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It is Well with My Soul

Horatio Spafford

Music by Philip Bliss

Tune: Ville du Havre

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/tPR-vSCRNlE

1)When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul),

It is well, it is well with my soul.

2) Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

(Refrain)

3) My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(Refrain)

4) For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pain shall be mine,

for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper

Thy peace to my soul.

(Refrain)

5) And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)

After the great fire of 1871, in my beloved home of Chicago, which destroyed nearly everything I owned, I spent my days helping those whose loses were even greater. I worked with my dear friend D.L. Moody to do whatever we could to help our neighbors. Out of this, I began to feel His calling to know Him ever more and to pursue a different path for my life.

A couple of years after the Great Fire, my beloved wife, Anna and our four young daughters set sail to Europe for an extended vacation and to visit Mr. Moody as he preached throughout England. At the last minute I was detained on business and would have to follow them later. While in New York, booking them on their passage, I felt a need to change their cabins from mid-ship to the bow. I am not sure why I did this, I just felt it had to be done.

Oh what tragedy! My heart is broken into pieces! Why, oh God, did you take my children from me?

Just days after leaving my arms, my precious children passed into His arms as the Ville du Havre sank to the ocean’s bottom, rammed mid-ships by another vessel. Only my beloved Anna survived.

After receiving Anna’s telegram which read: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” I set out immediately to bring my beloved and heartbroken Anna home. One day, during the crossing, the captain calls me to the bridge. He shows me on his chart where we are and tells me it is here that Annie, Margret Lee, Elizabeth, and my infant Tanetta went home to be with Jesus.

Upon returning to my cabin I pour out my anguish and my continued dependence upon my Savior. Despite my utterly broken heart, I know that peace, which flows through my life, comes from the blood of Christ which was shed for me. No matter the hardships or trials which Satan may throw my way, I can rest in the comfort of my Savior.

Andrew Remillard from the perspective of Horatio Spafford

(A few years later Horatio, Anna, and their two young daughter born after the tragedy, Bertha, and Grace move to Jerusalem. They established the American Colony and dedicated the remainder of their lives to the care of the poor and needy without regard to faith or status. Horatio died of malaria in 1888 and was buried at the Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem. Anna continued their labors in Jerusalem until her death in 1923. Their daughter Bertha also lived her entire life in Jerusalem.)



Amazing Grace

by John Newton (1725–1807)

Tune: New Britain

YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/Tq1qMwpvzZM

1 Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

2 ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

3 Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

4 The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

5 Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

6 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

7 When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

 

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we celebrate the most powerful message of all time in the cross as it represents one thing above all else: God’s totally underserved gift of grace. From the exile from Eden, where God provided the skins Adam and Eve were to wear; through the exile in Egypt and the arrival in the Promised Land, through the Law and Temple Sacrifices, all the way to the final sacrifice upon the cross, blood was required for our redemption. The consequences of sin are real, yet, in Grace a means for our redemption has been provided. On the Day of Resurrection God says once again: “I got this.” It is not of our doing, lest anyone should boast, but totally undeserving of redemption, we are redeemed by the grace of the Almighty. And how amazing that grace is to a wretch like me!

Through great sin we learn of greater salvation. John Newton (1725–1807) knew the power of grace first hand. He spent his youth from his pre-teen years until about 30 years old on the sea, primarily in the slave trade. He made many trips between Africa and the Americas picking up and selling Africans into slavery, taking African wives (even while married back home), and living a fully self absorbed life. He was a rebellious man toward both human authority and God’s authority. At one time his rebelliousness caused his own enslavement on the island of Sierra Leone. Sailors are known throughout history for their profane language, Newton was known as the most profane of all. He often would create new profanities, never before heard, and hurl them at the captain of his ship, much to the amusement of the crew and non-amusement of his captain. One time he was nearly starved and beaten to death for his indiscretions. He was a man who lived his life in open defiance of all authority and especially God’s authority. However, his recklessness often placed him near death, as these experiences piled up he began to wonder whether he could possibly be worthy of God’s mercy.

After one particularly harrowing sea voyage Newton had a conversion experience of sorts and decided to dedicate his life to God. However, the conversion process for him was very slow and only in stages was his life reclaimed for God.

At the age of 25 he married his childhood sweetheart Mary “Polly” Catlett. By 30, he suffered some sort of collapse and never returned to the sea. He gained work at a customs house and began to give himself the education he never received as a youth; teaching himself Latin, Greek, and Theology. He and Polly were very active in the local church and it was eventually suggested to him to apply for a clerical education. He was initially rejected because of his lack of education and his association with evangelicals and Methodists. These were small sects who operated independent of the official Church of England. He was eventually accepted and after his education took a position in Olney, a small town of about 2500 most illiterate farmers.

Amazing Grace was probably written about 1772, about 8 years into his new role as priest in the Anglican Church. It was not for another 8 years, in 1780 that he began to privately express regrets about his participation in the slave trade and not until 1785 that he began to actively speak against slavery which he did ardently for the rest of his life. This change in attitude is pretty reflective of the general thinking within in English Society as well. It was not until the late 18th century before the abolitionists movement began to take hold. Yet, throughout his life you can see the fearful working out of his salvation. Each of his near death experiences and humiliations brought him closer to knowing the Grace which was already present. Even after coming to an understanding and acceptance of God’s underserved and unfailing grace, Newton still had to grow in his understanding of what this grace demanded of him.

Newton never hid from his past and would use his own experiences to explain the Gospel to his congregation. The directness of this hymn and the first person language have made it one of the greatest Christian songs of all time. The language is very simple with very few even multi-syllabic words. The tune, source is unknown, is a simple pentatonic song. It has only 5 different pitches which is also common to all nursery songs. Out of such simplicity, God’s message has been declared to millions for nearly 250 years.



Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott 

Music and text by Martin Luther based upon Psalm 46

YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/cnvnfq5ut7s

1.      A mighty fortress is our God,

a bulwark never failing;

our helper he amid the flood

of mortal ills prevaling.

For still our ancient foe

doth seek to work us woe;

his craft and power are great,

and armed with cruel hate,

on earth is not his equal.

2.      Did we in our own strength confide,

our striving would be losing,

were not the right man on our side,

the man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabaoth, his name,

from age to age the same,

and he must win the battle.

3.      And though this world, with devils filled,

should threaten to undo us,

we will not fear, for God hath willed

his truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim,

we tremble not for him;

his rage we can endure,

for lo, his doom is sure;

one little word shall fell him.

4.      That word above all earthly powers,

no thanks to them, abideth;

the Spirit and the gifts are ours,

thru him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go,

this mortal life also;

the body they may kill;

God’s truth abideth still;

his kingdom is forever.

No other hymn has the same connection to the German and Lutheran Reformation as this hymn. (And is now ironically begun to be used in the Roman Catholic Church) Luther wrote it very early in his reformation efforts. He possibly wrote it as a dedication for his friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed on August 16, 1527. It is also recorded that it was sung by Luther and his companions as they entered The Diet of Worm on April 16, 1521 where he was called to defend his 95 Thesis.  Though in all likelihood it was written around 1527… almost 500 years ago.

One of Luther’s goals for the reformation was to reintroduce congregational singing to the service and to that end he wrote many  hymns (poetic texts) and tunes to accompany those hymns.

Luther used his hymns to teach important theological truths and declare those truths in no uncertain terms. This direct truthfulness is one of the many reasons his hymns still resonate centuries after they were written.

He starts with declaring in terms very understandable to his audience of the confidence they can have in their protector. Life and security was very tenuous in his day. Neighboring towns or provinces would wage war over the slightest of provocation or ambition, and often did. The security of the community rested in the protective fortresses. We can find refuge from  the ancient foe, the devil, (and in Luther’s mind probably Pope Leo X), whose craft and power is greater than all others. None of this is from our own strength, but rather from a man of God’s own choosing, his Son. Ultimately the truth will win the day and our enemies will be vanquished.  The Spirit of God will provide all we need. Though this mortal body may be killed, God’s truth will not fail, for His Kingdom is forever! Amen and Amen.

Luther was facing significant pressure from the Roman Church to recant his teaching. His life, and the lives of his friends and family were most certainly in danger. It was a common practice to kill political and spiritual opponents during this time in Europe. The reformers, if captured by the authorities of the Roman church could certainly have been executed for their crimes of heresy. This explains the strong language in many of Luther’s hymns, they quite accurately reflect his life and times and one does not face certain death over trivial matters.

“It was … the Marseillaise of the Reformation. It was sung at Augsburg during the Diet, and in all the churches of Saxony, often against the protest of the priest. It was sung in the streets; and, so heard, comforted the hearts of Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, as they entered Weimar, when banished from Wittenberg in 1547. It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death. It is woven into the web of the history of Reformation times, and it became the true national hymn of Protestant Germany.”  Louis Benson Studies of Familiar Hymns 1903

And it continues to speak to us today and will continue speak until he comes again.



Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended (1630)

by Johann Heermann 1585-1647 tr. Robert Bridges 1844-1930

Traditional tune: Herziebster Jesu (1640)

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/RkI838hBO9M

1.      Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,

that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?

By foes derided, by thine own rejected,

O most afflicted!

2.      Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!

‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

3.      Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;

the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.

For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,

God interceded.

4.      For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,

thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation;

thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,

for my salvation.

5.      Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,

I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,

think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,

not my deserving.

Isaiah 53 3-7

3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

(A number of Lutheran hymnals use a translation written in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth which begins “O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken?”[)

 Johann Heerman was born in Raudten (modern day Rudna) in Silesia which is wedged between modern Poland and the Czech Republic. He was the fourth son of a middle-class Protestant family; none of his elder siblings survived beyond their childhood. As a thirteen year old child he was sent to a nearby town to further his education. His health proved too fragile and he had to frequently interrupt his learning to return home to recover.

During his early 20’s his patron (for whom he was tutoring his children) took him on a tour of Europe and Heerman was able to spend time studying in many capitals of Europe. He eventually settled in Chobienia, Poland and began work at the Lutheran congregation in a role we would call the assistant pastor today. The senior pastor was in poor health and died days after he began his duties. That Fall in 1611 he married Dorothea Feige, the daughter of the mayor of Raudten.

However, life in the 1600’s was generally short and brutish. By 1613 the Plague was ravaging the area, in 1616 a fire nearly destroyed the entire town and Johan’s wife died childless in 1617. He remarried the next year and eventually he had four children we know of. A few years later Johan once again fell ill and never recovered his health, though he lived another 25 years. By the 1630’s his community fell victim to the 30 Year War and was plundered by Catholic armies repeated over the next decade.  Survival was tenuous at best, by the 1630’s his health was so poor he was unable to work.

Despite all of the hardship Johan Heermann endured throughout his life this poem shows he still understood his dependence upon God for salvation and his gratitude for the underserved mercies of his salvation.

The first two stanzas ask a questions which are answered in their final verse.  Jesus, what did you do to deserve this? Who brought this upon you? The answer is: O most afflicted, I crucified thee. But God interceded for my salvation, which I did not deserve.



by W. Chalmers Smith 1824-1908

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/dkoAfLpBBfU

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart

Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Within the first two phrases of the opening stanza Smith pulls together two very distant Biblical texts. The first line references 1 Timothy 1:17.

17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The second line has several possible origins. I think the one which fits best is Exodus 34:29-35

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

Moses wore the veil to hide the affect of seeing God from the Israelites. It is said that no one can see God and live.

The idea of light permeates the entire hymn in some rather unusual contexts.

A light which is inaccessible, yet contains the very essence of God, the wise, blessed, glorious, almighty, and victorious. This silent light gives life to all and is the source of goodness and justice.

The last verses in the fourth and fifth stanzas form a closing prayer.

Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

and

And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

Taking the veil from our faces and the vile from our hearts allows the glory of the Almighty, the Christ and his story into our hearts.

W. Chalmers Smith was a pastor of the Free Church of Scotland and a poet.