I do love the wonderful words of the old hymns, which, alas, we are slowly losing. Language use is changing, has already changed, so that many of us are no longer able to relate to the message and the passion in those words.
For example, it must have taken me thirty years to realise that “There is a green hill far away, without a city wall…” does not mean that there is no wall around the hill, but that the hill is just outside the city wall.
One of my many favourites of what I think of as the classic hymns is
Nearer my God to Thee.
This post just tries to draw out some of my dearest thoughts on these words.
I am drawn to the trace of thought through the second line of each verse;
for me, this is the loveliest setting in which to place the jewel of verse four:
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
Oh, the wholeheartedness of this cry,
the hungering and thirsting for holiness!
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
And can there be anyone who reads this
who has not known this place?
all that Thou sendest me, in mercy given;
Whatever trials You sent my way,
You gave out of Your love for me.
Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to Thee…
Now – now that I understand,
now that I begin to understand
where you are taking me through this
valley of the shadow –
Now I can begin to praise You!
Yes, I’ll take the very stones of my grief and
pain and sorrow,
and out of them build your house in me, my God!
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly
And when that day comes at last
that I leave this place to be with You in eternity,
how small will those griefs be
that are now such great rocks in my life,
when I am so full of You
that I forget such wonderful lights of Your creation
as even the sun,
and all the stars of the heavens!
- “Bethel” means “house of God”
- Sarah F. Adams was a Unitarian, and wrote this hymn based around the story of Jacob’s dream when he was, effectively, exiled from home (Genesis 28:10-22).