Week 4: God as Comforter



How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

Text: John Newton (1725–1807), 1774

Tune: Alexander Robert Reinagle (1799–1877), 1836

  1. Knowing that John Newton was the author of both, what echoes (if any) of “Amazing Grace” do you find in “How Sweet the Name”? Does the background of Newton’s life affect how you read the hymn?

    • “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” ⇔ “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”
    • “and grace my fears relieved” ⇔ “drives away his fear”
    • “a wretch like me” ⇔ “weak is the effort of my heart, and cold my warmest thought”
    • “when this flesh and heart shall fail” ⇔ “refresh my soul in death”
  2. In Newton’s original publication of Olney Hymns, this text is found in Book I (subtitled “On select texts of Scripture”), accompanied by a quotation of Song of Solomon 1:3: “Because of the Savor of thy good ointments, thy name is as ointment poured forth”. How do you see this reflected in the hymn?

    • Chief purpose of ointment is to heal and soothe wounds, reflected in verses 1 & 2
    • Also served ceremonial purposes, anointing Jesus as Priest, and King
    • “Husband” fits well with Song of Solomon, but later editors revised it to “Brother” or “Shepherd”

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

Text: Anne Steele (1717–1778), 1760

Tune: Anonymous, 1749

  1. Steele’s hymns are known for their plain language but emotional content (almost certainly a reflection of her life experiences). Many of them have slowly fallen out of use over the years, though - including “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul”, whose most recent inclusion in a hymnal was in 1949. When you think of other hymns on the topic of comfort and assurance, how does this one compare? What do you think could be responsible for its waning popularity?

    • Shared metaphor: “when waves of trouble roll” ⇔ “when sorrows like sea billows roll”
    • Rather blunt description of doubts in verse 3 is somewhat unique
  2. Verse 5 references God’s “mercy seat”. Is anyone familiar with this term and what it means?

    • The “mercy seat” (“kapporet” in Hebrew) is the solid gold covering on the Ark of the Covenant, inside of which the tablets with Ten Commandments were held.
    • Here, that the “mercy-seat is open still” means Christ has given us access to God

Abide With Me

Text: Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847), 1847

Tune: William Henry Monk (1823–1889), 1861

  1. The very first phrase says “fast falls the eventide”, setting the tone for the rest of the hymn to follow. What is the “eventide” and what is its significance here?

    • Metaphor for the end (“evening”) of life
    • Our life is little more than one day for God
    • For Lyte, who lived by the sea, “eventide” is also literally the “evening tide”
    • Connects to verse 2, as a life simply “ebbs out”
    • Paired with Luke 24:29 in the original manuscript, the story of Jesus at Emmaus: “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
  2. How would you describe the overall “feel” or mood of the hymn? How does the tune help set or reinforce this mood? How do the various contrasts in the text, specifically light & darkness, affect it?

    • Rather flat melody, restricted to the space of a major 6th; keeps a sense of calm, stasis
    • Augmented (vi+) chord and inner motion in third phrase lends a strong emotional “pull”
    • Earth associated with: change, decay, dim joys, faded glories, gloom, “vain shadows”
    • God associated with: unchangingness, blessings, triumph