There Is a Sea


“Remember the words of the Lord Jesus…It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive is “There Is a Sea” (#641 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #451 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text of stanzas 1 and 2 is usually identified as being by an anonymous writer. The text of stanza 3 was written and the tune was composed both by Lula (or Lulie, as her grave marker reads) Klingman Zahn, who was born on Nov. 6, 1876, in Louisville, KY. Her parents, Frederick and Katherina or Katie Klingman were of German Lutheran descent. Katie had grown up in Germany where her father experienced some great financial troubles, owing a large debt to a friend who had emigrated to the United States. Finally, he wrote to his creditor that he had tried his best but was unable to pay. Therefore, he sent his daughter Katie to work in America for the friend without wages (except room and board) until the debt was settled. However, before long the friend wrote back and told her father to forget the debt because he wanted to marry the daughter. That friend was Frederick Klingman. Thus, Katie became Mrs. Klingman. Katie’s age at the time of her marriage is not known, but she must have been quite young because she reportedly gave birth to fifteen children and died at age thirty. It is said that she memorized a vast portion of the Bible.

The Klingman family attended the Portland St. church of Christ in Louisville. Three of the sons became preachers–George, John, and C.C., and their daughter Lulie married a preacher. Lulie’s oldest brother, George Klingman, was a well-known minister among churches of Christ in the early twentieth century, working with the Portland Ave. church in Louisville, where he had been baptized as a teenager, and the Palm St. church in Detroit, MI. In addition, he served as Dean of Childer Classical Institute, the forerunner of Abilene Christian College (now University) from 1907 to 1908. Later, he returned to become dean of the Bible department at Abilene Christian College in 1917and spoke on the first Abilene lecturship in 1918. After attending Abilene Christian College, Lulie married a preacher, Robert A. Zahn, of Louisville, who had been born in 1869 and was minister with the Rowan St. church in that city for twenty years.

Lulie is remembered today primarily as the author and composer of the song, “There Is a Sea.” It was first published in 1921 in Great Songs of the Church (No. 1), edited by Elmer Leon Jorgenson (1886-1968). Jorgenson identified the first two stanzas of the song as being of unknown origin, with the third stanza and the music supplied by Mrs. Zahn. Jorgenson’s wife, Irene Doty Jorgenson, attributed the first two stanzas to her husband. Perhaps he revised or edited them, but he never claimed them as his work in any printing of Great Songs. Further research has identified a poem, “The Two Seas: A Parable of Giving and Hoarding” in The Church Missionary Gleaner, Volumes 16-17, written by “the Rev. Richard Glover, M.A., Vicar of St. Luke’s, West Holloway,” published in 1889:
1. There is a sea which, day by day, Receives the rippling rills
And streams that spring from wells of God, Or fall from cedared hills;
But what it thus receives it gives With glad, unsparing hand.
And a stream more wide with deeper tide Pours out to a lower land.
But doth it lose by giving? Nay! Its shores of beauty see–
The life and health and fruitful wealth Of Galilee!
2. There is a sea which, day by day, Receives a fuller tide,
But all its store it keeps, nor gives To shore nor sea beside;
What gains its grasping greed? Behold Barrenness round its shore.
Its fruit of lust, but apples of dust Rotten from rind to core:
Its Jordan water turned to brine Lies heavy as molten lead,
And its dreadful name doth e’er proclaimThat sea is—Dead!
I have not been able to locate any further information about this Richard Glover, but have found references to this poem in later religious magazines, usually marked simply “selected” without an author’s name. The Zahns later moved to Florida and Oklahoma, but returned to Louisville, where they lived until their deaths. Lulie died in Louisville on June 7, 1948, and her husband followed her in death eight years later.

“There Is A Sea” was included in Jorgenson’s 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2. It has appeared in many books published by members of the Lord’s church since then, such as the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3, both edited by L. O. Sanderson and published by the Gospel Advocate Co.; the 1956 Sacred Selections for the Church edited by Ellis J. Crum; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2, and the 1978 Hymns of Praise, both edited by Reuel Lemmons and published by the Firm Foundation Co.; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; all of Alton Howard’s books–the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise; the 1987 Hymns for Worship, edited by Dane K. Shepard and R. J. Stevens; the 1992 Praise for the Lord, edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.

The song compares two bodies of water in Israel, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea and the likens them to two kinds of people.

I. Stanza 1 mentions the Sea of Galilee
There is a sea which day by day Receives the rippling rills,
And streams that spring from wells of God Or fall from cedared hills;
But what it thus receives it gives With glad unsparing hand;
A stream more wide, with deeper tide Flows on to lower land.
A. The Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake, fed by the Jordan River and several streams from the hills of Galilee, which is the source of much of Israel’s drinking water and empties into the Jordan River in the south: Matt. 4:18, 15:29
B. Like the Sea of Galilee, all of us receive blessings from God: Acts 14:17, Eph. 1:7, Jas. 1:18
C. God’s intent is for us in turn to be a blessing to others by doing good to all mankind: Gal. 6:10, 2 Tim. 2:2

II. Stanza 2 mentions the Dead Sea
There is a sea which day by day Receives a fuller tide;
But all its store it keeps, nor gives To shore nor sea beside;
Its Jordan stream, now turned to brine Lies heavy as molten lead;
Its dreadful name doth e’er proclaim That sea is waste and dead.
A. At 1,401 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest land elevation on earth and receives its water from the Sea of Galilee via the Jordan River, but because nothing around it is lower and there’s simply no place for it to go except to evaporate, it never passes on the water it receives, and as a result the Dead Sea is ten times saltier than the ocean so that almost nothing can live in it: Gen. 14:1-3, Num. 34:10-12
B. Like the Dead Sea, there are some who receive the blessings of God only to lavish them all upon their own desires: Lk. 12:16-21
C. Those who thus are so selfish that they don’t reach out to others are spiritually dead: Rev. 3:1

III. Stanza 3 applies this comparison to us
Which shall it be for you and me, Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone, Or take to give again?
For He who once was rich indeed Laid all His glory down,
That by His grace, our ransomed race Should share His wealth and crown.
A. Each of must decide if he or she is going to be like the Dead Sea and accept for self alone or be like the Sea of Galilee and do as the Bible suggests: 1 Pet. 4:10
B. We need to follow the example of Jesus who was rich but laid His glory aside: 2 Cor. 8:9, Phil. 1:5-8
C. This He did that we should be ransomed and share His crown: 2 Tim. 4:6-8

CONCL.: Mark Yeakley of the Northside church of Christ in Wichita, KS, wrote, “My great great-aunt Lula Klingman Zahn wrote Song #556, ‘There Is a Sea,’ in our Songs of Faith and Praise songbook. I grew up singing it at family gatherings and I need to lead it at Northside sometime…. In this song, Great Great-Aunt Lula says there are two kinds of people; the kind that share the gifts they receive from God, and the kind that hoard His blessings for themselves. She ends in verse 3 asking, Which kind of person are you? Our Savior ‘laid all His glory down’ for you. Are you willing to share His good gifts with others?” As we make our choices and decisions in life concerning the use of the good gifts which God has provided us, we need to be reminded that “There Is a Sea.”


One thought on “There Is a Sea

  1. I may be the oddest person of all time, but I had this song sung when the mothers were ushered in at my wedding. I think it fits as the grandparents and parents of the bride and groom are brought in to see their children united in marriage.


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