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

No comments: