Saturday, September 29, 2018

What a Day That Will Be -- James Hill

He really admired and felt badly for his mother-in-law. But, that’s not the conclusion of the matter, and not where Jim Hill chose to spend his energy. He was a 25-year old who chose to look ahead, though the present could have overruled his thoughts. Jim, who might have been in Ohio (see picture) at the time, let his imagination be captive to thinking about “What a Day That Will Be”, because he could tell that this inspirational focus had transported him to a different emotional plane. And, the same thing happened later when he and some close relatives sang this new song to the one who’d been responsible for his motivation. Even in a mind that is debilitated, the chord that Jim had struck was able to urge a joyful response. That’s potent stuff.

One might think that Jim Hill’s life was changed forever for the better by a tragedy in his extended family life -- his mother-in-law’s stroke. She was just 50 years old when this calamity struck, an incident that burdened him emotionally, and which had been ongoing for a few years when Jim’s thoughts turned the clock forward. James Vaughn Hill had wanted to be a professional singer for some time, and had begun his musical journey as a teenager by taking part in quartet singing in several groups and by studying opera. So, his gift for music was already pretty well-developed, though reportedly he’d never really written a song before his mother-in-law’s illness. The words came to him in a spark, as he thought about her while driving his car, and later on his house’s front porch with a piece of cardboard as his artistic pallete. The colors he wove on this poetic canvas left him uncertain initially – was it any good? – though the haste he took to record what flowed into his mind spontaneously suggested he felt it had potential. His intuition proved accurate when he and his wife and sister-in-law sang this invention to his mother-in-law shortly thereafter. A smile creasing her face and some fresh vigor spoke all the words that Jim and the women needed to hear. It was, in sense, a microcosm of what Jim could see awaiting this dear woman, and indeed countless others. Debilitation will be overcome by rejuvenation. Jim could foresee many ‘no mores’ – heartaches, clouds, tears (v.1), sorrow, burdens, sickness, pain, and parting (v.2) would all become relics, mere speed-bumps on the mortal’s way to Eternity. Think of the glorious day approaching, instead, because it will never end. That’s therapy for a hurting body, isn’t it?

Jim Hill’s imagination didn’t stop with his expected arrival in heaven. He allowed himself to ponder gazing into the face of Him, and being escorted around the forever home by none other than God (refrain). If it worked for Jim and his mother-in-law, how about others? “What a Day That Will Be” quickly became a Southern Gospel standard here on earth in the latter half of the 20th Century. It’s still going, and its elemental truth hasn’t waned. A part of Jim must have been wondering, as he saw his mother-in-law brought low, if that was awaiting him too. Will I get sick someday, beyond recovery? Breathe deep…’probably’ might fall short of describing the prospects for this. But, Jim knew something else that was even more likely. How about you?  

One source for the song story is the following: “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

See also here for the song’s lyrics and a brief version of the song’s story:

See this encyclopedic site for further information on the composer:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Trust and Obey – John H. Sammis

This one traveled through two other people before lodging in the imagination of John H. Sammis, a 40-year old minister. It conveys two directives that an anonymous young man vocalized for a crowd in Brockton, Massachusetts, really on the spur of the moment. Daniel B. Towner was spending one evening as he had probably on many other occasions, directing singing at a revival, when he heard these two words, “Trust and Obey”. They stuck, and he must have sensed that they were something special, or he wouldn’t have related the story to his acquaintance and friend, John. What was it in John’s makeup that made Daniel think his friend would craft a poem worth putting to music? Perhaps it was the coalescence of events that made this song’s birth special.

‘Trust and Obey’ has a story that is widely known, and probably represents one of the more commonplace methods of songwriting. Someone hears or speaks something from a sermon, and just like that, little else needs to be understood. Someone says ‘Yes, but He’s at work nonetheless.’ ‘Trust and Obey’ is like that, for who put the attitude inside the heart of an anonymous young fellow who stood up in that moment in Brockton when asked to share, and testified that he would just follow those two words’ instructions? He evidently heard something in Dwight Moody’s sermon, or in the songs that Daniel Towner was directing, that resonated inside himself. Perhaps he’d been wayward enough, and experienced the opposite side of life, so that he appreciated the novelty and the delight of receiving God’s favor just by being compliant. Daniel shared the experience with John Sammis, evidently because he thought the words, and the perhaps the simplicity of their delivery also, would stir a poem. John had been in professional ministry only five years, having trusted and obeyed himself to leave a successful career in business because he felt ‘a call’. And so, John could identify with what following divine orders might mean to someone – he’d done it. He crafted five verses to acknowledge and provide his own testimony for others to consider. ‘Do you want to know the secret of happiness?’, John seems to be asking in his five verses. It’s interesting that John chose to share so many ‘not’ things in his testimony. Count ‘em – no less than a dozen (vv. 2-3) had been cast out of his experience as a result of following what the song’s title words directed be done. Shadows, clouds, doubts, fears, sighs, tears (v.2); burdens, sorrows, griefs, losses, frowns, and crosses (v.3) – does that cover everything that might torment a person? Maybe John had more, but instead chose to dwell more on the ‘secret’ formula contained in the song’s name. After penning his poem, John collaborated with Daniel, laying it in his lap to formulate the music to underscore the message of his words.

Did the original speaker of the trust and obey theme ever realize his contribution to Towner’s and Sammis’ inspiration? The story has been so widely circulated that one might believe so. What might have been that man’s reaction? Did he conjure up other emotions or physical impediments that he’d overcome by trusting and obeying? John’s list is not exclusive – there’s more that you or I could add, unique to an individual’s experience. I just need to make certain I incorporate the first two words that the young man in Brockton first spoke. John and Daniel thought they were well worth repeating.
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 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

Also see this link, showing all five original verses, and a brief recitation of the song’s story:

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bring Christ Your Broken Life -- T.O.Chisholm

Before he retired, he’d been selling insurance, but he was also writing about assurance in 1935. He’d sold many insurance policies to people while living out the last four decades of his life in New Jersey, yet the assurance guarantee that Thomas Obediah Chisholm grasped in ‘Bring Christ Your Broken Life” was not written on a piece of paper like the other policies he’d sold. Nevertheless, the people for whom his poetry was intended probably needed to be both insured and assured, if his words were in fact meant for people who’d had a lot of struggles. Thomas himself was not immune to difficulties, so what he penned was not a sterile, impersonal prescription, but one that he likely had consumed, perhaps multiple times. Thomas was an intermediary, recommending to those who were willing to look, a protection plan from the Divine One who was higher than himself – the CEO, if you want to think of Him that way. The Creator-Eternal-One (CEO) still offers it today.

Thomas Chisholm had a circuitous route toward the 69th year in which he lived and wrote about what to do with ‘…Your Broken Life’. He spent roughly the first 40 years in Kentucky, where he was born, educated, and worked – as an editor, and after his ordination, briefly as a minister in 1903. When his health forced a change, Thomas and his family moved to Indiana for a brief time. It was there that Chisholm took up insurance sales as his professional calling, which he continued when the Chisholms moved to New Jersey in 1916. So, by 1935, Thomas had been in a variety of situations, not all of which he could have evaluated positively. His own health, a war (World War I) that he lived through, and an economic depression in the 1930s that was worse than anyone had seen before must have made Thomas’ pitch for insurance and assurance a credible message to people he encountered. Many a ‘broken life’ and countless who’d lived through some ‘empty, wasted years’ (v.1) may have crossed paths with Thomas, who could have shared his own experiences with them in empathy. How many ‘care(s)’, ‘haunting fears’, and ‘dread’ (v.2) did Thomas listen to before he wrote this poem, offering hearers some hope? At 69 years old, was Thomas being autobiographical when he wrote about ‘weariness’ and ‘blinding tears’ (v.3), or was he thinking of someone to whom he was close? Whatever drove Thomas to write ‘Bring Christ…’, he didn’t choose to think exclusively about the ‘dark’ and ‘drear’ (v.4), but juxtaposed those with a solution…or, rather, the Solver.

The contrast between the first two words of the hymn’s title, ‘Bring Christ’, and its last three words, ‘Your Broken Life’, make Chisholm’s message especially notable. Words like ‘anew’, ‘whole’, ‘restore’ (v.1); ‘relieve’ and ‘lift’ (v.2); ‘love’, ‘wonderful’, ‘power’, and ‘great’ (v.3) permeate Thomas’ poetry, despite the references to life’s valleys. He reminds his audience that bringing Christ can overturn the broken life. It’s not just an exercise in complaining to Him, but rather accessing His compassionate spirit and catching at least a glimpse of His rest. One can presume that Thomas felt that way again and again, since he lived well into his 90s (93 years old) and wrote hundreds of poems that became hymns. As life mounted, with all of its attendant issues, Chisholm must have pulled out ‘Bring Christ…’ many times to clear his vision of the finish line. And, he must have imagined beyond that too, to the ‘morning break (ing)’ (v.4). Can you see the morning sun yet?