Saturday, July 21, 2018
The Sands of Time -- Anne Ross Cundell Cousin
She must have thought her ancestor deserved plenty of credit for the life of opposition he faced with courage until the day he died. He was Samuel Rutherford, a 17th Century Scottish Nonconformist (persecuted by the government for not following the practices of the Church of England), and she was Anne Cousin, a fellow Scot who two centuries later paraphrased Rutherford’s life and well-known message in “The Sands of Time”. Anne wrote a poem of 19 verses, one of the longest tributes to a life that looked forward to an eternal inheritance, undiminished by the harassment and earthly punishment Samuel had endured as a result of his spiritual convictions. Perhaps she thought the 152 lines she penned mirrored symbolically Rutherford’s long struggle. (See painting here of an ancient figure holding an hourglass, and observing the sand slowly marking the passage of time.) Yet, the close of each verse emphasizes not the clash that Samuel must have felt characterized his relationship with Scotland and greater Britain, but the higher duty he owed to his first King and the coming reward that engulfed his being.
Could it be that 33-year-old Anne Cousin was struck by the contrast in her life compared to Samuel Rutherford’s, as she sat reading about his 61 years on earth, including time in banishment or imprisonment? It’s said that in 1857 Anne was, in contrast to Samuel, freely sitting in her own home where she was sewing and reading about Rutherford’s life story. Anne was the wife of a minister, and so was accustomed to crafting poetry adapted to music (a handful of hymn poems are attributed to her). Rutherford’s example was a magnet for this woman’s attention, particularly the many stirring words he uttered as a minister to admonish, motivate, and teach his hearers. Anne was especially stirred by the story of Rutherford’s reported last words as he looked heavenward and declared that ‘…glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!’ Those words summed up Samuel’s lifelong objective, which she used to consummate most of her poem’s verses. The fire in Rutherford could not be stilled in the 1600s, even when he was banished to Aberdeen for his Nonconformist views in the 1630-38 period. It was during that time that he wrote while a virtual prisoner, officially barred from church work; his letters and other writings to fellow believers at the time became his defining works. In 1638, church peace commenced in Scotland, permitting Rutherford to resume his life without state persecution. But, near the end of his life over 20 years later, Samuel was once again officially condemned concurrent with the ascension of Charles II to the British throne. Facing almost certain execution, Rutherford did not shrink from his position, exclaiming the words that would compel Anne Cousin’s poetry two centuries later. Samuel was not unlike his ancient predecessor Stephen (Acts 7:56), who visualized heaven’s majesty as death clutched his throat.
Anne Cousin echoed in the first few words of “The Sands of Time” what Stephen and Samuel said with their last words on earth. Sand trickles through the hourglass, and ‘the dawn of heaven breaks’ (v.1 of Anne’s poem). Meet it with courage, she said, remembering what Samuel called out with a zeal that probably grew in fervor as the culmination of his betrothal to Christ was in sight. Immanuel -- God with us -- came here, and we who have not yet been there follow Him to his home. That truth animates the believer’s life. Additionally, what name do we inherit when we go to be with Him? To be honest, I’ve never pondered that detail. Have you? God received His poetic name, first mentioned by Isaiah, perhaps as He prepared to visit us, centuries in advance of his human birth. Anne’s poem (her original verse 14) suggests a name (perhaps, in fact Samuel Rutherford’s) that was ‘banned’ on earth would be ‘graven on a white stone’ up above (a reference to Revelation 2:17?). Knowing my name is written there (Revelation 17 and 20) means something…I’m supposed to go there. When I feel dejected here, I just need to keep seeing my name on that white stone, like Stephen, and Samuel, and Anne did.
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; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945.
See this site for all 19! of the original verses:
See a few brief details of the composer’s life here: