"TO THE TABLE NOW RETIRING"
"…Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils" (1 Cor. 10:21)
INTRO.: A hymn which stresses the importance of being partakers of the Lord’s table is "To the Table Now Retiring." The original text was written by John Rowe, who was born at Spensecomb, near Crediton, on Apr. 17, 1764, and was trained from childhood to become a minister. Educated in the classical manner at the school of Joseph Bretland, he entered Hoxton Academy, and after this was closed he transferred to Hackney College in 1786. A Dissenter who is sometimes erroneously identified as a Baptist, the following year he became one of the ministers of the High St. Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury. How long he remained there is not known, but in 1797, he was chosen as one of the ministers of Lewin’s Mead Chapel in Bristol. John P. Estlin, a distinguished Unitarian, was his colleague until 1817 and was then replaced by Lant Carpenter, another Unitarian. Thus Rowe is usually called a Unitarian minister.
It was said that Rowe was a "serious, earnest and impressive" preacher. John Julian wrote, "His hymn on the Anticipation of Old Age, which appeared in the Bristol Coll., 1806, is also in M. 1, ‘When in the vale of lengthened years.’" In many churches it used to be the custom to sing a hymn AFTER partaking of the Lord’s supper, and Julian also said, "Another somewhat popular hymn by Rowe from the same Coll. is ‘From the Table new retiring.’" Thus Julian dates the hymn 1806, but Samuel W. Duffield dates it 1812. In order to make the song more suitable to prepare our minds before partaking of the Lord’s supper, I have changed the title and first line to read "To the Table Now Retiring." In Jan. of 1831, Rowe was stricken with paralysis and the following year gave up his preaching work, proceeding with his sole-surving daughter to Italy, where he died in Siena on July 2, 1832 (some sources say 1833), at the age of 69, in the presence of his daughter.
The tune (Dorrnance or Talmar) usually used with this hymn was composed by Isaac Baker Woodbury (1819-1858). It was first published in his 1854 book The Choral as a setting for "Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing." The melody has been used with a number of other hymns. I have added a fourth stanza from a hymn by Horatius Bonar beginning "This is not my place of resting" that fits the same tune. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the Rowe text has never appeared in any to my knowledge. The tune was used with the anonymous hymn "Take My Life, O Father, Mold It" in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today, the tune also with "Take My Life, O Father, Mold It" is found in Hymns for Worship and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song is certainly an appropriate one to sing before partaking of the Lord’s supper.
I. Stanza 1 exhorts us to find refreshment at the table
"To the table now retiring Which for us the Lord has spread,
May our souls, refreshment finding, Grow in all things like our Head."
A. The table symbolically represents the Lord’s supper, with the bread and the cup: 1 Cor. 10:16
B. The Lord has spread it for us in that He is the one who instituted it and promised to drink the fruit of the vine with us in His kingdom: Matt. 26:26-29
C. In partaking, our souls find spiritual refreshment because we remember the death of our Head: 1 Cor. 11:23-26
II. Stanza 2 exhorts us to behold our Lord’s example
"His example while beholding, May our lives His image bear;
Him our Lord and Master calling, His commands may we revere."
A. As we partake, we behold, in our mind’s eye, and remember the Lord’s example of how He became obedient to the death of the cross: Phil. 2:5-8
B. Therefore, the Lord’s supper helps us to determine that in our lives we shall bear His image: 2 Cor. 3:18
C. The means by which we do this is that, in calling Him our Lord and Master, we revere and keep His commands: Jn. 13:13-18
III. Stanza 3 exhorts us to show love to God and man
"Love to God and man displaying, Walking steadfast in His way,
Joy attend us in believing, Peace from God, through endless day."
A. Remembering the sacrifice of Christ also helps us to take His love for us and show it in our lives to both God and man: Eph. 5:1-2
B. As we truly believe that Jesus died for our sins based upon the testimony of the apostles, our joy will be full: 1 Jn. 1:1-4
C. Also, our faith in Christ’s sacrifice for us will let the peace of God rule in our hearts: Col. 3:15
IV. Stanza 4 exhorts us to follow the Lamb as our Shepherd
"Here the Lamb, our Shepherd, leads us By the streams of life along;
On the freshest pasture feeds us, Turns our sighing into song."
A. The Lamb is the one who was slain for our sins: Jn. 1:29, 1 Pet. 1:18-20, Rev. 5:6-10
B. This Lamb is also the Shepherd who gave His life for us and leads us through life: Jn. 10:11, 27
C. As our Shepherd, He also feeds us with the living bread of His word: Jn. 6:35, 63
CONCL.: While we have many good hymns at our disposal to use in preparing our minds for the Lord’s supper, it is my opinion that since so many of the ones which we do have seem to get used over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, it would be nice to have a wider range available from which we could choose. When I first saw this hymn many years ago in the 1948 Church Service Hymns edited by Homer A. Rodeheaver and published by the Rodeheaver Company, I felt that it would be a good one to help us think about what the sacrifice of Christ means to us when we are "To the Table Now Retiring."