“THE CHILDREN’S SONG”
“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength…” (Ps. 8:2)
INTRO.: A hymn which shows that from the lips of children and infants God has ordained praise is “The Children’s Song.” The text was written for the London Sunday School Jubilee by James Montgomery (1771-1854). It was first published in his 1853 Original Hymns for Public, Private and Social Devotion. The traditional tune (Hummel) used with it was composed by Heinrich Christoph (Charles) Zeuner, who was born on Sept. 20, 1795, at Eisleben, in Saxony, Germany. Brought up on the chorales and stately anthems of the Lutheran Church, he served in Saxony as a court musician, but emigrated to America at the age of 29, changed his name to Charles, and learned English quickly. Settling in Boston, MA, in 1824, he became music director for the Park Street Church and then St. Paul’s Church, both in that city, and played the organ for the Handel and Haydn Society from 1830 to 1838, of which he was also president from 1838 to 1839.
During this time, Zeuner wrote a march in 1830 for the laying of the cornerstone of the Boston Masonic temple and an oratorio entitled The Feast of Tabernacles in 1836, and compiled several song books, including Church Music in 1831, The American Harp in 1832, The New Village Harmony for Sabbath Schools in 1834, and The Ancient Lyre in 1834. The melody used with Montgomery’s hymn “The Children’s Song” dates from 1832, and was presumably first published in The American Harp. His most famous melody, most often associated with Bourne H. Draper’s “Ye Christian Heralds, Go Proclaim,” also comes from that same compilation. Zeuner’s high-tensioned disposition proved to be a serious problem, and he was unable to keep harmony among the singers of the Society, so he was finally requested to resign. After having lived in Boston for some thirty years, Zeuner moved to Philadelphia, PA, in 1854, where he was music director at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church and later at the Arch St. Presbyterian Church.
The last three years of Zeuner’s life were characterized by strange actions indicating certain mental problems which many believe were caused by criticism of his musicianship. It is also possible that he lost his money in the national panic which began with the failure of the Ohio Life and Trust Co. on Aug. 24, 1857. He was last seen on Nov. 7, 1857, crossing the Delaware River on a steamer. Later, his lifeless body was found in some woods outside of Philadelphia with his head shattered by a gunshot wound, indicating that he had committed suicide. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, Montgomery’s text appears in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) with a new tune composed by the editor, Lloyd Otis Sanderson. The only other book in which I have seen the hymn is the 1925 Hymnal—Church of the Brethren published by the Brethren Publishing House of Elgin, IL, using the Zeuner tune.
The song expresses praise to Christ the King as children would.
I. Stanza 2 calls on children to praise Him
Hosanna! be the children’s song,
To Christ, the children’s King;
His praise, to whom our souls belong,
Let all the children sing.
A. Hosanna is a Hebrew word which means “Save, we pray” and was used at Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Matt. 21:9
B. It signified that Christ was the King who was coming: Matt. 21:5
C. Even all the children joined in saying Hosanna to the Lord: Matt. 21:15
II. Stanza 2 calls upon the earth to praise Him
Hosanna! sound from hill to hill,
And spread from plain to plain,
While louder, sweeter, clearer still,
Woods echo to the strain.
A. The hills praise the Lord: Ps. 148:9
B. The plains or fields praise the Lord: Ps. 107:36-38
C. And the woods or forests praise the Lord: Ps. 29:9
III. Stanza 3 calls upon the heavens to praise Him
Hosanna! on the wings of light
O’er earth and ocean fly,
Till morn to eve, and noon to night,
And Heaven to earth, reply.’
A. It is God who created light in the universe: Gen. 1:3
B. Thus His praise continues from morn to eve and from noon to night: Ps. 55:17
C. Even the heavens declare His glory: Ps. 19:1
IV. Stanza 4 calls upon everyone to praise Him
Hosanna! then, our song shall be;
Hosanna to our King!
This is the children’s jubilee;
Let all the children sing.
A. We should sing with the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name: Heb. 13:15
B. In doing so, we acknowledge Jesus Christ as the King of kings: Rev. 19:16
C. To do this is the “jubilee” of everyone, including children; the word “jubilee” originally referred to the fiftieth year which brought freedom and redemption, and thus came to be used of any great celebration: Lev. 25:8-13
CONCL.: Sanderson placed this hymn in the “Children’s Songs” section of Christian Hymns (No. 1). Some might dismiss it as not being appropriate for adults to sing in a worship service. However, as with “Jesus Loves Me,” others believe that since we are to be “converted and become as little children” (Matt. 18:3), there is nothing wrong with a congregation’s singing a song which expresses a child-like faith. As children of God, we may choose to praise Him by singing “The Children’s Song.”