Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 4, 1968
NUMBER 47, PAGE 12b-13a

"Crossing The Bar

John Blackstone

It has been my pleasure to be associated with some of the finest hymn writers of our age. I treasure the moments I have spent with them and the many hours of listening to their thoughts. They are men of faith and inspiration whose lives are dedicated to praising God in song. A master work hymn is not born of necessity. It cannot be forced — it is born in a flash of insight. Every great hymn has a story. There must be some motivation to cause a writer to overflow with emotion and praise God. Many of our great writers were lost human beings seeking for something changeless upon which to anchor their lives. They found this in Christ Jesus. It should inspire all Christians to see the Master's influence in their lives.

The age of the Victorians was an age of doubt and an age of faith. There were many contradictions and inaccuracies. Mankind was faced with great dilemmas. The new discoveries of science slowly ate away at the foundations of faith. Using the principles of philosophy, men could not understand faith so they rejected it and turned away. They needed a statement of faith in terms that they could understand. As a public figure, the great poet laureate Alfred Tennyson took his responsibility seriously. In his work he tried to give the people something to hold to. He had strength of character and a depth of emotion unexcelled in the poetic world. Never has there been a poet who has gained and held the attention of the people as long.

Tennyson inherited a gloom that was characteristic of his family. He grew up on the windswept wolds of Northumbria [sic]. Here he learned the sanctity of free human will. He became impatient with his Calvinistic aunt and learned to distrust all philosophical determinism. Human responsibility was important and Tennyson affirmed that man had a moral choice to make. Nature was Tennyson's first teacher. He spent his days wandering over the wolds or in the forests observing the animals. At night, he was fascinated by the mysteries of the heavens often, the Tennyson's went to the coast on holidays and it was here that Tennyson discovered the vast and endless ocean. In the laws of Nature, Tennyson saw rhythm and design that was far beyond the disordered lives of men.

Tennyson objected to the new theory of Darwin because it did not account for the higher attributes of man. Humans were different in kind rather than degree. Man was not simply a higher form of life, but a unique one. The naturalistic philosophies provided no incentive for human life.

Evolution denied divine causation, and for Tennyson there had to be a first cause. Tennyson rejected the standard proofs of God, relying on intuition to answer the doubts he found in the surrounding world. Sustained by a knowledge that transcended any observable facts, he trusted in his believing heart which was beyond the confines of reason. His belief was psychological rather than logical — a faith of the heart and not the intellect. No man-made logic could comprehend the grounds of faith.

The deepest sorrow of Tennyson's last years came with the loss of his son Lionel. The boy died on a return voyage from India and was buried at sea. But no bereavement could cause Tennyson to lose his sense of life's meaning. Rising above this grief, he denied the finality of death.

In the fall of 1888, Tennyson became aware for the first time of his own approaching death. He became critically ill and for many months it was doubtful whether he would ever recover. In his illness, he was attended by Nurse Durham. She was an alert, intelligent woman with a sense of humor, and Tennyson soon became very fond of her. It was she who suggested that he write a hymn of thanksgiving for his recovery.

In October, 1889, while making the crossing from Aldworth to Farringford, Tennyson wrote the most famous of all his lyrics. The immortal sixteen lines came to him in a flash. He wrote them on the inside of an old envelope but showed them to no one at the time. When Nurse Durham came into the study that evening to light the candles, she found him sitting in the dark.

"Will this do for you, old woman?" he asked showing her the paper. The lines came as a shock for she felt that he was writing his own death-song. Without saying anything, she ran from the room. He remained sitting in the darkness.

However, when his son Hallam read the lines, he remarked, "That is the crown of your life's work."

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

In the twilight of life, there is calmness and serenity as man approaches death. Once there were many voices calling. Now there is one distinct call. As man embarks upon the sea of death, he prays for his safety. He hopes that through divine guidance, he will not be shipwrecked upon the sand bars of the harbor. Man's existence is like the sea. It slowly creeps upon the land, and then it returns to the source from whence it came. The ocean is both the source and destination of man. It represents the unknown from which man comes and to which he returns. Man's life is but a small island of time in a vast and infinite sea. As man dies and returns to the unknown, "-the flood" takes him far beyond the limits of time and place. On the other side he has faith that he will see his pilot face to face. Tennyson himself answered when asked about the pilot, "He is the unseen hand who is always guiding us."