Thursday, September 25, 2008

The power of music

A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon in Ballykeel with the local Presbyterian minister Martin McNeely and two men from the Kirk Session. To sit in a Starbucks coffee shop with three men I'd never met before on a drizzly Monday afternoon, talking about Robert Murray McCheyne (and other things too), was just great. I hope I was of some use to them.

As we left, Martin loaned me two things: his copy of Memoir and Remains of R M McCheyne, and a CD entitled "Preachers and Congregations Volume 5: 1926 - 1931" (Document Records DOCD 5559). It took me a day or two to find a bit of clear time to sit down and listen to it, and it is superb. For me the standout track by far is "He's The One" (written by J B Mackay) sung by Rev H B Jackson and recorded in 1929. It's the best version of this hymn that I've ever heard, an old gem that we often listened to at home either on vinyl records or being sung by my mother. I've listened to it every day since, and have even played it to people who've called into the house. It has an almost William MacEwan vocal style, and just an old pump organ playing simple chords and melody. Hearing it is like time travel, to an era before electrified praise groups, when the old hymns of the faith were sung with pathos and sincerity. Here are the words:

Is there anyone can help us, one who understands our hearts,
When the thorns of life have pierced them till they bleed;
One who sympathizes with us, who in wondrous love imparts
Just the very very blessing that we need?

Yes, there's One, only One,
The blessed, blessed Jesus, He's the One!
When afflictions press the soul, When waves of trouble roll,
And you need a friend to help you, He's the One.

Is there anyone can help us, who can give the sinner peace,
When his heart is burdened down with pain and woe;
Who can speak the word of pardon that affords a sweet release,
And whose blood can wash and make us white as snow?

Is there anyone can help us, when the end is drawing near,
Who will go thro' death's dark waters by our side;
Who will light the way before us, and dispel all doubts and fears,
And will bear our spirits safely o'er the tide?

Great stuff! (PS it's 91 in Redemption Songs)