Saturday, October 24, 2015

Seeking the Lost – William Augustine Ogden

He was probably in Toledo, Ohio (see its map here) at what he must have presumed was mid-life, in his mid-40s. He was an educator, lover of music, and most importantly what might be called a signpost. But was that all William Augustine Ogden wanted to be at this point, a static pointer? One might gather from his words in “Seeking the Lost” that Ogden yearned to be more than that. Signs have a message, one that must be compelling to capture the attention of passersby. But, they cannot move, and so the opportunity to convey something important, even urgent, to an audience is largely confined to a slim moment, or perhaps multiple moments if the viewer/s travel in the same area repeatedly. William must have thought it made more sense to make the message mobile, to take it on the road and proactively search for broken people.

What life experience by 1886, when he wrote “Seeking the Lost”, had prompted Ogden to write persuasively the words about seeking wanderers? His music ear developed at a young age, so that he was studying and reading music by his 10th year, and later writing and singing in a chorus by 18. So, by the time he joined a volunteer unit in Indiana during the Civil War, music was a familiar chord in his life, so much so that it’s probable this carried him through the war. Indeed, his organization of a male chorus was renowned throughout the Army of the Cumberland. Had he known some of the generals of this army, perhaps Rosecrans or Ulysses Grant, or maybe Sheridan or Sherman? It’s not known if particularly Ogden’s music in this era helped promote faith, but it was not uncommon for soldiers to adopt religious tunes on the battlefield or in the camps before or after combat engagements. Perhaps this was where his own faith was first stretched to be intentional, proactive. Following the war, Ogden followed his heart and gathered more education, ultimately producing at least 10 song books. He became a teacher in the U.S. and Canada, including the superintendence of Toledo schools by 1887, the year after “Seeking the Lost”. It’s not improbable that his students in this northwestern Ohio area were among those he sought out with the message contained in his music.  But, unlike the martial nature of the war experience he’d endured, his prose endorsed a ‘kindly entreating’ (verse 1), a ‘mercy’ (verse 3) to draw hearers to Jesus. This was no doubt a quality any teacher would have needed to be successful. War and classrooms may not have had much in common, but Ogden evidently took something along inside himself in both venues that spoke to those around him.    

Do events from decades ago affect you and me? It goes without saying that this is true. William Ogden had a childhood filled with music, one that wasn’t blotted out by warfare and bloodshed, though he was probably shaped some by that episode. Some men must have come out of it embittered. What did it do for William Ogden? We know he took up his pre-war musical refrain, and 20 years later something was propelling him. Read his words and listen to his music, and you can detect a synergy there, a compilation of his life’s purpose, a God-given talent, and a light that peeked out from a great gloom two decades earlier. It must have been a pretty resilient thing, whatever it was. He is, isn’t He?

See these sites for biography of composer and the words to the hymn:
Information on the army of which the composer was a part earlier in his life:  

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