Saturday, January 30, 2016

We Have Heard the Joyful Sound, Jesus Saves -- Priscilla J. Owens

This school teacher was thinking as a missionary. So if one ever pondered what the fusion of those two vocations would sound like, Priscilla Jane Owens left no mystery outstanding for this question when she crafted “Jesus Saves” in 1882 while living in Baltimore (see period map from 1852 here). As she sat down in the Union Square Methodist Church, she wanted this to be a joyful sound, and indeed she put those very words in the first syllables of the poetry she wrote. Missionary work is to be exciting, was her bottom line. How did she stamp this idea on the song? Two words that she exclaimed repeatedly are the recipe she prescribed.

Perhaps Priscilla learned her method in “Jesus Saves” as a result of her lengthy career in children’s education. If you want those you’re cultivating to remember an idea, it’s best to repeat it, perhaps many times in a small space. That way, they cannot possibly miss it. This 53-year old teacher had seen her share of students for many years on both Sundays and the other days of the week, and she must have shared many songs with them by this time in 1882. Jesus Saves! That was the message she wanted these students, probably both children and adults for this occasion, to grasp. The church apparently was anticipating a worship service that would focus on mission work. Where the mission work was going isn’t explicitly communicated, but perhaps it was a variety of places, given what she said in the song’s verses. ‘All around’ and ‘every land’ (v. 1), ‘far and wide’ (v.2), Priscilla says. He works, no matter where one goes -- a confidence and buoyancy she and the Union Square church members evidently wanted to accompany whomever and wherever their church-supported missionary was. Verse three implies they expected there would be challenges for the mission work, ‘battle strife’ and ‘gloom’ which the messenger would encounter and overcome with the same two words. Perhaps these people, including Priscilla, were not strangers to difficulties. ‘We don’t wear rose-colored glasses, but here’s our solution’, they say. Fix your sight on the completed work of Him – that fact is crucial for everyone. Anyone who’s bought into Jesus’ accomplishment – really staked his life on it – will be the most effective missionary.     

What more needs to be said? Priscilla Owens had a mission, to create as much a mood as anything else. We should be energized about our leader, and the future He provides. But would it be easier for hearers to grasp what she’s saying, maybe if they had once been destitute? Possess nothing, but then discover the gold bullion that makes you a king. Priscilla marks this gold with something like an X on the treasure map. Question:What do I in fact have, besides what He’s got waiting for me? Answer: Nothing. Next question: How does one find the pot of gold? Priscilla might say her two words are your answer to that one.  

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.

See 4 verses of song and brief biography here of composer:
See this link for exact location of the church where the composer developed the hymn:

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Send the Light – Charles H. Gabriel

Perhaps his seeing the ocean served as an inspiration after he moved to San Francisco on the American west coast. And, one could also say he must have been examining someone else’s travel itinerary in his bible. Those would be two circumstances that we could reasonably guess were operative in Charles Hutchinson Gabriel’s mind as he wrote out the words and music for “Send the Light” in 1890. He was the music director at the church where he’d just arrived, and there was to be a celebration with music, so naturally Gabriel was called upon for his talent and insight. A song was the result, one with a certain emphasis, appropriate for what they were commemorating, and reflective of the energy they possessed for the song’s message. Accessing Gabriel’s resources is not difficult over 100 years later, since what he had we can still see.     

The 34-year old music minister Charles Gabriel was new to the west coast and San Francisco where he arrived in 1890, but he’d had plenty of breeding and experience that prepared him for this point in his life. He was raised in a musical home in Iowa, where his father guided singing schools, so it was not unexpected that Charles would become adept on the family’s organ and follow in his father’s singing footsteps by the time he was 17. “Send the Light” was apparently his first professional work, thereby inaugurating the career of this prodigy. Grace Methodist Episcopal Church was evidently engaged in missionary work, so Gabriel generated the song to underscore the church’s efforts and inspire its members. By the words he used in its verses, we can deduce that he was reading his bible’s account of Acts 16:9-12. Was the Grace church, like Paul centuries earlier, planning a missionary effort across some body of water? One can imagine that the ‘restless wave’ (v.1) and ‘shore to shore’ (refrain) were facets of their own time, like those of Macedonia (v. 2) that called out to the apostle during his second missionary journey 18  centuries earlier. On a personal level, Gabriel’s own missionary life as a hymnist, which was just beginning, was something to highlight too. By the end of his life, he’d reportedly written some 7,000 to 8,000 songs, gifts and tools that Christendom at large today can still access to carry on the mission we all have – drawing attention to the Creator-Sustainer-Redeemer.  

Charles Gabriel’s life-story has elements that are useful for reflection by anyone who wants to do something meaningful for Him. He was obviously nurtured in a home and community that loved and appreciated him, blessing him with a gift that he used the remainder of his life. He didn’t remain in Iowa, however, but allowed that musical aptitude to transport him thousands of miles away. He later returned to the Midwest, to Chicago as he widened his experience via the Rodeheaver Publishing Company. He eventually passed into the next life in 1932 while in Hollywood, California, indicating he’d moved yet again to the west coast, far from where he’d started 76 years earlier. His Iowa-born skills took him pretty far, but he must have thought the light he wrote about as a 34-year old was the ultimate transporter. Where else do you suppose it will take us?  

These links provide a biography of the composer:
This link provides a very brief statement regarding the song’s development and its four verses.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus -- George Duffield

George Duffield was still grieving his friend’s untimely demise, and evidently wrote something that was therapeutic for himself and others a week later. “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” was actually not his idea, but his dying friend’s, and also a more ancient author’s whose words he examined in the wake of the tragedy that took his friend. Death is not a kind visitor, and it must have seemed especially unwelcome for the Philadelphians who had known the minister whose life they were remembering that early spring of 1858. How unfair it was, but they must have reasoned that there was once another unjust casualty, one with an influence that spanned many more years than their departed friend’s. Even their friend knew this as he slipped into the next world.

The 40-year old George Duffield and his 33-year old friend Dudley Tyng were fellow servants of God in the city of brotherly love in the 1850s when the latter was helping to stimulate a revival there. Tyng was described as a dynamic speaker, whose message once stirred a crowd of 1,000 men to commit themselves to Christ the same day. This was just days before an accident and its aftermath that took the young minister’s life. He’d said giving up his right arm was preferable to curbing the message that God compelled him to deliver. And, so it was, as a piece of farm machinery hooked his sleeve and crushed his arm a few weeks later. As he suffered from the loss of blood and the accompanying shock, Tyng whispered to his father the words that sparked Duffield’s imagination. ‘Stand up for Jesus’, Tyng urged, just before he expired a few days hence. Both ministers had witnessed the results of the church’s work in the city, and must have felt they were winning the spiritual warfare, so it wouldn’t have been unusual for either man to have been reading about how to engage the enemy. With Tyng’s dying words, the apostle’s words (Ephesians 6) that George read a few days after his friend’s death had magnified meaning and impact. George’s sermon that next Sunday concluded with the six verses from his heart, as he mused about what had happened the preceding week, and considered how to move forward. His friend’s voice would not be stilled, after all, because his was just an echo. And, it was not a lonely, solo voice, either.

One could say that Dudley Tyng and George Duffield knew how to fight, though they were disciples of the Prince of Peace. Perhaps their time had no small influence on their perspective. Both men were ardent abolitionists, and as the American Civil War loomed, both knew their stand put them at odds with others, even in the free northern states. With a heightened awareness of the morals of slavery and their spiritual calling, how could Dudley and George do anything else, we might ask. As he eulogized his friend George’s poem rings with the battle cry, with words like ‘soldiers’, ‘army’, ‘victory’, ‘foes’, ‘conflict’, ‘armor’, ‘battles’, and many more, perhaps amplified by what he and others could see affecting their world, as well as what they thought lay ahead. Paul, the Apostle, felt the battle went on, as did George Duffield who echoed his departed friend’s final thoughts. We long for tranquility, but where would you and I be without the call to arms?

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
See biography here of composer:,_Jr.
See this link for biography of the composer’s friend, whose last words inspired the hymn:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Onward Christian Soldiers -- Sabine Baring-Gould

The minister wanted to give his young charges a sense of the great task they were entering that Monday, so he thought a marching song was appropriate. An army leapt to Sabine Baring-Gould’s mind as he considered the poetry for “Onward Christian Soldiers” in 1864. The images he paints are vivid and exciting, spurring mental reminders from war pictures that stir one’s spirit. This was the period before moving picture shows, so Baring-Gould must have been drawing upon other resources to compose the lines that he says he dashed off rather hurriedly. His words were meant to mold young children, but they still ring in the ears of adults…we all must feel that conflict is still a reality, huh?

The 31-year-old minister Sabine Baring Gould was trying to inject some discipline, some stability, into the children as he thought about the marching they’d be doing, and perhaps it was something he wished had been a bit more true in his own upbringing. His childhood found him travelling throughout Europe with his family, though England was home, making his education by private tutors necessary. His father’s and maternal grandfather’s military backgrounds must have provided some of the foundation for “Onward…”, as Baring-Gould considered how his own childhood experience might be translatable for the children he was teaching in Horbury in northern England that day in the mid-19th Century. Banners (v.1) whipping in the wind, soldiers in tight rows in lock-step, perhaps singing a martial song in unison – these were memories perhaps from stories his father and grandfather might have told, which stayed with Sabine. And so, when gathering the children for Monday’s march to a nearby village, Sabine thought for a while the previous evening about how he could get his classroom kids to participate in the spirit of the occasion. He says he wrote hastily, and some three decades later was still unconvinced its rhymes were adequate. But, perhaps the aim of its inception was the hymn’s operative factor. Intended to teach and shape its vocalists, “Onward Christian Soldiers” communicates not only the gravity of the believer’s devotion, but the comradeship acquired in a group of followers, too. After all, it’d be tough to fight all by oneself.  

That companionship is celebrated weekly in most believers’ lives. Sunday, resurrection, is no small deal. It deserves a shout! But, I must admit that most of my marching by Monday afternoon, and especially by the time I reach Friday, seems a little weak-spirited by comparison. Think Sabine thought the same thing, or saw it in the faces of those children? A song helps me remember – and it’s why I try to ‘scoop’ a helping of song each Friday or Saturday too. With this techno-age, I don’t need to rely on my flawed memory. I can call other believer-friends, or send them a text, or I can punch a disk into an electronic device to waft that marching scent through my nose and ears once more. Play it again, Sam -- or rather, Sabine!   

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

Also see these links: This one shows all six original verses:
Read about the town in northern England where composer was in 1865:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom – Frederick Augustus Fillmore and Palmer Hartsough

He and his brother James were busily producing, editing, and publishing songs in their Cincinnati publishing business, something that was in their blood. Thus, a small product of this effort came very naturally to Fred Fillmore one year very early in the new century. Although he and his family evidently were not farmers, the words he wrote in “Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom” speak of a different time, compared to ours a century later, when the agrarian ways of perhaps many of his acquaintances was their lifestyle. And, the same was also true of the era of the original composer, Palmer Hartsough, who had joined the Fillmores in their Cincinnati business. Planting and growing crops was familiar ground for early 20th Century American Christians, who lived in an era and a nation where farms had multiplied by leaps and bounds. So, the awareness of their surroundings by Fillmore and Hartsough, and how this agrarian theme would resound in worshippers’ ears, is evident in the musical questions they pose in a message about productivity in the eternal nation.

Frederick Augustus Fillmore and his brothers inherited and carried on the musical life bred from their father. Augustus Fillmore had been a preacher, hymnist, and publisher who moved his wife and seven children from Illinois to Cincinnati where he set up a music business, the same one that Fred and his brother James later continued after their father’s death. Another brother Charles was likewise involved in editing the business’ monthly journal The Musical Messenger.  Palmer Hartsough had joined the Fillmores’ effort by the late 19th Century upon moving to Cincinnati, and it was probably soon thereafter that Fred became aware of Palmer’s first draft of “Sowing the Seed…”. Hartsough had apparently crafted the words and music while still living in Rock Island, Illinois in 1888, and then reworked it some more in 1896 after joining forces with the Fillmores. Still, it must have been less than perfect, for Fred took hold of it by 1903 and revised it yet again.  That Palmer, a notable writer with a few hundred hymns to his credit, would apparently permit Fred to edit his work suggests Fred had insight for sowing that Palmer had not acquired. Did Fred use other words that would speak more clearly to the anticipated audience? Perhaps it was the musical form that Fred chose to improve. Whatever the cause, 47-year old Fred’s effort evidently satisfied his partner Palmer, since the song survives 113 years later as Fred crafted it. It started out in Illinois, made its way to southwestern Ohio, and has travelled many other places since then, and to more than just farmers.

It’s a few simple thoughts about planting seed at all times of the day and in an area where the kernels can prosper. The words of Palmer and Fillmore plainly coax the worshipper to consider the long-term outlook, for what would there be at the end if the farmer doesn’t plant? What would I be able to eat if some farmer didn’t plan and carry out his life’s work? They must have been trying to reach an agrarian crowd, we can say about the composers, but the terrain of this hymn is not foreign if instead I sit behind a desk all day or at this computer. We all produce for more than just ourselves. Is what I’m planting feeding others well?

Link to site showing the song’s three verses and refrain:
Biographies of two other brothers of the composer:
Some history of the time is discussed here: