“Come, Ye Faithful”
First Published: April 2, 1998
Our “Hymn of the Month” for April is familiar to many of you: “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” (Trinity Hymnal, 266). This Easter Hymn appeared in our old hymnal and was often sung by our congregation. The tune to which we will sing it was composed by Arthur Sullivan (who wrote the music to “Onward, Christian Soldiers”) and is called “St. Kevin.” The hymn’s author is the great John of Damascus — an important eighth-century Greek theologian. The hymn was translated last century by John Mason Neale and views the resurrection via the imagery of Israel’s Exodus and the Song of Moses (Exodus 15).
The opening stanza of the hymn presents us with a Christian interpretation of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. The line “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness” is simply a call for believers to lift up their voices in song, in a joyful outburst of praise for God’s grace in delivering us from bondage (a “strain” is “music” or “a tune” or “a lyric outpouring of eloquence”). In this stanza, Israel represents the Church, and the deliverance from Egypt stands for the Church’s deliverance from sin and death by the power of Christ’s resurrection. Just as God liberated Israel, so also has he freed his Church.
The second stanza directly applies this Old Testament picture to the resurrection of Christ. First, Christ’s resurrection is compared to sunrise: “Christ hath burst his prison, and from three days’ sleep in death, as sun hath risen” Then, Christ’s resurrection day, which we Presbyterians celebrate every Sunday (not just on Easter!), is called “the spring of souls.” That is, Christ’s resurrection is like the returning of Spring for our spirits, fast bound in the long, dark winter of sin.
Of the third stanza Albert Edward Bailey says: “This stanza tries to convey a sense of joy in the brightness of spring, the pageantry of the Easter ceremonial [of the Eastern Church] and the rejoicing throngs of Jerusalem, which city stands for the Church Universal. This kind of joy ought to characterize our hearts when we come in to worship — if we truly realize that we have been liberated by God’s grace from slavery to sin and that the Lord’s Day is the day the Lord has appointed for us corporately to express and experience that rejoicing.
The final stanza highlights the power of Christ’s resurrection by reminding us of the various factors arrayed against his rising: the gates of death, the tomb’s dark passage, the guards, the sealed stone, none of them could prevent his mighty resurrection! Indeed, he now spiritually stands among us every time we gather for worship in Spirit and in truth, even as he physically stood in the presence of his disciples in Luke 24:36. Thus the resurrected Savior dispenses his “own peace, which evermore passeth human knowing.”
May the Lord fill our hearts with such Easter joy, even as we sing this hymn Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.