“Man of Sorrows! What a Name”

“Man of Sorrows! What a Name,” a hymn also known by its repeating refrain “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” was written in 1875. The author, Philip P. Bliss, took his title from Isaiah 53.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root from a dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not.

Knowing Bliss wrote several of his hymns based on sermons he heard preached, it is possible that a sermon from Isaiah 53 also inspired him or perhaps it was his own personal reading of this moving and prophetic chapter that gave him the inspiration to write this hymn.

The first stanza introduces the Savior and his purpose for coming here: “Ruined sinners to reclaim.”

The second stanza paints a vivid picture of the sacrifice Christ gave for us. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.”

The third illustrates the contrast between us “guilty, vile and helpless we” and our Savior, “Spotless Lamb of God was He.”

The fourth proclaims both his death and triumphant finish and the fifth proclaims His return when we’ll sing forever, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Ira D. Sankey, a singer for D. L. Moody’s evangelistic meetings–who also wrote hymns and compiled a book of hymns with Bliss–wrote of the hymn “Man of Sorrows” in his autobiography. “When Mr. Moody and I were in Paris, . . . I frequently sang this hymn as a solo, asking the congregation to join in the single phrase, “Hallelujah, what a Savior,” which they did with splendid effect.

“It is said that the word ‘Hallelujah’ is the same in all languages. It seems as though God had prepared it for the great jubilee of heaven, when all his children had been gathered home to sing ‘Hallelujah to the Lamb!'”

(Is there any other word that is recognized in all languages? In both Italian and Irish–hallelujah; in Spanish–aleluya; in Slovak–aleluja; in Swahili–Haleluya. ‘Hallelujah, what a Savior’ will surely be heard in heaven.)

Bliss discovered his love of music at a young age and studied when he could, eventually becomin an itinerant music teacher. When he was 26, he and his wife moved to Chicago where he conducted musical institutes and was soon known for both his teaching and singing. One night in 1869, he passed a revival meeting where D. L. Moody was preaching. Apparently, the singing was “rather weak” that night, and Bliss offered his help. After a quick interview, Moody accepted his offer and later urged him to give up his business and become a singing evangelist.

In 1873, Bliss did decide to give up everything (musical conventions, writing secular songs, business position, and work at the church) in order to go full-time into singing music for evangelism.

On November 24, 1876, Bliss sang at a minister’s meeting led by D. L. Moody in Chicago. Over 1,000 preachers were there to hear Bliss introduce a song he had just written the music for: It is Well with My Soul. He had only a month left to live.

 

Again, from Sankey’s autobiography: “This was the last hymn I heard Mr. Bliss sing. It was at a meeting in Farwell Hall in Chicago, conducted by Henry Moorehouse. A few weeks before his death Mr. Bliss visited the State prison at Jackson, Michigan, where, after a very touching address on ‘The Man of Sorrows,’ he sang this hymn with great effect. Many of the prisoners dated their conversion from that day.”

Bliss and his wife and children spent Christmas that year with his mother and sister in Pennsylvania, planning to return to Chicago in January to work with Mr. Moody. He received a telegram asking him to come sooner, so he and his wife obtained train tickets, deciding to leave their children with his mother. On December 29, 1876, the Pacific Express was three hours late due to a blinding snowstorm. Crossing a river over a trestle bridge, the first engine reached the other side but the rest fell 75 feet into the ravine of icy water.

Mr. Bliss managed to free himself, crawling through a window. However, his wife was trapped and he returned to try and help her. A fire broke out and soon the wooden coaches were ablaze aided by the fierce winds. The Blisses, along with at least 92 others, did not survive.

As Mr. Bliss’s trunk was sent ahead on another train, it reached Chicago safely. Inside were several songs, Mr. Bliss was working on. One hymn, “He Knows,” by Mary G. Brainard (Bliss wrote the music and chorus) began with the words: “I know not what awaits me. God kindly veils my eyes . . .”

Mourning the loss of Mr. Bliss, D.L. Moody had this to say about his friend: “In my estimate, he was the most highly honored of God, of any man of his time, as a writer and singer of Gospel Songs, and with all his gifts he was the most humble man I ever knew. I loved him as a brother, and shall cherish his memory . . .”

Though the life of Mr. Bliss was tragically cut short, he left a legacy of music that continues to lead us to worship the Man of Sorrows who became our glorious King.

 

Bibliography:

https://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biobliss.html

My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns: and of Sacred Songs and Solos Ira D. Sankey

http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/train-wreck-killed-hymn-writer-bliss-and-wife-11630582.html

 

How Firm a Foundation

April is National Poetry Month and though I don’t read as much poetry as I would like–between studying the Psalms and some hymns, I have been reading more poetry than usual.

We don’t often think of hymns as poetry, but when we take the time to read  and hear the words, we often find beautiful phrases with some deep theology woven in. Leland Ryken, a literary editor of the ESV Bible and a professor of English at Wheaton College for almost fifty years, writes in 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: “Much of the beauty that we experience when we sing hymns is the beauty of the music. Experiencing hymns as poems puts the focus on the verbal beauty of the words and phrases. The great hymns of Christian tradition are an untapped source of devotional poetry, just waiting to be made available for the pleasure and edification of Christians.”

In my familarity with hymns, I have too often sung through the words, not appreciating their depth of feeling and theology. I would like to challenge you to read through some of your favorite hymns and consider the words and what the writer may have been going through or trying to convey.

For today, I want to look at the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The opening stanza contains words of comfort and assurance. A reminder that since God has given us His Word to live our lives by, how could we have a more firm foundation?

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he hath said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

What more can He say? Nothing–though, of course, we need to read His Word to know what He has said. The next four stanzas are written as if God were speaking, reminding us of the promises from His Word.

In the second stanza: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed. . . . I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Third stanza: “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,” I will be with thee. (Isaiah 43:2)

Fourth stanza: “When through fiery trials they pathway shall lie”–His grace is sufficient. (2 Co 12:9; 1 Peter 4:12-13)

Fifth stanza: “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose”–He will never forsake. No, Never! (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Though written in 1787, the words are no less true or relevant for our lives. Enjoy and worship this hymn written with the ancient truths of God’s Word.

 

O For A Thousand Tongues Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley, hymn writer extraordinaire, is credited with writing thousands of hymns and for the hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, he wrote eighteen stanzas.

Wesley was inspired to write the hymn by a comment made by Peter Boehler. “If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ with them all.” He wrote the hymn to celebrate his first year anniversary of being saved. The line that eventually became the title was actually the first line of the seventh stanza in its original form.

Though his brother, John, was the preacher and organizeer behind the Methodist movement, it was the hymns of Charles which gave the Methodists their reputation for being “overly exuberant” in their worship. The Anglican church the two men grew up in did not sing hymns during their services, and they certainly didn’t express themselves in an “exuberant” way. Salvation changed, not only the hearts of Charles and John, but the way they wanted to worship.

Though there are many great lines in this hymn, the line “He breaks the power of canceled sin” recently caught my attention in an interview with Richard Foster concerning spiritual formation. Understanding that at salvation, Jesus’ blood has washed away my all my sin and thus canceled them, what kind of power can “canceled sin” have in my life?

Have you ever doubted? About God’s love? God’s power? God’s forgiveness? Have you ever thought God couldn’t use you because of past sin in your life? You say you believe He forgave you, but . . .But? If you do, then how can that forgiven, that canceled, sin have power over you? If that “canceled sin” is keeping you from doing what God intends for you, if it is keeping you from walking in faith, if it is keeping you from sleep–it has power over you.

The good news is: He does have power over canceled sin. We receive that power through sanctification, by walking and growing in grace. As Foster says: “The idea is that it’s possible for sin to be canceled and yet still have power. In the life that is with God, Christ breaks that power so that we are growing in grace, as Peter puts it in 2 Peter 3:18. Some people have a tough time with a verse like that because they only think of grace as unmerited favor.” (Christianity Today, October 2018, p. 64).

So, celebrate, O Christian! He does have the power over canceled sin. He sets the prisoner free!

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Psalm 25:7

April is National Poetry Month

spring poetry wordle

April is National Poetry Month, so it’s a good time to, not only read some poetry, but to discover some new poets and explore different types of poetry. I have to admit, that my reading has not included reading poetry as much as it should, though when I think about it, I have enjoyed poetry through the years. My earliest memories include the love of Green Eggs and Ham and Fox in Socks. What better introduction to poetry than Dr. Seuss?  Though it was required reading for me in college (usually a death knell to the enjoyment of reading), I greatly enjoyed reading Paradise Lost as well as The Odyssey.  As a writer, reading poetry helps me to see words in a different way; a more musical way. Ray Bradbury read poems before beginning a day’s work. In Zen in the Art of Writing, he said, “Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.”

I am now reading through a collection of poems edited by my favorite poet, Luci Shaw. The collection,  A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation, includes poems from several poets, including Luci Shaw herself. Using poetry to help us worship God is nothing new. We all know the Psalms as works of poetry, as well as the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations.

poetry

Perhaps no one explains better why we should read poetry than the teacher, John Keating, played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

In anticipation of hearing Shelby Stephenson, Poet Laureate of North Carolina, speak next week, I am going to pick up his book, Fiddledeedee, from the library.

Any favorite poets or poems you’ll be reading this month?