“When Morning Gilds the Skies”

"But I will sing of Thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy in the morning…" (Ps. 59.16)

     INTRO.: A hymn which was written especially for singing of God’s mercy in the morning is "When Morning Gilds The Skies." The text is from an anonymous German hymn, "Beim fruhen Morgenlicht," first published with fourteen four-line stanzas in the Katholisches Gesangbuch of Wurzburg edited by Sebastian Portner (1773-1860). The date is usually given as 1828, but some sources say 1818, and Cyberhymnal has 1744. Its later appearance in other forms has led to the conclusion that this was not the original source, and it is generally thought to have come from around 1800. The English translation was made by Edward Caswall, who was born on July 15, 1814 at Yately in Hampshire, England, the son of Robert Clarke Caswall, Anglican minister at Yately. After attending Chigwell Grammar School and Marlborough School, he attended Brasenose College at Oxford, where he graduated with honors in 1836. Before leaving Oxford, he published a work under the pseudonym of "Scriblerus Redivvus" entitled "The Art of Pluck," which was a satirical imitation of Aristotle on the ways of the careless college student.

     In 1838 Caswall became an Anglican minister and two years later began work at Stratford-sub-Castle near Salisbury, publishing his Sermons on the Seen and the Unseen in 1846. However, by 1847 he switched to Roman Catholicism and after his wife’s death in 1849 went to the Oratory of St. Philip Neri at Edgbaston under John Henry Newman, where he did most of his hymn work. Best known as a translator of ancient hymns, including 197 from the Roman Breviary and other sources, which appear in his Lyra Catholica of 1849, he also produced some original lyrics. This particular translation first appeared in Henry Formby’s 1854 Catholic Hymns with six stanzas, and then in Caswall’s 1858 Masque of Mary with all fourteen stanzas. Caswall also published A May Pageant and Other Poems, a combined volume entitled Hymns and Poems, and The Catholic’s Latin Instructor in the Principal Church Offices and Devotions prior to his death on Jan. 2, 1878, at Edgaston in Warwickshire near Birmingham.

     Various alterations were made in the 1899 Yattendon Hymnal by editor Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930). The tune (Laudes Domini) was composed for this text by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896). It was first published in the 1868 Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern. 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 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater (with a second tune composed by the editor).  Today it is found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

The song is a paean of praise to Jesus Christ in the morning.
I. Stanza 1 praises Christ for the privilege of prayer
"When morning gilds the skies My heart awakening cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair;
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
 A. Morning is an especially good time to life our voices to the Lord: Ps. 5.3
 B. During the day, of course, we have our work to do: Eph. 4.28
 C. However, at any time we should be able to repair to the Lord in prayer: Phil. 4.6-7

II. Stanza 2 praises Christ for His solace and comfort
"Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this:
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
 A. There are times when sadness fills our mind: Gen. 40.6-7
 B. And as we grow older, our earthly bliss begins to fade as the outward man perishes: 2 Cor. 4.16
 C. Yet, in Jesus Christ we can find God’s solace and comfort: 2 Cor. 1.3-5

III. Stanza 3 praises Christ for His protection
"The night becomes as day When from the heart we say:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear When this sweet chant they hear:
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
 A. The night is often a time of fear, but in Christ the night becomes as day: Ps. 139.12
 B. Darkness is often used to represent the powers of evil: Eph. 6.12
 C. However, Christ will help to protect us from the evil one so that we can resist him: Matt. 6.13, Jas. 4.7

IV. Stanza 4 praises Christ for all the earth
"Ye nations of mankind, In this your concord find:
May Jesus Christ be praised! `
Let all the earth around Ring joyous with the sound:
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
 A. All nations of mankind should find concord in praising the Lord: Ps. 71.11
 B. The entire earth is the Lord’s and belongs to Him: Ps. 24.1
 C. Thus, those who love the Lord can make a joyful noise to Him: Ps. 100.1

V. Stanza 5 praises Christ for the hope of heaven’s eternal bliss
"In heaven’s eternal bliss The loveliest strain is this:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let earth and sea and sky From depth to height reply,
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
 A. Christ gives mankind the living hope of an inheritance reserved in heaven: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
 B. Therefore, he loveliest strain that human beings could pour forth is to confess His name: Phil. 2.5-11 C. And in heaven every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea will give praise to Him: Rev. 5.13

VI. Stanza 6 praises Christ for every blessing of life
"Be this, while life is mine, My canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this th’eternal song Through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
 A. As long as we have life and breath, we should praise the Lord: Ps. 150.6
 B. The word "canticle" simply means "a song or chant; a hymn with words from the Bible, used in certain church services," which is, of course, the fruit of our lips, giving praise to our Lord: Heb. 13.15
 C. Not only can we praise life while life is ours on earth, but we have that hope of joining the eternal song of praise by the redeemed through all the ages long: Rev. 15.2-4

CONCL.: A couple of other stanzas that are sometimes used in books available today include:
"Where sleep her balm denies, My silent spirit sighs,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evil thoughts molest, with this I shield my breast:
May Jesus Christ be praised!"
"Sing, suns and stars of space; Sing, ye that see His face:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
God’s whole creation o’er, For aye and evermore:
Shall Jesus Christ be praised!"
Whoever penned this hymn must have been a lover of nature. It is conjectured that he lived in Franconia, a region of Germany that runs along the valleys and hills which follow the river Main towards its junction with the Rhine at Mainz. It is a territory filled with small mountain ranges, forests, little to medium towns, castles, and Romanesque cathedrals. Such a land well might arouse all the poetry in one’s nature and, if he is religiously inclined, move him to sing praises to Jesus Christ "When Morning Gilds the Skies."


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