Hymn History: Jesus Calls Us

September 23, 2021

Jesus Calls Us was the middle hymn sung by Pender's Choir and Congregation on September 19, 2021 at the Traditional Service.

The clarinet was played by Brian Stevenson

The flute was played by Jane McKee

The organ was played by Liz Eunji Sellers

Watch the entire service at https://youtu.be/bVxQSvDAPuM

“Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult”
By Cecil Frances Alexander
The United Methodist Hymnal, 398

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild restless sea;
Day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow me!”

How does a hymn written for a minor saint’s day by a Victorian hymn writer known for her pedagogical hymns for children become one of the most often sung hymns on Christian discipleship?

Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895) was one of the most beloved hymn writers of the nineteenth century. Born Cecil Frances Humphreys in Redcross, County Wicklow, Ireland, she married Irishman William Alexander at age 32. Alexander was an Anglican rector who became Bishop of Derry and Raphoe in 1867 and, following her death, archbishop and primate of all Ireland.

Hymnologist Alfred Bailey captures the context of Mrs. Alexander’s hymns: “Before her marriage she had been a member of the Evangelical wing of the Anglican Church. That fact shows in her intense devotion to the religious education of children” (Bailey, 1950, p. 352). By contrast, William Alexander was a Tractarian—what might be called a "high church" devotee today—following the ethos of the Oxford Movement. She authored more than four hundred hymns—most of which were written for children before she was married. These were published in several collections, the most popular being Verses for Holy Seasons (1846) and Hymns for Little Children (1848).

Like many Christian women of this era, Mrs. Alexander was devoted to children’s religious education, using hymns as a tool in their education. She included instructions on the seasons and feasts of the Christian year. Inspired by the influential and brilliant Anglican clergyman John Keble (1792–1866) and his collection The Christian Year (1827), Alexander prepared Verses for Holy Seasons (1846), a book for Sunday-school teachers. The purpose of this collection was to use hymns as “a Christian Year for Children, in which the attempt is made, by simple hymns, to express the feelings, and enforce the instructions, which, in her distribution of the year, the Church of England suggests” (Humphreys, 1846, p. vii).

From Hymns for Little Children, a hymnic companion to the Apostles’ Creed, we still sing “All Things Bright and Beautiful”—based on “I believe in God, the Father, maker of heaven and earth”—and “Once in Royal David’s City”—interpreting “(I believe) in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary.” Appearing less often in collections today is “There Is a Green Hill Far Away”—reflecting on the clause, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

“Jesus Calls Us o’er the Tumult” is the exception in that it was not written as a children’s hymn and was composed after her marriage. The hymn first appeared in a collection called Hymns for Public Worship (1852), published by the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), Tract No. 15, as a hymn for St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, displaying her priority for the Christian year.

Interestingly, Alexander’s children’s hymn for St. Andrew’s Day in Verses for Holy Seasons, “O’er all the earth, with even course, / the seasons come and go,” does not mention St. Andrew or his calling, but is a more general orientation to the concept of saints’ days.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/history-of-hymns-jesus-calls-us-oer-the-tumult

Tags: history, video, hymn, organ, clarinet, flute, jane mckee, brian stevenson, brian stevenson, liz eunji sellers, jesus calls us, jesus calls us o’er the tumult, cecil frances alexander


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