Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

25. Before the throne of God

(verse one)

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is written on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heav’n he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

In your hymn books you will find this hymn attributed to Charitie Bancroft (1841-1923) but in fact the author was Charitie Smith as she was only 19 and unmarried when she wrote this hymn. She later married twice and outlived both husbands . Her first husband was Arthur Bancroft. Charitie was born in Ireland but later emigrated to America. 
The hymn draws on Hebrews 4:14-16, 6:17-20 and Romans 8:34

This was the favourite hymn of my old friend Kevin Sullivan. Charlotte said that this was Kevin’s favourite hymn because of the words that appear in the first verse…

My name is graven on his hands
My name is written on his heart.

Charlotte said, ‘ When Kevin came back to faith (thanks to the love and support of the Limeuil house group) it was this hymn that he said described what he felt. Although he had wandered off for many years, he realised that ,“his name was graven on His hands”. ‘ 
I went to see Kevin in the hospital at Bordeaux when he was very unwell and we sat and laughed at the fun we had experienced together playing music. We recalled playing on one occasion for nearly three hours (just the two of us with a backing track) and got paid 25 euros between us. 
I also broke bread with Kevin at his bedside and we shared prayer together . It was the last time I saw him. 
Charlotte had this hymn at her ordination and priesting and I am sure that Kevin would be proud to see how she has contributed so much to the Chaplaincy of Aquitaine. Congratulations to Charlotte on her appointment as Chaplain to The Holy Trinity Church Maisons Lafitte near Paris !  We will certainly miss her but I am sure that we are all delighted that Charlotte will be able to develop her ministry and the people in Maisons Lafitte are very fortunate to be welcoming her . 
As I was preparing this presentation some words came back to me which my mother used to repeat and they echo Kevin’s belief that his name was written on God’s hands…
Let nothing draw me back
Or turn my eyes from Thee ,
But by the Calvary track
Bring me at last to see
The courts of God, that City fair,
And find my name is written there.

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

24. Blessed Assurance

The creative process of writing hymns is a complex but interesting one. Have you ever wondered whether the words were written first and then the tune or is it the other way round ? And then there is the question of inspiration. Hymn-writing is very much like poetry in that it distils our thoughts, our prayers and our praise into relatively short phrases and stanzas. 
The Methodist hymn Blessed Assurance was written by Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) who was blind from the age of six weeks. A friend of hers, Phoebe Knapp, played her a tune that she had been working on and asked Fanny, ‘What does this tune say to you ?’. Straight away Fanny replied, ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine !’ and proceeded to recite the whole first stanza with no preparation at all. A prime example of music, inspiration, words. 

The hymn is focused on heaven, a place where “perfect submission” and “perfect delight” will take place. The earthly existence is one of “watching and waiting, looking above” and as  we submit ourselves to Christ we are “filled with his goodness” and “lost in his love” .
We find that this hymn appeals to our senses in so many ways. Not only do we have a “foretaste of glory,” we also experience “visions of rapture [that] burst on my sight,” and we hear “echoes of mercy, whispers of love” .
The refrain calls us to “prais[e]. . . my Saviour all the day long,” echoing I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
I haven’t heard this hymn sung in one of our churches recently (that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been sung somewhere!) but in many ways there is a temptation to see it as rather old- fashioned. Well listen to this rendition…. It may well change your mind . I will admit that one of my unfulfilled ambitions is to conduct a Gospel or Jazz Mass and I would love to have this choir singing and swaying behind me. 
Love it !

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

22. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Do you enjoy trivia questions ? Here’s one for you…..
What is the link between this hymn and the village of Moustier in the Dordogne ?
Answer:  Joachim Neander

From 1674 to 1679, Joachim Neander ( the writer of this hymn) was principal of a grammar school in Düsseldorf. During these years, he used to wander the secluded Düssel River valley, which was, until the 19th Century, a deep ravine between rock fac­es and forests, with numerous caves, grottos and waterfalls.  Neander may well have written and sung many of his poems there. He also held gatherings and services in the valley.

In the early 19th Century, a large cave was named Neanderhöhle after him. In the mid-19th Century, the cement industry started to quarry the limestone, and the narrow ravine became a wide valley, which was now named the Neander Valley (in German, Neanderthal). The “Neanderthal Man” was found there in the summer of 1856.
So we owe the term Neanderthal to Joachim Neander. The village of Moustier on the Dordogne is where archaeologists found remains and evidence of Neanderthal Man in France. 
I always like to start a service with a hymn of praise….it gets everyone in the right frame of mind ! 
We may have concerns or worries and there may be problems to overcome but our first aim should always be to praise God and this hymn is amongst the very best hymns of praise. It was first published in 1665 but translated into English by Catherine Winkworth and published in 1863. The tune is ‘Lobe den Herren’. 

The hymn echoes the words of Psalm 103 and Psalm 150.  

When this virus is beaten and we can get back into our churches I hope that many services will start with this hymn and that when it comes to…

Let the ‘Amen’ 
sound from his people again,
gladly for aye we adore him .

We can try to take the roof off !

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
The King of creation
O my soul, praise Him
For He is thy health and salvation
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near
joint Him in glad adoration
Praise to the Lord
Who o’er all things so wonderfully reigneth
Shelters thee under His wings
Yea, so gladly sustaineth
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth
Praise to the Lord
Who doth prosper they work and defend thee
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him
All that hath life and breath
Come now with praises before Him
Let the ‘Amen’ sound from His people again
Gladly for aye we adore Him

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

22. Sunshine in my soul

I have experienced first hand the darkness of severe clinical depression.  Having burnt myself out working 90 hours a week for too many years , I collapsed physically and then found myself in a state of mental despair. It is odd, looking back, to see how I was unable to do anything and spent most of my time asleep or indoors. 

We moved to France in 2002 and it took eighteen months for me to get better .   The first ‘public’ re-appearance I made was at Limeuil in 2004 . I had been asked to take the service there but five minutes  before the service was due to start I nearly fled ! The good folk there supported me and I was given the strength to go through with it and the fact that I survived the experience helped me enormously on my road to recovery. 

Christians who suffer from depression can sometimes find themselves in an even deeper chasm as they know that their faith should make them happy but to tell a person suffering from depression that they should be happy is like telling a man with one leg to walk. Our understanding of mental health is improving and people are beginning to realise that just to say, ‘cheer up’ isn’t really helpful. 
But our faith can support us during those darker days and even when we feel far from God his hand is still outstretched to us. I fought my way back to health with lots of  fresh air and sunshine. In the end I needed that sunshine to re-enter my soul and it is for this reason that I love the words of this hymn.

I sang this song in Sunday School as a child  and, when we did, we sang it boisterously. But recently I heard a recording of a choir singing the song in a reflective and thankful tone. Being in isolation, or having a sense of helplessness (as many have been in the current crisis) we need to somehow seek out that sunshine in our souls.    And Jesus , listening can hear The song I cannot sing 
There may be times when you cannot sing or speak because of the darkness or because you have lost your way but we need to remember that Jesus is listening anyway. 
So there is gladness in my soul today , and hope and praise and love.  Alleluia !

The writer of the hymn, Eliza Edmunds Hewitt 1851-1920 , wrote the hymn when in great pain. She was a teacher in Philadelphia who had been attacked by one of her pupils and was injured so badly that she spent six months in a body cast. When the cast was removed, Eliza managed to walk and she wrote this hymn shortly afterwards.

The tune (Sunshine) was composed by John Robson Sweney (1837-1899).

There is sunshine in my soul today,
More glorious and bright Than glows in any earthly sky, For Jesus is my light.

Refrain: Oh, there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine, When the peaceful, happy moments roll; When Jesus shows His smiling face, There is sunshine in the soul.

There is music in my soul today, A carol to my King; And Jesus, listening, can hear The songs I cannot sing.

There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love
For blessings which He gives me now,
For joys laid up above.

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

20. Holy Holy Holy

Each week in church we repeat the words of the Nicene Creed. This creed was the product of the First Council of Nicaea 325 A.D. . The Council was called by Constantine 1 in an attempt to get agreement between the different churches on the divine nature of Jesus. In an attempt to squash various heresies the council agreed on the term homoousios which means ‘being of one substance’. It essentially stated that God and Jesus were absolutely equal. 

The hymn Holy, Holy, Holy uses the tune written by John Bacchus Dykes called Nicaea (after the first Council). The words of the hymn were written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826) and echo the words found in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8.

Heber wrote the hymn for Trinity Sunday. 

In the New Testament, the word Lagios (Holy) means apartness, set-apart, separateness, sacredness, otherness, transcendent and totally other. The fact that God is referred to three times by this word only goes to accentuate even more the otherness of God. 

In 1 Peter 1:15-16 you will find…

But as He who has called you is holy, so you should be 

So as we sing of the holiness of God we are called to be holy ourselves. 

A challenge indeed !

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

20. It is well with my soul

I am not sure why this hymn is not in Hymns Old and New but it has a very interesting history and holds a special place in many hearts. 

The writer of the hymn, Horatio Spafford, was born in Troy New York in 1828. 

In 1873 he and his wife and four daughters were due to go on a vacation to Europe but Horatio was unable to travel with his family due to business commitments. He had planned to join them shortly afterwards.  On November 21, 1873 the ship that his family was travelling on was hit midship by a British vessel and sank very quickly .

Horatio’s wife Anna was saved but all the children were lost. He wrote the hymn shortly afterwards and echoes of this tragedy can be heard in lines such as ..

When sorrows like sea billows roll 

Unfortunately, Spafford came under criticism for his views on Universalism and it could be for this reason that his hymn is sometimes excluded from modern hymn books. 

This hymn is a favourite of our own Amy Owen-Smith (The Chaplaincy Secretary, General Organizer and Cheerleader). Amy has to be the most positive person I have ever met. There is never a problem but always a solution with her and I know that so many of us are grateful for all that she does. 

If Amy likes it, that is good enough for me !

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns of Inspiration – Bramwell

19. Thine be the glory

The first time I heard, Thine be the glory sung in French I could not quite believe my ears……  À toi la gloire, O Ressuscité! …But of course ressuscité doesn’t mean resuscitated but, rather, resurrected !Jesus was not resuscitated … he was dead, buried and then rose again. 

Thine be the glory is a very popular hymn and its history is an interesting one. It is one of the rare hymns where the tune was written first. 

Handel wrote the melody to be used in his oratorio called Joshua but he liked the tune so much that he put it into his larger work Judas Maccabaeus (1747) and you will find the tune Maccabaeus in our hymn books today. 

The other interesting fact is that the hymn was originally written in French by Edmond L Budry in Lausanne Switzerland in 1884. It was first translated into English by Richard B Hoyle in 1923.

The resurrection of Jesus is the very centre of our faith. Whatever doubts we may harbour about our faith, this is the one thing that is immutable.

St Paul tried to make this clear when he wrote to the people of Corinth. (1 Corinthians 15:13-15)

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

In other words if we do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus then our faith means nothing. Paul goes further and basically says that if there is no resurrection then we are wasting our time and are to be pitied . As lovely as it is to get together in church and meet our friends, if we do not believe in the resurrection then it is all futile. 

Whichever language you sing this hymn in, the essential truth remains the same…….

Christ is risen !

Thine be the glory,
Risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the vict’ry
Thou o’er death hast won!
Angels in bright raiment
Rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave-clothes
Where Thy body lay.

Lo, Jesus meets us,
Risen from the tomb!
Lovingly He greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
Let His church with gladness,
Hymns of triumph sing,
For the Lord now liveth;
Death hath lost its sting!

No more we doubt Thee,
Glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee;
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conqu’rors,
Through Thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan
To Thy home above.

Refrain  Thine be the glory,
Risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the vict’ry
Thou o’er death hast won!
Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns – Easter Day – Bramwell

18. Christ the Lord is risen today !

The great hymn-writer Charles Wesley based his hymn on a much older hymn from Bohemia called, ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’ which is also in our hymn books.  The hymn was first sung in a converted foundry building in 1739 which was then used as a Methodist chapel . The hymn was omitted from The Methodist hymnal by Charles’ brother John as he did not wish to have any seasonal material in the new hymn book.

The hymn however first made it into publication in 1831 and it was around this time that the word , ‘Alleluia!’ was added to each line. 

Manning; a Methodist historian once wrote…

……though I was uncertain about the prayers, there was no gamble about the hymns. I knew we should have Charles Wesley’s Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” with its 24 “Alleluias”: and we did have it. Among any Dissenters worth the name that hymn is as certain to come on Easter Day as the Easter Collect in the Established Church (the Church of England). And mark this further—those 24 “Alleluias” are not there for nothing: the special use of “Alleluia” at Easter comes down to us from the most venerable liturgies. Our hymns are our liturgy, an excellent liturgy. Let us study it, respect it, use it, develop it, and boast of it.

When I read this, I knew this had to be the hymn choice for today

I am supposed to be at Limeuil this morning breaking bread and sharing in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection with the good people there. I would love to be singing this hymn at the top of my voice and seeing all the joyful faces in that church.

I pray that the day will soon come when we can gather together again! 

My heart is heavy that this cannot be possible this morning but I rejoice in the truth of the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn. 

Though we are not able to be together, we can each of us say, or sing

Christ the Lord is risen today ! Alleluiah !

  1. Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
    Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
    Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
  2. Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
    Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
    Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
    Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
  3. Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
    Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
    Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
    Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!
  4. Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
    Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
    Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
    Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
  5. Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
    Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
    Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
    Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!
  6. King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
    Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
    Thee to know, Thy pow’r to prove, Alleluia!
    Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!
Hymns of Inspiration

Hymns – Holy Saturday – Bramwell

17. Be still for the presence of the Lord

Some people find ‘being still’ easy to do or be. I never have. 
As a child I was always running around and as an adult things didn’t change much. Ice-hockey, cricket, tennis, squash, swimming, walking, golf… I am never happier than when I am moving.  
Jennifer and I were walking on Dartmoor one day and as it grew towards the sunset we decided it best to head back to where we had left the car. As we approached the village of Widdecombe in the Moor we could hear the faint chime of church bells. The church at Widdecombe is sometimes called, ‘The cathedral of the moor’ because it has a tall tower and can be seen from a long way away. 
About fifteen minutes after the bells had first sounded we slipped into the back of the church.The church was empty and the only sound we could hear was the steady ticking of the very large clock. 
We sat down to be quiet and, as we did so, we heard what we thought was a voice. 

We listened more carefully and realised after a few moments that the voice was coming from the chancel . As we sat there, familiar words came to us from the voice and we realised it was the parish priest saying the words of Evening Prayer. 
When the priest had finished he stood up and was surprised to see the two of us sitting there. He came and spoke to us and we discovered that he did the same thing on his own every evening. There was something about the stillness of the place and the constancy of the priest that has stuck with me through the years. 

The Welsh poet R.S. Thomas wrote….

 To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.
Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.
The priest in Widdecombe was not ‘balked by silence’ ; He ‘knelt long and saw love in a dark crown of thorns’. 
Be still for the presence of the Lord
The Holy One is here
Come bow before Him now
With reverence and fear
In Him no sin is found
We stand on holy ground
Be still for the presence of the Lord
The Holy One is here

Be still for the glory of the Lord
Is shining all around
He burns with holy fire
With splendour He is crowned
How awesome is the sight
Our radiant King of light
Be still for the glory of the Lord
Is shining all around

Be still for the power of the Lord
Is moving in this place
He comes to cleanse and heal
To minister His grace
No work too hard for Him
In faith receive from Him
Be still for the power of the Lord
Is moving in this place
Be still for the power of the Lord
Is moving in this place

Author: David J Evans. He was born in Kent in 1957 and he lives in Southampton. He is presently studying for a PhD in the psychology of music. 

Hymns of Inspiration Uncategorised

Hymns – Good Friday – Bramwell

16. When I survey the wondrous cross

The writer of this hymn , Isaac Watts ( 1674-1748)  is often credited with being the ‘Godfather of English hymnody’ . It is believed that Watts wrote some 750 hymns many of which remain in use today. 
Watts was not allowed to attend Oxford or Cambridge because he was a Non-Conformist and he studied at the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington. 
In addition to his hymn writing , Watts was an outstanding theologian and a logician.
Ironically, his book on logic (called Logick) became a standard textbook on the subject at Oxford and Cambridge and then at Yale and Harvard.  
The Church of England remembers Isaac Watts in their calendar of saints on November 25th each year. 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to his blood

See, from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown ?

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

If I had to choose just ten hymns to take with me to a desert island then this hymn would be one of them. One of Watts’ commitments to hymn-writing was that the hymns had to speak of a personal experience of God. 
Over the past few weeks we have tried to preserve our sanity and our health by walking (which we are allowed to do ). We count ourselves very fortunate to be surrounded by countless footpaths through the hills above The Eastern Algarve. The weather here has been indifferent for some while and there has been a fair amount of rain. The effect of this rain has been a massive increase in the growth of wild flowers. The hills are blazoned with colours.
As we walked, the words of the last verse of this hymn came to me….

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small

Imagine owning all of nature ! It is so diverse , so wonderful, so rich. Isaac Watts says that if he owned it all it would be far too small a gift to give thanks  to God in return for the gift of His Son. God’s love for us is so amazing, so divine that it demands our souls, our lives our all…. 
On this Good Friday we have the moment to consider whether we are willing to give our all….everything we are and everything we can be. 

Hills Blazoned with colour !