Behind the Hymns – 3
Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
Most of the hymns that have come from the medieval period of the church and originally written in Latin have been assumed to have been written by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was a saint, abbot, and doctorwho fills one of the most conspicuous positions in the history of the middle ages. He was born at his father's castle near Dijon, in Burgundy, in 1091. He was educated at Chatillon, where he was distinguished for his studious and meditative habits. His parents, especially his mother, Aleth, taught him the virtues of justice, mercy, and affection for others.
His mother's death, when he was seventeen, affected Bernard profoundly. He began to experience a more profound conversion and a call to study theology. He entered a Benedictine monastery in 1112 A.D. His talent was soon recognized, and three years later he was asked to establish a monastery at Clairvaux. That was a successful venture, and several monasteries were established throughout France under his leadership. He became a confidant of Popes and a preacher to the King of France. Despite these remarkable achievements, the focus of his life remained twofold: Knowing God and serving the needy. He expressed a similar thought in one of his writings when he said: To know Jesus and Him crucified is my philosophy, and there is none higher.
Thankfully wonderful hymns like Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts, have found their way into our hymnaries through the work of dedicated translators. One of these is Ray Palmer who was responsible for this one. Ray was born in Rhode Island in 1808 and worked in Boston as a clerk in a dry-goods store for several years before studying for the ministry. In 1835 he became the pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Bath, Maine.
In addition to translating hymns, Ray Palmer also was an author of hymns in his own right, the most famous of which he composed in 1830: My faith looks up to thee.The author says concerning its composition, "I gave form to what I felt, by writing, with little effort, the stanzas. I recollect I wrote them with very tender emotion and ended the last line with tears."
Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts expresses a deep faith and trust in the one who came to be the Saviour of the world. We need to remember that this hymn was first written in the 11th century which was a difficult time in the history of the church. There was dissension over who should be the real pope. At one time there were three people claiming to be the real pope. Certainly, this would have caused people to begin to question what they could truly believe in.
Whether or not Bernard of Clairvaux wrote these words, we can identify with the author as he encourages us to realize that in Jesus we can find joy, light, contentment and fulfillment. He then reminds us that the truth that is Jesus has not changed with time; that the salvation brought by Jesus has not lost its effectiveness and that those who will seek for Jesus will indeed find him. In a verse that echoes the declarations of Jesus concerning himself as the bread of life and the water of life, the author encourages us to grasp these elements as not only key to nourishing our bodies but as spiritual nourishment for our souls. Well does the author know that we can find ourselves restless and unsettled as we experience life’s changes, but the presence of Jesus is assured, and we will be blest as our faith holds us fast. The final verse is a prayer that Jesus will be with us and remain with us for the whole of our lives.
I’m Gonna Live So
This is another African-American spiritual whose origin remains a mystery and yet whose words remind us of the fortitude of those who experienced the life of slavery in the American South and in other parts of the world. No matter where life may take them and no matter what they may endure, they would never surrender their faith in God to use them anywhere and anytime. Whether working, praying or singing, people would know to whom they ultimately owed their lives and their allegiance.
Kum Ba Yah
There has been great debate over the origins of this song. At least three distinct stories have come to varying stages of acceptance by the public. One story is that it originated in the southern coastal regions of the U.S., near South Carolina and northern Florida, where Gullah, an African-American dialect, is spoken.
Another story comes from the authorship claims of Marvin Frey. He claimed to have written the song at a Christian Crusade camp in 1936, at age seventeen, with the original first line “Come by here.” Another camper took the song home to his missionary parents, who in turn took it to Angola, where it was altered to “Kum ba yah,” and then brought back to the U.S. as an African song. Frey has claimed a copyright on the song.
The third and most likely story is that it is an African-American spiritual that originated at an unknown date in the American South. This is supported by the existence of a cylinder recording of the song in the American Folklife Center archives in the Library of Congress. The recording was collected in 1926 – ten years before Frey claimed to have written it – in Georgia by Robert Gordon and was sung by H. Wylie. A transcription of that recording bears a close resemblance to the song we know today in the structure of the tune and the form and wording of the lyrics.
This folksong has become popular all over the world. It was most popular from the 1950s to 1990s, but its use started declining in the 1980s. Today, outside of church, the name of the song has become idiomatic for naïve, superficial peace. It is often thought of as a children's song, but it can be sung by all of God's people as a request for His presence in times of trial.
There are many stanzas to this song. The first stanza is “Kum ba yah,” which is, of course, the title of the song. Most of the other stanzas are on a sad theme: “Someone's crying,” “Someone's hurting,” etc. A few are on a happier note: “Someone's singing,” “Let us praise the Lord,” etc. As with many folk songs, there is no single accepted version.
I Know not Why God’s Wondrous Grace
The author of this hymn, which certainly does not seem to be as old as it really is, was Daniel W. Whittle. Born in 1840, Daniel served in the American Civil War on the union side. His war experiences influenced his life and informed many of the hymns he would later write. While working for the Elgin Clock company in Chicago, he met D.L. Moody who encouraged him to go into evangelistic work. Through the efforts of Moody and Philip Bliss, Daniel became an evangelist in his own right and went on to write many hymns including “Showers of Blessing”. Both this hymn and the one we will sing today were set to music by James McGranahan.
James McGranahan was a talented and cultured American musician who lived from 1840-1907. He was gifted with a tenor voice and studied for years training for a career in opera. But a friend of his, Philip Bliss, felt that James’ talent could find better use as a writer of music for evangelistic songs and hymns. Philip wrote a letter to James around Christmas of 1876. Philip had been on the same path as James before he committed his life to full-time Christian service. At the time, Philip Bliss was the leading soloist for Daniel Whittle’s evangelistic meetings. However, on December 29, 1876 Philip Bliss and his family died in a train disaster. When James got the news, he rushed to the scene of the accident and there met Daniel Whittle. The evangelist later recorded his thoughts on the occasion: “Here before me stands the man that Mr. Bliss has chosen to be his successor.”
The two men made the return trip to Chicago together, and as they rode they talked. Before they reached the city, James McGranahan decided to yield his life, his talents, his all to the service of his Savior. He would strike into the grain to reap for the Master. The two began a working relationship that would last the rest of their lives.
The mystery of faith is one which we all puzzle over. As much as we try to explain to other people why we have faith, we always seem to fall short. The problem is that we try to reason it out. We want it to make sense from a human perspective. We want it to be logical. But the whole thing really is illogical. The author has a lot of questions that he would like to have answers to, as I am sure most of us do: Why is God gracious to me? Why did Christ claim me knowing that I am not worthy of his claim? Why do I have faith in God and in Christ? Why do I believe in the word of God that brings peace to my heart? How does the Holy Spirit really move in this world? How does it convince me of sin? How does it reveal Jesus to me through the word of God recorded in the Bible and how does it create faith in me in him?
There may not be all the answers we seek to these questions now, but the author is satisfied to live this life even with those questions on his mind for, as he says in his chorus: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that Christ is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.” That day will be the day when all his questions will be answered, and he will see his Lord face to face.