Sunday, July 11, 2010

One Shepherd and One Fold

Another theme to explore over the next few months is unity and the hymns that have been written about it. The very early Christian church seemed to be one body, though they had their disagreements. Jesus prayed in John 17: 20-21: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. Many of the letters to the early churches have to do with their living together as one community.

Over time, disagreements would lead to the splintering of one church into many: dozens, hundreds and then thousands of different denominations. This isn't going to go away any time soon; if anything, I believe that the various ecumenical movements that were active thirty or forty years ago never achieved much and most churches are farther apart than ever, divided by differing beliefs and practices both large and small.

In spite of all this, there is a strain of thought that believes that the things that unite us are (or ideally should be) stronger than the things that divide us. It may be, though, that unity remains a far-off goal for which we strive, though it will only be achieved in the life to come.

This hymn by Jane Laurie Borthwick appeared in her collection Thoughts for Thoughtful Hours (1857) where it was titled Anticipations. The first line was originally And is the time approaching, but as we have seen, hymnal editors generally prefer statements to questions. In some hymnals, the line was even changed to Hasten the time appointed.

Now is the time approaching,
By prophets long foretold
When all shall dwell together,
One Shepherd and one fold.
Let all that now divides us
Remove and pass away,
Like shadows of the morning
Before the blaze of day.

Let all that now unites us
More sweet and lasting prove
A closer bond of union,
In a blest land of love.
Let war be learned no longer,
Let strife and tumult cease,
All earth one wide dominion,
The promised reign of Peace.

O long expected dawning,
Come with thy cheering ray!
When shall the morning brighten,
The shadows flee away?
O sweet anticipation!
It cheers the watchers on
To pray, and hope, and labor,
Till every strife be gone.

Jane L. Borthwick, 1857; alt.
George J. Webb, 1837

Borthwick's original text was in four stanzas, but only these three are generally used today, this first stanza being a combination of her first two. The original first stanza ended with these four lines instead of the current four (which were originally the first four of the second stanza):

Let every idol perish,
To moles and bats be thrown
And every prayer be offered
To God in Christ alone.

No more moles and bats.

This popular tune by George Webb was originally written for a secular song but has been used for many different hymn texts over the years. Though Webb supposedly wrote several more hymn tunes, they are unknown today (and not even particularly easy to find in older hymnals, unlike many other "forgotten" tunes).

One Year Ago: John Quincy Adams


Dorothy said...

This one is another unfamiliar hymn for me but I love the theme of Christian unity that it expresses. I am glad, however, that the moles and bats have been omitted.

C.W.S. said...

Hymnal editors take a lot of criticism but it's definitely good that they are always looking out for things like that that would really only prove distracting to singers.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I had never thought to look for the original "secular" text of WEBB before, but sure enough, it exists, and there are probably many who will find it a refreshing shift from the relentless marchiness of "Stand up for Jesus". 'Tis dawn, the lark is singing...

C.W.S. said...

And you with your old WEBB Site and all. (I still notice "new" texts set to WEBB when looking through old hymnals and think "He should have that one.")

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Of course my old WEBB Site and all is frozen in hypertime in the archives of Reocities till all eternity. I can't add to it or take from it. But I suppose I could recreate it in a new and better state elsewhere.