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Unusual Phrases in Hymns

Part 2



1st Corinthians 14:15  says: What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding

We should understand what we are singing. Most hymn lyrics are pretty easy to understand, but some have phrases that are not part of our modern-day vernacular and thus may not be understood by us. Let’s look at some of these hymns and try to decode their meanings. 


Song #345:  It Is Well With My Soul

Phrase: Satan should buffet

Lyric: (v2)  Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come

Buffet:  Thayer: 1) to strike with the fist       2) to maltreat, treat with violence

2nd Corinthians -   And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Consider the whole of verse 2 of this song:

    Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come / Let this blest assurance control / That Christ

     has regarded my helpless estate / And has shed His own blood for my soul

No matter how Satan may attempt to buffet us in this life, he has no power to snatch us from God’s hand

John 10:29  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.

John 17:9  "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.


Song #359:  Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross

Phrase: (v1) Precious fountain

Phrase: (v2) Bright and Morning Star

Phrase: (v4) Till I reach the Golden Strand

Fountain: (Gill) it should be understood as Christ himself, the fountain of gardens, and of living waters, from whose pierced side, sprung blood and water; blood for justification, remission, and cleansing, and water for sanctification: and best of all of his blood particularly, called a "fountain", not so much for the quantity of blood shed, as for its full virtue and efficacy to answer the purposes for which it was shed; it being the blood not only of man, and of an innocent man, but of the Son of God; and may be said to be "opened", because of its continued virtue to cleanse from sin; it is not sealed, but opened, and always stands open; there is no hindrance or obstruction in coming to it; 

Refer also to Song #655 There’s a Fountain Free

Revelation 21:6  And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.


Bright and Morning Star refers to Jesus

Revelation 22:16  "I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star."

Strand  The shore or beach of the sea or ocean, or of a large lake, and perhaps of a navigable river. It is never used of the bank of a small river or pond. Golden Strand refers to crossing the Jordan River, a symbol of passing through death to reach the promised land of heaven and stepping on the shores of heaven.


Song #532:  Praise Him Praise Him

Phrase: (v3) Heavenly portals loud with Hosannas ring

Hosanna: (Vine) in the Hebrew, means "save, we pray." The word seems to have become an utterance of praise rather than of prayer, though originally, probably, a cry for help. The people said this at the Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

Matthew 21:9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' Hosanna in the highest!" 

This phrase was being quoted from

Psalm 118:25: Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are worthy of our highest praises now and for eternity.


Song #542:  Purer in Heart Oh God -

Phrase: (v3) keep me from secret sin

Psalm 19:12  Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. 


Clarke: secret faults (sin) include those: n which I have committed, and have forgotten n which I have not repented n which have been committed in my heart, but have not been brought to act in my life n which I have committed without knowing that they were sins, sins of ignorance n which I have committed in private, for which I should blush and be confounded were they to be made public.

We need to be especially vigilant for all of the above forms of secret sin in our lives


Song #557:  Rock of Ages

Phrase: the double cure

Phrase: thy riven side...

Lyric:  (v1) be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from it’s guilt and power

Lyric:  (v1) Let the water and the blood, from thy riven side which flowed        

We can understand this verse as depicting 2 things (the double cure) that Christ’s atoning death accomplished: justification (being pronounced not guilty) and sanctification (being made holy in God’s sight, if we continue to resist the power of sin) .

1st Corinthians 6:11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 
Hebrews 10:10  By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all

Riven: to split apart, to tear open.   So his “riven side” refers to Jesus’ pierced side depicted in this verse: 

John 19:34  But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 

This the same water and blood mentioned in verse 1 of this hymn


Song #646:  The Old Rugged Cross

Phrase: a wondrous beauty

Lyric:  (v3) In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see

Like Rock of Ages above, verse 3 of this hymn also mentions pardon and sanctification, and calls this  “double cure” a wondrous beauty. Most often when we think of the crucifixion of Christ, we think of the brutality, the agony, the injustice of it. In short, we think of the ugliness of it, probably much like those present at the foot of the cross did. In thinking this way, we can miss the beauty that was present.

There are many beautiful things about the crucifixion:

    ● Jesus’ forgiveness of his tormentors His compassion and concern for his mother  

    ● His mercy to the thief on the cross    His selfless and willing sacrifice His obedience to the Father

      The result of his self-sacrifice: salvation for man and eternal life for true believers – what could be more

          beautiful than that?


Song #247:  Here We Are But Straying Pilgrims

Phrase: pilgrim 

Pilgrim: (dictionary.com)  a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.

(Webster)  one that has only a temporary residence on earth.

(Thayer) metaphorically in reference to heaven as the native country, one who sojourns on earth

1st Peter 2:11  Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 

We should not consider ourselves inhabitants of this earth, but merely pilgrims on a journey to Heaven

Philippians 3:20  For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior...


Song #7:  Abide With Me

Phrase: Abide

Abide:  (Webster) To rest, or dwell;  to continue permanently or in the same state; to be firm and immovable; to remain, to continue.

John 15:7  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.

Verses 2 and 5 contain some beautiful poetry regarding how we will be able to abide in God’s love after death for eternity. What a blessing to look forward to!

Knowing that abide implies a permanence an immovability should cause us to understand the above verses in a different light - if we continually let God’s word abide in our minds and keep his commandments, we in turn can abide in Christ’s love on a permanent basis.



Song #194:  Guide Me O Thy Great Jehovah

Phrase: crystal fountain

Phrase: fire and cloudy pillar

Phrase: tread the verge of Jordan

Lyric:  (v2) Open now the crystal fountain, Whence the healing stream doth flow;

This alludes to the water flowing from the rock for the Hebrew people in Exodus 17:6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.

Lyric:  (v2)  Let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.

This is a reference to Exodus 13:21  And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. 

These rich biblical references maintain the idea of a provisional God. Here we now a God who provides sustenance for the hungry, guides his followers by day and by night, and quenches the thirst of those longing for water. The pillar of cloud symbolizes the mystery or inscrutability of God while the pillar of fire symbolizes the holiness of God.

Lyric:  (v3)  When I tread the verge of Jordan, Bid my anxious fears subside

Tread can mean simply to walk, verge means the brink; edge; border; Jordan refers to the River Jordan which is often used as a metaphor for obstacles that need to be overcome before entering the Promised Land.   We need to trust God completely in order to dispel our fear of life’s “waves” and “undercurrents”.

Lyric:  (v3) Bear me through the swelling current, Land me safe on Canaan’s side

Canaan’s side refers to the land of Canaan – the Promised Land – it is a metaphor for heaven.


Song #790:  Wonderful Love Of Jesus

Phrase: In Vain in High and Holy Lays

Lyric:  (v1) In vain in high and holy lays, my soul her grateful voice would raise

Lay is an archaic term for song, thus this verse speaks of our feeble (vain) attempts to adequately praise Christ in spiritual songs.


Song #154:  Give Me The Bible

Phrase: the glory gilding Jordan's wave

Lyric:  (v4)  Show me the glory gilding Jordan’s wave

Gilded means overlaid with gold. Jordan's wave is a figurative expression for death. As Israel of old had to literally cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, so all of God's spiritual Israel (the church) must die to gain Heaven. Death generally holds men in fear, but the promises and comforts of God's Word make even this attractive (as though gilded) for the faithful saint.


Song #709:  'Tis Midnight, And On Olive's Brow

Phrase: Olive’s brow

Phrase: Ether plains

Lyric:  (v1)  ‘Tis midnight and in Olive’s brow, the star is dimmed that lately shown

Lyric:  (v4)  ‘Tis midnight and from ether plains, is borne the song that angels know

Olive's brow: Just east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, is the Mount of Olives ("Olivet"), approx 2676 feet high, and near the top (brow) of that mountain is the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus retired there with the eleven and prayed His prayers of agony on the eve of the crucifixion (John 18:1; Matthew. 26:36). This song is about the events that transpired in Gethsemane before the arrest of Jesus.

The star is dimmed that lately shown: reinforces the idea of darkness and the anxiety such would add to Jesus’ suffering. Recall the darkness evoked in the hymn Night with Ebon Pinion that we discussed earlier. This phrase could be a metaphor for Jesus himself.

Ether plains: a figurative reference to heaven (ether refers to upper regions, as opposed to nether, lower regions). This figure calls attention to the comfort and strength that Lord received from the angel from heaven.

The song that angels know:  Luke 22:43  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. The composer takes poetic liberty with his angel choir, but it captures the spirit of what the Father did for His Son in that hour.