Friday, August 29, 2008

My Favorite Hymn

1. Once to Every Man and Nation:
“Once to Every Man and Nation” is my favorite hymn. I remember the first time I heard it in church. I was about 10. Every Sunday for weeks, I would look it up and devour the words and the music. Even today, my hymnal falls open automatically to this hymn.

The words came from a longer poem by James Russell Lowell pruned and set to a Welsh hymn melody. James Russell Lowell was a descendent of one of the most influential New England families. Later off-shoots of the family include poets, Amy Lowell and Robert Lowell and astronomer Percival Lowell.

This is the most difficult of all of the discussions to write. This hymn means so much to me.
Words: James Russell Lowell
Music: Welsh Hymn Melody

I’ll go back to the first verse later.

Second verse:
Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust.
Ere her cause bring fame and profit
And ‘tis prosperous to be just.
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside.
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

This history of the world is replete with examples of people standing for truth. Galileo was believed to have whispered “Earth still revolves around the sun,” even as he was forced to recant. Luther was tried by the church for his attempts to reform it. In our own time, we have the example of the resistance in Europe during WWII who risked everything, including their lives and families to stand against the Nazis, for the truth.

Third verse beginning at line 5:
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

A number of customs that were observed in Biblical times are no longer. As situations changed, God’s law changed. The principles never do, just the law. Paul spends some parts of his letters explaining how to be a slave and still be a Christian. We came to feel that slavery itself was wrong. Jacob had 2 wives and 2 concubines. We no longer allow plural marriage. His two wives were sisters, a situation that was later outlawed. Our understanding of God and what He wants from us has grown even from the time of Christ. Christ taught what He could in His time on earth and left us with principles to guide us in the future, but to keep abreast of truth we must labor on.

Fourth verse:
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet ‘tis truth alone is strong:
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future
And, behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above His own.

The first part of this verse expresses our hope that truth will triumph. Looking back, after long battles, truth has won, not easily, but it has won. The rest of the verse sums up the sentiments expounded in “We Gather Together.” I like both this verse and the hymn for the same reason; I believe God will support us, keep watch over us, forget not His own.

The first verse:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side:
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.

This was the verse that caught my attention. Most of us who have been baptized (or confirmed) believe that we have made this choice. And for the most part, we have. That is what it means to be a believer, to affirm our belief.

But from the far side of my life, I wish it were that simple.

I think that we have to keep on choosing, day by day. There are many challenges in our lives, and sometimes we don’t make quite the right choice, but we have to pick ourselves up and try the next day to do better, to make the right choice. It never gets any easier either. I wish it did.

I think now that the choice I made when I was baptized was to keep choosing as best I could the side of truth.

Tomorrow, some final thoughts.

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