"THE PRECIOUS BOOK DIVINE"
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Ps. 119.105)
INTRO.: A hymn which extols God’s word as a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path is "The Precious Book Divine" (#459 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by John Fawcett (1740-1817). It was published in his 1782 Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion. Fawcett is best known for "Blest Be The Tie That Binds." For his hymn beginning "How precious is the book divine," most of our books use a text altered and a tune composed both in 1935 by L. O. Sanderson. Several other tunes have been used with the hymn, one of which (Brother James’ Air or Marosa) was composed by James Leith Macbeth Bain, who was born around 1840 to 1860 in Scotland. After passing from orthodox faith, through agnosticism, to a revelation of all-pervading love by being introduced to the Christo Theosophic Society, he felt restored to his lost faith in all its simplicity. In this "rapture of faith restored" he began to produce poems and songs and became a mystical writer, poet, and spiritual healer, having joined the Christian Science movement.
The brotherhood of healers formed by Bain to treat both physical and spiritual illness often sang to their patients as part of the healing process. The referred to their leader as "Brother James." In 1906, Bain published The Brotherhood of Healers. A collection of Bain’s hymns and prayers entitled In the Heart of the Holy Grail came out in 1911. His best known tune was included at the end of a 1915 tract, The Great Peace, which he addressed to the nations involved in World War I. Sometimes it is identified as a traditional melody recorded and arranged by Bain. The final years of his life were spent caring for people in slums of Liverpool and at a children’s home near West Kirby, a coastal town about ten miles from Liverpool, where he lived with his sister in retirement for about twenty years. He died on Sept. 19, 1925, at Wallasey in Cheshire, England. The modern arrangement for mixed voices was made in 1934 by British composer Gordon Percival Septimus Jacob. He used it with the 1650 Scottish Psalter‘s version of Psalm 23, "The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want."
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the text appeared with a tune (Chesterfield) usually associated with Isaac Watts’s hymn "Come Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs" in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson. The tune appeared (twice–with the hymns "The Lord’s My Shepherd" and "Come Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs") in the 1961 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Sanderson’s arrangment of the hymn appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by Sanderson. 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; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat. One modern denominational book, Praise! published by Zondervan, altered the first line to read, "How wonderful that book divine."
The song emphasizes the importance that God’s word has to faithful Christians.
I. Stanza 1 tells us that it is given by inspiration
"How precious is the book divine, By inspiration giv’n;
Bright as a lamp its doctrines To guide our souls (Sanderson has "my soul") to heaven."
(Some books say "pages" instead of "doctrines;" Sanderson has "precepts."
Also Sanderson has the singular "my soul" instead of the plural "our souls.")
A. The precious book has been given by inspiration of God: 2 Tim. 3.16-17
B. It contains sound doctrine or teaching that we must accept to please God: Tit. 1.9, 2.1
C. The purpose of this sound doctrine is to guide our souls to heaven, that inheritance for which we hope: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
II. Stanza 2 tells us that it displays the Savior’s love
"Its light descending from above, Our gloomyworld to cheer,
Displays a Savior’s boundless love, And brings His glories near."
(One book has "sin-sick" instead of "gloomy.")
A. The glorious gospel of Christ brings light to open our eyes: 2 Cor. 4.4
B. The reason that our eyes need light is that this world is gloomy or dark because of sin: Rom. 3.23
C. However, the light of the gospel displays the Savior’s boundless love: Lk. 24.25-27, 44-47
III. Stanza 3 tells us that it shows our wandering ways
"It shows to man his wandering ways, And where his feet have trod;
And brings to view the matchless grace Of a forgiving God."
(One book has "our forgiving God")
A. All we like sheep have wandered away: Isa. 53.6
B. However, the Bible reveals God’s matchless grace by which we can be saved: Eph. 2.8-9
C. Therefore, because of His grace revealed in the word, we can have forgiveness: Eph. 1.7
IV. Stanza 4 says that it brightens the strait and narrow way
"O’er all the strait and narrow way Its radiant beams are cast;
A light whose never-weary ray Grows brightest at the last."
(One book has "ever cheering" instead of "never weary;"
also one book has "brighter" instead of "brightest.")
A. The way which God wants us to travel is strait and narrow: Matt. 7.13-14
B. It is by inclining our hearts to God’s testimonies that we can be led in God’s way: Ps. 119.36-37
C. Thus, it is in the written word that we see Him who is the "light fo the world": Jn. 8.12
V. Stanza 5 says that it bring cheer to our hearts
"It sweetly cheers our fainting hearts In this dark vale of tears;
Life, light, and joy it still imparts, And quells our rising fears."
(Sanderson has "my drooping heart" instead of "our fainting hearts."
He also has "Light to my life" instead of "Life, light, and joy."
And he has "my rising fears" instead of "Our rising fears.")
A. The word will help us not to faint in doing good: Gal. 6.9
B. To accomplish this, it imparts joy to our hearts: Phil. 4.4
C. The result is that the love which it reveals will quell our rising fears: 1 Jn. 4.18
VI. Stanza 6 says that it will guide us to eternal day
"This lamp, through all the tedious night Of life, shall guide our way,
Till we behold the clearer light Of an eternal day."
(Sanderson has "my way" instead of "our way" and "I" instead of "we.")
A. This life is often referred to poetically as a tedious night because of the darkness of sin: Jn. 3.19-20
B. However, God has given us His word to guide our way: Ps. 32.8
C. In this way we can have the promise of eternal life: 1 Jn. 2.25
CONCL.: One book has a stanza that seems to combine stanzas five and six.
"It lights our path, it lifts our hearts, Along the upward way;
It life and joy and peace imparts Till dawns eternal day."
Sanderson’s tune is actually a rather good one, although one wonders why he felt that he had to alter the original text, unless it was just to give it his own touch. But whether sung to Sanderson’s tune, or Bain’s tune, or any other, this song reminds us of the necessity of putting our faith in and being guided in our lives by "The Precious Book Divine."