I Need Thee Every Hour | Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose

I Need Thee Every Hour | Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose

Liturgy Lessons: May 13, 2018
Call to Worship: Genesis 1:27-28, 31-2:1-3; Psalm 95:1-7
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: When Morning Gilds the Skies (#167)
Call to Confession: Isaiah 30:15, 18; Matthew 11:28
Hymn of Supplication: I Need Thee Every Hour (#674, vss. 1-3)
Assurance of Pardon: From Ephesians 2:13-21
Hymn of Assurance: Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose (#510)
Catechism & Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 6:1-5
Doxology: #731
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Jesus, Keep me Near the Cross (#264); The Power of the Cross
Closing Hymn: The Church’s One Foundation (#347)

“I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
like the weaned child is my soul within me.”

– Psalm 131:2

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
You shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

– Isaiah 66:13

“Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness.”

– “Home” by Carl Sandburg

I Need Thee Every Hour
Text: Annie Sherwood Hawkes (1872)
Music: NEED, Robert Lowry (1872)

When this hymn was first published in 1873, the Bible verse that was listed under its title was John 15:5, “Without me you can do nothing.” Christ is the vine. We are the branches. There can be no fruit if we are detached. The Christian life is impossible without Christ’s abiding presence. He has said that he will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), and that he will be with us to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). The Psalms are full of this craving for intimacy with God:

“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Hide not your face from me.'”

– Psalm 27:8-9

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

– Psalm 63:1

A soul that marinates in the Psalms will naturally absorb this flavor of fervent longing for God’s presence. The Psalmists model for us a humble and desperate dependence on the Lord for all of life. This is especially evident in Psalm 42, which is one of the most passionate bits of poetry in all scripture. Here we have the honest cry of a soul that feels a distance between itself and its maker, and so is deeply yearning, even aching for God to draw near. It begins with “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (vs. 1-2).” The cry is heard. The waiting soul is answered by the outpouring of God’s spirit. Toward the end of the Psalm we are gifted this stunningly beautiful language of mystical communion: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (vs. 7-8).

There are great hymns that express the human need for God’s constant guidance and care in our lives and how utterly lost we are without him (i.e. “Jesus, Lover of my Soul” and “Abide with Me”). Other magnificent hymns focus more on the divine comfort, love, and encouragement of Christ, even expressing his readiness and eagerness to meet us in our need. (i.e. “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”). These are fine dining for the feast, the gourmet offerings. But every now and then, when the soul is really hungry, one has a hankerin’ for the home cookin’ of Cracker Barrel. And so, there are some hymns that escape the hands of the theologians and are written instead by the common folk who find an unadorned heart-language that is sincere, organic, and effortless. Such is the case with the uncomplicated gospel hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.” It’s just a straightforward song to the savior, written by Annie Sherwood Hawkes (1835-1918). Based on the title, one might think that this hymn was born of great personal turmoil, but the truth was much less dramatic. Annie describes how the hymn came to be:

One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me. Seating myself by the open windows, I caught up my pencil and committed the words to paper—almost as they are today…For myself, the hymn, at its writing, was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experiences, for it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, instead of under the stress of great personal sorrow, with which it has often been associated.

Here we have a hymn born in a moment of inspiration from a housewife who was in the middle of the mundane tasks of motherhood. Faced with the countless chores of keeping the home and corralling the children, Annie stopped to pen these words:

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord. No tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee every hour, stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art night.
I need thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is in vain.

That Sunday, she brought her hymn with her to church and gave it to Dr. Robert Lowry, the pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church (Brooklyn, New York) who was himself a distinguished hymn writer and musician. Dr. Lowry composed the music for the hymn and added a refrain. The tune is undemanding and simple, just the sort of no-frills comfort food you would expect from a hymn that is essentially mom’s home cookin’. The hymn made its debut at the National Baptist Sunday School Association in my old hometown, Cincinnati. It was later popularized in America and Great Britain through the evangelistic campaigns of Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody.

None of this popularity or acclaim interested Annie Hawkes, who was just trying, as all mothers and kingdom-shapers do, to be faithful in the small things. However, the hymn would prove to mean much more than she anticipated. Sixteen years after writing it, Annie’s husband died. She wrote:

“I did not understand at first why the hymn so greatly touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long years after, when the shadow came over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words, which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hours of sweet serenity and peace.”

The “sweet serenity and peace” that Annie spoke of was the fruit of the Holy Spirit. She kept a disciplined prayer life that was like an eye in the tornado swirling around her. She was in the middle of the most demanding chapter of a mother’s life, and she relied upon God for “every hour” of it. Because of this, she was equipped for everything she faced.

Sheet music

Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose
Text: Charles Wesley, 1749
Tune: STELLA, English Folk Song

You would be hard-pressed to find a more maternal-sounding title in the entire hymnbook than this one. Furthermore, the hymn itself probably owes its existence to the fierce devotion of one mother. Susanna Annesley was used to large families. She was the youngest of 25 children, and married an Anglican minister at age 19, which is precisely the number of children she eventually bore. Only 10 of them survived to adulthood. Susanna and her husband, Samuel, were married for forty-four years. Their life together was full of hardship. In addition to multiple deaths of the children, they also endured illness, disease, and occasional poverty. Fire twice destroyed their home. Samuel was frequently called away on church business, and so the management of the household and care of the rabble fell to her. Parenting alone for long spells, and with enough children to field an entire soccer team (with substitutes), she was probably up before the sun and asleep only at high moon. However, she was a woman of deep faith, and she taught the scriptures to the children, who all saw in her as a ready example of steadfast trust and reliance on God’s abiding presence. She once said:

We must know God experientially, for unless the heart perceive and know Him to be to be the supreme good, her only happiness, unless the soul feel and acknowledge that she can have no repose, no peace, no joy, but in loving and being loved by Him.

Susanna ran a tight ship. All the children were taught to cry softly, not to raise their voices or play noisily, and of course, to eat what they were given. Each week, every child was given an hour alone with their mother. As a result, all but one of the children learned to read from the age of five, including all the girls. In 1709, a dreadful fire destroyed their home, almost killing one of their youngest sons, John. Susanna always referred to him as “a brand plucked from the burning fire,” and thereafter was particularly watchful of his care and spiritual development. She believed God had mercifully spared him for a purpose, and she felt an obligation to instill in John’s mind the “disciplines of God’s true religion and virtue.” As a young boy, John made a rash vow to never marry because, according to him, “I could never find such a woman as my father had.” Samuel died in 1735, and Susanna lived with some of her grown children, and during her last year, with John. She died in 1742 and was buried in the same field as John Bunyan and Isaac Watts.

The rest of John’s life bore the fruit of his mother’s spiritual investments. He attended Oxford, proved be a fine scholar, and was ordained in the Anglican ministry. At Oxford, He and his brother Charles were mocked for their overtly devout practices. They founded a society devoted to personal piety, daily prayer, weekly communion, and regular visits to the local prisons. While the other lads were playing sports, this “holy club” spent three hours every afternoon studying the Bible and other theological books. After graduating, John continued in his moral and spiritual fervor serving alongside a fellow member of the “Holy Club” named George Whitefield. But a doctrinal dispute caused the two preachers to part ways, and so John formed his own “societies” in private homes. His motto was “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” He was a tireless preacher, traveling over 4,000 miles annually, and eventually preaching some estimated 40,000 sermons in his lifetime. When he died, he had quite the following in both Britain and in America. It was a little spiritual movement which became known as “Methodism.”

Throughout John’s entire ministry, his brother Charles provided the hymns. The Wesley brothers, as they were called, had enormous impact for the Kingdom of God. And much of the credit for their work ethic and love of the scriptures is because Susanna Annesley (later Susanna Wesley) devoted herself daily to praying and practicing the love of Christ over her children. Her youngest boy, Charles, is considered by many to be the greatest hymn writer in history. The ink flowed constantly and effortlessly from his pen, often producing hymns of theological depth and poetic brilliance. If one were to sing a new one of his hymns every day, it would take about 25 years to complete the canon. And so, the church is even now, over 200 years later, discovering hymns previously unsung or lost to history. Case in point: “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose.” This one is brand new to me, and probably to you as well. It is a gorgeous text set to a charming folk tune. I regret not discovering it sooner, but I am grateful we have it. And its existence is thanks, in no small part, to the tireless work of Susanna Wesley, whose influence is all over this one. Read her words again, and you will see the obvious seeds of her son’s hymn. I place them together here:

“We must know God experientially,
for we can have no repose,
but in loving and being loved by Him.”

– Susanna Wesley

“Thou hidden source of calm repose,
Thou all-sufficient love divine.”

– Charles Wesley

Thank you, Susanna. Well done, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Sheet music