Behind the Hymns – FAITH
Our focus for today’s hymns is the theme of faith. Each hymn celebrates the author’s individual understanding of faith and paints for us vivid images designed to ignite our imaginations and help us to put into words what faith means to us.
Simply trusting 689
Our first hymn today is entitled Simply Trusting every day and was written in the 19th century by Edgar Page Stites who often just went by the name Edgar Page. Very little is known about him – not even why he chose to abbreviate his name. The person who wrote the music – Ira David Sankey – is better known. Not only did he write the music for many hymns he also was well known in his day as a soloist with the Moody Evangelical missions in both Great Britain and the USA.
This hymn is a beloved favourite of so many people as it expresses a trust in God that so many of us wish we could experience. When the storms of life assail us, when we find our faith to be as small as a mustard seed, the author says that all we must do is trust Jesus. The Word of God as revealed through Jesus is proof enough for the author. No more is needed. The chorus emphasizes this as he encourages us to trust as the moments of our lives fly by, as time itself passes and in the face of whatever might befall us.
For the author the Spirit of God shines brightly in his heart and he knows that wherever the Spirit of God will lead he will trust. He knows that God will never let him fall in the sense that he will never be without the presence and companionship of God.
He then reminds himself that he will sing when he is happy, pray when he is confused or sad and call upon God in Jesus whenever he faces danger. And that attitude, that assurance of faith that he has from trusting Jesus will enable him to not only trust Jesus for this life, and not just until the end of this created planet but trust him to that place promised by Jesus and seen by the apostle John – the eternal kingdom of God where it is recorded in Revelation 21:18 that the wall of the building was of jasper, and the city was pure gold, like to clear glass.
What a beautiful vision! What a humble faith!
In the bulb – 674
Our next hymn was written in the 20th century by a contemporary hymn writer. Born in 1930 in Evanston, Illinois, Natalie Sleeth began studying piano at the early age of 4. Her university degrees were in music theory. Natalie graduated to the organ where she excelled and wrote over 180 highly successful selections for church and school. The hymn we are singing today was composed as an anthem in March of 1985 and was dedicated to her husband Ronald who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. At his request, this song was performed at his funeral. Natalie herself passed away from cancer in 1992.
For Natalie, faith is something that is involves trusting and waiting. The author of the letter to the Hebrews said that faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.
And so Natalie reminds each one of us that before we see the flower there is a bulb; before the apple tree bears fruit, there is a seed; before we see the butterfly, there must first be a cocoon; and, of course, my favourite – the hope of Spring when we experience the cold and snow of winter.
Perhaps we never thought there was a song in silence, but Simon and Garfunkel understood that when they penned the song Sounds of Silence. Silence can hide the pain that we feel; silence can be the only thing that is present when we struggle to find the words to express our emotions and thoughts. But Natalie believes that there is a dawn in every darkness that will bring hope and that there ever will be a future but what that future will be remains a mystery. Yet that element of mystery does not dismay her or distress her for she knows that there is a season for everything and that in time all will be revealed.
And as each of us will have an ending that ending will also be a beginning. As each of us will have doubt, through our doubt we can find faith to believe. For death brings resurrection and a final victory over all because while our time here is finite to the visible world, our time is part of the infinity of God and our life is part of the eternity of God.
And so, it remains ever true that no matter what happens in this life; no matter what remains unrevealed in this time, there will be a time, there will be a season when God will show us what he sees.
As water to the thirsty 688
Another contemporary hymn is this one written by Timothy Dudley-Smith – an English hymn writer and retired Bishop of the Church of England who was born in 1926 and is still alive today. So is my Lord to me is the closing refrain of this hymn.
Timothy paints images for us that I am sure each of us can relate to at one time or another. This hymn is included in the Faith section of our book of praise as each image brings to the author’s mind why he has faith in Jesus. For him Jesus is water when he is thirsty, he is beautiful to behold, he is strength when Timothy finds himself to be weak and he is truth amid so much that is false.
In the second verse, Timothy celebrates that Jesus is like calm in the place of clamour or distress, like peace that comes after the passing of pain, like meeting an old friend after a parting and like sunshine after the rain.
In the last verse we are given images of comfort: sleep after the passing of a fever and freedom after we feel released from whatever may have held us in bondage. And just as the sunrise ushers forth the day, so we, the travelers through this life, will come to that home we all long to see. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing and hope come to those who have faith in the Lord, the living Lord. As Timothy concludes so is my Lord to me.
Blessed Assurance 687
“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine”, penned Fanny Crosby in one of her more famous and beloved hymns. While these words have given comfort and hope to so many throughout the years, the life of Fanny herself is also one of great hope. At the age of 6 weeks Fanny lost her eyesight during a spell of sickness. But this never seemed to hold her back. At the age of 15 she entered the New York Institution for the Blind where she received her education. She became a teacher in the institution in 1847 in the subjects of English grammar, rhetoric and American history. She continued her work until March of 1858 when she married Alexander Van Alstyne, a musician, who was also blind.
Crosby was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp as the Knapp home was having a large pipe organ installed. The organ was incomplete, so Mrs. Knapp, using the piano, played a new melody she had just composed. When Knapp asked Crosby, "What do you think the tune says?" Crosby replied, "Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine,” and so this famous hymn was born and received its equally well-known tune.
This song reflects Crosby’s walk of faith, as expressed by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21: For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Fanny loved her work. The secret of her contentment dates from her first composition at the age of 8 years. “O what a happy soul am I. Although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I will be.” This remained her philosophy throughout life.
Fanny combines so many wonderful affirmations of our faith into this hymn. For Fanny the very fact that Jesus had been with humanity on this earth was a sign of the divine glory that one day we would see perfectly. She knew that she had been granted salvation because of Jesus because God had bought her life back from sin and separation and she knew that she had not only been born in the flesh but more importantly she had been in the Spirit and that all her sins had been washed away by the blood of Jesus.
These affirmations led Fanny to know that she could give herself fully to God in Jesus. Her delight in life was now perfect as visions of rapture burst on her sight. Despite her blindness she could imagine angels descending to the earth and bringing with them the mercy and love of God.
And for Fanny, no matter what might happen in this life, she was happy and felt blessed. She could watch and wait, looking above for the return of her Lord because she knew his goodness and was filled with his love.
Indeed, this is her story and her song, praising her Saviour all the day long. I am sure Fanny would want everyone who ever sings this hymn to believe that this is their story and their song as well as she would encourage everyone to praise the Saviour all the day long.