"SUN OF MY SOUL"
"Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night" (Ps. 91.5)
INTRO.: One well-known evening hymn which presents Christ as the one who keeps us from being afraid of the terror by night is "Sun of My Soul" (#17 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #151 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by John Keble, who was born at Fairford in Gloucestershire, England, on Apr. 25, 1792, and as a child was tutored at home by his father, a minister at Coln St. Aldwin’s. At the age of fourteen, he entered Corpus Christi College at Oxford, graduating at the age of eighteen with double first-class honors. After receiving his M. A. in 1813 and being elected a Fellow of Oriel College when not yet nineteen years old, he remained at Oriel as a tutor for five years. In 1815 he became a minister in the Church of England and served several country churches, such as East Leach and Burthorpe, in addition to his teaching responsibilities.
In 1820 Keble began a series of poems called The Christian Year, which was published in 1827. This hymn is taken from the fourteen stanza section entitled "Evening," dated Nov. 25, 1820. On the death of his mother, he went home to assist his father and remained with him until his father’s death twelve years later. In 1831 he accepted the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford, where he taught for ten years. Meanwhile, in 1836, he became minister in the humble village of Hursley, England, with a population of 1,500 people, where he remained the rest of his life. In all he produced some 765 hymns. During his lifetime, The Christian Year was very successful, going through 109 editions before Keble’s death. The profits from the book were used to restore the old church building at Hursely.
The tune (Hursley) is based on the old Latin hymn Te Deum. It first appeared as an anonymous melody in the Katholisches Gesangbuch of Vienna around 1774 in the form "Grosser Gott" for the German versification of the Te Deum. That older form is often used with another hymn, "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name." The present long-meter form is usually attributed to an otherwise unknown musician named Peter or Paul Ritter (1760-1846). It is dated 1892. This tune was the personal choice of Keble and his wife as a suitable melody for "Sun of My Soul" and first appeared with this text in the 1855 Metrical Psalter of W. J. Irons and and Henry Lahee. The modern harmonization was made in 1861 by English church musician William Henry Monk (1823-1889). Keble died at Bournemouth in Hampshire, England, on Mar. 29, 1866.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Sun of My Soul" has been included in the vast majority of them. It 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) and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it 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; 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; as well as Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The hymn pleads for the constant sense of Christ’s unwavering presence night and day in our lives.
I. Stanza 1 asks the Lord to remain with us through each night
"Sun of my soul, Thou Savior dear, It is not night if Thou art near;
O may no earth-born cloud arise To hide Thee from Thy servant’s eyes!"
A. Jesus Christ is the Sun of righteousness: Mal. 4.2
B. Because He is God, it is not night when He is near because with Him the night shines as the day: Ps. 139.12
C. Therefore, we need never allow any earth-born cloud to arise and cause us to fear: Ps. 27.1
II. Stanza 2 asks the Lord to be with us while we rest in sleep
"When the soft dews of kindly sleep My wearied eyelids gently steep,
Be my last thought, how sweet to rest Forever on my Savior’s breast."
A. God’s people have the promise that they can lie down in peace and sleep: Ps. 4.6-8
B. Even at night, our thoughts and meditations should be on the Lord and His word: Ps. 1.1-2
C. One such thought that will sustain us as we sleep is the hope of forever resting on our Savior’s breast, just as the beloved apostle did in this life: Jn. 13.23
III. Stanza 3 asks the Lord to abide with us from morning until evening
"Abide with me from morn till eve, For without Thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh, For without Thee I dare not die."
A. We should want the Lord to abide with us day and night just as He did for a while with the disciples whom He met on the road to Emmaus: Lk. 24.29
B. Our attitude should be such that without Him we cannot live because our desire should be to have Him living in us: Gal. 2.20
C. Also we should have the attitude that without Him we dare not die because our hope should be to depart and be with Him: Phil. 1.21-23
IV. Stanza 4 asks the Lord to watch over and help His wandering children
"If some poor wandering child of Thine Has spurned today the voice divine,
Now, Lord, the gracious work begin; Let him no more lie down in sin."
A. It is possible for a child of God to wander back into sin: Gal. 6.1, Jas. 5.19
B. The way in which one who has become a child of God does this is by spurning the voice of God which speaks through His word: Heb. 3.12-13, 4.1-2
C. While we cannot expect God to save the unfaithful in their sins, we can hope that in some way the Lord might begin a work in seeking His erring children that will soften their hearts so that they will be more responsive, just as the shepherd goes out to find the lost sheep: Lk. 15.1-7
V. Stanza 5 asks the Lord to bless especially those who suffer each night
"Watch by the sick; enrich the poor With blessing from Thy boundless store;
Be every mourner’s sleep tonight, Like infant’s slumbers, pure and light."
A. God certainly does care for the sick and watches over them in their sufferings: Jas. 5.13-16
B. It is God’s desire to enrich the poor, at least to provide for their needs as they put their trust in Him: Matt. 6.33
C. Furthermore, God is the source of all comfort to those who are mourning or in sorrow: 2 Cor. 1.3-4
VI. Stanza 6 asks the Lord to continue with us as we wake
"Come near and bless when we wake, Ere through the world our way we take;,
Till in the ocean of Thy love, We lose ourselves in heaven above."
A. When we arise each morning, we can look forward to the day in the presence of God: Ps. 139.17-18
B. Through the day we can, as through the world our way we take, look forward to the guidance of God: Lk. 1.77-79
C. And at all times we can look forward to that day when we might ultimately awaken to Christ’s eternal salvation in heaven above: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
CONCL.: The poem from which the stanzas of this hymn were taken begins,
"’Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze, Fast fading from our wistful gaze;
Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight The last faith pulse of quivering light."
It was intended more as a devotional poem than a hymn, but it has served very usefully through the years as an evening song. When night falls and I pillow my head in rest, I can still look up to the Lord as the light of my life for all my needs because He is the "Sun of My Soul."