Friday, July 29, 2016

Hymns in the News

Last night at the Democratic National Convention, you may have seen the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II of North Carolina, whose speech culminated with the last stanza of a nineteenth-century gospel song.

Okay, he didn't sing it, but gospel songs in any form don't often make it to the stage of a national political convention. 

We praise thee, O God!
For the Son of thy love,
For Jesus who died,
And is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.

We praise thee, O God!
For the Spirit of life,
Who hath shown us our Savior,
And scattered our strife.

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.

William P. Mackay, 1863; alt.
Tune: REVIVE US AGAIN ( with refrain)
John J. Husband, 1815

 (The whole speech is well worth your time -- watch it again even if you saw it last night.)

Eight Years Ago: Martha and Mary

Six Years Ago: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha

Monday, July 25, 2016

Maria Weston Chapman

Maria Weston Chapman (July 25, 1806 - July 12, 1885) was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the oldest of eight children.  When she was in her teens, a wealthy uncle took her to England to complete her education, and upon returning to Boston she became the principal of the Young Ladies' High School, a new progressive school.

In 1830 she married Henry Grafton Chapman, a prominent abolitionist. Maria also joined the abolition movement, and in 1833 she was a founding member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society with eleven other women (including two of her sisters).

Maria gradually grew more and more committed to the cause, particularly after she got to know William Lloyd Garrison, perhaps the best-known abolitionist in the country.  She became Garrison's assistant, helping him to run the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and she also edited The Liberator, the weekly abolitionist newspaper he published. She avoided public speaking, and worked behind the scenes, organizing fundraisers and eventually writing her own material for the cause.

In 1836 she compiled, contributed to, and published Songs of the Free, and Hymns of Christian Freedom, which may have been the first songbook of the abolition movement.  In the introduction to the collection, Chapman writes that those who were working for the end of slavery felt the need for "...the encouragement, consolation, and strength afforded by poetry and music." There were new hymn texts by people in her circle, including Garrison, her sisters, and other prominent women writers such as Eliza Follen and Lydia Sigourney, and she interspersed these among hymns by prominent hymnwriters such as Watts, Wesley, James Montgomery, Reginald Heber, and Anna Laetitia Barbauld. Those older hymns had not been expressly written against slavery, but Chapman chose texts that included the same themes of justice and freedom that her contemporaries were using.  She also included other poetry that was not written for singing (that is, in regular meters).

Today's hymn is one of those written by Chapman.

O God of Freedom, bless this night
The steadfast hearts that toil as one,
Till thy sure law of truth and right
Alike in heav'n and earth be done.

A piercing voice of grief and wrong
Goes upward from the groaning earth!
Oh true and holy Lord! how long?
In majesty and might come forth!

Yet, God, rememb'ring mercy too,
Behold th'oppressors in their sin;
Make all their actions just and true,
Renew their wayward hearts within.

From thee let righteous purpose flow,
And find in every heart its home,
Till truth and justice reign below;
On earth thy free dominion come.

Maria Weston Chapman, 1836; alt
Lowell Mason, 1830

This text was titled Monthly Concert of Prayer for Emancipation, and "this night," as mentioned in the first line of the text, was footnoted "the last Monday night of every month," which was apparently the regular meeting time for Garrison's Society and this may have been emulated in other abolitionist groups.

Songs of the Free contained texts only, no tunes. At the close of the book's introduction, Chapman wrote:

The machinery of metres, names of tunes, numerals, and characters has been omitted, because they are useless to those who are unable to sing, and because the spirit and the understanding are a sufficient directory to those who can.

Song leaders in local abolitionist groups were free to choose whichever tunes they wanted, and likely chose familiar tunes that most people would know (such as the tunes of Bostonian Lowell Mason, which quickly spread within a few years of publication).

Eight Years Ago: Saint James

Sunday, July 24, 2016

John Newton

We have often observed John Newton's birthday here on the blog, and seen his hymns on other days as well (such as last Friday). The outline of his biography and the genesis of his collection Olney Hymns (1779), written with his friend William Cowper, has been fairly well covered and you can read more at the links below.  I wasn't even sure that I was going to mark his birthday this year; I looked at several hymns over the last few days and none of them jumped out at me.

Until I saw this one.  This text did indeed jump out -- the troubles of the world have been on many minds in recent weeks: war, terrorism, disease, guns, politics... (you can probably fill in an addition or two of your own). Thanks to John Newton for giving us a hymn to sing for times such as these.

My harp untuned, and laid aside,
(To cheerful hours the harp belongs);
My cruel foes, insulting cried,
"Come, sing us one of Zion’s songs."
Alas! when troubles, blindly bold,
Gather around, and sorrow bring;
When zeal declines, and love grows cold,
Is this a day for me to sing?
Is this a day for me to sing?

While thus to grief my soul gave way,
To see the work of God decline;
I thought I heard my Savior say,
“Dismiss your fears, your cares are mine.
Though I may seem to hide my face,
Rely upon my love and pow’r;
Still wrestle at a throne of grace,
And wait for a reviving hour;
And wait for a reviving hour.

Take down your long-neglected harp,
I’ve seen your tears, and heard your prayer;
The winter season has been sharp,
But spring shall all its wastes repair.”
Lord, I obey, my hopes revive,
Come join with me, ye saints, and sing;
Our fears in vain against us strive;
For God will help and healing bring;
For God will help and healing bring.

John Newton, 1779; alt.
John Sheeles, c.1720

In Olney Hymns this text appears under the heading of Hoping for a Revival. Newton had been discouraged by the illness of his friend Cowper, who would write no more hymns or poetry for several years.  Newton himself apparently considered giving up the writing of hymns for a time, and this text is believed to be the first he wrote when he decided to resume.

This tune by English composer John Sheeles was written for the Joseph Addison text The spacious firmament on high (which is why is is sometimes called ADDISON'S), but it's hard for me to think of that hymn without CREATION, the tune adapted from Haydn's oratorio of the same name.  Sheeles's KITTERING should probably be played a bit slower and more thoughtfully than the sound file here when matched with today's text. I don't always like tunes that require a line of text to be repeated, but in this case the last line of each stanza deserves the additional emphasis. 

Eight Years Ago: John Newton

Seven Years Ago: John Newton

Six Years Ago: John Newton

Five Years Ago: John Newton

Four Years Ago: John Newton

One Year Ago: John Newton

Friday, July 22, 2016

Saint Mary Magdalene

The saints of the church do not often appear in the modern day 24 hour news cycle, yet Mary Magdalene, whom we commemorate today on the calendar of saints, was the topic of several articles last month when the Roman Catholic church raised the classification of her day from "memorial" to "feast," on par with the twelve apostles. She was described as "an example of true and authentic evangelization; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter."  Or, as she was described by Saint Thomas Aquinas, "apostle to the Apostles."

In fact, she is more well-known than several of the other apostles, about whom little is actually told in scripture, though it is only in recent years that scholars have untangled her story, rejecting the characterization of her as a prostitute, or "fallen woman."  Also, that she is not the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair (Luke 7: 36-50). 

Today's hymn comes from John Newton (whose birthday is coming up this Sunday), telling of Mary's joyful reunion with Jesus on Easter morning.

Mary to her Savior’s tomb
Hastened at the early dawn;
Spice she brought, and sweet perfume,
But her Lord, the Loved, was gone.
For awhile she weeping stood,
Struck with sorrow and surprise;
Shedding tears, a plenteous flood,
For her heart supplied her eyes.

Jesus, who is always near,
Though too often unperceived
Came, his suff'ring child to cheer,
And inquired why she grieved?
Though at first she knew him not,
When he called her by her name,
Then her griefs were all forgot,
For she found he was the same.

Christ, who came to comfort her,
When she thought her all was lost;
Will for your relief appear,
Though you now are tempest-tossed:
On his Word your burden cast,
On his love your thoughts employ;
Weeping for awhile may last,
But the morning brings new joy.

John Newton, 1779; alt.
Joseph Parry, 1876

In stanza 2, the word "inquired" should probably be pronounced "in - qui - red" (like the color) - rather than "in - qui - ured."

I could wish that Newton had gone a bit farther in the story, incorporating the "apostle to the Apostles" theme (as Charles Wesley did), but at least there's no "fallen woman" language, which often appeared in older hymns.  Modern hymnwriters are writing new texts about Mary Magdalene, leaving out the now-discredited parts of her story.

Eight Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Seven Years Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott 

Six Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Four Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Three Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Other Mary Magdalene Hymns:

Lift your voice rejoicing, Mary
Resting from his work today

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Isaac Watts

Today is the birthday of Isaac Watts, surely one of the most widely sung hymnwriters in the Christian world, from his own day right up to the present time. For many years, perhaps as late as the mid-nineteenth century, the hymnbooks of many churches were simply collections of Watts's texts.

Born in 1674 to a staunch Nonconformist minister and his wife, young Isaac later rejected offers from wealthy patrons to send him to a prestigious university such as Cambridge or Oxford, since that choice would have committed him to ministry in the Church of England. Instead he attended the Dissenting Academy in Stoke Newington (now part of London). Following graduation, he became a private tutor for five years before becoming the pastor of the Mark Lane Independent Chapel.  By this time he had already begun his hymnwriting career, which is said to have sprung from a challenge by his father. Isaac had complained that congregational song was uninspiring, consisting almost exclusively of psalm paraphrases that he considered unimpressive, and he soon discovered that he could write better texts.

Poor health forced his premature retirement from church leadership in 1712, only ten years later. He was invited to stay with Sir Thomas Abney (Lord Mayor of London and a parishioner at Watts's church) at his Hertfordshire estate.  Initially planning a visit of a week, Watts remained with the Abney family until his death (November 27, 1748). Though health issues such as his might have made others cynical and resentful, his best hymns (in my opinion) praise the boundless love and power of God.

My God, how endless is your love!
Your gifts are every evening new;
And morning mercies from above
Gently distill like early dew.

You spread the curtains of the night,
Great Guardian of my sleeping hours;
Your sovereign Word restores the light,
And quickens all my waking powers.

I yield my powers to your command,
To you I consecrate my days;
Perpetual blessings from your hand
Demand perpetual songs of praise.

Isaac Watts, 1707; alt.
Tune: ONEONTA (L.M.)
Walter H. Hall, 1918

Nearly 850 of his hymns are currently listed at the Cyber Hymnal site, and more every year are available to see there.

Eight Years Ago: Isaac Watts

Seven Years Ago: Isaac Watts

Six Years Ago: Isaac Watts

One Year Ago: Isaac Watts

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Thomas Toke Lynch

The name of Thomas Toke Lynch is not very well known on his birthday today, nor are his hymns, but in his own time he was rather infamous in some circles as the author and compiler of one of the most controversial hymnbooks ever published.

Born in Essex in 1818, he later withdrew from college without graduating due to poor health, which stayed with him through life.  After continuing his education through self-study, he became a Nonconformist minister and led small congregations in London. In November of 1855 he published The Rivulet: A Contribution to Sacred Song, containing one hundred hymn texts.

Before long, the collection (as well as Lynch himself) was viciously attacked by writers in some influential church magazines. His hymns were considered devoid of doctrine, and quotes denouncing them included "...containing not one particle of vital religion or evangelical piety," and "...might have been written by a man who had never seen a Bible." Other writers (in different publications) staunchly defended the book, declaring that Lynch was writing a new kind of hymn and that, according to one author, "there is no minister in London... who has a firmer belief in the very doctrines he is charged with denying."  The resulting furor eventually threatened the very existence of the Congregational Union, a federation of Nonconformist and Congregational churches in England and Wales. The organization was careful never to endorse the use of the collection, which had so divided its members.

Lynch himself waited nearly a year before responding to his critics. Under the pseudonym of "Silent Long" he published another collection of fifteen satirical poems titled Songs Controversial.  One representative stanza:

With Doddridge, Watts, and Cowper, too,
Whoe'er casts in his lot,
Presuming for the Church to sing,
We'll let him know what's what.
Of better hymns than we deserve
We've quite enough provided;
And no man now shall innovate,
Of that we're most decided.

(I think there are probably some contemporary hymnwriters who can feel some affinity for Lynch and the criticism he endured.)

Lynch's autobiography, Memoirs of Thomas T. Lynch (1874) was published after his death, and he addresses the matter there at length.  He includes the first hymn text that he wrote (#17 in The Rivulet), on the Monday before Christmas in 1854, which will serve as our hymn for the day.

Christ in the Word draws near;
Hush, lonely voice of fear,
Christ bids thee cease;
With songs sincere and sweet
Let us arise, and meet
Him who comes forth to greet
Our souls with peace.

For works of love and praise
Christ brings thee summer days,
Warm days and bright;
Winter is past and gone,
Now he, salvation’s Sun,
Shineth on everyone
With mercy’s light.

From the bright sky above,
Clad in his robes of love,
’Tis he, our Lord!
Dim earth itself grows clear
Wondrous light draweth near;
O let us hush and hear
God's holy Word.

Thomas Toke Lynch, 1855; alt.
Edward Burnett, 1887

Sardonically referring to this "Christless" hymn (which is anything but), Lynch then goes on to relate the beginnings of the campaign against him and his hymns.  Clearly deeply affected by the criticism, he explains how he remains as committed to the church as ever, but denounces the "utterly inverted moral state of many professed religionists."

In the second edition of The Rivulet, published the following year, Lynch adds a note after the preface which begins: 

The reader is requested to observe that The Rivulet is not issued as in itself a sufficient book of song for Christian churches. Its only public use could be as supplemental [...] and knowing that the book would not come into public use, I have included several compositions which otherwise I should have omitted.

The "Rivulet Controversy" continued to simmer for several years, and books were published which laid out the arguments for both sides.  In the Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) by John Julian, the issue is described as "one of the most bitter hymnological controversies known..." but Lynch's hymns are called "valuable contributions to cultured sacred song."  However, in the Dictionary of National Biography, published in 63 volumes  between 1885 and 1900, Lynch's entry was apparently written by someone on the other side.  Some characteristic comments:

"[His] congregations were always small, and he was not attractive as a preacher."
"...[the hymns] express too exclusively an admiration of nature to be suitable for Christian worship."
"...none of them are popular in the churches."

In our day, we are quite accustomed to hymns which "admire" nature (such as the one text by Lynch that I have previously used) and don't expect all of our hymns to be deeply rooted in doctrine.  If the language of Lynch's hymns was not so very much of his time, I suspect that they would be ripe for rediscovery in modern hymnals (and maybe they are, in some instances).

Moving on from the fray, Lynch also wrote tunes for several hymns in The Rivulet, which were also published after his death. The preface to the book, found among his papers, was again written under a pseudonym, this time "Theodore Burkeson." There he writes of his musical efforts:

If the members of the Mornington congregation will do me the honour of examining these tunes, I shall be pleased: if they like them, still more pleased. But I must admit that I shall never be a person of much note, or of many notes, in the musical world. My occupations are meditative rather than musical, yet music helps me. 

Unfortunately, Lynch's tunes have remained undiscovered by the online hymn sites, which have only documented some of his texts.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

As a Gracious Shower Descend

For the Sundays after Pentecost (which will continue until Advent), a hymn of the Holy Spirit is never inappropriate.

Spirit, come, dispel our sadness;
Share your fire by day and night.
Come, O source of joy and gladness,
Breathe your life, and spread your light.
From the height which knows no measure,
As a gracious shower descend,
Bringing down the richest treasure
We can wish, or God can send.

Author of the new creation,
Come, anoint us with your power.
Make our hearts your habitation;
With your grace our spirits shower.
Hear, O hear our supplication,
Blessed Spirit, God of peace!
Rest upon this congregation
With the fullness of your grace.

Paul Gerhardt, 1648
tr. John C. Jacobi, c.1725; alt.
Frank M. Davis, 1878

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) is ranked second only to Martin Luther as a hymnwriter for the Lutheran church.  However, Gerhardt's firm belief in the primacy of God's love has ensured that his hymns have been widely sung across many other denominations as well.

Rather than choosing a German chorale tune or something equally predictable, I have instead matched this text with a tune by the gospel song writer Frank Marion Davis. Davis wrote both texts and tunes, sometimes together and sometimes not, but I think this lively tune works well with Gerhardt's text on the generous gifts of the Spirit.

Three Years Ago: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Eight Years Ago: Charlotte Perkins Gilman