“O Holy Night”

I hope everyone has experienced a wonderful week, especially as we have celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. I have certainly been reminded of how much I have to be thankful for and how much I take those things for granted. I’m sure most of you are like me in that we are blessed so much more than we deserve. I am also reminded of those who are having to go through the holidays without someone they loved very much whom they lost during the past year. I know that they will experience a degree of loneliness like no other time in their lives and my heart aches for them. We all need to lift them up in our prayers during the coming days.

As Christmas approaches, I thought I would take a look at the history of some of the hymns and carols that we sing during this time of the year. And I will continue with these until after Christmas. The first one I want to consider is “O Holy Night” because it has such a unique and interesting history. The article below is rather lengthy but I believe you will enjoy it.

The strange and fascinating story of “O Holy Night” began in France, yet eventually made its way around the world. This seemingly simple song, inspired by a request from a clergyman, would not only become one of the most beloved anthems of all time, it would mark a technological revolution that would forever change the way people were introduced to music.

In 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissionaire of wines in a small French town. Known more for his poetry than his church attendance, it probably shocked Placide when his parish priest asked the commissionaire to pen a poem for Christmas mass. Nevertheless, the poet was honored to share his talents with the church.

In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France’s capital city, Placide Cappeau considered the priest’s request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, “Cantique de Noel” had been completed.

Moved by his own work, Cappeau decided that his “Cantique de Noel” was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician’s hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help.

The son of a well-known classical musician, Adolphe had studied in the Paris conservatoire. His talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestras and ballets all over the world. Yet the lyrics that his friend Cappeau gave him must have challenged the composer in a fashion unlike anything he received from London, Berlin, or St. Petersburg.

As a man of Jewish ancestry, for Adolphe the words of “Cantique de Noel” represented a day he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. Nevertheless, Adams quickly went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau’s beautiful words. Adams’ finished work pleased both poet and priest. The song was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Initially, “Cantique de Noel” was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was a Jew, the song–which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France–was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed “Cantique de Noel” as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American writer brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world.

Not only did this American writer–John Sullivan Dwight–feel that this wonderful Christmas songs needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” The text supported Dwight’s own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Dwight’s English translation of “O Holy Night” quickly found found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.

Back in France, even though the song had been banned from the church for almost two decades, many commoners still sang “Cantique de Noel” at home. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the beginning of “Cantique de Noel.”

 After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out his hiding place and answered with, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will,” the beginning of Martin Luther’s robust “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”

The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day. Perhaps this story had a part in the French church once again embracing “Cantique de Noel” in holiday services.


Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden–a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison–did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slack-jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle–hearing a voice somehow transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn’t have known that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle. After finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, so did the broadcast–but not before music had found a new medium that would take it around the world.


Since that first rendition at a small Christmas mass in 1847, “O Holy Night” has been sung millions of times in churches in every corner of the world. And since the moment a handful of people first heard it played over the radio, the carol has gone on to become one of the entertainment industry’s most recorded and played spiritual songs. This incredible work–requested by a forgotten parish priest, written by a poet who would later split from the church, given soaring music by a Jewish composer, and brought to Americans to serve as much as a tool to spotlight the sinful nature of slavery as tell the story of the birth of a Savior–has become one of the most beautiful, inspired pieces of music ever created.

What an amazing story. I am still amazed at how God takes circumstances and events in the lives of people and weave a story so incredible resulting in a treasure such as this anthem. “O Holy Night” is exactly what it was. Why? Because God became man in order to later provide a perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. I’m so glad He did!

“What A Friend We Have In Jesus”

It is late tonight but it has been a long day. I hope all of you have had a great week and looking forward to being in God’s house tomorrow.

One of the greatest things about most hymns is that they seem to have the right words to say at the right time for what may be happening in our lives at the time. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced that. There have been times that just the words from a hymn that was being played or sung ministered to me in a way that no sermon could. So, if you have worries and concerns that are pressing you down, knowing that we have a friend in Jesus can ease the pain and bring comfort to your soul. The following article reveals that the words of that song were written for that expressed purpose. And that ageless hymn has brought comfort to me on many occasions. Enjoy.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus, the Song and the Story

Composer Joseph M. Scriven Writes What a Friend We Have in Jesus


Irish born Joseph M. Scriven (1819-1896) was 25 years old, in love and to be married. The day before his wedding his fiance died in a tragic drowning accident. Heartbroken, Joseph sailed from his homeland to start a new life in Canada. While in Canada working as a teacher, he fell in love again and became engaged to Eliza Roche, a relative of one of his students. Once again, Joseph’s hopes and dreams were shattered when Eliza became ill and died before the wedding could take place.

Although one can only imagine the turmoil within this young man, history tells us that his faith in God sustained him. Soon after Eliza’s death Joseph joined the Plymouth Brethren and began preaching for a Baptist church. He never married, but spent the remainder of his life giving all his time, money and even the clothes off his own back to help the less fortunate and to spread the love and compassion of Jesus wherever he went.

Around the same time that Eliza died, Joseph received word from Ireland that his mother was ill. He could not go to be with her, so he wrote a letter of comfort and enclosed one of his poems entitled What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Many years later a friend was sitting with Joseph, as he was very ill. During this visit, the friend was very impressed when he ran across his poems, including What a Friend We Have in Jesus. As a result of this visit, almost 30 years after his letter of comfort to his mother, Joseph’s poems were published in a book called Hymns and Other Verses. Soon thereafter, noted musician Charles C. Converse (1834-1918) put music to one of those poems: What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
Well-known musician and revivalist Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908) was a great admirer of Joseph Scriven. In 1875, Sankey came upon the music and words for What a Friend We Have in Jesus. He included it as the last entry into his well-known publication Sankey’s Gospel Hymns Number 1.

After Joseph Scriven’s death, the citizens of Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, where he gave so much of himself, erected a monument to his life. The seemingly sad and obscure life of one man resulted in so many lives being uplifted, both in his own time, and for many years after whenever the beautiful and comforting words of What a Friend We Have in Jesus are sung.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ( John 15:13)

What more can be said. What love He has for us that He would die in our place. Oh, what a friend! Thank you Jesus.

“I Surrender All”

We just got back in to town from spending a few restful days in the Smokey Mountains. We took the opportunity to go up to Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, places we haven’t been to in many years. The views from there were amazing and the autumn leaf colors on the drive up were awesome. It was a wonderful reminder that our Creator God is an artist far above any other. His majesty and glory can be seen in His creation if one just takes the time to look.

One of the hymns that has been on my mind for a couple of weeks is one of the well-known and most often used invitational hymns in churches throughout the world. However it is also a song of surrender by us as believers to be more like Jesus. If you take a close look at all the verses it will be apparent that the author was inspired to seek not only a life of surrender but one filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s love and power. This should also be the desire of our hearts. I hope you enjoy the following article about the history of this great hymn.

History of Hymns: “I Surrender All”

by C. Michael Hawn

“I Surrender All”
J. W. Van DeVenter
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 354

J. W. Van DeVenter

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.
I surrender all,
all to thee my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

Songs of personal commitment to Christ often stem from a particular experience in the life of the author. This is a good example. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck cites an account left by Van DeVenter:

The song was written while I was conducting a meeting at East Palestine, Ohio, and in the home of George Sebring (founder of Sebring Campmeeting Bible Conference . . .). For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life. I became and evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, he caused me to sing.


This testimony makes more sense when knowing more about the author’s life. Judson Van de Venter (1855-1939) was raised on a farm near Dundee, Michigan. After graduating from Hillsdale College, he taught art in public schools in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Van Deventer was active as a layman in his Methodist Episcopal Church, including participation in revivals held at the church.

Based on his fervent faith and service to the church, friends encouraged him to leave his field of teaching and become an evangelist. It took five years for him to finally “surrender all” and follow the advice of his friends. His ministry took him to various places in the United States, England, and Scotland.

Perhaps the most important influence that Van de Venter had was on the young evangelist Billy Graham. The Rev. Graham cites this hymn as an influence in his early ministry. His account appears in Crusade Hymn Stories, edited by Graham’s chief musician, Cliff Barrows:

One of the evangelists who influenced my early preaching was also a hymnist who wrote “I Surrender All” — the Rev. J. W. Van de Venter. He was a regular visitor at the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity Bible College) in the late 1930’s. We students love this kind, deeply spiritual gentleman and often gathered in his winter home at Tampa, Florida, for an evening of fellowship and singing.

More than sixty of Van de Venter’s hymns appeared in various twentieth-century hymnals, but “I Surrender All” (1896) is his most famous.

One of the characteristics of many gospel songs is the repetition of a key word or phrase throughout the hymn. Each of the five stanzas begins with the line, “All to Jesus I surrender.” The refrain includes the phrase, “I surrender all” three times in the melody and an additional two times in the men’s part. This means that the one who sings all five stanzas would sing the word “surrender” thirty times. The other key word – “all” – would be sung forty-three times!

The stanzas all revolve around the key word. Stanza one stresses complete surrender: “all to him I freely give.” In stanza two, the singer forsakes “worldly pleasures.” Stanza three prays to “feel the Holy Spirit.” Stanza four asks for Jesus’ empowerment, to be filled with “thy love and power.” In the final stanza, the singer “feel[s] the sacred flame,” an image of the Holy Spirit. The result of feeling Christ’s “full salvation,” is to sing “glory to his name.”

 Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.

I believe when we truly surrender all, only then can it be possible to find ourselves in God’s will. And I’m the one who needs this more than anyone. God help me to surrender!


November 5, 2016

Well, again a week without rain and none predicted for the foreseeable future. Seems like it’s been forever but my, that is a long time. When it does rain it will probably be so much we will complain about that too.

A friendly reminder for everyone. Be sure and set your clock back one hour before you go to bed tonight. That is, unless you want to get up at 2:00 AM and do it. Anyway, the time changes tonight.

It has been a very busy week for me this week and I have not had time to do the research I needed for another hymn history. Hopefully this week will be better and I can get back to the task at hand.

Tonight I have a special prayer request and hope that you will remember it when you pray this evening and in the morning. Tomorrow I will begin a new Sunday School class for young adult men and have no official roll. I have been compiling a list of possible contacts from some recent guys I’ve met including some new converts. I don’t know what the Lord has in store but I’m excited about what He is going to do. I know that God is already at work in the lives of those who are to be a part and I pray that He will give me the patience I need to wait on His timing and not try to do everything in my own flesh. Please pray that He will do a great work in their hearts but more than that, pray that He will do a greater work in my heart. He deserves all the glory for anything that happens.

I hope each of you have a great day tomorrow and that God richly blesses you and your family.