"ONE SWEETLY SOLEMN THOUGHT"
"For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Rom. 13.11)
INTRO.: A hymn which suggests that our eternal salvation in heaven is nearer now than when we first believed is "One Sweetly Solemn Thought" (#625 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Phoebe Cary, who was born at the "old brown homestead" in the Miami Valley area of Hamilton County, OH, north of Cincinnati, on Sept. 4, 1824. She and her older sister Alice, who was born in 1820, became poets whose work was immensely popular in the 1840’s and 1850’s. They produced ballads, hymns, and narrative poems which may seem overly sentimental and trite today but were in the literary fashion of the times. The Cary girls’ education was procured with great effort since their family was quite poor. The two had to work all their lives, supporting themselves by their writings. They published a book of poems in 1850, and encouraged by its success, for which they were paid $100, soon afterward left their secluded lives in the countryside of their rural western home. Their new home was on 20th St. in the bustling metropolis of New York City, NY. "One Sweetly Solemn Thought" was penned in 1852 in her little thrd story bedroom on Sunday morning after Phoebe had returned from attending a church service where she heard a sermon on immortality.
At that time Phoebe was 28 years old. Some sources give the date of 1841, and it is possible that she had started the poem then and finished it later. The poem was originally in a spontaneous and flowing form but was later put in a stricter meter for use as a hymn. The Cary sisters, who published two subsequent works, Poems and Parodies in 1854 and Poems of Faith, Hope, and Love in 1868, were first members at the Church of the Pilgrims where George B. Cheever was minister. After his departure, they attended the Church of the Strangers on Mercer St., and in 1868 Phoebe helped the minister, Charles F. Deems, to prepare a hymnbook entitled Hymns for All Christians. Since Alice was plagued by chronic illness, the sisters went to Newport, RI, in 1871, where both died, Alice first with Phoebe following six months later on July 31, 1871, nineteen years after giving the world her best-known work. The two were buried side by side in a cemetery there. The Poetical Works of Alice and Phoebe Cary with a Memorial of Their Lives, which is thought to be the first work to include the complete text of this song, was compiled in 1877 by their friend Mary Clemmer Ames and published by Hurd and Houghton of New York City. It was arranged in its present form for the Supplement to the Baptist Psalms and Hymns of 1880.
The song became a favorite of evangelist Dwight L. Moody and was made famous by his music director Ira D. Sankey. Several tunes have been used with it. Many of our older books have an 1850 tune (Ozrem) by Isaac B. Woodbury. Hymns for Worship sets it to an 1876 tune (Dulce Domum) by Robert S. Ambrose. However, my favorite, found in Christian Hymns No. 2 (and also the Broadman Hymnal from the Baptist publishing company of Broadman), was composed by New York City musician and hymnbook editor Phillip Phillips (1834-1895). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the text with the Woodbury tune 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 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. The song was used with the Phillips tune in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 edited by L. O. Sanderson. This song with the Woodbury tune is 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; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat. With the Ambrose tune it is found in Hymns for Worship Revised (not in the original edition).
This hymn focuses our attention on what Christians can expect to receive when their final salvation comes.
I. Stanza 1 teaches us that in heaven Christians will have a home
"One sweetly solemn thought Comes to me o’er and o’er:
I’m nearer home today, today, Than I have been before."
A. Any thoughts that come to us from God’s word are sweet: Ps. 19.7-10
B. We are nearer to the end of life and to eternity because our days pass by like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away: Jas. 4.14
C. The home to which we are drawing nearer is an inheritance not on this earth but in heaven: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
II. Stanza 2 teaches us that in heaven Christians will have a mansion in the Father’s house
"Nearer my Father’s house, Where many mansions be;
Nearer the great white throne today, Nearer the crystal sea."
A. Jesus promised that in His Father’s house are many mansions or dwelling places: Jn. 14.1-3
B. The Father’s house is near the great white throne, upon which the Father sits: Rev. 4.1-3
C. It is also near the crystal sea: Rev. 4.6
III. Stanza 3 teaches us that in heaven Christians will have a crown to wear
"Nearer the bound of life, Where burdens are laid down;
Nearer to leave the cross today, And nearer to the crown."
A. The "bound of life" refers to the time of death: Heb. 9.27
B. At that time, we shall lay down the burden of the cross that we have had to carry through life: Matt. 16.24
C. Then we shall gain the crown that is promised: Rev. 2.10
IV. Stanza 4 teaches us that in heaven the Christian will see eternal light
"But lying dark between, And winding through the night,
There is the deep and unknown stream To cross and reach the light."
A. Quite often the approach of death is referred to as going into the darkness since the Bible refers to the valley of the shadow of death: Ps. 23.4
B. The concept of crossing a deep stream between life and eternity is taken from the picture of the Israelites’ crossing over the Jordan River from the wilderness into the promised land: Josh. 3.14-17, cf. Heb. 4.8-9
C. Our hope is that on the other side of this darkness, we shall dwell forever in the light of God: Rev. 21.23
V. Stanza 5 teaches us that in heaven Christians will have perfect fellowship with God
"Savior, confirm my trust, Complete my faith in Thee;
And let me feel as if I stood Close to eternity."
(The original read: "Father, perfect my trust, Strengthen my power of faith;
Nor let me stand, at last, alone Upon the shore of death.")
A. If we trust Him, the Lord will confirm us to the end: 1 Cor. 1.8
B. If we put our faith in Him, He will perfect us: 1 Pet. 5.10
C. The fellowship that we have with the Lord here as He confirms our trust and perfects our faith, thus causing us to feel close to eternity, is a foretaste of John’s glimpse into heaven which pictures the saints in the very presence of God Himself: Rev. 22.3-5
VI. Stanza 6 teaches us that in heaven Christians will have something for which they have longed
"Be near me when my feet Are slipping o’er the brink;
For I am nearer home today, Perhaps, than now I think."
A. Jesus Christ has promised to be with His people even to the end of the age: Matt. 28.20
B. We especially need Him when our feet are slipping over the brink, another figurative picture for death: Jas. 2.26
C. We may not know when the time to go home will come, but we know that we shall be with the Lord: Phil. 1.21-23
CONCL.: In the Phillips version, there is a chorus, most likely added by the composer, which reemphasizes how near we may be to eternity.
"Nearer my home, Yes, nearer my home;
Nearer my home today, today, Than I have been before."
Different books may have divergent readings as a result of various attempts to fit Miss Cary’s original poem to music. However, the general thought is the same. As we experience the trials and tribulations of this life, the hope that we have of a home with God in heaven is truly "One Sweetly Solemn Thought."