(picture of William P. Merrill)
“RISE UP, O MEN (CHILD) OF GOD”
“Yet a little while, and…He will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37)
INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to labor for the Lord while we wait for Him to come is “Rise Up, O Men (Child) of God” (#545 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by William Pierson Merrill, who was born at Orange, NJ, on Jan. 10, 1867. The Merrills must have moved to Massachusetts, because at the age of eleven, he became a member of the Belleville Congregational Church at Newburyport, MA. Two years later, after his family returned to New Jersey, he became a member of the Second Dutch Reformed Church at New Brunswick, NJ. His first book, Faith Building, was published in 1885, when he was just eighteen. Educated at Rutgers, from which he received the A. B. degree in 1887 and the M. A. degree in 1890, and at Union Theological Seminary, from which he received the B. D. degree also in 1890, he became a minister that year with the Presbyterian Church. He served churches, first in Philadelphia, PA, for five years, and then in Chicago, IL, for sixteen years. In 1896 he married Clara Dwymour Helmer, and in 1900 authored his second book, Faith and Sight.
In 1911, while Merrill was living in Chicago and active with the “Brotherhood Movement” of the Presbyterian Church, Nolan R. Best, then editor of The Continent, a Presbyterian newspaper published at Chicago, suggested to Merrill that there was an urgent need of a “brotherhood hymn.” About that same time, Merrill read an article by Gerald Stanley Lee entitled “The Church of the Strong Men.” With these two ideas incubating in his mind, the hymn suddenly came to Merrill, almost without conscious thought or effort, one day as he was returning to Chicago on one of the Lake Michigan steamers. As a poem entitled “To the Brotherhood,” it first appeared with the first line “Rise up, O men of God” in the Feb. 16, 1911, issue of The Continent. Its first publication as a hymn was in The Pilgrim Hymnal published in 1912 at Boston, MA, with a tune (Festal Song), which had been composed, probably around 1872, by William Henry Walter (1825-1893). It had first appeared in the 1894 Hymnal Revised and Enlarged, edited by J. Ireland Tucker and W. W. Rosseau, where it was used with “Awake, and Sing the Song” by William Hammond.
Other tunes have been used with Merrill’s hymn, but the one by Walter is probably the best known. Later in 1911, Merrill moved to become minister with the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, NY, where he remained until his retirement in 1938. An active leader in movements for civic betterment, he became president of the Trustees of the Church Peace Union in 1915. In addition to preaching and producing hymns, he was the author of several more books, including Footings for Faith in 1915, Christian Internationalism in 1919, The Common Creed of Christians in 1920, The Freedom of the Preacher in 1922, Liberal Christianity in 1925, Prophets of the Dawn in 1927, The Way in 1933, and We See Jesus in 1934. Declining an invitation to become President of Union Theological Seminary in 1917, he did receive honorary degrees from New York University, Columbia, and Rollins College of Deland, FL, prior to his death in New York City on June 19, 1954.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Rise Up, O Men of God” has appeared with the Walter tune in the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship Revised (not in the original edition). It is found with another tune (St. Thomas) attributed to Aaron Williams in the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum; the 1978 edition of 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; and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr. Both tunes are used in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand, and the 2009 Songs for Worship and Praise also edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.
The hymn exhorts each child of God to rise up and serve Lord.
I. In stanza 1 we are told to have done with lesser things and give our all to the Lord
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
- Someone has suggested that “lesser things” may refer to church suppers, entertainment, bowling teams, and other worldly activities that do not relate to the work of the church: 2 Tim. 2:3-4
- Rather, we should give all our heart, soul, mind, and strength to God: Mk. 12:30
- This is how the King of kings wants us to serve Him: Deut. 11:13
II. In stanza 2 we are told to wait for His eternal kingdom by pursuing brotherhood and working to end wrong
Rise up, O men of God!
His kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.
- “His kingdom tarries long” may sound premillennial to some (though if the author was a millennialist, he would more likely have been postmillennial), but we can understand it as a reference to the eternal kingdom of heaven into which Christ will usher His people at His second coming: 2 Pet. 1:10-11
- To prepare for it, we should strive to bring in the day of brotherhood: 1 Pet. 2:17
- We should also labor to end the night of wrong by shining the light of truth on it: Eph. 5:8-14
III. In stanza 3 we are told to come to the aid of the church and make her great
Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up and make her great!
- The church is the spiritual body of Christ: Eph. 1:22-23
- On the surface “Her strength unequal to her task” sounds as if the church is not sufficient to do its work, but if we understand that the church is made up of members, it is equal to its task only as the members do their part: Eph. 4:16
- Therefore, we need to be as the people of Nehemiah’s day: Neh. 2:18
IV. In stanza 4 we are told to lift up the cross of Christ to a lost and dying world
Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!
- We lift high the cross of Christ by preaching the message of the cross to sinful mankind: 1 Cor. 1:18-24
- Then we illustrate the message of the cross by treading in the footsteps of our Savior who left us a perfect example: 1 Pet. 2:21-22
- In this way we truly show that we are “brothers of the Son of Man”: Heb. 2:11-12, 17
CONCL.: The editors of Hymns for Worship Revised changed the title/first line to ‘Rise Up, O Child of God’ and the last stanza to “As children of the Son of Man.” I assume that they copied these alterations from some other source. I do not know when or where these changes were first made, but the probable reason given for them was to have the hymn sound more “inclusive.” However, I believe this kind of altering is a cave-in to appease feminists who disdain the usage of words like “men” and “brothers” as being too “patriarchal.” The fact is that in every language such terms are often used in an inclusive sense to identify all people, both male and female. Trying to “correct” hymns sometimes results in inconsistencies. The original last stanza is in agreement, “As brothers (plural)…O men (plural) of God.” But the “revised” version reads “As children (plural)…O child (singular) of God.” Even the United Methodist Hymnal of 1989, no friend to “non-inclusive” language, retains the reading, “Rise up, O men of God” with a note “’Ye saints’ may be substituted for ‘O men.’” This would be preferable to “O child,” but I guess the less I give my opinion about it, the less problem I’ll have with high blood pressure. Regardless of that, God wants His people to labor for Him and says to all of us, “Rise Up, O Men (Child) of God.”