"WHEN DAY’S SHADOWS LENGTHEN"
"Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple…" (Rev. 7:15)
INTRO.: A hymn which looks beyond the end of life to that time when the saints will be before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple is "When Day’s Shadows Lengthen." The text was written by Frederick George Lee, who was born at Thame in Oxfordshire, England, on Jan. 6, 1832. Becoming an Anglican minister in 1856, he labored at St. John’s Church in Aberdeen, where he introduced non-communicating attendance and caused a schism. In 1867, he moved to All Saints’ Church in Lambeth, where he ministered to the poor for 32 years. A prolific writer of history, archaeology, theology, and poetry, he also served as editor of numerous journals and newspapers. This text was intended as a poem on old age and was first published in the People’s Hymnal of 1867. Lee is also remembered for some nativity carols popular in England, such as "In the Early Morning, Early," "Sing of Maiden Mary," and "Slowly Fell the Snowflakes." After retiring from All Saints’ in 1899, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church two years later, and died just a little over a month after that, on Jan. 22, 1902, at the age of 70 following a short illness.
The tune (Montani) is of unknown origin. Its first appearance was in the 1872 Gebet- und Besangbuchlein edited by W. Becker. The arrangement was made by Nicola Aloysius Montani, who was born at Utica, NY, on Nov. 8, 1880. After studying music in the United States, he went to Rome, Italy, where he studied under Lorenzo Perosi, Filippo Capocci, Dom Mocqueriau, and Dom Endine. Deeply interested in promoting and improving the performance of Gregorian Chant, he organized the Society of St. Gregory in 1914, after his return to the United States, and edited the St. Gregory Hymnal and Catholic Choir Book in 1920. It was for this work that he adapted this music from Becker’s book and listed it as a "traditional melody." A conductor, composer, arranger, and publisher of sacred music, Montani served as music director at St. John the Evangelist Church in Philadelphia, PA, in 1923 and 1924, and then at St. Paul’s Church in New York City, NY, beginning in 1925, prior to his death at Philadelphia on Jan. 11, 1948.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "When Day’s Shadows Lengthen" appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.
The hymn looks to the Lord to provide for all our needs as we approach the end of life.
I. Stanza 1 asks the Lord to be near us
"When days’ shadows lengthen, Jesus, be Thou near;
Pardon, comfort, strengthen, Chase away my fear:
Love and hope be deepened, Faith, more strong and clear."
A. The lengthening of day’s shadows here refers not just to the evening of the day but, drawing its meaning from that figure, the coming of life’s night: Jn. 9:4
B. The Christian will want the Lord to be near to pardon, comfort, strengthen, and chase away any fear, so that we might face death like Paul with courage: Phil. 1:20-23
C. By drawing near the Lord, we can cling to faith, love, and hope even in death: 1 Cor. 13:13
II. Stanza 2 asks the Lord to be our buckler
"When the night grows darkest, And the stars are pale,
When the foe-men gather In death’s misty vale,
Be Thou Sword and Buckler, Be Thou Shield and Mail."
A. "When the night grows darkest" would seem to refer to that time when it is appointed to man once to die: Heb. 9:27
B. This is when the foe-men gather as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death: Ps. 23:4
C. But even then, we can find that the Lord will be our buckler, a shield to protect us: Ps. 18:2
III. Stanza 3 asks the Lord to be our guide
"So no fears shall chill me On that unknown shore,
For in death He conquered And can die no more;
His hand guards and guides me To the heavenly door."
A. Even though for us, death is an unknown shore, there need be no fear because Jesus, by His death, conquered him who rules through the fear of death: Heb. 2:14-15
B. Thus, we place our faith in Him who conquered death Himself and ever lives to die no more: Heb.7:25
C. Having entered the presence behind the veil, He is our forerunner to guide us to the heavenly door: Heb. 6:19-20
IV. Stanza 4 asks the Lord to give us a song of triumph
"Blessed warfare over, Endless rest alone,
Tears no more, nor sorrow, Neither sigh nor moan,
But a song of triumph Round about the throne."
A. When we pass the portals of death, the warfare will be over and we can rest from our labors: Rev. 14:13
B. The faithful saint will then be able to look forward to that day when there will be no more tears, sorrow, sighing, or moaning: Rev. 21:1-4
C. Rather, he can join with the angels round the throne in a song of triumph: Rev. 5:8-14
CONCL.: In my experience, this song has not been well known among brethren, perhaps because it has not been in very many of the most popular hymnbooks used by us over the last fifty years or so. The tune is almost like a soothing lullaby, and the words are obviously designed to comfort those who are drawing ever closer to the time of their departure. While we still have work to do here as long as we remain in this life, we also need to be looking forward to and preparing for that time "When Day’s Shadows Lengthen."