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.

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