“O Mother Dear, Jerusalem”

"He…showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:10)

     INTRO.: An old hymn which looks forward to that great city, the holy Jerusalem, which God has prepared for His people in heaven is "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem." The text is an anonymous Latin hymn, "Mater Hierusalem, civitas sancta Dei," that may be based on a passage from the Liber Meditationes often ascribed to Aurelius Augustine of Hippo (353-430). Some believe that the Meditations were a forgery. A versified form of some of these meditations entitled "Ad perennis vitae fontem" was made in Latin by Cardinal Peter Damian (c. 988-1072). An old English translation appeared in a British manuscript dating to the sixteenth century, from around 1580 or so, and titled, "A Song made by F. B. P.," which some think may stand for "Francis Baker, Priest." Another well-known hymn, "Jerusalem, My Happy Home" as arranged by Joseph Bromehead (and others), was taken from this same source. The section beginning, "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem," was arranged by William Prid in 1585, and further altered to its present form by David DIckson (1583-1663).

     The tune (Materna) most commonly used with this hymn was composed specifically for this text by Samuel Augustus Ward, who was born on Dec. 28, 1847, at Newark, NJ, the son of George Spencer and Abbie Ann Tichenor Ward. After studying music under Jan Pychowski and others in New York City, NY, he returned to Newark and married Virginia Bell Ward (no relation). Opening a music store in Newark, he later became music director at Grace Episcopal Church. An employee of Ward’s music store said that in 1882, while Ward was crossing New York Harbor after a day’s outing at Coney Island, the composer jotted the melody down on his cuff and it was later sung at Grace Episcopal Church. However, Ward’s son-in-law, Henry W. Armstrong, stated that the tune was composed in memory of Ward’s oldest daughter, Clara, who died in 1885. In any event, the tune was first published in a periodical, The Parish Choir (1889?), and its first hymnbook inclusion was in Charles L. Hutchins’s The Church Hymnal of 1894 with "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem." In addition to his store and church work, Ward was active in the musical life of his hometown and founded Newark’s Orpheus Club in 1889, serving as president until 1900, and then died in Newark, NJ, on Sept. 28, 1903.

     In 1912, the president of Massachusetts Agricultural College requested permission from Ward’s widow to use this tune with Katherine Lee Bates’s patriotic anthem, "America, the Beautiful," beginning, "O beautiful for spacious skies" of 1893 (which was not published until 1899), and most people are probably more familiar with that usage than with the hymn. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem" appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson. The tune was used with "America, the Beautiful" in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 also edited by Jorgenson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today, the tune with Bates’s song may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand. The only other modern book in which I have seen "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem" is the 1961 Trinity Hymnal of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

     The song looks at several different aspects of the New Jerusalem which is above.

I. Stanza 1 speaks of it joys
"O Mother dear, Jerusalem, When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see?
O happy harbor of the saints! O sweet and pleasant soil!
In thee no sorrow may be found, No grief, no care, no toil."
 A. Paul calls the Jerusalem which is above the mother of us all: Gal. 4:26
 B. This Jerusalem will be a place of joys because those who enter there will have the right to the tree of life: Rev. 22:14
 C. Therefore, there will be no sorrow, grief, care, or toil: Rev. 21:4

II. Stanza 2 speaks of its light
"No murky cloud o’ershadows thee, No gloom, nor darksome night;
But every soul shines as the sun, For God Himself gives light.
O my sweet home, Jerusalem, Thy joys when shall I see,
The King that sitteth on thy throne In His felicity?"
 A. The heavenly Jerusalem has no need of sun or moon because the glory of God Himself will give the light: Rev. 21:23
 B. Thus, the righteous can look forward to a sweet home in that eternal city: Heb. 11:14
 C. One thing that will make heaven so grand and wonderful is ithat the King will be sitting on His throne there: Rev. 4:2-3

III. Stanza 3 speaks of its beauty
"Thy walls are made of precious stones, Thy bulwarks diamonds square;
Thy gates are of right orient pearl, Exceeding rich and rare.
Thy turrets and thy pinnacles With garnets rare do shine;
The very streets are paved with gold, Surpassing clear and fine."
 A. The beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem is described figuratively as having walls adorned with precious stones: Rev. 21:19-20
 B. The gates are made of pearl: Rev. 21:21
 C. The street, like the city itself, is made of pure gold: Rev. 21:18

IV. Stanza 4 speaks of its gardens
"Thy gardens and thy gallant walks Continually are green;
There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers As nowhere else are seen.
Quite (Right) through the streets, with silver sound, The flood of life (living waters) flow;
Upon whose (And on the) banks, on every (either) side, The wood (tree) of life doth grow."
 A. The heavenly Jerusalem is pictured as having gardens that are continually green because nothing that defiles or causes an abomination can enter: Rev. 21:27
 B. The pure river of water of life is there: Rev. 22:1
 C. On either side the tree of life grows: Rev. 22:2

V. Stanza 5 speaks of its inhabitants
"There trees forevermore bear fruit, And evermore do spring;
There evermore the angels sit, And evermore do sing.
Jerusalem, my happy home, Would God I were in thee!
Would God my woes were at an end, Thy joys that I might see!"
 A. In that new Jerusalem, the angels sit and sing: Rev. 5:11-12
 B. We can long to be there because the redeemed of all ages will also be before the throne of God and serve Him: Rev. 22:3
 C. In fact, all our woes will be at an end because all those who have brought about evil because of their rejection of God’s plan will not be there: Rev. 21:8

     CONCL.: E. L. Jorgenson (or someone from whom he copied) apparently made some changes in the wording of the song for Great Songs (some of which are noted in parentheses above).  The final eight lines of stanza 2 originally read:
"There lust and lucre cannot dwell, There envy bears no sway;
There is no hunger, heart, nor cold, But pleasure every way."
And Jorgenson altered the last eight lines of stanza 5 to read exactly as the first eight lines of stanza 1. Much of the language of the song is taken directly from hte scriptures, yet one writer said, "While we cannot fail to enjoy this glorious picture we cannot help wondering why a modern compiler asks us to accept and sing such a concept in an act of worship. A medieval monk in his cell might believe that this vision is the summum bonum of all existence, but citizens of a contemporary Western democracy must regard it all as a fanciful escape from reality." The answer is that most "citizens of a contemporary Western democracy" no longer have faith in God and His word, and thus no longer have any intention to set their affections on things above rather than on things of this earth (Col. 3:1-2). As the writer concluded, "Our religious interests are centered on other things." Sad, but true. However, it is not really a matter of "either-or." Faithful Christians can live as active participants in this world and its life, yet still long for the eternal home which God has prepared for His people, addressing it as "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem."


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