“O Thou, in Whose Presence”

"Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest…" (S. of S. 1:7) 

     INTRO.: A hymn which uses the language of the Song of Solomon to extol the characteristics of Christ is "O Thou, in Whose Presence." The text was written by Joseph Swain (1761-1796). Taken from a paraphrase of portions of the Song of Solomon entitled "A Description of Christ by His Graces and Power," it was first published in his 1791 Experimental Essays on Divine Subjects in Verse. Swain is perhaps best remembered for his hymn "How Sweet, How Heavenly." The tune (Dulcimer, Beloved, Meditation, Davis, or Wyeth) is attributed to Freeman Lewis, who was born on Dec. 39, 1780, at Basking Ridge, NJ. Becoming a surveyor and a school teacher, he also wrote music on the side. His own compilations include three editions of The Beauties of Harmony in 1813, 1816, and 1818. This tune was first published in The Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second, edited by John Wyeth (1770-1858). The original Repository came out in 1812, and the second part in 1814. Lewis was listed as composer, although other sources identify it as almost certainly an American folk hymn.

     In 1816, Lewis accompanied Simon Bernard, a former French general and engineer for Napoleon I, in one of his early expeditions in America.  Also Lewis served as County Surveyor of Fayette Co., PA, from 1828 to 1836, and helped Jonathan Knight survey the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal which began operation in 1836. Lewis died on Sept. 18, 1859, at Uniontown, PA. The modern harmonization of the tune was made by Hubert Platt Main (1839-1926). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "O Thou in Whose Presence" appeared in 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.

     The song describes many of the attributes of Christ which cause the soul to find delight in Him.

I. Stanza 1 mentions His comfort
"O Thou, in whose presence my soul takes delight,
On whom in affliction I call,
My comfort by day and my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all."
 A. The Lord has promised to be with His people: Heb. 13:5-6
 B. Therefore, we can call on Him in affliction: Ps. 4:1-3
 C. And we can trust that He will provide comfort: 2 Cor. 1:3-4

II. Stanza 2 mentions His provision
"Where does Thou, dear Shepherd, resort with Thy sheep,
To feed them in pastures of love?
Say, why in the valley of death should I weep,
Or alone in this wilderness rove?"
 A. Jesus Christ is the good Shepherd: Jn. 10:14
 B. Therefore, we can trust Him to feed us: Jn. 6:48-51
 C. There is nothing for us to fear as we walk in the valley of death: Ps. 23:4

III. Stanza 3 mentions His guidance
"O why should I wander, an alien from Thee,
Or cry in the desert for bread?
Thy foes will rejoice when my sorrows they see,
And smile at the tears I have shed."
 A. There is no reason for us to wander, and alien from God, because He has promised to guide us if we will follow: Ps. 32:8
 B. Therefore, we can trust that when we cry in the desert for bread He will give us what we need: Ps. 65:1-5
 C. But we must be careful that we do nothing to cause God’s foes to rejoice or speak reproachfully: 1 Tim. 5:14

IV. Stanza 4 mentions His grace
"Restore, my dear Savior, the light of Thy face;
Thy soul cheering comfort impart,
And let the sweet tokens of pardoning grace
Bring joy to my desolate heart."
 A. There are times when we need the Lord to restore to us the joy of salvation: Ps. 51:12
 B. Therefore, as we repent, we can look to Him to say, "Be of good cheer": Matt. 14:27
 C. Such assurance is the result of His grace by which we are justified: Rom. 3:24

V. Stanza 5 mentions His voice
"He looks! and ten thousands of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for His word;
He speaks! and eternity, filled with His voice,
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord."
 A. All the angels of God are commanded to worship Him: Heb. 1:6
 B. Myriads of the heavenly hosts wait for His word: Matt. 26:53
 C. We also need to listen to His voice because God speaks to us through Him: Heb. 1:1-2

VI. Stanza 6 mentions His call
"Dear Shepherd! I hear, and will follow Thy call;
I know the sweet sound of Thy voice;
Restore and defend me, for Thou art my all,
And in Thee I will ever rejoice."
 A. Jesus calls us today through the gospel: 2 Thess. 2:14
 B. As sheep with their shepherd, we need to hear His voice and follow Him: Jn. 10:27
 C. When we do this, then we can rejoice in the Lord always: Phil. 4:4

     CONCL.: The song was originally in twelve stanzas, and the omitted ones are as follows:
5. "Ye daughters of Zion declare, have ye seen
The Star that on Israel shone?
Say, if in your tents by Beloved has been,
And where, with His flocks, He is gone."
6. "This is my Beloved; His form is divine;
His vestments shed odors around.
The locks of His head are as grapes on the vine,
When autumn with plenty is crowned."
7. "The roses of Sharon, the lilies that grow
In vales, on the banks of the streams;
On His cheeks all the beauties of excellence glow,
And His eyes are as quivers of beams."
8. "His voice, as the sound of the dulcimer sweet,
Is heard through the shadows of death;
The cedars of Lebanon bow at His feet,
The air is perfuned with His breath."
9. "His lips as a fountain of righteousness flow,
That waters the garden of grace,
From which their salvation the Gentiles shall know,
And bask in the smiles of His face."
10. "Love sits on His eyelids, and scatters delight
Through all the bright mansions on high;
Their faces the cherubim veil in His sight,
And tremble with fullness of joy."
Some of these stanzas are often used as a separate hymn beginning with "His voice, as the sound of a dulcimer sweet." This hymn is probably not well known among us, but to me it has always been a fortuitous combination of words and music for one who looks to the Lord and addresses Him saying, "O Thou, in Whose Presence."


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