The Ministry of Song
Scarcely a spiritual movement in the history of Christianity has been without its service of song. The emotions, whether of victory or of devotion or of interest in the salvation of the lost, naturally flow out in singing. Far back in Biblical history we find songs of victory attending the triumphs of the people of God.
The Wesleyan reformation, through its gifted hymn writer, Charles Wesley, furnished many of the standard spiritual hymns that are in use today. Witness also the immortal gospel hymns that originated with the Moody and Sankey revivals of the last century. Likewise the holiness movement of forty and fifty years ago was characterized by its holiness songs. And so in these last times, when we have come to the full standard of truth and the full development of the church independent of human creeds, when the “ransomed of the Lord” (Isaiah 35:10) are returning over the “highway” (Isaiah 35:8) prepared, what wonder is it that they should “come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads” (Isaiah 35:10)? In no respect was the inception of the present reformation more marked than in its ministry of holy song.
For the writing of spiritual hymns Brother Warner had a wonderful endowment. It seems that the development of this gift came, however, only with his entrance upon the special work of the reformation. In his earliest writings we find no examples of hymns or poems of any merit. A few verses in his diary betray a lack of familiarity with the principles of prosody, or hymn writing. Considering the little time he had to devote to the study of those principles, it is marvelous that he produced so many useful, and we may say excellent, hymns during the few short years of his intensive ministerial labor.
His first effort appears to have been the adaptation of existing hymns either by rearrangement of the words or by composing new words to fit the tunes. Thus we have the “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” song with new words appearing in an early copy of The Gospel Trumpet. The chorus is familiar to all and we omit it.
On the mountain top of vision what a glory we behold!
Eighteen hundred years of victory are tinging earth with gold;
For the saints are overcoming with their testimony bold,
The truth is marching on.
For the glory of the Father Jesus taught in Galilee,
And He preached the great salvation that delivers you and me;
And a million voices shout it out, “Redemption’s full and free,”
The truth is marching on.
From the cabin on the prairie, from the vaulted city dome;
From the dark and briny ocean where our sailor brothers roam,
We now hear the glad rejoicing like a happy harvest home,
Salvation’s rolling on.
Eighteen hundred years of marching, eighteen hundred years of song,
While the Conqueror advances—lo, the time will not be long:
He shall soon appear in glory and shall overthrow the wrong,
Our God is marching on.
Nahum’s chariots are speeding as the lightning on their way,
And their flying torches tell us ’tis the preparation day;
For the bride is getting ready and the Lord will not delay,
The marriage feast is near.
Precious knowledge is increasing, evening light begins to glow,
With the trump of full salvation many running to and fro;
And the song of glory echoes, “Christ has washed us white as snow,”
All glory to His name!
See, the long dispersed remnant of Jehovah’s chosen race
Are now flying from all nations to their ancient dwelling place;
And the sinful world is surely in its closing day of grace,
The Lord is just at hand.
In the valley of decision there’s a battle drawing near,
Sectish Gog and Magog powers round about the saints appear;
But our God is our munition and our hearts shall never fear,
The victory is sure.
On the blissful heights of glory we will shout the battle o’er,
And in the golden city we will join the Conqueror,
And when the war is over, with the saints forevermore
We’ll crown Him with all praise.*
On the subject of the church—a prominent subject with him—we have Brother Warner’s arrangement of Frances Ridley Havergal’s poem, “Church of God.” We give but two stanzas:
Church of God, thou spotless virgin,
Church of Christ, for whom He died,
Thou hast known no human founder,
Jesus bought thee for His bride.
Sanctified by God the Father,
Built by Jesus Christ the Son,
Tempered by the Holy Spirit,
Like the Holy Three in One.
God Himself has set the members
In His body all complete,
Organized by Jesus only,
Oh, the union, pure and sweet!
Church of God, the angels marvel
At the music of thy song;
Earth and hell in terror tremble,
As thy army moves along.*
Another of the class of adapted hymns was one on the exercise of faith for sanctification, sung to the tune of “Beulah Land”:
Why should a doubt or fear arise,
As this poor little all of mine
I lay a living sacrifice,
All on the altar, Christ divine?
I’m fully Thine, yes, wholly Thine,
All on the altar, Christ divine;
The word of Jesus I believe,
The Sanctifier I receive;
All on the altar I abide,
And Jesus says I’m sanctified.
Ah, not a moment more I’ll doubt,
And not a moment longer wait;
He shed his blood to sanctify,
He suffered death without the gate.
By faith I venture on His Word,
My doubts are o’er, the vict’ry won;
He said the altar sanctifies,
I just believe Him, and ’tis done.
Through all my soul I feel His pow’r,
And in the precious, cleansing wave
I wash my garments white this hour,
And prove His utmost pow’r to save.*
Still another was “The Hand of God on the Wall,” of which we quote but two verses:
See, the great king of Babel in these latter days of time
Makes a feast that’s universal, all the nations drink her wine;
As they eat, drink, and revel in her lofty steepled hall,
God proclaims her desolation by His hand upon the wall.
How the nations are drunken and are sporting in their shame!
Even scoffing at our Savior and profane His holy name;
Far more blind than Belshazzar, who so trembled with appall,
They still riot on to judgment, with their doom upon the wall.
Brother Warner was not gifted in writing tunes. This necessary counterpart was supplied in J. C. Fisher and his wife, Allie R., also in H. R. Jeffrey, a brother who lived in northern Indiana. Fisher frequently wrote both words and music, as did also Jeffrey. One of the first hymns of which both words and music were original with this reformation was “The All-Cleansing Fountain,” by J. C. Fisher. The first stanza and chorus are as follows:
There’s a fountain opened in the house of God,
Where the vilest of sinners may go,
And all test the power of the crimson flood,
Of the blood that makes whiter than snow.
Praise the Lord, I am washed,
In the all-cleansing blood of the Lamb,
And my robes are whiter than the driven snow,
I am washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Another early one was H. R. Jeffrey’s “Songs of Victory,” of which the first stanza and chorus will also here suffice:
Songs of victory bringing
Unto the Lord most high;
Victory, victory singing,
Let all the saints draw nigh;
For there can be no failure
While Jesus leads the van;
And victory, victory, victory
Is heard on every hand.
Victory shall be the chorus,
Victory our watchword and song;
Jesus is marching before us,
Leading His army along.
A hymn that breathes a deep spirit of devotion was Brother Warner’s “I Ought to Love My Savior,” music by Fisher. There were five stanzas in all.
I ought to love my Savior,
He loved me long ago;
Looked on my soul with favor,
When deep in guilt and woe.
And though my sin had grieved Him,
His Father’s law had crossed,
Love drew Him down from heaven,
To seek and save the lost.
I ought to love my Savior,
He bore my sin and shame;
From glory to the manger,
On wings of love He came.
He trod this earth in sorrow,
Endured the pains of hell;
That I should not be banished,
But in His glory dwell.
We shall refer, in what follows, only to Brother Warner’s hymns. One that sung of the times as being prophetic was entitled “Prophetic Truth”:
’Twas sung by the poets, foreseen in the spirit,
A time of refreshing is near;
When creeds and divisions would fall to demerit,
And saints in sweet union appear.
Oh, glory to Jesus! we hail the bright day,
And high on our banner salvation display,
The mists of confusion are passing away.
We stand in the glory that Jesus has given,
The moon, as the dayspring doth shine;
The light of the sun is now equal to seven,
So bright is the glory divine.
Now filled with the Spirit and clad in the armor
Of light and omnipotent truth;
We’ll testify ever, and Jesus we’ll honor
And stand from sin Babel aloof.
The prophet’s keen vision, transpiercing the ages,
Beheld us to Zion return;
We’ll sing of our freedom, though Babylon rages,
We’ll shout as her city doth burn.
The fig tree is budding, the “evening” is shining,
We welcome the wonderful light!
We look for the Savior, for time is declining,
Eternity’s looming in sight!
As he saw the church of God emerge out of confusion into the brightness which should characterize the evening of time, he wrote the following:
Brighter days are sweetly dawning,
Oh, the glory looms in sight!
For the cloudy day is waning,
And the evening shall be light.
Misty fogs, so long concealing
All the hills of mingled night,
Vanish, all their sin revealing,
For the evening shall be light.
Lo, the ransomed are returning,
Robed in shining crystal white,
Leaping, shouting home to Zion,
Happy in the evening light.
Free from Babel in the Spirit,
Free to worship God aright,
Joy and gladness we’re receiving,
Oh, how sweet this evening light.
Hallelujah! saints are singing,
Vict’ry in Jehovah’s might;
Glory! glory! keep it ringing,
We are saved in evening light.*
Another hymn of the return, and also embodying Sister Fisher’s vision of the stone tower, was the following:
We are coming, hallelujah! we are coming home to God;
Jesus only we’re beholding, who has washed us in His blood.
We are marching back to Salem at the trumpet’s joyful sound,
And we’re building God’s own temple on it’s ancient holy ground.
We are coming, oh, we’re coming, with the glory in the soul!
Grace we’re shouting as we’re bringing Christ, the headstone we extol.
Though as captives long we’ve suffered, we do feel the royal blood,
And we’re rising to our freedom in the fullness of our God.
While we’re working, we are fighting all the mighty foes around;
Though in wrath they do oppose us we will not desert the ground.
O my God, do Thou remember all those wicked, plotting crews,
Hear them saying in derision, “Now what do these feeble Jews?”
Thou art coming, mighty Jesus, in the power of Thy grace;
Now our souls break forth in singing at the smiling of Thy face.
Fear of sect, a mount of terror, Thou hast made an open plain,
And the misty fogs of error all have vanished in Thy name.
Our foundation strong is Jesus, He the topmost, crowning stone;
Hallelujah! we adore Him, king upon His living throne.
And His crimson glory streaming through each crystal stone below
Tints the whole ecstatic temple with the beauty of its glow.
Oh, the glory of this temple far exceeds the former one!
All its stones are bound together in love’s dear eternal Son.
In this building, what a wonder? there’s a dwelling place for me;
Yes, Thy beauty, O my Savior! I shall here forever see.*
Many of his hymns, as is usually the case with hymn writers, were prompted by some particular occasion or suggestion. Thus in connection with the terrific furnace trials at Bucyrus, Ohio, in 1883, he wrote:
Why should a mortal man complain
At his trials in this wicked world?
Nay, let us thank God’s holy name
For all His love o’er us unfurled.
O Jesus, bear our souls above
Each wave of trouble that we meet;
Then in the furnace of Thy love
We’ll sing Thy praise with joy complete!
Oh, why should anyone oppressed
Forget the promise of our God!
To thee each providence is blessed
If in love thou bear the chast’ning rod.
Oh, who would cast away the gold
We’ve gathered in the furnace flame!
And who would wish again the dross
Here purged in our Redeemer’s name?*
Once when a new printing press was installed in the office (he always rejoiced when there was an increase of printing equipment), he wrote the following in anticipation of The Trumpet’s being raised to louder blasts:
Onward moves the great Eternal
In the order of His plan;
Louder, nearer rolls the thunder
Of His awful word to man.
Since by sin this earth was blighted,
God has whispered of His love;
Dreams and visions by His prophets
Breathed of mercy from above.
Louder speaks His love in Jesus;
Heaven sweetly chants His fame;
Earth receives its glorious Savior;
Hallelujah to His name!
Yet the world is wrapped in slumber,
Louder raise the trumpet’s blast;
Oh, in mercy let it thunder
Ere the day of mercy’s past.
In the cages of deception
Souls are pining to be free;
Quickly sound the proclamation
Of the glorious jubilee.*
The hymn “Perishing Souls at Stake” was one of the early productions. We quote this hymn and its history as it appeared in The Trumpet of December 15, 1885:
Perishing souls at stake today!
Says the banner of Christ unfurled;
Pleading in love for help to save
Blood-bought sinners all o’er the world.
Perishing souls at stake we see,
Yet the Savior has died for all;
Go and invite them earnestly,
Some will surely obey the call.
Perishing souls at stake today,
There’s a famine in all the land;
Many are dying for the bread
Freely given by Jesus’ hand.
Perishing souls at stake, go tell
What the Savior has done for you;
How He redeemed thy soul from hell,
And is able to save them, too.
Perishing souls at stake we know,
Oh, do pity the sinner’s fate!
Brother and sister, will you go,
Give them warning before too late.
Perishing souls at stake today,
Can you tarry for earthly dross?
Fly to the rescue, don’t delay,
Bring the needy to Jesus’ cross.
The foregoing song was suggested to our mind by a solemn vision given to Brother C. Ogan, of Latty, Ohio, on the night previous to September 19. He saw Christ displaying a banner upon which was written these words: “Perishing Souls at Stake.” That day we had a very solemn meeting at Jerry City, Ohio. The Spirit of God was present, making imperative calls for workers in the vineyard. Our soul was burdened with an awful sense of perishing souls at stake. All hearts were melted before the Lord. A number acknowledged the solemn commission. Dear Brother Ogan was one of them, relating this solemn and beautiful vision.
We pray that all who that day confessed the call of God may go forward, lest that “woe is me” be upon them, and perishing souls be lost for whom the blessed Savior died. In about all the meetings this fall the same great burden has come upon our soul for men and women of God to go forth and hold up the light of his saving truth. O ye that have the real fire of God in your souls, can you tarry at home to watch a few earthly effects, when there is such a sore famine in all the land! And you who have found the true salvation of Christ Jesus are the only ones that can bring the living bread to others. College bread will not do. “Dumb dogs… cannot bark” (Isaiah 56:10); Babylon priests are full of darkness, and souls are dying all around. Oh! if you have any gratitude in your hearts for what Christ has done for you, go and tell others, and some will surely receive the joyful tidings. Oh, how sad this world with no gospel but the wretched stuff given by Babylon priests! And most everywhere there are at least one or two honest souls who long for the light. Can you stay at home for the sordid dust of earth and let them perish? Oh, fly to the rescue, don’t delay; bring the needy to Jesus Christ!
After a few years both Fisher and Jeffrey dropped out of the ranks and ceased to contribute their melodies to Brother Warner’s hymns. In their place God provided Brother B. E. Warren. No sooner did this young brother become a part of Brother Warner’s company than he began to display a marvelous gift for writing melodies. In the years that followed he filled a large place as a writer of music, and he also learned to write the words as well.
When the company were on their Western trip in the autumn of 1887, Brother Warner wrote the hymn “Sowing the Seed” in anticipation of their having to brave the chilling blasts of the winter which was before them.
Unheeding winter’s cruel blast,
We venture heaven’s seed to east;
Both late and early plant the truth
In aged hearts and tender youth.
Shall we be found with only leaves
When Jesus comes to gather sheaves?
Nay, sowing daily o’er the land,
We’ll come with joyful sheaves in hand.
Nor is the precious labor hard,
Its glory is its own reward;
We plant in hearts of grim despair
A life that blooms as Eden fair.
Oh, were this life the utmost span,
The closing destiny of man,
No toil could half so blessed prove
As sowing seeds of peace and love.
But heaven’s bright eternal years
Have bottled up our sowing tears;
There we shall greet in holy bliss
The souls we turned to righteousness.
Then sow the seed in every field,
And grace will bring the golden yield;
We soon shall sing the joyful song,
And shout the blessed harvest home.
The song “Who Will Suffer with the Savior?” had its origin while the company were in the South in the winter of 1890-91. It was written at the time a mob assaulted the house in which Brother Warner was preaching and a sharp, flying missile struck him on the side of the face, causing it to bleed.
Who will suffer with the Savior?
Take the little that remains
Of the cup of tribulation
Jesus drank in dying pains?
Who will offer soul and body
On the altar of our God?
Leaving self and worldly mammon,
Take the path that Jesus trod?
Who will suffer for the gospel,
Follow Christ without the gate?
Take the martyrs for example,
With them glory at the stake?
Oh, for consecrated service
’Mid the din of Babel strife;
Who will dare the truth to herald
At the peril of his life?
Soon the conflict will be over,
Crowns await the firm and pure;
Forward, brethren, work and suffer,
Faithful to the end endure.
Lord, we fellowship Thy passion,
Gladly suffer shame and loss;
With Thy blessing pain is pleasure,
We will glory in Thy cross.
One of the prominent features of the reformation was the sweet, heavenly singing of the saints. Wherever Brother Warner’s company went the people were attracted by the singing. They were not what the world would call “trained singers”; they were not even adept at reading music. But God blessed the singing, so that the songs, sung in the element of the Spirit, were simply heavenly. At the time the company held the first meeting at Walkerton, Indiana, a theatrical troupe came to the town. So many people had flocked to Brother Warner’s meetings that the house was packed and there were not many left to attend the theatrical concert. The troupe, not having a sufficient audience, came to the place of meeting and gave some instrumental music just outside in order to attract the people. Of course it interfered with the preaching. Brother Warner said, “Sing a song.” Sister Nannie Kigar, who was the soprano of the company and always ready with a suitable selection, started a song. The people decided to remain. Many and powerful were the effects of these heaven-inspired songs.
Mention has been made already of the instance where the cattle listened and gazed with wonder when Brother Warner’s company were singing at a place where they had stopped in the edge of the woods for dinner. Brother Warren says that once when they were traveling on the road and singing they were passing a field where there were cattle, horses, and other livestock, and that all of these followed along inside the fence until they reached the corner of the field, seeming to be attracted by the wonderful charm of the singing.
At the time the company visited St. James, Missouri, on the second Western tour, Brother Warner wrote the hymn “Sing it Again” at a place where they were stopping in the country. Brother Warren then composed the music, and they began singing it. When the time came for them to be taken to the train to leave that part of the country, it was decided that they should be conveyed to Jefferson City in order to afford a little country ride for a change. They camped out the first night, and reached Jefferson City the second day, early in the afternoon. They decided to visit the State prison, and as the weather was warm they left their wraps in the baggage room of the railroad station until they should return. When they came back the baggage room was locked, and the temperature was falling and becoming just a little chilly. Everything was quiet around; not a sound could be heard except the clicking of the telegraph instrument in the office. The train they were to take would not be due until in the night, and as the waiting room was open they gathered a little fuel and built a fire. When this was done Brother Warner gave a little jump (he always seemed happy enough to jump at any time) and said, “Let us have a song.” Naturally enough, they sang the new song, “Sing it Again.” Soon the door opened and in came the operator, and then shortly, almost before they were aware of it, a number of others had gathered and were listening intently. When the song was ended, the operator said, “This reminds me of my childhood days; won’t you sing that song again?” They sang it again, and then Brother Warner, as his manner frequently was, took out his Bible and said, “Perhaps you would not object to a little of the Word of God.” The operator had to attend to his office duties, but the others listened. Next testimonies were proposed. And so they had a precious little meeting in the waiting room of the railroad station, and the new song had already begun to be useful.
I shall never forget the time when Brother Warner and his company first came to my father’s home in northwestern Illinois. I have always considered it the brightest event in my life’s career. Today, as memory carries me back to that time, and I imagine myself in that same situation, I have indescribable feelings. They arrived on a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1888. My father and I had gone to engage a schoolhouse for the meetings when the company arrived. My sister had been converted the previous year; but during her attendance at school through the winter she had become somewhat cold spiritually and so had no particular pleasure in anticipating the coming of “Warner’s band,” as she had heard them called. When the company arrived in the house, wearied with much travel, they seemed particularly to enjoy the sense of home, and they sang the hymn,
Home, home, brightest and fairest,
Hope, hope, sweetest and best.
My sister simply melted. That song introduction was enough. Then they had prayer, and their hearts welled up in thankfulness to God for His blessings and care over them. If there ever were men who could pray, Brother Warner was one of them.
After my father and I returned home, my sister and mother wanted me to hear the company sing, and of course another song was requested. They sang this time “The All-Cleansing Fountain” and it seemed to be the sweetest singing I had ever heard. During their stay in our home Brother Warren did some composing at the organ, and this seemed wonderful to me. I had never seen such people, whose countenances were aglow with the victory of salvation and who were so filled with praise and song.
While the company were at our home we decided to give them a little outing by taking them across the Mississippi to the city of Clinton, Iowa, then remarkable for its lumber trade, and for having eight large sawmills, one of them the largest sawmill in the world. As we were driving along the road and singing “The All-Cleansing Fountain,” a neighbor who was working in a field nearby—but who on account of an intervening ridge could not see us—heard the song. Not knowing from whence the sound came he concluded it was angel music, and when he went to his house he declared to his wife that he had heard the angels sing.
A large class of songs that were used were such as expressed victory and worship. Another large class were those of invitation and warning to sinners. In the later books, about all topics that are useful in Christian work were represented.
Songs of Victory was the name of the first book published. It was issued in 1885. This was followed in 1888 by Anthems from the Throne. The third book was Echoes from Glory, published in 1893. Following these a new book of songs has been issued about every four to six years.