Oft in Sorrow

This song came up again in the course of my study this morning and I thought I just had to share it.

The poem was written by Henry Kirk White sometime around 1805. Henry White was born in 1785, his father, a butcher in Nottingham, and mother who ran a girl’s boarding school. From an early age Henry excelled in his studies, learning Latin and Greek, and was a published and awarded poet at the age of 15. Through his friend, R.W. Almond, White came to faith in Jesus, and planned to study for ministry. He attended St. John’s College in Cambridge, but soon became ill and died at the age of 22 on Oct. 19, 1806 before he could graduate. Shortly after his death, the manuscript for his poem “Oft in Sorrow” was found and by 1812 had been adapted as a hymn for the church.

The song is a reminder that often the Christian’s journey in this world is filled with tears, sorrow, pain and loss. We are called to join the war, to walk the walk, to take up the cross. Often we are met with failures; our own and those around us. The song is one of encouragement, that the strength for the journey, the victory in battle, the triumph in the end is not ours, but the Lord’s; and because it is His it is sure and certain. “Onward then to battle move; more than conquerors ye shall prove: though opposed by many a foe, Christian soldiers, onward go.”

Here is his poem, and there is a video of the hymn as well.

Oft in danger, oft in woe,
Onward, Christians, onward go,
Fight the fight, maintain the strife,
Strengthened with the Bread of Life.

Onward, Christians, onward go,
Join the war, and face the foe;
Faint not, much doth yet remain;
Dreary is the long campaign.

Shrink not, Christians: will ye yield?
Will ye quit the painful field?
Will ye flee in danger’s hour?
Know ye not your Captain’s pow’r?

Let your drooping hearts be glad;
March, in heav’nly armor clad;
Fight, nor think the battle long;
Vict’ry soon shall tune your song.

Let not sorrow dim your eye,
Soon shall ev’ry tear be dry;
Let not woe your course impede,
Great your strength, if great your need.

Onward then to battle move;
More than conqu’rors ye shall prove:
Though opposed by many a foe,
Christian soldiers, onward go.

Bound to Love and Truth

Reading through Proverbs 3 today I was struck by a passage that I (sorry to say) usually overlook. When I hear someone refer to Proverbs 3, my mind is usually drawn to verses 5 & 6:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

I’ve taught this passage so many times. There are songs to help you memorize it. The verse is underlined, highlighted, emboldened, so much so that it dwarfs the rest of the chapter.

And it shouldn’t.

I was particularly struck in today’s reading by the immediately preceding verses 3 & 4:

“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.”

The word for “steadfast love” in this text is none other than הסד, pronounced “chesed,” which refers to the faithful covenant love of God for His people. Likewise, “faithfulness” is from the Hebrew, אמת, pronounced “emet,” which can also be translated as “truth,” and is expressive of God’s covenant keeping.

Just sitting and reading this passage, “do not let steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you” makes us think that this is something we need to do. Without digging deeper into this passage, we might glance at it and think, Well, I better try to be more loving and faithful in order to find favor and good success in the eyes of God and man.

But that’s not the case.

The author of Proverbs here is calling us to mindfulness. He’s not talking about our steadfast love and faithfulness, but God’s. It is God who is steadfast in His covenanted love for His people, and faithful and sure to keep all His promises. The point of this passage is not to try harder, but to remember the covenant keeping nature of our great God.

God has promised to save, and has saved mightily in Jesus Christ. When we were dead in our sins and trespasses, God, in His love and mercy, did send His Son who would take our guilt, our shame, bearing our sins upon His cross, so that we might, by His grace receive forgiveness and the promise of everlasting life. We receive all this, not through our own effort, but through faith in Jesus Christ, resting in and receiving Him as He is revealed in God’s Word. This is the blessing of God’s covenanted love and faithfulness.

So when we are called to bind steadfast love and faithfulness around our necks and to write it upon our hearts, it’s not our own, but God’s love and faithfulness.

The promise given here, that we would find favor and success, are also magnified in the Hebrew. “Favor” here is the Hebrew word הן, pronounced “hen,” which is usually translated as “grace,” or “gift.” And “success” here is from שכל, sekel, which is elsewhere translated as “discernment, understanding.”

We are to set this truth of who God is and what He has done so close to us, that they reshape us, they reform us, they help us to see everything through the lens of God’s love and truth.

What a promise for God’s people! If we would keep before us the love and faithfulness of God, bind them around our necks, write them on our hearts, so that we would continually be reminded of all that God has done, and is doing for us in Christ Jesus, how we would grow in the grace and knowledge of God.