Text: Mary Artemisia Lathbury (1841-1913) Tune: William Fiske Sherwin (1826-1888)
1. Day is dying in the west, Heav'n is touching earth with rest; Wait and worship while the night Sets her evening lamps alight Thru all the sky. R/Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heav'n and earth are full of Thee! Heav'en and earth are praising Thee, O Lord Most High!
2. Lord of life, beneath the dome Of the universe, Thy home, Gather us, who seek Thy face, To the fold of Thy embrace, For Thou art nigh. R/
3. While the deep'ning shadows fall, Heart of Love, enfolding all, Thru the glory and the grace Of the stars that veil Thy face, Our hearts ascend. R/
4. When forever from our sight Pass the stars, the day, the night, Lord of angels, on our eyes Let eternal morning rise, And shadows end! R/
MEDITATION Who of us has not sat around the campfire beside a lake, fighting off mosquitos, singing campsongs as the sun set over the water? Lovely times when lasting friendships and romances began, as well as renewed commitments to Christ. The picture this hymn paints of the evening sky at sunset is vivid with images that feel good in the mouth, with its alliteration and rhymes that describe moments from Bible camps, most likely. This hymn, in fact, was written for the mother of all summer camps in America.
Camp meetings have been a feature of American religious life from the early part of the 19th century and the Second Great Awakening. The Chautauqua camp meetings built on that idea, beginning in 1874 when Pastor John H. Vincent and a businessman, Lewis Miller, established a summer camp for the education of Sunday School teachers. With a tent and a plan, they built a summer school for people to attend where they could listen to sermons, lectures or concerts. The lectures ranged from religious topics to social issues. The most popular lecturer was William Jennings Bryant (1860-1925) whose lofty rhetoric attracted thousands. Topics like women’s suffrage, temperance, and child labor laws were frequently featured.
The Lake Chautauqua Institution in far west New York became the mother site, as entrepreneurs built similar camps throughout America, or traveled with tents and set up meetings around the country. As the movement grew it featured more and more musical acts; a favorite attraction, band music by the protégé of John Philip Sousa, Bohumir Kryl. His version of the "Anvil Chorus" from Verdi’s opera, Il Trovatore, became a spectacular performance with anvils and theatrical sparks electrifying the audience. Frequently, Shakespeare plays would be performed since Americans loved their Bible and Shakespeare, one impresario noted.
Other popular attractions were the African American Jubilee Singers, among others, who sang spirituals and other songs to the delight of the audiences. Chautauqua even developed its own opera company which toured the country. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were often performed. It is still an active organization with a varied program.
One cannot study social movements in 19th century America without marking the importance of the Chautauqua movement. No doubt the many Bible Camps dotting the landscape in America were built in imitation of that model.
In the late 1940s, mid-summers, we would pack the cars, even the back of a truck, with teenagers and drive the dusty roads to Lake Metigoshe, north of Rugby, on the border between North Dakota and Canada, near what became the International Peace Gardens. Our goal was a Bible camp whose attractions left much to be desired. We drove up through twisting roads which made us carsick--unused as we native North Dakotans were to roads with curves. The food was awful—the worst, a hotdish of cabbage and macaroni invented by the Rugby District president to save money. Campers lived off candy bars from the canteen; the pastors slept in a long room with two rows of bunkbeds to watch over the boys (who did everything to keep them awake through the night), the pastors’ wives in the girls’ room. This was not long after WWII when luxuries were rare.
One night at a campfire, the leader asked the campers to put a piece of wood on the fire to show their renewed commitment to Christ. One started and pretty soon another, then another. A great conflagration roared up into the night.. All of a sudden from the side, the pastor in charge of finances shouted, “Yust a minute, that vood has to last all veek!” It put something of a damper on the fire, but gave us a story to tell for the rest of our lives. Laughter, yes, but even then as the evening set out her lamps in the sable sky, and we wheeled back to see the drifting stars of the Milky Way shining above us, did we not have the sense in the words of the hymn that we could hear all the earth singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts!/Heaven and earth are full of thee, Heaven and earth are praising thee, O Lord Most High.”
Mary Lathbury, a popular writer and poet, who edited materials for the Methodist Sunday School, was asked in 1880 by pastor John Vincent to write this hymn for the vesper services at the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. Known as the Vesper Song, it was the tradition to sing it for the evening service sitting by Lake Chautauqua. From there it spread throughout the country and became an important evening hymn in most American Protestant hymnals.
The composer of the tune, William Fisk Sherwin, an American Baptist, studied with Lowell Mason, the teacher of church music in America at the time. Sherwin later worked with some of the stars of the Sunday school movement, like Robert Lowry and others who provided the American Song book with many of its best songs. This has become a favorite of the Seventh Day Adventists.
LINKS Coral Ridge Presbyterian https://youtu.be/r6wDew50aNE
George Beverly Shea https://youtu.be/fwPJ5Kg6nxw