Recently, I’ve been thinking about why I was never able to memorize the periodic table of the elements. Our science teacher would unroll a canvas screen that contained them all—top left was hydrogen, and top right was helium. That is about as far as I got! But why was that? After all, I have at least an average memory.
The first answer is because I didn’t have to. The educational system at that time made it possible for me to choose a track that bade science goodbye in favor of “the arts.” I seem to recall one of my teachers writing on my report card a statement that went something like, “Alistair has decided that science is not for him, and he is very firm in his decision!” And that provides the second answer: I didn’t care to. School chums who were able to rattle off the symbols were intrigued and excited in a manner that was foreign to me. But when it came to history or poetry or literature, that was a different story.
The same was true of song lyrics, both sacred and secular. As a child, my life was filled with books and songs, and I quickly discovered that the words of songs came easily to me. The distraction of television did not arrive until I was twelve. I mention this because I am frequently asked how and why it is that I quote so many hymns and songs in my sermons. It is not as though I go searching for them; they come looking for me!
Since the program is comprised of listener favorites this month, I thought I’d share some of my favorite songs.
From early childhood, the hymn “I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old”:
I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How He called little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with them then.
I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,
That His arm had been thrown around me;
And that I might have seen His kind look when He said,
“Let the little ones come unto Me.”
The hymn’s author, Jemima Luke, wife of a minister, then writes of how Jesus has gone to prepare a place for all who are “washed and forgiven.” In a subsequent verse, she sets forward the mission of the church:
But thousands and thousands who wander and fall
Never heard of that heavenly home;
I should like them to know there is room for them all
And that Jesus has bid them to come.
I long for the joy of that glorious time,
The sweetest and brightest and best,
When the dear little children of every clime
Shall crowd to His arms and be blest.
From teenage years, the hymn “O Jesus, I Have Promised”:
O Jesus, I have promised
To serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me,
My Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle
If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If Thou wilt be my Guide.
O Jesus, Thou hast promised
To all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory,
There shall Thy servant be;
And Jesus, I have promised
To serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow,
My Master and my Friend.
The writer, John E. Bode, an Anglican clergyman, based this hymn on John 12:26. It was my baptismal hymn.
From adult life, the hymn “When This Passing World Is Done”:
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon radiant sun,
When I stand with Christ on high
Looking o’er life’s history,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.
The writer, pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne from Edinburgh, died far too young at the age of twenty-nine.
The lyricists of popular music I admire most are Paul Simon and James Taylor. This month, as Susan and I celebrate our wedding anniversary, I have been enjoying Taylor’s song “You and I Again.” It’s a love song he wrote for his wife, in which he reflects on the swift passing of time and explains how he wishes they could rerun the tape. This is exactly how I feel about the “American girl” who has been “under my skin” (think Frank Sinatra) for fifty-three years and by my side for forty-six. She is “My Dearest Friend” (think Abigail Adams).
You and I again, these days go by
And I wish that I could slow the whole thing down
And have it back again, just one more time.
Perhaps these reflections will cause us to love Jesus more, to love those He has given to us along the road, and to remember with fondness those who have been gathered to His nearer presence.
With sincere thanks for all your encouragement and support, and with my love in the Lord Jesus.
Topics: Letters From Alistair Begg