“Sweet Is the Solemn Voice That Calls”

"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord" (Ps. 122:1)

     INTRO.: A hymn which expresses the gladness of the invitation to go into the house of the Lord is "Sweet Is the Solemn Voice that Calls."  The text, based upon Psalm 122, was written by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). It was first published in his 1834 work The Spirit of the Psalms. Lyte is best remembered as the author of the hymn "Abide With Me." The tune (Warrington) used in our books with Lyte’s hymn was composed by Ralph Harrison, who was born at Chinley in Derbyshire, England, on Sept. 10, 1748. His father was William Harrison, a dissenting minister. After being educated at Warrington Academy, a school under the auspices of the Unitarians, he became an Independent (Presbytrian) minister and began preaching at Shrewsbury in 1769.

     Then, in 1771, Harrison moved to preach and teach school at Cross St. Chapel in Manchester. His textbook The Rudiments of English Grammar came out in 1777. In 1784, he published the first volume of his Sacred Harmony–A Collection of Psalm-tunes, Ancient and Modern, which contained this tune. Two years later, in 1786, he co-founded the Manchester Academy, where he was a classical tutor. The second volume of Sacred Harmony was issued in 1791. Harrison seems to have exerted a rather considerable influence over various independent hymn collections of his time, arranging a minuet by Thomas Augustine Arne as a hymn tune(Arlington) that is often used with Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s "Again the Lord of Light and Life" among other hymns, and composing another (Cambridge) that is sometimes used with Isaac Watts’s "The Lord My Shepherd Is."

     As a result, Harrison has also been erroneously credited in some of our books with composing or arranging the anonymous tune used with the "The Lord My Shepherd Is" in almost all of our books. His death occured at Manchester in Lancashire, England, on Nov. 4, 1810. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Sweet Is the Solemn Voice that Calls" appeared in the 1922 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. The tune is found with a hymn, "O God, Thou Art My God Above," by James Montgomery in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand. In many denominational books, it is used with "Give to Our God Immortal Praise" by Isaac Watts.

     The song was apparently intended to be used at the beginning of a worship service.

I. Stanza 1 emphasizes the coming together
"Sweet is the solemn voice that calls The Christian to the house of prayer;
I love to walk within its walls, For Thou, O Lord, art present there."
 A. The voice that calls Christians together is that of God who calls us in the gospel: 2 Thess. 2:14
 B. The "house of prayer" does not necessarily refer to a literal building but rather to the assembling together of God’s people: Heb.
 C. There is a sense in which the Lord is always present in the lives of Christians, but there is a special sense that those who are assembled to hear God’s teaching are before His presence: Acts 10:33

II. Stanza 2 emphasizes the participants
"I love to tread the hallowed courts Where two or three for worship meet;
For thither Christ Himself resorts, And makes the little band complete."
 A. It is clear that early Christians saw the importance of treading "the hallowed courts," figuratively referring to their coming together: Acts 2:42, 47
 B. They evidently understood Jesus’s promise that where two or three are gathered together, He would be in the midst of them: Matt. 18:20
 C. Of course, Jesus also promises that as His people go and make disciples of all nations, He will resort with them: Matt. 28:18-20

III. Stanza 3 emphasizes the activities
"’Tis sweet to raise the common song, To join in holy praise and love,
And imitate the blessed throng That mingle hearts and songs above."
 A. When Christians assemble, they raise the common song: Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16
 B. One primary purpose for which they assemble and worship is to join in holy praise to God: Heb. 13:15
 C. This is in imitation of the blessed throng above that mingle heart and song: Rev. 5:8-10

     CONCL.: This song does not seem to be well known among our brethren today. It may have been more used when Great Songs of the Church was popular, but it has not been included in any of our other recent books. When I was a freshman in college, I did not join the college chorus, but many of my friends did, and this was the song that was assigned for sight reading by those wishing to enter the chorus, probably because it was relatively unknown. I recall their going around humming and singing it for several days, if not weeks. As we think about the opportunities that we have to assemble together in worship, we certainly need to remember how "Sweet Is the Solemn Voice that Calls."


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