Hymn History
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~Once to Every Man and Nation~
Submitted By margery on 10/11/06
A Maiden's Musings, margery, Documents, Hymn History, Liberty, J.R. Lowell, Poetry, History 

~The Present Crisis~

When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;—
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.

For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow, crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn.

Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

The above poem is derived from the original eighteen stanzas of "The Present Crisis", a work by James Russell Lowell that addressed the national crisis over slavery leading up to the Mexican War.  The hymn "Once to Every Man and Nation" was later derived from four of these stirring lines, and set to the welsh tune of Ebenezer in 1890.

James Russell Lowell was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1819.  His father was the pastor of the West Congregational Church in Boston for 55 years. James graduated from Harvard in 1838 and, as a lawyer, poet, critic, and editor, became an ardent champion of abolition.  In 1876, President Hayes appointed him minister to the court of Spain and, in 1880, transferred him to Great Britain.  Over the years, he was in great demand as a public speaker.

The poem, The Present Crisis, first appeared in print on December 11, 1845, in the Boston Courier.  Eventually, when music was added, the poem of protest became a hymn of challenge: "Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side."

Written over 158 years ago, Once to Every Man and Nation is a poignant reminder of Who is in control of history and Who will ultimately write the last chapter.

Written by James Russell Lowell

Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause,
God's new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
'Twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And 'tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above His own..

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

(II Corinthians 3:17)

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

(II Chronicles 7:14)

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

(Joshua 24:15)

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Re: Hymn History
54 seconds - 9v
Posted 2013/04/28 - 9:00 GMT
would like to know more how the longer poem became the hymne- was it Lowell's doing?

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