Saturday, November 21, 2015
O Spread the Tidings 'Round -- Frank Bottome
His words published by 1890 and put to music probably were the subject of more than one sermon he delivered. Frank Bottome’s “The Comforter Has Come” (may also be known by its first line ‘O Spread the Tidings ‘Round’) was a declaration of some exciting news he wanted to share with hearers, probably as he considered the difficulties some of them could not escape. Certainly, some of them – in fact, all of us – need Him to come and be like the dove that alit on Jesus (shown here in the Portuguese painter Almeida Junior’s 1895 artwork). What else might have motivated this 67-year old minister to remind believers that God is still present, that His Spirit should not be forgotten?
Frank Bottome began and finished his life as an Englishman, and in between those two points began his life’s ministry and built his poetic resume that expressed his faith through music in America. Though born in north-central England in 1823, Bottome immigrated to the New World when he was 27 and began his work in the Methodist Episcopalian Church. As he turned 40, he’d received an honorary doctorate in theology, while also being active in music and ministry concurrently. He wrote a few dozen hymn texts, and also compiled several hymnals, including the 1890 compilation (Precious Times of Refreshing and Revival) in which his thoughts and zeal about the “The Comforter..” first appeared. Perhaps his words in the verses tell us all we need to know about the circumstances of its development. Verses one through three hint that human struggle was on Bottome’s mind, as the ‘woes’ (v.1), ‘wail’ (v.2), and ‘captive’ (v.3) nature of our earthbound days spoke to him. It’s likely that Bottome was engaged in reading about the Comforter described in John’s gospel (chapters 14-16) in the King James version, the bible translation most common for his time. Was it an aggrieved church member, even himself, or perhaps an unbeliever that he was seeking to encourage as he read from John and composed his poem? His role as a minister must have brought him into contact with many whose daily woes and captivity troubled his spirit. How does the average soul confront the ‘dreadful wail’ and ‘fury of the blast’, an unavoidable hurricane-like storm? As he approached his life’s conclusion in his late ‘60s, perhaps Bottome -- who lived just a few additional years, until he died in 1894 – wanted some reassurance himself. He apparently returned to England as he approached Eternity, and went on to the next life while in a small village in the southwest portion of that island nation.
Somewhere along the way, after Bottome’s original words expressed his thoughts, alternate language has been employed in the song’s verses and refrain, thus shining the light on another member of the Trinity. So, in some versions of the song, the “Comforter” does not make His appearance, while ‘the Lord of lords’ and ‘King of kings’ is lauded -- also very appropriate, but notably different than what Frank Bottome wanted to convey. It raises the issue of which members of the Godhead we should honor, or at least the modifiers of Bottome’s poem must have thought so. Why did Jesus send the Comforter? He wouldn’t have come, except that Jesus completed His mission first, and then called for the Spirit to accompany us in this next era. Our earthly days and our future days are both important to God, undeniably. We’ll see God. We can see Him now, too, if we look close.
See more information on the song discussed above in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.
See biography of composer here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/b/o/t/bottome_f.htm
See all five verses here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/c/o/m/f/comfortr.htm