Saturday, January 30, 2016

We Have Heard the Joyful Sound, Jesus Saves -- Priscilla J. Owens

This school teacher was thinking as a missionary. So if one ever pondered what the fusion of those two vocations would sound like, Priscilla Jane Owens left no mystery outstanding for this question when she crafted “Jesus Saves” in 1882 while living in Baltimore (see period map from 1852 here). As she sat down in the Union Square Methodist Church, she wanted this to be a joyful sound, and indeed she put those very words in the first syllables of the poetry she wrote. Missionary work is to be exciting, was her bottom line. How did she stamp this idea on the song? Two words that she exclaimed repeatedly are the recipe she prescribed.

Perhaps Priscilla learned her method in “Jesus Saves” as a result of her lengthy career in children’s education. If you want those you’re cultivating to remember an idea, it’s best to repeat it, perhaps many times in a small space. That way, they cannot possibly miss it. This 53-year old teacher had seen her share of students for many years on both Sundays and the other days of the week, and she must have shared many songs with them by this time in 1882. Jesus Saves! That was the message she wanted these students, probably both children and adults for this occasion, to grasp. The church apparently was anticipating a worship service that would focus on mission work. Where the mission work was going isn’t explicitly communicated, but perhaps it was a variety of places, given what she said in the song’s verses. ‘All around’ and ‘every land’ (v. 1), ‘far and wide’ (v.2), Priscilla says. He works, no matter where one goes -- a confidence and buoyancy she and the Union Square church members evidently wanted to accompany whomever and wherever their church-supported missionary was. Verse three implies they expected there would be challenges for the mission work, ‘battle strife’ and ‘gloom’ which the messenger would encounter and overcome with the same two words. Perhaps these people, including Priscilla, were not strangers to difficulties. ‘We don’t wear rose-colored glasses, but here’s our solution’, they say. Fix your sight on the completed work of Him – that fact is crucial for everyone. Anyone who’s bought into Jesus’ accomplishment – really staked his life on it – will be the most effective missionary.     

What more needs to be said? Priscilla Owens had a mission, to create as much a mood as anything else. We should be energized about our leader, and the future He provides. But would it be easier for hearers to grasp what she’s saying, maybe if they had once been destitute? Possess nothing, but then discover the gold bullion that makes you a king. Priscilla marks this gold with something like an X on the treasure map. Question:What do I in fact have, besides what He’s got waiting for me? Answer: Nothing. Next question: How does one find the pot of gold? Priscilla might say her two words are your answer to that one.  

See more information on the song story 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 4 verses of song and brief biography here of composer:
See this link for exact location of the church where the composer developed the hymn:

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