Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Boreham on Music and Memory


The experience that befell me last evening was of so commonplace a character that I am half ashamed to mention it, yet somehow it sent my mind whirling along a train of thought that was entirely new to me. It was one of those voluptuous evenings that occasionally surprise us in the autumn. Summer has vanished, and we have come to regard the luxury of warm delicious evenings as a thing of the past. We have already felt the nip of winter in the air; and have reconciled ourselves to the arrival of colder weather; indeed, we have already spent one or two evenings by the fireside. And then, like a friend who is loath to go, and who steps back into the room after having once wished us good-bye, the warm weather suddenly returns. So it was yesterday. And in the evening, so far from needing a fire, it seemed a pity to be sitting indoors at all. We sauntered on to the verandah, and, whilst chatting there, caught the soft strains of distant music.
`Oh, it's the band playing in the park. What do you say if we jump on a car and slip down?'

The evening seemed specially made for that sort of thing, so I readily consented; and a few minutes later we were strolling among the grassy lawns, the shady avenues, and the artificial waters of Coniston Park, enjoying the music which, just before, we had heard from afar. The best of a band is its unselfishness. It does not monopolize your attention. Even in a drawing-room, you feel guilty of discourtesy if you engage in conversation whilst a pianoforte solo is in progress. But with a band you have no such scruples. You can talk, laugh, do what you will, without in the least degree disturbing the band or lessening your own enjoyment of its music. Indeed, as a matter of fact, the band, by imparting an unwonted stimulus to the mind, loosens the tongue and renders conversa­tion the more animated and vivacious. Yet, all the while, at the back of your mind, however engrossing may be the discussion, you are thoroughly enjoying the music, and are sorry when it stops.


Nor is this the only respect in which a band enables you to do two things at the same time. In the course of the evening, I became separated from my companions, and found myself listening in solitude to the music. And I suddenly discovered that I was not merely listening to music; I was looking at pictures. What memories these tunes revived! The first time that I heard that particular air was at a school treat in England, years and years ago. How it all came back to me like a cinematographic film, as I heard the inspiring strains again last night! I could see the procession, the banner, the field ablaze with buttercups, the games, the races, the scrambles, the olddominie, the teachers, and the old familiar faces.

Where are they all now? I really believe that some of these faces have never recurred to my mind from that day to this; but that old tune has unlocked some secret door in the chambers of my memory, and this wealthy store of old-time recollections has been suddenly released. A second tune reminds me of a fete to which I was once taken. Here are the tents and the side-shows, with all their gaudy accessories, once more vividly before me! The giants and the dwarfs, the freaks and the monstrosities, the performing dogs and the tame snakes, the wax-works and the merry-go-rounds, how they all rush back to mind! I can see again the highly coloured daubs that proclaimed to all and sundry the marvels to be witnessed on the other side of the canvas; I can hear again the strident voices of the showmen; I can even smell the sawdust that so plentifully besprinkled the grassy floor of each tent. That tune, I very well remember, was being played as the balloon ascended; and the thrill of seeing the huge sphere shoot up into cloudland comes back upon me as I hear those strains again.

A third tune, a selection from a popular opera, I first heard at a county cricket match. It was between Kent and Middlesex, and the premiership for the year depended upon it. Whilst this very tune was being played, a young Kent amateur—one of the idols of my boyhood—brought off a most amazing and sensational catch, imparting to the game a totally new complexion. The ground as it appeared at that moment; the astonished and applauding crowd; the retiring batsman; the feeling that the match had entered upon a new phase; all through the years these things have never once recurred so clearly to my mind as they did when listening to that tune in the park last night.

Here again, then, the band is helping me to do two things at the same time. I am enjoying the music and I am luxuriating in a feast of memory. Other music—considered as music—might have been just as beautiful: but it could not have been as enjoyable to me. For these old and well-remembered tunes unlock the secret treasures of the heart, and, beneath the magic of their touch, memory outpours her precious hoard.

That is the beauty of it. One hears a few strains of a band, or a few notes on the piano, and, in a flash, the imagination is transported to some scene, it may be on the other side of the world, and very possibly half a lifetime away, at which one heard that same tune first or heard it last. A haunting tune or a catchy chorus comes to its own in the first place by virtue of its direct appeal to the fancy; but it grows in sacredness and value as the passing years encrust it with a wealthy cluster of associations.


I really believe that for many of us—especially those of us who are not musically constructed—this constitutes music's greatest and most imperishable charm. It is not, of course, the only one. The fact that I remember the tune, and recognize it when I hear it again, proves in itself that the music captivated me and made an indelible impression upon my mind when I heard it for the first time. A good tune has an intrinsic value of its own; the associations that gather about it are simply a noble tribute to its worth.

We all know the story of the way in which, after a long agony of misfortune, Sparta applied to Athens for a leader. They expected a tall and stalwart soldier. To their disgust, they received a lame little schoolmaster, one Tyrtaeus. They soon discovered, however, that the odd little man could make music that set every soul on fire. And, inspired by his patriotic songs, the armies of Sparta were soon marching once more from victory to victory. Music has this primary virtue.

Its secondary virtue is scarcely less vital. Carlyle has shown that, when the stirring chords of the `Marseillaise' fell upon the ears of the grim and silent revolutionists for the first time, the effect was instantaneous and electrical. But today those chords are invested with historic significance, and to that supplementary fact they owe much of their extraordinary influence. The thoughts that have become interwoven with the stirring strains make such an appeal to the hearts of Frenchmen that they will, with that music ringing in their ears, dare any death or make any sacrifice. 'The sound of the "Marseillaise,"' says Carlyle, 'will make the blood tingle in men's veins, and whole armies and assemblies will sing it, with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of Death, Despot, and Devil.'

In a later chapter he gives a concrete illustration. He describes the perilous position in which the French army found itself in the struggle with Austria. `Dumouriez is swept back on this wing, and swept back on that, and is like to be swept back utterly, when he rushes up in person, speaks a prompt word or two, and uplifts the "Hymn of the Marseillaise." Every heart leaps at the sound; they rally, they advance, they rush, death-defying, man-devouring; carry batteries, redoubts, whatsoever is to be carried; and, like the fire-whirlwind, sweep all manner of Austrians from the scene of action.'

It was like Orpheus, Carlyle says, building the walls of Thebes by the mere sound of his lyre. And, reverting to the matter in his essay on Natural Supernaturalism, he avers that not only was Thebes built by the music of an Orpheus, but that without the music of some inspired Orpheus was no city ever built; without it no work in which man glories was ever done.


There is a mystic and priceless virtue in anything that brings the soul into immediate touch with the golden traditions of its glorious past. I remember sitting one evening at sunset on the cliffs overlooking the ocean at Piripiki Gorge in New Zealand. As I sat there, an old Maori, with whom I had spent many a pleasant hour, came down through the bush and joined me. As the twilight faded he beguiled my fancy by telling me some of the lovely legends of his dusky race. He told of the fancies that cluster about the famous tomb of Maniapatu, the heroic warrior-chief, who sleeps on the summit of a rugged and picturesque hill overlooking the Bay of Islands. Shrewd in council, astute in strategy, masterful in authority, and an utter stranger to fear, Maniapatu figures with an almost Homeric splendour in the battle-epics of his race. And when, full of years and honours, he died, and was buried on the crest of the splintered hill, his resting-place became a place of pilgrimage, and it was said that cowards could be made brave, and brave men still braver, by a visit to that romantic spot. Among the countless traditions that attach to that lonely sepulchre is the legend of Hoakura. Hoakura was a young warrior of high spirit and dauntless courage, as handsome as he was brave. In one of the bloodthirsty feuds which marked his time, he turned the failing fortunes of a desperate day by a display of extraordinary valour at a critical juncture; but, in achieving his amazing triumph, he fell, pierced by a score of spears. As a tribute to his prowess it was ordained that he should be buried in the ancient tomb of Maniapatu, and—so the myth declares—as soon as his dead body touched the bones of his illustrious predecessor, he started to fresh life and became the leader of his tribe on many a fiercely contested field.

The story that my Maori friend told me in the twilight on the cliff comes back to my mind today. It is a mere legend, grotesque and fantastic as such legends usually are; but it embalms a truth of abiding value and significance. There is a sublime virtue in anything that brings us into vital touch with the glorious past; and, as we have already seen, that is precisely the service that the ministry of music is peculiarly fitted to render us.


Is it any wonder, then, that the Church recognized, very early in her history, the magic spell that music placed at her disposal? The world knew little of music until the angels sang over the fields of Bethlehem. `I do not believe that the ancients ever indulged in simultaneous harmony,' says Charles Burney in his History of Music. `Greek music was confined to twanging gut-strings and blowing reeds,' says Mehaffy in his Rambles and Studies in Greece. `The tibia and the lyre seem to have been the only instruments in use among the Romans,' says Sir John Hawkins in his General History of the Science and Practice of Music. But, as Dr. Storrs has shown in one of his excellent lectures, when Christianity broke forth upon the world, the spirit of man had to find a richer voice for richer feeling. The laws of harmony appeared. Little by little, instruments were introduced, until the organ—the triumph of the mediaeval monks—was perfected. `And so,' as Dr. Storrs says, music became ever richer and grander, in anthem, mass, and mighty oratorio, in the passionate wail of the Miserere, the exultant chords of the Jubilate, in the Gloria in Excelsis, the Benedicite, the Magnificat, and the Te Deum.' `Behold,' sang the angel at Bethlehem, `I bring you good tidings of great joy!' And Dr. Storrs holds that it was the rich and lofty spiritual joy that poured into the world that day that awoke the sublime minstrelsy that marked the ages that followed.


But what has all this to do with the strains of last night's band? A great deal. We have seen that music—music of any kind—exerts a magical and potent influence upon the memory. Half a dozen bars will bring vividly to the mind's eye a sequence of scenes that it would take hours adequately to describe. Nobody who, having heard some snatch of an old melody, has been swept off his feet by a sudden wave of recollection and emotion will seriously doubt the possibility of effects like these. The Church must use this subtle faculty for all it is worth. There is no music like her music: there are no songs like her songs. The melodies of the sanctuary are silken bonds that connect each individual worshipper with all the most sacred experiences of a lifetime.

Here, on my desk, lies a copy of Frank Bullen's With Christ at Sea. Now how did this young sailor find the Saviour of whom he writes so warmly? His book reveals two pivotal experiences. The first is when, standing on the deck of his ship in Sydney Harbour, he hears the church bells on a Sunday morning. They are playing 'Sicilian Mariners,' and the music starts `a dull ache at his heart, a longing for something, he knows not what.'

The second is when, at Port Chalmers, he hears the tune `Hollingside.' 'I was reduced,' he says, 'to blind dumbness. The pent-up feelings of years broke loose; scalding tears ran down my cheeks; and something stuck in my throat like a ball. I knew that tune so well, and I had not heard it sung since those happy days in the Old Lock Chapel in Harrow Road, which seemed to belong to another life.' And, on the crest of that wave of emotion, Frank Bullen entered the kingdom!

And thus music revives, as nothing else can do, the tender grace of a day that is dead. And it is at least possible that the higher harmonies of heaven, by reviving the holiest associations of earth, will prove the most effective link between the life that now is and the life that is to be.

F W Boreham, ‘The Band’, The Blue Flame (London: The Epworth Press, 1930), 56-65.

Image: A band.

Friday, June 08, 2007

New Review of Boreham Book on Mentoring

Long time reader of Boreham books, Michael Haykin, has written an interesting review of the new F W Boreham volume, Lover of Life: F W Boreham’s Tribute to His Mentor. [Check this link for purchasing details]

The link to Michael Haykin’s site and review is: Historia Ecclesiastica, 4 June 2007.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover, Lover of Life.

Boreham on Worship, Choirs and Singing

The choir is not an invention; it is a creation. Let that be distinctly understood. The reason for its existence lies embedded in the eternal nature of things. God said, `Let there be light!' And there was light. He had no need to say, 'Let there be song!' because He Was; and, since He Was, the morning stars sang together. Whenever and wherever created things have stood face to face with their Creator, they have straightway burst into melody. The instinct is as old as the world, as true as the Bible, and as strong as death. There is something strikingly beautiful and suggestive about the existence of the choir. Men may go to other houses, but they will not sing there. Or, if they sing, their melody will be accidental, fortuitous, arbitrary, individual; prompted, it may be, by the whim or caprice of the moment. But when men go to this house—to the House of the Lord—they know beforehand that they will want to sing, and that they will all want to sing, and that they will all want to sing their very best; and therefore they set aside their most finished singers to lead them in their song, so that the great burst of harmony may rise with reverence as well as with rejoicing to the Throne invisible. Yes, the choir is a creation.

God is its author, and not man: He laid
The key-note of all harmonies; He planned
All perfect combinations, and He made
Us so that we could hear and understand.

And, as with all the rest of creation, God saw that it was very good. And we ministers have fallen in love with this part of creation as with other parts. Those sacred moments which preacher and singers spend together just before they enter the church are of incalculable worth. Even the business of arranging every detail of the coming service is of unspeakable value. I often think that it is like the felling of the trees in the forests of Lebanon, and the hewing of the stones in the quarries of Judea, preparatory to the building of the Temple. Everything that savoured of noise and dust and confusion was arranged away back, out of sight. 'And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building.' The tall columns, the heavy beams, the enormous stones, the massive buttresses all rose in awful silence.

No hammer fell, no ponderous axes rung;
Like some tall palm the mystic fabric sprung.
Majestic stillness!

It is very beautiful to have every tiniest detail perfectly arranged beforehand, out of sight of the worshippers, and for the minister and the choir to go to their places feeling that they perfectly understand one another, and will need no other signals or communications of any kind. And this delightful camaraderie is, in itself, of immense worth. A spirit of partnership, of sympathy, of oneness, is created which blends every part of the service into one perfect and harmonious whole; and which leads both minister and minstrels to feel that they are acting, not as separate units, but as helpers the one of the other. And when minister and singers bow together for one hushed and holy moment and afresh consecrate the powers they are about to employ to the divine service, and seek upon that service the divine blessing, each goes to his pulpit or his place feeling that he has been called to a task that angels might envy, and the triumph of the day is already more than half won. Any minister who enjoys such delightful experiences knows how greatly they enrich his ministry.

But the choir is not by any means confined to the church. When I was a small boy I used occasionally to relieve the tedium of a specially lengthy sermon by reading the private paragraphs in the Prayer-book. And I was particularly perplexed, I remember, by the notification that 'In Quires and Places where they sing, here followeth the Anthem.' The reference to 'quires' was perfectly intelligible, but what were the other `places where they sing'? But I have found out since. I said just now that whenever and wherever created things have stood face to face with their Creator, they have straightway burst into melody. That is actually so, and I call Mr. Standish O'Grady to bear witness. He is writing in The Irish Review on 'An Irish Sunrise.' He watches it from the slope of the Wicklow mountains, looking eastward over the Irish Sea, beyond which, faintly outlined, the Welsh hills swim in mist. He says that, as he watched darkness give place to dawn, and dawn to day, it really seemed to him as though God was creating His world all over again. And he goes on to say that 'through those few hours of luminous shadow there was silence; and yet not silence; for the grouse were talking in the heather, and the night-jar reeling, for ever reeling as he wheeled; a reed-warbler sang; and then, always, our little mountain streams kept tinkling, playing with liquid tender fingers upon their stony lyres. I distinguished the separate notes of three of them—the sweet innocents.' Then, as the grey streaks stole over the eastern hills, the lark soared into the sky, and the brave blackbird and the cheerful thrush lifted up their sweet, blithe voices. And, at last, 'so heralded, so welcomed by glad singings, pouring forth out of millions of innocent throats, the bird peoples of the earth, the silver-skirted fleeting dawn advanced, and soon the flaming cause of all that vanguard of music and beauty arose in his glory, pouring forth over all his creatures the boundless floods of his light and fire!' `Let there be light!' God said on that first day, and, when the light flashed forth, the morning stars—the first of choirs—sang joyfully together. And, from that day down to this, whenever Jehovah has clothed Himself with light as with a garment and appeared robed in the splendours of the dawn, the birds of the air have seen to it that a choir to welcome Him was not wanting.

No reader of English history can have failed to notice how strikingly the principle I have tried to set down here is illustrated on those impressive pages. Whenever and wherever, I said, created things have stood face to face with their Creator, they have straightway burst into melody. Now England has many times stood face to face with God, but twice especially. I am thinking, of course, of the Reformation and of the Methodist Revival of the eighteenth century. Those are the two greatest religious experiences that the nation has ever known. And the striking thing is that these two great religious revivals were followed by the two greatest bursts of song in the history of our English literature. The Reformation, so far as England is concerned, culminated in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The great religious movement was complete, and the great poetic movement immediately began. England, to use John Richard Green's fine phrase, became `a nest of singing birds.' The ships that took part in the great fight with the Armada had scarcely sheltered in their quiet havens when Edmund Spenser landed at Bristol from his Irish retreat and published The Faerie Queen. The great poem became at once 'the delight of every gentleman, the model of every poet, and the solace of every soldier.' While the nation was still in its ecstasies over the work of Spenser, the first-fruits of the genius of Shakespeare made their appearance. Shakespeare is instantly followed by Jonson, and Jonson by a host of others. England had known nothing like it. The country became a choir. Within fifty years there arose fifty poets, many of the first order, and two centuries of silence was gloriously broken by an unprecedented outburst of song. It was exactly like the wakening of the grove to the sunrise. Through the night the gloomy trees were wrapped in sombre silence broken only by an occasional flutter when the wind sways the branches and disturbs a drowsy bird on his supple perch. But the sun rises and the great avenue is choral with an almost ear-splitting burst of melody.

It is no mere coincidence that led to a precise repetition of the same set of circumstances at the close of the eighteenth century. John Wesley had made that century peculiarly his own. He had gone through the land again and again until he had set England ablaze with religious fervour from end to end. As Mr. Augustine Birrell says in his Miscellanies, `John Wesley contested three kingdoms in the cause of Christ. He did it for the most part on horseback. He paid more turnpikes than any man who ever bestrode a beast. Eight thousand miles was his annual record for many a long year, during each of which he seldom preached less frequently than a thousand times. No man ever lived nearer the centre than John Wesley, neither Clive nor Pitt, neither Mansfield nor Johnson. You cannot cut him out of our national life. No single figure influenced so many minds, no single voice touched so many hearts. No other man did such a life's work for England.' Here again, then, you have a great and deep religious awakening. Here again England stands face to face with God. And I said that whenever and wherever created things have stood face to face with their Creator, they have straightway burst into melody. See what happened as a direct outcome of this movement that shook England. The nation became choral with song. Once more the country became a nest of singing birds. Even whilst Wesley was dying, Coleridge and Wordsworth and Southey and Lamb were brooding over the masterpieces that, a year or two later, delighted the nation. Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Moore, James Hogg and Lord Byron, George Crabbe and Percy Shelley, Thomas Campbell and Walter Savage Landor, Leigh Hunt and John Keats are all names that belong to that extraordinary period. It is no wonder that when, a few years after the death of Wesley, the poet-laureate died the Government of the day were embarrassed by the wealth of their riches and knew not whom to appoint. The fact is that the dawn had stolen over the hills, and all the birds awoke to greet it. I have sometimes heard shallow critics comparing the work of the preacher with the work of the singer. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Each has his place in the firmament, and it is a great place. But you cannot compare them. `There is one glory of the sun; and another glory of the moon; and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory.' The minister has a place all his own. It has pleased God to make him the world's evangelist. The New Testament ascribes to the preacher of the gospel a place unparalleled and supreme. He is an ambassador, a witness, a prophet, and a herald, all in one. He stands day and night between the living and the dead. His work is first, and there is no second. To institute a comparison is to introduce a confusion. But the singer also has his place. His ministry is a most gracious and sacred and beautiful one. Song has a power of its own. George Gissing tells, in Born in Exile, of the strange influence of sacred music on his sceptical hero. 'Notwithstanding his profound hatred and contempt, Godwin could never hear the union of many voices in song but his breast heaved and a choking warmth rose in his throat. Even where prejudice wrought most strongly with him, it had to give way before this rush of emotion. He entered the churchyard and found the leafy nook with a tombstone where he had often rested. And as he listened to the rude chanting of verse after verse, tears fell upon his cheeks.' But, subtle and potent as this is, the appeal of the singer, unlike the appeal of the preacher, is not an original appeal. A song may reach the heart, and, to the preacher's great delight, it often does. But the song only reaches the heart because the work of the sermon has been done so well. The song revives old associations, sacred memories, and holy impressions, and brings back, with a rush of emotion, the most precious thoughts of earlier years. The song needs that background, and is ineffective without it. It would have been useless for Paul to have stood up on Mars Hill and sung a solo. It would be ridiculous for a missionary to rely upon the singing of hymns among the palm-groves of the South Sea Islands or amidst the crowds of inland China. The moving magic of sacred song can only be effective if the work of the preacher has already been done. Song is like sunshine. But the sunshine will never woo the golden harvest from the stubborn soil unless the sower has first scattered the precious seed.

But, as against this, the singer has his compensations. If the work of the preacher is basic, fundamental, paramount, supreme, it is also true that the song of the minstrel haunts the memory longest. I have shown that a great religious awakening is always accompanied by a glorious burst of song. And the song always lingers. When Luther was journeying towards the Diet of Worms, at which he made his epoch-making stand for truth and righteousness, he suddenly caught sight of the bell-towers of the city in the distance. He rose like one inspired and chanted the great song whose words and music he had composed two days before:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work his woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate—
On earth is not his equal.

Nobody nowadays reads Luther's writings, but we all sing Luther's hymn. It was the most natural thing in the world that Charles Wesley and his songs should arise side by side with John Wesley and his sermons. Yet none but Methodist students read John Wesley's sermons nowadays—and even they do not read them from choice—but we all sing Charles Wesley's hymns. Moody's sermons are forgotten; but Sankey's hymns are all over the world. The sower does his work and leaves the field; but the sunshine plays with the growing crop till harvest-time. The song lingers; let that be the joy of the singer. And let all preachers and all singers clasp hands in happiest fellowship, and hold each other in deathless affection, till their voices blend in the perfect minstrelsy of the choir invisible.

F W Boreham, ‘A Nest of Singing Birds’ The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 78-89.

Image: Nest of singing birds

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Boreham on 'When I Survey'

I want you, if you kindly will, to peep over this gentleman's shoulder and take a swift glance into the room that he is just about to enter. You say that, before doing so, you would like to know something of the gentleman himself. I assure you that your objection is quite beside the point.

As a matter of fact, the well-groomed gentleman tapping softly at the door is the Right Hon. Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the House of Commons. Having heard that Dr. Isaac Watts is nearing his end, he feels somewhat ashamed of the circumstance that he has never made it his business to meet so good and so eminent a man. He has, therefore, made up his mind, before it is too late, to repair the omission.

And here he is! But see, the door is opening! And there, not in bed, but hunched up in his big study-chair, is a tiny, bony, pinch-faced wisp of humanity, almost hidden in the ample folds of a gaily-flowered dressing-gown, and looking for all the world like a little wizened Chinese mandarin! As his visitor enters, the shrivelled and dwarfish creature looks up and smiles, not unpleasantly, and, although his voice is a trifle squeaky, the general impression is a distinctly agreeable one. This, if you please, is the greatest hymn-writer of all time, the man whose songs are destined to be sung, always with enjoyment and often with ecstasy, by all the Churches as long as the language endures!


To his life-long chagrin, he was pitifully small. He loathed the sight of his diminutive figure whenever he glimpsed it in a mirror. Nothing stung him more than to hear somebody refer to him as little Dr. Watts. He simply squirmed. It was in self-defence that he sang:

Were I so tall to reach the pole,
Or grasp the ocean with my span,
I must be measured by my soul,
The mind's the standard of the man.

The torture of his physical insignificance frayed his nerves. It wove itself into his dreams. And, in times of serious illness, his delirium turned the horror topsy-turvy. He raved of his colossal proportions! He was too big to pass through any doorway! He could not squeeze himself into his pulpit! The chairs crumpled like matchwood under his weight! No cab or carriage would hold him! His fevered brain had converted the pygmy into a giant!

And, in some respects, a giant he was! `He stands absolutely alone,' says Thomas Wright. 'He has no peer. He is the greatest of the great.' Mr. Wright adds that if nothing from his pen has attained to the popularity of Toplady's Rock of Ages, or is quite so affecting as Cowper's God Moves in a Mysterious Way; if he lacks the mellifluence of Charles Wesley or the equipoise of John Newton: the fact remains that he has written a larger number of hymns of the first rank than any other hymnist.

He was literally a born poet. Even as a small boy there were times when he could not express himself other than in verse. His father—a stern and puritanical soul who had endured several terms of imprisonment for conscience' sake—looked askance on this propensity in his boy. But Isaac could not repress it. On one occasion the household was engaged in family worship. Isaac, sad to say, was on his knees with eyes wide open. Whilst the priest-like father lifted up his voice in fervent supplication, a mouse scampered across the room and ran up the bell-rope. Isaac burst into laughter. Prayers over, the horrified father indignantly demanded an explanation. Isaac told in his own way what had happened:

There was a mouse for want of stairs
Ran up the rope to say his prayers.

This was piling crime on crime. The father seized his rod and ordered Isaac to follow him out of the room. The boy, however, threw himself on his knees. `O father,' he cried,

‘O father, father, pity take
And I will no more verses make!’

His mother, more sympathetic, once offered a farthing to the boy who should write the best verses. Isaac entered for the prize, but attached to his manuscript the couplet:

I write not for a farthing; but to try
How I your farthing writers can outvie.

As he made his way through his teens, he became extremely serious. The salvation of his own soul became to him the thing above all others to be desired and sought. Among his papers there is a memorandum in which he tells us that he fell under considerable conviction of sin in his fifteenth year. Twelve months later he says: `I was taught to trust in Christ, I hope.' The two words, `I hope', introduce a palpable note of uncertainty. But there is no uncertainty about a later record. `An heir of glory has been born!' he joyously declares. And this transfiguring experience turned his gift for poesy into a new channel.


At the age of twenty-one, he accompanied his father one day to a Nonconformist chapel at Southampton. In discussing the service on the way home, Isaac remarked that he had carefully examined the hymn-book and had found it very disappointing. There was not, he sweepingly declared, a decent hymn in the collection. Without an exception, they were all lacking in dignity and beauty.
`Then, my boy,' replied the philosophical father, who had come to realize, by this time, that his son's poetic impulses were in capable of restraint, `the best thing that you can do is to write some better ones!'
On reaching home, Isaac sat down and called on his best powers to respond to his father's challenge. He wrote:

Behold the glories of the Lamb,
Amidst his Father's throne;
Prepare new honours for His name
And songs before unknown!

And thus commenced, on that very day, the fruitful career of `the father of our English hymnody'.

Many of the hymns that immediately followed were composed in the saddle in the course of long country rides, and those who are familiar with the swing and the cadence of his verses will find it easy to match the metre with the rhythm of the horse's feet.

In his monumental trilogy—Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways and These Twain—Arnold Bennett twice describes the public holiday on which the centenary of the Sunday School movement was celebrated in the Five Towns. Moved by curiosity, his hero and heroine, Edwin and Hilda, join the throng in the streets. They follow the proceedings—the procession, the speeches, the singing, and all the rest of it—with languid and almost cynical interest, until suddenly the assembled multitude joins in a hymn that changes the entire atmosphere:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Hilda, to whom religion had made no profound appeal, was overwhelmed: she could not tell why. To conceal her emotion, she turned her face.
'What's the matter?' asked Edwin.
Hilda was disgusted at his tactlessness in embarrassing her; but, for the sake of saying something, and easing the tension, she asked him who wrote the hymn. In spite of his pretensions to bookishness, Edwin did not know; and she despised him for his ignorance.
'Dr: Watts wrote it,' she flashed, `and it would be worth anything on earth to be able to sing those words—and mean them!'

A novelist of a very different type, Mrs. L. T. Meade, has devoted one of her books, Hepsy, Gipsy, to showing how the same hymn met the aching need and irradiated the young life of her principal character.
Hepry, Gipsy, is a story of two cavities. The first cavity is the hole in the druid oak from which Giant Lee's gold has been stolen. The second cavity is the empty heart of Hepsy, the gipsy girl, when she found her childish faith in ruins. The last chapter in the book is entitled Full and tells how both vacuums ceased to exist.

Hepsy chanced to discover that Giant Lee was going once more to the oak in the depths of the wood to grope for his lost treasure. Hepsy herself was mothering the baby boy that, in dying, Nancy Lee had presented to her husband. The Giant would have nothing to do with his child, and, but for Hepsy, it must have perished. Hepsy made up her mind that Lee should care for his boy, and she compassed her end by guile. She reached the druid oak before him and hid the baby where he had once hidden the gold. When he reached the spot, he climbed the tree, and, in doing so, thought he heard a strange sound in the heart of the oak. When he peered into the cavity, he was startled. For a very fair face, a face that was surrounded by an aureole of gold, a sweet, soft baby face that seemed the very image of poor Nancy's, peeped out of the ivy and looked straight at him. And, in the end, Giant Lee took his neglected baby to his heart; and his boy was a greater comfort to him than all his gold could have been.

And Hepsy? How was that empty heart of hers filled and satisfied? She one day heard a sweet voice singing:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

`What's "love so amazing"?' Hepsy asked the singer.
And then, for the first time, Hepry heard the story of the Wondrous Cross. Poor Hepsy's empty heart drank it all in. She was thirsty for it. It was just what she wanted. It filled the aching void. The Cross was the substance of which her girlish dreams were the shadow.
Later on, Hepsy rescued the baby from a blazing tent; and, in doing so, was herself terribly burned.
`But what's the pain?' she murmured. `What's the pain? It's nothing when the heart's full—full of love so amazing, so divine! My heart is like a cup when you take it to the well and fill it to the brim!'


And, turning from fiction to fact, was not George Eliot fond of telling how her aunt, Mrs. Samuel Evans—‘the fiery little Methodist heroine of Adam Bede'—recited the hymn with rapturous fervour during her last sickness?

Nor can we forget Matthew Arnold. On a beautiful Sunday morning in the spring of 1888, Arnold, when visiting Liverpool in order to meet his daughter on her return from America, went to hear Dr. John Watson—better known as Ian Maclaren—at Sefton Park. Dr. Watson preached on `The Shadow of the Cross', using an illustration borrowed from the reports of the Riviera earthquake. In one village, he said, everything was overthrown but the huge wayside crucifix, and to it the people, feeling the very ground shuddering beneath their feet, rushed for shelter and protection. The service closed with Dr. Watts' When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Matthew Arnold walked quietly back to the home of his brother-in-law, with whom he was staying; and, as he came down to lunch half an hour later, a servant heard him crooning the verses softly to himself. `Ah, yes,' he remarked to Mr. and Mrs. Cropper at table, after repeating Dr. Watson's earthquake story and telling of the deep impression left upon his mind by the service; 'Ah, yes; the Cross still stands, and, in the straits of the soul, makes its ancient appeal!' Glancing at his watch, he excused himself: hurried to catch a tram; collapsed of heart failure on the street; and was gone!

I am not surprised that the hymn appealed to a mind as coldly critical as Matthew Arnold's, for, like so many of the hymns of Isaac Watts, it is marked, not only by intense devotion, but by profound philosophy. Take the last verse for example:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

It means, if it means anything, that a million universes are of smaller worth than a single human soul. The whole realm of nature is too paltry an offering: love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul! Arnold would appreciate a point like that.

Isaac Watts was a choice spirit. His people at Mark Lane—afterwards Bury Street—were devotedly attached to him, and although, during his later years, his health would only permit of fitful visits to his pulpit, they would not hear of any severance of the tie. Perhaps the finest testimony to the sweetness and charm of his disposition is found in the fact that, in 1714, he went to spend a week with Sir Thomas and Lady Abney; the visit extended until he died in I748; and Lady Abney said that he became more honoured and beloved of the household with every day that passed. I often think that his inner self is best reflected in that verse of his best-known hymn—When I Survey—which is usually omitted from our collections;

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o'er His body on the tree.
Then am I dead to all the globe
And all the globe is dead to me.

Blaming his petite stature for his rejection at the hands of the beautiful Elizabeth Singer—a highly-gifted young lady of comely form, rich auburn hair, and dark blue eyes that sparkled with animation—he remained a bachelor to the end of the chapter. He continued in secret to write amatory verses concerning his lost love who, some time later, married a minister thirteen years younger than herself. Dr. Watts retained her friendship to the last, and, when she died at the age of sixty-three, there was found in her desk a packet of manuscript with a letter addressed to him, assuring him of her sincere admiration and begging him to revise her work and, if he deemed it wise, publish it.

The good old man died in Lady Abney's beautiful home at the age of seventy-four. He was visited in his last illness by men like Philip Doddridge and by women like the Countess of Huntingdon. A monument marks his resting place in Bunhill Fields, where he lies in company with William Blake, John Bunyan, John Owen, Susanna Wesley, Daniel Defoe, and a multitude of other celebrities, with John Wesley himself and George Fox, the sturdy Quaker, nearby.

Another monument is to be found in Westminster Abbey. In Abney Park Cemetery, which marks the site of the stately home that showed him such extended hospitality, there is a statue by E. H. Bailey, R.A., erected by public subscription, whilst in the Watts' Memorial Park at Southampton there is another statue—a particularly fine one—by Mr. R. T. Lucas. At the Civic Centre in Southampton, too, a carillon rings out the tune of his O God, Our Help in Ages Past, every four hours. But his most fitting and most eloquent memorial is the stained-glass window at Freeby in Leicestershire which represents him as still surveying the Cross—that Wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died.

F W Boreham, ‘When I Survey’ A Late Lark Singing (London: The Epworth Press, 1945), 29-36.

Words and Tunes of When I Survey

Image: Isaac Watts.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Boreham on 'Just As I Am!'

I have a couple of very attractive young ladies on my hands; let me introduce them!

But, first, I must revisit the dreamy old churchyard at Grasmere, in Westmorland, the churchyard in which I spent a very memorable hour or two some years ago. Among the yews and sycamores of that quiet God's acre, the Wordsworths all slumber side by side. It struck me as very beautiful, that little group of graves. A photograph of the six tombstones lies upon my desk at this moment, helping me to recapture the atmosphere in which the lovely place enfolded me.

Within a few feet of that long row of graves the crystal waters of the Rothay pursue their peaceful way. A low but massive stone wall divides the churchyard from the stream. In the delicious hush of that June morning, with no sound in my ears but the soothing murmur of the Rothay and the blithe notes of the birds, I sat for half an hour on that low wall, sometimes gazing afresh upon that magnetic group of graves; sometimes contemplating the square, romantic tower of old St. Oswald's Church close by—the church in which Wordsworth loved to worship—and sometimes letting my eye wander to Allan Bank (one of the poet's homes) on the hillside in the distance, to the straggling little village around me, and to the parsonage (another of Wordsworth's homes) just across the way.

The central stone bears the names of Wordsworth and his wife. Next on the right is the resting-place of Dora, the poet's `one and matchless daughter'. She was, from the day of her birth, her father's darling; and when the health of poor Dorothy, his sister, who, through the years, had `lent him eyes and lent him ears', suddenly went to pieces, Dora took her aunt's place at her father's side and became his constant companion.

Dora died three years before her father. And when, in 1850, Wordsworth's own last moment came, a sudden light illumined his rugged countenance. `Is that you, Dora?' he asked, as if recognizing some dear, familiar face in the world unseen; and, not long after, he was gone.

I am attracted to Dora Wordsworth's grave today by something on the epitaph that deeply impressed me when my eye first fell upon it, and that has grown upon me with the years. It always seems to me the most conspicuous object in this photograph that lies before me. For at least a third of Dora's tombstone is occupied with a carving of a lamb—a lamb with a cross behind it. Why is that lamb the most prominent feature in that churchyard scene? It is to answer that question that I reach for my pen to-day.


And, to answer that question, I must forsake the company of Dora Wordsworth, and must seek the society of my second young lady, a contemporary of Dora's, who lived at the opposite end of the country. Like Dora Wordsworth, Charlotte Elliott was very frail; but there was this difference between them; Dora Wordsworth died in 1847 at the age of forty-three, whilst Charlotte Elliott lived to be an old lady of eighty-two. Before she died in 1871, therefore, Charlotte Elliott must have heard the story of Dora Wordsworth's tombstone at Grasmere: she may even have visited it: I do not know. If she did, the carving of the lamb must have filled her soul with an emotion far deeper than that with which ordinary onlookers behold it.

Charlotte Elliott provides us with an interesting psychological study. To begin with, she was the granddaughter of Henry Venn of Huddersfield, the bosom friend of the seraphic Charles Simeon, whose gracious influence on the life of his period was so widespread and indelible. Her brother, with whose ministry at Brighton she herself was so intimately associated, was named Henry Venn Elliott after him. Then, too, Charlotte was born and brought up at Clapham, in London, the stronghold of Evangelical Anglicanism, aggressive Nonconformity, and devout Quakerism. Everybody knows the story of the Clapham set. Thackeray is inclined to poke fun at its puritanical strictness; but, in his Life of Macaulay—and Macaulay was a contemporary of Charlotte's at Clapham—Sir George Otto Trevelyan retorts that there can have been nothing wrong with a system that produced the Wilberforces, the Stephens, the Grants, and the Macaulays. At Grove House, the home of the Elliotts, religion dominated everything. The spirit of the great revival that gave birth to the Clapham movement swept through the house like a bracing wind from the upland moors and all the details of life and conduct were governed by a robust and simple faith.

The attitude of Charlotte herself to this welter of sanctity was an attitude neither of active sympathy nor of decided antipathy, but of languid apathy. She admired the piety and devotion of those about her, but she did not share it. She attended the church; took part in family worship; enjoyed all sacred music; and recognized the beauty of character exhibited by her relatives and friends. But, so far as she herself was concerned, she felt herself to be an outsider. Her unworthiness oppressed her. She regarded herself as distinctly of the world. The only virtue with which she could credit herself was a certain indefinable and unutterable wistfulness. Above everything else she longed to possess the calm, unquestioning faith, the radiant and confident assurance, that she saw in her relatives.

The crisis broke upon her in May, 1822. Charlotte was thirty-three. An illustrious and honoured guest came to Grove House in the person of Dr. Caesar Malan of Geneva. Dr. Malan was strangely attracted by the shy and pensive girl who always seemed to be hovering on the fringe of things. In a way she was part and parcel of the spirit of the home; and yet, when those things were discussed that meant everything to him and to his host and hostess, she shrank into herself and dissociated herself from the conversation. Like Cowper's wounded deer, she left the herd. Dr. Malan determined to speak to her. In those days, and especially in Anglican circles, religious conversation of an intimate and personal kind was looked upon as almost improper—an outrage on delicacy. Perhaps Dr. Malan chose an unfortunate moment for his approach; perhaps he introduced the theme a trifle too brusquely; at any rate, the overture was scarcely a success. Drawing Charlotte aside, he begged her to take him into her confidence. Was she a Christian? The question, thus bluntly put, offended her. She bridled, blushed and hurried from his presence, asking him, in future, to be good enough to mind his own business. Dr. Malan stammered his regret at having wounded her, promised to pray for her happiness, and let the matter pass.

The memory of the incident troubled him, however, and, though he little suspected it, it troubled Charlotte even more. She realized that the good man had been actuated only by an intense desire for her well-being. Putting herself in his place, she recognized that, in speaking to her, he had set himself a particularly difficult task; and she felt that she had repaid kindness with cruelty. A week or two later, when they chanced to find themselves alone together in the garden, she told him that she was sorry that she had been so rude.

`I have been thinking a great deal of what you said,' she added. `I feel that I should very much like to come to Christ; but I don't know how!'

`My dear young lady,' Dr. Malan replied, laying his hands on her shoulders and looking earnestly into her eyes, `you need worry no more about that! Come to Him just as you are!'

And in those four words just as you are—Charlotte Elliott saw daylight through her poignant problem. And those four words, which haunted her ever afterwards, proved the germ of the hymn that she was to give to the world twelve years later.
`Come to Him just as you are!' said Dr. Malan.
`Just as 1 am!' replied Charlotte in surprise.

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come!

That never-to-be-forgotten talk with Dr. Caesar Malan represented both the birth of her soul and the birth of her song.


A year or two after this irradiating experience at Clapham, Charlotte went to live with her brother, the Rev. Henry Venn Elliott, at Brighton. In addition to his strictly ministerial work, her brother was devoting himself to an attempt to establish at Brighton a high-class school at which the daughters of clergymen might obtain at nominal cost an excellent education under attractive and congenial conditions. His venture met with such success that, to this day, the school is, I understand, regarded as one of the best of its kind.

But its inauguration meant ceaseless activity, not only on the part of Mr. Elliott himself, but on the part of every member of his household. From early morning until late at night, they all worked assiduously to put St. Mary's Hall on its feet. But this whirlwind of consecrated energy again drove poor Charlotte back into herself. She had not the physical vitality to participate in it. She could not keep the pace. Whilst everybody around her was hard at work, she could only lie still and look enviously on. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Her compulsory idleness affected first her spirits, then her nerve, and, finally, her faith. Why was she alone excluded from this flutter of happy industry? Was it because she was so unworthy? Could God find no place for her in His great scheme of things? Had He rejected and discarded her? Was she a castaway?

The torture of this suspicion reached its climax on a certain evening in 1834. Charlotte was then forty-five. She was left alone in the pleasant boudoir set apart for her enjoyment in the lovely home at Westfield Lodge. Mr. and Mrs. Elliott, together with all the other members of the household, had gone to an important function in connection with the founding of the new school. The thoughts that had been such an agony to her during recent weeks swept back with redoubled force to attack her in her loneliness. She felt that these depressing suggestions must be met—and conquered! But how? She resolved to probe to the very root of the matter. It was not merely a question of participation or non-participation in the life of her brother's church or in the duties of his home. It went much deeper. It was a matter of the salvation of her very soul. The horror that had enfolded her from time to time was the horror of spiritual dereliction—the thought that God had spurned her. Was that true? Her mind swung back to that afternoon in the garden at Clapham.

`I feel that I should very much like to come to Christ; but I don't know how!' she had said to Dr. Caesar Malan.

'My dear young lady,' the good man had replied, `you need worry no more about that! Come to Him just as you are!'

`Just as I am!' she had repeated to herself. `Just as I am!' And those four words had seemed to open to her the gates of Paradise.

This memory of the Clapham garden in 1822 rushed back upon her troubled mind as she reclined in her lonely boudoir at Brighton in 1834. She would return to that starting-point of twelve years earlier. A wave of emotion engulfed her. An urge to express her thought in tuneful verse suddenly seized her. Reaching for her pen, she set down in black and white what she called `the formulae of her faith'. Her agonized soul took a fresh grip on the eternal certainties; and, out of the peace that overflowed her entire being, she wrote:

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down,
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am, of that free love,
The breath, length, depth and height to prove,
Here, for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Thus, twelve years after they were uttered, she had set Dr. Malan's emancipating words to music—Just as I am! Just as I am! When Mrs. Elliott and a few friends returned to the home a little later, Charlotte handed them the hymn. They felt instinctively that it was a genuine inspiration and begged for copies of it. A few months afterwards it was printed, anonymously, as a leaflet; and a friend, coming into possession of a copy, thought of Charlotte and posted it on to her! `I am sure that this will please you,' she wrote, never dreaming that she was sending the song back to its source.

So Charlotte Elliott's Just as I am sprang into being. No hymn has survived the crucial test of translation as successfully as this one. It is sung today in practically every known language. Mr. Moody used to say that, at his immense evangelistic meetings, it moved the hearts of his huge audience as no other hymn could do. And Charlotte's brother, at the end of his life, said to those who watched beside his bed that, whilst he rejoiced in the success that had attended his own ministry, he felt that infinitely more good had been done, the wide world over, by the deathless verses that his sister had penned.


And this brings us back to that little group of graves in Grasmere Churchyard.

When Charlotte Elliott's hymn was first sent out into the world as an anonymous leaflet, somebody, as we have seen, sent a copy to Charlotte herself. And somebody else, knowing that Dora Wordsworth, the poet's daughter, was seriously ill, sent a copy to her. At first Dora felt too far gone to take the slightest interest in it. Later, however, somebody read it aloud, very slowly and very softly, beside her bed:

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!

The effect was startling. `Why,' the dying woman exclaimed, `that is the very thing for me!' And she begged that it might be read again and again and yet again. Sometimes she would ask for it as often as ten times a day. Occasionally, I like to think, her father, the laureate, read it to her.

`Now my hymn!' she would entreat, with a sad, tired smile; and, as the words were read, she would frame the syllables with her lips in a kind of ecstasy. All her thoughts were of the Lamb; all her faith was in the Lamb; all her hope rested on the Lamb! O Lamb of God, I come!

And so, when they laid her in that grassy spot in the beautiful lake country—the spot to which her father came three years later to lie down beside her—they carved the figure of the Lamb and the Cross boldly upon her tombstone, and, underneath, a text!

Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out! That is the text on Dora Wordsworth's tomb.

Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out! That is the text that Charlotte Elliott inscribed at the head of her original draft of the hymn.

And now that I have introduced my two young ladies, and now that they have blended their voices in so sublime a symphony, I may very well lay down my pen.

F W Boreham, ‘Just As I Am!’ A Late Lark Singing (London: The Epworth Press, 1945), 161-169.

Words of Just as I am and Tunes

Image: Charlotte Elliott

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Boreham on 'Jesus, Lover of my Soul'

It is Monday morning. And, as I review the services of the past day, the memory that rushes most pleasantly upon my mind is the memory of the last hymn:

Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life be past!
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!

As I stood in the pulpit during those closing moments of the day's worship, I was profoundly impressed by the fervour and intensity with which the people sang it. There was something about it. I asked myself what that something was. And to that problem I address myself this morning.


In pursuing this fascinating study, I propose, as the lawyers say in Court, to put in a number of exhibits.

My first exhibit is a photograph of a monument in Westminster Abbey. It is the only monument to a pair of brothers to be found there. The brothers thus memorialized are, of course, the brothers Wesley. At the top are the two names, with the dates of their births and deaths. In the centre is a plaque representing their two faces; with, beneath it, John's triumphant death-bed boast: `The best of all is, God is with us!' And, at the foot, is a bas-relief, depicting John preaching to a motley multitude in the open-air, with the inscription: `I look upon all the world as my parish.'

On Friday evening in an idle moment, I turned the dial of my wireless set, wondering what I should find on the air. I chanced upon a debate on the question of the limitation of families. Into the pros and cons of that delicate problem I shall not now enter. I am only reminded of it by the circumstance that John Wesley was the fifteenth child of his parents and Charles the eighteenth, whilst Susannah, their mother, was her father's twenty-fifth child. One shudders to think of what would have happened—or not happened—if the Wesleys of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had believed in the limitation of families.

For, in the eighteenth century, England, under the inspired leadership of these two brothers, was swept by a religious revival so overwhelming, so dynamic, so irresistible that it affected—vitally, fundamentally, and permanently—every phase of our national life. In days when ancient thrones were tottering and hoary institutions crumbling, it preserved for us, as Lecky has shown, our national integrity and respect. The country was born again. Apart from the direct spiritual fruitage of the revival, the by-products of that transfiguring cataclysm were literally legion. Social reforms were effected: slavery was abolished: industrial wrongs were righted: the plague—the spectre of the centuries—was banished by purer standards of living and saner systems of sanitation: whilst philanthropic and benevolent institutions sprang up like mushrooms on a misty morning. If Susannah Wesley, that twenty-fifth child, had never appeared; or if John and Charles, the two boys at the tail-end of her own enormous family, had never been born, the world would never have known what it had missed; but its loss would have been stupendous.


My second exhibit is a newspaper cutting. Unhappily, it is not dated; but the journal from which I snipped it went out of existence many years ago, and the extract itself is yellow with age. It says that Mr. Charles Wesley was one day sitting by an open window of his home, enjoying the fresh spring air and the fragrant breath of the garden below. All at once, the element of tragedy disturbed the tranquillity around him. His attention became focused upon the frantic flutterings of a sparrow that was attempting to elude the pursuit of a hawk. In its terror, the tiny creature darted hither and thither, always to be followed by its tormentor. Then, just as Mr. Wesley thought that the little bird's strength was exhausted, and that it must miserably succumb, it flew straight towards him and buried itself in the folds of his ample coat. Mr. Wesley, according to this newspaper-cutting, was himself in circumstances of grave anxiety at the moment, and fancied that he saw in the incident that had so deeply moved him a parable of his own deliverance. Reaching for a sheet of paper, he wrote:

Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly!

And thus was born the hymn that my congregation sang so feelingly last night—the hymn that has been a comfort and inspiration to millions.

I notice that the modern experts on hymnology declare this dainty narrative to be of doubtful authenticity. I sometimes wonder on what their scepticism is based. I have reasons of my own for clinging to the story until it is absolutely torn from my grasp. And this brings me to my third and fourth exhibits.

During my college days, more than fifty years ago, it was my good fortune to preach on Sundays at a pretty little village in Epping Forest, a pretty little village from which, incidentally, I brought away a pretty little villager as a souvenir. But she was not the only souvenir. For here on my desk at this moment are a paperknife and a little casket, both of solid oak. In the construction of the casket there is no joint anywhere; it is a masterpiece of exquisite carving. It chanced that, in that village congregation of mine, there was a carpenter named Somner who was good enough to tell me that my poor 'prentice ministry had been a means of grace to him. On the night before I sailed for New Zealand he brought me these gifts.

'Some time ago,' Mr. Somner said, `I was employed on structural alterations to the house that was once occupied by Mr. Charles Wesley. The window-sill on which Mr. Wesley was leaning when the sparrow flew to his breast had to be removed, and, unhappily, was broken in the process. I managed to obtain a large splinter of it from which I have carved this paper-knife and casket. You will make me very happy if you will accept them and take them with you to New Zealand!' And, as a consequence, here they still are!

This, of course, proves nothing. But it serves to remind me that, fifty years ago, the story of the sparrow and the hawk was generally accepted; and, on the face of it, it would appear probable that those who lived fifty years nearer than we do to Mr. Wesley's time were as likely to know the facts as those who stand half a century farther away.


I confess frankly that I do not understand the Wesleys, and I think the more of them because of my failure in that respect. I should think less of Almighty God if I could understand Him.

I am completely mystified, for example, by their missionary adventure. As soon as they were ordained, they both sailed for America, John as a missionary to the Red Indians, and Charles, although nominally as secretary to General Oglethorpe, with the same high end in view. Yet they both assure us that they were utterly unregenerate at the time; they were not Christians; they had little or nothing to do with the Indians; they spent all their time at cross purposes with the authorities and the settlers; they were like square pegs in round holes; they simply did not fit. They realized that they were pitifully out of their element. Charles returned to England almost at once; John followed him eighteen months later.

This brings me to my fifth exhibit—a copy of John Wesley's Journal. `It is two years and four months', John says, on his arrival home, `since I left my native country to teach the Indians of Georgia the nature of Christianity; but what have I myself learned in the meantime? Why, what I least suspected, that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God!' This is a terrible piece of self-condemnation; and John afterwards felt that it was too positive and too drastic; for, in revising his Journal, he adds the footnote: 'I am not sure of this.'

But whether we regard John as a converted or as an unconverted man at the time of his return from America, there can be no doubt about Charles. And this brings me to my sixth exhibit—the journal of Charles Wesley. At the time of John's return from America, Charles, who had been more than a year in England, was very ill. He was visited by Peter Bohler.
'Do you hope to be saved?' Bohler inquired.
'I do!' replied Charles, and Bohler asked him on what ground.
'On the ground that I have used my best endeavours to serve God,' poor Charles answered. Bohler shook his head, obviously dissatisfied. `I thought him', writes Charles, `very uncharitable, saying in my heart, "What, are not my endeavours a sufficient ground of hope? Would he rob me of my endeavours? I have nothing else to trust to!”’

This speaks for itself. Whether or not any work of grace had gone forward in the soul of John, it is clear that Charles, at any rate, is still in darkness. He was a very long, long way as yet from:

Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
More than all in Thee I find.

He had not begun to realize that desperate need which was to wring from his lips the heartbroken cry:

Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly!

But the day of his redemption was drawing near.

It was upon Charles that the light first broke. On WhitSunday, 1738, he was still desperately ill. He was staying with a Mr. Bray, whose sister, a simple and devout soul, was doing her best to nurse him. All at once it was borne in upon this good woman that she should speak plainly to her guest about the salvation of his soul. She shrank in horror from the suggestion. He was a clergyman: she was but a servant. What right had she to presume so far?

In an outbreak of emotion which almost rendered her voice inaudible, she told her brother of her perplexity. The two prayed together. Mr. Bray then told his sister that she had no option: she must follow the gleam. Trembling under a consciousness of her own unworthiness, she approached the minister's bedside: pointed him to the Saviour; and led him into the life everlasting.

That was on Sunday, May 21, John's deliverance soon followed. For it was on the Wednesday of that same week that John attended the memorable meeting at Aldersgate Street and passed through that transfiguring experience, the record of which has become one of the spiritual landmarks of our history. Charles, of course, was not present: he was still sick in bed. But, as soon as the meeting at Aldersgate Street broke up, John, with a number of kindred spirits, hurried to the bedroom of Charles and excitedly told the good news. Charles made it the occasion of the re-dedication of his own life; and the two brothers, with their friends, sang together the hymn which Charles had written a day or two earlier to celebrate his own conversion, and which I will make my seventh and last exhibit:

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer's praise?

O how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which Thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast of heaven!

And so the work of grace was complete. The two brothers whose names appear on this monument at Westminster Abbey had clasped each other's hands in the brotherhood of the Kingdom of God.


During the years that followed, without any organization or collaboration, these two brothers changed the face of England. They seldom met; they saw little of each other; yet the work of each dovetailed most perfectly with the work of the other. From early morning until late at night, John rode up and down the country, preaching three or four times a day the everlasting Gospel. And, as the consequent revival swept across the land, Charles caught its spirit and perpetuated it in song. He wrote more than six thousand hymns, including Jesus, Lover of My Soul, of which Henry Ward Beecher said that he would rather have written that hymn than enjoy the glory of all the kings that have ever reigned. John set the country weeping, Charles set it singing, and those tears of bitter repentance and those songs of plenteous redemption were the outward and visible evidence of the mightiest spiritual surge in the nation's experience.

Charles Wesley's place in history is typical. Every religious quickening in the history of the ages has immortalized itself in song. To take an illustration from the happenings of our own time, we have forgotten all that Mr. Moody said, but we still sing the hymns that Mr. Sankey taught us. The principle has always held. The spirit of Hebrew devotion lingers in the Book of Psalms; the faith of the early Christians lives in the Te Deum; the choicest life of the medieval monasteries is bequeathed to us in the hymns of men like Bernard of Clairvaux; the age of the Puritans is revived in the stately melody of Milton. And, in the same way, the movement that brought new life to the world in the eighteenth century stands crystallized in the throbbing verse of Charles Wesley. His ministry, as Dr. J. W. Bready says in his Before and After Wesley, his ministry went to the very heart and core of human life. `It pointed the relationship between Earth and Heaven, between Time and Eternity; it radiated an atmosphere of peace and progress; it fostered human fellowship and gladness; it symbolized the triumph of faith and the immortality of the soul. All this was expressed in music at once lyrical, dignified, soulful, and sweet. It gave the English-speaking world its richest heritage of sacred song.' The minstrelsy of Charles Wesley was, in a word, the epoch-making revival set to deathless music.


This explains the mystery that captivated my mind last night as I listened to the people singing:

Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life be past!
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!

Consciously or unconsciously, the people, as they sang the hymn, were caught in the sweep of the tremendous movement that gave it birth, whilst each individual worshipper found it the perfect expression of his own deep need. On the wings of that inspired song tempest-tossed souls find the heavenly shelter that offers perfect peace.

F W Boreham, ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’, A Late Lark Singing (London: The Epworth Press, 1945), 99-107.

Words of the Hymn and Tune Aberystwyth

Words of the Hymn and Tune Hollingside

Image: The Wesley Memorial that FWB refers to:

“On 30 March 1876 the Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley, unveiled a white marble memorial, by J.Adams-Acton, to Methodists John and Charles Wesley on the wall of the south choir aisle. The profile portraits of the brothers appear in a roundel at the top and below is a relief of John preaching from his father’s tombstone in Epworth churchyard (Lincolnshire) to a large congregation. The top inscription reads:

Two quotations by John follow:

and, at the base, Charles’ words:

Monday, June 04, 2007

Boreham on 'Abide With Me!'

You would scarcely think that this pretty blue bay, with its rocky coast and its graceful sweep of crescent beach, had witnessed anything worth talking about. Yet it was from these rugged cliffs that the men of Devon watched the great galleons of the Spanish Armada as they made their way into the Channel in 1588. It was in this very bay that William of Orange landed with his army exactly a century later and made himself King of England. It was in these quiet waters that the Bellerophon, with Napoleon as a prisoner on board, anchored for several days on her way to St. Helena in 1815. And it was on this secluded beach that one of the very greatest of our hymns was composed. Abide with me was written, on the night on which he closed his ministry, by Canon Henry Francis Lyte, who was for a quarter of a century Vicar of Brixham Parish Church—the church that you see up there on the hill.

Lyre was a cosmopolite. Of English parentage, he was born in Scotland and educated in Ireland. And in Ireland he commenced his ministry. The tiny village of Ednam, near Kelso, not far from the Tweed, holds the extraordinary distinction of having produced three poets of renown—James Thomson, who wrote Rule Britannia; Thomas Campbell, who wrote Ye Mariners of England; and Henry Francis Lyre, who wrote Abide with me.

As a boy, Henry dreamed of being a doctor, and actually became a medical student. But, whilst still in his 'teens, he passed through a profound religious experience which turned his mind in quite another direction. Of that transforming experience he has told us in his hymn, although, perhaps because of its personal character, the verse is never included in any of our collections:

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, 0 Lord, abide with me.

Following upon this experience, he devoted himself to study for the ministry, and, in1815—the year of Waterloo—he settled as curate at Wexford in Ireland. He was then twenty-two.


It was at Wexford that the hymn was really born, although it was not until many years later that it took definite shape. He did not stay long in that first curacy of his; but he made fast friends in the district; and in 1820 he revisited the scene of his first ministry as the guest of the Hore family. Hearing that an old acquaintance, William Augustus Le Hunte, was desperately ill, he hurried off to see him. The dying man had enjoyed a particularly vivid realization of his Lord's presence and grace; but was haunted, during his sickness, by the fear of losing it. He dreaded lest he should be left to tread the dark valley alone. Every now and again he would close his eyes, clasp his hands, and exclaim fervently: 'Oh, abide with me; abide with me; abide with me!' Mr. Le Hunte's fear of being forsaken at the last made an indelible impression on the sensitive mind of the young clergyman sitting by his bedside; and, although he said very little about it, his dying friend's pathetic entreaty echoed in his soul through all the years.

It was in 1823, at the age of thirty, that Mr. Lyte settled at Brixham in Devonshire, the fishing village with the colorful historic associations. He loved the sea; he loved the fisherfolk; and he quickly won the affection of all the people along the coast. Nothing pleased him more than to saunter along the beach, to perch on the side of one of the boats, and to chat with the men as they arranged their nets and tackle. He spent nearly a quarter of a century among them, and, the longer they knew him, the more highly they esteemed him.

He was, however, heavily handicapped. Although he contrived, by frequently wintering abroad, and by keeping in constant touch with his doctors, to live to the age of fifty-four, he was always pitifully frail. A victim of consumption, his lungs were in ruins and had to be incessantly coaxed or scourged into doing their duty.

Looking as if a puff of wind would blow him away, he seemed to be always coughing. Knowing that his day must be a brief one, he wondered in what way he could make it memorable and serviceable. This problem occupied his thought continually. And then he had a brain-wave: an idea suddenly flashed upon him. He fancied that he saw a way in which he could outwit the brevity of life and challenge the tyranny of the tomb.


He had always been passionately fond of expressing himself tunefully. The making of melodious verses fascinated him. Would it be possible, he wondered, to employ this gift of poesy in such a way that his influence would linger on for many years after his fragile body had been laid to rest? The more he thought about it, the more the idea gripped him. He set his daring aspiration to music. Why, he asks, should he shrink from an early death? If only, before dropping into his grave, he could produce something that should live for ages! If, he sings:

If I might leave behind
Some blessing for my fellows, some fair trust,
To guide, to cheer, to elevate my kind
When I am in the dust.

Might verse of mine inspire
One virtuous aim, one high resolve impart,
Light in one drooping soul a hallowed fire
Or bind one broken heart!

O Thou, whose touch can lend
Life to the dead. Thy quickening grace supply
And grant me, swanlike, my last breath to spend
In song that may not die!

The thought, which was at first but a nebulous and abstract dream, crystallized into a definite purpose, an inflexible resolve; and, every day of his life, he prayed that he might be permitted to realize his lofty ambition. And his prayer was magnificently answered.


He applied himself diligently to the writing of devotional verse. As he roamed about those Devonshire cliffs, or sauntered down those Devonshire lanes, or rested in solitude among the rocks and caves along the beach, he allowed his secret thoughts to express themselves in rhythmical and lilting lines. In due course he wrote a few hymns such as Pleasant are Thy Courts above; Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven; Jesus, I my cross have taken, and the like. But, while he was grateful to have produced such songs as these, he could nor satisfy himself that he had brought into being that deathless melody of which he had so often dreamed.

And, all the time, the sands in his hour-glass were running out. His brittle health was going from bad to worse. In the autumn of 1847, he had again arranged to leave for the Riviera before the English winter set in. The fourth of September, his last Sunday in Brixham, was Sacrament Sunday. To the consternation and alarm of his friends, he announced his intention of preaching the Communion sermon and of participating in the administration. They pleaded with him, in view of his extreme weakness, to abandon the project, but nothing would turn him from his purpose. He climbed the pulpit stairs, preached a sermon that was talked about long afterwards; administered the Sacraments; and then retired to his study for a time of rest and quiet.

Later in the evening he set out for a solitary stroll along the sands that he knew so well. In the course of that moonlit walk beside the waves, the text on which he had preached in the church took a new form in his fancy. He had read as the lesson the story of the walk to Emmaus; and he had preached from the words: Abide with us, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.

Abide with us! His memory rushed back to the deathbed of his old friend in Ireland: ‘Abide with me: abide with me!’ Whilst still pondering this recollection of past years, he became aware that the moon had hidden herself behind dense clouds and that the light around him was fast failing. Somehow, it all wove itself in his mind into a set of verses:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Hastening back to his study, he wrote out the stanzas that had swept into his soul as he paced the sands: and handed the paper to a friend. He left England the following week, and died at Nice two months later. A beautiful marble cross marks his grave on that southern shore.


Dame Clara Butt once made a list of the songs that, in the course of her career, she had found most appealing. She had not the slightest hesitation in putting Abide with me first of all. Nothing that she ever sang, she declared, so moved the hearts of her audiences.

In that amazing expedition over slippery glaciers and tossing icefloes of which he has cold in South, Sir Ernest Shackleton confronted perils that he and his companions regarded as absolutely insuperable. But, when death stared them most confidently in the face, they became vividly conscious of the divine presence and protection. The immanence of the Son of Man was as real to them amidst Antarctic snows as it was to the three Hebrew children in the burning fiery furnace. The story, as Shackleton tells it, is one of the most thrilling passages in our literature of travel. When the explorer unfolded it before his great London audiences, his hearers held their breaths: you could have heard a pin drop.

The memory of that unforgettable experience was strongly upon Shackleton when he prepared for his last—and fatal—voyage. It was not his custom to take anything with him with which he could possibly dispense; but he insisted on including among his treasures a gramophone record of Dame Clara Butt's rendering of Abide with me. He wanted to be assured in that melodious way that the invisible Companion of his former expedition would constantly attend him on this one. 'Just think,' commented a journalist at the time, `just think of those words and of that music—I need Thy presence every passing hour—ringing out across the icebound wastes of the Antarctic!' It was Shackleton's one thought and it grew upon him towards the close. As he lay dying, he asked for the record, and listened with strained and reverent attention to the voice of Clara Butt singing:

I need Thy Presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Now, whilst Sir Ernest Shackleton was undergoing his sensational experiences in South Georgia and on Elephant Island, Nurse Edith Cavell was awaiting execution in her cheerless prison cell at Brussels. Mr. Gahan, the British Consul, called to take a last farewell of her. He and she repeated, very softly and very slowly, the verses of Abide with me. When at length the moment of parting came, she clasped his hand and said with a lovely smile: `We shall meet again--heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee!' She then turned away, murmuring to herself under her breath—‘in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!'

Tonight—and every night—at eight o'clock, the bells of Canon Lyte's old church at Brixham peal out the strains of Abide with me for the comfort and inspiration of the men of the fishing fleet as they put to sea. Tonight—and every night—the words find a responsive echo in the wistful hearts of all who hunger for the divine companionship. The hymn assures them that, so long as the world stands, no man need be lonely who will extend the hospitalities of his soul to One who loves to abide with all who court His company.

F W Boreham, ‘Abide With Me!’ A Late Lark Singing (London: The Epworth Press, 1945), 195-200.

Words and Tune: Eventide

Image: Henry Francis Lyte

Boreham on the Songs of Faith

This is the beginning of a short series of articles by F W Boreham on some songs of faith. The importance of this subject is best expressed in Dr Boreham’s own words:

“Nobody nowadays reads Luther's writings, but we all sing Luther's hymn. It was the most natural thing in the world that Charles Wesley and his songs should arise side by side with John Wesley and his sermons. Yet none but Methodist students read John Wesley's sermons nowadays—and even they do not read them from choice—but we all sing Charles Wesley's hymns. Moody's sermons are forgotten; but Sankey's hymns are all over the world. The sower does his work and leaves the field; but the sunshine plays with the growing crop till harvest-time. The song lingers; let that be the joy of the singer.”

F W Boreham, ‘A Nest of Singing Birds’ The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 78-89.

Image: “The sower does his work and leaves the field; but the sunshine plays with the growing crop till harvest-time.”

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Boreham and the Need for a New Story

In his Deakin Lecture at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Rodney Hall captured the yearnings of the Australian public when he said, “We need a new story …. In all aspects of living we seek the story of who we are, where we are and how we became like this, simply because we need to know. It applies to our nation too and to our collective future as international citizens.”[1]

John Carroll, in the same lecture series expressed a similar concern, “Where are the … stories of tragic suffering, of passion, of the metamorphosis out of fallen worldliness, of love, of the gaining of poise of spirit?”[2]

F W Boreham’s commendation in 1925 of the storytelling method has great relevance for people everywhere but especially contemporary Australia.[3] His use of story as a Trojan Horse for concealing and revealing ideas and concepts is instructive for theologians seeking to contribute to the story that Australians are seeking.

Remembering Boreham’s difficulty in ‘grasping the nettle’, further work needs to be undertaken to elucidate the benefits and limitations of stories to convey the prophetic word and to “reveal the fault lines hidden beneath the comfortable surface of the worlds we invent for ourselves.”[4] Stories demonstrate that beliefs are “living convictions which give shape to actual lives and actual communities”, not “propositions to be catalogued”[5] and they earth theology in the familiar realm of everyday experience.

David Tacey, who has identified the ordinariness of spirituality in Australia, claims that the most effective public communicators in various mediums have been “intensely visionary and spiritual, if not overtly religious.”[6]

Geoff Pound

Image: “F W Boreham’s use of story as a Trojan Horse for concealing and revealing ideas and concepts is instructive for theologians.”

[1] Rodney Hall, ‘Being shaped by the stories we choose from our history’, The Alfred Deakin lectures: Ideas for the future of a civil society (Sydney: ABC Books, 2001), 91, 102.
[2] John Carroll, ‘The blessed country: Australian dreaming 1901-2001’, The Alfred Deakin lectures: Ideas for the future of a civil society (Sydney: ABC Books, 2001), 116.
[3] F W Boreham, The ivory spires (London: The Epworth Press, 1925), 113.
[4] Kathleen Norris, The cloister walk (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1996), 52.
[5] James W McClendon Jr., Biography as theology: How life stories can remake today's theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 1974), 37.
[6] David Tacey, Re-enchantment, 86.