May 19, 2024

Call To Worship

Where He Leads Me I will follow: 761

A song which well expresses the idea of denying ourselves, taking up the cross, and following Jesus is, “Where He Leads Me” (#334 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #639 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Ernest W. Blandy, a 19th-century author about whom no other information is available. His name is often misspelled Blandly. The tune (Norris) was composed by John Samuel Norris, who was born on Dec. 4, 1844, at West Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel off the coast of England, the son of John and Harriet Chalk Norris. Moving to Canada, he was educated there and began to serve as a Methodist minister at Oshawa, Ontario, in 1868. For ten years he served Methodist churches in Ontario, Canada, and Wisconsin.

     In 1870, Norris was married to Elizabeth Ann Hurd in Sunderland, Ontario, Canada, and seven children were born to this home. Several years later, in 1878, he became a member of the Congregational Church and for five years served as a Congregationalist minister in the United States with churches in Wisconsin at Mondovi, Hixton, Grand Rapids, and Shullsburg. Then from 1882 to 1901, he served churches in Iowa at Ames, Webster City, Parkersburg, Peterson, and Tripoli.

     Norris published one collection of hymns, Songs of the Soul, but of the more than 100 hymns which he produced, only “Where He Leads Me” remains in common usage. It is not known exactly when it first appeared, but in many older collections it bears the copyright date of 1890. If this indicates the approximate date of its publication, it occurred during or immediately following the two years that Norris was with the Congregational Church in Webster City, IA. In 1901 Norris moved to Chicago, IL, where he remained until his death on Sept. 23, 1907.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1917 Selected Revival Hymns(where it is titled “The Way of the Cross”) published by F. L. Rowe; the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963
Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

Welcome and Opening Prayer
Scripture Reading

Safe in the Arms of Jesus: 559

We have looked at the life of Fanny Cosby before while commenting on other hymns done by her and this is one of her great hymns. Of all her hymns, Fanny Crosby’s own favorite was “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” and the general verdict agrees with her. Its opening words were often upon her lips in life, and, in all probability, were the last she uttered before entering the valley of the shadow of death.

I find the story behind Safe in the Arms of Jesus to be a summary of the life story of one of the greatest hymnists Fanny Crosby. It is a great and a challenge to us all. The hymns of Fanny Crosby were written for the hearts of the people, and they are cherished by countless Christians. Her compositions are warm, simple, tender, direct, intimate, and intensely earnest. She was not very good at braille it is said, and so she composed her poems and hymns entirely in her mind and then dictated them to someone else.  But this particular hymn speaks a lot about what she went through as a person and finding peace in the arms of Jesus.

The story behind this particular hymn is a rather difficult one.  According to the resources I have, the thought behind this hymn came to her after an awful tragedy in Mrs. Crosby’s life.  She was pregnant, but lost the baby during childbirth.  She was so personally devastated by the event that she hardly spoke to anyone about it, and never told anyone if the child was a boy or a girl.  Years later, in 1868, a musician by the name of Mr. Doane  stopped by her apartment. He was in a hurry and had only about 40 minutes before he could catch his train. He said to her, “Fanny, I have a tune I would like to have you write words for.” He played it over and she exclaimed, “That says ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus!”‘ She went to her room, and in half an hour the hymn was finished. It has gone everywhere; it knows no limitations of race or sect. She pinned the words of this hymn and she felt that it was written for the bereaved, especially mothers that had lost their children.

I hope you will re-read the words to this song with an understanding of the circumstances behind it because I think you will not only see the hope that she had for her lost child, but you will also see the comfort she received from the Lord.  I hope all of us can realize that in His arms is the only place we truly find peace and rest.

Hallelujah! What a Savior: 203

Christianity is, among many things, a faith of paradox—the paradox of the Incarnation that the God of the universe would take on human form in a powerless and impoverished family in a politically occupied country. The paradox that Christ’s ministry among the economically disadvantaged, the socially disenfranchised, and culturally marginalized was such a threat to the halls of power that God would humiliate God’s self on one of the cruelest instruments of human torture ever devised. This hymn explores the latter paradox. Philip Bliss (1838-1876) employs the rhetorical device of paradox in each stanza, detailing an aspect of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity. The expected conclusion of each stanza would seem most naturally to be one of the classic Christian responses of the church throughout the ages: “Kyrie eleison” (Lord, have mercy”) or “Agnus Dei qui tolis peccata mundi, miserere nobis” (Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us).

Bliss’s response is indeed a surprise and another paradox: “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” This brief refrain—the final line of each four-line stanza—is the unique feature of this hymn. There are other hymns for Holy Week that cover many of the same biblical and theological themes, indeed, more eloquently. For example, “When I survey the wondrous cross” by English non-conformist Isaac Watts (1674-1748) or “O Sacred Head now wounded” by German pietist Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) are more poetically articulate. What is it, then, about Bliss’s contribution that makes this hymn so powerful?

Bliss comes from a different theological and cultural perspective than do Watts and Gerhardt. He was nurtured in the evangelical revival movement of the nineteenth century in the United States. He received some musical training from William B. Bradbury (1816-1868), a disciple of Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and a leading music educator, church musician, and composer, of this era. Bradbury, following in the steps of his mentor Mason, was a major music educator. He was trained in the classical tradition and provided music for many notable text writers, including Fanny Crosby (1820-1915).

Bliss, in turn, became an itinerant music teacher in 1860, sometimes traveling on horseback, while continuing his studies at the Normal Academy of Music (Genesco, NY). He then worked for George F. Root and C.M. Cady, a Chicago publisher, for four years as a staff composer and editor of gospel song collections. His career direction became clearer when he and his wife Lucy became associated with Chicago evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), who encouraged Bliss and Lucy to become evangelistic singers as members of Moody’s revival singing team. Drawing upon his earlier experience as a song book editor, Bliss compiled Gospel Songs (1874), Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs (1875), and Gospel Hymns No. 2 (1876), the latter two with Moody’s famous musician, Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908). Other volumes were geared toward the Sunday School movement including The Charm, a collection of Sunday School music (1871) and Sunshine for Sunday Schools (1873). His work as an editor of gospel song collections helped to establish the designation “Gospel Song” for this emerging genre of evangelistic revival hymns (Watson, “Philip Bliss,” n.p.).

His experience as a composer resulted in approximately 200 gospel hymn texts and tunes, many of which remain staples in this genre, including “Almost persuaded” (1871), “I will sing of my Redeemer” (1876), “Wonderful words of life” (1874), and “Let the lower lights be burning” (1871). Though less known today, he was most famous during his lifetime for “Hold the fort, for I am coming” (1870), a hymn inspired by an account of a Civil War battle near Atlanta when William T. Sherman was making his famous (or infamous) “march to the sea” in 1864. Indeed, Bliss told Ira D. Sankey that he hoped that he would be known for more than “Hold the fort.” Alas, however, his tombstone in Rome, Pennsylvania, reads, “P.P. Bliss, Author of “Hold the fort.”

Those who know “Man of sorrows!” might note that it is different from many of the revivalistic gospel songs for which Bliss is primarily known. The music is more somber than what we might expect, employing only quarter and half notes for three lines. The dotted eighth-sixteenth note rhythm on the words of the refrain, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”, is a sudden and powerful change that highlights the theological paradox inherent in the response. In general, this hymn draws much more from the compositional style of Lowell Mason, who often employed stately block primary chords (I, IV, V) with minimal chromaticism. For example, see DENNIS, HAMBURG, and OLIVET. ANTIOCH (“Joy to the world”). Mason’s adaptation of Handel, demonstrated that the dotted could be used for more triumphant themes. Bliss would probably have learned this style from his mentor William Bradbury. Though “Man of sorrows” often appears in the Holy Week section of most hymnals today, its use would not have been restricted to this week in the evangelistic context, but could have been sung at any revival meeting where Christ’s suffering and sacrifice for humanity was emphasized.

Communion Meditation

Master the Tempest is Raging!: 425

“Master, the Tempest Is Raging” is a hymn based on Mark 4:36–41. The hymn’s text, written by Mary Ann Baker, focuses on the story of the Savior and His disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus “rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still.”

In 1874, Dr. H. R. Palmer requested several songs of Baker for Sunday School lessons under the theme for the year, which was “Christ stilling the tempest.” After Baker completed the text, Palmer set it to music and published it in his Songs of Love for the Bible School during the same year.

Events in Baker’s own life mirrored the turbulence of the scripture passage. According to a passage in the book Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages , by Karen Lynn Davidson, the author says, “Mary Ann Baker was left an orphan when her parents died of tuberculosis. She and her sister and brother lived together in Chicago. When her brother was stricken with the same disease that had killed their parents, the two sisters gathered together the little money they had and sent him to Florida to recover. But within a few weeks, he died, and the sisters did not have sufficient money to travel to Florida for his funeral nor to bring his body back to Chicago.”

Of this trial Baker said, “I became wickedly rebellious at this dispensation of divine providence. I said in my heart that God did not care for me or mine. But the Master’s own voice stilled the tempest in my unsanctified heart, and brought it to the calm of a deeper faith and a more perfect trust.”

In an October 1984 general conference talk titled “Master, the Tempest Is Raging,” Howard W. Hunter stated, “All of us have seen some sudden storms in our lives. A few of them, though temporary like these on the Sea of Galilee, can be violent and frightening and potentially destructive. As individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, even as a church, we have had sudden squalls arise which have made us ask one way or another, ‘Master, carest thou not that we perish?’ And one way or another we always hear in the stillness after the storm, ‘Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?’”

The third verse acknowledges the peace that follows the biblical storm, or the metaphorical storms in our lives, with the opening lines “Master, the terror is over, the elements sweetly rest.” Following each verse is the fundamental message of the hymn’s chorus, which is “Peace, be still.”


All Things are Ready: 23 V1, 2, 4

I like to view Charles Gabriel (1856-1932) as a transitional figure between the 19th-century first generation of gospel songwriters and the early 20th-century quartet- and convention-gospel style. He collaborated with Fanny Crosby-era writers such as William Doane (composer of “To God be the glory”, “Safe in the arms of Jesus”), but in his later years worked for the Homer Rodeheaver publishing company, a bastion of the Southern Gospel style.

Many of Gabriel’s contributions to our hymnal were settings of other people’s texts; most notably, in my opinion, his fine setting of “Jesus, Rose of Sharon”(PFTL#363), and of course the perennial gospel favorite “His eye is on the sparrow”(PFTL#235). His own lyrics had mixed results:

“Glory for me”(PFTL#169)
“God is calling the prodigal”(PFTL#179)
“He lifted me”(PFTL#221)
“I stand amazed”(PFTL#299)
“Just a few more days”(PFTL#378)
“More like the Master”(PFTL#429)
“Only a step”(PFTL#520)
“Send the light”(PFTL#572)
“Sweet is the promise”(PFTL#603)

There are some true gems of the style, such as “I stand amazed”, “Send the light”, or “Just a few more days”; there are some that I have never heard sung; and there are some I wish I had not. (Personal aside: Dr. Fletcher, Leah and I will never hear “Glory for me” without thinking of your comment in Music History class. *grin*) Interestingly, “All things are ready” is the only Charles Gabriel text in our hymnal that someone else chose to set to music.

Gabriel based his text, obviously, on Jesus’ parable of the feast and the ungrateful guests, from Luke chapter 14.

Stanza 1:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, for the table now is spread;
Ye famishing, ye weary, come,
And thou shalt be richly fed.

Hear the invitation,
Come, “whosoever will”;
Praise God for full salvation
For “whosoever will.”

Jesus was at a supper, and had been teaching the value of extending hospitality to those from whom you can expect the least reward in terms of returned favors or increase in your own social recognition. After hearing this, an unidentified guest said,

“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’”(Luke 14:15-17)

The image of a great feast prepared by God for His saints is one that runs through the Old and New Testaments:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.(Isaiah 25:6)

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 8:11)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”(Revelation 19:9)

The image may be of those physical needs of food and drink that we know from daily life, but we know it has a deeper, spiritual meaning. The “famishing” and “weary” of Gabriel’s text are those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.”(Matthew 5:6) These are the ones who have tasted what the world offers the soul, and know that only the “true food” and “true drink” offered by Jesus Christ will satisfy and sustain them.(John 6:55)

Stanza 2:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, for the door is open wide;
A place of honor is reserved
For you at the Master’s side.

The open door to the place of the feast reminds us of another of Jesus’ parables about an invitation to a feast, the parable of the ten virgins. An essential point from that lesson is found in Matthew 25:10–the fact that “…the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage; and the door was shut.” The door is open now, but it will not always be so. Jesus is the One “who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.”(Revelation 3:7)

The honor of being invited to a banquet was significant in ancient times, when hospitality was taken quite seriously. It is harder for us today to grasp how shockingly rude the behavior of the guests in Jesus’ parable was, in its cultural context:

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ “And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ “And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ “So the servant came and reported these things to his master.(Luke 14:18-20)

Even by today’s standards these are pretty lame excuses. If they had wanted to go, they would have made time. But what kinds of excuses do we offer God for not accepting the honor He has extended to us? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”(1 John 3:1) How do we treat the honor of this invitation? And for those of us who already have accepted it, do our actions show respect for what it means?

Stanza 3:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Come, while He waits to welcome thee;
Delay not while this day is thine,
Tomorrow may never be.

Jesus’ parable of the feast and the ungrateful guests continues,

Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ “And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. “‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”(Luke 14:15-24)

The goodness and the justice of the master of the house are seen in the conclusion of this parable. Being rudely rebuffed by his original guest list, he extends his invitation to those who were unjustly considered of little account by the world–the homeless, the poor, and the handicapped. The social standing of the master would not be enhanced by this action (“fashionable charity” was not the order of the day), and he could certainly expect nothing in return from them, monetarily or politically. But he desired to show hospitality, and those who were willing to receive it were just as blessed as if they had been the A-list celebrities of the community.
The master’s goodness was matched by his justice. Even if one of the original guests changed his mind, came and apologized, and begged for admission, the master of the house had determined not to let them in. It was, after all, his banquet.

In the same way, God determines who is on His guest list (John 3:16 establishes the very liberal terms). He determines how He will treat those who reject His invitation. He also determines when the invitation will be closed. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”(2 Corinthians 6:2)

Stanza 4:
“All things are ready,” come to the feast!
Leave ev’ry care and worldly strife;
Come, feast upon the love of God,
And drink everlasting life.

As Gabriel notes in the refrain, this invitation is open to “whosoever will.” The most well-known occurence of this word (at least in the King James Version, which Gabriel most likely read) is John 3:16–“that whosoeverbelieveth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God’s invitation is open to all who will listen to the gospel call: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”(Acts 17:30) There is no greater invitation and no greater reward than that extended by Jesus: “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”(Revelation 22:17)

About the music: William Ogden (1841-1897) also wrote the music for “Hark! ‘Tis the Shepherd’s voice I hear”(PFTL#206) and “He is able to deliver Thee”(PFTL#208). He wrote both lyrics and music for “Jesus, the loving Shepherd”(PFTL#369), “O if my house is built upon a Rock”(PFTL#479), “Seeking the lost”(PFTL#571), and “Where He leads I’ll follow(PFTL#761)

Since Gabriel opened each stanza with a repetition of the essential theme, “All things are ready; come to the feast!”, Ogden used the simple but effective trick of drawing attention two these two phrases by use of silence. The brief rest after “All things are ready” is probably one of the most memorable characteristics of the music of this hymn.

Ogden uses a typical gospel song device in the chorus, where the soprano holds a long note over the steady dotted-eighth-note/sixteenth-note rhythmic drive of the other voices, then goes into the dotted rhythms itself while the other parts sing steady quarter notes. Essentially, the alto, tenor, and bass parts are providing rhythmic accompaniment and contrast to the melody in much the same way instruments would; thus this style works well without the instrumental accompaniment. For a very similar application of this idea, see also the refrain of Ogden’s “Where He leads, I’ll follow”(PFTL#761).

Announcements & Closing Prayer