"Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth" (Lk. 8:52)
INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us that those who die in Christ are not dead but sleeping in Jesus to awaken again is "Silently." The text was written by Christopher Columbus Cox, who was born on Aug. 28, 1816, at Baltimore, MD, the son of a Methodist preacher named Luther Cox. Graduating from Yale College in 1835 and medical school at Baltimore in 1838, Christopher then studied medicine in Heidelberg, Germany, and practiced medicine in Talbot County, MD, beginning in 1843. His best known hymn, "Silently," was produced either in 1840 or 1846 and first published in Woodworth’s Cabinet of 1847 with music. Another hymn, "The burden of my sins, O Lord" appeared in the Cantate Domino of Boston in 1858, together with two additional originals and two translations, but these hymns are rarely seen today. During the American Civil War, Cox was a brigade doctor and later Surgeon General with the Army of The Potomac. From 1865 to 1868 he served as Lieutenant Governor of the state of Maryland, and then went on to be the first chairman of the Board of Health in Washington, DC, and Commissioner of Pensions, prior to his death at Washington, DC, on Nov. 25, 1882.
The traditional tune (Stockwell) for "Silently" was composed in 1850 by Darius E. Jones. However, our books use another tune composed by Carey Boggess and copyrighted in 1906 by Edwin Othello Excell. There was a Cary Boggess who was listed as Superintendent of Springfield, OH, public schools in the 1907 Brewer’s Directory of School Superintendents and Normal Principals. AIso, he is identified as having given an address either in 1914 or 1915 in the Journal of Proceedings and Address of the Annual Meeting By National Education Association. However, Boggess’s chief claim to historical fame is that in about 1894, as Superintendent of Springfield schools, he was interested by Mary Towles Sasseen (later Mrs. William Marshall Wilson), of Henderson, KY, who frequently visited her sister in Springfield and is acknowledged as the founder of Mother’s Day, in the idea of a general recognition of Mother’s Day in the public schools of Springfield, often regarded as one of the first public observances of Mother’s Day in the United States.
According to an article by Miss Paulene Breckenridge in the Springfield Daily News, "Carey Boggess, superintendent of the public schools,…was intimately acquainted with Mrs. Wilson during his first term of office as head of public schools….Mrs. Wilson…was born and reared in Henderson, KY, and for the greater part of her life was a teacher in the schools of that city. Frequently whe visited her sister in Springfield, and she was well known to many prominent men and women in this city." I have not been able to confirm if Superintendent Boggess was the composer of this tune or not, but the timing certainly makes it possible. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in 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 and using the Boggess tune. The only other book in which I have seen the song is Best Hymns No. 3 with the Jones tune.
The song uses the memories of those who have gone before to encourage us to hope for heaven when life is over.
I. Stanza 1 talks about the coming of evening
"Silently the shades of evening Gather round my lowly door;
Silently they bring before me Faces I shall see no more."
A. The coming of evening each day is often used to symbolize the nearing of life’s end: Jn. 9:4
B. Thus, the gathering of evening shades around one’s lowly door simply signifies the approach of death as we grow older: Heb. 9:27
C. And as we grow older, it seems that more and more we are reminded of faces that we shall see no more because they have died in the Lord and rest from their labors: Rev. 14:13
II. Stanza 2 talks about how the righteous dead do not perish in our hearts
"Oh, the lost, the unforgotten, Though the world be oft forgot,
Oh, the shrouded and the lonely, In our hearts they perish not."
A. The "lost" here refers to the saints whose death is precious in the sight of the Lord: Ps. 116:15
B. Often the world forgets people as soon as they pass from this life: Eccl. 8:10
C. However, in the hearts of those whom they have left behind, the perish not because Christians sorrow but not as those without hope: 1 Thess. 4:13
III. Stanza 3 talks about our remembrance of those gone before
"Living in the silent hours Where our spirits only blend,
They, unlinked with earthly trouble, We, still hoping for its end."
A. The spirits of the living and the dead do not blend in the sense of any kind of communication but the living do remember the great cloud of witnesses who has gone on before and receive encouragement from their memory: Heb. 11:1
B. The spirits of those gone before are unlinked with earthly trouble, which is the basic meaning of the statement that the dead know nothing–they no longer have connection with life on earth: Eccl. 9:5
C. But those who are left behind on earth are still hoping for its end when they expect to depart and be with Christ: Phil. 1:23
IV. Stanza 4 talks about how such holy memories point us to heaven
"How such holy memories cluster, Like the stars when storms are past,
Pointing up to that fair heaven We may hope to gain at last."
A. While our faith is not based in what those who have gone before us have believed but in the truth of God’s word, the holy memories of those who have left us a pattern to follow should be noted: Phil. 3:17
B. They are like stars or lights that shine to help guide us in life: Matt. 5:16
C. And if they have followed Christ, they point up to that fair heaven where our inheritance is: 1 Pet. 1:3-4
CONCL.: The chorus (not used with the Jones tune, so it may have been added by Boggess)
"Come the silent shades of evening (silently), Holy memories cluster ’round me (silently),
Pointing up to that fair heaven (silently) We may hope to gain at last."
It is interesting that Great Songs No. 2 has a double time signature, with the first full measure in 3/4 time and the rest in 4/4, where as Great Songs No. 1 puts the whole song in 4/4 time. I have always thought of this song as more than just "sanctified nostalgia." Yes, I know that not all of every Christian’s loved ones will be in heaven, but I would think that every Christian has some departed souls whom he has known and loved and expects to be there. There is certainly nothing wrong with remembering their good example and taking courage from their righteous lives to press onward to the goal as we think about them "Silently."