Monday, January 25, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Through All the Changing Scenes of Life

The Pastor’s Perspective
Vol. 31 Num. 30
“Through All the Changing Scenes of Life”
First Published: July 30, 1998

Our Hymn of the Month for September is “Through All the Changing Scenes of Life” (Trinity Hymnal, 624)— a beautiful version of Psalm 34:1-4, 7-9 from Tate and Brady’s New Version (which was produced at the end of the seventeenth century). The composer of its tune (“Downs”) is the famous Lowell Mason, who contributed over two dozen of the songs in our hymnal including the tunes to: “There is a fountain filled with blood” and “My faith looks up to Thee,” as well as arrangements for “O for a thousand tongues,” “Joy to the world!” and “When I survey the wondrous cross.”

Mason was a bank clerk in Savannah, Georgia, where he conducted the choir at the famous Independent Presbyterian Church (where our own Bill Wymond served for a time). So popular was the collection of church tunes he compiled there, that Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society published it. While in Boston, Mason was the organist at Lyman Beecher’s church and he also founded the Boston Academy of Music. He was an important reformer of American church music, and was influential on both sides of the Atlantic.

We have sung this hymn a few times in the past year, and its words are outstanding. They clearly and accurately convey the meaning of Psalm 34, and do so with outstanding poetic quality. The first stanza is a bracing (but radiant) declaration by the believer that: “Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.” We have here a positive counterpart to last month’s hymn “Whate’er my God ordains is right.” In the that hymn, the believer resigns himself to trust God in difficult circumstances. But in “Through all the changing scenes of life” the singer goes a step further, jubilantly declaring his determination to praise God in joy and in sorrow, sunlight and shade.

The second stanza is a balm for faint hearts. The psalmist says that he will continue to boast in the Lord’s deliverance until all those who are also under duress take comfort from his example: “Of his deliv’rance I will boast, till all that are distressed, from my example comfort take, and charm their griefs to rest.” The fourth stanza also sets forth a powerfully strengthening thought foe faith: “The hosts of God encamp around the dwellings of the just; deliv’rance he affords to all who on his succor trust.”

The final two stanzas contain, in my opinion, the most powerful verse of the hymn. Stanza five dares us to trust in the Lord and to see how good he is to those who trust in him: “O make but trial of his love; experience will decide how blest they are, and only they, who in his truth confide.” Then, in the sixth and last stanza, we are exhorted to the fear of the Lord and to delight in his service, in these glorious words: “Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear: make you his service your delight; he’ll make your wants his care.”

I hope this hymn will become a new favorite of yours, and that it will prove to be a comfort to all in our congregation who desire to bravely and hopefully live a “kingdom life in a fallen world.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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