HYMN 330 Jesus Only/How Good, Lord, To be Here
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
Text: Samuel Martin Miller (1893-1975) Tune: Samuel Martin Miller (1893-1975)
1. Jesus only in the mountain,
Jesus only on the sea,
Jesus only in the valley,
There in dark Gethsemane.
Jesus only up to Cal’vry,
Jesus only on the cross,
Jesus only in all suffering,
All things else are empty dross.
2. Jesus only in life’s evening,
Jesus only gives me rest,
Jesus only can support me,
When the sun sinks in the west.
Jesus only in the morning
Of that vast eternity,
There revealed in glorious splendor,
In the home he won for me.
Text: Joseph Armitage Robinson (1858-1933) Tune: Mercer—JS Bach
1 How good, Lord, to be here! Your glory fills the night; Your face and garments, like the sun, Shine with unborrowed light.
2 How good, Lord, to be here, Your beauty to behold Where Moses and Elijah stand, Your messengers of old.
3 Fulfiller of the past And hope of things to be, We hail your body glorified And our redemption see.
4 Before we taste of death, We see your kingdom come; We long to hold the vision bright And make this hill our home.
5 How good, Lord, to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since you bid us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain.
Jesus Only! That was the title of many a sermon I heard in my youth and the signature song of The Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) movement in America. There are many parts of the Transfiguration account that are significant—the disciples who were there, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the law and prophets, and what that means for Jesus, but the point of many an evangelistic sermon was Jesus only. He is the one left on the mountain; he is the sum of the Law and the Prophets, and he is the one in whom you believe for salvation.
Mount Carmel Ministries, a family camp on the shores of Lake Carlos near Alexandria, Minnesota, was an outgrowth of the work of the Lutheran Bible Institute that started in Minneapolis in 1918, as an effort to teach the faith in English, a great concern during World War I, and to deal with the losses after the ravages of the Spanish influenza which was causing great concerns among the churches.
In the late 1930s when the depression was starting to ease, the Institute received a plot of land on the beautiful shores of Lake Carlos. The summer of 1938 they began, so people could live there for a week in the summer while hearing good sermons, taking part in Bible studies and prayer, and song, while enjoying each other's company and quiet time
Pastor Samuel Miller, one of the founders of LBI, and its first Dean, wrote several songs and this is his classic. It became a theme song of Mt. Carmel, sung at campfires and at Singspirations during the sessions. The motto, "Jesus Only," appears around the camp, even in the flower arrangement just outside the new chapel which you see at the beginning of this blog. Mount Carmel Ministries, in its beautiful setting, is a quintessential Minnesota Bible Camp, still flourishing today. It is really what remains of the Lutheran Bible school movement, which had great impact on people's lives in its day. And at Mount Carmel, it still does. It is this phrase from the Transfiguration that it lives by: Jesus Only.
The second hymn is one of the more well-known hymns for the Transfiguration and it is from the point of view of the disciples after they had seen Jesus only. I have always been fascinated by the phrase “Unborrowed light.” Since Jesus is the Light of the World, he does not need to get light from anywhere; he is the source of all other light.
The King James Version spoke of the robes of Jesus shining brighter than “any fuller’s bleach“ could make them. A fuller fascinated me as well. At first I thought it meant bleach, but a fuller is someone who works with wool, shrinking it and thickening it by a process of heating and moistening it. One who does that work knows about bleach so the Elizabethan translators used a word which has now gone out of use.
The comparison, however, is how we have to talk when we speak of the divine. The preacher's job is to provide the "er." Greater than, more than, etc. We can say what it is like, even if it doesn’t compare to what it really is, but the preacher keeps trying. Jesus shines brighter than anything we know or can say.
Bible camps are often mountain top experiences like the Transfiguration when we see Jesus only and his "vision bright." Then we descend down to the plain with all its confusions. A lesson for us: Jesus' "unborrowed light" is still shining. We need to pray we can continue to see him as we enter the dark valley ahead.
HYMN INFO Pastor Samuel M. Miller was a spiritual guru for many young people during his time. A pastor in the Augustana Lutheran Church, who served at Messiah Lutheran in Minneapolis, he and three other Augustana pastors had been praying for a Bible Institute to be established for Lutheran young people. They founded one in 1918; classes began in 1919 at First Lutheran Church in St. Paul. The school moved to the old Luther Seminary building in Hamline and stayed there until 1929 when it built a building on 19th and Portland in Minneapolis. The hymn was well known before its appearance in Youth's Favorite Songs, the songbook prepared by Carl Manfred of Augustana and published by the Augustana Luther League in the 1950s sometime. Although oddly very little is known about how that book came into being, not even its copyright date is sure, it was a very popular songbook among the youth in the Swedish and Norwegian American Lutheran churches. Unfortunately I have no recording of it.
The second hymn comes from the recognition that there were few Transfiguration hymns in Hymns: Ancient and Modern so Robinson wrote this text to fill in that section. Dean of Westminster and long associated with Cambridge University, he was not known for his hymns, except for this one, which he wrote in 1890, filling the need for a Transfiguration hymn. It was published in the 1904 version of Hymns: Ancient and Modern. There are several tunes for it. The LBW used Potsdam which has been attributed to J. S. Bach, but now it is associated with the Mercer hymnal of 1854.
Concordia Publishing House version of Mercer/Potsdam
Chris Brunelle, guitar and solo/tune Speiss
Jesus Only as it first appeared, in a handwritten version in the LBI Banner Magazine on September 1920, Vol 1, No. 5.