Posts Tagged ‘old hymns’

“How Great Thou Art!”

September 7, 2010

My sister has a lovely holiday cottage in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, in a small isolated development known as “Wuthering Heights.” A few days ago I brought my daughters there for a break before they return to college. I love this area, evocative of the sentiments described in that hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Here are some of my impressions on this visit…

The walk this morning was, as always, beautiful, with cattle and sheep all grazing peacefully in the mountain pastures; the sun shining, the birds singing and the colour of the wildflowers all contributed to my feelings of happiness about this place. Here I feel close to nature; I feel that I can breathe fresh, ethereal air and relax and unwind from the stress that would daily press upon me. I love this place and I always will. In a sense it reminds me of the simplicity and wonder of my childhood; the quiet walks that I undertook alone in the foothills of the mountains and how my imagination would be inspired by this world of forests, fields and waterfalls.

There is an inexplicable wonder about the Mourne landscape which lies silent and unchanging in this changing world. Only the sounds of nature fill the morning air; very few cars travel along this road and so we walked on, inspired by the beauty that surrounded us. We found to our delight, a sparkling mountain stream where fish were jumping. Further along up a little track towards the mountain known as “Wee Binnion” lies a tiny whitewashed cottage where I was amazed to find someone living. It was something from another era; that little homestead with its minute windows. I remember someone telling me once that there used to be a “glass tax” in the old days, which is why so many ordinary folk could not afford to have big windows. There have been some unjust taxes down the years but to tax people for the ‘luxury’ of daylight surely beats them all!

Soft clouds had formed on the mountain top, as we began our walk home to Wuthering Heights and a mist was coming in from the sea but there was still warmth in the sun. On either side of us lay tiny pockets of land, surrounded by drystone walls and filled with purple heather. As we walked along that road we picked deliciously ripe blackberries and ate them. Here and there my daughter would gather some wildflowers and when we arrived back at the cottage, she made one of the most beautiful arrangements I have ever seen!

Soon I must return to the ‘real’ world; the world of passport renewal, credit cards, college accommodation in a big city, bills, concerns about my children’s futures and work… But meanwhile I will imagine for a moment that I am a ‘mountain dweller.’ I dwell simply in the heart of the mountains, I have no mortgage on my little cottage, I eat my own home grown vegetables, I drink fresh mountain water, I make my own bread from wholemeal grain and I eat wild blackberries for desert. “Like Paradise,” you may say and yet I know that Paradise does not exist on this earth; we battle with the weeds of life whatever they consist of – a legacy from ancient Eden.

Yet, it is true that a little bit of ‘heaven on earth’ can be ours when we fully trust in Jesus as Saviour, whether we walk the mountain tracks or the busy city streets of life. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him.” (Col.1v16) The wonder of creation is surpassed only by the glory of the Redeemer’s love for all mankind. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:” (Col. 1v14&15) These verses bring to mind one of the most beautiful hymns, translated into English and many other languages.

“How Great Thou Art” was first written by Carl Boberg (1859-1940) as a poem in 1885. Inspired by his experience of being caught in a thunderstorm in his native Sweden, the young Christian wrote the original nine verse poem “O Store Gud” (“O Great God”). This original poem was translated into many languages over the years and today, in English, it has evolved into the beautiful hymn “How Great Thou Art.” The fascinating story of how the hymn developed touches Estonia, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Romania and England; while all across the world today, souls are touched by its words in their own language. How can I not help humming its tune as I walk amongst the beautiful Mountains of Mourne in my own native Ireland?

 Link for lyrics and music to this hymn: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/o/w/how_great_Thou_art.htm

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Just as I am – Without One Plea

June 27, 2010

Sitting on the promenade wall I watched the ebb and flow of the tide washing in over the sand. High up in the summer sky the seagulls cried as they floated on the drift of the wind, while in the distance the beautiful Mountains of Mourne stood timelessly and quietly against the horizon. I had always taken comfort in mountains; they were like permanent, solid and reliable old friends in a world that was changing too quickly. Tomorrow, perhaps, I would climb to their rushing waterfalls and we would picnic close to those cascading waters. The day was beautiful and I was young and healthy, but something was disturbing me. Was it that small group of Christians who were having an open-air meeting by the promenade? How many times in my young life had I been convicted by a little group of people like this? Over the years I had watched them, the faithful ones, singing and preaching in villages or cities and distributing tracts. Even the sound of their voices made me feel uncomfortable, but no, I would not commit myself to the life they were singing and speaking about. Perhaps some day…

What delightful childhood memories I have of trips to the seaside with my father, mother, brother and two sisters! In those days we did not fly off to exotic locations, but those trips to Warrenpoint or Sunday school excursions to Newcastle, Bangor or Portrush engendered just as much excitement. In the intervening years I have travelled to many distant places but to this day, perhaps one of my favourite spots in the whole world is “where the Mountains of Mourne roll down to the sea.” My aunt once had a caravan parked at the very edge of the beach in an area known as ‘Cranfield.’ I recall many days of sunshine there when we would splash in the sea or take long walks along the blue flag beach to the castle at Greencastle. At night the old lighthouse would throw out circling beams of light across the dark rippling waves. Even bad weather was enjoyable, creating its own special atmosphere. How I loved the sound of that foghorn, as the rain pelted against the windows and the tide surged in only yards from where we slept!

Of course, as the cliché goes ‘all good things come to an end,’ and whether it had been a day trip or a week-long holiday we knew that we must return home. Regrettably the ‘holiday’ had perhaps not been so idyllic for my mother as she had a great deal more work to do; in bygone days holiday cottages and caravans did not have the modern conveniences that they do today! As for those ‘return journeys,’ they are filled with special memories for me, for I recall that my parents very often would “sing on the journey home,” and always these songs would relate to their Christian experience. In those days their songs did not appeal to me – in fact I often felt irritated and convicted by them. Admittedly, my parents’ voices blended beautifully as they sang choruses and hymns on the journey home. Yet, underlying my feelings of conviction, I experienced a certain reassurance and inner peace in the knowledge that my parents loved each other and their Saviour, who was glorified in the words they sang.

So it came to be that as the years passed, I was to be convicted many times by the singing of God’s servants. There is something about joyful singing to the Lord that speaks to the heart – and even brings a tear to the eye! Then, one August Sunday morning in the year 1978, I was walking alone in a narrow cobbled street in Ostend, Belgium, when I heard joyful singing coming from somewhere on high. These were I believed, Christians who were singing hymns in the Flemish language but where were they? I looked up at the windows of tall narrow houses and I searched doorways for access but I could not find those singers, no matter how much I searched for them. Sadly I returned to the hotel where I was staying, feeling very empty spiritually. On the return journey I was terrified that the ship would sink or the train would crash for I knew that I was not ready to meet God.

After my return home, that deep conviction continued in my heart with intensity. Just hours later, on the bank holiday evening of Monday 28th August, 1978, a fierce spiritual battle ensued while I was alone in my bedroom. I have never felt anything like it in my life, either before or since. One power was telling me that I was ‘not that bad,’ and that I had my whole life in front of me; another was telling me to ask the Lord into my heart now for tomorrow may be too late. After much turmoil and struggle, I can only describe what happened next as ‘repenting of my sin and crossing that great divide from darkness into light.’ I felt a peace in my heart that only the Lord can put there – my journey to my real Home had only just begun! The years ahead were to be the happiest ones of my life for He had “put a new song in my mouth.” (Psalm 40v3). All my old ‘haunts’ began to lose their attraction and soon God’s Word and the joyful singing of His servants brought me more joy than anything in this world ever could. Now I had put my trust in the “Rock of Ages,” who is even more dependable than solid mountains, for even they shall some day be removed! And now with my mother and father I could sing the words of many lovely hymns, because they were so relevant to my new life begun in faith.

There is a hymn which always filled me with conviction in those days of my early childhood and youth. This hymn was often sung after appeals were made in missions or other meetings and I grew to dread the singing of it, because it made me feel so uncomfortable.  “Just as I am” describes accurately the experience I went through on that evening when I trusted the Saviour. Charlotte Elliott, the writer of this lovely hymn had a similar experience when she came to the Lord, for she was “tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt… fightings and fears, within, without…” I thank God that this lady was able to give words to her experience – words which have touched many a soul since the year it was written, in 1834. For me, the second last line of this hymn, “Here for a season, then above,” seriously highlights the brevity of my earthly life against the awesomeness of eternity.

Today I love that hymn because the Saviour did rid my soul of that “one dark blot.” I thank Him for His cleansing power in that instant when I trusted in His shed blood at Calvary. My prayer is that He will continue to work in my life and in the lives of other fellow Christians who have trusted Him to “cleanse each spot,” with the desire to be “His, and His alone.” Now I can claim this wonderful promise which was given by Paul to his fellow saints, as my own…  “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1v6)

(See also: My Testimony page) https://readywriterpublications.wordpress.com/my-testimony/

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/u/justasam.htm