Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fanny Crosby and the Parables (part 4)

Fanny Crosby

One final post about Fanny Crosby and the parables.

Crosby’s lyrics for the hymn “Have you Sought?” (1891) also connect two parables in order to integrate evangelism, salvation, and Christians’ responsibilities to people in need—primarily spiritual need but including physical need. Crosby collaborated on this hymn with Ira Sankey, the musician/singer for the evangelist Dwight L. Moody. The popularity of a hymn Sankey sang at revivals, “The Lost Sheep,” led Crosby and Sankey to create a hymn on the Lost Sheep parable that would have a more “practical application” (Blumhofer 2005: 239-240).

The “The Lost Sheep” hymn Sankey originally sang opens with these words:

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

In this hymn, there is one sheep lost, and it is Jesus who goes out to search for it and to return it to the flock. Compare how Crosby changes the focus in the opening stanza of her lyrics to the new hymn, “Have you Sought?”:

Have you sought for the sheep that have wandered,
Far away on the dark mountains cold?
Have you gone, like the tender Shepherd,
To bring them again to the fold?
Have you followed their weary footsteps?
And the wild desert waste have you crossed,
Nor lingered till safe home returning,
You have gathered the sheep that were lost?

The lost sheep now is plural, and they symbolize all those sinners who are lost. In addition, the sheep aren’t just lost; they have “wandered,” and the ones responsible for bringing them back are Christians who follow Jesus’s example as the Good Shepherd. This opening stanza, and the two stanzas that follow, all contain a series of four questions that focus on Christians’ responsibility to seek out and save the lost and bring them “again into the fold.”

The second stanza slightly increases the pathos by stressing the desperate situation of these lost sheep; they are sad and lonely with heavy burdens, and the Christians’ task is to share with them the good news of the salvation that Jesus died to bring them:

Have you been to the sad and the lonely,
Whose burdens are heavy to bear?
Have you carried the name of Jesus,
And tenderly breathed it in prayer?
Have you told of the great salvation
He died on the cross to secure?
Have you asked them to trust in the Savior,
Whose love shall forever endure?

The hymn has already switched the focus to the responsibility of all Christians to search and save the lost sheep. The third stanza further develops the theme by beginning to switch the focus from the parable of the Lost Sheep to the parable of the Sheep and Goats, specifically by including caring for the sick and imprisoned (Matt. 25:36):
Have you knelt by the sick and the dying,
The message of mercy to tell?
Have you stood by the trembling captive
Alone in his dark prison cell?
Have you pointed the lost to Jesus,
And urged them on Him to believe?
Have you told of the life everlasting,
That all, if they will, may receive?

At first hearing, the hymn may seem to connect the two parables simply because both involve sheep in their imagery. Yet it quickly becomes clear that the hymn develops the theme by now emphasizing that if Christians follow the example of the Good Shepherd Jesus, to seek and save the lost, to take care of those in spiritual and physical need, then Jesus will reward them with eternal life in heaven:

If to Jesus you answer these questions,
And to Him have been faithful and true,
Then behold, in the mansions yonder
Are crowns of rejoicing for you;
And there from the King eternal
Your welcome and greeting shall be,
“Inasmuch as ‘twas done for My brethren,

Even so it was done unto Me.”

Crosby’s hymns are filled with words of comfort and encouragement, with exhortations for Christians to live a life worthy of the Gospel and with warnings for Christians to work for the kingdom. Yet her hymns do not focus on fire, brimstone, and the terrors awaiting sinners in hell; instead they describe the lives of human beings who are lost and afraid, adrift on the waters of a storm-tossed sea (e.g., “Dark is the Night”), and announce the comforting promises of Christ’s guidance for the lost, comfort for the afraid, and rest for the weary (e.g., “Blessed Assurance”). Crosby’s hymns also declare that every Christian has a role to play in building the Christian community and has a duty to be faithfully committed to the cause of Christ (e.g., “I am Thine, O Lord”). In her thousands of hymns, Crosby sticks to a small number of familiar themes: salvation, consecration, service, and heaven. Her lyrics are simple and often sentimental but, for millions of people, they are poetic and moving and powerful (Blumhofer 2005: 194, 252-280), as is her use of Jesus’ parables.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fanny Crosby and the Parables (part 3)

Fanny Crosby

I picked Fanny Crosby as one of the interpreters to discuss in the book primarily because of her popularity. Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and a few other hymn writers were in the running, especially since I thought that their lyrics might have more depth. For several reasons, however, I decided to include Crosby and was a bit surprised to find a bit more complexity than I expected.  

Some of Crosby’s hymns integrate multiple parables, such as “Will Jesus find us Watching?” (1876). The first stanza echoes elements of the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins—with its reference to trimmed lamps, for example—but it also includes elements of the Watchful Slaves parable, which symbolizes Jesus’s return at the end of the world (Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35; cf. 12:41): The slaves are urged to be ready with their lamps lit so their master (Jesus) will reward them when he returns from the wedding feast (Jesus’s return at the end of the age):

When Jesus comes to reward His servants,
Whether it be noon or night,
Faithful to Him will He find us watching,
With our lamps all trimmed and bright?

O can we say we are ready, brother?
Ready for the soul’s bright home?
Say, will He find you and me still watching,
Waiting, waiting when the Lord shall come?

The second stanza incorporates a third parable, the Talents, which, at first, might seem a rather disjointed way to continue the hymn. This stanza, however, builds upon the first because the parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) immediately follows the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). More important, however, is the reason it immediately follows the Wise and Foolish Virgins: Both Matthean parables symbolize Jesus’s return:  The Wise and Foolish Virgins allegorically explains that people should be ready for Jesus’s return, and the parable of the Talents allegorically begins to explain what people are to do in order to be prepared for Jesus’s return. So the second stanza of the hymn asks if Jesus will tell us “well done,” and the third stanza explains that if people do their best to live according to the will of Jesus, then he will reward them when he returns:

If, at the dawn of the early morning,
He shall call us one by one,
When to the Lord we restore our talents,
Will He answer thee—Well done?

Have we been true to the trust He left us?
Do we seek to do our best?
If in our hearts there is naught condemns us,
We shall have a glorious rest.

The final stanza reiterates the message of the previous one:

Blessèd are those whom the Lord finds watching,
In His glory they shall share;
If He shall come at the dawn or midnight,
Will He find us watching there?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fanny Crosby and the Parables (part 2)

Although a talented musician—she played the piano, organ, harp, and guitar, as well as singing—Crosby focused on writing lyrics for hymns. She collaborated with a number of composers, most notably George Root, William Bradbury, William Done, and Ira Sankey, and she published hymns under the names of over two hundred pseudonyms (see a partial list in Blumhofer 2005: 358-360).

Crosby’s hymn, “All is Ready” (1889), specifically alludes to Matthew’s parable of the Wedding Feast but interprets the parable allegorically and generalizes the parable into an altar call for all human beings. The first stanza quotes the king’s invitation to his invited guests for his son’s wedding banquet: “all is ready” (Matt. 22:4). This quote comes from the king’s second invitation, after the invited guests had already spurned his first call to come to the wedding feast, so the hymnist wonders how many will spurn this call:

All is ready, the Master, said,
All is ready, the feast is spread;
Sweet His message of love to all,
Yet how many will slight the call!

Why, why, why will you die?
Ask, and the Savior will freely forgive;
Why, why, why will you die?
Only a look, and your soul shall live.

The second stanza repeats that “all is ready” and urges people to come and bring their burdens of doubts, fears, sorrow, cares, and tears. The offer of salvation is the focus, and the hymn exhorts its hearers to respond and accept the invitation before it is too late. Instead of focusing directly on the man who lacked a wedding garment and was thrown “into the outer darkness” (Matt. 22:11-13), the hymn advises its the hearers to wear “the garment of praise”:

Though His mercy prolongs your day,
Time is precious, no more delay;
Now He listens to hear your prayer,
Haste the garment of praise to wear.

The hymn ends with another exhortation to accept Jesus’s offer of pardon so that the waters of eternal life can begin to flow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Roger Williams coming up next after Fanny Crosby

My sister, who is a (very talented and fantastic) pastor, recently circulated an article about Roger Williams and made some comments about his contributions to religious liberty (and the separation of church and state) in the United States. 

In light of that article and especially in the current political context in the U.S., I thought that after finishing the upcoming posts on Fanny Crosby, I should turn next to Roger Williams and his interpretation of the Wheat and the Weeds parable. Stay tuned for that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) and the Parables (part 1)

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915)

I am please about the diversity of music that I have been able to include in the book. Chapter 1 includes a discussion of a kontakion by Romanos the Melodist, the great Byzantine poet and hymn writer. One of the topics in Chapter 3 is Anna Jansz, who is immortalized in the 18th Hymn of the Ausbund. Chapter 5 has a discussion about the blues song, “The Prodigal Son,” by Robert Wilkins and also delves into the relationship between blues music in general and the Prodigal Son parable.

In Chapter 4 I have a discussion of the famous lyricist/hymn writer Fanny Crosby, and I discovered that some of her lyrics incorporated parables in ways that are more complex than they first appear. So let me offer some insights into her work and the parables in the next few posts:

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby wrote lyrics for over 8000 hymns, which makes her in all likelihood the most pro­lif­ic hymn­ist in his­to­ry. Crosby became blind as an infant, which her family attributed to incompetent medical care for an inflammation of the eyes. Although she could perceive some light, Crosby remained blind for the rest of her ninety-five years.

Crosby entered the New York Institution for the Blind in 1835, and, because of her talent, soon became a spokesperson for the school. In 1844, for example, along with other students from the Institution, she spoke to a group of dignitaries—including members of the U. S. House and Senate. She recited some of her poems and sought to enlist their support for the blind and other disabled persons. Her poems were also published in such magazines as Saturday Evening Post, and she published her first book of poetry in 1844, The Blind Girl and Other Poems, a book that served primarily as a fund-raising vehicle for the Institution (Blumhofer 2005: 62-65; Aufdemberge 1997: 675)

After graduation, Crosby served on the school’s faculty from 1847-1858, where she met and became friends with a young Grover Cleveland, who taught at the school, served as secretary to the superintendent, and often took dictation of Crosby’s poetry (Blumhofer 2005: 87). Crosby began attending revivals at Methodist Broadway Tabernacle, and in the fall of 1850 had a dramatic religious experience, the culmination of which occurred during the fifth stanza of Isaac Watts’s hymn, “Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed?” (Ruffin 1976: 68).

Crosby left the Institution for the Blind in 1858, when she married Alexander van Alstyne, and the couple moved to an economically disadvantaged area of Lower Manhattan so they could contribute their “superfluous” money to others and work in rescue missions. After Alexander’s death in 1902, Crosby moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she lived until her death in 1915. One of her last public appearances was at Carnegie Hall in New York City at the age of 91 (Aufdemberge 1997: 675).

"The Work of Christmas," by Howard Thurman

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