“I Love to Steal Awhile Away”

"…He went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, He was there alone" (Matt. 14.23)

     INTRO.: A hymn which talks about the Christian’s responsibility to pray, following the example of Christ who often prayed when the evening had come, is "I Love to Steal Awhile Away." The text was written by Mrs. Phoebe Hinsdale Brown who was born on May 1, 1783, in Canaan, NY, and orphaned at the age of two. At age nine, she began living with a relative who ran a county jail where she experienced years of intense and cruel suffering, deprivations, toil, and mistreatment. When she was eighteen, kind people sent her to common school for three months at Claverack, NY, where she learned to write and was converted to Christ.  In 1805 she married Timothy H. Brown, a painter, and subsequently lived in East Windsor and then at Ellington, CN, where she was a member of the Congregational Church.

     While at Ellington, with four little children in a small unfinished house, a sick sister in the only finished room, and not a place above or below where she could retire for devotion, Phoebe was in the habit of going at dusk into the large garden of a neighbor who owned a fine house to smell the fragrance of the fruits and flowers and to commune with nature and God, with no idea that she was intruding. However, one day, the lady of the mansion turned upon her rudely and said, "Mrs. Brown, why do you come up at evening so near our house, and then go back without coming in? If you want anything, why don’t you come in and ask for it?"  Not just the words but moreso the manner of the neighbor grieved Phoebe, so after her children were all in bed, except the baby, she sat down at the kitchen table with the infant in her arms, burst into a flood of tears, and gave vent to her grief on paper with a poem entitled, "An Apology for my Twilight Rambles, addressed to a Lady, Aug., 1818." The original had nine stanzas.

     It was abridged, altered into its present form, and first used as a hymn beginning with the second stanza in the 1824 Village Hymns by editor Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844). Later, the Browns lived in Monson, MA, where Phoebe produced a number of other hymns, and finally in Marshall, Henry County, IL, where she died on Oct. 10, 1861. The tune (Woodstock or Dutton) usually used with this hymn was composed by Deodatus Dutton (1808-1832). A native of Monson, MA, by age 14 he was an organist in Hartford, CN. In 1828 he graduated from Washington (now Trinity) College and became a Presbyterian minister. In 1829, with Elam Ives Jr., he published The American Psalmody, which contained this melody, and died while still pursuing his studies at New York City, NY. 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 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.

     The hymn reminds us of some of the blessings that Christians can receive in prayer.

I. Stanza 1 says that we can express our gratitude
"I love to steal awhile away From every cumbering care,
And spend the hours of setting day In humble, grateful prayer."
 A. Not only at night but also early in the morning Jesus would steal awhile away: Mk. 1.35
 B. When we do this, it will help us to put aside every cumbering care which could choke out the word: Matt. 13.22
 C. There is nothing better that one could do during the hours of setting day, than to be grateful and give thanks to God: 1 Thess. 5.16-18

II. Stanza 2 says that we can be penitent
"I love in solitude to shed The penitential tear,
And all His promises to plead, Where none but God can hear."
 A. Sometimes there is a need for solitude in prayer, so we can enter into our "closet" and there talk to God in secret: Matt. 6.6
 B. At such times, we can express our pentitence and confess our sins unto the Lord: 1 Jn. 1.8
 C. In doing so, we plead for His forgiveness based upon His exceeding great and precious promises: 2 Pet. 1.4

III. Stanza 3 says that we can cast our cares on the Lord
"I love to think on mercies past, And future good implore,
And all my cares and sorrows cast On Him whom I adore."
 A. In prayer, we can think on mercies past and marvel on the gracious works of the Lord: Ps. 145.5-11
 B. We can also implore future good by making known our requests to God: Phil. 4.6
 C. And, of course, we may always cast our cares on Him because He cares for us: 1 Pet. 5.7

IV. Stanza 4 says that we can get a glimpse into heaven
"I love, by faith, to take a view Of brighter scenes in heaven;
The prospect doth my strength renew, While here by tempests driven."
 A. In praying, the Christian is walking by faith, not by sight: 2 Cor. 5.7
 B. Since prayer is a form of communion with God while we are here on earth, it is a foretaste of that perfect communion with God that the saints will have in heaven: Rev. 21.1-3
 C. Thus, prayer is undoubtedly an integral part of that process by which the inward man is renewed day by day as we look toward the things which are not seen: 2 Cor. 4.16-18

V. Stanza 5 says that we can be prepared for the end of life
"Thus, when life’s toilsome day is o’er, May its departing ray
Be calm at this impressive hour, And lead to endless day."
 A. While we can pray at all times, prayer in the evening points our minds toward that time when life’s toilsome day will be over: Jn. 9.4
 B. This, of course, refers to death, when, just as the rays of the sun depart in the evening, the ray of our life will depart and we shall be with Christ: Phil. 1.23
 C. Then, the time that we have spent in prayer will lead ever brighter unto the perfect day: Prov. 4.18

     CONCL.: There are many good songs about prayer, such as "Sweet Hour of Prayer," "The Blessed Hour of Prayer," "Did You Think To Pray?", "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," "A Blessing in Prayer," and so forth. At one time it was a common custom to lead such a song right before prayer in our assemblies. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for song leaders to choose just about any kind of hymn, such as "Marching to Zion," "Faith Is the Victory," or "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," to sing before prayer.  There is nothing necessarily sinful about this, but it seems that it would be helpful before we join our hearts together in prayer to sing a song that points us in that direction. Even though we may be assembled with others where someone leads us as we pray, prayer is still an individual activity, and we must retreat into the solitude of our own hearts truly to commune with God. Therefore, it is helpful even in a worship service to be reminded how that in prayer "I Love to Steal Awhile Away."


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