"NOW, ON LAND AND SEA DESCENDING"
"…I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches" (Ps. 63.6)
INTRO.: A song which encourages us especially to remember the Lord upon our beds and meditate on Him in the night watches is "Now, On Land and Sea Descending." The text seems to be based on a hymn by Thomas Moore (1779-1852):
1. "Hark! the vesper hymn is stealing O’er the waters soft and clear;
Nearer yet and nearer pealing, Soft it breaks upon the ear."
2. "Now the moonlight waves retreating, To the shore it dies along;
Now like angry surges meeting, Breaks the mingled tide of song."
3. "Once again sweet voices ringing, Louder still the music swells;
While on summer breezes winging, Comes the chime of vesper bells."
It appeared as early as 1818 in A Collection (or Selection) of Popular National Airs edited by John A. Stevenson (1761-1833). This concept was given a more "Christian" wording in a hymn that was written by Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892). It first appeared in his 1859 Vespers. A New England Unitarian minister, songwriter, and brother of famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Samuel is probably best known among us for his hymn "Love For All, And Can It Be."
The tune (Vesper Hymn, Russian Air, Galuppi, or Stevenson) is attributed to the Russian composer Dimitri Stepanovich Bortniansky (1752-1825). However, there is no evidence among his works that he composed it. It first appeared with the Moore text in Stevenson’s work previously cited as arranged by Stevenson. Many now believe that it was the work of Stevenson himself. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the tune appeared with "Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus" by John Bakewell in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1), and with both "Take My Life, O Father, Mold It" and the Moore text in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2, both edited by E. L . Jorgenson. The Longfellow song was found in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater, which also used the tune with "Take My Life, O Father Mold It." Today, the tune is found with the Moore text in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.
The song was obviously written for use as an evening hymn.
I. Stanza 1 speaks of God’s peace
"Now on land and sea descending, Brings the night its peace profound;
Let our vesper hymn be blending With the holy calm around."
A. The night was ordained by God in creation: Gen. 1.3-5
B. The word "vesper" comes from the Latin term for evening and simply means "eventide" as a noun and "of evening" as an adjective; hence a "vesper hymn" is simply an evening song to the Lord: Ps. 77.6
C. Just as the night often brings a sense of peace to the earth, so praising God in the evening can bring a holy calm to our souls: Phil. 4.6-7
II. Stanza 2 speaks of God’s glory
"Soon as dies the sunset glory, Stars of heaven shine out above,
Telling still the ancient story: Their Creator’s changeless love."
A. The setting of the sun signals the ending of day, which is a perfect time to praise the Lord’s name: Ps. 113.3
B. It is then that the star of heaven, which God created, shine out above: Gen. 1.16
C. As part of the heavens, they declare the glory of their Creator: Ps. 19.1-6
III. Stanza 3 speaks of God’s care
"Now, our wants and burdens leaving To God’s care who cares for all,
Cease we fearing, cease we grieving; Touched by God our burdens fall."
(Some books alter line two to read "To His care" and line four to read "At His touch")
A. As we pillow our heads at night, it is also a perfect time to cast all our burdens on the Lord: Ps. 55.22
B. The reason we can do this is because we know that He cares for us: 1 Pet. 5.7
C. Knowing that He will always be with us, we have nothing to fear: Heb. 13.5-6
IV. Stanza 4 speaks of God’s light
"As the darkness deepens o’er us, Lo! eternal stars arise;
Hope and faith and love rise glorious, Shining in the Spirit’s skies."
A. Not only do the physical stars come out at night, but also we can see "eternal stars" symbolizing God’s light in which we are to walk: 1 Jn. 1.5-7
B. We accept this light by faith, hope, and love: 1 Cor. 13.13
C. And in turn, by these the same Spirit who brooded over the face of the waters will cause God’s love to shine through us as we bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: Gen. 1.2, Rom. 5.5, Gal. 5.22-23
CONCL.: The chorus begins "Jubilate! Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen!" (in some books this is repeated) and then concludes with the third and fourth lines of each stanza. In many churches it is a custom to begin an evening worship with a hymn such as this. It would also make a good closing hymn for an evening service. Surely it is always appropriate to sing a hymn of praise to the Lord reminding us of His watchfulness and care whenever the night is "Now, on Land and Sea Descending."