“From Calvary a Cry Was Heard”

"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mk 15.34)

     INTRO.: A song which focuses our attention upon the suffering and pain that Jesus experienced on the cross is "From Calvary A Cry Was Heard." The text was written by John William Cunningham, who was born on Jan. 3, 1780, in London, England. After attending St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated with honors and subsequently became a Fellow, he served as Curate of Ripley in Surrey in 1802. The following year, he moved to Ockham, and later Clapham, where he was Curate to John Venn. In 1811 he became Vicar of Harrow, where he served half a century.  His published works include World Without Souls in 1805; The Velvet Cushion in 1814; De Rance, a Poem in 1815; Morning Thoughs on the Gospel of Matthew in 1824, which contained "From Calvary A Cry Was Heard;" and Morning Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark in 1827. He died at St. Mary’s in Harrow on Sept. 30, 1861. Of his five hymns, this is the only one to survive in common usage.

     The tune (Federal Street) was composed by Henry Kemble Oliver, who was born on Nov. 24, 1800, at Beverly, MA. After attending the Boston Latin School, Phillips Andover Academy, Harvard University, and Dartmouth, where he graduated in 1818, he became an organist and school teacher. This tune was produced in 1831 or 1832 for Anne Steele’s "So fades the lovely, blooming flower," and was first published in the 1836 Boston Academy Collection of Church Music edited by Lowel Mason (1792-1872). Active in civic affairs, Oliver served from 1844 to 1858 as Adjutant General of the Massachusetts militia; from 1861 to 1865 Massachusetts State Treasurer; from 1869 to 1873 as director of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor; and from 1877 to 1880 as mayor of Salem, MA. In addition, he received honorary music degrees from Harvard in 1862 and from Dartmouth in 1883. His published works include the National Lyre, with Tuckerman and Bancroft, in 1848; his own Collection of Hymn and Psalm Tunes in 1860; and Original Hymn Tunes in 1875. He died at Salem, MA, on Aug. 12, 1885.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ during the twentieth century, this song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. The tune was used with "Fight the Good Fight" by John Samuel Bewley Monsell in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and is found with "God Calling Yet" by Gerhard Tersteegen in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann.

     The song seeks to make application of what the death of Christ should mean to each of us.

I. Stanza 1 centers upon the cry of Christ on the cross
"From Calvary a cry was heard–A bitter and heart-rending cry;
My Savior, every mournful word Bespeaks Thy soul’s deep agony."
 A. Calvary is the Latin name for Golgotha, the hill upon which Jesus was crucified: Lk. 23.33
 B. The "bitter and heart-rending cry" probably refers to His statement, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" which is a quotation from David: Ps. 22.1
 C. Such a cry underscores the great agony that Jesus suffered during His last days on earth, beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane: Lk. 22.44

II. Stanza 2 centers upon the events surrounding the death of Christ on the cross
"A horror of great darkness fell On Thee, Thou spotless, holy One,
And all the swarming hosts of hell Conspired to tempt God’s only Son."
 A. One of the miracles at Calvary was the darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour: Lk. 23.44-45
 B. Some have suggested that the darkness was God’s way of showing how dark was the deed that crucified the spotless, holy One: 1 Pet. 1.19
 C. All the "hosts of hell" were trying to use Christ’s death as a way of keeping Him from accomplishing His mission, but He said that even the gates of Hades would not prevent it: Matt. 16.18

III. Stanza 3 centers upon the agony which Christ suffered on the cross
"The scourge, the thorns, the deep disgrace, These Thou couldst bear, nor once repine;
But when Jehovah veiled His face, Unutterable pangs were Thine."
 A. The scourge and the thorns were part of the suffering of Christ that led up to His death: Mk. 15.15-20
 B. However, all this Jesus was willing to bear or endure because of the joy of offering salvation to sinful mankind that was set before Him: Heb. 12.2
 C. The idea that "Jehovah veiled His face" is based upon Jesus’s cry, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?", which many understand to mean that while Jesus hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world, the Father had to turn away from Him: Mk. 15.34

IV. Stanza 4 centers upon the results of Christ’s death on the cross
"Let the dumb world its silence break; Let pealing anthems rend the sky.
Awake, my sluggish soul, awake! He died, that we might never die."
 A. Even the "dumb earth" broke its silence at Jesus’s death because it quaked: Matt. 26.51-54
 B. Therefore, we need to awaken our souls out of any spiritual stupor: Rom. 13.11-14
 C. And we must always remembr that He died for us that we might never die: Rom. 5.8

V. Stanza 5 centers upon the application of Christ’s cry on the cross to our lives
"Lord, on Thy cross I fix mine eye: If e’er I lose its strong control,
O let that dying, piercing cry Melt and reclaim my wandering soul."
 A. We "fix" our eyes on the cross, not by gazing at something shaped like a cross, but by hearing and accepting the message about it: 1 Cor. 1.18
 B. Sometimes we find ourselves losing control and wandering from the truth: Jas. 5.19-20
 C. When that happens, we need to hear again, in our mind’s ear, the "dying, piercing cry" that would call us back to Him that we might be restored: Gal. 6.1

     CONCL.: It is important that we understand the figurative nature of the language that poets often use to convey their thoughts to our minds.  We do not have, nor indeed are we able, to hear the literal cries of Jesus on the cross. However, the death of Christ on the cross is described in great detail by the inspired writers of the New Testament.  Therefore, the Lord speaks to us even today through His written word, and through it we learn that "From Calvary A Cry Was Heard."


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