(picture of Aaron Robards Wolf)
A HYMN OF JOY WE SING
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
INTRO.: A song which reminds us that when we eat the bread and drink the cup we are showing the Lord’s death is “A Hymn of Joy We Sing” (note: This hymn does NOT appear in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. But it deserves a look.) The text was written by Aaron Robarts Wolfe, who was born on September 6, 1821, at Mendham, New Jersey. Educated at Williams College (1844) and Union Theological Seminary, New York (1848-51), Wolfe, on April 9, 1851, became a minister with the Third Presbytery of New York. He ran a young ladies’ school in Tallahassee, Florida (1852-55). The devout spirit of the man is fittingly illustrated by the account he once gave his friends of an incident which shaped his later career somewhat seriously. When he left Florida in the summer of 1855 he put all his effects—library, notes, and things of that sort—on board a sailing-vessel at St. Mark’s, and with a simple gripsack returned North by way of Nashville and Chicago. Reaching New York after some two weeks spent in journeying, he sought his goods at the commission house to which they had been consigned. There he learned that, on the day appointed for sailing, the vessel had been struck by lightning, the mate killed at the foot of the mast, and the vessel, laden with turpentine, burned to the water’s edge. Books, papers, notes, everything of past treasure had gone up in smoke. He looked upon this as a special providence of God, shaping his life, and fixing his home. For it made him a teacher of the young rather than a minister of a church; and soon the way was opened for the beginning of one of the most useful engagements with Dr. Abbott, and so his life was fashioned
In 1858, Wolfe contributed seven hymns, under the signature A. R. W., to Church Melodies, by Thomas Hastings. This one was originally entitled “A parting hymn we sing,” and was apparently intended to be used after observing the Lord’s supper for churches which followed this custom. In 1859, he established the Hillside Seminary for Young Ladies in West Bloomington (now Montclair), New Jersey. He retired in 1872 and died on October 6, 1902, at Montclair, New Jersey. Several tunes have been used with this hymn. I first saw it in the 1948 Church Service Hymns edited by Homer A. Rodeheaver with the original text and a tune (Olmutz) said to be arranged in 1824 from a Gregorian chant by Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Cyberhymnal suggests an 1832 tune (Boylston) also by Mason which we usually associate with Charles Wesley’s “A Charge to Keep I Have.” The 1940 Broadman Hymnal edited by B. B. McKinney used an 1832 tune (Dennis) by Johann G. Nageli which we usually associate with John Fawcett’s “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” The first time I ever saw the change of title and first line was in the 1987 Worship His Majesty edited by Fred Bock, with an 1850 tune (Schumann) attributed to Robert Schumann which we usually associate with William W. How’s “We Give Thee but Thine Own.” Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song may be found with this same form in the 2017 Wonderful Name (#89) edited by Kevin W. Presley for Legacy Music Publishing.
The hymn emphasizes the practical effects that should ensue from partaking of the communion.
I. Stanza one mentions joy
A hymn of joy we sing
Around Thy table, Lord,
Again our grateful tribute bring,
Our solemn vows record.
- We can always rejoice in the Lord: Phil. 4:4
- This is especially true when we surround the table of the Lord: 1 Cor. 10:21
- At the same time, we are making a vow to the Lord: Eccl. 5:4
II. Stanza two mentions grace
Here have we seen Thy face,
And felt Thy presence here;
So may the savor of Thy grace,
In word and life appear.
- We “see” His face as we envision in our minds His death on the cross: Jn. 19:17-19
- We also feel His presence as He promised to be with even two or three who gather in His name: Matt. 18:20
- As we do so, we savor the grace by which we have been saved: Eph. 2:8
III. Stanza 3 mentions the purchase of Christ’s blood
The purchase of Thy blood,
By sin no longer led,
The path our dear Redeemer trod
May we rejoicing tread.
- Christians have been purchased or redeemed with His blood: 1 Pet. 1:18-19
- Thus we are no longer led by sin because we have remission: Matt. 26:28
- Therefore, we should resolve to tread the path our dear Redeemer trod: 1 Pet. 2:21-23
IV. Stanza 4 mentions communion
In self forgetting love
Be our communion shown,
Until we join the church above,
And know as we are known.
- By partaking of the Lord’s supper we show our love to Christ for the redemption through His blood: Eph. 1:7
- We also have communion with His body and blood: 1 Cor. 10:16
- And we do this until we join the general assembly and church of the firstborn ones above: Heb. 12:22-24
CONCL.: It has not been the custom among churches of Christ to sing a special hymn after observing the Lord’s supper. However, with the simple change of the title and first line, this song becomes an appropriate one to help us prepare our minds for partaking of the communion. While our hearts are saddened that Jesus had to suffer such agony to save us, we are thankful that He was willing to do so, and thus “A Hymn of Joy We Sing.”