A Shelter in the Time of Storm

charlesworth_vernon

(picture of Vernon J. Charlesworth)

“A SHELTER IN THE TIME OF STORM”

“For Thou hast been a shelter for me” (Ps. 61:3)

     INTRO.:  A song which identifies the Lord as a shelter for us is “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” (#384 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #118 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Vernon John Charlesworth, who was born on April 28, 1838, at Barking in Essex, England, the son of Thomas Charlesworth and nephew of Joseph W. Charlesworth, a minister of Heacham in Norfolk, and educated at Homerton College.  He had two brothers who emigrated to Australia in the 1850’s and another one who became a minister in England.   In 1860, he was married to Eliza Moore, and they went on to have nine children.  Becoming a minister, he was working in 1861 as the school master of a Baptist church, and beginning in 1864 he served at the old Surrey Chapel with Newman Hall, but in 1869 he was appointed as the headmaster of Charles Spurgeon’s Stockwell Orphanage at Lambeth near London, England, where he remained until his death.  This was a home which had been started two years earlier for fatherless children to be able to live without charge, and be given shelter, food, clothing, care, instruction, and education, and was open to orphans of all religious backgrounds as an alternative to “poor houses” where orphans and the poor were used as slaves for businesses and given very inadequate and abusive care.

Also Charlesworth served as a ministering elder of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, preaching not only in England but also in Australia and Canada.   These words were penned sometime around 1880.  The poem was printed in a small paper called “The Postman,” published in London, and was seen by Ira David Sankey (1840-1908).  Apparently Charlesworth’s name was not attached because none of Sankey’s publications ever identify the author, and some books still list the author’s name as “anonymous.”  Sankey was in England for a series of evangelistic crusades with Dwight L. Moody, for whom he served as song director.  Later he wrote that the song was said to have been a favorite of the fishermen on the north coast of England, and they were often heard to sing it as they approached their harbors in the time of the storms which often hit those shores, bringing distress to the many small fishing vessels that sailed the coastal waters.

Since the hymn was sung to what Sankey thought was a weird minor melody, he decided to provide a new one that could more easily be used by the people who attended the Moody meetings.  Therefore, he made alterations in the words, added the refrain, and composed the tune (Shelter) which was copyrighted in 1885.  It was first published that year in his Sacred Songs and Solos, and was also included in his Gospel Hymns No. 5, which appeared in 1887 and accounts for the song’s popularity.  Not much more information is known about the author, who also published a biography of Rowland Hill in 1876 and co-edited a hymnbook, Flowers and Fruits of Sacred Song and Evangelistic Hymns in conjunction with J. Manton Smith, other than that he is credited with some fifteen other hymns and died in London on Jan. 5, 1915.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections, “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” has appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; 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 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; 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 last named book uses as an alternate tune an American Spiritual which, though I doubt is the one Sankey initially heard, would in my estimation classify as “a weird minor melody.”

This hymn assures us that we are safe during life’s storms with Christ as our shelter.

  1. Stanza 1 points out that the Lord is our shelter because He is a rock in whom we can hide

The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide,

A shelter in the time of storm;

Secure whatever ill betide,

A shelter in the time of storm.

  1. In Scripture, the Lord is pictured as a great rock in a weary land: Isa. 32:2
  2. Since He is such a rock, we can hide in His shadow for safety: Ps. 17:8-9
  3. As we hide in His shadow, we are secure from all ills: Job 11:18-19

II. Stanza 2 points out that the Lord is our shelter because He is our defense from alarms

A shade by day, defense by night,

A shelter in the time of storm;

No fears alarm, no foes affright,

A shelter in the time of storm.

  1. As a tree provides shade from the sun, so the Lord is our shade by day: Ps. 121:5-6
  2. As one would seek a place of safety in darkness, so the Lord is a fortress of defense by night: Ps. 31:1-2
  3. There we have no reason to be fearful or frightened of: Ps. 56:3-4

III. Stanza 3 (not in HFWR) points out that the Lord is our shelter because He is a retreat where we can find safety

The raging storms may round us beat,

A shelter in the time of storm

We’ll never leave our safe retreat,

A shelter in the time of storm.

  1. Often the trials and tribulations of life are symbolized as raging storms: Ps. 55:8
  2. Such tempests beat around all of us at times as we suffer tribulation: 1 Thess. 3:4
  3. But the Lord offers us a safe retreat from these trials: Ps. 119:117

IV. Stanza 4 points out that the Lord is our shelter because He is our refuge dear

O Rock divine, O Refuge dear,

A shelter in the time of storm;

Be Thou our Helper ever near,

A shelter in the time of storm.

  1. As our Rock, the Lord is indeed a Refuge dear: Ps. 46:1-2
  2. Thus, we can always look to Him as our Helper: Ps. 54:4
  3. And He will be a Helper who is ever near: Ps. 119:149-151

CONCL.:  The chorus applies these Old Testament descriptions of the Lord to Jesus Christ.

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,

A weary land, a weary land;

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,

A shelter in the time of storm.

As Christians, we can rest assured that “no fears alarm, no foes affright,” as long as we look to Jesus as “A Shelter in the Time of Storm.”

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