Sunday, December 4, 2016

With Fruit From Life's Glad Tree

In Advent we sing of the coming reign of God -- of justice and mercy and healing -- just as often as we sing about the imminent birth of a baby.

John Johns (1801-1847) was either a Presbyterian (as he was minister to that church in Crediton for sixteen years) or a Unitarian; sources differ.  In 1836 he was appointed Minister to the Poor in Liverpool. While tending to the needs of his people he contracted a fever and died, afterward being long remembered for his life of service. Today's hymn, written during his Liverpool years, clearly rose from his experience there. It first appeared in the Unitarian book A Collection of Hymns for Public and Private Worship (1837) by Dr. John R. Beard, along with thirty-four other texts by Johns.

Come, commonwealth of God!
Sweet reign of light and love!
Shed peace and hope and joy abroad,
And wisdom, from above.

Over our spirits first
Extend thy healing reign;
Then come and quench our urgent thirst
That ne'er shall pain again.

Soon may we all be blest
With fruit from life’s glad tree;
And in its shade like kindred rest,
All of one family.

John Johns, 1837; alt.
Tune: POTSDAM (S.M.)
Johann Sebastian Bach, 1742;
adapt. John Goss (?), 1854

The tune POTSDAM, which in the twentieth century seems to have appeared primarily in Lutheran hymnals, is attributed to J. S. Bach because the melody is derived from the second E Major fugue (BWV 878) from his The Well-Tempered Clavier (though it may be difficult to excavate).  It first appeared as a four-part hymn tune in The Church Psalter and Hymn Book (1854) along with other tunes taken from Bach. The book's preface claims that it was musical editor John Goss who "rigidly revised and, whenever necessary, corrected and rearranged" the older melodies, though I have not seen Goss credited anywhere else for this tune.

More Hymns for the Second Sunday of Advent:

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hark! the glad sound

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail to you, God's Anointed

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Watcher, tell us of the night

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: O come, O come, Emmanuel

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