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HYMN 299 How Can I Keep from Singing?

Acts 4:1-31

Text: Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826-1899) Tune: Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826-1899)

1. My life flows on in endless song, Above earth’s lamentation. I catch the real, though far-off hymn That hails a new creation. R/No storm can shake my inmost calm While to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, How can I keep from singing?

2. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? R/

3. What though my joys and comforts die, I know my Savior liveth. What though the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth. R/

4. I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it; And day by day this pathway smooths, Since first I learned to love it. R/

5 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, A fountain ever springing! All things are mine since I am his! How can I keep from singing? R/


This song speaks for many of us just now as we are hearing some part of “earth’s lamentations.” And especially now that we can't sing together! Note that the singing in Lowry's hymn goes on especially in dark and troubled times. While things are filled with tumult and strife almost unprecedented in our lifetimes, we hear this song keep ringing and echoing, “Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,/How can I keep from singing?

Lowry wrote the tune and text, we know, before 1869, when it was published in the collection Bright Jewels. He certainly was close to the ravages of the Civil War when brother fought brother in a savage conflict, plus the assassination of President Lincoln, and the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. He knew what he was talking about and so did those who sang the song.

I have been drawn to the stories of missionaries and martyrs of late, mostly because I have admired their faith in so many trying, even deadly, circumstances. Could I have sung, "I have decided to follow Jesus" while those dearest and closest to me were being killed as I would be?

I am glad Jesus tells us that we should not wonder about what we will say or do at the time we may be up against it and facing persecution and death. It does us no good he tells us, so stop worrying about it and wait upon the Lord. The promise is you will be given what you need to say at the time.

That takes a leap of faith to be sure. But it also tells you worry will not help

Peter and John at the Temple Beautiful Healing the Lame Man. Nicolas Poussin 1655

I think of Acts 4, when Peter has been confronted by the rulers, elders and scribes and the high priestly family in the temple after he had healed a man. These leaders are stunned at the boldness of Peter and John, uneducated and common as they were. The leadership knew it had a problem and wondered what to do. Finally they called the two together and “charged them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

Peter’s answer is wonderful. “We cannot but speak of the things we have heard and seen.” After that the group prayed for boldness.

Maybe what we should pray for is boldness in these times when fear seems so rampant. We might learn something from this scene with Peter, John and the elders. Suppressing voices, like the council chose to do in Jerusalem, ultimately worked in the favor of the suppressed as the history of the church shows. Boldness to speak honestly and with civility from either side of our political divide is necessary. Our views of reality are so different it is difficult to imagine how, but we do need to be able to freely talk. Without conversation, the divide and hatred only deepens. Whatever, even in our deepest lamentations, "The peace of Christ makes fresh our hearts/how can we keep from singing?"

Robert Wadsworth Lowry

HYMN INFO Although this isn’t a folk hymn, it sounds like it is. Written by Robert Lowry one of the consummate composers of the American Gospel song movement, it was not well known until Pete Seeger and others in the folk protest movement found it and rewrote some of it without mentioning Christ. It became a folk hit with the new words and that drew the attention of hymnologists. They went back and found the Christian version and began using it in Christian hymnals.

Lowry also wrote probably the greatest American Gospel song of them all, "Shall We Gather at the River." They have that American sound we immediately recognize.

Lowry was known to be musical from his childhood. A Baptist, he studied for the ministry at the University of Lewisburg with distinction. He served as pastor of Park Avenue Church in Plainfield, NJ for years. While there he also composed music and hymns.

He went to Europe for a sabbatical and stayed there for four years, returning for more travel and rest in the southwestern states and Mexico. He came back to Plainfield, but then resigned so he could serve as editor in the publishing house where William Bradbury had worked before his death in 1868. As he began editing the hymns, Lowry realized he needed more musical knowledge, so devoted himself to studying music. In the meantime he assembled one of the most extensive music libraries in the country at the time.

He said once he would rather preach a good sermon to a receptive audience than write a hymn, but history has shown that his hymns have gone farther and done much more for the Gospel than his preaching ever did.


A Cappella Academy Choir

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Eva Cassidy singing the Seeger version/what a tragedy her life was

NYC choir and orchestra virtually/This shows you what technology can do, but this is also a revised version

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