"IN THE GARDEN"
"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another" (1 Jn. 1.7)
INTRO.: A song which tells us that we should aspire to come to Jesus and walk with Him in our relationship with Him, using a Biblical event to describe this relationship in highly figurative language, is "In The Garden" (#458 in Hymns for Worship and #26 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Garden) was composed both by C. Austin Miles, who was born at Lakehurst, NJ, on Jan. 7, 1868. After attending the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he obtained a position as a pharmacist and worked in that field for a number of years. During this time he produced his first gospel song, "List, ‘Tis Jesus’ Voice," and when it received a degree of popularity, he decided that gospel music was a more rewarding work than pharmacy and left his profession for a career in song writing and publishing. In 1898, he took a full-time job with the Hall-Mack Co. of Philadelphia, PA, serving as an editor and manager for the next forty years.
It was some time after this that one day his editor, Adam Geibel, came to Miles with the suggestion that he provide a hymn text which would be "sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line; one that would bring hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, and downy pillows to dying beds." So, one day in March, 1912, Miles was sitting in a darkroom where he kept some equipment for his hobby of photography and opened the Bible to his favorite story, the meeting of Jesus after His resurrection with Mary Magdalene. In his own account of the event, he said that he felt a part of the scene, as if in a vision. After meditating on the Biblical account, he set down the poem as quickly as the words could be formed. That same evening, he added the melody. The song was first published in The Gospel Message No. 2 by Hall-Mack later that year.
Some have criticized the hymn as being merely a sentimental song about the joys of a garden at daybreak with meaningless phrases about birds and roses. However, it has been one of the most popular gospel hymns ever written, due to the extensive use made of it in the days when Homer Rodeheaver led singing for the great Billy Sunday campaigns. Miles himself was a well-known song director at churches, camp meetings, and conventions. When Hall-Mack merged with the Rodeheaver Company in 1935, he remained as an editor, and is credited with a number of other hymns, such as the songs "Dwelling in Beulah Land" and "A New Name in Glory" which have been in some books published by members of the church, in the years prior to his death at Pitman, NJ, on Mar. 10, 1946.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The hymn can be most meaningful when we understand the scriptural references, and then we can make spiritual applications.
I. From stanza 1 we see the garden in which Jesus was buried and to which Mary Magdalene came early that morning
"I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, The Son of God discloses."
A. This account is found in Jn. 20.1-13
B. Just as she was able to come to Him directly, so we can come to Him in faith: Eph. 3.17
C. And we can speak to Him through prayer in the garden of our hearts: Heb. 4.15-17
II. From stanza 2 we learn that while in the garden, Jesus also spoke to Mary
"He speaks, and the sound of His voice Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me, Within my heart is ringing."
A. His words are recorded in Jn. 20.14-16
B. While Jesus does not speak directly today as He spoke to her then, He does speak to us through His revealed word: Matt. 24.35, Jn. 12.48
C. And we need to listen to Him: Matt. 13.9, 17.5; Heb. 1.1-2
III. From stanza 3 we find Mary’s desire to cling to Jesus and keep Him there with her
"I’d stay in the garden with Him Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling."
A. Mary was obviously clinging to Jesus because He said, "Do not cling to Me" which in the present tense implies, "Do not keep clinging to Me": Jn. 20.17-18
B. She wanted to stay with Him in the garden, but He had a mission for her–to go tell the disciples that He was raised. And Jesus has a mission for His people today–to go tell the world about the salvation that is available through Him: Mk. 16.15-16
C. So we conclude that while we might wish to stay in our own private garden of prayer and meditation, He bids us go as He did Mary to tell others about Him: 1 Cor. 9.16
CONCL.: The chorus speaks of the joys that we have in personal communion with Christ.
"And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known."
Some brethren have objected to this song, saying that it teaches a personal, direct communication to and from Christ apart from the word, such as in visions, dreams, and still small voices. However, this objection fails to take into consideration the figurative nature of the language. The garden represents or symbolizes for us the time that we spend talking to God through Christ in prayer and listening to Him by studying His word. Yet, as important as that is, there is more to Christianity than just that, and we need to share what we receive from Jesus with others. At the same time, to fulfil our duties to Him, we so desperately need that time when we can come to have communion with Him in His own appointed way and thus walk with Him "In The Garden."