The Yin Yang of Hymns

The contrast of day and night, light and dark, alone and not alone is brought out in the hymn Abide with Me; ‘Tis Eventide:

Abide with me; ’tis eventide.  The day is past and gone;  The shadows of the evening fall;  The night is coming on…And lone will be the night If I cannot commune with thee Nor find in thee my light.  The darkness of the world, I fear, Would in my home abide.  O Savior, stay this night with me; Behold, ’tis eventide.

Life’s contrasting situations of sickness and health, poverty and wealth that are mentioned in many a traditional wedding vow, are likewise reiterated in the hymn How Firm A Foundation. This hymn also contrasts location types such as land and sea as well as home and abroad:

In every condition in sickness, in health, In poverty‘s vale or abounding in wealth, At home or abroad, on the land or the sea

Life is contrasted with death in that wonderful Easter hymn That Easter Morn. Likewise the Savior is called “Last and First” in this sacred music:

That Easter morn, a grave that burst Proclaimed to man that “Last and First” Had ris’n again And conquered pain.  This morn renews for us that day When Jesus cast the bonds away, Took living breath and conquered death

Joy and sorrow are paired as counterpoint in the phrase “He makes the sorrowing spirit sing” in the children’s hymn Beautiful Savior. Likewise sunshine and moonlight and the bright, happy vs dimmer, melancholy moods associated with these settings are juxtaposed against each other in this hymn:

Fair is the sunshine, Fairer the moonlight. And all the stars in the heav’n above.  Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer And brings to all the world his love…Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer. He makes the sorrowing spirit sing.

Feasting is contrasted with fasting in the chorus of the hymn Bless Our Fast, We Pray:

Feed our souls, fill thou our hearts, And bless our fast, we pray, That we may feel thy presence here And feast with thee today.

Likewise this hymn contrasts secret vs open prayer:

…In secret and in open prayer Oh, wilt thou speak thy word?…

Meekness and repentance are seen opposite to sin in the hymn Father in Heaven, We Do Believe:

Father in Heav’n we do believe The promise thou hast made;  Thy word with meekness we receive, Just as thy Saints have said.  We now repent of all our sin And come with broken heart, And to thy covenant enter in And choose the better part.

Unity as opposed to division is proclaimed in the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers:

We are not divided; All one body we:  One in hope and doctrine, One in charity.

In the hymn How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True the themes of delay, anguished weary souls, prison and a dying past are contrasted against speed, a brightness of hope and joy in the light of truth and God’s love, redemption’s hour, release from our prisons of confusion, and an onward path of man set free from the anguish of sin and the mists of darkness.

How long, O Lord most holy and true, Shall shadowed hope our joy delay?  Our hearts confess, our souls believe Thy truth, thy light, thy will, thy way!  Thy truth has made our prison bright; Thy light has dimmed the dying past.  We bend beneath thy loving will And seek thy onward, onward path at last.  Eternal Father, gentle Judge! Speed on the day, redemption’s hour.  Set up thy kingdom; from thy house Unlock for us, for us the prison tow’r.  From grim confusion’s awful depth The wail of hosts, faith’s urgent plea: Release our anguished, weary souls; Swing wide, swing wide the gates, and set us free!

Some of the time, opposites exist not in the same song but in the same hymnbook, if you compare different songs against each other.  Such is the case with the themes of “gathering” vs “going abroad”.  One could for example contrast the hymn I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go whose chorus contains the same phrase as it’s title with the hymn Israel, Israel, God Is Calling with its calls of “Come to Zion, come to zion!” and statements like “That the Saints may homeward fly.”


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