The hot word right now is “missional.” Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a part of a church that is hard set on doing the mission of God. And I am…But the more I think about it, this concept isn’t really that new. Specifically, I think of songs over the years with overtly missional tones…and I’m struck by just how many time honored hymns speak of things like: trusting in and discerning the Will of God; following Jesus into a path that isn’t necessarily cheery or easy, and seeking to be the very incarnation of Jesus in our world…
To that end, I’ll begin today doing an examination of some of these hymns and texts.
I rediscovered a hymn just last evening that I haven’t heard or sung in many years…I was particularly struck by the first, fourth and fifth verses (one of the author’s verses is rarely published in Churches of Christ hymnals).
O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide.
O let me feel Thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.
O let me hear Thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul.
O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend.
O let me see Thy footprints, and in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly is in Thy strength alone.
O guide me, call me, draw me, uphold me to the end;
And then in Heaven receive me, my Savior and my Friend.
Here’s a note from The Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Brink & Polman), an excellent volume, might I add, that talks a bit about John Ernest Bode (1816-1874)…
“John E. Bode (b. St. Pancras, England, 1816; d. Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire, England, 1874) wrote this hymn of consecration in 1866 on the occasion of the confirmation (profession of faith and first communion) of his daughter and two sons. The text was printed in 1868 by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in a leaflet entitled “A Hymn for the Newly Confirmed” and was later published in an appendix to that society’s Psalms and Hymns (1869).
A fine student at Christ Church, Oxford, England, and a prominent scholar who gave the famous Bampton Lectures (“for the exposition and defense of the Christian faith”) at Oxford in 1855, Bode was a rector in Westwell, Oxfordshire, and in Castle Camps. This gifted poet and hymn writer published Hymns for the Gospel of the Day, for Each Sunday and Festivals of Our Lord in 1860.
Nearly all hymnals, including the Psalter Hymnal, delete two of Bode’s original six stanzas. The hymn originally began with the words “O Jesus, we have promised” and included a reference to Luke 9:57: “I will follow you wherever you go.” The text, especially stanza 4, has been altered for publication in the Psalter Hymnal.
The word “promised” in stanza 1 refers to the vows taken at confirmation/ profession of faith. This hymn is a prayer for Christ’s presence on the Christian pilgrimage–in the face of temptation and external sin (st. 2) and internal guilt (st. 3)–and it assures us that our promises (st. 1) come in response to the promises of Christ (st. 4).”