Friday, October 28, 2011

Lead, Kindly Light

O send out thy light and thy truth:
let them lead me;

let them bring me unto thy holy hill,
and to thy tabernacles.

I am constantly frustrated by the feeling that I don't enough time to do the things that I find rewarding--scripture study, historical research and writing, genealogy, blogging, etc. Sometimes I wonder why God gave me a restless mind and an eagerness to strive and grow, but seemingly not a fair opportunity to use those gifts. Perhaps I should be more patient, but is that the whole answer? No indeed, for the Lord admonishes: "[S]eek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31) It's true that in this context the Lord was expressly talking about taking no thought for what to eat or drink, or what to wear. But perhaps the lesson applies also to higher personal goals and interests, notwithstanding their worthiness, upon which we can become so fixated as to blind us from other plans that God may have for us. Maybe the trick is to seek "first the kingdom of God"--study scripture, pray unceasingly, be honest and generous with others, do the right thing and serve wherever one can--and happiness and fulfillment will come in ways that God wills and that serve His loving plans for us, even if we can't see them just yet. Knowing our hearts, it may be that He will bless us with those goodly things we desire, as well: "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." (Psalms 37:4) Or if not, perhaps He will lead us to glory in ways even more wonderful, that are simply beyond our imagination. In either case, we know we have a special and unique purpose in this life, which we will discover by and by if only we follow His ways and be alert every moment to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

This lesson is exquisitely captured in the words of John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890), English scholar, Anglican churchman, and Roman Catholic Cardinal:
God has created me to Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it - if I do but keep his Commandments.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.

He does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me - still He knows what He is about.
This was not all Cardinal Newman had to say on the subject, however, for in 1833 he also penned the words to one of the most beautiful hymns ever written, Lead, Kindly Light. The hymn relates the experience of one who once was determined to pursue his own goals in his own way, who "loved to choose and see my path," who "loved the garish day," and whose will was ruled by pride. Now, the writer prays God to "Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me." The hymn was written in frustration while the young Newman was convalescing from a serious illness in Italy, and was unable to get home to England where his work awaited him. As originally written it had only three verses; a fourth was added later by Edward H. Bickersteth, Jr.
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Today, Lead, Kindly Light is usually sung to the tune Lux Benigna, composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1865 (this is my favorite). However, it is also often sung to the tune Sandon, composed by Charles H. Purday in 1857.

It is reported that Lead, Kindly Light was sung in the pitch darkness of a mine by a small group of men and boys awaiting rescue during Great Britain's worst mining disaster in 1909, and by a soloist on the RMS Titanic during a hymn-singing gathering shortly before the ocean liner struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912.

Watch and listen to the two beautiful videos of Lead, Kindly Light below. The first is to the traditional tune Lux Benigna, by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The next presentation is sung to the alternative tune Sandon, by the Wells Cathedral Choir.

I do believe this is the answer I've been seeking: simply to let God lead; follow His light first, rather than my own; and happiness and fulfillment will be mine at last, however and whenever God wills that to happen. Father Knows Best!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

This Is My Father's World

It's mid-October here in western New York, All around us abound the wonder, glory, and bounty of God's creation. Reveling in its beauty is a special privilege of living here, for the countryside and forest are never very far away.

So it was for a young Presbyterian minister in the 1880s named Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858 – 1901). While pastoring at a church in Lockport, New York, a small town on the Erie Canal a few miles northeast of Niagara Falls, Babcock liked to hike along the Niagara Escarpment, an ancient ridge in the vicinity that had (and still has) a marvelous view of farms, orchards, and Lake Ontario in the far distance. He would tell his wife as he left home that he was "going out to see the Father's world."

Niagara Escarpment in New York

Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, graduated in 1879 from Syracuse University and in 1882 from Auburn Theological Seminary with a degree in divinity, Maltbie Babcock went on to see much more of the Father's world than the environs of Lockport. He served from 1887 to 1900 as senior minister of the prestigious Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, attaining great distinction there, and was then called to the Brick Church of New York City in 1900. Later that year Babcock went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by ship, a special gift presented by his church. While en route back to Italy, he contracted a fever and died at the International Hospital in Naples in May, 1901. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.

Shortly after his death Babcock's wife published a compilation of his writings entitled Thoughts for Every-Day Living that contained the poem "My Father's World." This became the basis for one of the sweetest pieces in hymnody, This Is My Father's World. The tune for the text was arranged from an old English melody by one of Babcock's close friends, Franklin L. Sheppard, an accomplished musician. It was first included in Alleluia, a Presbyterian Sunday School book published in 1915. The tune name, "Terra Beata," means "blessed earth" in Latin.

No tune has ever been more aptly married to text. This Is My Father's World is a joyous musical expression of the marvelous truth that "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork." (Psalms 19:1) And again: "Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains." (Psalms 147:7,8) And especially: "The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them." (Psalms 89:11)

The hymn was originally published in six stanzas, but today only first three are usually sung. Here are the simple, inspiring words:

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.
This hymn means much to me, not only because of its many connections to the area where I grew up and now live (Lockport is about 15 miles from my childhood home and about 35 from where I live now), but because of the precious truths which it affirms. The worldly "wisdom" of today tells us that there was no divine Hand behind the wonder of Creation; that it, and we, are nothing but the accidental products of random molecular collisions and combinations, the sum total of which, across the ages and the far reaches of space, have no meaning or purpose. No explanation is offered for how all the intricate, elegant laws governing the universe and everything in it, from galaxies to subatomic particles--and which we are still only beginning to discover--came to be. We hear that random change, environmental adaptation, and some inchoate urge to survive, the underpinnings of the theory of evolution, govern all nature. But no satisfactory accounting is given for the phenomena of laughter, delight, remorse, or selfless devotion. We are invited to celebrate the marvelous works of the human mind, ingenuity, and labor, but the rubble of the last few centuries alone teach us what happens when man usurps and exploits God's place in the world for his own selfish ends, or tries to banish Him from the world altogether.

The Holy Spirit and the scriptures tell the believer a different and far more hopeful story: that there is an all-powerful yet loving God, who is deeply involved in His Creation and with every creature in it:
Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire: Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.

He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst. By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart. The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.

He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening. O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.

The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works. He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke. I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord. (Psalm 104)
Perhaps with this beautiful passage resonating in his mind, it's no wonder that Maltbie Babcock was moved to celebrate the wonder of our Father's World!

Here is a moving solo rendition of This Is My Father's World, sung by the outstanding Christian musician Fernando Ortega:

With its simple phraseology and affecting tune, the hymn is also ideal for singing by children:

As life's great and small trials test our faith, let us remember the loving Lord who is dramatically alive in this world, and that it is His, always!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Just As I Am

Among the most wondrous and precious truths of the Christian faith is that, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) This is almost beyond human understanding: the divine and perfectly innocent suffering humiliation, abandonment, and death to save mortal, selfish sinners--and all the while knowing that they had, or would, turn their backs on Him, over and over again. But as He explained in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7), Christ came not for the "ninety and nine just persons," (in other words, those who think they are just) but for the repentant sinner. He didn't wait until we had made ourselves worthy of His sacrifice (which would be impossible in any event); he simply gave all on the Cross, for the sake of saving that one "sheep which was lost." That is why those who seek Him need bring nothing but a "broken heart; and . . . a contrite spirit." (Psalm 34:18) To the reach of His mercy and saving grace it matters not what the repentant sinner has done or failed to do, or the depths to which he or she fallen. "[H]im that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37)

That is the compelling message of Just As I Am, called by some "the world’s greatest soul-winning hymn." It was written in 1835 by Charlotte Elliott (1789 – 1871), an English poet and hymn writer, and was set to music by American composer and chorister William Batchelder Bradbury (1816 – 1868). Miss Elliott, who was a suffering invalid for much of her adult life, has been described as "one of the sweetest though saddest of Christian singers." (Nutter, Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church, 1915).

Charlotte Elliott and William B. Bradbury

There are many accounts relating how the hymn came to be written. Essentially, as a young woman Miss Elliott met the eminent minister César Malan. She told him, "I am miserable . . . I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don't know how." Milan answered, "Why not come just as you are? . . . You have only to come to Him as you are." One day years later, converted to Christ but still frail and in pain, Miss Elliott became severely distressed with her inability to help her minister brother raise funds for a new school, and even began to question her faith. Confronting her doubts and despair--and remembering what Rev. Malan had once counseled her--she resolved to set down in writing "the formulae of her faith," and proceeded to write the hymn we know today as Just As I Am. The following year she published it anonymously in a magazine she edited and, unbeknownst to her, it gradually found its way into scrapbooks, magazines, and other publications. Years after that the now aging Miss Elliott's doctor put into her hand a leaflet containing the words of the hymn, saying that it had helped him and that he felt sure she would like it. The surprise and pleasure was mutual when she recognised her own hymn and he discovered that she was the author (click here for an inspiring video from The Worship Network that tells the story of this great hymn along with stunning photography and music).

Just As I Am eventually became one of the most famous and beloved hymns in Christendom. It was the signature altar call song in the Billy Graham crusades of the last century, and Graham used the hymn's title as that of his 1997 book, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham.

Just As I Am is one of the most moving hymns I know. It reminds me not only of how freely the Lord receives us, notwithstanding our weaknesses and sins, but how we must approach Him daily: on our knees and in deepest remorse for our failings, yet in full faith that He will gather us to Him if we confess and sincerely repent of our sins. Whenever I hear this hymn my eyes moisten and I rejoice that my Great, Merciful God is willing--even eager--to receive me "just as I am."

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

The moving power of this hymn can only be fully experienced when heard with William Bradbury's music. Here is an appealing traditional rendition by an unidentified choir (unfortunately, this is not a moving video):

Below is a sensitive solo rendition of the hymn by Christian songwriter and musician Brian Doerksen.

Let us approach our Lord with a contrite heart and in fullness of faith in His love, every day, just as we are!