“We Saw Thee Not”

“Whom, having not seen, ye love;…though now ye see Him not…ye rejoice” (1 Pet. 1:8)
     INTRO.:  A song which emphasizes the need to believe in Christ even though now we see Him not is, “We Saw Thee Not” (#167 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #313 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Anne Rigby Richter, who was born, probably at St. Mary’s Beverly in Yorkshire, England, around 1792, the daughter of Robert Rigby, who was minister at St. Mary’s Beverly from 1791 to 1823.  Her husband was W. H. Richter, who was chaplain of the county jail at Kirton Lindsey in Lincolnshire, and later minister at St. Paul’s in London.  A descendant of John Bradshaw, whose name is the first in the list of the signatures on the death warrant of King Charles I, she was also a great friend of the poet Mrs. Felicia Hemans and wrote for various magazines.  These words were published anonymously in Songs from the Valley: A Collection of Sacred Poetry in 1834. 

     The original poem was in eight six-line stanzas.  They were completely recast in 1838 for his Lutterworth Collection of Hymns for Public Worship by John Hampden Gurney (1802-1862).  The poem was further altered in 1843 for Psalms and Hymns by Henry J. Buckoll (1803-1871).  Mrs. Richter, who published The Nun and Other Poems in 1841, died probably at London, England in 1857.  The tune (Shaw) was composed by Knowles Shaw (1834-1878; see #75).  It first appeared around 1877 in one of his Sunday school song collections and became popular after being included in James H. Fillmore’s The New Christian Hymn and Tune Book, Part III, in 1887.  Shaw is also remembered for the hymn “I Am the Vine,” the text of “Bringing in the Sheaves,” and the tune for “Tarry With Me, O My Savior.”

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, “We Saw Thee Not” 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; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater, set strangely enough to a tune (Melita) by John Bacchus Dykes which was composed for “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”  Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.

     The song is about faith in Christ.

I. Stanza 1 says that we did not see Him on earth, yet we believe that He lived
“We saw Thee not when Thou didst come To this poor world of sin and death;
Nor yet beheld Thy cottage home In that despised Nazareth.
But we believe Thy footsteps trod Its streets and plains, Thou Son of God” (repeat).
 A. We did not see the incarnation of Christ: Jn. 1:14
 B. We did not behold His cottage home in Nazareth: Lk. 2:39-40
 C. Thomas believed because He saw; we believe because of the inspired record: Jn. 20:29-31

II. Stanza 2 says that we did not see Him on the cross, yet we believe that He died for us
“We saw Thee not when lifted high Amid that wild and savage crew;
Nor heard we that imploring cry, ‘Forgive, they know not what they do.’
But we believe the deed was done That shook the earth and veiled the sun” (repeat).
(Gurney’s original read, “We did not see Thee lifted high…Nor heard Thy meek, imploring cry….”)
 A. We did not see Jesus when He was lifted up on the cross: Matt. 27:32-38
 B. We did not hear His cry, “Forgive them for they do not know what they do”: Lk. 23:33-34
 C. However, based upon the scripture we believe that Christ died for us: Rom. 5:8

III. Stanza 3 says that we did not see Him following His resurrection, yet we believe that He arose again from the dead
“We gazed not in the open tomb, Where once Thy mangled body lay;
Nor saw Thee in that ‘upper room,’ Nor met Thee on the open way.
But we believe that angels said, ‘Why seek the living with the dead?’” (repeat).
(Gurney’s original read, “We stood not by the empty tomb Where late Thy sacred body lay;
Nor sat within that upper room….”
 A. We did not gaze into the open tomb as did the women: Matt. 28:1-8
 B. We did not meet him on the open way, as the disciples of Emmaus, nor in the upper room with the twelve: Mk. 16:12-14
 C. However, we believe the message of the angels about His resurrection: Lk. 24:5

IV. Stanza 4 says that we did not see Him taken up in the cloud, yet we believe that He ascended back into heaven
“We walked not with the chosen few, Who saw Thee from the earth ascend;
Who raised to heaven their wondering view, Then low to earth all prostrate bend.
But we believe that human eyes Beheld that journey to the skies” (repeat).
(Gurney’s original read, “We did not mark the chosen few, When Thou didst through the clouds ascend,
First lift to heaven their wondering view, Then to the earth all prostrate bend;
But we believe that mortal eyes….”)
 A. We did not walk with the chosen few who accompanied the Lord following His resurrection: Matt. 28:16-20
 B. We did not raise to heaven our wondering view as the cloud took Him from earth: Lk. 24:50-53
 C. However, we believe that Jesus ascended back into heaven just as the scriptures teach: Acts 1:9-11

V. Stanza 5 (not used by Shaw) says that we do not see Him now, yet we believe His word
“And now that Thou dost reign on high, And thence Thy waiting people bless,
No ray of glory from the sky Doth shine upon our wilderness.
But we believe Thy faithful word, And trust in our redeeming Lord” (repeat).
 A. The Bible teaches that Jesus is now reigning on high: 1 Cor. 15:25
 B. However, there is no visible evidence of His reign because we walk by faith and not by sight: 2 Cor. 5:7
 C. Yet, we still believe on Him through the word of those who left us eyewitness testimony:

     CONCL.:  Some might be interested in Mrs. Richter’s original poem:
1. “We have not seen Thy footsteps tread This wild and sinful earth of ours,
Nor heard Thy voice restore the dead Again to life’s reviving powers:
But we believe—for all things are The gifts of Thine Almighty care.”
2. “We have not seen the billowy sea Grow calm and still at Thy command,
Nor the dim orbs again to see, Beneath the healing of Thine hand:
But we believe the Fount of light Again could give those eyeballs sight.”
3. “We did not see Thee tread the wave; We did not hear the voice from heaven,
Which once with awful warning gave That God’s own Son for us was given.
But we believe—oh! strengthen Thou The faith which to Thy Name we owe.”
4. “We did not see the armed throng Steal to the garden’s midnight shade,
And watch the palm-tree’s boughs among, Then quail beneath Thy glance afraid:
But we believe—Almighty love Alone could such dark moments prove.”
5. “We did not see the darkness veil With sudden gloom the noon-day skies;
Nor the fierce soldier’s cheek grow pale; And priestly mockery veil their eyes;
When the proud Roman owned the power Of heaven, ’twas in that awful hour.”
6. “We did not hear the footsteps fall Within that lonely garden ground,
Of the all-wakeful sentinel, Slow tracing there his watchful round;
But we believe—the Holy One Bursting that tomb, in glory shone.”
7. “We were not with the chosen few Who saw Thee through the clouds ascend,
Who gazed, and wished to follow too, Then on the earth all prostrate bend;
But we believe that mortal eyes Beheld the journey to the skies.”
8. “Chase every shade of doubt away; ‘Light of the World!’ in mercy shine;
Illume with faith our erring way, We would no worship own but Thine.
Bring us to heaven’s peaceful shore, And make us Thine forevermore!”
The Bible teaches that we must believe in Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God in order to be saved from our sins.  Jesus said, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24).  His inspired word provides all the evidence that is needed to accept Him.  And so, we must say to Christ, “Our faith firmly rests in Thee, O Lord, even though ‘We Saw Thee Not.’”


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