During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week. For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley, The Nation’s Favourite Hymns by Andrew Barr or research on the internet – will be published with our hymn choice for the week. The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown. This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.
Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster
Forty Days and Forty Nights
Forty days and forty nights
Sunbeams scorching all the day;
Shall not we thy sorrow share,
And if Satan, vexing sore,
So shall we have peace divine;
Keep, O keep us, Saviour dear,
G H Smyttan & F Pott
Music: Melody by M.H.
CCLI - 1073121
Forty Days and Forty Nights is the hymn to start our journey through Lent, beginning as it does with the theme of temptation. If you have already read this week’s Anthem of the Week you will have seen my comment that, whilst the anthem Call to Remembrance is not so readily associated with Lent, its theme of the need for forgiveness follows on from this hymn’s early theme of temptation; for having fallen to temptation, repentance must follow as equally as regularly. The hymn however makes it quite clear that, even without the temptation, there were forty days of mental and physical hardship: ‘scorching sunbeams’, ‘chilly dew-drops’ and ‘prowling beasts’, for example. There is a change though in verse four; for having granted that ‘we may not faint nor fail’ there are rewards in verses five (‘’peace divine’ and ‘holier gladness’) and six (that ‘we may appear at the eternal Eastertide’).
There is a drama in this hymn that appeals – to me at least – although its message is not initially a good one. There’s a directness in the music that conveys this easily and, with the correct treatment of the hymn’s accompaniment, there’s an anticipation of the joy that comes after. It may be a struggle getting through Lent, especially this year, but what comes after for us is EASTER.
The hymn tune set to this week’s Hymn for the Week is entitled Heinlein or Aus der Tiefe (Out of the deep) from the hymn to which it was originally paired. It is attributed to a Lutheran priest called Martin Herbst who was born in Rothenbach, Germany, in 1654. Sadly he died – at the age of just 27 – from a plague in Eisleban which was also Martin Luther’s home town.
The words of Forty Days and Forty Nights were written by George Hunt Smyttan (1822-1870). Born in Bombay, he studied at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. A Church of England clergyman, author, poet, and hymn writer, he died suddenly in Frankfurt whilst travelling. Originally there were nine verses to this hymn and it is six of them, which were published with alterations by Francis Pott (b. Southwark, London, 1832; d. Speldhurst, Kent, 1909) in 1861, which we sing today. Even then, there are detail differences between various hymnbooks mainly in attempting to ‘modernise’ the language but not always keeping the real discomfort that was endured by Christ.
This is a testing hymn in that the words convey the same temptation, physical discomfort and mental training Jesus went through and perhaps we do too to a certain extent during Lent. But as we have seen there is a reward to be found at the end of it and, perhaps for us this year, that reward at Eastertide might be accompanied by some lessening of life’s current restrictions...and, if not at Easter, we might be able to see when.
Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster