OceanSide church of Christ

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Unusual Phrases in Hymns

(part 3)

Mike Wencel


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. Some hymns have phrases that are not part of our modern day vernacular and thus may not be fully understood by us. Let’s try to uncover their meanings. 


Song # and Title

Phrase in Lyric


#9:  A Wonderful Savior

        (also see Lesson 1)

<1> That shadows a dry, thirst land

<2> He hideth my life in the depth of His love

<1> Our souls as believers in Christ are hidden in this cleft that is located high above the dry thirsty lands below. Before we we were baptized into Christ we lived in this dry and thirsty land - our souls were parched and dry as a bone and were thirsty for the living water that only Christ can give (even though we may  not have realized it). After being added to Christ’s church, we no longer have to be thirsty for that relationship with our creator.

<2> “in the depth of His love”:  The depth of God’s love is immeasurable and indescribable.  David gave his best attempt at explaining this in Psalm 103:11-12  For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.


#53:  At Calvary

<1> Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span

<1>  A gulf in one sense is defined as any wide separation, as in geography, position, status. In this case it is the wide separation between sinful mortal humanity and a holy immortal God. This is the mighty gulf that God did span through His Son, Jesus. Since we live on this earth where sin has inhabited the human race since the fall, we may not realize how mighty this gulf is and how utterly hopeless our condition is in spanning it.  It is a "mighty gulf," and is too deep to be filled up, too wide to be bridged over, too great for any passage from one side to the other.  (NT Restoration Commentary)

Recall the illustration that Jesus gave of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:26 -  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'


#59:  Break Thou The Bread

         Of Life

<1> Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee Lord.

<2> I shall find my peace, my All in all.

<1> We need to know Christ on a level beyond mere factual information. It is possible to know the words of Christ without being changed by them; We come to know Him "beyond the sacred page" when we apply His words in Scripture to our hearts, meditate on them, and live them in our everyday lives. As we continue to walk with Him, we come to understand better--through experience--the meaning of His words. (drhamrick.blogspot.com)

<2> My All in all:  In Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. In him is manifested to the world the fullness of the power, the wisdom, and the love of God.  Jesus filled with all the fullness of God bestows the fullness of his blessings on his body, the church. (Lipscomb commentary)


#84:  Bringing in the Sheaves

<1> Bringing in the sheaves

<1> This hymn is an allegory about agriculture and the scriptural source of the hymn’s imagery is Psalm 126:6   He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

Sheaves are bundles in which  plants are bound after reaping.

The meaning of the Psalm and hence the verse of this hymn is that we should be weeping for the lost and eager to sow the seed of God’s precious word to them. Though some will not take heed, others will, and these should be cause for rejoicing on the part of the sower, knowing that he has had a good harvest and can “bring in the sheaves”.


#111:  Come We That Love

           the Lord

<1> We’re marching thru Immanuels’ ground

<1> While we wait in faith for our heavenly reward, we can press on joyfully, knowing that even here in this world, we are on a march to ultimate victory. If we are Christians, we are on "Immanuel's ground" already--inside the territory of His kingdom (his church), where His authority and protection are unassailable   (drhamrick.blogspot.com).


#121:  Do All In The Name Of

           the Lord

<1> Do not in name of man or creed.

<2> Be not deceived by worldly greed, the Spirit says ”in word or deed”

The scriptural source of this hymn is  Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

<1> How many churches have been divided, and how much blood has been shed, over the words of uninspired men? Yet when we stand before the Judgment, all the confessions and creeds written throughout history will not answer to the Book that will be opened that day. (Revelation 20:12) And when we are called to account for our lives, we will not answer to Martin Luther, or John Calvin, or John Wesley, or Joseph Smith, or Mary Ellen White, or any other person. We will instead answer to the One who once said, "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46)    (drhamrick.blogspot.com).

<2>  In word of deed: many people are “Christians” in word, but not in deed. The “faith only” school falls into this category, thinking that works or deeds are not necessary, even though scripture proves that belief false:  James 2:24  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  We must not only “say” we are Christians (easy), but we must live like Christians (not so easy).


 #134:  Faith is the Victory

<1>  Encamped along the hills of light

<2>  And press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies

<3>  Against the foe in vales below

<4>  We’ll  vanquish all the hosts of night in Jesus’ conquering name

<1>  In the story Pilgrim's Progress Christian traveler rejoices at reaching the "Delectable Mountains" where Immanuel's flocks are tended, and from which he can see the distant Mount Zion. But there is an inherent danger in living in the "hills of light," – an enchanted sleep of forgetfulness. It is this meaning, I believe, that lies behind this hymn’s poetry. We rejoice in the "mountaintop" spiritual experiences of life, as we should; but we cannot stay on the mountaintops in our "tents of ease" (from the 3rd stanza) throughout our journey. There are valleys through which we must fight as well.

<2>  We need to fight in the light (i.e. while we are alive) before darkness overtakes us (I.e we die)

<3>  Faithful Christians are in the hills of light while our enemy Satan is in the vale (valley) below. As God’s people we are on higher ground, which is always the best place to be in a battle.

<4>  Vanquish: To conquer; to overcome; to defeat in battle.   The “hosts of night” are the forces of evil (Satan and his many minions) who can only be conquered by Jesus, the victor.


#153:  Footprints of Jesus

<1> Footprints of Jesus that make the pathway glow.

<2> By and by through the shining portals, turning our feet, we shall walk with the glad immortals, Heaven’s golden streets

<3> Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains… Or along by Siloam’s fountains

<1> The righteous things Jesus did and said, as well as the unrighteous things he did not do, light up the pathway for Christians to follow.  Much in the same way that it is very difficult to navigate through a forest in the dark, but much easier in the daylight –  following Jesus’ example makes our pathway to heaven much clearer and sure.

<2> The shining portals: Webster defines portal as “A gate; an opening for entrance; as the portals of heaven.”. This verse is telling us that if we follow the footprints of Jesus, and obey his commands, we can gain admittance to heaven, through the shining portal (or gate) and will walk with the “glad immortals” (the other faithful Christians who are bound for heaven).

<3> Siloam is mentioned in John 9:11 in the story of the blind man who Jesus healed and told to wash in the pool of Siloam, which was fed by underground springs or “fountains”.  So, the verse is telling us that following in the footsteps of Jesus may lead us though difficult and treacherous places at times, but at other times through peaceful and healing places. We must be able to navigate our way through both of these terrains, maintaining our faith as we go.


#154:  Give Me the Bible

       (also see Lesson 1)

<1>  Precept and promise, law and love combining

<2>  Hold up that splendor by the open grave

<3>  Show me the light from heaven's shining portals

<1>  Precept is another name for a commandment or law of God. God gives us commandments, but he also gives promises for the future to those who obey these precepts. He gives the law, but he does that out of love for us, that we might know his will and by more godly people. So, the laws are not to impose arbitrary restrictions on us, but to help us to live more godly lives.

<2>   Jesus’s tomb (grave), with the stone in place that sealed the entrance, would have been a very dark place. However, when the stone was rolled away and the morning light filled the tomb, the truth could be plainly seen – that Jesus had risen from the dead. The tomb no longer had any importance at all, Jesus was no longer there, he had defeated death and risen to heaven, and that’s where He is today.

<3>  Heaven’s shining portals was explained in section 33 above


#216:  He Leadeth Me

<1> ’mid scenes of deepest gloom … where Eden’s bowers bloom

<2> Nor ever murmur nor repine, content whatever lot I see

<3> E’en death's cold wave, I will not flee

<1> Bower:  a shelter (as in a garden) made with tree boughs or vines twined together.  (Merriam-Webster)

God will lead us through ALL of life’s challenges – through the most difficult times (of deep gloom and despair) to times of peace and happiness (when life is as beautiful as a natural bower in the Garden of Eden).

<2> Repine:  to feel or express dejection or discontent, to complain (Merriam-Webster). We should adopt the attitude of contentment exhibited by the apostle Paul:  Philippians 4:11-13: I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

<3> Unlike non-believers, faithful Christians need not fear or desire to flee from death. To us, it is merely the end of one chapter and the beginning of a much, much better chapter. Conversely, non-believers should fear death, because the next chapter will not be a good one for them – an eternity of torment. Because they believe there is nothing after their physical death, they need to cling to life and flee from death for as long as they can.


#244:  Hold to God’s

           Unchanging Hand

<1> Time is filled with swift transition, Naught of earth unmoved can stand

<2> Your enraptured soul will view

<1> Our lives on earth are always changing (our looks change, our health changes, our financial status changes, our family changes (increases and decreases) etc. No one (“naught”) on earth is exempt (“unmoved”) from these changes. Many times, they occur very quickly (e.g.  financial markets).  So because of the changing nature of life and all of its uncertainties, the next verse of the hymn tells us what we should put our hope in instead:  “Build your hopes on things eternal”.

<2> Enraptured simply means “filled with delight”. This word should not be confused with the false doctrine of “The Rapture” espoused by pre-millennialism.  This verse along with the previous one is merely saying that when our earthly life is over, we will be filled with delight as we see our heavenly home for the first time. Our steadfastness in the faith, whatever consequences we may have had to suffer for it, will be worth it when we get our first glimpse of heaven.


#247:  Here We Are, But

           Straying Pilgrims
(also see Lesson 1)

<1> Here, our path is often dim

<2> On the hills that throng our way

<3> Here the tempest darkly gathers

<1> There is much darkness and evil in the world we live in, and sometimes this can discourage us, things can appear pretty dim to is at times.

<2> Throng: A large number of people assembled together.  Life can have many challenging hills, which we, as pilgrims, must learn to navigate skillfully.

<3> Tempest:   a violent storm, tumult, uproar (Merriam-Webster). Sometimes life brings dark clouds (problems, sadness, grief) over us and sometimes those clouds last for a long time. But like pilgrims who had to travel through all kinds of inclement weather to reach their destination, we too must not let those occasional dark clouds shake our faith and cause us to veer off the path of righteousness.


#394:  Leaning On the

           Everlasting Arms

<1> Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way

<2> Oh how bright the path grows from day to day

<1> Pilgrim:  a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. (dictionary.com)  We are all pilgrims on a long journey to heaven. If we keep our eyes focused on the destination, our life on earth can be sweet.

<2> As we get older and older, we realize that we are getting closer and closer to the end of this life, and if we have remained faithful to Christ, the thought of our heavenly reward gets brighter and brighter in our minds. We long to leave the pain and suffering of this world behind and enter the heavenly realm where these trials will not exist.


#397:  Let the Lower Lights Be


<1> The metaphor of the lighthouse

<1>  This whole song revolves around the metaphor of a lighthouse.

All along America’s east and west seaboards, the Gulf shore, and along the Great Lakes region, light houses stood on the shore of major harbors. Along with lighthouses, there were also lower lights to guide ships into the harbor.

When there were large rocks near the shore, the lower lights helped the pilots to steer clear of them at night. Lower lights were placed along the shore at even intervals. If a ship was coming into the harbor at night, the pilot would see the evenly spaced lower lights.  If there was a gap in the reflection of the lights that meant that there was a large rock between the ship and the entrance to the harbor.  The pilots would avoid sailing into these “dark areas,” knowing that the rocks blocked the lights from showing across the waves.

Application: Sometimes a person (the “fainting, struggling seaman” in this hymn) is so lost in darkness, that he just needs a little light to guide him in the right direction. God provides the great lighthouse (the plan of salvation for all men) – it is our job to just “keep the lower lights burning” – i.e. to guide men safely to the shore and show them God’s Word, so that they can avail themselves of the rewards of obedience to that plan of salvation.

The metaphor employed in this hymn is similar to the one used in another hymn below.  “Send the Light”.