out the women of the Bible who were leaders or who testified to their experiences, women such as Deborah, Esther, Miriam, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, and the Samaritan woman at the well; and also the passage from the book of Joel: "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (she interpreted "prophesy" as "preach"). The oft-cited passages against women speaking in church in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 she rejected as being limited to the specific circumstances in those early churches. She argued that if those passages were strictly applied, women could do nothing in church: no praying, singing, testifying, or even leading Sunday School. She was also consciously following in the footsteps of Phoebe Worrall Palmer in her adherence to the Holiness Movement within the Wesleyan Methodist tradition, but planned to go beyond Palmer's reluctance to assume the role of "preacher." Alma further came to believe in equality for women in all spheres, not only in ministry, and later in life worked in support of women's suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment by publishing a magazine called Women's Chains.

Finally, in 1901, Alma made her break with the Methodist Episcopal Church, believing that it had departed from the teachings of John Wesley (and also that they would never ordain her -- in fact, women were not given full ordination in Methodism until 1956, ten years after her death). She and several supporters, including her husband, formed the Pentecostal Union with Alma as leader, and shortly thereafter she was ordained, along with three men and one other woman. The new organization, encompassing several missions that had been started by the Whites in the Midwest, began publishing a magazine called Pillar of Fire, a name which eventually replaced the Pentecostal Union name. In 1917, Alma had herself ordained bishop in the Pillar of Fire Church, which was performed by the Reverend William Godbey, another former Methodist and, not coincidentally, the minister present at her conversion many years earlier. By this time Kent White had finally left his wife, as much over their long rivalry in ministry as over diverging theological views (he came to believe in glossolalia - speaking in tongues - which she strongly rejected). He lived most of the rest of his life in England and Canada.

Alma had begun writing gospel songs, both words and music, a few years earlier during the Whites' revival preaching, and she realized the importance of new songs that would reinforce the beliefs and sense of community of her new church. Their first hymnal, Pillar of Fire Praises (1906), contained several songs by her among its 134 selections. The second one, The Harp of Gold (1911) had more than fifty pieces by Alma, usually both words and music, but sometimes one or the other, to texts or tunes by other church members such as her son Arthur, or her niece, Gertrude Wolfram. This song first appeared in The Harp of Gold, which was described thus in advertisements in other Pillar of Fire publications: Nothing to be found like it anywhere. 232 of the best songs published. Nearly half of these songs were written by our own people and were INSPIRED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.

The joys of salvation are flowing,
I'm living in Canaan's fair land;
I came to the great swelling Jordan,
Crossed over by God's guiding hand.
My heart is now filled with God's rapture,
My days are so happy and blest;
I'm singing and shouting God's praises,
Oh how could there be sweeter rest!

In Canaan there's fruit in abundance,
Fair gardens where olive trees grow,
I drink of unbounded redemption,
Where rivers of life ever flow.

The cares that had once gathered 'round me
No longer my pathway pursue;
I'm walking through vales of God's promise,
On paths that are sparkling with dew,
Oh, how can I tell of such wonder?
Oh, who can the mystery unfold?
The mountains are dripping with honey;
The bounties of God I behold.

The days of my mourning are over,
And heaven is coming in sight;
The glory of God is appearing
O'er hills that are glowing with light.
The chorus of angels is swelling,
The saints of all ages are there,
For all who have suffered with Jesus,
God's riches in glory will share.

Alma White, 1909; alt.
Tune: CANAAN'S JOYS ( with refrain)

(Thanks to commenter Leland Bryant Ross for creating the sound file so that we all can hear this song!)

Alma White continued to write songs for her church, more than two hundred, according to obituaries that appeared after her death on June 26, 1946 in the New York Times and TIME Magazine. Two more hymnals were published for the Pillar of Fire Church during her lifetime: The Silver Trumpet (1926 - 343 selections), and Cross and Crown Hymnal (1939 - 565 selections). A collection called The Bugle Call: Hymns and Poems of Alma White, appeared in 1943.

The Pillar of Fire Church grew and flourished for many years, with churches both around the country and internationally. In 1907, a farm on eighty acres in New Jersey was given to the church, and Alma decided to move the headquarters there from Colorado. There they built a self-sufficient community, including schools and a college, a power plant, and a post office, which White named Zarephath, after the place where the prophet Elijah was sheltered and miraculously fed by a poor widow (from 1 Kings 17). The church acquired radio stations in Denver, Cincinnati, and Zarephath to spread their message, one of the first denominations to do so.

Now comes the tricky part. Though White was definitely a feminist who supported equality for women, and had defied convention in becoming a female minister, then a bishop, she was also a fundamentalist who preached against modernism, and in support of an extreme form of patriotism. She believed that members of the Roman Catholic Church, and especially Catholic immigrants, were dangerous because their first loyalty would be to the Pope in Rome rather than to their country (a view shared by many). In the 1920s she allied herself with the re-emergent Ku Klux Klan, apparently more due to the anti-Catholic and immigrant stance of that organization than to their racial views (she had worked with African-American evangelists in the past, and there was no bar to their membership in the Pillar of Fire). The New Jersey branch of the Klan, which was most familiar to White, downplayed the racial aspect, emphasizing their patriotism and anti-immigrant (Catholic) beliefs, as well as their support of "pure womanhood" (which she apparently misinterpreted to believe that they were also feminists). Many other Protestant churches in New Jersey during these years also supported the Klan, though not on a denominational level like the Pillar of Fire.

This association has marred Alma White's reputation ever since. Her support of the Klan had waned by 1930, though for some reason she republished some of her pro-Klan writings a few years before her death. When I came across The Harp of Gold online I wondered why I had never heard of her before, and why none of her many songs seemed to be sung in other churches (or were available at the Cyber Hymnal). I'd imagine this is partially because the Pillar of Fire was probably very protective of their copyrights and also that "mainline" denominations looked on them as an insignificant sect, but I think the Klan issue has also played a role, particularly in more recent times when modern hymnals cast a wide net to find "new" material.

I wondered for a time if I should even post this entry and present her work, or if it should be left in the past. I decided, helped by some discussion with Leland, that we know of White's distasteful views (only part of her story) because she lived in relatively modern times, and her church's use of mass media helped make those views widely known. In fact, many hymn writers from farther in the past, whose works we sing today, also held strong anti-Catholic opinions (as well as opinions against other religions and denominations not their own), but we are generally not as well-informed about the views of those writers. I probably wouldn't include Alma's songs in a modern hymnal, but I do think she's a fascinating woman. Her primary biography, Feminist Pillar of Fire: The Life of Alma White by Susie Cunningham Stanley (1993) which supplied much of the information in this entry, barely touches on her songwriting or the music and hymnals of her church, so I think it's a valid area of study.

The Pillar of Fire remains in existence today, led by the husband of one of Alma White's granddaughters. There are only six congregations left in this country, but several more around the world. They still have schools and colleges in New Jersey and Colorado, as well as their radio stations. A seminarian blogger visited the Denver church earlier this year and posted several current pictures, while the historical society of Franklin Township in New Jersey maintains an online archive of older photographs of Zarephath.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe was born today in 1811, the seventh child (of thirteen) born into a family that would be recognized for their accomplishments in several fields. Her father was Lyman Beecher, a Presbyterian minister known for his often-controversial preaching. A number of her siblings distinguished themselves: Catharine as a leader in women's education, Henry Ward as a Congregational minister even more well known than their father, Edward as a theologian, and Isabella as a prominent activist for women's suffrage. All seven Beecher sons entered the ministry, but that occupation was closed to Harriet and her sisters at the time.

Harriet began writing to support her own family (while raising six children), as her husband, minister and theologian Calvin Stowe was often in poor health. Her first book, The Mayflower (1843) was a collection of stories and sketches.

The issue of slavery was much-discussed among the Beechers; Lyman had come out in favor of emancipation while heading the
Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, and several of the siblings worked for the cause in their various fields. Following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 185o which prohibited US citizens from helping escaped slaves, Harriet determined to influence the slavery debate in her own way, writing her first novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Though widely misunderstood in the twentieth century, it was hugely popular (at least in the north) and sold millions of copies in its own day, and led to the most famous legend (not proven true) about Mrs. Stowe: that Abraham Lincoln called her "the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war" when they met at the White House in 1862. The book should be understood at least partly as a religious novel, which many modern commentators don't seem to grasp. As a footnote of interest to this blog's readers, Stowe included several references to contemporaneous hymns in Uncle Tom's Cabin.

She wrote several other novels after that, some about slavery but others simply about domestic life in the mid-nineteenth century. This literary work helped to support many members of her extended family, so she felt obligated to continue it. She also wrote much poetry for magazines, and in 1855, contributed three hymns to Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes, including this one for today. Stowe was reportedly a habitual early riser, and took the theme of this hymn from the eighteenth verse of Psalm 139: When I awake, I am still with thee.

Still, still with thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with thee.

Alone with thee, amid the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.

As in the dawning o’er the waveless ocean
The image of the morning star doth rest,
So in the stillness thou beholdest only
Thine image in the waters of my breast.

Still, still with thee, as to each newborn morning,
A fresh and solemn splendor still is given,
So does this blessèd consciousness, awaking,
Breathe each day nearness unto thee and heav'n.

When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershad'wing,
But sweeter still to wake and find thee there.

So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with thee.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1855
Felix Mendelssohn, 1834

Stowe wrote a few other hymns in later years, but this one was her most popular. It was found in a great many hymnals, though usually in only four or five verses. It has now mostly disappeared from modern collections, though I was surprised to find it in the very recent Congregational hymnal, Hymns for a Pilgrim People. However, the hymnal committee for that book was interested in using material from Congregational sources, so this hymn's appearance in Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Collection probably helped secure its inclusion.

Harriet Beecher Stowe remains one of my favorite writers for her social conscience and her depictions of nineteenth century life in this country. Some years ago, when I was working on the MCC hymnal project, I read through all of her collected poetry hoping to find something that we could use as a "new" hymn, but without success.

The tune CONSOLATION, nearly always used for this hymn, was adapted from a piano piece by Felix Mendelssohn, one of his Songs Without Words (Book Two, Number Three in E major). While he did not specifically write hymn tunes, several of his melodies have been adapted by others, including one that everyone knows.

Another Birthday Today: Miriam Therese Winter

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Top Ten (of a Particular Moment)

Over at the blog Semicolon, the author is counting down the favorite one hundred "hymns" determined by the survey she conducted last month, to which some of us here contributed our favorite ten. Total number of responders has not yet been revealed; her goal was to have one hundred, but we only know there were more than sixty.

I still haven't posted my full ten, but here's much of the list (the ones I have already written about during the first seventeen months of the blog).

10. Jerusalem the golden

9. Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

8. Spirit of God, descend upon my heart

7. _______________________

6. O worship our God

5. The spacious firmament on high

4. Who are these like stars appearing

3. ___________________________

2. Love divine, all loves excelling

1. ____________________________

This is what I submitted a few weeks ago; looking at it today I would probably shuffle it a little.

Numbers 91 - 101 (there was a three-way tie for last place) of the Semicolon survey have been posted as of this writing. Of course, the results will be related to the people who responded, and the hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary worship music loved by those respondents. Thus far the results are more heavily weighted toward the latter two than toward hymns per se, but we can't really tell whether that will remain true for the ninety remaining selections. I do suspect, however, that as many as five of my own top ten didn't make the overall one hundred.

The three missing hymns above will be revealed over the next few weeks. A few clues:

Number three has already appeared in Semicolon's top one hundred. The fact that it was so far down says something about the rest of my list, I think. I was saving this one until the composer's birthday next year, but now we'll see it sooner.

Number seven probably would also have waited for the composer's birthday (one that I have not yet marked in the last two years). It also happens to be on commenter Leland Bryant Ross's top ten list, posted on his blog.

Number one... well, there are no clues that I can think of. You either know what it is, or you don't. I'll tell, eventually (though it is apparently still under copyright in the US).

One Year Ago: Saint Barnabas

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday

Sometimes the most obvious choice for the hymn of the day is the best one. Reginald Heber wrote this hymn to be sung on Trinity Sunday, where he placed it in his own hymnal, Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year (published posthumously in 1827, you may recall). Much of the imagery comes from the beginning of the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity.

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the heavens hide thee,
Though the eyes of humankind thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity.

Reginald Heber, 1826; alt.
Tune: NICAEA (Irregular)
John Bacchus Dykes, 1861

NICAEA was composed for this text by John Bacchus Dykes when it appeared in the first edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern in 1861, and has accompanied it in nearly every hymnal where it has appeared since (hundreds, at least). It's named for the First Council of Nicaea (now a city in Turkey), perhaps the first ecumenical church council, where Christian bishops gathered in the year 325 and formulated the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as the Nicene Creed still widely used today.

The hymn is no longer limited to Trinity Sunday but is used as a general hymn of praise, considered so significant that many hymnals place it first, at #1. One dissenting voice was the hymnologist W. Garrett Horder, who postulated in The Hymn Lover (1905) that hymns should not attempt to teach doctrine, and that Heber's hymn was the chief offender. No one else seems to have listened.

One Year Ago: Trinity Sunday

Friday, June 5, 2009

George Rawson

George Rawson, born on this day in 1807, was an acclaimed hymnologist and hymn writer, but was not, like so many of his Victorian contemporaries, a member of the clergy. He was born and lived most of his life in and around Leeds, working as a solicitor by profession, a Congregationalist who devoted his leisure hours to hymnody. His early hymn texts were attributed to "A Leeds Layman."

By mid-century his reputation led him to be asked to assist the Congregational clergy of Leeds in compiling a hymnal, which was published in 1853 as Psalms, Hymns, and Passages of Scripture for Christian Worship, but widely known as the Leeds Hymn Book. A few years later, he was approached by a Baptist committee for his help. That hymnal became Psalms and Hymns for Public, Social, and Private Worship Prepared for the Use of the Baptist Denomination (1858).

Later in life. Rawson collected many of his hymns that has appeared in various places and published them as Hymns, Verses. and Chants (1876), which included about eighty selections. Another collection appeared later, Songs of Spiritual Thought (1885), which was reviewed in The Congregationalist: "There are few who have contributed hymns of such exquisite beauty and such rare sweetness as are to be found in this collection."

Today's hymn first appeared in The Leeds Hymn Book. While it might seem more modern than the mid-nineteenth century, in fact it was based on a sermon preached more than two hundred years earlier. Pastor John Robinson was the spiritual leader of the
Pilgrim Fathers, the denomination that left England for the Netherlands, then famously sailed to America in 1620. Robinson's last address before the voyage was described thus by one of his followers:

He charged us before God, and the blessed angels, if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument, to be as ready to receive it as any truth by his ministry; for he was very confident the Lord had more light and truth yet to break forth out of his holy word.

Or, as Rawson puts it:

We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:
For God has yet more light and truth
To break forth from the Word.

Who dares to bind to one's own sense
The oracles of heaven,
For all the nations, tongues and climes
And all the ages given?
That universe, how much unknown!
The ocean unexplored!
For God has yet more light and truth
To break forth from the Word.

Creator, Christ, and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all human souls
To comprehend your love,
And make us to go on, to know
With nobler powers conferred:
That God has yet more light and truth
To break forth from the Word.

George Rawson, 1835; alt.
Gerhard T. Alexis, 1924

There is another verse which I like, which would be the third, but it is a bit obscure:

The valleys passed, ascending still,
Our souls would higher climb,
And look down from supernal heights
On all the bygone time.
Upward we press, the air is clear,
And the sphere-music heard:
For God has yet more light and truth
To break forth from the Word.

Closer to our own time, the organization of More Light Presbyterians, who advocate and work for the inclusion of LGBT people at all levels of the Presbyterian Church (USA), took their name from Robinson's address and Rawson's hymn. At this page you can read more about the address as well as a more modernized adaptation of the hymn.

ISHPEMING is named for a city in Michigan, which was the hometown of Olga Grund, the wife of composer Gerhard Alexis. More appropriately, perhaps, it means "at the summit" in the local Native American language, or "heaven" in another dialect.

One Year Ago: Orlando Gibbons

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Barbara Pym

English novelist Barbara Pym (June 2, 1913 - January 11, 1980) never wrote any hymn texts, as far as I know. I suspect that she could have written a reasonable pastiche of a Victorian text, but it probably would have had at least an ironic, if not satiric slant.

I do believe that she was a lover of hymns; certainly she knew many hymns and liberally sprinkled quoted lines from them through many of her novels. She often writes about women whose lives revolve in some way around the Anglican church, the volunteers whose work helps to keep the place running, or who attach themselves to somewhat befuddled clergymen who are mostly helpless at managing the practical side of life.

These women know other verse; they can quote the great English poets like
Pope or Matthew Arnold when they lapse into romantic fantasy or dreams of the future, but they come back to hymns when thinking about their everyday lives. The references are usually slightly awkward or inappropriate, but who can't understand how that works?

From Some Tame Gazelle (1950):

...Belinda looked down at her prayer book and concentrated on Keble's fine lines

Through sleep and darkness safely brought
Restored to life and power and thought

Not that she ever thought of herself as having much power, but she was certainly alive and might be considered capable of a certain amount of thought. She could at least thank God for that.

From A Glass of Blessings (1958)

There was no doubt that Father Ransome had his following in the parish. His good looks amply compensated for his shortcomings in the pulpit -- for he was an uninspired preacher -- and young girls could be seen struggling to suppress their giggles when we sang such lines as

And when earthly things are past
Bring our ransomed souls at last

in the best known of the Epiphany hymns.

And, from Less Than Angels (1955)

"You know that hymn," said Mabel

O'er heathen lands afar
Thick darkness broodeth yet

"I expect that's why the darkness is so thick, because our dear Father Tulliver hasn't had a chance to dispel it," burst out Rhoda impulsively.

Pym's novels are probably not for everyone, but it's fun to stumble upon her hymn references.