"HARK, HARK, MY SOUL!"
"There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" (Lk. 19.10)
INTRO.: A song that likens death to the calling of the same angels who have joy when the sinner repents is "Hark, Hark, My Soul!" The text was written by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863). Originally in seven stanzas, it was first published in his 1854 Oratory Hymns. Seldom are more than five stanzas ever used today. Faber is best known for his hymn "Faith of Our Fathers." The tune (Pilgrims or Vox Angelica) was composed by Henry Thomas Smart, who was born in London, England, on Oct. 26, 1813. Educated at Highgate, he later abandoned the study of law in favor of music. Though largely self-taught, he studied with his father and with W. H. Kearns and became one of the finest organists of his day, serving at Blackburn in Lancashire from 1831 to 1836, St. Philips on Regent St. in London from 1838 to 1839, St. Luie’s on Old St. from 1844 to 1864, and St. Pancras in London from 1865 until his death.
This melody was produced for this text in the 1868 Appendix to the 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern, which brought the hymn widespread popularity. As an organist, his advice and counsel were frequently sought for new organi installations both in England and Scotland, and the organs at both City Hall and St. Andrew’s in Glasgow, and Town Hall in Leeds, were designed by him. In addition to producing a great deal of music, both for chorus and organ, he published his Choral Book in 1856 and a collection of Sacred Music in 1863. Troubled with bad eyesight for a number of years, he started going blind around 1864 and became totally blind the following year, but his memory and skill make it possible for him to continue playing and composing. A couple of his other well known hymn melodies are used with "Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending" and "Lead On, O King Eternal."
After serving as musical editor for Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship in 1867 and the Presbyterian Hymnal, the hymnbook of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, in 1875, Smart died in London on July 6, 1879. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Hark, Hark, My Soul!" appeared in the 1925 edition of 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; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie.
The song has often been used at funerals.
I. Stanza 1 tells about the songs of the angels
"Hark, hark, my soul! angelic songs are swelling,
O’er earth’s green fields and ocean’s wave-beat shore;
How sweet the truth those blessed strains are telling
Of that new life when sin shall be no more!"
A. While the Bible does not specifically mention that they are singing, it does tell us that angels bear away the souls of those who die in the Lord: Lk. 16.22
B. Recognizing the figurative nature of the song’s language, we must believe that if the angels were singing as they carried the righteous souls to Abraham’s bosom, they would be speaking only the truth: Jn. 8.32
C. It is very likely that the specific truth about which they would be telling might be of the new life when sin shall be no more in Paradise: Lk. 23.43
II. Stanza 2 tells about the call of Jesus
"Far, far away, like bells at evening pealing,
The voice of Jesus sounds o’er land and sea,
And laden souls by thousands meekly stealing,
Kind Shepherd, turn their weary steps to Thee."
A. It is unclear whether the voice of Jesus here is calling the dying saint to come to Him in death or calling the sinner to come to Him in preparation for future death and eternity; perhaps both can be included: Matt. 11.28-30
B. Those who are meek will turn to Jesus in obedience to His will, and then these meek souls will be called to Jesus in death that they might inherit all things: Matt. 5.5
C. Whether in life or death they will follow Jesus as their kind Shepherd: Jn. 10.14-16
III. Stanza 3 tells about the need to go on
"Onward we go, for still we hear them singing,
‘Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come;’
And through the dark, its echoes sweetly ringing,
The music of the gospel leads us home."
A. Even though we may not know precisely what the future holds for us in this life, we must press onward: Phil. 3.14
B. We do know that the voices are calling us onward to the time of death because it is appointed for men to die once: Heb. 9.27
C. However, if we follow the music of the gospel, it will lead us home because the gospel is God’s power to salvation: Rom. 1.16
IV. Stanza 4 tells about the rest that awaits
"Rest comes at length: though life be long and dreary,
The day must dawn and darksome night be past.
Faith’s journeys end in welcomes to the weary,
And heaven, the heart’s true home, will come at last."
A. Those who die in the Lord will rest from their labors: Rev. 14.13
B. In order to die in the Lord, one must walk by faith: 2 Cor. 5.7
C. For those who walk by faith and die in the Lord, ultimately, heaven, the heart’s true home, will come at last: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
V. Stanza 5 tells about the joy that comes in the morning
"Angels, sing on! your faithful watches keeping;
Sing us sweet fragments of the songs above,
Till morning’s joy shall end the night of weeping,
And life’s long shadows break in cloudless love."
A. Through the scriptures, the angels do sing on a message that is designed to draw us to God and lead us toward home: Rev. 5.11-12
B. As we listen to their song and heed its message, we can look forward to that time when the night will be past and joy will break in the morning: Ps. 30.5
C. Then, life’s long shadows will break in cloudless love where there will be no death, sorrow, or crying: Rev. 21.4
CONCL.: The chorus tells us again that the angels are ready to welcome the faithful to glory.
"Angels of Jesus, angels of light,
Singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night!"
Albert E. Bailey said of this song, "In this hymn we feel that sentiment has got the better of thought….How much does it strengthen us for the stern realities of life?" It is true that this song does have a touch of sentimentality, very popular in the Victorian era, to it which may appeal to some people and not appeal to others. However, any hymn which focuses our minds on the need to prepare for death and meet the Lord’s conditions to go to heaven can help to strengthen us for the stern realities of life. The real problem is simply that the modernist no longer believes in the reality of heaven. However, the truth is that all life is leading us toward an eternity either in heaven or in hell. Therefore, as voices speak to me through the written word of God about death and eternity, my attitude should be "Hark, Hark, My Soul!"